Family photo

Today I received in the mail some actual photos of my birth mother and her siblings, taken at different ages. Words cannot convey what it means to have and to hold these precious pictures with my own hands. Especially after a lifetime of dispossession and deliberately being kept in the dark.

My newfound cousin (and his family) are so warm and welcoming. It’s a lot to process, emotionally and psychologically. For years, my identity as an adoptee has been constructed around the second-class status many of us are forced to endure, with other people controlling access to information about our origins.And now I am being treated as a first-class family member in good standing.

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For years, my identity has been one of Not Knowing: not knowing much of anything about my birth parents. And now, I know a little something about my birth mother’s side of the family. For years, my search has been mainly for information purposes. And now, these strangers want to meet me, are welcoming me into their family.

For years, my existence was kept hidden from them, apparently a shameful secret better left in the past. And now, here I am. Found and claimed.

For years, I was angry at my birth parents for abandoning me, for not going to look for me, for not bothering to find out if I was doing okay. And now, these curious relatives want to know everything about me. They want me to visit for Thanksgiving. They want me to treat them as family. At the same time, I am learning to forgive my birth parents.

For years, I have felt compelled to educate people in the dominant groups about issues of race, adoption, and sexual orientation: the pieces of my identity relating to life and death, quite literally. And now? Does this burden continue? Or can I finally rest?

For years, I have insisted on adoptees’ rights to empowerment, knowledge, and support. Equally fiercely, I’ve defended our right to be left alone and not coaxed to search if we don’t feel like searching. And now I have been found. I am being empowered. I am gaining knowledge of my origins and genealogy. I am feeling supported by adoptee friends and family and non-adoptee allies at every step of my journey.

My adoptee friend and former student, Emily, reminded me this morning to take care of the little adopted boy inside. That little boy is still confused and scared, wondering where his first mommy went. But he is learning to trust the permanency of family ties. He is beginning to accept that not everyone leaves. He is thinking that maybe, he has outgrown his cocoon. He says that one day soon, he will let his guard down and finally allow himself to breathe the cool, refreshing outside air. The power of flight beckons.

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