My parents were long gone when I found out, at age 38, that I was adopted. My sister, Melissa, called and dropped the bombshell. I was stunned, saddened and basically dazed by this revelation. Of course it raised all sorts of questions. Who were my birth parents? Why did my birth mother give me up for adoption? Was she still alive? Were Melissa and I biological sisters? Did I have other brothers and sisters out there somewhere? What’s my ethnic background? What’s in my medical history? Things I had taken for granted about my identity were suddenly up for grabs. My slender fingers, thin build, Roman nose – I thought I got those features from my father, who was small, thin as a rail with a nose that resembled a beak. Blue eyes, fair skin and curly hair of course came from my mother. “You look just like your mother,” my cousin told me at the lunch that followed Mom’s funeral.
Nobody likes being lied to. I wish my parents had told me the truth. If they couldn’t bear to talk about it, they could have at least left a letter or something for me to read upon their deaths. Not a word. No adoption paperwork. Nothing. They took the secret to their graves.
I am sure my mother and father had their reasons for not divulging the truth. I can’t entirely chalk up their secrecy to the different world of the 1960s, when Melissa and I were born. Gina, who is about the same age as my sister and me, was also adopted. Her parents, my godparents who were good friends with our parents, told Gina the truth about her origins and also told her about Melissa and my adoptions. The three of us were all adopted around the same time.
Bullies have been known to hurl “You’re adopted!” at other kids on the playground. Even today, some people think adopted children are somehow not as “good” or authentic as biological offspring. I suspect my mom and dad kept quiet because they didn’t want my sister and me to feel any less loved than any child being raised by birth parents.
Personally I think it’s better for parents to be straight with their adopted children. My good friend, Lucia, told her boys they were adopted when they were 1 ½ and 3 ½ years old. “That’s what the experts advise, too,” Lucia says. “Then the kids accept it as normal.”
The American Adoption Congress supports openness. This non-profit advocacy group has worked to change laws to make it easier for adoptees to get access to formerly sealed adoption records. For moral support, there’s also a Facebook group for people who, like me, found out later in life they were adopted.