I watched my mom move through the emotions of reunion, my sister do the same and as a 16 year old I received the first part of my real adoption education.
Until this point, adoption had been a sweet story that you read about in teen books or saw on movies. I remember watching the Baby Jessica and Baby M stories on the news and in movie form but all my sympathy and support was for the adoptive family and the grieving child. The villains were the children's biological family, tearing apart the lives of the babies and their families.
But here I was seeing first hand my mother's grief, my sister's joy and their mutual pain and loss. And I learned alot. And felt alot. Because it also affected me. I am often asked what it was like to be the "kept" child. How reunion affected me, influenced me and that is what I am here to share. This is my story of that time, not my mother's, not my sister's, not my father's. I do not presume to know what they would say about that same time, and please know I am sharing the feelings and thoughts I had as a SIXTEEN year old, not from my perspective now as an adult.
My first reaction was really, truly shock. Shock that we hadn't been told. I was hurt and felt lied to. Shock that my mother had been sexually active so young, when I was growing up as sheltered and protected as you can imagine. I was 16 and so, so naive.
I understood, at least in part, WHY my mother hadn't shared with us, especially after she shared stories of the judgement and ridicule she had faced, even at the hands of people I loved dearly. But at the core of it I wondered why she hadn't trusted us with the information. I would have never judged her and knowing would have made lots of other "little things" make sense.
Until the age of 11 or 12 I believed I had an older sister. I would talk about her, dream about her and wrote silly stories about her. I remember the CONSCIOUS discussion I had with myself before I was a teen when I told myself I was being silly, of course I did NOT have an older sister and to stop playing the game. From that moment on I never thought of her again, except to laugh at myself for my silliness. I think what had happened is that as a toddler I had heard "talks". Apparently one grandparent would bring up the missing granddaughter at times, and I must have heard enough to know. I am sure others talked about it around me when my parents weren't there as well.
Other little things came back into my memory. Random days, at least to me, of my mom crying on the couch. I couldn't think of anything that had been wrong and when asking my mom why she was so sad, she would simply reply something about "mistakes that can't be fixed" or "some days are harder than others".
I felt anger. Anger that so many others knew the secret. I found out cousins, cousins we didn't even visit with, hang out with or were really a part of our family in any sort of tangible way, KNEW. They had been told by their parents of my mother's "indiscretion" and been told to never tell my little sister or I. Anger that we had been lied to. By omission.
I felt jealousy. I was the "oldest" and held on very hard to that title. Suddenly, in one fell swoop my sister took "first grandchild", "first wedding", "first EVERYTHING" from me (remember I was 16 at the time ...) I wanted and needed assurance from my mom that I was "special". That she loved Jess and I more or differently than this stranger that was suddenly claiming the title of oldest daughter from me. I could not comprehend at the time that a mother-daughter bond could transcend time and space. They were strangers to each other and I felt displaced.
Despite the negative feelings at times, mostly I was happy. PROUD in fact of this sudden addition to our family. Proud of being an aunt. I shared with everyone, everywhere the news of my sister. I was so happy that finally my family wasn't as boring as I had perceived it to be. (trust me in the years ahead, I CRAVED the "boring family" I once so disdained as my life got progressively more 'interesting' through my parents divorce).
But even a sixteen year old, a naive, protected sixteen year old, could see the fact that the separation of my mom and my sister had caused them damage. My mother's perspective was (and is) that adoption for my sister was the only choice at the time. A very young and immature 16 year old without the support of family, state or the baby's father? There was no welfare to support them. No where she could go with a baby. They would have been homeless, and from my mom's perspective both their futures decimated. It was the right choice, given the circumstances, it was just handled terribly, cruelly and in the absolute worst way by church, friends and especially family. Adoption, the way it occurred to them, caused her incredible unnecessary pain, affected her life in a horrible way but was worth it, to her, if it provided my sister a "better" life.
Five years after my mother gave birth to my sister, her own little sister found herself sixteen and pregnant with her own baby girl. In this case my aunt was told by the priest she could keep her baby. Marry the father, parent her child. This was a disaster for all involved. Abuse, loss and the decimation of relationships followed. In the end my aunt also lost her child, my cousin lost her mother but without ever the chance of reunion. Without the DESIRE for reunion. My mom saw that her and her sister lived parallel lives. Different choices, same end result. She hoped that for my sister that her "choice", or rather the decision inflicted on them, had been better.
From my perspective, it was easy to see that my sister was hurting. Primal Wound or not, my sister was deeply affected by being adopted. She had yearned and looked for my mother without answers to her questions for years. It had become her obsession. All agree (my mom continues a friendly relationship with them today) she has good parents that loved her dearly and have supported her in many ways. They did their best with the tools they had to deal with adoption issues at that time. Raised with two brothers, also adopted, that never desired to search, my sister struggled with adoption and a sense of belonging from a young age. She too was a parent young. And struggled with maintaining relationships.
This period of my life taught me that adoption was complicated. Not a simple case of a precious baby needing a new family, loving parents and a stable future all tied up neatly with a bow of a new birth certificate. It taught me that secrets hurt the children involved. That sometimes openness is what adopted children need to heal and be healthy. That often first parent pain never, ever goes away. That reunion is different for the mother than for the child, and for the adult child than the mother. That each person in the adoptive family (and I include kept, bio siblings in that family) are affected by adoption. That sometimes adoption might be necessary, that children cannot be raised in their family of origin, but that does NOT erase their past or their imprint on their lives of their first family either.
I learned all this, reviewed it, discussed it absorbed it. And it was a good thing, because 6 months later, as a 17 year old, I held the most beautiful baby I had ever seen in my arms as his mother begged and pleaded with me through sobs and tears to take him, raise him and love him as my son.
The path of my life had definitely turned a corner.