By Katie Andress
In honor of National Adoption month, I’ve decided to share with my fellow DIG readers, my adoption story. I hope to bring awareness and enlighten others about what it’s like to be adopted. I hope you read it with an open heart and an open mind.
My parents tried to have a child for seven years before they were able to adopt me. I was born in late January and adopted three weeks later, the day before my grandmother’s birthday. It’s said that I was her birthday present that year. Needless to say, I was the center of attention in my family. Let’s face it; I was spoiled from Day 1. I even celebrated “Adoption Day” each year with a cake and presents because, to my parents, the day they adopted me is a truly greater day than my actual birthday. So yeah, I celebrate two birthdays. I don’t get the cake anymore, but I still get the cards and presents.
Despite having a family that loved me and did everything they possibly could to make me feel included and “one of their own,” I still felt like an outsider in my own family. I’ve always felt different from them, and I still sometimes do. It didn’t matter how hard they tried or how many similarities they pointed out between us; I still felt different. I’m not saying that all children who are adopted feel this way, but from talking to several others and doing a bit of research, I’ve seen that I’m not the only one with this mindset.
I grew up always wondering who I looked like and where my eccentricities came from. I wanted to know whose nose I had and who blessed me with these Shirley Temple curls. It’s amazing how many people take such a simple thing like that for granted. I guess I was unknowingly trying to answer the age-old “nature vs. nurture” question, which I later realized that neither was prominent. I’m a mix of both factors.
I also grew up with the idea that something was fundamentally wrong with me, which is something I still struggle with today. I’d often ask my mother, “What’s wrong with me? What’d I do? Why’d she leave me?” To which my mom, in her loving way, would always reply, “Nothing. She loved you so much that she made the ultimate sacrifice to give you a better life with us.” I hated when she said that. I thought she was only saying it to make me feel better, but that it was all a lie. I was so convinced that I’d done something wrong and was undeserving of my family’s love for me that I separated myself from them. Looking back on it now, I made myself different. I made myself stand out. I’d given in to the notion that my “real parents” were out there somewhere and I’d be just like them. (By the way, the term “real parents” is terrible! It’s called “birth parents” or “biological parents.” Please don’t ever ask us where our “real parents” are.) I thought that if I could just find my birth mother, then I’d find the key to my happiness. I was so blind.
About five years ago, I set out on a journey to find my birth mother. In the ‘80s, when I was born, there was no such thing as an open adoption. My birth mother didn’t choose my parents. They didn’t exchange letters and pictures as many families do today. My adoption was a closed adoption, which means my birth records and original birth certificate were sealed away in some file cabinet of some archive room, never to be seen again. It baffles me that court systems and strangers get to decide what part of my history and identity I get to see. It’s so unfair that we adoptees do not have access to our original birth certificates. We didn’t choose to be adopted or not to know where we came from. It seems as if that whole year from inception to the time of adoption is a never ending game of Clue, except in this game, you don’t always find out that it was Mrs. Peacock, in the library, with the candlestick.
My birth mother was fairly easy to find. She still lives in the same town she did back then, Houma, LA. A private investigator friend of mine, along with a couple of his colleagues, helped me find her. We had a few leads from my Non-ID, which means non-identifying information, which I got from the adoption agency my parents used to adopt me. A Non-ID is basically a one-page synopsis of what was happening at the time of birth. The information is rather vague, but sometimes contains clues to help in the search. In my case, there was a major clue and I was quickly able to start to piece together the story of my birth.
It was a rather surreal moment to talk to my birth mother for the first time. Our three-hour conversation was filled with laughter and tears. The only way to describe the feeling is that it was as if I were talking to an old friend that I hadn’t spoken to in years. We sound exactly the same on the phone, so it was sort of like I was talking to myself, but it wasn’t me. We both asked questions about the other and came to realize that we have a lot of things in common. She even told me that I had an older sister, which was incredible because I grew up as an only child.
I met my birth mother a couple of weeks after that very first phone conversation. We spent the day together, talking and getting to know one another. We even took our very first picture together, which is in a frame in my living room. That day was one I’ll never forget because it was not only about meeting her for the first time, but it was also the end of a lifelong search and longing. I no longer had to question who I looked like because I look exactly like her. I no longer had to ask where my eccentricities come from; they come from her.
I learned several things throughout this whole process of self-discovery, but the most important one was a new appreciation for my parents and family. Their never-ending love and support for me has been the greatest thing I could ever ask for. This process has brought me closer to my mom because she never once showed the slightest doubt of who she was in my life. She knew this was something I had to do for myself and she let me do it. She never questioned my motives or reasons why. She was just always there for me when I needed a shoulder to cry on or someone to vent to when things weren’t going the way I’d planned, which is what a good mother does. We may not share the same DNA and we may not see eye to eye on everything, but she’s my mom and I wouldn’t have it any other way.