The Gift of Adoption
I am the receiver of the gift of adoption.
My adoption story has many chapters.
I will start in the beginning with Chapter One.
The time was the late 1960’s. It almost seems like a different world compared to now. My parents had tried to have a child naturally for several years without success. They worked with doctors at the time but still could not conceive.
Back then, it was before the era of many of the alternative fertility procedures that exist today. Or at least, they weren’t commonly talked about or available to everyone.
My parents’ doctor suggested adoption, so they looked for how to do this. Ultimately, they decided to go to Children’s Friend and Service in Rhode Island and find out about it. They were apprehensive about the thought of adoption, but at the same time they knew they had so much love to give and they wanted to have children … so they went forward.
In 1971, the most common option was a closed adoption. A closed adoption back then was where the records were sealed. This meant that neither the birth parents nor the adoptive parents knew of each other.
So on April 7th of 1971, my parents and I met for the first time. I was twelve weeks old. I don’t remember it but my Dad likes to say, it was love at first sight. He also likes to say that we chose each other that day. For my part, I can say I have never believed otherwise.
Dad says I was an easy baby, very rarely cried, slept well, and they could take me anywhere. My personality was present and pronounced early on. I was – and still am - happiest in groups of others and seemed to love the socialization.
My official adoption day came later that year (in December) and we three were legally now a family.
Shortly after my adoption was final, my parents decided they wanted to apply for a second child … and in 1974, my brother Chris came into our lives and we became a family of four.
Chris and I were always close as children. Much to my blessing, we still are.
My parents told the story that I would ask the neighbors (or even people walking by the house) if they wanted to come and see my baby brother. I wanted to be with him every minute and loved my new “big sister” role.
Growing up, I had a happy life filled with many opportunities, and most of all, it was filled with quality time and never-ending love from Mom and Dad. We shared much and spent time together right from the start.
The things I remember most about my childhood are at times divided between typical Dad-led activities and typical Mom-led activities.
With Dad, I will always remember the nights before bed when Dad would read to us. It was treasured time. It’s funny how things that I thought little of back then – that I could so count on that it became almost a given – are now such a part of the weave and fabric of who I grew to be.
Reading with Dad didn’t stop when I was little. The reading level of his books grew just as we did and before we knew it he was reading us poetry and the classics. Not only the fluff and typical stuff kids read in school but weightier topics. It went from Dad being in our world to Dad sharing his world with us.
It is often said – and I know from my personal experience that it is true – that you can learn a lot about a person based on what they read. Now that I am grown, I can see how much I have learned about Dad from our time reading together. While I learned about his tastes and mine, mostly what I learned was that his caring for us was so immense that he would joyfully give up what little free time he had to spend time with us reading.
But reading wasn’t the only thing we did together. Dad would play catch in the backyard in the evenings and was a tremendous coach. He taught me how to field a ball, how to throw the right way and how not to be afraid of the ball. I won’t wax eloquence on how many of those things were laced with life philosophy but will just leave it at sharing that I am still working on not being afraid of a ball hit straight at me.
My Mom spent years teaching me how to sew and quilt and bake, and she knew how to make the most everyday tasks an adventure. We would go on bike rides to the park and pack a picnic and make a day of it. She taught us how to fish off the bridge at Colt State Park in Bristol and we had to learn the whole kit and caboodle of fishing (even the parts I didn’t much care for, like the baiting and cleaning). She taught me the value of making dozens of Christmas cookies and giving them all away to the people she cared about.
With Mom, it was never just about the how. It was also about the why – why we looked to find the adventure in the everyday tasks, why it is important to learn something from beginning to end and not focus only on the fun middle, and why we’d spend every evening for weeks baking dozens of Christmas cookies so that being in community was something we never took for granted or appeared only when there was something to get.
My Dad would teach Mom, Chris and me about the stars and constellations from our own backyard late at night. Through it, he showed us a world bigger than ourselves and a quietness to the expanse of what surrounded us.
He coached our athletic teams and both Mom and Dad cheered us on from the sidelines for years. Through that, I could feel safe in their support even before I had the adult words to explain the experience.
I always remember being adopted.
Many people have asked me over the years when I remember being told I was adopted and my response is that I always just knew I was. According to my parents, they started explaining adoption to me from the very beginning, even before I could understand what it meant.
They explained that my birth Mom couldn’t take care of me and she wanted me to have a better life so much so that she went to the adoption agency and asked them to help find me a family. She knew that I needed a family that could take care of me and love me.
They explained that adoption was a gift … a gift that we gave each other.
They also explained that adoption was a choice and we chose each other.
Growing up, when other kids would ask what adoption meant, I would explain that my parents and I chose each other.
That is the first Chapter of my adoption story. And as I mentioned, my adoption story has many chapters.
This is the second Chapter of the story.
In the first years, we were a family of four. Unfortunately, a few weeks after my fourteenth birthday my Mom started to have serious breathing problems.
When it started, I was still too young to understand what was happening. Maybe nobody really understood. But it is then that everything started to change.
Mom was admitted to the hospital in late February, 1985, and was quickly diagnosed with a fatal lung condition. When she got admitted, I had no idea how serious it was. In fact, even through much of the hospitalization all of us thought she would be treated and then return to us.
One week later, she died.
To say that losing Mom was just a chapter in my life is a huge understatement. She was the cornerstone of our family. We three lost so much that day and the trajectory of my life was forever changed.
Our family structure changed and I assumed the Mom role … a role which I held onto throughout my teenage years until I was 19, when my Dad remarried.
There are many things I remember about Mom. One of the most profound memories I have is really more of a conglomerate – a pulling together of different snippets of memory here and there that mean more together than even the preciousness of the individual parts.
It is simply this: with Mom, I was home. No amount of separation – not time in the hospital or even death – can change that. I was given the gift of bonding with her in a way that is with me today. And I am eternally grateful for that.
Now for Chapter Three.
The next chapter in my adoption story began when my wonderful stepmom, Sharyn, and her two sons became part of our family.
We were now a family of four kids, four cats, two parents and a dog. We had known each other even before we became a family so there was much to talk about and much to do together.
And as can be expected with anything new, those early years were hard … blending us all together while many of us were still teens was both challenging … and beautiful at the same time.
I had some of the most amazing experiences just being with my brothers. As you might imagine, it was one girl to three boys … and I definitely had the upper hand!
In my teenage years, my Dad always said that if I ever wanted to find my birth Mom, he would help me. He wanted to let me know that even though the adoption was sealed, it wasn’t the end of the discussion. This, like so many other ways, was how he looked out for me and anticipated what might come up even before I knew what I was wanting.
By the time I hit my early twenties, I was struggling mightily with who I was and where I fit in the world. Unconsciously, I was wanting to replace Mom because I still missed her so much and never really grieved after she died.
Which leads into Chapter Four.
When I was 22, I asked for Dad’s help to find my birth Mom. He made the request easy, not only because he had been so open with his earlier offers to help but somehow he must have understood exactly what I was needing. After a short search filled with lots of coincidences, I found my biological Mom living just a few cities away from where I had grown up.
She is a loving person who exudes kindness and loves flowers and all things nature. Although she never had any other children, she has a very special immediate family who loved and accepted me right from the beginning. I am very grateful for the special relationship we now share.
She too gave me a gift, a very special one. A very selfless one. She knew I needed more than what she could provide and took the steps to make sure a family was found that would give me all the love I needed.
And Mom and Dad did just that.
My adoption story (and my life) has many chapters.
Mom and Dad instilled so many things in me by setting examples of hard work, determination, how to jump in and tackle any project, how to treat others as I wanted to be treated, and most of all how to love each other …. just as they loved me. They accepted me and supported me and I always felt surrounded by their love.
I don’t know that we did it perfectly, but I knew I was loved. And really, for any of us, how much more perfect than that can it be?
Through their love, I have become a confident, strong and happy adult who loves hard, shows up fully and can handle most anything. What’s more, I learned from them to care, be compassionate and share love freely.
I may have lost Mom way too soon but I was so blessed to have had her for fourteen wonderful years. She packed more gifts in the fourteen years we had together than some people do in an entire lifetime.
I was given a better life through the precious gift of adoption … and I will be forever grateful for that.
An amazing friend of mine said it best recently:
It’s not perfection that makes a great parent … it’s love.
So much love,
MLS P.S. What are the gifts in your life? I would love to read your stories in the comments below.