October 30th – it’s my birthday today. I turn 33. So it’s only appropriate that I delve into something that I’ve never said here before: I’m adopted. I was adopted from birth. And nearly two years ago, I connected with my biological parents for the first time.
I recently sat down with my friend (and parenting blogger) Jeremy Uriz to discuss what it was like to grow up as an adopted kid, and what impact this has on me now. Jeremy has a vested interest in knowing: as of earlier this year, Jeremy and his wife Jennifer became the proud adoptive parents of a toddler from China, Penelope. Let me tell you, she is a cutie, and ridiculously smart, to boot. Jeremy has been chronicling her life, and their life as parents, at Belonging Together. It’s a treasure trove of information and wisdom on parenting, adoption, cross-cultural parenting/adoption, et al.
In our two-part interview – which you can read as a transcript or listen to as a podcast – we discuss adoption and parenting from all sides. If you want, you can jump right now to part one and part two – otherwise, here are some excerpts…
Jeremy: Recently you had a unique experience among some adoptive people. We’ll discuss that in a little bit. Let me just start out and ask you how sensitive a topic is adoption now versus 10 or 20 years ago?
Mike: Do you mean how sensitive do I think it is in the culture at large?
M: I would say in most corners it’s way more open now than it used to be. My impression is, and what I’ve gathered, is there used to be a culture of almost shame and secrecy around adoption and now people are far more commonly talking about adoption, either if it’s their children that they have adopted or if they are kids or adult children who were adopted it seems more common now. It’s more out in the open.
J: When did you find out you were adopted?
M: I found out I was adopted when I was, I want to say, 4 or 5 years old. I kept pestering my mom about “birds and the bees” type questions and think I point blank asked her at one point if I grew in her belly. My mom is of the “I will not tell a direct lie” school of ethics, and though it was an uncomfortable topic for her, she decided to give it to me straight. She told me then that I was adopted and that they chose me, my mom and dad chose me, and that they loved me very much because they especially chose me.
J: What were your feelings at the time?
M: …to hear my feelings, go here for the continuation of Part One.
Jeremy: That brings me to another question. Did you feel there was a piece of you that was in a sense “filled in” by this connection or did you know it was there, did you not know it was there and you only discovered it when you began speaking to [your birth mother]?
Mike: That’s such interesting question. Connecting with both her, and shortly thereafter my birth father, I did see some aspects in common in terms of they were both very opinionated people, they are both entrepreneurial, and creative. And so there were some cool resonances there but it actually wasn’t as intensely ”Oh I found this missing piece of myself” as I think I may have built it up in my mind. I think there’s a bit of allure that develops around adoption that makes you feel like there’s this sort of ache or primal wound or something that once you find these people you’re going to have a missing piece of yourself.
I was very fortunate to have a wonderful reunion experience with both of my birth parents. I know in some cases the birth parents don’t want to be in touch, or they turn out to be co-dependent, or addicts, or there’s all kind of horror stories out there. I’m really grateful that none of that was the case with me.
At the same time I think that what it confirmed that there are some ways in which I am simply unique. So in the ways in which I felt like maybe I didn’t fit in when I was growing up among my parents, my adoptive parents, that maybe if I ever imagined “well I don’t fit in with them but it’s because I’m more like my birth parents” in some ways I’ve discovered that I’m just a unique person on my own two feet. It’s great as an adult to be in a relationship with the parents I’ve always had as well as my birth parents.But I’m relating to all of them really as an adult.
Yeah, its an interesting process. It’s not over yet by any means so I’m still along for the journey in this regard.
J: So in some respects it offers you a larger palate to work from than other people.
J: Not necessarily the way people would choose but it’s the hand you were dealt.
M: Yeah, it is the hand I was dealt. [I would add that this is not as grim as it sounds! By and large, I like the upbringing I had, though it’s not without its challenges. I am grateful for how things unfolded, and continue to be grateful for how they unfold today with my big, diverse, interesting family…] And I think increasingly in this day and age there are a lot of adopted children, and lots of blended families, people who have step parents of one sort or another, I think a lot of us are getting to play with larger palates these days as we’re discovering why we’ve developed in the way we have and what’s formed our identity.
J: Now this particular question is going to be important for me and anyone reading, or for a lot of people reading this. What do you feel adoptive parents should know about their adopted children? Is there something about the experience? For Jennifer and I we can’t relate in some respects to the experience Penelope has. What is it that parents should know in this circumstance?
M: …to hear my life-changing advice for adoptive parents, continue on over to Part Two.
How about you? Have you adopted children? ARE you adopted? What’s your story? I’d like to hear, here
Mike, my sister and I are also adoptees–our parents kept it a secret but, being of high intelligence and ridiculously insanely high curiosity, we figured it out. We were in our 20s when our parents finally “came clean” about it. In our 30s, we both found our birth families and our stories are so completely different from each others (and from yours) it would take a book to tell. I would love to collaborate in something like that.
One thing I will say to adoptive parents is to break the wall of silence on the issue. I get my parents are weirdos about this, but my sister is still very bitter. It’s not necessary! Be honest.
Wow – this sounds like quite the story; I do hope you take the time to tell it, sometime soon. Let me know if you do.
This is well-told. 🙂