Thursday, February 26, 2015

Back in Portland

I haven’t been this puzzled by reunion in over twenty years.

This past Christmas, Kate and I had a big blowout. The thing is, it may have blown out unintended truths from me that I hadn’t known were there. I'm still trying to sort through them, so my blogs will be in parts as I go through it. This is part 1. 


Family is a complicated thing. More complicated for those of us adopted and in reunion. My mother chose to give me to another family, to be raised as their child. For better or for worse, that became my truth. My adopted family was all that I knew. At that moment of exchange, my birthmother and my original families ceased to exist. With no tie to the past, I only had the present.

Fast-forward eighteen years. I am the same child, now grown, and my world looks much like it did when I first became aware of my surroundings – I had my mom and dad, my brother, my childhood home, my friends, my neighborhood, my life. My world was solid, as real as the nose on my face.

I had known I was adopted since I was five. Finding out I was adopted didn’t change anything about my life. I still had my mom, my dad, my brother, my world. It just added a tidbit of information to it.  It was like finding out my adoptive mother was half German. Interesting maybe, but of little relevance in the day to day.

I thought it would be interesting to find my birthparents, to know where I came from. So I did.

And that changed everything.

Everything I knew about my life, my world, was a lie. I wasn’t a quarter German, I was half Polish. Suddenly, that mattered to me.

The original family I had been born into, and then removed from, was a large family of musicians, artists and adventurers. My grandfather had graduated from Harvard – or Yale – I forget which. They were boat people who enjoyed playing music.

The family I was put into was a small family of second-generation Irish immigrants. My dad was the first of his family to graduate college. They were more middle-class with working class values of a traditional family where my dad earned a living and my mom raised the kids. They were city people who enjoyed fancy dinners, wit and theater.

Neither family was better or worse, but they were decidedly different. Now, somehow, I belonged to them both (with more on the way when I would meet my birthfather ten years later).  

My birthmother was as much a stranger to me as anyone I would meet on the street, yet in a moment, we had become blood.

I felt invaded. I would swing between two extremes. There was euphoria in finally being connected to the earth, having confirmation that I had really had been born, and to people, and that I was part of people; and there was panic in the realization that who I was didn’t exist anymore. I wasn’t that person. I wasn’t this new person either. I was something in between.

Over the course of the next four years during college I absorbed the new information from that first meeting and waded into an interchange with my birthmother through letters, getting to know each other slowly, manageably.

The four years following that, I plunged into a relationship with my birthmother by moving across country to live with her and truly get to know her, and through that, get to know myself.

The years passed and we reached a buoyancy. It wasn’t always easy, but it was grounded. She was now part of my life. She wasn’t my mother, she was “Kate,” and that meant something, if only to me. I couldn’t explain what she was to me, but she was important to me. She would call me daughter, even though I wouldn’t call her mother, and that seemed to be okay, a kind of hard-won compromise.

We lived in the same town, and had our own lives, but were a part of each other’s lives. It had evolved into a normalcy that we felt it would be good to share our story with others who were new in reunion, or those who wondered about the effects of adoption, or people who struggled with their identity, or were trying to make up for past losses.

We’ve been writing our story for many years now, but I’m finding it’s still evolving, and change is hard.

Reunion is complicated. Even now, 25 years later. I don't know why it's still hard to sort out my feelings around it, but things flare up and it becomes clouded. I have to sort through it. 

Transformation is ugly before it turns beautiful.


to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to mothertone

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