Childhood Adoption Narratives. Describe the story your adoptive parents told you growing up. What age were you? What feelings and questions did you have about this “adoption narrative”? Was it a satisfying explanation for you? Explain. As an adult, whether or not you are in reunion, comment on how much of that story turned out to be true. Has your adoption narrative changed? What story, if any, do you share with friends, acquaintances? How to others react to your narrative? Are they curious, supportive, silencing?
It makes me sad to realize it, but I don’t remember much of my childhood narrative. I know the story “How We Got You” was written in my baby book by a’mom, but I no longer have it. They read it to me when I was young, and later I read it myself a few times. But I’m not one of those adoptees who grew up asking for “the story” over and over again. I didn’t talk about being adopted much at all. I do remember asking why I had been given up and being told it was because that my mother wasn’t married. That shut me up. Even as a very small child I knew women did not have babies without being married and not suffer a punishment.
And I remember asking what she was like and being told a very few things, mostly about her appearance. My a’parents didn’t tell me much because they didn’t know much. Around the time I was adopted, some social worker or another told my a’parents a few things about my mother and my background. As a’mom remembers it, they were not allowed to take notes. They weren’t even allowed to take a pen and paper into the room. When it was over, Mom ran out of the room, grabbed pen and paper, and wrote down everything she remembered. It all squared with the non-ID info I got decades later, and when I talked to my mother, she verified that the little scraps of information I had were true: her age, that she had long brown hair, that she attended college, that she was active in church youth groups, that her background was upper middle-class, and so forth. she also verified that everything else in my non-ID info was true.
I really don’t know when I was first told “How We Got You” or anything about my mother. I don’t remember ever not knowing I was adopted, either. My a’parents did know better than to simply tell me I was adopted once and never discuss it again, as some did back then.
I do remember imagining the baby supermarket when some well-meaning person told me I was “chosen.” And I remember once asking my parents how much I cost. Back then, their legal fees amounted to about two hundred bucks…plus another twenty for the clothes I had on when they brought me home.
I knew I had been born two months premature, that I lived for a month in a foster home, and what my “baby name” was. My parents incorporated it into my middle name, and did the same for my a’bro. Although I’m a feminist, one reason I hyphenated my surname when I married was so that my middle name would not disappear and be replaced by a maiden name. That middle name was my one connection with my past, and I wanted to keep it.
The story has changed only in that I now have a few more details. I have some photos of my mother and her family, and I know her name (but not my father’s). I know I have two half-sisters my mother, as of the time I found her ten or so years ago, had never told of my existence. She told me she hadn’t told them because she didn’t want them to think it was acceptable to have sex outside of marriage, which is, of course, the very opposite of “the moral of the story.” She was still ashamed of herself. She’d kept the secret all her life, and had told no one but her husband (she was dating him at the time she got pregnant by my father).
I don’t really tell the story unless people ask. Many people don’t. Many adoption conversations I’ve had consisted only of “I’m adopted” and “Oh.” In recent years, as I’ve already mentioned, I’ve told the story most often to my students. To them I have to explain why I was given up, because our attitudes about out-of-wedlock birth are so different now. I have to explain what a Crittenton Home is (how I wish I could say “was”!). And I always talk about the amended birth certificate, because I think it’s wrong and because, if I don’t, students ask why I don’t know more about my origins. Many young people seem to think all adoptions are open, and that “open” means one’s OBC is retained.
Then they asked whether I’ve found her. Unlike previous generations, they expect adoptees to search. It’s people my age and older who keep the old version of the good adoptee alive in their heads. They ask how my adoptive parents felt about my search and how dare I not allow my mother her “privacy” and all that tired old crap.
I do have a favorite new detail that’s been added to my story, although I don’t generally tell it. It’s this: On my first birthday, my mother’s mother went down to the state Department of Welfare (or wherever the legal relinquishment had taken place) and tried to find out what had become of me. I’m glad someone did that. It did me a lot of good to know it.