In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the third annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.
Someone Might Be Looking For Me
By Kris Koenig
Hi. I’m Kris and I’m adopted. It feels kind of weird to introduce myself like that, as for the most part my adoption has been a complete and total non-issue in my life. When people find out that I’m adopted they say, “Wow! What’s it like to be adopted?” and I usually respond with a blank look and say, “I have no idea. What’s it like not to be adopted?” Adoption is simply my reality, and has been since I was a few days old.
It was a closed adoption, because that’s how things were usually done in the late 1970s, but there was never any kind of taboo around it for me, and never a feeling that I couldn’t talk about it, ask questions about it, or think about it. I just mostly didn’t, simply because I had no reason to. I grew up with age appropriate definitions of the word “adopted,” always knowing that my parents were willing to answer any questions I had if I had them, and that was that.
When strangers or family friends made observations that I didn’t look like my parents, I just shrugged, said “I’m adopted,” and that was usually the end of it. I remember one time in school, probably around fourth or fifth grade, where a girl on the playground said I didn’t look like my mom, who was a teacher at the school, so I told her I was adopted. She asked if I liked living with my “foster mom and dad” and if I ever wanted to find my “real parents”.
It was the first time I was ever faced with someone defining my family as not real, and it was a little startling, which is probably why I remember the incident so well. Her statements were mostly coming from confusing the foster care system with adoption, and I was able to explain that even though we’re not biologically related, I lived with my real parents. My mom and dad are as “real” to me as hers are to her. We both came away with more understanding that day. She learned more about adoption, and I learned more about how other people perceive it.
I’ve always been open to talking about being adopted, as it’s simply a fact of life for me, like having green eyes. It’s just who I am and I’m very matter-of-fact about it, and because of this attitude, friends with questions or issues about adoption tend to seek me out. When I was in college, another girl in my dorm found out she was adopted. I couldn’t imagine getting that kind of news at age eighteen, as at that point, the emotional roller coaster of being a teenager is hard enough to deal with and you’ve started to build your own self-image and begin to have an idea of who you are, and that kind of news at that point in life completely upsets your identity. She was rightfully upset and angry and had a ton of questions, and even though I didn’t know her well at that point, she knocked on my door at midnight.
We had a long talk about what adoption meant to me, about the adoption process, and about the traditional secrecy that’s surrounded it for so long. I reassured her that her real mom and dad were the people who had calmed her nightmares as a child, helped her with her homework, and cheered at her high school graduation, and a stupid thing like not being biologically related was never going to change that. She felt better about her relationship with her parents, but spent the rest of the year on an obsessive search for her biological relatives.
As I watched her go through this, I thought about finding my own birth mother. The thought occurred to me that someone might be looking for me, maybe with the same amount of anguish and loss that I was seeing in my college friend. The way I’ve always seen it is that I have a wonderful family and could never ask for better. There was never a feeling of incompleteness or not knowing something important in my life, so I never felt the need to look.
Other than an idle thought here and there, usually after someone else brought up the subject of adoption, my biological relatives never crossed my mind. However, watching my friend search made me think of something: While I personally didn’t care if I ever had contact with my birth mother, I didn’t want anyone going through the agony of searching and not knowing because of me. So, I went on a couple of the adoption websites and put in my information, and then promptly forgot about it for the next decade.
During that decade, I didn’t know that someone had used that information to find me, as I’d used my college email address, had since finished college, and lost access to that email account. I didn’t know that my birth mother had sent me an email and that I never received it. Somehow, though, it seems like the universe has a way of working things out.
When I didn’t respond to her email, she assumed that I wasn’t ready for contact, and decided to let me contact her in my own time, but left her information on the website. A few years later, some acquaintances who were thinking about adopting came to me and asked a bunch of the usual adoptive parent questions: “Should we do an open or closed adoption?” “What about adopting from the foster system?” “If we do a closed adoption, what do we do or say if our child wants to find their birth parents?” I answered all their questions as best I could, and at one point ended up explaining about the adoption search websites. Another friend who happened to be at the table and was a computer guy asked, “So you just pop in there, update your info, and then if someone has the matching info, they can find you just like that?”
At that moment, I realized I’d never updated the information that I’d used in college, and if someone had tried to contact me I’d never have known.
On my break at work a few days later, I had a couple of minutes to spare and went to the website I’d found a decade earlier, signed in and updated my information. I’m still not quite sure what button I clicked on, as I was just intending to submit the new information, but the computer ran a search for matches… and there it was. Her name. My birth-mother. My mind came to a screeching halt. This was not expected. I’d intended to let her find me, not find her quite like that. I didn’t have any time at all to process the information, so I just put her name and phone number in my cell phone and got back to work. If you ask me what happened at work that day, I honestly couldn’t tell you. Everything is a blur until that evening.
I had a guitar lesson that night. I’d been taking lessons for about three years from the same teacher, and when I was having trouble with a really basic exercise, he put his guitar to the side and said, “Whatever it is, spill it.” So, I told him what was going on, and that I didn’t know what to do. He looked a little amused and said, “She wouldn’t have given you her phone number if she didn’t want you to call her, so go home and call her and we’ll reschedule, since you won’t accomplish anything here with all that going on in your head.” He was right. So I went home and stared at the cell phone for an hour.
I finally worked out in my mind what I was going to say when she answered, called the number, and was completely unprepared when I got her voice mail. I panicked and hung up. After I’d figured out what message I wanted to leave and wrote it down, I called back. She answered, which threw my prepared script out the window, but I managed to stammer a hello, that I was born at this hospital on this day, and that I was adopted. She figured out what I was trying to say and I don’t remember her exact response, but we talked for a while, agreeing to fill out the paperwork to open the adoption records.
I got a call from the adoption agency within a few days confirming that yes, she was my birth-mother, and I got a really nice email from her saying that she would like to get to know me, but to please reassure my parents that she had absolutely no intention of interfering. I printed out the email and showed it to my mom and dad when I told them. They were surprisingly cool about the whole thing, the adoption reunion. I was expecting more of a freak-out, but they handled it in the same matter-of-fact manner that they handled everything related to my adoption, which was the best thing they could’ve done, as I was freaking out a bit myself at that point.
My birth-mother and I met in person a few days later at a restaurant early in the evening, and we ended up staying there talking until the restaurant was about to close. We found that we had the strangest things in common, like a tendency to start craft projects and not finish them. A couple of days later, she and her husband introduced me to the rest of the family, and I brought over some photo albums so she could see what I looked like as a kid. I remember flipping through the pages and her husband saying, “You look so much like your sister in this picture.” I was just floored. I’d never had anyone say I looked like anybody before. While I was used to not looking like anybody else and it wasn’t an issue, it was pretty cool to compare pictures of my sister and myself at the same age. We really do look a lot alike.
My birth-mother and I keep in touch on Facebook and get together every so often for dinner, and for the most part I still don’t think much about the fact that I’m adopted unless someone else brings it up. It’s just who I am, and I’m pretty happy with who I am. I have four half-siblings, which I think is really cool. While I do think of them as my brothers and sisters, my birth-mother is not my mom, however good our friendship might be. We just don’t have that kind of relationship, and we never will. Like I told my friend all those years ago, your mom and dad are the people who raised you, and nothing will ever change that.
Kris Koenig is an attorney in the Los Angeles area. In her non-existent spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters, takes Irish dance lessons, and occasionally jumps out of perfectly good airplanes. She is an avid fan of science fiction and was thrilled to see through Carrie's blog that a love of Star Wars is being passed to the younger generation.
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