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.
You Are Ready To Find Her
By Leigh Anne Tani
Not different. Special. That's what I was always told. I was chosen, hand-picked because they wanted me so much. I was fifteen months old when I was adopted. Before that, I had been in foster care. My family has always been very open about the fact I was adopted. I was told from day one that I was special and theirs and they love me like their own – because I was their own. I have an older brother who is theirs by birth but in every way he is my brother.
When I was growing up, people would comment on how much I looked like my mom or my dad, how I had the same allergies as my mom or the same laid back personality as my dad, and we would giggle and say “really? She’s adopted! Good match hey?”
Adoption was never a secret or taboo thing in my world. Whenever I had a question or was curious about my birth mother, my mom would always tell me “when the time is right, we will help you find out everything you need to know”. In the 70's adoptions were closed; there was very little information made public. I always wondered about my background but never felt like I was missing anything. My family was my family. End of story. I was where I was supposed to be.
My teen years were full of trials and attitude, like most teenage girls. Only once do I remember being so angry at my mom that the thought flashed through my head: “you aren't my mom, one day I will find her. I will NEVER do this to my own child, I will never give up a child and make her wonder who she is or where she came from.” Yes, I thought it, but I would never have said that out loud, as I know how much it would hurt my mom. Of all the crazy thoughts that raced through my teenaged mind – that one stuck.
When I got pregnant at eighteen, I ate those words. There were a million things running through my mind. My parents were less than thrilled but said they would support whatever decision I made. The decision and responsibility were mine and mine alone. My parents said very little to sway me one way or the other, but the wisest thing my mom told me during that time was “look where you are, the family you have and the opportunities that have opened up for you because your birth mother chose to make the adoption choice for you.”
My decision was made. I would put the baby up for adoption. I got involved with an adoption agency and moved away from my family and friends. I didn't need any outside influences -- this was my choice. Once I had fully made my decision, I was firm in it.
It was a very open adoption process. I picked the family that my baby was going to go to. The agency gave me a very generic list of families and non-identifying information. As I narrowed that list down, I was given a bit more of a detailed description of each remaining family. Then it went down to a list of ten, but I kept going back to one specific couple. Then it was narrowed down to two couples. And finally I choose. I don't know what made me chose them; they were just “right”. And I knew this was the family this baby belonged to.
Being in the hospital for three days with that little girl beside me was surreal. I knew she wasn't mine to keep. She didn't belong to me. I felt like I was babysitting until her mom and dad came to get her. I truly knew she didn't belong with me, that she was destined for things greater than what I could do for her. And this was the way it was supposed to be. Not saying that I didn't think “what if”, because I did, but these were fleeting thoughts and I just knew she wasn't mine. I loved her more than what I could give her.
When I returned home, my mom said to me, “Now is the time, you know exactly what your birth mom went through, you are ready to find her.” So we retrieved the files from Social Service, by that point files had been opened to the public and I was able to get a last name to start from. My mom, knowing this day would come, pulled out an old phone book that she had saved from the year and the city where I was born and we flipped thru it together but were unable to find anything (and even if we had found anything would they really be there 19 years later?)
My parents did everything in their power to help me contact everyone in the province I was born in with that last name. We wrote a generic letter and mailed it to everyone with that last name giving the few bits of personal information we had about my birth mom. A few weeks later I got a phone call from my birth mother. It was another surreal event in my life. And my parents (who happened to be out of town at the time) were thrilled for me.
Later that day I received another call, this time from my birth father, who had been contacted by a friend of my birth moms. The running joke at the time from my parents was that they went away for one week and I found a whole new family! If my parents ever felt threatened or nervous for me, they never let on, they just supported and loved me throughout this entire process.
I learned I had two half brothers on my birth father’s side and an entire extended family on both sides that was excited to meet me. It took about a year before I was really ready to meet face to face. With my mom at my side, I met my birth mother, and birth father on separate occasions and got a glimpse into the life I could have had. I have met everyone and am blessed to have them all as part of my extended family circle.
These experiences solidified my belief that I truly am where I belong. My family is my family. My Mom is my mother, and my Dad is my father. They were the ones who changed my diapers, got up with me as a sick child, held my hand through all life’s scary moments, stood back and supported and loved me thru all my horrible teen years. I realized at that moment that Mom is a name that is earned, not just given because you have a child.
My girl just turned eighteen. I don't call her my daughter, she’s my girl; she is someone else’s daughter. I am not her Mom, I am someone else’s Mom, and she has her own Mom. I have been blessed to have had a fairly open relationship with her parents, letters pictures and updates regularly, and I treasure each one of them. I know her Mom and Dad have told her she is special too. Not different. Special.
Leigh Anne Tani works with Adults with Developmental Disabilities and lives with her husband and son in British Columbia.
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