Who Am I?

In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fourth 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.  

By Jennifer Rowlands

I may never have a complete picture of who I am. You know when a part of you is missing, like a ravine carved permanently on your insides. It manifests itself, even if you’re not told that something is gone, even if the thing that is gone is not worth having.

Maybe the pieces began to fall into place when I realized that the last name on the blanket I brought to kindergarten was different than the one I knew to be mine at the time. Or later, when I studied the picture of me as a small child, in the tan corduroy pants and grey turtle neck, and wondered at the source of my blonde hair and blue eyes that were so different from the dark hair and brown eyes that the rest of my immediate family shared. Perhaps I felt something missing when I realized that I stood out from my father’s side of the family like a square peg, just like my mother, never really fitting into their family circle.

It was kept secret from me until I was fifteen.

Yes, fifteen. Now, I don’t know for certain the reason my mother finally told me, but this is what I perceived from the situation:

I was dating a guy, my first serious boyfriend. My mother, apparently, was afraid that I would suddenly become pregnant as a result. If I had, it would have made headlines, because I was still a virgin at the time and had no immediate plans to change that fact. Here is the story as it was told to me:

She is my biological mother, but the father I knew and loved was not the one who created me. My mom was in the army, stationed in Germany. She signed up at age eighteen, right after graduating high school. She met a guy there; also American, also in the army, blonde hair, blue eyes. He promised to marry her when they returned to the states. I was made in Germany. He later returned to the US before her and married another woman. I was born in a military hospital. The lines on my birth certificate where my biological father’s information would be were left blank.

Keep in mind that I was fifteen…

Did I feel I deserved to know sooner? Yes, and I still do.

Did I throw a typical teenage girl tantrum about it? No.

Did it change how I felt about my mother and the father I was raised with? Of course. I was incredibly grateful to my mother for not aborting me or giving me away. I loved her then and always will. I also felt differently about my father. He loved my mom enough to take the whole package, and it was his decision to adopt me. He chose to care for me as his own after someone else, as far as I know, chose to have nothing to do with me. I know without a doubt that he loved me then and loves me still.

Am I curious to know more? Absolutely.

What was life like for me? For a few years after my birth, my mother and I lived with her family: my grandmother, my grandfather, three aunts, and two uncles. I can’t remember anything from this time, but I wish I could.

What I know about that side of my family, the one that is part of me, is that they are the craziest bunch of people you could ever hope to meet. I take pride in knowing I’m just as nuts as they are (nuts in a good way, not nuts enough to belong in an asylum -- in my opinion). I could always and will always be able to be myself around them without fear of judgment or rejection. Despite any less-than-attractive quirks they may have--and we all have them--they are part of me, and I would never change that.

My grandmother, I call her Gummy Bear, becomes the mother or grandmother of everyone she meets. I have to be honest: if you don’t know her, you are at a great loss, because she is the most wonderful person I could ever imagine. When she met my father, the one I will always consider to be my father, she tried to hook him and my mother up several times. They did meet once, but nothing came of it then. But, as fate would have it, they found each other in their own time. They were meant to be; I am convinced of it.

I could never wish my biological father back, because I couldn’t imagine my parents being without one another.

After my mom and dad were married, I remember living near my father’s family. Luckily, Gummy Bear was close enough that I saw her at least every weekend. I should preface with saying that I’ve always been able to get a good sense about people. I see them and can get a good feel for whether I want to know more, or simply turn away. I haven’t always followed those instincts. But I have found, as I grew older, that by listening to my instincts, I have been able to surround myself with people I would not choose to live without. They are loyal and loving and imperfect and accept me for who I am, just as I accept them.

That being said, I did not mix well with my father’s family. They are not bad people. Their personalities are simply different from me in ways that will prevent us from ever understanding one another. I was always quiet, and when I wasn’t, I was soft spoken. They were loud and rambunctious and demanded I come out of my all-too-comforting shell before I was ready. I see myself as being observant and accepting--as much as I can be--whereas they want me to be like them.

If they are talking loudly and teasing, you should be too, because they will call you out on it. If they love to eat seafood, you must too, because they will shove it in your mouth. What I took from this, many years down the road, was that they accepted me. I wasn’t theirs, but they still took me in and treated me like one of the family. That, in itself, is blessing enough.

Still, being the odd one out is never easy, and it carries into every facet of my life without me even knowing it’s there. I felt like I didn’t belong at home, where the family I saw most often was the one I didn’t fit into. I felt like I didn’t belong at school, where there were cliques and other friendships that formed at a young age. At school I was also quiet and solitary and afraid to even be noticed.

Later, when I found out that I was adopted by my father, I wondered if that was why I was always so different at home and at school. Maybe that’s why people laughed at me when I finally did speak up. Or why I didn’t have as many friends, or any who wanted to get to know the real me--whoever that was. It was definitely the reason that people noticed I looked nothing like my parents.

Eventually, I adopted something of my own: the idea that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. We are all different people, inside and out. Watching my family was enough proof of that. Despite our differences, we managed to get along rather well.

What I already had was the knowledge that I was loved: by my parents, my sister, my biological family, even the adopted family who had a strange way of showing their affection.

What happened to my biological father? From what I was told, he had to be at court to sign the adoption papers. My mother said that he asked how she was, but he asked no questions about me whatsoever.

This is where my inquisitive mind begins to question things. If his name was not on my birth certificate, what need did the court have of him? Personally, I hope he didn’t really show up in person at court. His mere appearance would indicate that he had some sort of claim on me, the child he forfeited. On the other hand, if he did show up, I’m glad he did the right thing and left me with my real family.

I haven’t asked my mother any questions since the day she told me I was adopted. I didn’t even ask many then.

How do you ask questions when you don’t even know what to ask? The most important questions I have now are about family medical history, and that is solely for the benefit of my children.

But I do wonder what else I get from my biological father. My mom showed me his picture. His most obvious features -- blonde hair and blue eyes --were passed on to me. But I wonder if any of my personal traits, my character, my humor, my emotional tendencies -- if anything about who I am -- came from him. Someday, I do hope to get up enough courage to find out what he was like. Just to know.

I may or may not have spoken to him once. My husband ran an Internet search with my father’s name and the birthdate we guessed from beneath the whiteout on a document my mother gave me. I found a number and spoke to a man whose son had the same name. I told him I was interviewing former army soldiers.

He confirmed he was in the army in the 80s. Once I had that tiny piece of information which, to me, was enormous, I became overanxious. The next question, as I had rehearsed it, was to confirm that he had been stationed in Germany, specifically.

Instead, I went right for the kicker: Did you know my mother? And I gave him her name. He wasn’t interested in the conversation after that. All answers were quick “No’s” and, we were off the phone before I even recognized the incredible mistake I had made. Could I call him back? Yes. Will I? Unsure. Who would fall for the same trick twice?

Who am I? I may never have a complete picture of who I am, according to genetics. What I do know is who I am as a person.

I am an optimist as often as I can be. I am a complainer. I want everything to have a place and for everything to be in its place. I like to get messy, if it’s with my kids. I’m a natural romantic, affectionate, and loving. I am loyal and honest. I hold everyone to high moral standards that I know we, being human, cannot always meet. I laugh and joke and cry. I have emotional highs and lows that are often unpredictable. I have incredible self-control, when I chose to use it. I avoid conflict, but will speak up when I think it’s right. I am a protector and a nurturer. I am clumsy and goofy. I am a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a niece, a friend, a wife, and most importantly, a mom. I have regrets and have made mistakes, but would not change a thing because that could change the person I have become and the people who are in my life.

Do I want to know who my real father is or if I have more family out there? Sure.

Do I have questions about why he left my mom or if he even knew about me? Definitely.

Would I trade anything I have or anything I am, good or bad, to get those answers? Not a thing.

Jennifer Rowlands an Instructional Designer with Paychex, Inc. She also writes and self-publishes her own books on the side. You can see what she has done on her website: Jennifer-Rowlands.com. She has been married for eight years and is a mother to two wonderful boys.

Jennifer R

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