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.
I was not yet ready for life outside the womb
I’m 24 years old, a college student, and an adoptee. I have been aware that I was not biologically my parents’ child for as long as I can remember. My parents told me of my adoption when I was three years old, as soon as I was old enough to comprehend the fact that my parents and I look nothing alike, and ask why. Most of what follows here comes from what they shared with me, each time I asked about my birthmother.
My birthmother, D, was eighteen years old when I was born. She had another child already, from a previous relationship, who was three years old when I was conceived. D lived on welfare and already struggled to support herself, her child, and her boyfriend (incidentally my older half sibling’s father, with whom she had mended her differences). Her relationship with her boyfriend was rocky, and they did not live a very healthy lifestyle. So D decided to place me for adoption. She was unprepared to give me the life she felt I deserved.
My dad, N, is in Human Resources and my mom, C, is a special education teacher. Young and healthy, they were unable to conceive. They were matched with D through an agency and went to meet her. They got along well, and D chose them as my future parents. When I was younger, my mom would tell me often of the first time she felt me move inside D, how strong my kicks were.
I was due in November 1989. We were all unprepared for what would happen next.
On August 31st, 1989 D was driving when she realized she had forgotten something important at home and turned around to get it. As she did, she was struck by a drunk driver, and her belly hit the steering wheel of her vehicle. EMTs rushed her to the hospital where it was determined that the placenta had detached and an emergency C-Section was needed to save us both.
The surgery was performed and my parents were informed of my arrival by the hospital shortly after. They came ASAP to where I was, both ecstatic and a little disappointed. They had planned on being there for the labor and delivery in November, and were suddenly, unprepared or not, parents.
I had been born two and a half months early, three pounds and the size of a cabbage patch doll. I was not yet prepared for life outside the womb.
My early weeks were spent in the NICU but soon, I was strong enough to come home. It wasn’t until I was nine months old that my parents would discover that the car accident that had caused my early arrival, had had another effect. The lack of oxygen to my brain after the accident and before my delivery had been enough to lead to brain damage which manifested as cerebral palsy.
Out of all involved in the accident, I carried the least blame and the greatest consequences. Cerebral palsy is manageable but not curable. One person’s poor judgment changed so many lives. My parents were shaken by the diagnosis but tried to do the best they could. Though they had exchanged a letter or two with D, the last one was sent just after I turned one. She sent me pictures, a letter (written for my first birthday and to be read when I was older), a teddy bear. I love them all.
My parents never responded to her letters. They never told her of my diagnosis.
Every parent, in their deepest of hearts, though they will never admit it, wants a perfect child. They all also realize such a thing is impossible. For my parents however, my differences from my peers were glaringly obvious. They had not planned on a special needs adoption. I think this was especially hard on my mom, who as a special education teacher saw a need to fix my shortcomings. I am not broken, and do not need “fixing”.
Seeing me accept my limitations and welcome accommodations was something that my mom struggled with. It led to fights, and a lot of negative reinforcement. It really ramped up following my little brother’s birth in 1998. He was also adopted but physically able, and looked a lot more similar to my parents.
We were close and still are, and I love him very much. Seeing J surpass me in so many ways at such a young age, at least physically, was hard on mom and she pushed harder for me to do more, be more.
I was encouraged to spend time with able-bodied peers and to refrain from too much association with the disabled community. While I can understand my mom’s reluctance for me to anchor my identity on my disability, it made my search for identity even harder, as if being a young adult and an adoptee wasn’t hard enough. I was not fully able, yet not utterly disabled either.
I am physically behind and often intellectually above (if we look at IQ testing/school scores) my peers. I read at age two but did not walk until age eight. I still struggle with my identity each and every day, feeling as if I walk a tightrope, fearing rejection from others should I tumble to one side or the other and more firmly into one community or the other.
The criticism my mother heaped on me was her way of trying to motivate me. Others recognized it as emotional abuse. To me it sent a message that I was not good enough and could never be. It caused depression, anxiety, a suicide attempt. My parents said and did many hurtful things. The worst barbs thrown however, involved D. It was very hurtful to hear that my birthmom would be ashamed of me, or hate me, for my misbehavior or for my disability.
To this day, I want answers about my adoption. I long to meet and know D and her family and to share with her the person I have become. I often ignored my mother’s warnings of associating too firmly with either the disabled or able bodied community and have profited as a result.
I have been at the heart of fundraisers for disability support organizations where I was honored to speak, and played wheelchair basketball. I walked independently at my graduation from community college in May 2012, where I graduated with highest honors and as a member of Phi Theta Kappa academic honor society. I am learning (and teaching) martial arts at a dojang where I am the only one in a wheelchair. I am working toward a special education degree so I can help others who need it, as I once did.
I think of D often, but especially on my birthday. I wonder if there is more we have in common than DNA. But something holds me back from seeking information and making contact. I can legally reach her, but never have tried.
I am afraid of how she would react to finding out about my disability and the fact that it weighed so heavily on my upbringing. I am afraid to cause her guilt or pain when I do not blame her. I am afraid the hurtful words that my mother spat at me in anger will be true.
I don’t want to be hated. I want to be loved.
I also know that as a person with a disability, my only chance to be a parent may be through adoption. I am afraid that I will react to my child’s differences, if I adopt, in the same way as my mother did to mine. I don’t ever want my future child to be ashamed of who he or she is. I know that the birthparents will have had an equal role in shaping my child to my own and I am willing to embrace that.
So today I write this, not only to share my story and begin to heal but to make myself a promise that I would encourage others to make themselves. I promise to love and embrace the fact that I am unique, with my own story, just as my child will be some day. I will love and embrace any child I may one day adopt, for what they are and not what I wish he or she could be. And the world will be better for it.
Well, that’s my story. Thanks for listening. Somehow, I can’t help but think that D would be proud of me. I hope she is.
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