In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fifth 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 Bob Mulkey
It came without warning. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Certainly not what I was seeking. Like a thief in the night, it hit without notice. And like a nighttime theft, it took me a while to realize what had happened, and even longer to accept it.
I’ve decided that I’m done.
I’m done with the adoption thing.
I’m done with searching, done with questions, done with seeking.
I’m just done.
There’s nothing left, and it’s a bit of a shock to me.
Before I continue, it’s important to mention I understand I have to tread carefully as I explain this tectonic shift in my life as an adoptee. I’m very much aware that many hundreds of thousands of people are just beginning a search for their biological families. New laws are being passed seemingly every month throughout America allowing adoptees the right to access their birth records, something I have always wholeheartedly supported.
And I’m painfully aware of the many people who have been searching for months, years, or decades for information or family members. Some have, regrettably, found that their biological parents are deceased. Some, even more regrettably, have never found any information and are left clawing for answers, lamenting what might have been. Worst of all, some have had doors slammed in their faces. The ultimate cruelty.
I cannot begin to fathom their pain. For that reason, I tread lightly.
In considering the efforts and struggles of so many of my adopted peers, I feel almost guilty. Spoiled even. From the very beginning, my search was smooth. Everything fell into place and I don’t know why. Why was it so easy for me?
Now, however, after thirty-eight years, I’m tired and I’m done. I’ve reached a point where I don’t need anything more. I’ve met my birth family, save for my mother, who died in 1972. I found a beloved full brother. I had a relationship, albeit a turbulent one, with my birth father, now deceased. I met my late mother’s sister.
Later I traveled to Italy with my father and brother to meet my father’s family, including my paternal grandfather, who became my hero. I established precious, abiding relationships with everyone in Italy, that remain to this day. There were tremors throughout my journey, to be sure. There were raw emotions. There were fights and misunderstandings.
But I got answers. I got closure. I learned about my heritage, I learned about me. I observed traits in my birth family that were parallel to mine, and it made me feel proud. It made me feel like I had origins. It felt good to know there was someone else like me somewhere out there in the world. I felt less alone.
Yet it never seemed to be enough. I strove. I fought. I pushed. For what, I’m still not sure I know. I just know that there was a force inside that compelled me to continue to thrust forward into a vastness that I couldn’t visualize from a void I couldn’t identify.
So I kept going. I wrote and published a book about my adoption journey. I quit my job to promote my book. Media articles followed. Book signings. Radio interviews. Web essays. A worldwide podcast. Affirming emails and reviews.
Then, out of the blue, my biological brother gave me an apartment in Italy so I could live near our extended family. It offered an incredible opportunity to embrace my culture. And recently, I traveled to Warsaw and Krakow, Poland to research the family of my birth mother, the mother I never knew.
In Poland, genealogical information practically fell into my lap. Finding the facts I needed, I then flew to Lviv, Ukraine. In Ukraine I found the birthplaces of my maternal grandparents. I found the church my ancestors had attended, going back seven generations.
And I found yet another family.
They were flabbergasted to learn of me. I met first with a cousin for coffee and we talked for seven hours. My newfound family had embraced me as soon as they found out I was looking for them. These relatives stared at me in disbelief, shocked that a distant, unknown family member from North America would quit his job and move to Europe to find them. Why would I do that?
My original reason for coming to Italy had been to write a book about my journey to Ukraine to learn the details of my heritage from biological mother’s side of the family. In my mind, it would have partnered with the first book, which discussed my lifelong journey of juggling the two identities bequeathed me, from both my adoptive family and my biological family.
I had hoped the two books would complement each other serving as both an entre and a coda to a lifetime of search and discovery. In my mind, the second book would have represented a sense of completion.
But completion arrived before a single word was written.
I’m not going to write the book. At least not right now. I have nothing left inside of me. I’m spent. There’s nothing more to give. I feel as though I’ve reached the end of the road. I don’t even have the desire to write a second book, although I reserve the right to change my mind and nurture that desire in the future.
I’ve also decided I’m not going to identify myself as an adoptee anymore. “Adoptee” will no longer be a title for me. I’m bored with the whole thing. To be sure, I won’t deny that aspect of my life. I will share my experiences and my observations with others if asked.
And I hope I still will be occasionally asked. I think the uniqueness behind, and length of, my experiences can bring awareness and knowledge to others. Thirty-eight years provide a great deal of perspective and wisdom.
But I’m not going to initiate the conversation.
After these decades of seeking, wondering and questioning, it’s time for me to put this adoption thing to bed. How long can I keep going? How long did I ever expect to keep going? Do I want to be devoured by this insatiable lust? Had I already been devoured?
I never in my wildest dreams expected to take things this far. I never planned to visit Italy. My birth father told me all about the relatives here, but I didn’t entertain any thoughts of visiting. My feeling was that they lived in a different culture and spoke a different language. I believed the barriers to a relationship were too great.
I was wrong.
Neither did I ever consider traveling to Eastern Europe to look for my birth mother’s family. The very concept seemed too far removed from reality. And even after I moved to Italy to begin my European search, I didn’t expect much to come from it.
Again, I was wrong.
Now, armed with so much knowledge and information, and so many rewarding relationships, I feel unable to go any further. I was seeking answers and I’ve found them, answers I’m finding myself unable to articulate right now. Yet I know they are there. Hence the realization that I’m done.
I’ve been told, “the journey is the goal.” If that’s the case, this decades-long journey from Salem, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia to Villa Pigna, Italy to Kuty, Ukraine has come to an end. My goal is complete. At least this goal is complete. It’s time for new goals.
And I think, too, that it’s time for me to accept what is and what isn’t. It boils down to this—I am an adoptee. It is part of who and what I am. But it is only one thread in my life, not the entire tapestry. It is one tile, not the whole mosaic. It is not my sole identity. It never should have been. It is only part of what makes me, me. An important part, but it’s not everything.
By obsessing over the unchangeable fact of my adoption, I put much of my life on hold. I allowed my adoption and my subsequent searching to overwhelm my psyche and control my destiny. Rather than balance my existence, my adoption obsession usurped it and barred me from growing in other areas that weren’t adoption-related.
I wish I knew what propelled me all these years. I’m sure I will figure it out eventually. After the dust has settled and my mind is free, I have a feeling that more answers will be revealed to me.
It feels strange putting to bed this issue that has enveloped me for so many years. Yet I feel comfortable doing so. Liberated, even. I guess one mark of maturity is acknowledgment when something is finished, rather than trying to keep it going. But without the imprimatur of adoption superimposed over my identity, what will I be now? It’s time to find out.
So here I sit, approaching fifty-seven years of age. Sometimes I wonder how much I’ve missed in life. But then I consider how much I’ve received. I chose a path that took me on a life voyage that was vastly different from anything I ever considered for myself. An unconventional path, for sure, that defined me beyond what I ever could have imagined.
Sometimes I wonder what my life might have looked like had I chosen a more traditional route. Yet I cannot imagine my life any differently. Am I sorry I made what could be considered a detour?
If it were 1977 and if I were eighteen years old and knew what would happen over the next thirty-eight years, I would do it all over again. The path I chose had its own detours. Emotional landslides and other barriers blocked my progression. There were times I languished and stagnated.
Yet if I hadn’t chosen the option to seek my family, I never would have found answers. I never would have had a brother. I wouldn’t have had such vivid experiences that have taken me to inconceivable levels, emotionally and spiritually.
This journey was messy. I never knew I could hurt so badly. I never knew I could love so deeply. I never knew I could hate so fiercely.
But most importantly, I never knew I could forgive so completely.
By seeking my family, I was able to ultimately learn and observe each side of my existence—the nature versus the nurture—and how they impacted each other. In taking my search all the way to the Old Country, in both Italy and Ukraine, I was able to find the origins of my being. Finding yet more family recently in Ukraine seems to have slammed shut the door to my relentless search. My thirst is quenched.
I’ve found what I’m looking for. It will be awhile before I can enunciate exactly what that is. But this much I do know.
I’m an adoptee. And I’m complete.
Robert Mulkey is the author of the book, This is My Lemonade—An Adoption Story. He is about to return from Alba Adriatica, Italy where he did research on the other side of his genealogy in Poland and Ukraine and continued his writing.
As a special offer, Robert’s Kindle book is available for $2.99 on Kindle for the next 72 hours. Follow Robert at:
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