Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Revd Rosalind C Hughes
I was a lanky child, long of limb and neck. My parents would joke that maybe I had some giraffe in me – they had picked me up from close to Bristol Zoo. Soon I was a blonde head with blue eyes taller than my big brother, with his chestnut hair and hazel eyes.
My brother and I were nothing alike. Our mother liked to tell me the story of how he sat beside me on the back seat of the car when they first drove me home in my carry-cot from that rendezvous near to the zoo. She loved to tell how, as a toddler, he taught me “the facts of life” sitting on the bottom stair, dispensing his newly acquired elder insight into where babies came from. I have no memories of my own of a time that we were close.
By the time I was a teenager, at the pub on a Friday night, people I met would react with disbelief when I told them my name, and they realized who my brother was. It was not only that our paths ran divergently. We also looked nothing alike.
My brother’s life did not turn out in a way that any parent would plan for their child, with the singular and shining exception of his son. We still exchange birthday and Christmas cards (most of the time); he is not in touch with any other family member, and it is a small enough kindness.
My brother was unsuccessful in his attempts to trace his birth parents. He applied for his original papers, but there were complications. He was not free to travel to the mandatory government interview, and once he became free, he had insufficient resources to try any more.
When I met my semi-siblings, I did not discover for the first time someone who resembled me. They had all inherited their father’s nose; I had our mother’s. It was the source of some amusement among them that at last they had found someone to continue the maternal family profile. All in all, they took my invasion of their family story pretty well, although the second eldest was reported to complain that they had ended up as the middle child again. Whenever I visited, I encountered a gentle if quizzical affection.
They were young when I met them. The eldest was still a teenager, and the youngest in elementary school. She was tickled to discover that she was an aunt! By then I was the mother of two young children myself, with another on the way.
The first child I bore looked like me. The maternal family nose expressed itself beautifully. The second looked like his father. The third was a chameleon, taking on the characteristics of whichever sibling she spent the most time with lately. One day, she looked like her sister; the next, her face seemed to have subtly shifted its weight and tautness to resemble her brother. By the time she started school, people would recognize her easily as either siblings’ sister.
It is always, of course, next to impossible to know what is the result of adoption and what is just life, but I never felt that I got a good handle from my stranger-brother on how sibling relationships are supposed to work. I sometimes felt like an only child, adopted into the family of another only child, living a parallel but quite separate life, divided by some translucent, amorphous, but impervious window. Our differences in appearance, character, and fate seemed to have been designed before we ever found ourselves in the same home.
Not long after I met my birth family, I moved with my spouse and children first to one continent, then briefly back, and finally to north America. One day passing through London I was able to meet up with my eldest semi-sibling. We spent an afternoon together, easy in one another’s company, and relaxed, but as the evening drew on and we prepared to part, he said, “It’s a shame that it takes so long to get to know someone.”
Sometimes, people ask as though it were of no consequence or complexity whether I have siblings, and how many. They think that I should answer easily. But adoption creates, at least in my experience, more questions than answers. Fortunately, I live well with ambiguity. I tell them that I have siblings, and that the details are a longer story than they have time to hear.
It is a story that I am still telling myself, working out through flashbacks and plot twists what it means to be the adopted sister, the semi-sister, the mother of siblings, the daughter of strangers. It is not a bad story, after all.
The Revd Rosalind C Hughes is an Episcopal priest, writer, and adoptee. She writes at rosalindhughes.com. Her first book, A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing comes out in April 2020 from Upper Room Books.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter
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