Adoptee Identity Growing Up
“I remember when I found this picture while looking for a journal to write in because I had a bunch of different thoughts that day, some positive and some negative. I just wanted to express what I was thinking more clearly and process it all.
Well, when I was looking through some old things of mine from college and my childhood years, I found this little album. I soon realized this album was my beginning. I was adopted as a baby by my mother. This album documented my first year of life before and after we entered each other’s life.
As I kept looking through this album, I stopped on this one photo that held my attention. It was a picture of my mother holding me as my foster parents (at the time) were loading up the car for me to go home with her. I saw a woman who was so put together, so stylish (the 90s were really good to her), holding me close to her neck.
I felt a wave of deep appreciation for what this photo represented. The beginning of my life with my mother. This marked the start of my adoption journey.
From an early age, my mother told me I was adopted. I did not fully understand at the time what that meant, because all I knew was she was my mom. I was adopted in 1994 from Knoxville TN, where I was born. I was born out of wedlock to a young woman barely out of her teenage years, with an unknown father who was not in the picture.
The only thing my mother told me growing up was that my biological mother could not take care of me and that her mother was adamant about giving me up for adoption as they were not socially or economically prepared to raise a child. I struggled over the years with this lack of information and too many questions.
For most of my life, I questioned my identity in more ways than just this one. There were times I had complex emotional issues, wanting to know where I came from with such intensity, that I began searching on social media, websites, and even trying facial recognition in public places hoping to find my biological mother and father. As adoptees, this desire is normal for many.
I love my family, and only recently have I ever considered them as my adoptive family, which was hard to process at first. Although, the information I began to learn reignited the desire to explore my origin. It was time to claim my story.
In my family, most of them knew I was adopted, seeing as I have many cousins who are older than me along with various uncles and aunts. It did not matter to them though. I was just their cousin, nephew, brother, and son. And most of the time it did not matter to me either. I love them.
However, there were also those uncomfortable but important life questions I asked myself in private. If my adoptive mother had not adopted me, where would I be and who would I become? What kind of life would I have had if left in the foster care system?
All these questions propelled me to discover where I came from. Now I have more answers than I imagined possible. My hope is that what I share next will help those seeking, embarking, and discovering parts of themselves they cannot deny any longer.
Searching For Biological Family
My parents have consistently explained to me their main goal was for me to be emotionally stable and mature in handling whatever information I gained from my adoption journey. As a child, I sometimes longed for answers out of confusion, frustration, and curiosity. Some of you, like me, always want to know the ‘why’ in life. With hindsight, I now understand I was not ready to embark on this journey until more recently.
I needed to grow and work on healing parts of myself before opening that door. The desperation of wanting to know if my biological family looked like me and if they cared about my existence was difficult. Were my biological parents even alive? I would take anyone if it meant there was a blood connection that could tie me to my roots.
However, my mind was determined. I began to take more responsibility and initiative in discovering where I came from. I realized this wasn’t anyone else’s journey but my own. This is what is required to become one’s best advocate. During my undergraduate college years, I decided to take the plunge and fill out an ancestry DNA kit from 23 and me. I was nervous and excited.
Prior to this I took a genealogy course in scouting as a child and fell in love. I enjoyed discovering other people’s family histories and the stories that came along with them. I also began watching a show on NBC called, ‘Who do you think you are?’ This program explored celebrity DNA ancestry stories with a historical context. I imagined what my story could be and who I would be in it.
After a few weeks, I got my results back and was intrigued by the ethnic breakdown of my DNA makeup. I am a lighter-skinned black male, so seeing the combination of significant African ancestry was neat, along with various other ethnicities. However, I was disappointed because there were no close familial matches to connect with at the time. Only 4th, 5th, and more distant cousins.
But later that year I was surprised to see I had a predicted 2nd cousin matched, in the local Nashville area. I reached out to connect with her to assess how we may be related. We had limited information to share proving relevant to our connection, but I was determined to stay in contact with my cousin with the hope of discovering more.
At the time, I was in college and this cousin suggested we meet up to get to know each other better. My excitement was overridden by overwhelming uncertainty with making a biological connection like this, so I felt pressure and decided to put that journey on hold. Perhaps with more time and space the desire would return again.
2018 was the year I fell apart. I lost my job, my apartment, and I ended up losing my freedom. And to make my mental health take a deeper hit, I was still feeling lost in my identity, disbelieving my true purpose in life. Feeling all of this, I was prompted again with the desire to pick back up on my adoption journey, praying there may be some greater understanding there.
To begin, I did some research online about accessing closed adoption records in Tennessee. I discovered that upon turning 21, any adoptee can request access to their records, sealed or unsealed. I completed the necessary paperwork process and after months of anxiously waiting, I was given the biggest gift I could have ever received, finding the origin of my existence.
Something readers should find helpful in making this journey more fruitful was connecting with my case manager in the adoption records department in Nashville. From start to finish, I received quality communication, availability, and clear expectations of the process. The packet containing my adoption history was filled with extensive records, and it took me quite a while to digest everything.
Birth certificates, court records, hospital records, case manager notes, and much more. The best part was seeing my actual biological mother’s name and seeing who was allegedly named as my biological father. I felt this wave of emotion wash over me and it was overwhelming. The answers I had been praying and begging for most of my life were now in my hands.
I felt I had obtained the golden ticket from the chocolate factory, but had no one to go inside with.
With persistence and perseverance, I continued to try to find someone who could help me confirm this newfound information. I Google searched my biological parents’ names and reached out to my father first. I was excited and nervous once I had his contact information. Who wouldn’t be? Would he accept me? Would he reject me? More importantly, would he believe me?
Biological Family Connections
Our first conversation did not go well, and we disconnected. I tried to understand what went wrong. I gave him the adoption record information I had and thought he would be excited and shocked to know of my existence. That was a fantasy I had created in my mind because I’d spent years yearning to connect to my biological father, when in reality this man was a stranger to me, and I to him.
I stopped the process again and considered if it was not the right time or the right way. I later redirected my internet search for anyone tied to the familial names I had found through my adoption records and 23 and me. I found an obituary for my biological paternal great-grandmother, naming a grandson who had the same name as my prospective biological father.
I continued reading the obituary, and saw the woman had additional family members with a familiar last name. At that moment, the pieces finally began to come together! It was confirmed my cousin on 23 and me had the same last name. Then with disappointment, I realized this was an important link missing in my initial conversation with my father. If I had mentioned 23 and me and the connection to my cousin, that might have resonated better with him in how we were connected.
I searched tirelessly on Facebook and other social media sites for my 23 and me cousin. I was able to find her several weeks later. I immediately felt a sense of accomplishment, like I was some sort of amateur private investigator. Shortly after she confirmed my biological father was indeed her cousin, and we were 3rd cousins!
She said she knew immediately from my profile picture that I was his son. I cried tears of joy and relief. Finally! All of my dedication and hard work brought me to a point of confirmation. We talked on the phone for hours. We discussed my story and how I arrived at this place. She shared her background and how she believed her 2nd cousin was my father.
The love and happiness I felt talking to her were undeniable. Meeting this cousin provided gratitude and a stronger capacity to love myself and others. She did not reject the notion of our connection or the possibility her cousin had another child he did not know.
My cousin later took on the responsibility of helping me make a connection with my biological father. She presented him with all the pertinent facts about my coming to be and gave him space to process all of the new information. She also introduced me to my great aunt, her cousin, who shared her value of close family ties.
Her role as my 3rd cousin gave her the opportunity to bridge the gap between me and my father. I believe God used her as a secondary family member to strengthen the connection between me and my father. I did not know God was going to bless me with a new loving family like this in my initial meetings. I had dreamed of it, but my reality has surpassed my dreams.
A few weeks after that, I received a call from my biological father randomly. I remember the specific day as I was doing a self-tour at an apartment complex and an unknown area code popped up. I answered and as soon as I heard his voice, I stopped breathing. It was like my body lost all function.
I was paralyzed with shock, excitement, nervousness, and surprise altogether. It was not expected, as I thought it would take much longer for him to reach out. He shared some of his life with me and the thoughts that took place when my cousin shared this new information with him.
He was devastated to know I existed for twenty plus years without his knowledge. He told me he would have fought for me if he had known. I felt pride at the time, in knowing my biological father would have wanted me and did not actively choose to relinquish me. He shared that I had other siblings with whom he has taken an active role in their lives. I have a sister and brother who are the same age as me, and two younger sisters.
Time has taken 25 years away from him to watch me grow up. Time has taken 25 years away from me to know and love my father. However, 25 years gave me the opportunity to come face to face with a man who I know is responsible for my existence. That is still an important realization when I reflect back on the ‘why’ behind embarking on this journey.
After reaching the reunion stage in my adoption discovery, I knew I wanted to share what I learned. But I wasn’t sure how to explain this wildly incredible but complicated journey I’ve been on. I then craved a support group to relate and connect with deeper. Gratefully, I can say I have made some amazing connections with a community of people who are positive advocates for this journey, with resources to help me heal and continue growing.
The other challenge was that there was no trail to find my biological mother and it seemed all the pertinent information I was seeking was buried in misconception and secrets with no intention of surfacing. It is important for those who are adopted that want to find out their origin to believe in their cause to the fullest extent. It is our right to know our story and choose how much or how little we want to find out. I wondered where my biological family was and if they were looking for me too. But they weren’t because they didn’t know.
With my biological father, I realized we are alike in many ways but also very different. I met him while he was in a challenging space, and I tried to support him where he was. We had a strong connection initially, but when the time came for me to want more in our relationship, it became an inconvenience.
We currently aren’t speaking because of a lack of foundation along with other complex issues in reuniting as father and son. I tried to communicate concerns to his (my family) but some of them shut me out and I felt dismissed, so I stepped back. I think it sounded like I was bad-mouthing him and creating problems, but I was trying to seek understanding in order to be understood with the hope of change.
I also made a connection with my brother. At first I thought we created a good bond. Pretty quickly, I realized we had different values that could not move forward sustainably. I have supported him financially, mentally, and emotionally because I wanted us to have each other’s back and show a way for something new to be developed I had not witnessed in this family. But it was a one-way street and again, once a problem is expressed what is received is distance, silence, and no reciprocity.
Life Moving Forward
As trying as this journey has been, I still feel like it’s an accomplishment. I put myself out there. I was present. I was imperfect. I was authentic. I was loving. I was excited. I was happy. I was also loved. I was seen. And I was heard from my family during a time when I truly needed uplifting in this area of my life.
I found my biological relatives. I put the courage and the risk out there and stumbled along the way with some mistakes. But I have no regrets on this journey. The lessons and the gifts are important. Meeting my biological family members motivated me in a way to become my best advocate in claiming back some power in my life.
In 2021, life moved toward getting better for me in ways that were milestones. I accepted a great job offer with an organization I was excited to work for. I also completed my master’s degree during a pre-and post-pandemic time. I was able to strengthen my financial life and moved into my own apartment, with a renewed sense of independence.
The journey I have described up to this point has been full of lessons and wins. I set out to find meaning and search for answers to some hard questions. Now I have them and I am able to keep moving onward and upward.
I have faith the work that’s been done to get here has begun something new and transformed my life and hopefully those around me for the better. It is, however, my testimony and my truth.
I know this is long winded but hope this resonates with someone who’s been courageous and made the effort to find and connect with their bio family. And to those who are considering taking this journey, you can do this! Your life may change, and you may grow in ways unspeakable and unfathomable.
One piece of unsolicited advice: seek a trusted person or professional resource to help guide you. I have someone who I would’ve loved to have been on the journey from the start, but I’m grateful I have them in my life now. They have helped me balance the expectations and desires I have created with the reality that acceptance is what will allow me to keep growing. It is critical to know what one needs to move forward in life. However, as shown here, if that is difficult to know, it may require asking some hard questions and starting the search within.
I hope you see how tough and worthwhile a journey like this can be for awakening one’s soul. What began as something personal and spiritual has now been a call to action for me in strengthening my voice and speaking truth to who I am. I believe you too can be your best advocate and begin to move onward and upward.”
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