“I always knew I was adopted; it was never a secret my parents kept from me. I have fond memories of singing and clapping along with my parents, who would stand over my bed as soon as my teeth were brushed and the covers had been tucked tightly at my sides, to celebrate my origin story. Through a gleaming smile topped by shining eyes, my mom would sing, ‘You’re adopted! You’re adopted!’ What a profound impact this would go on to have. I grew up knowing if I needed to talk about adoption with my parents, I could do so and they would listen with open ears and no judgment. Having this open dialogue with them not only made us closer as a family but made me feel supported in my experience as an adoptee.
Adoption is messy, complicated, and confusing but it can also be beautiful and rewarding. Although my adoption story can be painted as one of success, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t gone without hardship. I remember as a child my classmates would ask me questions about my adoption such as, ‘Do you know your real mom?’ This question always rubbed me the wrong way. Of course, I know my real mom! She is the woman who raised me, fed me, clothed me, nurtured me, and loved me my whole life. I never considered my mom as my ‘adoptive’ mother. To me, she was (and still is) just mom! Nevertheless, I knew what my classmates were really asking. They wanted to know if I knew my birth mother. Questions like that instilled in me a subtle ‘otherness’ from a young age, and the overall awareness that, in all actuality, there was a woman out there I was connected to and still knew nothing about.
I always fantasized about meeting my birth mother. While I felt loved and supported by my parents as if I was their own, I still felt the primal yearning to know the woman who brought me into this world. I would often imagine scenarios of us running into each other at the grocery store or the park and automatically knowing who each other were. In a way, these fantasies made me feel closer to her. At the age of 22, I was finally able to put my curiosity to rest when I met my birth mother for the first time in Bogotá, Colombia. I found her through a search agent I met online. Within a few months, I was flying to Colombia alone (with no Spanish translator) to meet my biological mother and the rest of my huge Colombian family. I arrived at the airport filled with excitement and uncertainty.
Any fears or doubts I had about meeting my biological family washed away once I saw the massive group of family members waiting for me on the other side of the floor-to-ceiling windows at Bogotá’s El Dorado airport. At least 30 people smiled, waved, and wiped tears from their eyes. I saw my birth mother and my newly-discovered siblings along with more uncles, aunts, and cousins than I could keep count of. I wished I could have crashed through the glass to hug them in that moment. Instead, I simply walked up to the window and began to cry. I put my hands against the glass, and my birth mom, my sister, and my grandmother met them with their own. We cried together until my brother signaled for me to grab my other bag from the baggage claim carousel so we could bypass the glass barrier.
As I stood near the baggage carousel, for a moment, I understood how zoo animals must feel with so many eyes watching their every move from the other side of a glass enclosure. It was overwhelming. Then it hit me, the language barrier was going to rear its ugly head the moment I met my family outside of this room. I realized my lip-reading instincts kicked in when I first approached the glass. That clearly did my English-thinking brain no good since I was reading Spanish-speaking lips. This was going to be an interesting trip. While I waited anxiously for my remaining luggage, I began to feel a little awkward—uncomfortable, even. ‘I hope I’m not a disappointment to them,’ I thought.
After collecting my luggage and finding the exit, I made my way through the final doorway to greet my biological family, skin to skin for the first time. With my sleeping little sister wrapped around him, my brother barreled toward me the moment I walked into the public area of the airport. I hugged him (and my sister, by association). My left arm unlocked to make way for my birth mom as she approached. How can I possibly explain the magnitude of emotions that washed over me as the four of us lingered in our embrace for minutes on end? For the first time in my life, I was touching people who shared my blood. And for the first time in her life, my birth mom was holding all three of her children. It felt as if the Earth had stopped spinning just for us.
The following weeks were spent bonding with my newly discovered family and soaking up as much Colombian culture as possible. I felt so connected to them, yet also like such an outsider at the same time. I wished I could speak Spanish with them so our conversations could flow more smoothly. I kicked myself for not taking my Spanish classes back in high school more seriously. However, regardless of the lack of a common language, the familial connection and feelings of love for each other were ever-present. I like to think we used the language of the soul to understand each other during that first visit.
Every day brought new mind-blowing discoveries. For example, I always wondered if my birth mom thought about me before I met her. I especially would think about this on my birthday. I figured if there was any day out of the year I might cross her mind, it would be on the day she gave birth to me. Come to find out not only was she thinking about me, but she was also grieving the loss of me. I was told by other members of my birth family my biological mother would become very somber and distant around my birthday. This had puzzled them because they were unaware of my existence until just a few months before my visit.
Another baffling realization was on my fifteenth birthday she paid the church to hold a mass in my honor. I learned in Colombian culture, girls celebrate their fifteenth birthdays with a big party called a quinceañera. I felt equally grateful and sad to hear this news. The more time I spent in Colombia, the more I felt I had missed out on so much. It’s not like I didn’t feel celebrated on my birthday by my family in the United States, but it would have been nice to stay in touch more with Colombian culture and customs as I was growing up. In spending time with my Colombian family, I couldn’t help but feel a loss I didn’t know I had.
I have been back to Colombia six more times since my first visit. The second time I went, I brought my parents with me to introduce them to my birth family. The experience was equally beautiful and cathartic. My two families merged together right before my eyes in a way that seemed natural despite the complexities of the situation. It was surreal to see my birth mother and my parents express gratitude to each other for the roles they both played in my life. Seeing a relationship form between them made my heart swell with appreciation. I truly believe the foundation of unconditional love was the driving force behind what made that trip so special.
It’s been over 8 years since I first found my birth family. A lot of my natural questions about where I came from have been answered and yet, many more questions still remain. Such as, who is my birth father and why is my birth mom keeping his identity a secret from me? Or, why does my birth mom ask me for money so often, even when I ask her not to? Despite the difficulties and frustrations that have come up after finding my birth mom, I am glad I did. It gave me a sense of closure I didn’t realize I needed.
While it’s easy to label my adoption story and reunion experience a success, that doesn’t mean I still don’t have days where adoption doesn’t affect me. I have learned to take my emotions as they come and let myself feel whatever I need to feel. Sometimes the emotions and thoughts are so complex it’s hard to even put them into words. I am thankful to have parents who, to this day, honor my feelings about adoption and listen with support.
I am also thankful to have a network of fellow adoptees to share my thoughts with whom I have met via Facebook groups and other social circles. If there is one thing I have learned through talking with other adoptees, it’s how diverse we are in our experiences. Adoption isn’t something that can be seen as black or white. Every adoptee’s experiences are uniquely their own. And still, we are bonded under the strength of one uniting experience—an experience that shapes us all differently, but that nonetheless leaves its unmistakable mark. If you are an adoptee and you are reading this, please know that I see you and support you.
To anyone considering adoption please take time to self-analyze and make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Too many parents set out to adopt children because they have a savior complex, or they want to be seen as heroes. This mentality is dangerous because in many cases, it sets up a dynamic where the child is expected to show gratitude toward the parents for being adopted by them. We, as adoptees, did not wish adoption upon ourselves, so to be expected to feel grateful for such an experience is irrational.
As I have mentioned, adoption can be both beautiful and complicated. Personally, I am thankful for my life because I recognize all of my accumulated experiences have made me who I am today: a strong loving woman who I am proud to be. But I can’t say life would have been better or worse had I not been adopted. It’s impossible to know that, I just know it would have been different.
The best advice I could give to parents looking to adopt is to keep communication open with your child about their adoption. Let them feel whatever they need to feel without having to worry about judgment from you or having to protect your feelings. Try not to take their feelings personally, adopt from an agency that has ethical practices and consenting birth mothers, and let your children know you support them and love them all the same if they ever decide to find their biological families.
If you are interested in hearing more about my adoption experience and the life-changing journey I made to Colombia to meet my birth family for the first time, please check out my book, ‘Home Sweet Casa: A Journey to the Universal Heart,’ available on Amazon at the link below. To stay up to date on where I am in life now, follow my Instagram.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mariela Andersen from Atlanta, GA. You can follow her journey on Instagram and get her book here. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories from adoptees here:
‘If you were MY kid and got that grade, I’d send you back to where you came from.’ My mother never waivered.’: Transracial adoptee finds identity, ‘I feel nothing but admiration and empathy for my birth mother’
‘You have to work harder because of skin color.’ There was NO ONE like me in my classes. I’m changing the narrative.’: Transracial adoptee reflects on ‘reclaiming’ her culture, ‘I’m not alone anymore’
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