“‘You wouldn’t know, you don’t have a real sister.’ I was in third grade, squeaking down the linoleum hallway alongside my friend when I suddenly stopped. We were comparing big sister stories when she informed me with a smack of her bubble gum and a toss of her blonde hair that my sister was in fact, not real. As far as I knew my sister was real. We had real fights. We exchanged real eye-rolls or giggles behind our parents’ backs. We slipped real ‘I’m sorry’ notes under each other’s doors after calling each other names. We were real sisters.
I have two distinct memories of being in third grade: 1. I was the only student to spell leprechaun correctly in a spelling test. 2. My family was seen by much of the world as invalid, incompatible and illegitimate.
Growing up in Northern, Kentucky – a small, conservative mostly white town – I was constantly inundated with reminders of my difference. Most people I interacted with on a daily basis were white – all of my school peers and coaches, my Sunday school teachers and pastors, store clerks and waiters. Without racial mirrors, I often came home to the safety of our house full of celebrated images of people of color, shocked to see my own brownness staring back at me. My parents did a phenomenal job filling our home with figurines, African folktale storybooks, brown American girl dolls and everything in between. Our house was a safe haven, a refuge from a world that often jeered at my mismatched family and my inability to fully fit into either black or white racial groups.
As I navigated undergraduate school, started my first job, and now jump headfirst into a doctoral program, the question marks, frustration and sadness have accompanied me with each life-stage, urging me to take intentional time to understand my own emotions, seek strategies for healing, and continue to carve a path through unchartered territory. And as I approach my 27th year around the sun, I could be discouraged by the fact that adoption requires healing that I’m still figuring out how to do. But I think instead (as I type this with my foot propped up to hasten the healing of a sprained ankle) that healing from the trauma of infant maternal separation and feelings of rejection and abandonment are very much like the slow and steady healing of my sprained ankle.
You see, just like our bodies hold onto the trauma of an injury and store it away in our bones, so the mind holds on to emotional trauma and stores it away in our memory. You might be healed from a sprained ankle, but very likely in the future if you step just the right way down the stairs you might feel an echo of that injury come back to remind you of the history your body holds. A little whisper that says, ‘Hey, you experienced this big thing. It’s a part of you.’
Similarly, as I heal from adoption, there are days and moments where a certain experience conjures up the memory my body holds of that fundamental fracture that altered the trajectory of my life. The initial shock and pain may be long gone, dark places might be healed, but the memory of that first injury remains a murmur. That’s precisely why I like to say, and believe I will say for some time, that I’m healing, that I’m in the process – process that has taught me a certain tenderness towards myself, a dedication to self-exploration, and patience with and compassion for the complicated, messy journeys of others that never fit neatly into a this or that box.
Unlike an old pair of shoes or middle school bangs, I don’t grow out of adoption. Each life achievement, loss or milestone is stamped, perhaps unknowingly, by a decision that far preceded my own imprint on this world. A decision that has brought me heartache and loss has also brought me unmeasurable love, empathy, and joy. Adoption is my constant daily reminder that we must hold space for the dualities in life, we can and must see the world through both/and glasses. As a transracial adoptee I can be brown and deeply connected to my white family, I can be a valid family member of a family without biological ties, I can call two racial communities’ home. I can live this both/and complex life of continuous healing and hold a fierce and unending love for a family that is valid, that is legitimate, that is real.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Victoria DiMartile of Bloomington, Indiana. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more powerful stories from adoptees:
‘No one has ever wanted you here. If you find a family that will actually love you, go be with them.’: 26-year-old adopted after years of childhood trauma, abuse, says you’re ‘never too old to need parents’
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