Sunday, March 14, 2010
Confessions of an Ambivalent Birth Daughter
Driving my then 13 year old daughter Maddy and 4 of her friends to play in a basketball game, I was laughing to myself as they answered questions from a book of ice breaker type of questions. Coke or Pepsi? Favorite season and why? What is your biggest regret? To this one, they answered by telling of boys they wish they never liked and outfits that should have been left unworn. One of the girls said, "What about you Mrs. Noyce, what is your biggest regret?" I was trying to think of a response when Maddy piped in, "I know Mom, meeting your birth parents, right?"
I was floored by her response. For one, I had never said this to her, and for another, it wasn't true. I did not regret meeting my birth parents. Well, maybe I did regret it a little. No, I didn't, knowing is better than not knowing. Or maybe it isn't. I really couldn't say for sure.
The roles of my life have alway been well defined, daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend. If any of these roles confused me I had the example of those who went before me or were right there with me. Reunited birth daughter (as it is now known, at the time, 1983, if it had a name, I didn't know it) was a new role for me and I had no idea how to be one. It is a role I would never truly be comfortable in or successful at.
My adoption, was typical of adoptions in 1963, completely closed, all records sealed, information and biological history unavailable. I wanted to know the circumstances of my birth and adoption, I wanted to know who I looked like and where I was born. I wanted to know who my birth parents were and what they were like. I think all adoptees have a right to know these things, I think it is normal and definitely not a reflection on the adoptive family.
My ambivalence is also in no way a reflection on my birth mother, who is a lovely and kind woman. ( I will however, admit that meeting my birth father did make me see the upside of closed records.) My enemy is probably my own personality. I am hugely loyal, I married my first serious boyfriend, I keep the same tight group of friends, when I find shoes I like, I am sad when they wear out and need to be replaced and I wouldn't consider buying laundry detergent that wasn't Tide.
I loved finding the answers to the questions that plagued me growing up. When I met my birth mother and her children I loved them. What I didn't love, was feeling as though I should be part of a family other than my own. When someone wants more from you than you can give, you can feel it, even if it is never spoken. I would never grow used to being referred to as 'daughter' by anyone other than my mom and dad. I would care about my new half siblings but would never be able to think of them in the same way I think of the brother and sister I was raised with. Looking through the eyes of my birth family, I completely understand how frustrating my reluctance has been to them over the years. As a birth daughter, I am no picnic.
The hardest thing in adoption reunion for me, is something I couldn't have anticipated. It changed how people saw me and the family I was raised in. When I spoke to my closest friends about my birth parents, I referred to them by their first names. I spoke of my difficulty and disappointment in meeting my birth father. I shared my feelings and confusion as I tried to navigate a relationship with my birth mother. I have been crystal clear, that they are not my parents and that I didn't think of them as my parents. Yet they didn't get it.
I remember telling a story that involved my mom. One of my dearest friends stopped me mid-sentence and asked me which mom I meant. I couldn't believe it. I realized that in spite of my clear explanation, that was how people saw it. That my mother suddenly shared equal billing in her role in my life was really painful for me.
I had similar experiences talking about my birth father. After an out of the blue phone call from my birth father, I found out he was living in the town over from me after being released from prison. I was concerned and managed to get a copy of his police records, since I felt I needed to know more about him. (I didn't feel in danger, he had always been nice to me, but had young children and didn't want to be naive). The whole experience was upsetting. That night at a Bible study I shared it with the women in my group. I started by telling them that I had a dad, he died when I was a teenager, but he was the only person that was truly my dad. I referred to my biological father by his first name and said "Please don't call him my dad or father, refer to him only by his first name." Pretty clear I thought. The following Sunday at church, one of the woman hugged me and told me how much she had been thinking about the situation with my dad. I am not kidding.
Before 'reunion' I really had no idea how easily people would disregard two of the most important relationships of my life. The woman who had always been simply my mother, suddenly became my adoptive mother and my dad, who had died, had his role in my life given to someone else, at least in name. I probably seem overly sensitive about it, but it was very hurtful to me.
Over a quarter of a century has passed since the beginning of my role as 'birth daughter' and you might think I have made some headway into figuring it out. I haven't. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't. Well, maybe I would.......