We’re on our way to see a Hindu priest who lives in Chatsworth, a township outside of Durban where Indians, many whose ancestors were brought to South Africa during the Dutch colonial era as slaves, were again forcibly relocated in the 1950s by the apartheid government. The South Africans I am with have been visiting this priest for years, so they have little trouble finding his house and the one-room temple he has constructed in a small courtyard behind it. We roll up onto the curb that lines the narrow street, and six of us pile out, seeking—I can only speak for myself—a bit of light on the journey.
There was a time when I could not speak the word “adoption” aloud. It was so charged with pain, the very thought of it overwhelmed me. Thorns of bitterness accompanied the word forming a thick barrier.
Adoption represented trauma and deep, unresolved grief.
As a young teen at the very end of the 1970’s, I became pregnant. My parents turned to their church for advice which led to me being sent to live in a foster home far from everyone I knew and loved.
I entered the world as a “matter” for the country of England to settle. In simpler terms, I was the product of an affair. A “predicament” as government records indicated:
“The birthfather has paid no maintenance for the child and has taken no interest whatever, either in the mother’s predicament, or the baby’s future.”
After my birth, arrangements were made to have me placed in a foster home. Several months later, my mother read these words printed on a brown piece of paper: In The Matter Of Julie. She signed the document, stating that she could not raise me. Some say it is impossible for a child to sense this moment. I disagree. My spirit felt each letter as my mother pressed down on the signature line, spelling out her name, and severing the cord between us.
I received a beautiful piece of scripture on Christmas Eve, 2017. The words were written on a white piece of paper that had been folded into a star. The star was hanging on one of several sparkling Christmas trees that dotted the space where my church was holding its last worship service for the evening.
My pastor for the past five years, Jon Ireland, spoke to those of us in attendance about how true peace is from God: a gift that the world cannot offer. Then, he invited each member of the congregation to go to a Christmas tree in the room and choose one paper ornament. We were to wait to open our chosen ornaments until everyone was back in their seats.
I am an explorer. As an adoptee, I have explored the depths of my soul to find a meaning to the earliest parts of my history. I have ventured out, and within, to seek unknown parts of myself. I have tracked many a mile to uncover my identity and to dismantle the titles given to me by others. Titles that did not serve me in a positive life outcome.
I believe that all adoptees are explorers. In some way, we are all searching, seeking, and looking for answers to who we are and why we’re here. We’re trackers of truth. At some moment in our lives, a severing took place that catapulted us into a situation we had no control over. Free falling — or so it seemed — we landed into lives that we were not born of, but were destined for.
There she stood about six steps off of the road at the end of a driveway. She was standing there waiting to meet me.
Is this really happening? Because if it is, it is more than wild.
All of my life I knew of this woman, Mary. Mary, my adoptive mother’s second cousin and my birth mother, only lived cities away—physically. In my mind, she may as well have lived across several oceans. If I had had my introverted way, I would’ve been invisible until the time I had taken in every detail about her into my memory. Before I could work it all out in my mind or hold onto one detail, I was in Mary’s embrace. Right there on the side of the street where the grass met the gravel was our meeting place. She had long hair rolled up in a bun but the rest of the details of those first few minutes are hard for me to recall.
The yen for authenticity is a universal quest. To paraphrase Meister Eckhardt Tolle, “We long to know who we REALLY are.” This knowledge comes from within but also from our environment and the people immediately around us, our families.
Families: a loaded word.
It’s been said that the road to adoption recovery is a search for authenticity. Adoptees must choose from two family trees, one biological and another through adoption. In writing my memoir, The Goodbye Baby-A Diary about Adoption, I realized that neither family tree was the answer. My feeling of being “at home in the world” had to come from a source within, a gradual unveiling, a stripping away of masks I’d assumed for a lifetime.
I once believed that adoption was my weakness. I no longer think this true. Adoption has become my strength.
There was a time in my life when I thought of myself as fragile. I had been internationally adopted out of foster care, as a child. I viewed myself as broken. After all, I questioned, what parent would leave behind a child that was whole? There must be a kind of brokenness about me. I was convinced that the shattered pieces of me were the driving force behind my parents’ decision to walk away. I had done something wrong. I must have committed some sin that mom and dad could not forgive.
Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. ~Charles R. Swindoll
It’s true. Charles Swindoll hits the nail right on the head. His quote, put in another way, might read: when life gives you lemons make lemonade.
I translate the Swindoll quote like this: Every hurt is healable. I mean it! Every single hurt can be healed. Every single negative emotion can be reversed, every single challenge or disappointment can be used for greater purpose. The key is in our reaction to what life brings our way and the time we spend focused on it.
I love my life and every single lesson that I’ve learned along the way. I’m grateful. Yet, as an international adoptee, I cannot say that I haven’t experienced moments when I’ve mourned the very fact that I’m adopted. Truth is, sometimes adoption hurts deep. No matter the life chapter an adoptee may be in, the hurt is real. It’s important to express that hurt, to let it out.
This can be difficult when so much about adoption is wrapped in joyful ribbons and bows. I understand this joy, as I honor the beauty of adoption each and every day. In so many ways, adoption has been a great blessing in my life. Yet, as an adoptee and adoptive parent I would be remiss if I dismissed the voices within my adoption community that express feelings of being left, abandoned, erased. I would be remiss if I dismissed the voice within myself, as well.