I was born December 20th, 1974 at the Mobile Infirmary in Alabama. I was born without a name, without an identity. I do not know what kind of day it was, I do not know what time I was born, nor do I know how long I stayed at the Infirmary before going to a hospital in Mississippi where I awaited a family that would take me to a place that would become my home. Very old records reveal that the nurses in the hospital called me “Susan” and thankfully they kept a small journal regarding my 6-week stay. Sadly, they wrote that I was not a very happy baby. I cried a lot and was not soothed easily. I may have had colic, or maybe I was missing the warm touch of a mother and father. I have to believe that being born into a state of chaos can cause discontent, even in a baby who does not seem to know what is going on around her. The nurses, though, took very good care of me and gave me some stability. It was not long until the warm touch from a mother and father—and a brother—arrived! I may not have been born with a name or an identity but I was born with a purpose; I was adopted.
I lived my whole life on the adoption “script”—that I am special and lucky to have such an amazing, loving family. When I turned 30 years old, I found my biological mother and family. Five years after that, I donated my kidney to my biological aunt. Three years after that I wrote a book about my life as an adoptee and the extreme decisions that have shaped my life and my belief that everything happens for a reason. It wasn’t until I started a blog five years ago, about being an adoptee, that I began to truly understand what it means to be an adoptee.
Being an adoptee is complicated in every way. It impacts the way we relate to others, how we feel about “normal” situations, how we feel about ourselves, how we feel about family; it literally impacts the way we see the world. We all experience things differently and so even supporting each other can be complicated.
What is not complicated is how we talk about adoption. I detest how I am told what is appropriate to say, or not to say, and what is not “cool” to call the woman who gave birth to me and relinquished me to adoption. It seems like every time a new politically correct term comes out for her then someone else complains.
I am told my words and my feelings are offensive to others. I am told how I should be conveying those thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, that criticism is coming from other adoptees and sometimes from mothers who have made adoption plans. Often, it’s adoptive parents who criticize adoptees for being ungrateful. They call adoptees “angry”. They group us and apply labels.
When it comes to adoption, every single person’s situation and feelings are different. We are all different human beings. We are not the same—like snowflakes falling from the sky. We each have our very own DNA, the blueprint to what makes us individuals. It is beautiful that we are all different. Why must we always try to make “groups” of people and then make those groups conform to a few ideas of what is the right way to think, the right words to say?
We are grouped into adoptees and mothers and adoptive parents, which typically pits one group against another; it reminds me of the movie, Divergent. My mantra is always, “We are all in this together.” Why must we pick at each other when we have all had different experiences? We do not have to be in one group or all have one thought.
Let’s be free to speak as we want to speak; it is the only way to truth. There are so many people in pain from adoption; why is it ignored? The negative stories and feelings don’t discount the positive, just as the reverse is true. We should not candy coat things, we should not be told not to say “birth mother”, and we should not be told we are wrong for feeling abandoned, or unloved, or rejected; nor should we be told we are wrong for feeling loved, wanted, and special.
I do not need politically correct words, I do not need fancy clinical terms, and I do not need theories. I need real talk. I need another adoptee, mother, adoptive parent—who probably feels differently than I do—to tell me what their own words, thoughts, feelings are—not mine. I need to hear raw and uncensored words. This is how I learn from each and every one of you. At the same time, know that I am going to speak my own truth, in my words. Let us learn from each other, but not by speaking in circles or in big, complicated words and theories, or criticisms. Tell me your truth that comes from your head, your heart, your gut, and I will tell you mine.
So, what have I learned from my journey as an adoptee and my connections in the adoption world? I have learned that I’m not alone and that so many others have the same feelings, whether they are good or bad, so we can all relate on various levels. As complex as our feelings are, we can relate to each and every one of them. That is amazing! It means we have support where we never knew we had it. And, it is okay to talk about our truest feelings. This has been my biggest lesson.
I have tended to take an “it is what it is” attitude and talk about how to overcome the negative. I have since learned that it’s really very positive to talk about the negative feelings and situations because I am now processing those feelings and am able to move on from them. I have to be real. I have to tell it the way I feel it because others are feeling the same emotions too and do not want it to be glossed over as if those feelings are not valid. I still believe we can all live positive lives, but I need to talk about how I—personally—process the negative into a positive if I hope to help others.
A movement called “Flip the Script” began a few years ago, which brought adoptee voices to the forefront of National Adoption Awareness Month. I do believe “awareness” means total awareness, which includes adoptees perspectives. How can people truly learn about adoption if they are completely dismissing our experiences? I learned that most people are well-meaning and just never thought about what happens after the adoption. There is so much hype about pre-adoption, but zero hype on post-adoption because that is the not-so-pretty side of it. I never knew what adoptees and birth mothers meant by “not-so-pretty” side—that it’s not all unicorns and rainbows—until Flip the Script. I definitely think my adoption was the right thing to do for me, so I always bought into the “script” of how great adoption is. However, other adoptees have pulled me outside of just one perspective and have shown me other sides of adoption. This actually—and unexpectedly—pulled some deep-rooted, unresolved feelings out of me that I had suppressed and never knew were inside. I realized that although I am in a great place and have a great adoptive family, it was not all perfect. Flip the Script took me off the “script” I was given and gave me my own script.
My script is that although I was given a loving family who raised me with all the right morals and ethics, there were pieces of me missing that I needed in order to be a healthy human. I had the typical problems growing up, but they were compounded by the knowledge I was adopted and could not talk about it. I appreciate the way my mom told me I was adopted—that I was special and chosen—but the truth was that they applied for a baby, any baby, and lucky for all of us, they were next in line. My script is that I came to this life with a purpose; to find and give unconditional love.
I am happy with the way my life turned out. I’m forever grateful that I received a loving home and a family that I would not trade for anything in the world. However, because of the tired, worn out script of pre-adoption hype, I had to learn some very hard lessons and deal with some very tough emotions to get to where I am now. The script needs to change to include the honesty of post-adoption reality. We need just as much support after we are adopted as before because please believe, we have suffered trauma. Just like any other trauma, people react to it differently but it’s still trauma that needs to be dealt with and not ignored.
The Flip the Script movement gave us all a platform to express ourselves and educate the world on the reality of adoption, both the good and the bad. Since being a part of a bigger adoptee community, I have been on a journey of adoptee advocacy, self-awareness, and healing. I am an adoptee and I am proud because I have to believe we are making a difference for future adoptees. It is my purpose in life.
Liz Story was born in Mobile, Alabama and raised in West Point, Arkansas. After a failed attempt at college, she joined the US Army and served as an intelligence analyst. After the Army, Story returned to Arkansas briefly and then moved to Florida where she completed her undergraduate degree in business and continued her education, receiving a Masters in Business Administration degree. In 2005, Story found her birth mother at 30 years old. Over the following years, she developed strong bonds with the extended family members and ultimately made the decision to donate her kidney to her biological aunt. In 2013, Story wrote a book documenting her personal journey of discovery and is titled: A Series of Extreme Decisions: An Adoptee’s Story. The story portrays all of the extreme decisions that led her to where she is today, at peace with herself and an understanding that everything happens for a reason. Based on her own self-discovery, Story began a blog focused on adoptees who want to find peace and positivity in their lives.
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