When I was a little international adoptee, my parents would take the family traveling and camping through Europe. My dad refurbished an old VW van that he purchased in the United Kingdom. He and my mother would pack it up and off we’d go exploring!
Everywhere we went, it seemed I’d be claimed by the locals there. In Italy, folks would say, “Surely, she’s Italian.” The Greeks would add, “She’s one of us!” I was a European girl growing up in an American family. There’s both bitter and sweet in that statement.
As an adult adoptee, coming back to Europe always makes me smile. I feel at home here. I feel home. International adoption took me far away from my biological roots. And, on the other side, it brought me closer to understanding a deeper meaning of love, of inclusion, and of family. Both sides of the adoption experience have helped to mold me into the person I am today. I’m so grateful to be at a point in my life where I can find value in the two: in the biology and the biography of me.
This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when I felt I had to shut down the memory of one side of my history, in order to be true to the other. I lived only half of my story, and that’s not really living. Adoptees should be given the gift of embracing a fuller story. This is not the first time I’ve made that statement. As I sit here in Greece and watch the blue water gently roll by, I feel deeply inclined to say—again—that adoptees need to be allowed to live their fullest story.
There’s just such a suffering inside when adoptees feel—out of duty, respect, gratitude, or even fear—unsafe to be who they really are. It’s time to free every adoptee of this burden. Parents, you’ll never really know your child unless you do. Don’t delay!
I once read a quote from an adult adoptee. It said, “I had to wait until my adoptive parents were no longer living before I could begin being who I really am.” In all honesty, there’s a part of me that relates with this statement. A part of me that knows the pain of those words. It’s why I desire so strongly that my kids feel free to love their native lands and the birth family they feel beating inside of their veins—even when they’ve not met that family. At least, not yet.
It’s why I would never diminish their need to speak of their birth family, along with their places of birth, and to—from time to time—even fantasize about who their birth family is, and where they are. I did these things growing up and I truly believe that, within the fantasy, there is a healing. Like baby steps, we make tiny advancements and heal a little more, everyday, when allowed to feel the very pulse of our biological stories.
The healing never stops. As I write to you, from this sunny spot in Greece, I’m healing. This international adoptee is finding peace along her journey. She’s awakening, within her spirit, the feeling that she felt as a little girl, running through campsites in Europe—making friends with people who claimed her as their own. The feeling is freedom. Freedom to be who I am. It’s a freedom, I suspect, every person alive is in search of.
As I move through Europe, over the coming days, I hope you’ll connect with me on Instagram @MichelleMadridBranch. I’ll share more postcards from Europe and more thoughts on living our fullest stories. I’d love to have you with me along the way.
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