I don’t remember my parent’s ever sitting me down one night and telling me I was adopted. It has been a part of my identity since before I could remember.
I was adopted from an orphanage in Eger, Hungary, when I was two and a half. It was a closed adoption; the kind that doesn’t allow contact between the biological birth parents, adoptive family, and adoptee. All biological information is sealed and confidential. In some instances, these records may be available to the adopted child when they reach 18, but that wasn’t the case for me.
I grew up in a suburb of Westchester, New York, with my dad, mom, older sister, and two dogs. My father was an entrepreneur while my mother was a stay-at-home mom. My childhood was idyllic. I had, and still have, the most amazing family. But as with most adoption stories, there’s a psychological side that people may not be aware of. I don’t recall the day I learned about my adoption but I remember every bitter feeling I’ve had towards it.
Being adopted brought on an extreme amount of embarrassment and difficult moments for me, emotions and feelings that I’ve needed to come to terms with on my very own. It has taken me 21 years (and counting).
Growing up I was ashamed. There’s (almost) nothing more to it. I grew up angry; angry at my birth mother, which resulted in a rocky relationship with my mom and a great relationship with my dad. I envied my sister who was biologically related. Every time I looked at my family I was reminded that I couldn’t even connect myself physically. I remember the feeling I’d get in my gut when I looked at our family pictures. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Tan skin, light hair, light eyes, short. There was no hiding it. I would try to find the closest physical attributes and having curly hair was about it. . The only time I appreciated my olive skin tone was when my dad had a nice tan, maybe once a year. Though the absolute closest connection was me and my dad sharing the same eye color. 2% of the population has green eyes, so that’s something…right? (Wow, who knew I could love a statistic so much?) Maybe this was another reason why I was closest to him. I remember telling people, “I look a lot like my older half-brother”, hoping they would never get a chance to see him. Of course if they did eventually it left me feeling ashamed for lying in the first place. I just hoped they had forgotten the comparison (even though I certainly hadn’t).
I couldn’t grasp my feelings. I blamed all of my insecurities and differences on the mere fact that I was adopted, no matter how irrational. Having acne, braces, and glasses when I was 12 had to be because of my adoption. I mean, no one else in my family went through such an awkward phase and no one else was adopted. Those two are connected, right??? My childhood was filled with self-pity and feelings of isolation from my family. I wouldn’t say the word ‘adopted’, I wouldn’t ask any questions. I didn’t tell anyone, including my best friends. In fact, I blatantly lied to them when they asked if I was adopted. I even asked my parents to lie for me! Maybe lying would fix it all? Would I suddenly be biologically related? I wanted to be so badly. All I wanted was to be normal, like the other kids.
My shame was so extreme that this denial rolled into my personal relationships. The first person I explicitly told was my first serious boyfriend when I was a 16. And even this took months. Telling him was emotionally excruciating for me so, of course, it was over text. Like I said, I couldn’t even say the word aloud, but I could text it 14 years later. Progress! Though he was graceful about it, he broke up with me a few days later. You can imagine how I took this. Was this going to be a trend? Did he really break up with me because I was adopted? (Oh, how ridiculous does that sound now?) Did I genuinely miss him or was it my fear of acceptance that made it a lot easier to welcome him back into my life a few months later? Well, of course I genuinely missed him but this lack of self-acceptance would come back to haunt me in my future relationships as well.
Commonly, adoption and acceptance came hand in hand for me. I have always had a tough time letting go of people and experiences. I questioned my worth when my relationships with people naturally grew apart; desperation was a feeling I knew all too well. I took people moving forward (without me) personally. Up until a few years ago I felt, and could not forget, that two people ‘gave up’ on me so easily without giving me a chance to prove myself.
A known fact among people in my grade growing up was that my father created ‘The Chipwich’. The day a classmate told me that it didn’t matter since he ‘wasn’t my real dad’ hurt a lot. But this confrontation was valuable for me. In that moment I had never believed more that he was my real dad; he was the only dad I had ever known. My father passed away when I was 14 and after years of better understanding mortality and grief, the biggest and most illogical question I remember asking myself was, were all of my ‘parents’ going to abandon me? In the moment this question felt real but looking back how absurd was my 14 year old brain? I mean, it’s not like he left my family to join the circus, he passed away, Marika.
A few years later, deep in the grief, I went to a hospital to help with my depression. Only a few people could get through to me. One of them being a really great teacher. I found comfort in his words, not to mention, he, too, was adopted. I found it inspiring how expressing his adoption seemed so easy for him. In high school I could only wish I would have this mentality someday. Here I am, years later, working on it every day.
What I can finally express are the hardships of everyday moments and larger emotional journeys that people who have not been adopted may overlook.
I am constantly torn between being grateful and coming across as selfish when I’m unhappy. I am weighed down by this mythical expectation of having to be grateful every second because situations can’t possibly be worse than what they could have been, right? There is a sense of grief that I am always trying to understand and grow from. For the longest time, before I felt comfortable asking questions, I always imagined that my biological parents died. This was strictly a coping mechanism to make it hurt less when I analyzed my worth. But, realistically, they could be and I would never know. As an adoptee, I am expected to, easily, overlook my genetics, first language, culture, and opinions. Though I was born in Hungary I know nothing about the culture or lifestyle. I’ve heard that Budapest has a beautiful Parliament building, though. And the river? Supposed to be super pretty.
I live with questions that will always be in the back of my mind. A huge part of closed adoptions is the lack of vital information I should be allowed as a human. I am legally bound to never learning my medical or biological information. Where do I come from? Though most people will probably forget their High School Biology class I will always remember mine because of the ‘Genetics’ unit. Did people notice how uncomfortable I was? Do teachers understand that not everyone knows their family history? When I had homework I didn’t feel comfortable asking for help with hereditary traits. What features of mine are from my birth mom? In my head I made a collage of a person without a widow’s peak or hitchhikers’ thumb. I can roll my tongue, can she? Would these help me if I wanted to find her? “Excuse me, person at the Hungarian Embassy, I’m looking for a woman who can roll her tongue…”
In addition, I am unable to check boxes while filling out paperwork for medical history, instead I have crammed note at the top explaining my situation. I will never understand why there isn’t a bubble for people who don’t know their history. I am not the only person. I am unaware of any diseases that I may be more vulnerable to. I’ve had a doctor tell me that treatment for my depression may have been a lot easier to find had I known my medical history……..I ask you to please cherish this information if you have it.
Though I still don’t talk a lot about my adoption with my mom, our relationship is at a level that I didn’t think we would ever reach and I’m grateful for this. I no longer associate being different from my sister with my being adopted. I genuinely enjoy looking at our family pictures; I was a cute kid! I am finally proud to say that I wasn’t born in the U.S. That I’m an immigrant. Some people are actually jealous of me when I tell them. My other personal relationships have improved as well. Though it is still a work-in-progress, I am able to let go of people that no longer help me grow. As I am becoming more comfortable with my adoption story I have started asking questions and researching the topic more on my own. I am proud of how far I’ve come but I constantly wonder where I would be now, emotionally, had I known more of my history all along.
I can’t talk for every adoptee out there because stories and feelings are all so personal and subjective. But I have found that adoption is as ugly as it is beautiful. My hope moving forward is that anyone who reads this opens their eyes to adoption from all angles. Explore adoption if you’re interested in having children. I believe we need more education on adoption and less obsession with genetics. We need more resources for adoptees. This can only come from adoptees talking and voicing their experiences, good and bad. If you are a parent, teach your biological child about adoption in depth. I didn’t have thick skin when I was a child or as a teenager. We need to help adoptees feel comfortable amongst their peers. If they feel a sense of belonging in their community they may feel secure enough to ask questions and grow. Society at large doesn’t talk about mental or developmental issues stemming from adoption, nor improving adoption laws or even how it’s viewed in the media. I believe it would be helpful to see more varied stories on domestic and international adoptions on an easy platform for anyone connected to this community.
In conclusion, adoption is a huge part of my identity. For the first time in my life I am embracing it, loving it, and finally taking a stand for the adoptee community. We continue to learn about ourselves and grow daily. Let’s have a conference call. Our community and society need us.
A few ways to promote adoption are briefly below. Please consider and share with others.
1. If you are adopted or connected to adoption in any way, share your story!
2. Educate the public on OPEN adoptions
3. Use social media to promote adoption by liking/following/subscribing to adoption foundations
4. Be mindful of micro-aggressions; the language you may use without noticing can be extremely hurtful (e.g., “given up for adoption”)
5. Fundraise or donate supplies to foster care organizations 6. Donate to families who need help paying adoption fees