Monday, January 14, 2013
I Want to tell you a Story of What I Overcame
I took a deep breath. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I exhaled.
I am not going to cry.
I am not going to cry.
I looked around the classroom. No one seemed to notice me. After another deep breath, I exhaled again. The release of breath from my body sent the first few welled up tears rolling over my cheeks and onto my notebook.
The professor had just asked to do an impromptu presentation on an assignment where we had critically evaluated the values of the family that raised us. I had interviewed my adoptive parents and grandmother and completed the written assignment. I never anticipated I would have to share about my family, especially in critique, in front of the class.
What seemed like a tough but reasonable task for other students sent a rush of emotions to my chest and tears burning at my eyes. Every time I attempted to layout in my mind exactly what I was going to say, the tears threatened again. Saying simple phrases like "my mom" and "my family taught me" to even introduce the topics in my presentation felt like a climb up a steep mountain.
Because my mom is badly hurt by me right now.
Because my family taught me things while my other invisible family, who is also hurting right now, never had the chance to teach me anything.
You need to understand what being publicly critical of my adoptive family represented to me in that moment.
I did not want to admit that my parents are not perfect when I had already been so busy trying to prove to the world that they are perfect. Reunion, and everything that comes with it, was my choice and not a response to what some people might assume to be parenting failures.
The student next to me was preparing to stand up at the front of the class. It would be my turn soon.
I decided that I could not give the impromptu presentation without bawling in front of my peers. I considered telling them why sharing about my family at that time was hard. I considered attempting to do the presentation through the tears, after explaining why I was crying. I had already explained so much about why I wanted to reunite to those in my personal life. I did not want to have to keep explaining my thoughts and my heart to people, over and over again.
I excused myself, gathered my books, quietly closed the door behind me, and walked slowly down the hallway. The tears readily flowed now. Huge, wet drops rolled down my cheeks, finding landing places on strands of my hair and the school logo printed on my sweatshirt. I was frustrated at myself for not being able to figure it out how to stop crying. I was angry for not being able to figure out how to make being adopted not be hard.
--I had newly become aware of the pain and loss of an entire family that resulted from losing me as a family member when I was surrendered to adoption.
--I was navigating reunion with both my maternal and paternal family members within the context of extremely sensitive conception circumstances.
--I had finally learned my family medical history. At the urging of my paternal aunt, I had some skin biopsies done due to the significant presence of cancers in my ancestral line, and was awaiting the results. This was my third cancer scare in only 25 years of life.
--I carried immense guilt for causing my parents to feel a wide range of positive negative, and painful emotions when I announced that I was searching for my original family.
All of these emotions were intensified by hormones. I was pregnant at the time and didn't know it. Because of my infertility issues, all three of my pregnancies were a complete surprise. I miscarried a few weeks later.
These were tough things in my life that adoption intersected through like a cannonball, striking me right in my gut, leaving me feeling winded and sometimes defeated. I would not get around these things. I could not pretend like they did not exist.
I was acutely aware that there are people in the world, including fellow adoptees, who have greater challenges than I do. But this fact did not keep the tears from falling. It is not that those who are not adopted do not have problems in life. Adoptees, like everyone else, experience tough life and family challenges. However, adoption can make these life challenges more intense and more complex, often times within an overwhelming context of loss.
I left the class and emailed an apology to the teacher. I was determined to overcome these challenges. There were times when I thought being adopted was easy and I didn't have to think about it. I wanted to find that person and hand them these tough experiences to fix. I did not have the answers anymore.
This is only part one of the story. I mentioned in the intro to this post that this was a story where I worked through tough issues when being adopted was hard and came to self-affirming conclusions. And I did, though it took time. Part two won't be posted today. In hindsight, it is easy to want to immediately conclude with what I learned and how I've empowered myself. Struggles are uncomfortable and we're quick to move past them. I need to give honor to the struggle I had and give it a moment to stand and be reflected upon on its own.
Photo credit: criminalatt
Posted by The Declassified Adoptee
Amanda Woolston, MSS, LCSW, CT is an adoption and child welfare focused scholar, author, therapist, activist, and leader. For over a decade, her work has reached millions globally through media, public policy, and writing projects.