Thursday, July 23, 2015

We Were All Good Adoptees ... Once

I am lucky. I have good adoptive parents who love me. I am grateful for being able to experience the life I have. So many people have it so much worse than I do. Adoption isn't a big deal.

Except it is.

There is trauma in being separated from your roots, to be relinquished by your original families.

We are strong. Hell, yeah. We can take it.

Until we can't.

I was the perfect adoptee. I had to be. My brother (also adopted) was the one who acted out. He was angry, for no apparent reason.

There must be some psychological test out there that examines what happens when you tell someone who has experienced trauma, that no trauma took place. It means they're crazy, right? It's telling the person that there's something wrong with them. There's nothing wrong with the situation, so it must be them.

Society is telling them nothing is wrong - you are in a loving family, it doesn't matter that you are not with your people. You're fine.

Except you're not.

Imagine telling someone whose parents have died, who have been taken in by strangers outside of their family that no trauma took place. Who would be the crazy one?

You can argue that, in that case, the parents are known, so it's different.

Imagine that it is an infant, new born, and the parents have died. Would you tell the infant that no trauma took place at the loss of their family?

No, you wouldn't. You would acknowledge their loss. It would be tragic. You would tell stories of the hero who lost everyone he was ever connected to.

I was fine with being adopted. It was not a big deal. I had parents who loved me, a family, a community, why should it matter that I'm not being raised by my actual kin?

When I turned 18, I met my birthmother. Then her family. I had a glimpse of who I was meant to be.

But wasn't.

And won't be.


I'm fine. I am who I am. And, I am who I'm not. Both; together, somehow.

My brother though, not so much.

He died.


No one knows why. He had the same family I did. The same world.

Only, maybe, he saw it a little differently. He didn't see anyone who looked like him. No one that was quite like him. No one that could understand what he was going through. Because, there was nothing wrong, according to everyone else.

It should've been fine.

It wasn't.


Cathy Heslin is a reunited adult adoptee of closed domestic adoption in New Jersey. She met her birthmother when she was just 18 and moved out to Portland after graduating college to live with her birthmother. She has been in reunion with her birthmother for nearly 25 years, and with her birthfather for 15 and has a complicated extended family that includes all sides.

She writes about adoption with a focus on long-term reunion. She has written a memoir in partnership with her birthmother called Kathleen-Cathleen where she and her birthmother write alternating chapters sharing their experience of reunion from both the perspective of the adoptee and the birthmother (not yet published). They also write parallel blogs on shared themes: Cathy's blog is Follow Cathy on Twitter @CathyHeslin.