Guest blogger, Lauren J. Sharkey, author of Inconvenient Daughter shares her own adoption story. She shares how an adoptees journey is truly lifelong and her feelings/questions along the way are all too relatable. Please note this is her personal story, please respect her journey she has chosen to share with us.
I discovered I was adopted on my first day of kindergarten – I was five years old. My mother had trouble getting me out of the car seat and had to run me into Mrs. Matthei’s classroom. The teacher’s aide had me take a seat at a round table where two boys asked for the identity of the woman who brought me in. They wondered why I didn’t look like her. It was the first time I noticed there were physical differences between my mother and me.
“She’s adopted,” said a girl at the table. “Your real mommy is in China but she didn’t want you, so she gave you to a lady in America who can’t make babies.”
Growing up, the only transracial adoptee I knew was my brother. As children, we looked to friends, family, and other nonadoptees to understand who we were. These people told us we were gifts, blessings…miracles. We were told we had been saved and given a better life, but neither I nor my brother could recall what inferior life we were living before, or who had been responsible for it. We were told we were lucky – as if we had escaped some unspeakable fate which would have rendered us ill, wounded, or worse. We knew no one like us – no one who could give us answers about where we had come from and why we were here. They told us we could ask them questions but had no answers. They told us that this was a safe space, but it was wrought with pain. They told us that it was okay to be curious, just not about the mother we never knew. For they could not tell us why the women who brought us into this world had given us away. They could not tell us if she had thought about us since. And they could say nothing of how to heal from the trauma we had suffered. After all, how could a miracle be traumatic?
As I came of age in the predominantly white suburbs of Long Island, I knew the anger burning within me wasn’t just the result of hormones. The more I thought about my adoption, the more questions I had: was my biological mother looking for me, would my mom and dad have adopted me if they could have had children naturally, did either of my mothers truly want me? There was no one to tell me about nefarious adoption practices or the stigmatizations of single mothers. No one tell me adoption is born out of loss, that it is okay to be angry…that I had the right to mourn for the life I did not live.
When searching through my mother’s things, I found an envelope with my picture inside. The return address read “New Beginnings Family and Child Services”. The woman on the other end of the phone asked if I was eighteen. When I told her no, she suggested I speak with my adoptive parents about signing a consent form. I hung up before she could offer to have the forms sent to the house. And yet the pain remained – heavy and unforgiving. So, I decided I was fine – that I didn’t need answers. After all, the adoption to be pretty formulaic – my biological mother didn’t want me, my adoptive parents did, papers were signed and the trade was finalized. There didn’t seem to be a lot of room for misinterpretation – for questions. What I didn’t know is that I had buried the pain alive, and it would eventually claw its way out.
As I grew older, I resolved to not knowing things and tried to move on. I was determined not to let the actions of my biological mother define me or my value. After graduating from college and spending a year in the workforce, I decided to pursue writing at the graduate level.
When it came time to start thinking seriously about my thesis, I asked myself what it was I wanted to say…needed to say? I’d entered the Creative Writing and Literature Master of Fine Arts Program knowing one thing: I did not want to write about being adopted. But the more I wrote, the more I discovered that being adopted was at the core of every decision I’d ever made.
As the thesis – which consequently ended up being the draft of my forthcoming novel, Inconvenient Daughter (Kaylie Jones Books, 2020) – came together, I realized that I had been searching for a way to talk about – and to talk through – the effect being adopted had on me.
Growing up, I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain my anger, my despair…my self. I couldn’t identify why I exhibited certain behaviors – the need to schedule all parts of my day or running through all possible scenarios of a particular situation and preparing myself for each outcome. I couldn’t verbalize why I clung to toxic relationships. Until now.
Research for the marketing of Inconvenient Daughter introduced me to a wide range of communities, support, and information I didn’t have access to growing up. These resources allowed me – for the first time – to identify who I was, what happened to me, and go about the process of healing.
“Adoptee” is a word I’ve only recently discovered, and whose meaning I’ve decided matches who and what I believe myself to be. I think the first time I saw it was on Facebook and I thought, “Oh, that’s what I am. I’m an adoptee.” I’ve learned that infant separation is a form of trauma, and I’ve carried the effects of that trauma with me my entire life. But most importantly, I’ve learned that the journey of an adoptee – and discovering that it means to be an adoptee – is lifelong. The conversation, research, and community are constantly changing, constantly evolving.
At the beginning of my journey, I often wondered who I would be had I had access to these resources when I was younger. Now, in the middle of my journey, I wonder how I can better be the person I needed for others.