When I was young, my adoptive mother made some of my clothes. I was about eight years old and on a two week visit with my biological family when my sister noticed the shirt I was wearing one morning. “Did your mom make that for you,” she asked. I liked to sort of pretend that my biological family was “my family” when I was with them. This question was a reminder that I had a different family.
Once I was back with my adoptive family, I obviously missed my biological family. My biological mom had called one afternoon, but I wasn’t at home and had missed her call. When I came in, my dad said, “Your mom called. She wants you to call her back.” I also sort of pretended that my adoptive family was “my family” but these were the types of situations that brought me back to reality. I had a different family.
I’ve written before about the middle ground open adoption left me in. By being in TWO families, I never really felt in a family. It wasn’t about confusion necessarily. It was about the reality.
It felt isolating. Extremely isolating. I never felt lucky. I never felt grateful. I just felt lonely.
I think open adoption is an adult concept. It centers on an understanding that each visit will end and boundaries must be respected. It asks children to grow up quickly and develop that adult understanding. This happened for me slowly over time. As each visit would end, my heart was slashed. Eventually, a heart learns to harden and not invest so much. The child that repeatedly sees his/her mother and siblings together and fully realizes that he alone was given up must develop thick skin. There will never be any other hurt that cuts this deep.
Other adoptees from open adoption that I’ve spoken to have described the experience using words such as “mess,” “turmoil,” “not fully belonging,” “chaotic” “cursed” “detailed” “told how to feel” etc.
I remember one person asking me what it was like growing up in open adoption as if I could somehow convey the experience in a simple manner. I tried to explain that I couldn’t give a simple answer. There is no way to describe how horrendous it was. There is no way to explain the emotional violence. There is no way to describe the complexity. There is no way to describe the hurt and pain of being there, but not.
How does one explain what it is like to be adopted into one family and adopted out of another family, yet be “with” both families?
The effort of inclusion ensured my exclusion.
It was isolating.
It made me lonely.
Open adoption left me feeling closed off.