On Being Adopted – Identity Issues

The other day I skyped with my sister. While we were talking, the topic of my being adopted came up and my sister asked if I ever felt weird about being adopted.

I have read a lot about issues adoptees usually struggle with, and in a way I can identify with those, but in another way their experience is different from mine. Not because of anything mental health related, just because of the fact that I was already (legally, not emotionally) an adult by the time I was adopted. So unlike people who were adopted when they were little, I had a choice about it. I wanted it, too.

What I can relate to, however, is the whole part that deals with loss, rejection, shame and identity. I only ever became an adoptee because I lost my family. Because my mother didn’t want me. Rejected me. As a person. As her daughter. Because she just didn’t care about me. That comes with an unspeakably overwhelming feeling of inadequacy and sense of being awfully undesirable.

Painful stuff, so I don’t want to go into much detail here and it’s not directly related to adoption for me either. Those feelings were there for a long time before I even met my family. But what has made an appearance after the adoption were identity issues.

Some are tricky.

I don’t share the same family history as everyone else. Everyone in my family knows each other for a long time already. They share memories and traditions and knowledge about a family history that goes at least three generations back and that they feel connected with, somehow. And it’s THEIR history, not mine, yet at the same time it is a little bit of mine, too, now. Feeling left out of something that ought to be mine, too, and having family memories that are different from theirs is difficult sometimes. It sometimes makes me feel like I’m not part of my own family. My first family didn’t want me and being with my real one, the one I have now, makes me feel left out.

Looks. I know it’s silly, but I find myself forever comparing how I look to how my family looks. I find myself being relieved that my oldest sister has blond hair, like I do, because it means that my mom and my dad can have blond children together. That’s important to me. My hair is blond. Everyone has blue eyes like I do, too. That’s another thing that’s reassuring. It means I don’t stand out as being obviously different. But they are all fairly tall and I’m short. I’m relieved that people mistakenly think it’s because I’m still a teenager and have yet to grow, but I figure they won’t keep on thinking that forever. I also have buck teeth (as you see in the picture I posted) and nobody else does. Those small things make me sad sometimes.

My name. I share my family’s last name. My mom gave me her middle name to be my middle name, too, because I didn’t have a middle name. My first name was chosen by my birth mother. I don’t miss the last name I grew up with, because it was the last name of my stepfather, who abused me. I wasn’t biologically related to him and I’m glad I don’t carry his name any longer. But even so I often feel like the same mix of things that my full name reflects. Complicated.

The contradiction that my adopted family feels like my real family and my birth family feels much less “real”, when the whole rest of the world thinks it might be the other way around. I’m always afraid that people will think that I am “only” adopted. That I’m not a REAL part of my family. When to me my family now feels like my real, true, actual family. I always feel like I need to make sure that everyone realized that I am REALLY my mom’s daughter. At the same time I’m afraid I might not be good enough to deserve to really be her daughter.

My social class identity. I’m from a working-class / underclass family. I grew up hearing that anyone who had a good job and money sucked, basically. That they were arrogant, self-righteous people, born with a silver spoon in their mouth, who have no idea of what life “really” is like and who look down on and don’t care about “people like us”. That’s what I believed for the longest time. And now my mom’s a shrink and my dad’s a lawyer, as white collar as it gets. They have a really neat house, can send all their kids to college, money is never an issue although my mom isn’t even working anymore, and I’m technically what my birth mother would have considered a “spoiled, arrogant rich kid”. Which adds so much guilt that I feel awful for even writing about it, much less identifying with it.

I suppose there are more issues, but those are the ones that came to my mind the easiest. So while I really, really like the fact that my family adopted me and that I belong with them properly and forever, it’s not always easy. It’s okay because my family knows and they help me and are understanding when I’m upset about stuff, but it can get complicated.

But even so, I’m very, very happy that I’ve been adopted and it is infinitely better than not belonging with anyone. I love my family more than I can say.  🙂

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nobodysreadingme
    Jan 29, 2013 @ 12:08:14

    Lots of things to contend with. But a little story you may like.
    A friend of mine was adopted very early in life. Legislation came in so he could demand to be told about his birth mother and biological father.
    Dimwits used to ask him if he was going to look for his real family.
    ‘What the f*** do you mean? These ARE my real family.’

    • Lola
      Jan 29, 2013 @ 16:02:18

      I like the story, thanks for sharing. 🙂 I feel like my adopted family is my real family, too. Real and for always. How you feel towards each other is what makes real family, not blood.

      • nobodysreadingme
        Jan 29, 2013 @ 16:05:50

        That’s what my friend meant I think.
        At a lower level, I had a lot more time for my father in law than I ever had for my father. Same sort of thing, just a lower intensity.

        • Lola
          Jan 29, 2013 @ 17:22:02

          Yes, I think that’s the same sort of thing indeed. Family really isn’t a whole lot about blood, but really much about how people relate to each other.

  2. simplybluey
    Jan 29, 2013 @ 13:31:30

    Really enjoyed this post, good for you for having a loving family. 🙂

  3. prideinmadness
    Jan 29, 2013 @ 15:50:50

    Great post!!

    My first “long term” boyfriend was adopted when he was 8 years old I think. His mother passed away shortly after giving birth to him. We didn’t get into the details of how he felt about being adopted but I know he was angry and was one of those kids that pulled the whole “You’re not my real parents.” This was combined with his diagnosis of FAS. It was rough but I’m fairly sure he’s doing a lot better now and accepts his family and is hoping to make his own life better (especially since he now has two little boys).

    I said before that it’s a privilege to be a parent and I feel the same way abut the whole idea of what makes a family. In my opinion, biological means nothing if those people are not there for you. I struggle referring to one of my Father’s brothers as “uncle” because I first met him when I was 17 and he’s only now, in 2011, come back into the family. An uncle is someone who’s been there for me. Blood doesn’t mean to get the title. You have to earn the title. Your family is who you want to be in your family!

    • Lola
      Jan 29, 2013 @ 16:06:56

      Thank you. 🙂

      Wow, it was probably quite hard for your former boyfriend to have been adopted at an age where he was on the one hand consciously aware of what’s going on and that he was getting new parents and all that, but on the other hand too young to properly be aware of and express all of his emotions and still all the way a child, especially when he also had FAS, which the way I understand it comes with emotional challenges, too (if I’m not mistaken). That has probably been a tough road for him. I’m glad he’s doing better now.

      And I agree that being a parent is a privilege and I can totally understand how you have a hard time accepting your father’s brother as your “uncle” when you’ve only just got to know him, basically. That’s sometimes totally weird about being adopted. I meet all those people who are my “family” now (like my new grandparents, aunt, uncle etc.), but really they are strangers to me. Awkward.

      • prideinmadness
        Jan 29, 2013 @ 16:31:21

        Yes, FAS can come with huge emotional and behaviour challenges. I was 15 and he was 14 when we were dating so that also made it hard. He had FAS and I had undiagnosed depression. WHAT FUN!

        I don’t think many of us really think about what family means but you’ve had to think about that in ways that, I for example, haven’t had too. I can imagine that it would be hard to meet a whole group of people, especially as an adult, and figure out how they can all fit into your life and how you can make them family. Have you been able to do that with the relatives that don’t live in your house? I’m imagining that it’s easier to form a family bond with those you live close with.

        • Lola
          Jan 29, 2013 @ 17:17:00

          FAS and undiagnosed depression aged 14 and 15, now that sounds challenging. Bet you had some interesting moments.

          Yes, and it’s funny how you really only start to think about what family means when the concept you had becomes all upset. With the relatives who don’t live in our house it really depends a lot on who it is. My sisters I can fit into my life pretty well, even when they had already moved out by the time I moved in. Especially my oldest sister fits in well because I like her and she’s a bit wrong in all the right ways, too. 😉 With the sister who’s about as old as me I’m good, too, because she’s easygoing and friendly. With my brother I shared a roof for two years, so I’m good with him.

          The rest of the family is more challenging. The easiest one to get along with is my aunt, mom’s sister, probably because she’s a bit like mom and that’s familiar, and she’s nice. Her husband is okay, too. But especially my grandmother (mom’s mother) is an entirely different story. She still calls me “that girl” and things I’m one of those odd ideas my mom gets up to. She doesn’t feel like “my” grandma at all. And if we meet relatives that are even more extended, I just have no relationship to them at all and don’t really feel like they are part of “my” family. So yeah, way easier to bond with the people who I at least regularly see.

          • prideinmadness
            Jan 31, 2013 @ 00:22:12

            It was a very needy relationship lol

            I’m sorry to hear your grandma (or your mom’s mom) isn’t as accepting. I am glad that there are still other family members who care 🙂

            I’ve thought about adoption, locally, and it is still something I would like to do if that’s how live plays out for me and my partner.

            • Lola
              Feb 05, 2013 @ 09:30:40

              Adoption is probably a really nice thing to do when both you and your partner feel like that’s what you want to do. Comes with certain issues, but what in life doesn’t?! And it’s certainly a nice way to becoming a family. 🙂

  4. Michele G.
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 16:59:51

    Thank you for sharing this very personal and honest post with your readers. I think the emotions and questions that you are dealing with are those that most adopted children/teenagers/adults can relate to. It is nice to see others out there voicing these thoughts and making others feel less isolated and alone with their concerns. Your post reminded me of a fantastic memoir I just read entitled, “Split at the Root” (http://splitattheroot.com/) by Catana Tully, an author who knows first-hand about being adopted and the struggle that followed in coming to terms with the disdain she held for her birth mother(and ultimately forgiving her), and learning to fully love and appreciate her adopted family as her own. The big difference between your situation and hers is that she was adopted into a family of a different race and culture than her own which led to a whole other spectrum of problems. It is a compelling story about a young woman who spends most of her life searching for answers about her past, her identity, and where she belongs. I hope you will give it a read because I think although it is a different situation you could still identify and empathize with many of the authors feelings!

    • Lola
      Mar 11, 2013 @ 10:31:20

      Thank you for your comment. That sounds like an interesting book. It must be even more difficult to have been adopted into a family of a different race, because so many other factors like cultural identity and looks and feeling like you belong and are different at the same time all come up as well.

  5. shainawhite
    Apr 01, 2013 @ 09:59:53

    You have been through a lot of things, things that would make me so stressed out and overwhelmed. I can tell you work really hard to get passed things and you have an awesome family who understands your needs and loves you. 🙂

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