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Why Can't I Do This? - Guest Post

{"National Adoption Month without adoptees is like having a shoe without laces. Like, you're missing the very fabric of the equation....and you might fall." - Angela Tucker

"Flip the script says "What if it was me, what if it was us, that got to do the talking and everyone just listened?" What would we stand to gain if we did that? And I would argue that we'd gain a lot." Amanda Woolston

Part of my plan for NAAM was not only to write on specific topics, but to also make a space for adoptees who wanted to share stories, à la #flipthescript (read Jamie, Janet, Rebecca) Though whenever we hear someone's story, we are indeed hearing only a single story, the reality is that we are often hearing a monolithic story about adoption. What would happen if we allowed a multitude of stories to exist openly and freely within the conversation of adoption? Stories from those who are most impacted by adoption: adoptees.

Like all humans living life, our stories and perception of our stories change, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly, sometimes over and over again throughout the course of our lives. Telling all of our stories together creates a more comprehensive, nuanced, and honest narrative not only of adoption, but of life itself, and what it means to be a human working to create meaning out of our experiences.

This is Sandi's story. }

Why Can’t I Do This?

Sandi Smith

I’ve spent the better part of 3 weeks trying to write an essay on how adoption impacted me as an adoptee. No fewer than 12 attempts have hit the circular file by now. Why can’t I do this? What is it about exposing my thoughts and my trauma that makes this so incredibly difficult?

I’ve spent 6 decades on this planet. Every year, on my birthday, my adoptive mother calls to tell me all about the first time she held me and how she gave me my first bottle in a plane on the way to my new home. I never heard the words so many people take for granted, “on the day you were born.

There were 5 missing weeks. There still are 5 missing weeks. Who cared for me? Where was I? I wasn’t in foster care. I wasn’t a preemie in the NICU. Who cuddled me? Who rocked me to sleep? I gave birth to 3 children. They were never far from me. I knew their cries and what comforted them. Who knew that about me? I’ll never know.

Whenever I hear adoptees talk about reunion, I hear them mention a hole or an emptiness they feel deep inside. Something needs to be filled up. Where does it come from? Perhaps the missing days, weeks, or years have left that scar. Time cannot be rewound to recover the loss. It doesn’t surprise me that the emptiness cannot be filled completely.

I don’t blame my adopters for taking me 2,000 miles from where I was born. There was desperation in my adoptive mother’s desire for children. I don’t even blame my first mother for doing what had to be done so that she might be able to retain custody of my older siblings. I do blame the nuns and the doctor who made it possible for all of this to happen outside the bounds of the legal system.

Still, blame heals nothing. Reunion has not completely filled that empty space inside of me. The loss has had a lifelong impact. My fear of rejection keeps me from pursuing some aspects of my career. My fear of abandonment compels me to be a chameleon when I enter a room. “Just fit in”, I tell myself.

I think I may have lost my real self from the effort.

I’m not alone in this. I’ve spoken to so many adoptees through the years, many who had wonderful, loving families. Their adoptive parents are unlikely to know the longing their adopted children carry inside. We worry about upsetting and losing them. I want adoptive parents to know that it isn’t the quality of the home in which we are planted that determines the size of our emptiness inside. It’s inherent in the scenario of adoption.

I think of adoptees like trees being uprooted and moved to a new location amongst a completely different species of trees. There must be two holes in order to move that tree. The first hole is present when the tree is dug out and uprooted. It’s a gaping wound with some of the roots necessarily left behind. The second hole must be present in the new location. Trees are not simply placed on top of the soil to find their way into a sturdy home underground. The hole in that new home must be big enough and deep enough for the roots to find a new path underground. No matter how well the hole is covered, there is a scar present.

In an ideal world, adoption would be a rare occurrence. I look back on my time here and find myself wishing that I’d felt affirmed in speaking my truth from an early age. Though I had many details that other adoptees don’t have, I wish I’d had my original birth certificate all along. It’s comforting to see those first weeks in black and white. That paper is proof that I existed in my original place of birth from the start.

The fear of being abandoned for speaking my sadness has not disappeared. I’m careful about how I speak about my feelings around my adoption. I wish my adoptive family, and society as a whole, would have embraced my feelings as healthy curiosities.

As a child, I silently prayed the same thing for years, “Please God, I want to see what my birth mother looks like. And I want to know my brothers and sisters. Amen.

I prayed that every night, alone in my bed, for years.

My adoptive parents never heard nor knew about that prayer.

Decades later I received a call from an intermediary. My siblings were looking for me. I was the youngest of 5 children. My first mother didn’t want a relationship but my siblings did. It wasn’t until about 5 years into our reunion that my childhood prayer was answered. My first mother attended a family wedding. We nodded toward each other and said a brief and quiet “hello” across a room. I respected her wish not to have any other contact. I saw what she looked like and I knew my siblings.

I wish I could tell you that the answered prayer quelled all my fear of rejection and abandonment. I wish I could tell you that the gaping hole left by my adoption was filled in. If I said that, I’d be lying. The residual effects of relinquishment and secrecy linger. They pop up in odd ways at unexpected moments. I recognize them but they still have power. In my ideal world, adoptees would all know these feeling are normal. Society wouldn’t label them as signs of ingratitude but as a normal longing to know ourselves at a deeper level.

In an ideal world....

Sandi Smith is an adoptee who was reunited with her maternal siblings 26 years ago and, thanks to DNA, she met her paternal first family 4 years ago. She continues to have contact with several family members. Living more than 2,000 miles apart has made it difficult. She insists that the times when they are able to traverse the miles are precious to all of them. She’s a proud mother of 3 and grandmother of 5, married to her husband for 24 years. Her adoptive father passed away in 2021. Her adoptive mother lives in assisted living about 40 minutes away. Her adoptive family includes her younger sister who was also adopted at birth.

Sandi has been a professional sign language interpreter for 32 years. She holds a BA in Mass Communication. Her love of studying diverse cultures and spiritualities eventually led her to earn her MA in Theology where her focus was on spirituality and spiritual direction. Currently, she’s slowly reducing her interpreting work. She looks forward to putting more focus on growing her coaching business, where she focuses on health and spirituality for clients going through times of transition and change.

<Adoption and the bible

<Why i relinquished a son to adoption, and why i never would again