The other day I was having tea with a friend of mine, another adult adoptee who grew up one state over from me. We talked about the complexities of being adopted, of the dynamics with our families, how we even define families, and how we are defined by them. We talked about our thoughts on adoption as an institution and the multiple layers of loss that thread through adoption even as others gain.
At one point, as she shared a bit about her recent reunion with her birth father, I had this moment of opening in my heart, a moment of deep longing and recognition, when she paused and said “You know, I really believe it is a human right that every child be connected to their biological heritage.”
My eyes flew open, my heart beat faster, then slower, as my breath sank back into my body, a body whose origins I know next to nothing about. And suddenly, it became very clear to me.
How could it be any other way. How on earth could we have assumed that it is natural or normal or okay for children to grow up not knowing the stories of their ancestors? How on earth could we have deluded ourselves into thinking that children can just slip from one family to another, having completely severed any connection to the bodies that nourished them for nine months? How on earth could we have thought that no one would notice, no one would care, no one would wake up on day, ten or twenty or thirty years later and say, “Wait just one damn minute here…there are things I need to know.”
Of course, some adoptees go through life never needing to know, feeling completely fulfilled by their adoptive families and the families they create. And I’m not trying to deny the validity and truth of their own experiences. But for me…hearing another adoptee speak her truth so clearly, which is that her right to know her biological history had been taken from her, shook me to the core. As adoptees, we spend so much time telling ourselves it doesn’t matter, because we have a family now, and that family is loving and kind.
And they are. But it’s not the same.
The other day I was reading an article in the New York Times about the generation of Argentinean children who were kidnapped from their parents during the “Dirty War” of Jorge Rafael Videla’s dicatorship. These children were often raised by the military officers who kidnapped them and killed their parents. Only now, as they become adults, is this generation learning the truth of where they come from.
I instantly felt a sense of connection with the main subject of the story, Victoria Montenegro. She says, of the process of integrating this new information about her identity:
“This was a process; it wasn’t one moment or one day when you erase everything and begin again,” she said. “You are not a machine that can be reset and restarted.”
I believe the same to be true at the moment of separation, not just the moment when you learn you are adopted. Even though I was only three and a half months, and everyone says that babies can easily adapt to new cultures (they learn new languages so quickly, even older children!), I still believe that deep within my body there are stories that link me to my past…to my mother and her mother, and her mother before her. To not be able to access these stories, to not even know the story of my own birth is an incredible loss. It doesn’t matter that I had a wonderful childhood, that I am a content adult who has found fulfilling relationships and work. Those stories are a human right, they inform who I am in a way that my adoptive family never can.
And as my friend so passionately and eloquently said as I was leaving,
“I hope that you will be able to find that connection some day, because you deserve to know.”