Born in Our Hearts: Stories of Adoption
By Filis Casey
As far back as I can remember, I have known that I was adopted. For all of my fifty-three years, "being adopted" has seemed normal to me. Some people are right-handed, some people are left-handed, and some people are adopted. My cousin, who was my surrogate brother, also was adopted. Being adopted was no big deal to me.
I had no reservations about telling anyone I was an adopted child. In fact, during my dating years, telling a girl that I was adopted could even score a few points! "Being adopted" also got me out of a couple of ninth-grade biology parent survey, hereditary homework assignments.
My adoptive parents never spoke about my birth parents or the situation that brought me to the adoption agency. My only curiosity was wondering what time I was born. I remember my parents saying that they tried to find out, but a fire had destroyed my birth records. I don't know if this statement was just a ruse to quell my curiosity about my birth history.
In retrospect, it is odd that my cousin and I never discussed any issues about our adoption. I have heard about adoptees who had a strong, primordial desire to search for their birth mother, feeling they could not be whole unless they uncover their roots. I never felt that way.
I don't recall even once really wondering about my birth parents. I never asked myself, What were the circumstances of my conception? How did my mother feel giving me up for adoption? What role did my birth father take? How did they feel afterwards? Do they ever think of me?
Once in a while, though, I would fantasize about them. A recurring fantasy was that one day I would receive a call from a lawyer asking me to come to his office. When we met, he would say, "I have been your birth fathers lawyer for many years. Your father always watched you from afar. He followed your athletic achievements and your career. He was proud of you. However, I am sorry to tell you he recently passed away. And by the way, he left you $25 million." I guess that is not much different than people dreaming of their "long-lost millionaire uncle." Later I was to find out that my birth father was a bus driver from New York City, and now all I can picture is that Ralph Kramden was my father. It's a bit of a letdown, I'll admit.
I have no idea why my adoptive parents did not give me more information. Were they afraid I would leave them if I found my birth parents? In the late 1990s my mother came up with a strange theory about my cousins and my trip to Europe on 1969 college summer break. Both my mother and his mother, knowing that our birth mothers were in Europe, thought we were really on a search for our birth family. Frankly, nothing was further from our teenage minds.
On the evening of May 29, 2002, I sat down to read the paper after being away for a couple of days on business. Noreen, my wife, and Andrea, my sixteen-year-old daughter, came into the room. Noreen sat down next to me and took my hand. Her touch, so light yet so heavy with apprehension, gave me a chill of foreboding. Noreen said, "Andrea is pregnant."
One can imagine the emotions that erupted, the questions that were asked and the answers that were given. From that moment our family's world changed. Within thirty seconds of dropping the three-word bomb, Noreen said, "Andrea and I think adoption may be the best answer." I had already started to ask myself, Could we raise another baby? The word "adoption" struck me like a lightning bolt. It seemed incredible to me that we would give a baby to someone else! But then I was adopted. Why couldn't it work here? All of these thoughts raged like a storm in my head, but I think my love for my daughter cleared my brain, and I began to search for the right answer. I did feel betrayed, hurt, angry and dumbfounded, but I tried to push those feelings aside.
Over the next days and weeks my own adoption came more and more to the forefront of my thoughts. Is this what happened to my birth mother and father? How did each one react? Did they tell their parents? Did their parents even know? What went through their minds? I started to ask all the questions that I had not even thought about during the first fifty-two years of my life. Not only was I dealing with the emotions of our current family situation, I also felt rising to the surface unresolved issues from my adoption.
During Andrea's pregnancy, we felt it was important that she receive counseling. We found an excellent counselor with extensive adoption experience, who was, in fact, also adopted herself. Mary Ellen was extremely helpful to Andrea. We were very concerned that the adoption alternative was Noreen's and my solution, but that deep down it might not be Andrea's choice. Mary Ellen did, however, confirm that Andrea felt that adoption was not only best for her but also for the baby.
Eventually, I started to feel that I could use Mary Ellen's counseling as well. We talked about the emotional aspects for the adoptive baby, and I learned that negative feelings experienced during adoption may manifest themselves later as depression, loneliness and anger. I realized that I have experienced these emotions and wondered if they related to my adoption.
Mary Ellen explained that adoptive children often suffer low self-esteem and feel unwanted. The child often feels "there must be something drastically wrong with me, because my own mother did not want me!" Another by-product is the child becoming afraid to form new relationships. The child, and later the adult, believes that if a relationship is started, then abandonment is right around the corner; thus, it is better to avoid being hurt by never entering into a relationship in the first place.
Mary Ellen and I talked about how my parents might have felt and how I had felt. I was in a foster home for nine months before I went to my new home, which must have been a lonely and confusing time for me. I must have thought, There is something very wrong with me, nobody wants me. Mary Ellen had a great cure for this troubling feeling. She made me picture myself as an infant and I, as an adult, holding that infant. She encouraged me to talk to him and enjoy him. When doing this exercise, it was impossible to think of that infant as bad in any way. The infant was an infant; he was pure, he was full of new life, he was happy. Concentrating on this picture and thinking of the feelings of my birth parents gave me a wonderfully new positive perspective on my adoption.
From that counseling session in May until the birth of Andrew on September 28, I relived my adoption, both from my birth parents' point of view and from mine. During that whole time I felt like I was preparing to give myself away. Whenever I spoke about the adoption, I cried. The process was difficult. In my own way, I became attached to Andrea's unborn child. At times, I thought that unborn child was me. I often questioned whether adoption was the right thing for the baby. Should we change our minds for the sake of the baby? Eventually, I concluded that adoption was still the best alternative for the baby and us, especially in the light of the adoption options available today.