Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Elizabeth Blake
Here we are, decades after we were taken from our family, gathering the pieces of our lives and weaving a garment made of the fragments. Our garment, full of holes that let the light in.
Firstborn, I only knew that I was not adopted right after birth. I lived with my first mother for months after birth. She lived in a chaotic household with younger siblings and her mother. I can only imagine what life was like.
As a child, she would sit staring into space for hours in a quiet corner and not speak. A university medical center tried to figure out what was wrong, but it was long before some conditions were understood, there was no genetic testing and diagnoses were often guesses.
Her problems – present since since early childhood — worsened as an adult. When she lived in group homes and took medication, she did better and functioned more typically. In her older years, she seemed to communicate better than she did all of her young life.
For some months as a baby, I was in foster care and with that, there were no photos and only very basic records. A family adopted me. They had a biological child who was eight years old. But after a “trial period” and with much dismay, they figured out they could not accept someone else’s child.
My childhood, like most, was filled with both good and bad experiences. I did not have the love of my adoptive parents, but I had an adoptive grandmother who loved and cared for me often. Staying at her apartment was a welcome respite to life at home.
As an adult, after having a child, I understood the strength of a connection you feel to your own child and decided to search for my first family. I knew very little but had seen my birth name and my mother’s name on adoption papers.
I approached the adoption agency named on the papers to help with my search, and they spoke to an aunt of mine, but she would not share information about her sister unless she knew why. It was a dead end.
Then I found a woman who did adoption searches, an angel. Within a day, she found and talked with my grandmother, shared the information with me and I soon met her and other family members. I needed a little time to process all of it and waited a little while before meeting my first mother. When I met my first mother, she did not speak much but did say, “You turned out beautiful.”
I learned more about my family history. After me, Frank was next born. He was never adopted and lived in foster care until he aged out at eighteen.
One of his foster families kept him until he was about seven years old. He remembered that one morning he came downstairs for breakfast. A suitcase sat by the door along with his shoes. He asked his mother why. She told him he would be going to live at another home. At that time, he thought these people were his ‘real’ family. The parents had a son his age.
He described that day as the most devastating of his life to lose the family who loved him and treated him as their own. Later, he guessed that his maybe his frequent seizures made keeping him too difficult.
Amazingly, Frank and I found each other in 1981 when we both called the same search person within a month of each other, and she figured out we were siblings. We both had the same unusual last name and his had never been changed because he was in foster care but not adopted.
Later, our relationship as siblings was proven with our original birth certificates. We also went together to meet our first mother. After that meeting, Frank did not contact either of us for a year or so. When we reconnected later, he said it was too much to take in, and he needed to think about these new relationships.
When the time was right for him, he went to visit our first mother at the group home where she lived. He took her shopping and out to her favorite place to eat. He said, “She always wants something. I never had a mom who needed help.” For many years, Frank came to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with my husband and our daughter.
Frank was not my only sibling. My two younger sisters, J and T, lived with our first family for a year or two. Our mother had married, but problems persisted, now times two. When parenting was clearly failing, J and T went into foster care.
After a year or so, J and T were made wards of the state and then were available to be adopted. They were placed together and adopted when they were about three and four years old. I found them when they were about eighteen and nineteen years old.
Since they were still living with their adoptive parents, I was only able to briefly meet J, the older sibling. I heard she went to meet our first family. I lost contact with J and T again until just a few years ago.
T and I wrote back and forth. We had both moved away from the city we grew up in. She invited me to visit her. It was such a joy to fly out to stay at her home for three days. We talked until late at night, sharing stories and photos. It was a life-changing experience. It was so healing.
Still, there was one more sibling. Our youngest sister was born at our family’s apartment. Like with all of us, my mother received no prenatal care during her pregnancy. My sister was placed for adoption soon after her birth. She lived in another state for some of her childhood and spent time in Europe when she was in high school.
She grew up knowing nothing of her biological history. In 1995, when her two-year-old child had a health problem, DSHS was willing to help her find biological family for medical reasons. It was such a shock to learn that there was another sibling from my first family.
I had thought there were four of us. But there were actually five; it was true. My youngest sister and Frank and I met together first, and then we went to see our first mother. Frank passed away suddenly in January 1996 at age 38 during a seizure. The rest of us lost contact with our youngest sister a couple years later, but she recently found us again.
This year we were invited to a Welcome Home Gathering for adopted or fostered adults who have Native American heritage. Three of us sisters planned to return to our home and attend the gathering. One was unable to go, and one had to cancel.
T and I attended the gathering and made friends with others who were adopted. It was an amazing three days of teachings from our culture, ceremonies and a pow wow with an honor dance for us. It was the most healing time we had ever experienced.
We had lost our connections and culture and have found our way back. We have each other. Sadly, my two middle sisters never met their brother Frank. It’s so joyful to have found my family, made peace with the past, we have more family to love and now we can really grow together.
Elizabeth Blake is a pediatric nurse practitioner and artist. Coincidentally, her sister is a nurse becoming a nurse practitioner, and three of the siblings are artists. In 2012, Elizabeth’s book for children about belonging was published. It’s titled Greenbean: True Blue Family. She also illustrated a book called Sleep Baby Sleep in English and Spanish published by Xist Publishing. Her website is: https://elizabethblake.us
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter