Piecing Together the Puzzles of My Identity

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: Laura Palladino

laura-pGrowing up, one of my favorite anecdotes was the one about my name. Being adopted, I have had two names in my lifetime: one Hispanic name for the first five months of my life, and one American name that has reflected my identity for as long as I can remember.

However, in a strange bout of coincidence, both my biological mother and my adoptive mother unknowingly gave me the same first name: Laura.

Two different identities. Two different nationalities. Both Laura.

Laura Torres Molina was the first name ever given to me, by a young mother in Bogotá, Colombia, without the resources to care for me.

Five months later, in another part of the world, another mother got a call on her birthday telling her that I was ready to be theirs. Calls were made, bags were packed, plane tickets were bought and tears were shed.

Soon after, I was adopted by two eager parents with a two-year-old son, also adopted from Bogotá. My identity was switched, and the quick flick of the tongue that characterized my name in Spanish was dropped.

It is crazy to think that my whole life has revolved around that day. Who knew that this chain of events, that happened long before I could even remember, would have such an impact on my life? Everything I know, and everything that I am, has resulted from the moment that I was placed into my parent’s arms. I continue to be in awe at how much my life would be so drastically different had these moments played out differently.

Thought-provoking questions would linger in the depths of my mind for the majority of my lifetime: Who was that first “Laura”? Who brought her into this world? Are she and I the same? If so, where do I fit in?

These questions, however, carried a weight that riddled me with guilt. Did it matter? I have loving parents and a family that cares for me deeply. I have a mother, just as good as—if not better than—my friends whose mothers carried them for nine months.

My brother, who lacked just the amount of answers about his adoption that I did, had never shown interest in finding them. So why wouldn’t my mind let these questions go? Did my drive to learn more make me ungrateful? Selfish? 

As a preschooler and into elementary school, I would burrow under the covers while my parents read to me before bedtime. Books about adoption stuck out in my mind particularly well: Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis. Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz. A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza. Each one gave me a sense of what it meant to be adopted, and taught me how our family was unique. At the same time, they sparked curiosity from a young age, and at twenty years old I would write my own children’s book about adoption.

As I got older and a sense of identity started to form, I began to ask questions. I wondered why my birth mother gave me up. I wondered if she ever thought about me. Did October 31st, my birthday, carry any significance to her? Years later, I would learn that she thought about me often, especially on my birthday. I would learn that she carried guilt and shame about her decision to this very day.

Also around this age, I would wonder if I had any biological siblings. I would wonder if they looked like me. Growing up with three brothers, I especially wondered if I had a sister out there. Years later, I would learn about four biological half-sisters. And three more brothers, too.

At twelve years old, I started taking Spanish classes in middle school, hoping that the language would connect me to my roots. Years later, I would use Spanish regularly to communicate with relatives that I never knew I had.

After I turned eighteen, my mom and I planned a trip to Colombia to visit my birth place. In the process of getting a temporary Colombian passport, I would come across my birth records, my adoption records, and pages upon pages of clues. I scanned documents that told me my birth mother’s name, her date of birth, what she studied. I found a picture of her identification card.

I could feel myself getting closer and closer to converting those clues into answers. I wrote down her name and took pictures of the documents, while I debated what to do with this new information. In Colombia, I walked around the city where I was born. I volunteered at the orphanage that I was adopted from. I gained a part of my identity, and an understanding of where I came from. At the same time, a hunger grew inside of me. I needed to know more. It was in my blood. It was in my bones.

As a child, I broke many bones. These broken bones healed, but some types of broken can’t be fixed with a cast. I still carried with me pain and confusion. I felt broken like a puzzle, with lost pieces.

So I searched. Where do you search for lost puzzle pieces? In between the couch cushions? In the dog’s mouth? Under the carpet, perhaps? It took me a long time to search. I was filled with fear and anxiety. What if the pieces that I found don’t fit?

What if my puzzle is incapable of being completed, for reasons that are out of my own control? During the fall of my freshman year of college, I found the courage to search for the answers to the questions that I so longed to know. In a moment of spontaneity, I clicked the “send friend request” button on my birth mother’s Facebook page. An idea I had been juggling in my mind for the better part of four months.

What if she blocks me?

What if she doesn’t want anything to do with me?

What if she hasn’t told her husband about me?

What if she doesn’t want me to confuse the seemingly perfect life she has made for herself?

I was eighteen years old and I took those risks. It was September 8th, a day I will never forget. I consider myself an adventurous person. I enjoy horror movies and rollercoasters and I dream of skydiving. I like to be scared. I like when a rush of adrenaline flows through my body. However, in all of my eighteen years on this Earth, pressing that button was the scariest thing I had ever done.

So much was at stake. I am already a fragile person. I already know how quickly sadness is able to come and go for me. So what would I do if she didn’t care to meet me, even through Facebook Messenger? What would I do if this stranger, with so many answers, so many pieces to the puzzle of my identity, didn’t want anything to do with me?

Almost ten minutes later, my heart would skip a beat as the “request accepted” notification popped up on my phone screen. Not five minutes later, my heart would skip another beat, as I received a message notification from my birth mother.

I am grateful every day that, from this moment on, I was welcomed into her life with open arms. Those first few days, we talked for hours on end. She sent me pictures and told me stories. My puzzle was slowly being put together.

A little over a month later was Halloween. It was my first birthday not having to wonder where she was or if she was thinking about me. On this day, she would tell me exactly what happened nineteen years ago, and how it had left her broken and confused, with her own puzzle pieces missing.

Five months later, I would walk across the U.S.-Mexico border with my adoptive mom to meet her in person, and my life would be forever changed. To this day, it is still becoming complete. But, is anyone’s puzzle ever fully complete?

I have more than double the number of siblings that I had three years ago, spread between four different countries on four different continents. I have one more mother than I did three years ago. I have grandparents and cousins and uncles and aunts, who offer their love to me as if they have known me all my life.

I have family by adoption, and I have family by blood. The pain, the sorrow, the confusion, is dwindling. I can finally find comfort watching it shrink in the rear-view mirror as I begin to understand the answer to the question:

Who am I?

I always loved the feeling of completing a puzzle growing up. From fifty-piece puzzles to one thousand-piece puzzles, the promise of accomplishment and satisfaction always encourages me to keep going, no matter how frustrating it is. Sometimes, you have to lose some pieces along the way before everything can fit together.

Everyone’s puzzle is different, and everyone has different people handing them pieces. I may not ever know who that first little Laura was. I can imagine, and play out scenarios in my head, but I will never know what my life would have been like had I not been adopted. However, I am thankful that today, I have a multitude of people world-wide that have helped me find the answers that I have. I could never have come this close to completing my own puzzle without them.

I would like to thank my adoptive parents for being supportive of me throughout this journey, always encouraging me to do what makes me happy, and for welcoming my new family into your lives. I would also like to thank my biological mother for being open and honest even when it was hard, and for loving me as if you have known me your whole life.

Laura Palladino grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts, after being adopted internationally from Colombia as an infant. She currently attends Tulane University in New Orleans as a senior, and is studying Psychology and Early Childhood Education. Laura first shared her adoption story through Boston Post Adoption Resources, and encourages you to visit their blog to read her original publication at https://bpar.org/.