Staying connected: How connections – past and present – can help to write our own futures
This Adoption Week Scotland, Tegan, a Youth Ambassador at Scottish Adoption and Teen Talk Adoption, discusses her experience of reconnecting with her birthmother, and reflects on how building connections and sharing experiences with others can help you to find out the most about yourself.
Meeting my birthmother for the first time was an occasion I spent more than 14 years of my life, as I remember it, building up to. In preparation, I would write, and dream, and cry. Occasionally, I would practice how I’d hug her (with the air, or with a pillow.)
Having a connection to my birthmother was something which I felt like I was missing out on for much my life. That yearning, looking back, was more like homesickness than anything I’ve ever felt. I was always a child with ‘interchangeable attachments’, but missing her was, with painful irony, a chasm in my world.
I felt she held a secret key to show me who I was. The fact she knew me when I was a baby was something no-one around me could replace. She knew the words I spoke, the toys I liked, and the person who she thought I would become. To me, she was the only connection to the person who I’d been for the two years of my life before I was adopted.
The missing connection in the puzzle of me
Now, I can explain this feeling of loss this as being something close to heartbreak. It’s like those moments when your ex comes up in conversation and, although you know it’s wrong, you think: ‘if only we could talk things through, I know we’d be together.’ It might not matter in that moment that you’ve both moved on. Memories you’ve shared with them can never be replaced by someone else, no matter how much you love your new partner. For me, I loved and do love my (adoptive) parents, but they could never replicate the experiences I had or recall memories of me as a tiny baby - no matter how much I wished they could. The fact is I spent years trapped in jealousy towards anyone who recounted stories or facts of themselves as young babies. No matter how cute or funny their conversation, I was immediately repelled - excluding myself through my own shame or anger, confusion, and sadness.
Truthfully, I had a gaping, mother shaped void in my life, which, given too much thought, threatened to suck me in at any time. Covering it up around family and friends felt like the only option, although I knew it consumed me entirely at times.
Everything I didn’t know about myself before I was adopted became a sort of black hole of missing information. I couldn’t forget its indefinite nature - its flexible edges expanded towards me with every childhood question, or ‘so where do you get your hair colour from?’ Conversations and thoughts left me questioning not only my relationships with others: ‘how come they don’t notice I can’t join in on this?’ but also with myself. What could have been an affirmation of who I was: ‘I was raised on this music as a baby!’, became a question to myself: ‘what music do I like? What songs am I supposed to like? And what about my music taste would be different if I hadn’t been adopted?’ I was experiencing an ongoing identity crisis which I believed, with all my heart, could only be resolved by my birthmother coming into my life – the missing connection in the puzzle of me.
Regaining trust, and time
When my birthmother reached out to me in December 2020 I remember feeling as though my heart shot to the sky. I thought, with my face perched onto a cushion that I held close to my knees, that the day was coming when my imaginary hugs were going to come alive. Her Facebook message beamed open on my phone, and it felt like the day that I’d been waiting for all of my life…
But it wasn’t long until my heart plummeted straight back down into a knot in the pit of my stomach. I feared my expectations versus the reality of seeing her. What if she wasn’t what I expected? What if, I thought, our connection had faded and couldn’t be repaired?
But even worse was the doom I felt every time I considered that perhaps I wasn’t the person she hoped I’d grow in to. Perhaps, through meeting me, she’d realise that her sacrifice, of giving away her daughters – myself and my sister - for the better life, had not ‘paid off’. I knew from her message that our separation had caused us both the biggest heartbreak of our lives. But, like everything important, I knew that repairing this was going to take regaining trust, and time.
I waited 15 months before actually meeting my birthmother. It was March of 2022 when we finally arranged a date. We’d had phone calls and messages, exchanged videos, and even sent each other Christmas cards for the first time. I remember her saying she’d meet me off the bus by the river, and although this was a pretty large radius - we said we’d walk until we bumped into each other - I knew who she was the moment I saw her across the road. Recently, she told me that she’d felt the exact same.
Even before I crossed the road, using all my will not to sprint straight through the traffic to her, I knew two things had always been true: I had never forgotten her hug, and our connection? Not only was it not broken, it was physically impossible to break.
Of course not everyone says this is how meeting their birthmother goes, but for me, the cringey TV cliche was true. I felt like I was finally on the doorstep of a home I’d forgotten I belonged to.
We had lunch in town and walked and talked. She told me that we had Italian blood, and we ate mountains of pasta together. The waitress even said we must be sisters and we laughed it off. I silently realised that no-one ever referred to me as my (adopted) Mum’s daughter, or even my sisters’ own sister in restaurants. ‘Maybe we just don’t look enough alike’, I thought. It was hard to avoid comparing my birthmother to my Mum in that moment. I was secretly proud and simultaneously sad - for them both, and for myself.
I noticed that I still hadn’t truly connected to who I was
But, I remember, over coffee on the day, that I realised pretty quickly that just having my birthmother in my life wasn’t going to be the final piece in my puzzle. Whilst she told me about my biological Dad (a man who left her with me), I stopped myself in my tracks. Although my younger self protested, I realised that in all honesty, I was treating her like an answer machine for my questions. There was no doubt that we had a mother/daughter connection - neither of us had forgotten - but I noticed that I still hadn’t truly connected to who I was through knowing my story.
‘What was I like when’ and ‘What was my favourite…’ were the questions slipping off my tongue. Without thinking, I wanted to know the answers to all the uncertainties I had (and as a 19 year-old I had a few...) Undoubtably, I thought that if she filled me in on all the gaps in my identity, I’d know the person that I should have become, and I could make myself ‘back’ into this. I felt like she alone had the power to make me happy in myself. Every answer that she gave me healed my past isolation - making conversations into what they should have always been - joyful and funny. Finally, I was able to feel love towards my baby self.
Today, I still stay in touch with my birthmother. We’re learning how to balance our boundaries and expectations. Sometimes, I recognise I ‘disappear off the surface off the earth’ with her. Texts go un-replied to for weeks and when everything gets too much, my attachments still have a habit of switching up on me. I find it hard to respond when she feels too ‘full on’ for me. But we’re learning a balance together. I’ve found that she adds little moments to my life. My life now, as the person I am now.
Staying connected – and finding my identity
I’ve found that most of my questions have been answered. Progress in finding my identity has looked as simple for me as learning that my favourite song was ‘Hypnotise’ by The Notorious B.I.G, and now I can smile at babies in their strollers without questioning myself or my story.
Even more excitingly, my sister had a baby of her own this year. It brought a lot of feelings to the surface for us both. As I became an auntie, I knew that my nephew’s biggest blessing, and the thing I would protect the most fiercely in his life, was the ownership he had of his own story. I knew that between my sister – a fiercely loving mum - and I, we would never let her baby’s connection to himself or to either of his parents fade. Through our own loss, and lostness, we have both always known that nothing comes above the connections we have to other people and our family. Of course, we know that our connection is unbreakable - the things we’ve grown through, together and beside each other (let alone the arguments!) - stand testament to this. What made me run towards my birthmother is the same. Maybe it is just a part of love.
But we also recognise, and perhaps more than others, that staying connected to family (and friends) is key to finding connection to your own past- your story and yourself. I think that often, it’s through others, and their shared experiences with you, that you find out the most about yourself.
My sister lives far away from me now, but we make sure to stay in touch. Because there really is nothing better than having a giggle about how, whilst one of us was practising to be the next Madonna, the other one of us was next door reciting spells and (entirely) believing they would be accepted to Hogwarts.
A message to people who are adopted: keep your connections and write your own futures
But finally, to everyone out there who is adopted - you were also that cute little baby smiling at strangers. You did bring happiness to many people’s lives, and there are stories out there about you, yes you, from before you were adopted, which are just as joyful and just as funny as anyone’s. These might be from a biological parent, a foster carer, or a birth-family friend, but they will be there waiting for you for as long as you want to wait. You are not alone in feeling alone sometimes. It sucks not to know about your own life!!
Just try to use your feelings to remind yourself: keeping your connections with the people who are important to you is the best thing you can do. As people who know the pain of losing chapters of our lives, the best thing we can do is try to make the very most of the ones we have left. We can make sure the that the chapters of our children’s lives don’t have missing pages, and write our own futures, no matter the missing pages behind us. Don’t ever give up on being yourself, no matter uncertain you may feel of your identity. Do the things you love now, just because you love them. Who knows, you might have even been a big-time hip-hop fan even before you found out that you used to love dancing to B.I.G.
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