(To read Part I of this post, visit Adoptees Ask at The Door Opener Magazine Online)
They have a “late discovery” of this truth through other means, for example as in your case by overhearing a conversation between relatives. Sometimes they may learn the truth by being taunted by other children: “My mom says you’re adopted! You weren’t even good enough for your real mother to keep you.” Sometimes the discovery is made after the death of the adoptive parents as a result of going through safe deposit boxes and estate documents. As DNA testing becomes more and more routine I believe we will increasingly find adoptees learning of their adoption because their DNA results prove it is impossible for them to be biologically related to their (adoptive) parents.
I want to let you know that every reaction you are having makes sense. It is not paranoid to wonder who else knew of your adoption because, certainly, many other people were involved in this conspiracy of silence. Your (adoptive) mother obviously did not go through a pregnancy with you, and this fact would have been noticed by all of her contemporaries. You have a right to know who else was aware of this information.
I anticipate you will need to address at least two levels of healing. The first is the healing work you need to do inside of yourself and your psyche. The second is in healing in relationship. You mentioned you have self-doubt and a hard time trusting yourself. I imagine that at least some of this is due to the fact that you were deceived by those closest to you in your formative years.
As children, we develop our sense of confidence in our perception in large part by being validated by our caregivers. We have an experience like feeling sad, for example, because we feel tears in our eyes, heaviness in our hearts and our shoulders droop. Our parents or other caregivers notice this and respond congruently by reflecting our reality back to us. (“Oh, you’re crying and sad! Let me give you a hug and you can tell me what is wrong.”) Over time we learn to interpret our internal body sensations and develop trust that they are acceptable, and are giving us correct information about ourselves and the world. (“I’m sad because my cat died. That makes sense. Caring people will comfort me when I’m sad.”)
Problems arise when our internal sensations are giving us correct information but the people around us are not responding congruently. You mention you noticed physical differences between you and family members, and asked your sister about it. By joking and changing the subject, she reacted incongruently. The implied message back to you was, “Ignore your sensations: they are wrong or unimportant.” This is how self-doubt (doubt of one’s sensations, thoughts and experiences) is created.
One wonders how often your sensations or questions were similarly deflected. In most families it is normal to reminisce about the day a child was born. Did you ever ask did your mother how she felt when she was carrying you as a baby? Was childbirth discussed? Did your mother have a detailed story about your sister’s birth but nothing to say about yours? Or, worse, did she come up with a fabrication? Whose eyes do you (supposedly) have? How did your parents behave when you asked about your family medical history, so you could give it to your doctors? Each time you were lied to or your questions were deflected, your family member was incongruent with you and added to your self-doubt and confusion.
It sounds as if you haven’t yet told your sister or your parents that you have discovered you are adopted. I suggest you take some time and discuss this with a very trusted friend (someone who you know for sure has not kept this from you, perhaps a friend you met as an adult) or a therapist. Since you mentioned you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I imagine you may already have a therapist. It is very important to be working with a therapist who understands issues surrounding the experience of being adopted.
One concern I have when you discuss this with your parents and sister is that they may try to justify their secret keeping. If they feel guilty that may cause them to pressure you, or cause you to pressure yourself, into accepting their justifications or apologies before you have had a chance to fully acknowledge and explore your own feelings. It is also possible they may become defensive and angry, and attempt to silence you. I suggest you take time and space to explore your own feelings and reactions before having to deal with theirs.
It is very common for adoptees to be asked to accept the “benevolent” or well-meaning intentions of others who withheld or controlled information about them. And once you have had time to accept and process your own feelings, you may well come to understand and even sympathize with their intentions. I caution you to be sure to proceed at your own pace and not prematurely substitute the thoughts or feelings of others for your own, true experience. I also believe that only at this later point will you be able to consider the matter of forgiveness. People are capable of terrible transgressions against each other, but also amazing openings of heart that allow us to forgive. That is something only you will be able to choose to do, and to know if and when the time is right.
Lastly, the fact is you now know are you are adopted. This means you have biological relatives somewhere in the world. How do you feel about that? You may at some point desire to know more about them or meet them. You might already feel that way. Given your parents secret keeping we would not be surprised if they may not be supportive of this desire. You will have to manage their reactions to your need to know more, or you can choose not to share your search with them. You’ve already mentioned a concern regarding your medical history which is a common concern of adoptees. That need alone may motivate you to seek more information.
Your right as an adoptee to know the truth about your origins is governed by the laws of the state in which you were adopted. State laws vary widely, with some guaranteeing you the right access to complete information about yourself. Others states still have restrictive laws dating from an era of stigma and shame about adoption. If you decide to discuss this with your parents, you may find they possess (and are willing to share) information that would assist you in searching. If not, you can start by exploring laws in the state in which you were born. Many resources are available to adoptees now on the internet and Facebook. A good start is the website of the American Adoption Congress and the Lost Daughters Blog, as well as Life…Adopted and DNA Detectives on Facebook.
Photo credit: Edmund Chan via Flckr