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 Jen Rittenhouse
Five years ago I shared a piece of my birth story for this blog. I had just closed the door on the chapter of my life that was getting to know my biological family. My daughter was eight months old. I was processing and moving forward.
You are reading this so you already know adoption stories are vastly different. I tossed mine in the mix years ago to add a layer of irreverence, heartbreak and not-so-happy ending that I longed to connect with as my relationship with my biologicals was unraveling.
It was cathartic, liberating, candid and mine. I’m a writer. That’s how we do things.
I hadn’t thought about my biological family — namely the mistakes I made, the people I hurt, the disappointment I felt and the lessons I learned — for almost eight years until I was dropping my youngest daughter off at her childcare center last spring. I recognized a biological cousin from a meeting a decade (or more?) ago.
Small world, I thought.
I had no intention of introducing myself until we were both leaving the center. We made eye contact, quite literally walking out the door at the same time, so I did what felt like the decent thing to do.
I introduced myself. We shook hands and I asked him how old his daughter was. The encounter was brief and I remember driving away thinking about how sweet it is to see a parent’s face light up during that first year when everything is a marvel and new.
Four days later all hell broke loose.
A direct message to my Instagram account from my biological sister. She was mad and wanted me to know her family wanted nothing to do with me. She referenced the blog story I wrote five years ago and made some general statements about what I said about my biological mother.
My reaction was visceral: I deleted the message as soon as I read it. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Not because her words were intended to hurt me, but because it was so clear how deeply I had hurt her.
I carried an apology to her in my heart for days. I whispered “I’m sorry” into the universe every night before I went to sleep hoping it would get to her. A biological aunt, the only biological connection I keep, reached out to have a lunch date.
She gently told me that her family members wanted nothing to do with me. She explained they were upset about the blog story (you do the math, my biological sister had to Google me to find it) and never believed I should have lingered in their lives as long as I did. She asked that I not acknowledge her nephew if we passed at childcare.
We laughed about the drama. I shared stories about my girls. As we parted ways we hugged and agreed the drama wouldn’t impact our relationship.
As part of processing the ordeal I let myself feel mad, sad and frustrated (and sad, did I mention that?). I cried. I went to counseling. I journaled. I Instagrammed. I Googled everything I could find about healing wounds for your family of origin.
I was twenty weeks pregnant as a gestational carrier (aka surrogate) for my friend as this was all crashing down. I’m a compassionate carrier, quite literally having someone’s child out of the goodness of my own heart. And yet I struggled with the doubt I was suddenly feeling about myself.
Could I truly be the careless villain this family believes I am?
I was in a rabbit hole about family of origin when it occurred to me I’ve been seeing things upside down my whole life. I was so desperate to be accepted and be a part of a family that was never my own. And with this latest kerfuffle I was eager to heal a wound that I believed I had caused by being born.
There’s a reason the saying goes “it hit me like a ton of bricks.” Sometimes when you have a realization that hard you can quite literally feel the weight of it.
My realization: I may have been born to a member of another family, but I belonged to my parents – to my family. To my grandparents. To my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who have nurtured and loved me for my entire life.
I remember looking in the mirror at my pregnant self as these thoughts came to me. I thought healing for my birth story and my mother’s infertility would come through having children of my own. And while the miracles of new babies certainly make our lives better, carrying a child for a woman unable to carry her own is where I can create healing for a primal wound in my family.
My mother tried for years to have children. Miscarriage after miscarriage. She almost died from an ectopic pregnancy. Then came more heartache as multiple adoptions fell through. She was scrubbing toilets on a Monday morning when her phone rang.
The social worker had a baby for her. How soon could she and my dad get to the hospital?
I can offer apologies and explanations to my biologicals but it will always feel empty to them. But with this baby I can offer something far more significant to my parents, the people who experienced heartbreak along with them so many years ago, and to my friends planning for this this baby boy.
My adoption story taught me that sometimes you have to accept that you hurt people. But that doesn’t mean you can’t forgive, grow and recover. It doesn’t mean you can’t still find healing and hope.
I spent decades desperate to trace my roots and know where I come from. Turns out, I never needed to look very far to understand who I am, where I come from and most importantly, where I belong.
Jen Rittenhouse is a copywriter and social marketer who lives in the not-Seattle Seattle-area city of Puyallup. By day she manages social media for a Puget Sound-based health system. By night she wrangles her daughters, 6 and 3, and dreams of a full-time freelance life. You can connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @YennyPie.
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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