Adoptees as Outsiders

I’m an outsider.

I never felt like I belonged to my family. My adoptive parents, Claire and Bob, were old enough to be my grandparents, unusual for sure, and while they both came from big families, with lots of brothers and sisters, we rarely saw the extended family. I never knew my father’s family – they were from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I also didn’t feel very connected to my aunts, uncles and cousins on my mother’s side I only saw them at wakes, funerals, showers and weddings, never on holidays.

Claire and Bob loved me and I loved them, but they didn’t understand me. I spent too much time reading books in my bedroom. My parents wondered, what’s up with Lynne? All she does is read. They were not bookworms and I devoured books. I even read the dictionary for fun. I seemed a little strange to them and they seemed like fairly odd parents to me.

I knew there was something different about my family. A savvier girl would have done the math, figured out the truth and confronted her parents. “Am I adopted?” I never asked that question. My head was someplace else, probably in a book. As my second grade teacher noted,  “Lynne is in her own little world.”

My sister, Melissa, asked questions after Claire and Bob passed away and that’s how we found out we were adopted. What a strange thing for me to discover at the age of 38. I sat on the bombshell for years. Occasionally I wondered who my original parents were, if I had other brothers and sisters, but I wasn’t ready to dig deeper, and learn truths about my first family. About three years ago, I started poking around.

My birth mother, Lillian
My birth mother, Lillian
The house where Lillian raised her family
The house where Lillian raised her family in Northbrook

Recently I made a trip to Northbrook to see the house that would have been my childhood home if I had not been adopted.  Gazing at the gray and white house, on the grassy suburban lot, I wondered what it would have been like to grow up there. I can’t imagine my sister and three brothers, my birth mother, Lillian, and her husband, Dick, squeezed in that little house. How did they manage to live there and not explode? No, there wouldn’t have been space for me in that house.  I would have been child number 5.

I felt uncomfortable on Alice Drive, taking pictures of Lillian’s home. I don’t belong here, I thought, aiming my camera lens to capture a shot of the front door.

I can imagine all of my parents, Claire, Bob, Lillian and Bio Dad echoing my thoughts. “Get lost, you don’t belong here, you’re an outsider.”

Actually, feeling like I don’t belong is a running theme in my life. I’ve felt that way with my husband’s sisters. Listening as they recalled funny stories from their childhood, I smiled politely but could not share the memories that only siblings who grew up together have.

I also felt out of place in Virginia, where my husband an I lived for a few years in the 1990s. The natives would ask me where I was from and I’d tell them, Chicago. Oh no, a Yankee from the tough city of Chicago, no less. Seriously, that’s the reaction I got a couple of times. I almost felt like I needed to apologize for being from Chicago or at least stick up for my hometown.

I feel like an outsider when I’m with certain people who are not adopted. Adoptees know what I’m talking about.  Spend time with people who take their family history for granted. They have deep roots. They have big family get-togethers, even reunions. They know which countries their ancestors came from and have family trees fleshed out on both sides. They cannot imagine the oddness of having adoptive parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins – people with whom you have no biological ties — and a separate set of blood relatives, some of whom you discover for the first time as an adult.

Fortunately, there are places where I feel completely at home. I love living in New York City, the ultimate destination for outsiders. You can be from anywhere, you can have a weird story or a strange accent and nobody thinks anything of it.

I feel comfortable with my cousins who I’ve gotten to know better since beginning this adoption search. We see each other occasionally, talk on the phone and stay in touch on Facebook. We are making up for lost time.

Another place where I feel like I belong is inside Melissa’s warm, welcoming home in the suburbs south of Chicago. Melissa and I are not blood sisters but we grew up together, played, argued and bonded over Claire’s kielbasa and pot roast. We are closer than many biological sisters. Maybe it helps that we are not related.

 

6 thoughts on “Adoptees as Outsiders

  1. I cannot tell you how scary similar our stories are …. My Adoptive Mother is suffering a terminal illness, and although I knew I was adopted at age 5, I never knew my “extended” adoptive family either, I.E. Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, etc. They are coming around occassionlly now, and it feels awkward at 53 to be basically introducing ourselves. My adoptive sister and I have been discussing this awkwardness…..it’s like they shielded us from them all these years…which made us, instead of feeling protected, feel even more an outsider. Thank you for your stories..;-)

  2. Cathy, as a child, I would have loved to have spent more time with my relatives on my adoptive mother’s side. I am glad we’re talking today. Thanks for reading 🙂

  3. I can relate to your comments re: feeling like an outsider. I have felt that way all my life too. I was adopted in 1962, however my Parent were able to have their own biological Daughters after adopting me. I was told I was adopted when I was 7 years old. I was also told not to tell anyone as it was “just not done” which left me wondering who I looked like and feeling guilty for wanting to know more about myself.
    I have found my biological family. My Birth Mother was not the fairy tale ending I hoped for. She gave up two daughters; me in 1962 and Sara in 1964 then raised our youngest sister after giving birth to her 12 years later. I recently found my biological Brothers; one doesn’t want any contact and my other brother (who is only 7 weeks older than me) is amazing. We are developing a strong relationship; although I live in Canada and his lives in England.
    My heart ache is; my two sister that I was raised with have disowned me for searching for my biological family. Both my adoptive parents have passed away and now I feel as if I am going thru another death….the death of my relationship with my sisters. They have accused me of deeply hurtful things i.e.: I broke my adoptive mothers heart by not returning her love, I was never a good sister to them, I was quick to put my hand out for money when my adoptive Father died. Just horrible, horrible accusations. Infact, this has been so heart breaking that I have taken a stress leave from work to try and figure out where i fit in and if, infact my entire childhood was based on a lie.
    Can anyone else relate to being the only adopted child in a family where the siblings are biological? What is your relationship with your siblings? Do they understand your need to search? Are they supportive?
    Thank you, i look forward to your comments.
    Nicola

  4. Wow, Nicola, you’ve been through hell. It just goes to show people who are not adopted simply don’t understand why adoptees feel compelled to search for their biological families. I think if your sisters were adopted, they would understand where you’re coming from. I certainly get it. It sounds like you waited until your parents passed away to start searching so you obviously showed them respect. Are your biological brothers your father’s sons? How nice that you have a good relationship with one of them. I guess reunions are risky business, eh? Would you mind if I shared your story in a follow up post on my blog?

  5. Hi Lynne, Yes my biological Brothers are my birth Fathers sons. Our mutual Father remarried and has two more adult children. He basically abandoned my two Brothers after divorcing their Mother. So, essentially I have six half siblings. Two sisters on my bio Mothers side and four on my bio Fathers side. Crazy huh!!

    Adoption is quite the journey. Searching opens up all kinds of things that you may or may not be prepared for. I also found out that my bio Father has Alzheimer’s. Not too sure of all the details or how genetic…..I guess time will tell.
    Nicola

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