You’re Adopted: The Moment of Truth

It hurts to find out, as an adult, that you were adopted.

Every late discovery adoptee’s moment of truth is delivered differently but there’s no way to sugarcoat it. The blow may come in a relatively gentle way as it did for me. Thirteen years ago, my sister, Melissa, called me one evening. “You and I were both adopted,” she said very matter-of-factly, with no tears or anger in her voice. (Melissa and I both hate drama.) MeIissa, who suspected we had been adopted, confirmed it with our cousin, Gina, who had been adopted by a couple who were close friends with our parents.

I was stunned. I felt betrayed by my parents who never so much as hinted at the possibility that I was not their biological daughter.

My parents, Claire and Bob, and me on my wedding day
My parents, Claire and Bob, and me on my wedding day

They fooled me and now I felt foolish. Here I was, married, a mother, 38 years old and finding out for the first time that I had been adopted. Mom and Dad were both in their 50s when I was born and baby Melissa arrived 14 months later so I should have figured it out on my own. I was no detective, despite having devoured Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries as a girl growing up the 1960s and ‘70s.

Mom and Dad were both deceased. I would never be able to ask them about my beginnings. I would never know how difficult it was to bring me into the world or whether I was born by C-section or the natural way. Did Mom and Dad meet my biological parents? I would never know the whole story. My genes, family history, ethnic identity and everything else I thought was mine was lost. All the interesting stories about my grandparents, aunts, uncle and the cousins on Mom’s side of the family didn’t belong to me anymore. Poof! Just like that, it was gone.

I’ve learned that my discovery, though painful, was far less dramatic than other adoptees’ stories.

At the age of 52, Darlene Coyne found out about her adoption in a brutal and unexpected encounter with her mother, a woman she loved dearly. Darlene’s 21-year-old daughter wanted to know about the family’s medical history. At a family gathering, the daughter, who has bipolar disorder, pushed her grandmother for information, knowing there was some history of mental illness on her side of the family. Darlene’s mother was tight-lipped, revealing nothing.

Grandmother and granddaughter had a rocky relationship. It wasn’t the first time Darlene’s daughter had bugged her grandmother with questions about mental illness and the older woman was fed up with the questions.

“I have something to tell you,” she told Darlene. “You should sit down.”

Darlene’s mother revealed that Darlene, like her siblings, was adopted. “I adopted you also—so she (Darlene’s daughter) can quit blaming my family for her mental illness,” she told Darlene.

What a way to find out you’re adopted. Darlene was shocked and deeply wounded. Her mother never apologized to Darlene for lying about the adoption or being so callous in revealing the truth. Though Darlene eventually forgave her mother, their relationship was never the same.

Every late discovery adoptee’s moment of truth is unique. I’d love to know how you found out you were adopted. Tell your stories in the comments.

22 thoughts on “You’re Adopted: The Moment of Truth

  1. Your story sounds so much like mine. My cousin told me, in a kind and loving way, and I was the sister telling my brother that we had been adopted. My adoptive parents were both dead when I found out and mine, too, were too old to be having children in the 60s. I did feel different, but I always just ascribed that to the age difference.

    By the way, I was also a ‘curl up in a room reading’ sort of kid with no evidence of that in the rest of my family. Turns out my maternal grandmother was also a voracious reader.

    I’ve chronicled my path in a journal at http://iamlda.net

  2. I did not have such a dramatic approach to finding out I was adopted. In fact, I never “didn’t” know. When I was little, all the other kids thought babies were brought by the stork or found in a cabbage patch, I thought all babies were adopted. We still laugh about this today. My parents always told the story or when they “got” me. My sibling (not biologically) was also adopted, 3 years before me. He can remember, “when we all went to pick you out”. It was an endearing story then and still is to this day. We celebrate mine and my brothers adoption days just as you would a birthday, which is also highly celebrated. I was always considered very very special since I was so very wanted. My parents always told me and I always felt it.

  3. Hi J. Your story proves that children can handle the truth about adoption at a young age. I’m glad your parents were forthcoming with you. Have you or your brother made contact with your biological family?

  4. Thanks for sharing your story, AlyWho. Maybe we would have figured things out sooner if we had spent less time with ouior noses in books? 🙂 My bio mom was also a bookworm.

  5. I found out at age 40, i was adopted. I was the family secret. I had asked many times while growing up but my family held strong to the lie. My adopted mother had passed away approximately 6 mths before i found out. I was caring for my adopted father and during a family reunion he sent me to find some pictures for a cousin. I inadvertently found my baby pictures and in the back was written (adopted daughter of joe &sue). Yes, just like that all my truths were gone. My life was a lie and i felt betrayed. I never told my adopted father i knew. His health was poor and their was really no reason to upset him. God had other plans anyway and led me to find my natural family. It has all worked out but its a betrayal that i am still working to forgive.

  6. That is a hard way to find out, Deborah. Yeah, I understand that feeling of betrayal. I feel like I have unfinished business with my parents and it’s always going to be unfinished. How was your reunion with your natural family?

  7. A cousin from my adopted family told me when I was 21. It was the happiest day of my life. Everything that hadn’t made sense suddenly made sense.

    I’m 58 now, and reunited with my first family over 20 years ago. Wham! I felt instantly connected, which was very different from my experience with my adoptive family.

    Later this week, I’ll be spending time with many of them. They are wonderful people who have supported me and loved me unconditionally from the moment we met. Some of the stories I’ve written are linked on my webpage (michelejleavitt.com).

    The woman who searched for me, Sandy Musser, is a long-time adoptee rights activist. We recently reconnected. Sign her petition to open sealed records at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/an-executive-order-to-1.fb52?source=s.icn.fb&r_by=10829605

  8. I was 23, which seems like it shouldn’t be a bad age to find it out, but it’s really bad since you’re just trying to sort out who you are and what you’re doing with your life. I’ve never quite recovered. I wish I had found out a lot earlier or a lot later.

    Anyway, I found out because my mother hired a search agency to find me. They called my adoptive parents and my mom gave me the number to call back. I called and the woman got on the line and said “I’m calling about your adoption. *long pause* You did know you were adopted, didn’t you?”.

    I had suspicions at various points, but I brushed it all off. There were a bunch of little things that made me wonder, but nothing obvious enough to even made me ask my parents if I was adopted.

  9. So sorry that your truth was kept from you. But know that you’re not alone. And also know that there’s still every chance you can learn more of your truth despite that your adoptive parents have passed. They would not necessarily have know your birthweight, how you were delivered, etc. in any case. These are not details agencies tend to give adoptive parents. But there are any number of groups at your state and at the national level who can help. Start by understanding your rights (or the lack of them, depending upon where you were born/adopted) at http://www.bastards.org

  10. At 40 started building a family tree and found my parents marriage license. My mother had a different last name that was also not her maiden name. I called and asked her if I was her biological child and she said yes. I asked if I was a member of the family of the last name on the marriage license and she said no. For 2 1/2 years she has continued to not tell me the truth. She is dying of breast cancer and I refuse to speak with her because she won’t tell me the truth.

  11. Tim, that’s terrible. I cannot believe your mother refuses to tell you the truth. Is there another family member who could persuade her to talk to you? This must be a difficult time for you and your mother. I wish you both well.

  12. Lisa, that’s an amazing way to find out about your adoption. Have you reunited with your biological mother? How are things between you and your adoptive parents? They must have been shocked to hear from your birth mom. I wish you the best and thank you for sharing your story.

  13. Michele, how very nice to meet you. I am friends with Sandy on FB. She’s wonderful. I’m so happy that you reunited with your first family and that they welcomed you into the family. When I was growing up, I never felt like I fit into my family. Was it like that for you? Thanks for reading and sharing your story!

  14. Hi Mari. Actually, my adoption was private. No agency was involved. My parents must have destroyed the paperwork since my sister and I never found anything after they died. Just recently, I obtained my original birth certificate from Illinois and with that document, I was able to track down family on my mother’s side. My “new” sister has provided a lot of interesting details about our mother. Thanks for the link. I’ll check out bastards.org

  15. J, it’s always interesting how different our stories can be, even as they parallel each other’s. I was born 4 yrs after my brother (yes, also adopted & not biologically related- funny, another ? we are always asked). Brother, of course understood that we were “chosen”, as he- like your sibling, was also included in the day they…picked me up. I, on the other hand, do not recall ever being told, or explained the fact that I was adopted…until I was abt 11, & the manner in which led to it is through one of the words you used in your comments – one that to this day I do NOT like at all…”special”. My parents would use that very word whenever I was upset, trying to comfort me…”but you are special”, “we love you; you are so special”. Well, at 11, during an angry outburst (I grew up as an anxiety-ridden bundle of nerves), I asked, ‘WHY? Why do you always say I am SPECIAL?’ I was not ready for the answer, “because you were chosen. You are adopted”. It WAS like everything I knew was a lie, and even though my mom loved me so much, I KNEW then why I was so different than them. Why I was scared of severe storms, when they would all watch them from a window, why they liked hamburgers, and I hated them…on and on. It did however take decades to understand that some of us suffer with separation trauma and anxiety, and THAT helped me understand why before school every day I would ask my mom if she would be home…I was terrified that something would happen to me at school, and she would not be able to come and get me! Now, I KNEW that was what made me feel so sick, but I didn’t understand WHY, even after being told…Now, I do.
    I love that you were always told, but so many of us were not…and look how much more calm your emotions are when discussing your adoption! That’s a big key- full disclosure and assurance. My own mom was so loving, and it had to be heartbreaking to her when I would lash out during my teen years, saying things like, ‘my real mom would understand’. Yes, I did say horrible things. I also had an adad who said horrible things, was an alcoholic with his own set of issues, which in reality should have probably kept him from being able to adopt. My brother suffered the most from my dad’s emotional abuse, and angry verbal put-downs his whole life. But again, with age it is easier to see how dad’s own issues were what made him so insecure and volitile, but boy oh boy, he sure set my brother up for failure, and his life continues to suffer from the yrs of messed-up dealings with our dad.
    For me, there was always the desire to search, but it wasn’t until 4 yrs after Mom passed did I actually have the courage to let it happen; unfortunately it was 2 yrs after my bmom had passed. I had the loyalty for my mom that would not allow me to hurt her- & I KNOW it would have been devastating to her. I already felt awful that she married Dad…she deserved someone so much better. But, if she had not married dad, who was the one who had fertility issues (yes, one BIG reason I believe he was so unhappy and angry his whole life), then I would not have had my Mom…the absolute most loving mom in the world. So, it is what it is, and all of this written just because… I read how “special” you were.
    The only thing special abt adoption is that some of us live with no scars, or at least that we know of or acknowledge. For me, I know my anxiety came from that separation. It explains why I was a screamer. It explains why I had to have tonsils and adenoids out at less than 2 yrs old- to keep me from screaming long enough to heal my eardrums, which had broken a total of SIX times- & not from infection, but from pressure built up from continual crying and screaming…all this related by my a-uncle, our pediatrician through childhood…and the one who told my parents abt me, as he was a volunteer for the home! My guess is he had some pull there too, when it came to helping my parents adopt. (He wasy mom’s beother- a very good man, with a kind heart…and his family loved us very much. I am still in contact with most).
    I can now say I have two sisters, one found through search, one found by surprise on 23andme. The instant feeling of empowerment & self recognition came on the day I discovered my name at birth, and my bmom’s name. The joy of having my two sisters, the only biological connections in my world is incredible. You probably cannot fathom my story, and I am truly glad for you, but…I have to share my atory, like so many do because…it is MY story. It is a story of my ancestry, my beginning, and my future. It went from carrying my ap’s stories, to carrying mine. 🙂

  16. Thank you for sharing your story, Lynne, and for allowing, even asking us to share ours. ♡
    Mel

  17. Thank you for sharing your fascinating story, Melissa. I think I’m with you on the use of the word “special” – feels like a euphemism for “different.” Though we all have unique stories, I think we can all agree adoption is “different” from being biologically related to one’s parents. Thanks for reading my blog 🙂

  18. My new book called “Separated Lives” is a true story about the adoption of a baby boy and years later a friend taking him on a fascinating but uncertain journey to search for his birth parents. It is available from Dorrance Publishing (in Pittsburgh,PA) http://www.DorranceBookstore.com, Barnes& Noble barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com.
    Author: Lynn Assimacopoulos

  19. Melissa, I know how important it is to feel connected, not like an outsider in your own family. I grew up feeling like I didn’t fit in at home and to this day, I feel like an outsider in many situations. It sounds like you and your new sisters are enjoying one another’s company. Congratulations on finding your siblings. Take care. Lynne

  20. I guessed very early on (around 8 years old), but everyone, and I mean everyone (family, friends), told me that I was wrong, that I was my parents biological child, until I tested my DNA as an adult at age 51 after my (adoptive) mother died and I realized that no one was going to tell me of their own accord. Even then, the state (Maryland) at first denied my adoption, claiming the DNA test was wrong.
    I’ve since discovered who my biological father was (he died in 2003) and who my biological mother was (she died in 1999). Now, at age 53, my (adoptive) father finally decided to tell me about my adoption because he’s nearing the end of his life and he didn’t want to die with this on his conscience.
    Honestly? I’m hurt that no-one told me, that no-one gave me the chance to search for my biological parents while they were still alive. Given the very rocky relationship with my adoptive parents, it’s a relief to know that I wasn’t imagining the differences that I saw between us (physical and personality).
    Finally seeing pictures of folks that I am related to, I can finally see where I fit in, and I can look at myself in the mirror and see a reasonable looking woman, rather than a misfit. It’s really that significant to me.

  21. Evelyn, it is unfortunate that you never learned the truth until recently. Even the state government denied the truth, despite the DNA test. Do you have any siblings? Don’t be surprised if they know about you. The adoptees from our generation are usually the last ones to find out their status. Thanks for sharing your story and best wishes.

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