Growing up as an adopted child

Nov. 21, 2004, midnight | By Betsy Costillo | 16 years, 1 month ago

Many people tell me that I look like my mother; they say that the shape of our faces are similar, and that we have the same nose and mouth. These comparisons are quite amusing to me, considering my mother and I aren't biologically related.

I am one of the 1.6 million children under the age of 18 adopted in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Like many of these children, I was adopted from infancy in a private adoption without the involvement of a professional agency, and like many, I wonder about my origins.

My experience

Growing up as an adopted child has left me with many unanswered questions. I have, what seems to me, a pretty normal family: Christmas with my grandparents and extended family, parents who walked me to the bus stop when I was little and drove me to my soccer game every Saturday. But, like most teenagers, I am moody and pick fights with my parents. We have all the arguments of "normal" families, like why they won't let me go out Friday night or why I can't have friends over until I do my homework. I wonder, though, if my attitudes and emotional roller coasters are more than just the normal, hormonal tangents of adolescence, or if they have any connection to the fact that I am adopted.

"Everyone I know who is adopted has had emotional setbacks," claims senior Elzmarie Eckert, who was also adopted at infancy. Eckert also believes she had a pretty normal childhood. She recalls when she would sit on her father's lap every Saturday night to watch Xena; Warrior Princess, and say "I'm going to sit here every night, Daddy, even when I go away to college."

The nights of daddy and Xena, however, haven't even lasted through high school. Eckert no longer believes she has a normal "parent-daughter" relationship with her parents, and sometimes thinks that it may be due to their lack of biological bonds. "There are just too many differences between us," says Eckert.

I want to believe that I don't use my adoption as an excuse to place a wall between myself and my parents, yet sometimes I feel as if I am unable to communicate as well, and lack the child-parent bond that seems to come more naturally to biologically-related families. However, according to clinical social worker Karen Schulz, the fact of adoption doesn't cause emotional or psychological problems. "Everyone is different; it's an issue among many that people are trying to understand, but to say what causes the problems is complex," she says.

Junior Samuel Morris, adopted from China at the age of one, does not believe that his adoption has caused any difficulties between the members of his family. "My life seems normal as it is," explains Morris. "I don't remember the time before I was adopted, so there is no reason for me to be unhappy now. I get along with my parents as well as any of my friends [get along with their parents]."

Schulz believes the relationships between parents and their adopted children have to be analyzed on a person-by-person basis. "Some adoptees do have a more difficult time bonding with their parents, and some don't," claims Schulz. However, she admits that the only thing that children who are biologically related to their parents have that adopted children don't is genetic material, and "that is a very important bond."

The search for identity

In a 1996 study of American adolescents, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 72 percent of adopted adolescents want to know why they were put up for adoption and 65 percent want to meet their birth parents. Some adoption agencies and Social Services adoptions require that an adoptee be 18 before allowing them to access information regarding their biological parents. However, because my parents adopted me directly from my birth mother, I am free to search for her at any time.

I have often toyed with the idea of trying to find my birth mother, especially when I'm going through a rough time with my parents. Many factors hold me back from searching for my biological family, however. I am afraid of hurting my adoptive mother and father, and I fear the possibility of rejection if I do find my birth mother or father. However, if a child feels a sense of curiosity and interest to know their biological parents, they should not be afraid to ask, according to adoptive mother and Adoption Together domestic program director Susan Saidman. Saidman and her 12-year-old daughter interact annually with the child's biological mother. "I believe it is important for my daughter to know her birth mother," says Saidman. "I encourage the relationship."

I do plan on finding my birth parents when I am ready; I hope locating them will help me feel more secure with who I am. Knowing my genetic medical history will also help me in case I suffer from any health problems in the future. I know my parents have all the information regarding my adoption, but something has always held me back from talking to them about it.

Eckert also plans to search for her birth parents, despite her initial sense of rejection as a result of being put up for adoption. "I'm just thankful that she didn't abort me or leave me in a dumpster," says Eckert. "I want to find my mother so I can find out what really happened."

Unlike Eckert and myself, social studies teacher Jacob Lee, who was adopted at the age of two months, claims he has "no desire" to find his birth mother. "It would break my parents' hearts," he says with a shrug. "They're my real parents; they're the ones who raised me--and I got lucky."

Coming from a family of many adopted children, Lee believes that his relationship with his adoptive parents is ideal. "[My parents] are fantastic," he says. "I think I have a better relationship with them than most people do. I still go home every week for dinner."

Junior Miguel Noel-Nosbaum also has no plans to find his biological parents. Born in El Salvador, Noel-Nosbaum was found as a baby and taken to an orphanage where he lived until his adoption at age two. Even if he could find information about his biological parents, however, Noel-Nosbaum does not think that he would attempt to locate them. "I never knew my birth parents," explains Noel-Nosbaum. "I only know the way I live now. I'm used to my parents and my life, and I think anything else would be weird."

The missing link

I hold no resentment towards my birth mother for what she did. Giving me up for adoption took great strength and courage on her part, and I admire and am grateful to her for making the decision to give me a better life. Yet while I am happy with my life right now, finding my identity is something I have wanted and needed to do for a long time. I wonder about my mother every day of my life; I will always feel empty and incomplete without that part of my life. Like Eckert and one million other adopted children in the U.S., I will try to find my biological parents and fill in the blanks of my history.

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