On Being Adopted: The Joys and Pains of One Man’s Ongoing Experience

On Being Adopted: The Joys and Pains of One Man’s Ongoing Experience July 26, 2016

David Russell Mosley

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) Link back to Creator infobox template wikidata:Q762 s:en:Author:Leonardo da Vinci q:en:Leonardo da Vinci TitleFrench: La Vierge, l'Enfant Jésus et sainte Anne The Virgin and Child with St. Anne wikidata:Q563727 (PD 100) from Wikimedia Commons
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) Link back to Creator infobox template wikidata:Q762 s:en:Author:Leonardo da Vinci q:en:Leonardo da Vinci
Title French: La Vierge, l’Enfant Jésus et sainte Anne
The Virgin and Child with St. Anne wikidata:Q563727 (PD 100) from Wikimedia Commons

Ordinary Time
Sts. Anne and Joachim
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Readers,

I wanted to write to you about a touchy subject. I doubt it will be as inflammatory as my letter to you on race, but this letter may stir up some emotions. I want to write to you about being adopted. Specifically, I want to tell you what my experience has been like. I honestly don’t know how it feels for others. I imagine that at least some of what I have felt has been felt by others, but I cannot say that my experience, even just the manner of my adoption, is the same as everyone else’s. Still, I want to write to you about this for three reasons. First, it will be cathartic for me. Second, if there are any of you who feel the same you will know that you are not alone. Third, for those of you who have adopted children or are considering it, these are some of the possible issues and feelings that might arise in your children.

I was adopted when I was a little over one year old by my paternal grandparents. So, unlike many, I don’t remember my life prior to my adoption. I spent no time in an orphanage, as a ward of the state, or as a foster child. What’s more, I was part of a kinship adoption, that is, I was adopted by people to whom I am a blood relative; so I was not adopted into an entirely alien family. I want to make this clear since I do not pretend to speak for all the adopted, even if I think my own situation and how I have felt about it may be of use to others.

My parents meeting my boys for the first time.
My parents meeting my boys for the first time.

So, I was adopted by my biological father’s parents when I was just over a year old. I don’t really know much about the first year of my life. I am told that my biological mother kicked my biological father out sometime between becoming pregnant and giving birth to me. I know that both of biological parents struggled with drugs and alcohol (which drugs and whether or not anything was consumed that shouldn’t have been when I was gestating I simply don’t know). I know that my adoptive parents spent as much time with me as they could after I was born. I know they were told by my caseworker when my mother was giving me up for adoption that if they wanted me they would need to act and that they did. I have been told some stories and have been given other suggestions that would indicate my life was far from ideal in those first 12 months. But honestly, I don’t really remember it and so cannot say what lasting effects any of it had on me. I do know that I was removed from a bad situation and placed in a good one.

As I grew up, and before I reached kindergarten, I was told by my adoptive parents that I was adopted. They wanted to make sure I knew before I went to school, a wise decision all around. Yet they were also recommended not to tell me too much and certainly not to bad-mouth my biological parents. So, I did what I believe many adopted children do; I made up stories. From what I can remember my mother was usually a ballerina, absolutely beautiful. My father was a cowboy or an astronaut, it depended on the day. Sometimes, in my stories, my father killed my mother. Never on purpose, though often rather gruesomely. You see, my biological father had become my legal brother, so despite living in Colorado as I grew up, I still knew him. My biological mother, on the other hand, despite residing in the same town was a complete mystery to me. As it turned out my parents kept her from me when I was little for fear she might try to abduct me.

My parents, the ones who adopted and raised me, had four other children before they took me in. All but one of them were grown and at of the house when I came in and the last, my youngest older brother, left not too long after. So, despite having three half-siblings from my biological mother and four adopted-siblings, I grew up as an only child, and with few to no children in my neighborhood. It also meant that I often felt a bit of a stranger in my own family. You see I wasn’t around for the bulk of the stories my family had. And while this had just as much to do with my age as with my being adopted, it still left me feeling like an outsider.

That feeling only increased as I got older. When I hit seventh grade and had to my social studies genealogy project it finally hit home that half of me was missing. One the major upsides to kinship adoption is that the adopted child doesn’t entirely lose out on their ancestral history. Depending on the nature of the adoption, however, the child can lose out on a lot. There was only so much my mom could tell me about my birth-mother’s family, and there was nothing she could tell me about the great or great-great grandparents on that side of my family. When I realized how little I knew it felt, and often still feels, as though I know very little about myself. Now, who knows, maybe if I hadn’t been adopted, I wouldn’t have cared about my ancestry so much. But I was adopted and so I did and do.

It’s hard to explain exactly how I felt and feel about all this. It’s true that often feel like an outsider in my own family, but my wife assure’s me that many people, adopted or not, feel that way. But it was more than that. I feel sometimes like I’m missing roots. I think part of that has to do with feeling unwanted. It’s hard for me to look at my situation and feel like my birth-parents didn’t want me. It could have been worse, of course. My birth-mother could have decided to abort me, and she didn’t. But still, after a year of raising me, and three other children, she decided, for one reason or another to give me up for adoption. I still don’t totally understand why. Her motives aren’t something anyone other than she can really determine and she hasn’t given me a straight answer on the matter. But I don’t just feel unwanted (and I don’t feel that way all the time), I also just feel out of place. Who were the Nicholses (my mother’s maiden name)? Where did they come from? What kind of people were they? I learned some from the cousins I have on that side of the family (we were the same year in high school) but hearing those stories isn’t the same as living them. I know so much about the Mosley/Perkins and Sipes side of my family, but so very little about the other. This has often caused me, I think, to latch on to certain identities. When I learned we had some Scottish blood I latched onto that with full and reckless abandon. I wore a kilt to my wedding, learned to play a few folk songs on guitar, tried to immerse myself, but it didn’t fulfill me. I knew we had English and Welsh blood as well, so I went and did a PhD in England to study ancient Irish Christianity (because we had Irish blood too). But this didn’t fulfill me either. I just felt, and sometimes still feel adrift.

Now this can actually be a good feeling for the Christian. My ignorance of my own history reminds me that me identity isn’t ultimately tied to my ancestry but to Christ and his church. Still, it would be nice not to always feel like a cultural and ancestral nomad.

I want to be very clear, as I bring this letter to a close. I am glad I was adopted. From what I understand I was taken out of a toxic situation. Whether or not my biological mother wanted me, my parents did, enough to adopt me even when almost all their own children were fully grown. I sometimes wish things had been different. Not because I’m unhappy with my life or with my parents, but because I wish I lived in a world where mothers and fathers don’t have to give up their children for adoption. But I do. So I am glad. I take joy in the things God has sent my way, even when they hurt, for there are always lessons to be learned. Still, being adopted has been hard. It has made me feel unwanted, as though I am simply the kind of person who can be abandoned. It has made me feel like parts of me are missing, that half my history is hidden from me. Yet I have been blessed and I will praise the Lord who has adopted me into the Sonship of Jesus Christ and will one day bring me into his Kingdom.


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