For years I avoided Thanksgiving. I said it was about the food. I claimed that as a vegetarian I could not share a table with my carnivorous parents.
I endured the experience until high school, but once in college my parents went to relatives while I flew to Europe for the cheapest international travel week in the world. year. We are not close, I explained to everyone who asked. After grad school, there was a decade of “Friendsgiving.” Massive dinners at my apartment for all vegetarians, vegans and orphans: those whose families were distant or non-existent.
The gratitude I feel now is genuine, but it’s not for being chosen for adoption.
But it wasn’t just that I didn’t like turkey or football. It’s that growing up, I wasn’t particularly grateful. The spirit of the holidays escaped me.
Instead, I felt filled with a sadness that I couldn’t name. A sense of loss so deep inside me, so primal, so raw, that I had lived with it day after day. What’s wrong? people asked as I entered my teens. Nothing, I have always answered darkly. I could never express exactly what I felt so intensely, but tried so hard to ignore. But small pangs of grief enveloped in anger reached my heart each time I heard variations on several themes.
The most disconcerting of them, since I was not a particularly happy child, was the thing I heard most often: that I was lucky. Lucky to be chosen, lucky to be my parents’ only child. You must be spoiled! I bet you get all the attention! I looked at the parents I had – who didn’t seem to know how to connect with me or understand my sadness at the loss of the mother I had never seen – and wondered who on Earth could take for spoiled.
I had everything I needed to live, but I didn’t grow up feeling truly loved or even particularly wanted. I didn’t like being told over and over again that I should feel grateful to be my parents’ only child when it seemed like they didn’t like having me around.
Another one I frequently encountered from people trying to be cute: You were selected, not expected. When I heard that, I imagined I had been torn from rows of smiling babies at the baby store. The reality was quite different. My parents waited for years for a child to come from the adoption agency. They told me once it was because they wanted a white baby. A healthy baby. Ten fingers, 10 toes. Back then I felt special, like they were waiting me. Now I know better.
I was old when they got me. Six months, not a newborn. I had already made two stays with a host family. They got the white healthy part so I guess the rest they could ignore. But there I was, the only one available to them after years of waiting. Of course they took me.
Then there was the gratitude I was supposed to feel for not having been aborted. I was asked about this long before I even metabolized the concept of abortion. Aren’t you glad to be alive? You could have been aborted! It’s true: I could have been. Although I was born on January 11, 1973, just 11 days before Roe, abortion had been legal in New York since April 1970. I didn’t find out until much later that my birth mother was so young when I was conceived that she didn’t. I don’t realize it until the fifth month, about to be too advanced to get one.
But the worst thing people said was: Your mother wanted what was best for you. She wanted you to have a good life. She wanted you to have a better life and she loved you enough to make the hardest choice. You are so lucky.
It is a very confusing message to be told that your mother loved you so much that she gave you. Wasn’t the best possible life for a child the one he had with the mother who gave birth to him? I assumed she wouldn’t think of me, that she wouldn’t take me back. I dared not miss her, I dared not mourn her loss. Of course, it is natural for a child to miss his mother. But how could I safely miss someone I was told I felt lucky to have been saved?
When I found my biological mother in her mid-twenties, I learned that she had not, in fact, made her sacrifice in the hope of a better life for me, but because she was there. had been forced. She had her own grief, one she hadn’t been able to name, one that had been driven into her by people who said, She’s in a better place now with a good family, you should be grateful, now you can go on and live your life too.
As I got older, I learned to name my feelings. The empathy was new: for the mother who gave birth to me but couldn’t keep me, and for the mother who did her best to raise me the only way she knew how. When I had my own family, I finally felt unconditional love. My children have changed everything for me, putting family at the center of my life.
Now I could cry my abandonment and to be grateful for the life that I have lived. I could mourn my now deceased biological mother and I adore my adoptive mother, who shares a Thanksgiving table with my family today.
As an adult, I can look back on my life and say, I exist and I’m happy to be. I love my family. I love what I do, who I am. I’m determined to make the most of every minute of life I have and I can’t imagine it any other way. The gratitude I feel now is genuine, but it’s not for being chosen for adoption. It is to have decided to make the most of the life that I have and to have been able to live this decision.