I’ve come a long way since my memoir The Goodbye Baby-Adoptee Diaries was published (2012), but the way I felt then is still valid. Some things don’t change. You wake up in the morning, despite years of “recovery” and re-calibrating those original feelings of abandonment, you’re still adopted. Herewith, the original beginning of my memoir …
Sixty years ago, toward the end of World War Two, a five-year-old girl was left on the doorstep of strangers. Her mother left her there because she couldnʼt feed or house her child and also, suspected the girl, because as a daughter, she wasnʼt quite good enough. The strangers, miraculously, turned out to be wonderful new parents. Theyʼd been looking for a little girl just like her. Along with her younger brother, nearly two years old and part of the deal, the girl went from rags to riches. Though the term meant nothing at the time, she had been adopted.
A happy ending? Well, it seemed so until the girl went to school. Immediately she noticed that the other children all had their real parents. She was pretending that her mother was her “real” mother and trying desperately to be good enough. The worst thing would be going back to the foster homes sheʼd endured with the mother who couldnʼt keep her.
Outwardly, life was so much better now that she should have rejoiced. Her new parents did not really want to talk about why they adopted her. She was afraid to ask when her real mother would be coming back to get her. Possibly she would never come back, and it would be because she wasnʼt a good enough daughter. The little girl grew up carrying that shameful secret in her heart.
When the girl turned ten, she received a diary for Christmas. It had a lock and key and lines for writing anything she wanted. By now, it seemed to the girl that the kind, nurturing parents were new “real parents.” Never mind that she had many questions about her life with the original mother. If that mother gave her away, there must have been a reason.
Deep down, no matter what the new parents told her, she believed it was all her
fault. She was somehow inferior, not smart or pretty enough, just not OK. Since she couldnʼt talk about the shameful secret, she took to writing in her diary.
With the little blank book, she didnʼt have to be someone that she wasnʼt. The diary was her best friend, her confidante, a repository of feelings that she couldnʼt express anywhere else. It was so helpful. Always there, always ready to listen. Never judging or disapproving. A place where she was always welcome. So comforting were the diaries that when the girl became a teenager, a wife and mother, a grandmother, then a widow, she continued filling up book after book. At some point in the distant future, sheʼd burn the diaries, toss them into the ocean or maybe bury them in an arroyo.
But wait! The diaries might contain something valuable — a certain confession, insight, lament or situation. Gathered in a book, selected excerpts could provide a window for others whoʼd been adopted. Now a senior citizen, the girl resolved to harvest her journals, to transcribe passages that cried out to her. All of the mistakes, the bad decisions, the obsessions, the wrong thinking, would be put on the table and examined.
Just as she resolved that her personal history was worth writing, she was blindsided. The deaths of her biological father, her adoptive parents, and then her husband pushed aside the diary project. It was almost too much to bear, and for several years she lived inside her grief.
Only one journey would lead the girl to a healing. She had to go back and actually READ the diaries. As the girl scoured the past, an amazing thing happened. She came to realize that there was nothing so special about her personal drama. It was all part of being human. At last she could forgive herself and even begin to get over “growing up adopted.” She could quit playing a part and start living her life.
Learn more by tuning in online to KSFR F.M. 101.1 when Elaine will be interviewed by MK Mendoza about the adoptee’s journey. Tuesday, October at 8:30 a.m. (MT). Comments welcome!