After being adopted by a college professor and his wife, I received a diary for Christmas. It was a gift that changed my life. Because my new family avoided discussing or even mentioning “adoption,” I felt that I could be authentic only in my daily journal writing.
From the first five-year diary with a lock and key, 1950s style, to the blank books I fill today, I record exuberant or dismal thoughts, poetic or melancholy reflections, and events both quotidian and dramatic. My happiest moments, the dark nights of my soul, commentary on family, the weather, current events —all of it is grist for the mill. Book after book, the diaries run like a turbulent river through my six decades.
Eight years ago I read through journals from my past and wrote a memoir about growing up adopted.
Who would ever read all these written chronicles after I was gone? Unable to answer that question, I appointed Elaine as reader. What my diaries said about me was that I really did not like myself. Throughout school years, I judged nearly everything that happened as not measuring up.
Some examples from 1956:
April 5—I felt sort of depressed and inferior at school today.
April 27—School dance. I had flowers on my headband and a pretty blue formal. The dance was a big disappointment. I had a miserable time.
May 26—Went to cheerleading practice. I’m not very good and I know I won’t be chosen.
In 1960, I wrote that February was a particularly low month. I was arguing with my parents and fighting bitterly with my brother.
In 1961, my situation had gone from bad to worse. An entry dated June 10: “Upsetting evening with the family. Because I failed to give a message to Daddy, my brother almost got lost or something and it was all my fault. Daddy couldn’t find him. Everyone got mad at me. Mother was furious—very enraged. What a horrible night. I hate family life.
Marriage seemed to offer an escape, so by 1966 I had become the wife of Jack, my college sweetheart. However, I took my unhappiness with me. As demonstrated in these entries from 1977, my sense of abandonment had intensified:
January 1—Jack stayed glued to TV football. Nothing the children or I did made a dent. He watched without pause from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. I felt very angry, helpless. And yet, I was too exhausted to pursue a constructive discussion.
January 5—I hate being alone in the house. I feel desperate when there is a blank wall of non-communication. I hate the feeling that I can bleed inwardly, that I can be melted by despair, and Jack doesn’t notice, doesn’t see, doesn’t care.
January 9—Jack and I had another non-conversation, very unproductive. I am filled with anger and despair. I would like to wake up single.
Three years later, I was single but with two young sons. What followed, as reported in more written chronicles, were more failed relationships. My unhappiness lay within; I was afraid the become close to a partner. My original mother’s departure taught me that if you love someone, he or she will leave you.
Fast forward to the 1990s, some twenty years later. As I re-read my diaries, I realized that I had assured the failure of any prospective romances or partnerships. What the younger me taught the older me is to beware of assumptions. The idea that I could never be good enough tainted even the sweetest successes and accomplishments. In so many ways, I was my own worst enemy.
My negative interpretations so overwhelmed me that at last, I had to look them in the face, recognize them for what they were, and decide that I was not a robot. No one was making me think the self-depreciating thoughts.
The Goodbye Baby: Adoptee Diaries depicts my journey from victim to heroine of my own life. It is a book that offers hope not only to adult adoptees trying to heal adoption-imposed injuries, but to parents who are dealing with the invisible wounds of their adopted children. It is the kind of book that would have helped me when I was growing up adopted. Since that book didn’t exist, I wrote it myself.
Adoption is both a curse and a blessing. My memoir chronicles a journey from doubt to acceptance.