For years, I avoided Thanksgiving. I said it was because of the food. I stated that as a vegetarian I could not share a table with my meat-eating parents.
I endured the experience through high school, but once I was in college, my parents stayed with relatives while I flew to Europe for the cheapest international week of travel of the year. we are not close, I explained to anyone who asked. After grad school, there was a decade of “Friendsgiving.” Mass dinners in my apartment for all vegetarians, vegans and orphans: those whose families were far away or non-existent.
The gratitude I feel now is genuine, but not for being chosen for adoption.
But it wasn’t just that I didn’t like turkey or football. It was that, growing up, I wasn’t especially grateful. The spirit of the holidays eluded me.
Instead, I was filled with a sadness that I couldn’t name. A sense of loss so deep within me, so primal, so raw, that I had lived with it day after day. What happen? people asked me as I approached my teens. Any, He always responded sadly. I could never articulate exactly what it was that she was feeling so intensely, and yet she was trying so hard to ignore. But little pangs of pain wrapped in anger reached my heart every time I heard variations on various themes.
The most disconcerting of these, since I was not an especially happy child, was what I heard most often: that I was lucky. Lucky to have been chosen, lucky to be the only child of my parents.. You have to be pampered! 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’d never seen, and wondered who the hell could take me for spoiled.
I had everything I needed to live, but I didn’t grow up feeling really loved or particularly wanted. It bothered me that I was told over and over again that I should be grateful to be my parents’ only daughter when they seemed to dislike having me around.
Another one I came across frequently from people trying to be cute: You were selected, not expected. When I heard that, I imagined I’d been ripped from the rows of smiling babies at the baby store. The reality was very different. My parents waited for years for a child to arrive from the adoption agency. They told me once that this was because they wanted a white baby. A healthy baby. Ten fingers, 10 toes. At that moment, I felt special, as if they expected me. Now I know better.
I was old when they caught me. Six months, not a newborn. I had already done two seasons in foster homes. They got the white, healthy part, so I guess the rest could be skipped. But there I was, the only one available to them after years of waiting. Of course they took me.
Then there was the gratitude she was supposed to feel that she hadn’t been aborted. I was asked about this long before I metabolized the concept of abortion. Aren’t you glad to be alive? You could have been aborted! It’s true: it could have been. Although I was born on January 11, 1973, only 11 days before Roe, abortion had been legal in New York since April 1970. I wouldn’t find out until much later that my birth mother was so young when I was conceived that she didn’t realize it until the fifth month, about too far along to get one.
But the worst thing people said was: Your mother wanted the 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 most difficult decision. You are so lucky.
It is a very confusing message to be told that your mother loved you so much that she gave you up. Wasn’t the best possible life for a child the one he had with the mother who gave birth to him? I assumed that she wouldn’t be thinking of me, that she wouldn’t take me back. She didn’t dare miss her, didn’t dare mourn the loss of her. Of course, it is natural for a child to miss his mother. But how could he safely miss someone who I was told to feel lucky to have been saved?
When I met my birth mother in my early twenties, I learned that she had not, in fact, made her sacrifice in the hope of a better life for me, but because she had been forced to. She had her own pain, one that she hadn’t been able to name, one that people had pushed into her by saying, She is in a better place now with a good family, you should be thankful, 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 she couldn’t provide for me, and for the mother who did her best to raise me in the only way she knew how. When I had my own family, I finally felt unconditional love. My children changed everything for me, putting family front and center in my life.
Now I could cry my resignation Y be thankful for the life i lived. I could mourn my now deceased biological mother Y I love my adoptive mother, who today shares a Thanksgiving table with my family.
As an adult, I can look back on my life and say, I do exist and I’m glad I did. I love my family. I love what I do, who I am. I am determined to make the most of every minute of the life I have and I cannot imagine it any other way. The gratitude I feel now is genuine, but not for being chosen for adoption. It’s because I decided to make the most of the life I have and to be able to live that decision.