Anyone who knows me will no doubt, in an instance, be able to tell you what colour eyes I have; Bright blue. Amazing for those sultry gazes over supper at Spags and those lingering glances across the Klute dance floor. Not so great when literally everyone else in the family has deep brown eyes. Now, I’m all for the recessive gene theory but combined with stark differences in height, hair colour, lifestyle, political views and personality, I was never going to be a mini-version of my parents. Cue the awkward laughter that accompanies a pleasant enquiry of “you’ve got lovely blue eyes, who do you get them from?” Well for eighteen years I had no idea – welcome to the “who am I?” world of an adoptee.
My brother and I always knew we were adopted and although we both grew up to be well-adjusted, successful and incredibly happy youngsters, one need not be a psychologist to recognise the indelible impact, effectively being orphaned as a baby, must have. Adoption is unique in that if ordinarily you lose a loved one, society is abundantly sympathetic to the grieving process; bereavement leave is taken, memories are cherished and the late person naturally continues to crop up in conversation.
In contrast, an adoptee is expected to discount the bond they formed in the first few months of their life, without question. There is no one to tell them what their natural parents were (or are indeed) like, often without a name to hold on to. Don’t get me wrong, our parents were always open to questions, but not only were we reluctant to ask about our past for fear of somehow hurting them but they themselves didn’t have answers. A closed adoption was just that – no medical history, no reasons for adoption, nothing.
Growing up we both faced the usual playground questions of “didn’t your mother love you? Why aren’t your parents your ‘real’ parents? How does it feel to be ‘different’?” All any child wants to do is fit in and although our friends’ enquires were always well intentioned, there was no doubt they struck deep emotions.
One only needs to turn on the television to find some well-known celebrity “exploring their past” and discovering a “deep emotional connection” to a long-lost relation, whose name they didn’t even know until some long-forgotten dusty record was unearthed. In contrast, an adoptee, aside from knowing whether their grandfather saved hundreds of lives in World War Two, has not even felt the touch of their mother’s hand, looked in their father’s eyes or met their siblings. In a society that teaches, “blood is thicker than water,” changing the name on a birth certificate may be simple but erasing the first two years of one’s life is far harder.
Additionally, fear of rejection can have a fundamental impact on an adoptee’s relationship. To them, love has always appeared conditional or enforced – their birth mother’s love was never enough to overcome the reasons for adoption and their adopted parents, desperate for a baby, would have taken any child they were given. Even as adults they may struggle to accept that anyone could love them truly for whom they are.
Adoption is itself rarely discussed – this article is a prime example. I can count in single digits the people in Durham who will know by this point who the author is. Even some of my closest friends don’t know I’m adopted – not because I’m ashamed of the fact or am keeping it a secret, but simply because it never comes up in conversation.
No doubt though, keen eyed readers will have identified my voice from another article. If so, you will know my parents’ reaction to my homosexuality. As my mother was to say “you’ve been different your whole life; it seems so unfair that you’ve got to face another difference, and neither are out of choice.” To cut a long story short, following the deaths of my brother and birth mother, my birth father made contact. What passed between us when we were “reunited” after twenty years changed my views on love, identity and adoption forever.
Walking into the room that day, I recognised the same blue eyes, the same dark and carefully shaped eyebrows, even the same height and build. I was certainly my father’s daughter. What did I expect the first time we looked in each other’s eyes? A sudden surge of love? An instant connection? Thankfully neither, because in truth, I hardly felt anything.
As we talked, it became clear that we shared the same laid-back attitude, the same love of politics, and the same drive. Conversation flowed incredibly easy. After I’d summed up twenty years in an equal number of minutes, he sat back and mused “your mother would be incredibly proud.” Naturally, in time, the conversation turned to relationships – “so you got a good fella at home?”
I looked at him and smiled “that someone special would be a woman.” Up until that point we’d got on like a house on fire. I might not have felt a sudden, deep, emotional pull but this man was my natural father, shared my genes and was responsible for the whole course of my life. But at that point he reached for his coat. I looked up “what’s wrong?” He returned a steady gaze “you’re no daughter of mine, you never were and you never will be. No daughter of mine would be a dyke.” He walked out. The adoption mediator sat there. I sat there. All I could manage was a huge outtake of breath -“wow…”
In the weeks that followed, my birth father made it abundantly clear he never wished for contact again. In his words “I don’t have a daughter.” Twenty years on, the same man had rejected me for a second time. It was an adoptee’s worst nightmare.
Had I really ever imagined anything different though? No. I had never put my birth parents on a pedestal and am sure there were reasons behind my father’s actions, going far beyond my love for women. Twenty years is a lifetime and both parties are always going to be complete strangers. Undeniably, I felt shock at what had happened, bitterness at his prejudice and a sense of loss at the fact I was never going to find the missing pieces of this jigsaw that was my identity.
But driving home that night I found myself experiencing a huge surge of strength and determination. Ironically, it had taken my birth father to turn out (in my mother’s words) to be a “bit of a tosser” to make me realise the jigsaw had been complete all along. Who I was wasn’t based on what was written on my original birth certificate, the colour of my eyes or contact with people who were essentially strangers, it was based on twenty years of experience. All those occasions when I’d fought for what I believed to be right and, most of all, it was based on love. Both sets of parents had disagreed with my homosexuality. One rejected me, one supported me. The moment my “father” walked out, I realised love was thicker than both blood and water.
Adoption is always going to be a part of my life and no doubt it will feature if I choose to have children in a lesbian relationship. At least on one side the child will have no genetic link. I’m sure for this reason (and no doubt others) there are readers who fundamentally disagree with gay adoption. But ask yourself this, what’s more important to a child? Is it your genes and blood? Or is it your parents being there at the end of a school-day to hear about your adventures, being there with plasters and hugs when you fall over, being there to wipe away the tears and provide you with chocolate when you suffer your first heartbreak?
If I can provide even a fraction of the love and support my parents have, then I hope that even though I may not have all the answers an adopted child will ask, they will be able to go out into the world, happy and with the strength to fulfil their wildest dreams.
To those who disagree with gay adoption, I end with what I’ve learnt as an adoptee: growing up in a stable home, where both parents love each other and support you through thick and thin, is the best start in life any youngster can wish for. Such love and stability transcends any difference in blood, sexuality, race or gender. I may get my blue eyes from my birth father but my values and strength come from my parents. It’s love, not genes or sexuality that make a child’s world.