My daughter and I have been in reunion (from an “open” adoption) for a little over a year. It has been magical in every respect. Previously, the only people she had met in our extended family was my sibling and one living grandmother. I have not spoken to my parents in quite some time due to many unresolved adoption issues so there has been no meeting there.
Recently, she met my paternal side of the family. It was planned to be small as to not overwhelm her; a few cousins. It quickly snowballed into aunts, uncles, and more distant cousins. Surprisingly, a family who has never spoken (with the exception of an aunt or two) of their missing member were sending me messages of absolute joy and excitement at the prospect of meeting her. She and I discussed the possible size of this party; I was apprehensive, but she was fearless.
My major concern was the estrangement with my parents. How would I respond to any questions about them? Spoiler alert, none were asked. They are a family who doesn’t pry. My worries were immediately put to rest as aunts, uncles, and cousins poured through the door in eager anticipation to meet their long lost family. Tears inevitably streamed down my cheeks. This has never been an overly-emotional family, so I would quickly turn to wipe my face dry as to not make anyone uncomfortable.
There were flowers and countless hugs. A cousin gifted my daughter with my grandmother’s jewelry box. An act that I am still in shock over. The box still contained a lot of my grandmother’s jewelry. I have since learned that my grandmother, who passed away when my daughter was a toddler, was very upset about my daughter being lost from the family all those years ago. There was intimation that conversations were had without my knowledge between her and my dad.
It was a memorable night. One that I would include as one of the best nights of my life. My daughter seemed to enjoy it as well. But now there is a lull. A silence between us. What happens after reunion? Is this what happens after reunion? I feel shock, joy, confusion, and even anger. Not at any particular person, but at the situation.
With my maternal side, adoption has made sense to me. The event was completely ignored. Life went on as if she had never existed and I knew my place in that twisted family dynamic was to comply. When my daughter and I began to correspond regularly, I had relatives who felt they had some right, or even authority, to private message me and tell me to “get over” her already. When it all happened initially, my teenage mind felt like I had been sucker-punched. Years of wondering “how did this happen?” Watching that side of the family, even two decades later, there was an a-ha moment of “this is how it happened.” There was never and will never be support from that side of the family for my daughter nor me. It is embarrassing to explain to my daughter, but it makes sense.
With my paternal side, it gets harder to reconcile. I did have aunts who over the years asked about my daughter. A family that has been verbally supportive since she and I began this reunion journey. To see all those smiling faces welcoming her, as well as myself, was a dream come true. I have lived in shame and fear of judgment for so many years. All of that has been wiped away.
I’m now left to wonder “why”? Why did she and I have to go through all of these years without each other? Did I have a supportive family all along and never knew it? I had been so shamed by my parents, maternal family, society, the church, social workers, adoption agents, etc that I was too fearful to ask anyone else for help. I felt rejected and believed rejection would be all I could receive. I never went to my paternal side for help, but if I had, could that have saved me from these 2 decades of unspeakable grief? Was this amputation of mother and child purely cosmetic and completely unnecessary? Or was this reunion celebration simply a display of adoption porn? Everyone loves a separation and reunion story. It is much harder to love it when you are the one living it.
So I feel we have both withdrawn for a moment to process what just happened and all it entails. Obviously, I’m typing out feelings to get a clearer picture. We lost so much. My dark, but necessary sense of humor, makes me think of the Dumb and Dumber scene where Harry says he can’t go on any longer because his hands are freezing. Lloyd then offers him the extra gloves he’s been wearing the whole time. Harry is incensed that there was relief available, but unknown to him. There I am.
I don’t know which is harder to accept: A family where abandonment was clear and you can make sense of the loss…or a family where support was available, but unknown to you. The idea that none of this ever had to happen to begin with.