Many adoptees particularly in closed adoptions, cringe at the thought of creating a family tree that most students will have assigned to them in high school or college. The fear and discomfort from adoptees creating a family tree stems from not having access to their original birth certificate and not knowing their biological family history. Feelings of grief, abandonment, and loss are a few emotions that an adoptee can experience while trying to complete a family tree project.
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If you’re anything like I was, the Family Tree school project was the one thing you dreaded in school. I used to sit in class with knots in my stomach. I knew my family tree would not be like the other kids in my class.
While other classmates found enjoyment tracing their roots and marveling over their genetic makeup, I just wondered where mine came from. How can a tree grow if it doesn’t have roots? I knew I had roots once, but those roots had been cut years ago. I wondered what would happen if actual roots are cut from a real tree, so I decided to look it up online. This is what I found:
“Cutting tree roots is dangerous because it can cause permanent, possibly fatal, harm to your tree.”
Now eliminate the word “tree” and replace it with “adoptee”. Wow! That’s a pretty powerful statement.
It’s the fine print on the paperwork adoption agencies don’t want you to know. Adoption is not always the glitz and glamour you see made for television and movies. There are some people who might argue that even non-adoptees have difficulty tracing their heritage. Although that may be true, my situation as an adoptee is completely different.
In most states it is illegal for an adoptee to find out their own family origins due to closed adoptions. Every form I have dating back to my adoption is redacted. If you don’t already know, a redaction is when they censor a specific part of a document so that it cannot be seen. In other words, they take a thick, black sharpie and run a line through it. In many closed adoptions, this would include redacting the names of the birthparents or any information that may reveal their identity.
Although I have since located my birthfamily, sometimes I still want to cry when I look at those forms. It serves as a reminder of the great lengths everyone around me took to cut off my family ties. It also reminds me that there is much work that still needs to be done in the adoption community.
As I would sit in class with my blank worksheet, I felt so alone. I didn’t understand why this happened to me. My parents did their best to explain it, but it didn’t stop my pain. I reluctantly completed my school assignment knowing that everything on it was a lie. These weren’t my roots. Nor did my parents realize that cutting my roots would have a profound effect on the rest of my life. This was something that affected me well into college. I skipped Biology 101 the days we were supposed to go over the chapter on genetics. My poor attendance earned me a D in the course and a drop in my grade point average, but it was a lot better than reliving the pain all over again.
After finding my birthfamily, one of the most important things for me to do was to make a family tree. I had always dreamed about the day when my branches would no longer be empty, but be filled with others who share my genetics, my roots, and my past. Sadly, my attempt to fill those branches was harder than I had expected. Family members became standoffish when I began to ask too many questions about the family I had lost. I have a brother somewhere, who still remains a mystery to me.
To most of my birthfamily, I am probably no more than a relative stranger. It only tells me how secrets and lies can only kill and destroy. Once a tree is uprooted, no matter the love, shelter, or nourishment it receives, the problem is that it will never again be the same.
I still hope to one day complete a family tree with or without the help my birthfamily. Until that time, I’m still just stuck with a bunch of empty branches waiting to be filled.
Adoptees: tell us about your experience in class or in life creating a family tree below.
V. Marie I am a reunited adoptee from Louisiana. I earned my B.A. in sociology from The University of New Orleans in 2005. My experience through adoption lead me to earn my M.A. in Community Counseling from Webster University in 2013.
I was adopted at 6 weeks old. My adoptive parents love me very much, but they weren't ready to deal with the challenges that came with an adopted child. They supported me my entire life, but they could not heal my pain. As I grew up, I began to see even more diffrences between my adoptive family and myself. I longed to know where I fit belonged. Around the year 2005, I began actively searching. I had doors slammed in my face and others who told me to give up and be grateful for what I had. I found my birthmother around 2012, and it was hardly the heartfelt reunion I had hoped for. However, I will not let that stop me from seeking the truth and searching for my birthfather and my brother. I have to be strong and keep going. The truth is that I was an unwanted baby. My birthmother made a conscience decision not to be a mother to her children. My birthfamily will never understand what I have gone though emotionally as an adopted person. I am still treated like an outsider by many of them. I have been fortunate to be welcomed by a handful of cousins. And although they have good intentions, they will never understand my loss and the pain I feel when I'm around them. I believe that adoption can a wonderful thing, but we have to remember that it doesn't without loss. What I yearn for most is to have a family of my own.
Read more blogs by V. Marie: Secret Lies & Shame: Why Do Birth Mothers Hide