When I got the tragic news that a sixteen-year-old girl died, I was horrified. Jumping to conclusions, I assumed she had been in a car accident. A victim of a drunk driver. Or perhaps she was drinking behind the wheel. Why are sixteen-year-olds driving anyway? Or drugs. Too many kids use drugs these days. This was not just any sixteen-year-old, however. This girl was the daughter of a man my husband had been friends with many many years ago. A man who also passed away, way too young. We wanted to know why, how, she died. My husband, who hadn’t been in touch with the girl’s mother for years, couldn’t ask. We looked up her name online. Her obituary did not list a cause of death. But it did list her age and her school. She was my granddaughter’s age. She attended my granddaughter’s school.
I called my granddaughter to find out if she knew any details. She was the one who told me it was a suicide. The school was providing counselling for the students. Now that we’ve ruled out driving, drinking and drugs, my mind immediately leaped to another conclusion. “She was adopted,” I said to my husband. That’s all I had to say, as if the word “adopted” covered it all.
Why did I link the suicide to adoption? I don’t know what type of relationship this young girl had with her family. With her adoptive mother. Most teenagers are filled with angst. With existential angst, wondering why they were born. An adoptee has the additional angst of wondering why she was given up. Abandoned. Is that enough to cause someone to commit suicide? There must be more.
When I was a teen, I often thought about committing suicide. I even got as far as holding a razor blade in my hand. Dumping a bottle of aspirins (I know, very lame) on the bathroom vanity. I was brought back to my senses when my mom, my adoptive mom, yelled, “What’s taking you so long in the bathroom?” I stopped my foolishness and reminded myself, if I killed myself, I’d never know how things would turn out. Maybe it gets better.
Since this suicide, I started thinking about how many events in my life revolved around my mother. My mother criticized me. My birthmother might have done the same. My mother hated that I did things differently than her. That I looked so different than she looked. She tried to change me all the time. She even tried to get me to dye my hair like hers when I was 12! We fought over trivial things all the time. I might have fought the same with my bio mother. We also might have been very different. I’ll never know. She passed away before I learned who she was.
I married when I was only eighteen, to get away from mother. Is this common among adoptees? I married an addict. Is this common among adoptees? After my divorce I remarried right away. Was this my fear of being abandoned because I was given away at birth? I only have questions. Not answers. But it still haunts me that I immediately jumped to the conclusion, adopted, when I heard about a suicide.
The point is not that adoptions cause these problems. The point is, how can we avoid potential problems that might be brought on by adoption? First and foremost I believe that adoptive parents must remember that their child is unique. Their child has a different bio-identity. Different blood. Do not try to mold the child to your ways. Teach right from wrong, as you would with any child, but embrace their differences. Embrace their uniqueness. They might be brilliant, creative, talented in ways you’d never had imagined. Ways you’d never have expected. Their DNA might lead them in directions you’d never dreamed of. Enjoy your children. Love them. Let them be the best they can be. If they want to know their heritage, let them. Encourage them to learn who they are. Where they came from. Never feel threatened. If they grew up knowing you loved them, that won’t change.
What were some issues you faced as an adoptee? What would you like to tell adoptive parents?
I discuss my own adoption issues and my twenty-four year search in my memoir, Call Me Ella. This is available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, iBooks and more. I’d love to get your feedback.