Ever since I can remember, I knew that I was adopted. Like a badge of honor, I have carried that distinction with me throughout my life, proud to share with others that my parents found me so special that they invited me into their lives, their family. That pride of being an adopted child has not waned over the course of time. On the contrary, time and maturity have given me the opportunity to admire and respect my adoptive parents in ways that I never imagined were possible.
Being adopted, in and of itself, caused me little strife other than the normal teenage urge to question who I was, where I came from, and where it was that I might be going. Fantasies of who my birth parents might be, of meeting them, of having them involved in my life, often filled my daydreams, as I progressed through adolescence. Being the supportive parents that they were, my adoptive parents never once ridiculed or shamed me for my adolescent search for self and meaning, and the role that my birth family played in it.
Although I have always been aware that I am adopted, and I seemed to experience few, if any, issues, both in our family and in the world around me, as a result of this intimate knowledge, the tides of change blew in with adolescence.
It was during these formative years of my adolescent life that my world, as I knew it, crumbled at its’ very foundation, and a new concept of self emerged. On a cool, crisp, autumn evening, a Friday to be exact, during my 8th grade year, my sister, Tammy picked a fight with me, which was far from anything new at our house. What was new, however, was that Tammy was a ballooning, hormonal, pregnant high school student at this time, and I was fast growing into a more confident, sarcastic teenager, myself. Not only was I now able to physically protect myself from my sister (not just because she was pregnant, but because I was continuing to physically mature and had grown taller and more muscular than her), but I was also able to better handle her emotionally. Prior to our fight that night, I felt incredibly confident that there was nothing that Tammy could say or do that could penetrate the thick skin that I had developed over the years to cope with her.
That fateful fall night, my sister landed not only her most explosive blow thus far in our young lives, but the most volatile. To be honest, I can’t even remember what we were arguing about that night. In the back of my mind, I am aware that we were engaged in battle about her pregnancy, and I will own the fact that I was likely goading her for being pregnant and still in high school, which I am now very ashamed of, now. I may not remember what I said, but I do remember, however, the words that rolled off of her bitter tongue that night. Her words initially filled me first with hilarity (once again, she was appearing to show her apparent ignorance), and later, upon reflection, dread.
“AT LEAST MY PARENTS WANTED ME,” she screamed at me into the living room from her spot in the middle of the brightly lit kitchen (There it is again, that single trademark attack that had been crafted years before). As I spun around, laughing at the sheer foolishness of her statement, preparing to shout back a sharp-tongued, teenage retort, the seriousness of her face stopped me dead in my tracks. “Just ask Mom tonight, you’ll see,” she ominously directed as she stormed out of the room.
Now, knowing Tammy, I took her foreboding with a grain of salt. Yet, despite my doubt of her credibility, I couldn’t help but notice that there was something different about her this time, a slight amount of concern that she had exhibited towards me. It was very unlike her to leave an argument as she did that evening, purposely avoiding an opportunity to go in for the kill, to verbally rip me apart at the seams of my soul. That night, for probably the first time in my life, I took her advice, and waited up to speak with my mother.
Like most Friday nights, I was still awake when my mom returned home from work late. As she sat down on the couch next to me that night, like so many nights before, I shared with her the mystifying conversation that I had with Tammy that evening. The crushed look on my mother’s face, how it fell when I shared my story with her, confirmed to me that my sister was actually on to something big.
It was there, in the half-light of a lamp cutting through the darkness of the night, that my mom told me the painful reality of how I came into this world. In her maternal protection of me, avoiding this conversation was something that had come quite easily to her, not that I blame her one bit. In that brief moment of time, the world stopped spinning, and everything stood still.
“I just always thought that you knew,” she started. “You were born so premature, you were so little…” Yes, I was born four months premature; yes I was just a little over two pounds when I came into this world.
Much like being adopted, I had seemingly always been aware that I had been born prematurely. In fact, my prematurity was sewn into the fabric of my life. “Mom, I don’t want to go to bed yet,” I can remember moaning as I slumped against the hallway wall by my bedroom one night when I was around six years of age. “Missy, you know you need to go bed. You were born premature, you need your sleep,” she answered back to me. “Aw, man, you’re right,” I responded as I begrudgingly made my way to bed. That memory makes me smile now, realizing how my mom was able to play me like a fiddle back then. Back then, however, it seemed like an absolutely valid argument to me—you lose four months of sleep, you need to make up four months of sleep, right?!
“I don’t know how else to tell you this, so I need to just come out and say it. Please know that we love you, and that we never meant to keep this from you. There’s just no easy way to say it.”
Nothing could have prepared me for the words that came next; not an ounce of my being could have ever fathomed the great secret that the world around me had harbored the past 14 years of my life. “Your mother had an abortion during her fifth month of pregnancy, and you survived it.”
All at once the wind was sucked out of my lungs and my stomach turned sour. Tears streaming, cries racking my body, my mother consoled me that night, and our lives were forever changed.