Shared Genes

I think the strangest part of meeting anyone biologically related to you for the first time is noticing small characteristics that you share with them. While I think I look completely different than either one of my adoptive parents for obvious reasons, people tend to tell me my nose looks like my dad or my face shares similar qualities with my mom’s, probably because they think they’re complimenting my parents before they find out I’m adopted. I don’t see it. Maybe it’s a mental thing that prevents me from seeing any physical similarities, but I don’t think we look anything alike.

When I learned about genetics in seventh grade science class, one of our assignments was to take look at a list of physical characteristics that are caused by dominant or recessive genes and decide what traits we inherited from our parents. Small things like ear lobes, hair lines, and even eye and hair color don’t mean much to most people. For me, I hated assignments like that because no matter what I answered, it wouldn’t be accurate because I had no idea what traits I shared with the family I was genetically related to.

The same day I was writing and having slight panic attacks, I was overwhelmingly curious about what my birth mom would look like. I had been told all weekend that I looked very similar to her (even that I smelled like her- if that’s a thing), so I wanted to test those claims for myself. The only picture I had seen of her previously to this meeting was a photo from twenty-six years ago, so I was fully aware she wouldn’t look the same. Then there was her son.

I found out I had a half-brother when I found my birth mom over two years ago. With him being younger and not knowing about me, that was one part of the original story that I left out. I had sent some baby and toddler pictures to my mother when we first got in contact, and she said that he and I looked very much alike when we were young.

It’s always been a peculiar sort of thought- the idea that there are people somewhere out there who look like you. It’s even more peculiar actually coming face-to-face with those people for the first time. During the first meeting that I wrote about a few days ago, I kept searching my birth mom’s face when she wouldn’t notice, looking for any similarities we shared. We have the same cheekbones, and we have the same type of hair even though mine is much lighter. She had already told me that my eyes were very similar to my biological father’s, but I haven’t been able to see that for myself. I was able to notice the shared traits between her son and myself much easier, mostly just because I was able to compare that stage of my life to his twelve-year-old self. We share the same nose, the same lanky pre-teen frame, and similar facial expressions when we’re frustrated or our glasses are giving us trouble. It’s funny, the sense that you’re almost seeing a similar version to yourself moving around. It’s good, but it’s so strange at the same time.

Even though I know that looking like someone doesn’t automatically create a familial bond, I feel more put together having met them. There were so many questions I couldn’t even fully put into words, but they’ve been answered anyway. The sense of peace that’s swelled over me is the best thing that could have come out of this trip, so I’m continuously happy that I was stubborn enough to do this on my own.

Schooner Zodiac in in Bellingham, Washington - June 2015
Schooner Zodiac in in Bellingham, Washington – June 2015

The Day Of

I’ve been getting let down quite a bit recently, so going into the birth mom experience, I just tried to keep all expectations at a minimum. I don’t do well with disappointment, so whenever I can avoid that specific experience, I do whatever necessary even if that means blocking out emotions. When people ask if my trip was everything I dreamed it was going to be, I don’t really have an answer. I tried to ignore any dream for so long that it’s impossible to say if the reunion met expectations.

The day of, my nerves were very evident. If there’s one thing I can say for certain involving the first meeting with my biological mother, nerves and adrenaline were involved. I spent several hours the morning of June 28th sitting at a table in front of a coffee shop in downtown Bellingham, Washington attempting to write down everything that was going through my head at the time. I knew that with the stress my mind was under, I would be unable to recall my thoughts after that first contact. This is a small excerpt from those hours:

“It’s today. In fact, it’s in a few hours. It is so soon. So unbelievable. So many questions will be answered and I don’t really know how to approach it at this point. It’s like my brain is frozen on the emotional front, and I want to figure out my feelings so badly without any idea on how to unfreeze everything.

Everyone I come across is asking if I’m excited. If I’m nervous. I should probably have an answer, but I don’t. I don’t know if I’m excited and/or nervous at this point. I guess I’m getting both of those emotions flooding in now thinking about it, which is why I haven’t really been making it a point to think about it.”

At this point, I had a minor emotional breakdown. There’s something to be said for journaling. If nothing else, it allows you to really access feeling and emotions that you are subconsciously suppressing, and it breaks down those walls you’ve put up. I’m lucky enough to have a friend who has been giving me any and all emotional support possible, so I called her as soon as the floodwaters started in my eyes. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have made it through last weekend without her. After asking her to just distract me, I got a handle on my nerves again and was able to continue writing a bit more.

Eventually, even writing was an emotional drain, so I packed up all of my stuff (three to four journals and countless pens, mostly) and walked back to my weekend home. At this point, all I wanted was a complete distraction from the day- a way to escape my mind. I tried to nap, that didn’t work, so I turned to the best option around: netflix.

I don’t remember the fifteen minute walk from my place to the restaurant much. In fact, I just remember small flashes of that walk. What I do remember is almost walking away from the restaurant as soon as I got to the door. My typical response is to run whenever things get uncomfortable, and there was nothing I wanted more than to bolt and forget the whole thing. However, I fought the urge and went inside.

That initial face to face look is something that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to properly put into words. It was one of those moments that would have been put into slow motion with dramatic music on in the background if it had been in a movie. And then I blurted out “I’m really not sure what I’m supposed to do here” which I suppose broke the ice, but it was just because I felt awkward and wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be comfortable enough for a hug, or just go in for a wave or handshake. I had never thought about what to do after walking in, so I just ended up being my usual awkward self and luckily it worked out.

The dinner went really well. I didn’t really know what to talk about or how to act or even what to do with my hands. I remember running to the bathroom at one point because I needed a breath of fresh air. I think I was pretty successful at keeping the look of overwhelmed panic off of my face, but my whole insides were all twisted up. It wasn’t that I was regretful of making the decision to meet her, but it’s just such a bizarre situation to be in that I was numb and a tangle of electric uncertainty all at once. Thankfully, we only spent a couple hours together mostly listening to my birth mom’s son talk about their trip driving from Idaho to Washington (yes, I technically have a half-brother which is incredible) and then we went our separate ways for the rest of the night.

I walked home in a fog. There are a few hours where I’m not completely sure what I was saying or where I was wandering around, but I ended up at home completely intact, so I didn’t get into too much trouble. I stayed up for a bit just sitting and thinking. I wish I had thought to break out my journal for that night, but I was in mental-processing mode and didn’t think to do much of anything.

I spent the whole next day with my birth mom and her son which was very rewarding and was much more comfortable than the previous night. I’ll hopefully get all of that written down in the next adoption post, but there’s still so much to think through. Overall, I’m so thankful I was able to have this experience. I’m proud of myself (which is something I never say) that I was strong and stubborn enough to do this trip on my own without any full-blown panic attacks. It was a giant leap in the right direction, and it’s something I’ll always be able to look back on with a new sense of calm in my heart.

Whatcom Falls National Park in Bellingham, Washington - June 2015
Whatcom Falls National Park in Bellingham, Washington – June 2015

listening to: Helen Stellar

Less Than Seven Days

I found out I was adopted when I was about the age of a preschooler. According to my mom, I had a friend whose mom was pregnant, and I had learned all about how “babies live in their mommy’s tummies.” My mom sat me down and explained that even though some other lady had carried me around in her stomach, she and my dad were my parents. Apparently, this idea that some other lady was the one that carried me around intrigued me, because I began to see women on the tv and around town and would ask my mom if that was the lady she had told me about (Aretha Franklin was even discussed at one point).

As I grew up, I dreamed that my biological family was royalty or somehow famous. I dreamed of the day that they’d find me, saying it was all a mistake, and wanting to integrate me into their wonderful lives. I think that’s probably a very common fantasy for children of adoption, reinforced by stories like Anastasia and The Princess Diaries, that there’s a possibility of a secret royal family. One of my favorite books in late elementary school was called The Face on the Milk Carton, a story about a girl who finds out she wasn’t the adopted granddaughter that her parents believed her to be, but a girl who was kidnapped. She eventually goes on to meet and get to know her biological family in the following books in the series, but that was the first time I really thought about the fact that there might be people out in the world who actually looked similarly to myself.

At 18, when I finally saw a picture of my biological mother and read her first words to me, I became fixated on my hands. My hands apparently looked like her hands when I was an infant, and I constantly wondered what other similarities we might have. In her photo, she was wearing a facial expression incredibly similar to one I make on a regular basis. Until that moment, I had dreamed about finding someone who I looked like, and there I was, staring at a lady who shared the same half-smile I made all the time. That was a moment of clarity that I think will always stick with me. I can still close my eyes and visualize the entire thing. It happened in a matter of moments, but it feels like it could go on forever.

From 18 to 23, I used the birth information I got from the state of Alaska to search for my birth mother at least once every six months. I don’t think there’s a single database used for finding people that I didn’t use. I even toyed around with the idea of hiring a private investigator, but what 23-year-old can really afford that? Four months before I turned 24, when I finally found some of my biological family, I thought I would find some sort of inner peace. A rest. Something that felt like the search was over. I emailed back and forth with my birth mom, got to know the family a bit better, but there was so much left unanswered. When I went to Alaska last year, I thought I might get to do a little more research into my history, but things didn’t work out quite as planned.

This week, it all comes to a head. This week, I meet them. I meet my mother, her family, and some of my aunts and uncles. This is what I’ve been wondering about and searching for for almost 22 years. But the last few days have been almost overwhelming. I’m caught between excitement and nervousness. I’ve wanted this for so long, but I don’t want to build up all these ideas in my head. I feel like I already know some of them pretty well, thanks to the magic of social media, but there’s just something about meeting people face to face for the first time. There’s a fine line between expecting too little and expecting too much. I keep trying not to get overwhelmed, but this is just something I’ve made up scenarios in my head about for years, so it’s incredibly difficult to clear out those expectations.

As my flight creeps closer and closer, I’m trying to prepare myself for “just another trip”. It’s just another adventure. I’ve had tons of these in the last year or so. I’ve gone places and seen things I wouldn’t have believed possible two years ago. And if it’s one thing I’ve learned from this family so far, they love each other fiercely. That’s the start to something good.

Niederrad, Germany- October 2014
Niederrad, Germany- October 2014

listening to: Portugal. The Man

The Daunting Dream

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about dreams, goals, and what I want my life to look like in five or ten years down the road. At 24, I’m in a perfect transition period in my life: I’m living in a different country, learning a new language, making friends with people all over the world, and learning a ton about myself. I’ve taken to journaling almost every day, and nothing could have been more healing and eye-opening in this life-season. However, I’m aware that this is just a season, and I’ll eventually need to figure out what my next step will be.

In the past year or so, I’ve had one major life goal: to write a book. I realize a lot of bloggers want to be published, but it’s more than that for me. On my old blog, I wrote about my adoption story semi-frequently because it’s one of the stories that makes me different, which I’m learning to embrace. Last year, after finding some of my biological family, I started recording the moments so that I would be able to remember all the little details.

Adoption has become a huge topic almost everywhere I look. Facebook friends, several celebrities, and more bloggers than I can count are all celebrating the fact that they’ve chosen to adopt. While I’m all for adoption and think that it’s a beautiful way to extend love to children that might not get to know it otherwise, I know that many people who adopt aren’t aware of the way it can affect their adopted children. There are so many books on the topic, but most often from the view of the parent or a psychologist. There are nowhere near enough books giving the adoptee’s perspective, and I believe that point of view is the most important. Because of this, I’ve started to use some of my journaling time specifically for covering my thoughts on adoption. Perhaps within the next five years, I’ll be able to combine all of those thoughts and turn them into a book.

The main goal I have in writing this is helping parents who are thinking about adopting or have newly adopted realize a little more what they’re committing to. Adoption isn’t something many people decide to do lightly, but the emotional and mental repercussions on the child can be overlooked. There are many issues I’ve struggled with throughout my life that I’m just now able to recognize as stemming from being put up for adoption. I’m not blaming any of my problems on that, but it’s important to pick out the moments and events that help define a person, and adoption is a major one.

The idea of writing a book is very daunting. I’ve never been a very confident person, and the idea that other people could be interested enough in something I have to say sometimes feels almost laughable. However, adoption has always been a huge part of my life and I feel like I have enough to say that writing a book might be crazy enough to work. I’m fully aware that my opinions on adoption aren’t the only ones worth sharing, so if you’re reading this and think that I’m onto a good idea, I’d love to get some help. If you’re adopted and want to answer a few questions for me, please email me at thekostory@gmail.com or leave me a comment and I’ll get those questions to you!

The day of my adoption
The day of my adoption

listening to: John Butler Trio