“Besides my complexion, my hair has always been the thing that made me different from everyone in my adoptive family… I haven’t always loved it. I didn’t like my hair until I started seeing myself through my own eyes.”
Can you start by giving us a little background of your adoptee journey?
I was born in Landstuhl, Germany in February of 1964. I was the youngest of four daughters.
When my mother became pregnant with me, she really only had one sympathetic parent- my grandfather. He was no match for his hard-handed wife however. My mother had had an early experience with a German boy. The union brought shame to her family— this was after Germany was bombed by Hitler / SS and all survivors lived in their garden shacks in the country. The German fellow had robbed a local store and gave my mother a watch he had stolen. The SS stormed the shack and all but ruined it. After that, my mother developed an appetite for African American soldiers. She was beautiful, they were away from home, the rest is history.
My sisters and I all had different fathers. At the time of my birth, my mother was married to my next oldest sister’s father. Because of her support system, my mom put two of us up for adoption and raised two. My oldest sister and I are almost 10 years to the day apart in years in age
I never spent time in an orphanage. When I was first born, my mother was able to place me with a family but the woman became ill and ended up hiring a governess for me. My mom wanted an intact family for me so I was removed from that home. Because my mother worked with and around GIs, she quickly learned of my future adoptive family’s desire to adopt as my adoptive mother was unable to conceive. It was customary at that time for military families to adopt German “Brown Babies”- Germany had no real place for us.
I spent months visiting my new family and my adoption was ultimately finalized in May of 1965, one day prior to my adoptive family’s departure from Germany.
What was your life like growing up with your adoptive family?
My adoptive parents came back to the US and separated within a year and a half. I also have a brother who is 5 years older and was adopted domestically before my adoptive father’s second tour of duty in Europe.
My dad came home for lunch one day, my brother came home from school, and my mother and I were gone. Essentially, I was kidnapped. My dad nor my brother had any idea where we were for about two years. My mother had been a nurse and a special needs school bus driver in both the US and Germany but changed her profession to make us more difficult to trace. We went to DC of all places and my mother worked for the DC court system. Ironic huh?
What was your experience, emotionally, as a young adoptee going through all this?
Honestly, I felt loved and free. A year after being in DC, my mom quickly realized that the public school system wouldn’t be ideal for me. I remember going to grandparent’s farm here in North Carolina. My adoptive grandmother was also biracial so I supposed I physically identified with her. I remember saying that I wanted to stay there and while I’m certain that was the plan anyway, they just let me think it was my idea. I was there for Kindergarten and First Grade. By the time I was ready for Second Grade, I went back to DC.
When I was 5, there was a funeral for the patriarch of my grandmother’s family. Everyone came home for it and that was when I realized I didn’t look like anyone else. That night, I asked my mom about it and she told me as much of the truth as she thought was appropriate. I will always love and respect her for that.
Like I said though, I was content. It wasn’t until I had a family of my own that I realized something was brewing beneath the surface… I needed more. I needed the whole truth. This had been my life’s mantra.
I was in 5th grade when I realized that my true nature was in opposition of my mother- of my mother’s need to keep certain things secret from the new people in her new environment. I was more openly defiant when it came to my artistic expression.
So art was your outlet?
And music. I sang and played the organ. In the 8th grade, I remember there was an art contest. The prompt was “Love is…” I drew an oak tree and said something along the lines of “… so strong that the barren oak could create acorns…” My teacher nor my mom could have children. At the parent-teacher conference, the teacher suggested that I redo my contest entry and my mom agreed. I refused because I believe that my entry was complete and worthy of being judged.
What’s funny is that I found my 8th grade teacher 3 years ago. She remembered and apologized- she was a new wife at the time and because she couldn’t conceive, she taught. It gave me a validation of sorts.
At what point did you decide that you wanted to reconnect with your biological family?
Well, over the years, I had acquired lots of information- adoption papers, phone numbers, etc. I had 3 appointments as a page at the Library of Congress. But as an info hound, I only collected the info but did nothing with it.
Until one night, I was in bed venting to my ex-husband. Eventually, he had had enough and asked for “The Folder”. Who knew that my birthmom still lived in the same place she lived the year that I was born? He had her on the phone within 25 minutes of opening “The Folder”. It was surreal to say the least. I couldn’t eat or sleep for almost two weeks. I was a chemist at the time and I’d go to the lab and do eight hours of work in two and then just hang out in “La La Land” for the rest of the day.
It took me three months to muster the courage to tell my mom & extended family. That’s when I also found out that I had siblings, one of whom lived only 100 miles away at the time! My oldest sister was preparing to leave Germany and move to Atlanta at that moment. They all came here for Christmas that year. We’ve never managed to find the other adopted sister.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about adoption/the adoptee experience?
- That we should be grateful for being “saved”.
- Seeking our truth does not mean we are being disloyal to our adoptive family.
- This is a human rights issue and an immigration issue for those of us that are international adoptees. I currently, due to several reasons, am currently not a citizen anywhere. All easy fixes actually- amended birth certificates from Germany that list both sets of parents. But I can’t get another passport until I give up a kidney. Mind you, I’ve had passports before. But there are 49,000 of us in this country right now without citizenship because of an archaic loophole in immigration law. Congress is voting on it in January… the saga continues.
- Adoption negatively affects the entire triad, not just the child. The experience keeps the global disenfranchisement of women & children hidden in plain sight. Both of my mothers were shamed for their choices and neither received the necessary support from their spouses or their communities. Both took their last breaths fighting for more.
When/why did you decide to start reaching out to other adoptees?
Because adoption is not a topic easily discussed with non-adoptees. It’s refreshing to actively listen and share with people of a similar ilk that already identify with the journey I’m on. There’s nothing else in the world like it for me.
How has Adoptees Connect, in particular, made an impact on your life?
It’s a community of people that are exactly like me in a very profound way even though we are all different with different experiences. “The most familiar strangers” if that makes sense. Pamela is awesome and I appreciate her ability to make this a reality for all of us. My group here is only 4 months old, there are only 3 of us… and we can’t wait to see and talk to each other.
You’re right, I always feel an automatic connect with other adoptees and never find myself NOT transfixed by people’s stories.
Exactly, nor do I. I don’t see myself ever growing tired of the connections. I’m 55 and I’ve finally found my tribe!
Lee Rolandi, Adoptees Connect, Inc. Writer/Editor/Publisher