Could you start by giving a little background on your experience as a young adoptee?
I was adopted as an infant and grew up an only child. We lived in La Crete, Alberta which is a tiny town in the very north of the province. My parents were elementary school teachers and 95% of the community of La Crete was Mennonite (and culturally spoke Low German). We were definitely the outsiders. I was a teacher’s kid, and that was also different than everyone else. I only knew one other person that was adopted.
And what would you say were your primary emotions behind your identity as an adoptee?
I think I wavered back and forth between the unsaid expectation of gratitude and the rich fantasy life of imagining where my rich or royal or princess of a first mother was and when she was going to whisk me away and rescue me.
What made you begin your search for your birthmother?
I applied for and received my non-identifying information once I turned 18. Then when I found out Alberta had opened adoption records, I simply requested them. I wouldn’t say that I made a conscious decision to search, I really just wanted to know what my file said. It had both of my first parents’ names and I quickly found that someone with the same last name as my first mother still lived at the address in my file. I wrote a letter. I don’t even really know what I wanted to find. I suppose I needed to know where I came from-why I was the way I was.
Could you elaborate a little on your reunion experience?
I’ve expanded on this on a few different podcasts, including mine. I had a brief, four-month reunion. It was a very typical rollercoaster. The beautiful “I can’t wait to meet you” honeymoon period, the awkward meeting with my maternal grandparents, the flurry of emails and calls. Then it got complicated and I was ghosted by my first mother with no specific reason given. I have my thoughts as to what got to be too much, but I try to honour her by keeping some of that private, as it’s her story to tell someday. It was incredibly painful and I don’t wish secondary rejection on anyone. I wanted to know the truth and I found it, so I wouldn’t trade that knowledge, but the pain was and is substantial.
I’m so sorry you had to go through that. If you could change anything about your journey though, would you?
Yes, I absolutely would. I would have gone to therapy as a teenager and navigated every step (search, reunion, relationship) with an adoptee-competent therapist. But who knew about those back then? I certainly had no idea.
Certainly not I! If you had to sum up your adoptee journey in one word, what would it be?
I suppose I have to go with the word most of my guests use to describe their first meetings with a biological relative: “surreal”. The adoptee life can be so bewildering that “surreal” seems to best encapsulate that merging of fact and fantasy. It captures the jaw-on-the-floor moments of surprise or joy or grief. It often doesn’t feel real. It can be hard to stay rooted.
What do you wish more people knew about the adoptee experience? What do you wish more adoptive parents knew?
I hope that the dominant narrative of adoption gets torn down by the growing choir of adoptee voices. I want more people to truly listen to the adoptee experience. I literally started my show so that we could hear from each other, so that we as adopted people know – “I’m not crazy. I’m not the only one who doesn’t seem to fit in. I’m not the only one who struggles with identity or depression or wishes for genetic mirroring.”
As for adoptive parents – I stand with family preservation. I want mothers and fathers in crisis to receive the support they deserve to keep their family unit intact. I firmly believe in keeping families together. Adoptive parents can learn from us. They can listen and they can try to do better than adoptive parents in previous generations but at the end of the day, I want families to stay intact (when it’s safe obviously – don’t message me asking “why do you want kids to stay in abusive and neglectful situations”- you know I don’t mean that).
At what point did you decide you wanted to start connecting with other adoptees?
When I was navigating my second reunion – this time with my first father. I needed to hear from other adoptees about why their reunion succeeded or failed. What did I do wrong the first time? I didn’t want my reunion to fail again. I also sought out counseling but there was nothing like talking to other adopted people. They were the only ones who really “got it”.
What kind of impact has Adoptees Connect had on your adoptee experience?
There is something genuinely special about being in-person with other adopted people. I have made two incredibly important friendships right here in my city. Having the physical presence of other adoptees feels healing. It’s seeing the look in their eyes while I share about what’s going on for me and immediately knowing their compassion and empathy. That’s it. That’s the magic.
I’ve been genuinely so inspired to try and find an in-person group because of you all/the slowly flooding online presence I’ve found.
Online is great. There’s a lot of support to be found. But it’s sometimes too diluted. Easy to go shallow with many, easier to go deeper with a few. That’s one of the special things about my podcast – the actual voices. When people listen it’s an intimate connection with two other adoptees who “get it”.
learn more about Haley and the various issues adoptees face, check out her podcast, “Adoptees On”, here! http://www.adopteeson.com
Lee Rolandi – Adoptees Connect, Inc. Writer/Editor/Publisher