Saturday, April 5, 2014

On resemblances and regrets

 I started a draft of this blog in an e-mail to myself at work and when I copied and pasted into blogger the formatting got all borked. I tried to fix it but I stopped accruing html skills ten years ago. Apologies. So if the font is inconsistent in size or serif, please know that it bothers me as much as or more than it bothers you.

A few days ago M Instagrammed a picture of Roo at the Phoenix Zoo. I have looked at this picture probably twenty times because Roo is pretty much my favorite thing in the history of ever. 

Most people I know will insist that Roo looks just like me. I’ve never seen much of a resemblance; she looks much more like H than like me. But no one ever met H, and people tend to see what they’re looking for, and Roo did get half of her genes from me. But saying that is misleading, isn’t it? Scientifically it’s more accurate to say that Roo got half of her genes from my parents. The reason that biological siblings sometimes look nothing alike is that each person is the result of a random combination of their grandparents’ DNA. This explains why in my family, siblings look like this:

We're all white. Does that count as a resemblance?

and cousins look like this:

Definitely related.

If I were better at math I think I would have become a geneticist, because this stuff fascinates me to no end. 
Anyway. I’m aware of Mendel's laws and yet I was surprised when I saw this picture of Roo in front of the baboons, because I didn’t see a resemblance to H or to me. I saw a resemblance to my sister. My first thought was, sheesh, I don’t even look like my sister. My next thought was that here is this little person who looks something like my sister, and my sister has never met her, and probably never will. My sister shares DNA with Roo. My sister’s kids share DNA with Roo. From the grandparent-gene perspective, my nieces and nephews could end up looking a lot like Roo. And they will never meet. 
I wondered, for the first time ever, how the other members of my family feel about Roo’s adoption. I know that they think I made the right call and that they are proud of me (I think). But I wonder what they think of Roo herself. I wonder if there is a sense of loss for any of them. My oldest brother met Roo and has met P and M as well. But my other brother and my sister never met my little girl and I can’t imagine any circumstances in which they would. They have to have come to this conclusion as well. Does it bother them? Has it occurred to any of them that their kids share DNA with Roo, too?
My pregnancy has to have raised awkward conversations between my oldest brother and his kids. They lived in town at the time. At that point I’m sure the only birds-and-bees conversation that had taken place involved married mommies and daddies, or if they didn’t, the mommy-without-a-daddy thing probably wasn’t presented as a viable option. I know that my sister told her kids that they had a new cousin when Roo was born. And now I wonder, what was the conversation like when I chose adoption? How do you explain to a child that her cousin isn’t her cousin anymore? 
I wonder especially about my brother Christopher’s family. His youngest, Violet, was born exactly three weeks after Roo was. What kind of conversations went on in their house? My youngest nephew was still a baby when I placed Roo, and my youngest niece was born six months after placement. How will they find out about Roo, if they do at all? I mean, I’m a blabbermouth about adoption but I don’t know how my siblings have chosen to handle the issue in their own families. 
I get that parenting is pretty much all awkward conversations, but how many awkward conversations have I personally been responsible for? I wonder now. I never wondered before, but I wonder now how my siblings explained things to their kids. About Roo when she was mine and about Roo when all of a sudden she wasn't. I never considered or appreciated this burden before. I never cared.

I care more now, I think, and I feel guilty that it's taken me so many years to care. Who am I that I wouldn't give a thought for five years to how Roo and her adoption affected people other than me and Roo and her family? She will be 5 in three months, and yet this is the first time I have ever stopped to think about any of these things. I’m not sure what that says about me as a sister, or as a person. I mean, I know that I’m an inherently selfish being, but honestly, I should have considered these things before. I should have considered them many times. How am I just now realizing, at thirty years old, that I am not an island?

I wonder how much of my lack of consideration for this is due to the fact that my mother was adopted. For my whole life I have simply accepted that I share DNA with people I will never meet. I'm not just talking about my mom's birth family, either. I have cousins on my mom's side that I have never met, and cousins on my dad's side I've only met once or twice. I'm half envious, half mystified when I meet people who are close to their entire extended families. It's nothing I've ever experienced. Is that sad? It sounds sad, I think. I've never given it too much thought. 

But whatever the reason, I'm only now starting to wonder if my family is similarly blase' about having biological relatives they've never met. And I wonder if they include Roo in that relative count. 

I think maybe it's time for me to have a few awkward conversations of my own. 


Alysa . . . . and Reed said...

I could have written this whole post. It took me a LONG time to finally wonder how my sons adoption affected my nieces and nephews and the awkward conversations that were probably had on my account. Before I went there, I spent a long time being outraged that most of my nieces and nephews didn't even know about my son. Now I teeter somewhere in the middle wondering how many of them know of his existence and how that conversation will go/went.
As far as my family never meeting him, yes, I too have wondered how many of them actually want to meet him. Most met him at the hospital before I placed. It's a curious mix. My mother who knew him as a baby and saw many of the pictures that were sent to me over the years only recently saw him in real life about 3 years ago. Afterward she began sharing all the grief and pain she had suffered after he was placed and how awesome it was to see him with his family. The whole event left me with lots of the same questions you have: how would the rest of my family feel and would they even care? Who knows. But it still leaves me curious. And so you know, I'm at 10 years out and I think as kids grow older the more family wants to meet them and know them. It would be an interesting polling experience to ask birth families how many know or have contact with the adoptive family and how many want to have contact with the child.

Sorry about the novel. Just had lots to share! Thanks for putting it all into words - I so admire you and your ability to vocalize your feelings.

The Blessed Barrenness said...

Once you've had those conversations with your family, I'd love to hear their responses.
Sitting on the other side of the triad, I have had similar lines of thought, but for my side of things. How have my sister in law and my cousin, who is as close as my sister, explained to their children how Uncle Walter & Aunty Sharon never had a baby, never were pregnant and then bam, suddenly there was a baby and then 3 years later, again without a pregnancy, another baby just arrived? My cousin's daughter, who was 8 at the time of our first placement, was very curious about it, and asked me all kinds of questions, which I loved because I could explain to her the facts as I was comfortable with it. But I wonder what gets asked/said when we're not around. Children are naturally curious.
As for our birth mom's, I think of them often too, in the context of your writing, what are the far reaching effects for their families?

Mother of the Wild Boys said...

My mom never knew her father, so there are bunches of people out there that I have never even heard about. It is kinda weird to think about that...

Also, when I finally told my sons about their half-sister (whom I placed with her adoptive family at 2 days old) it was crazy to realize that my boys share DNA with a sister they might never meet. Plus, it's kinda weird to realize that she is the only person on this planet that shares the particular mix of DNA from me and her birthfather. Hmmm...

I think you should talk with your siblings about their thoughts about Roo. Family = Awkward conversations. I say go for it. :)

TTABaby said...

As an A mom this post also resinated with me. We have a semi open adoption. When Baby Girl was in the hospital we met her grandmother, and birth siblings. Last year we went for a visit and met her aunts, uncles, cousins. One aunt chose not to come (though her grown children did meet us). I was somewhat hurt that one of her aunts felt like coming to meet her was as if we were putting baby girl on display.

Adoption is a ripple effect.. Two sets of parents make choices (birth and adoptive) which then go on to impact each of their extended families. I think I sensed guilt on the side of her birth family as they felt they were unable to take care of one of their own but also sensed relief in meeting us knowing we loved our daughter and still considered her birth family her family.

Hope that made sense. Thank you for validating my thoughts from a birth parent prospective.

(I respectfully need to disagree with you I think the three of you look like family- sorry :) )