When Adults Discover They Were Adopted: The Ultimate Betrayal / Life Hi-Jacked
With gratitude to all who contributed…
Can you imagine finding out you are not who you thought you were? That the most basic things about you and your family were not as you’d been told, not true? A myth. A lie. Your whole life a lie. Imagine learning that you were switched at birth and you should have grown up with your real parents — not the ones who raised you. Or, imagine what it has been like for Kamiyah Mobley, who was raised for 18 years, never knowing that the person she thought of as her mother had in fact abducted her as an infant from the hospital and raised by her kidnapper while her mother and father grieved. It’s incomprehensible. All of a sudden your life is turned totally upside down. You are not who you always thought you were and the parents who raised you are not your parents! Imagine how disorienting.
As incomprehensible as this is, it happens every day that someone finds out as a young adult, midlife, or as seniors that they were adopted and never knew it. It happens and could happen to you. How many of you are adopted and don ‘t know it?
Some only discover the shocking news while going through papers after their parents pass and have no one to confront or ask question. It is more common than you might think, especially for those 50 and over because up until the 1970s social workers counseled adoptive parents not to tell their children they were adopted. Other adoptive parents report that they always “meant” to tell their child but never found the right moment while still others say the longer they waited the harder it became. These justifications usually hide insecurities and fear that if their offspring knew he or she was not their blood kin that they may leave on search for their genetic family.
Unless otherwise noted or linked, the adoptees who have agreed to share their experiences here were located on Facebook over the course of less than a week.
“The impact of learning as an adult that you are not the person you believed you were for your entire life (at your core) can be devastating. I don’t think there is a single word that can accurately describe what it’s like, but a few that immediately come to mind are traumatic, agonizing, and surreal.” Riess Family Adoption Reunion: Identity Trauma.
Mary O’Leary Wiley, a psychologist based in Pennsylvania who specializes in adoption issues, compares finding out that your parent isn’t really who you believed them to be is on par with finding out a spouse has been cheating on you for years. That analogy, however, only accounts for the feelings of betrayal of a loved and trusted one. It does not account for the trauma of total and utter sudden identity confusion; questioning who you are.
“I am 59 and found out [that I was adopted] at 52 . . . I feel so betrayed and hurt and have no idea where to start to look for my bio family. My father has old age dementia and says he doesn’t remember. Convenient. And his wife, my mother, won’t talk to me and says to never call her again. What do I do now? . . I am hurt. Betrayed. Where do I belong? Who do I belong to? I’m so lost.” MaryAnn Kidd
“For late discovery adoptees,” says Megan Mary, “learning you’re adopted will turn you on your head. Don’t be surprised if you feel dissociated and suddenly don’t know how to act around those you grew up with your whole life thinking they are your mother, father, etc. Even in-family late discovery adoption can be a major blow.” For instance, discovering that the person you thought was your sister is your mother. It also affects step parent adoptees who live the majority of their life not knowing that their step mom or dad is not blood related to them.
“My birth mother passed me off as her husband’s daughter. Played me off as crazy for 55 years because I kept questioning. Watched, from a distance as I went thru two different rare and life altering medical emergencies and continued to withhold the truth. A DNA test at 55 gave me the truth.” Barbara Pezzotta
“The discovery can happen in many ways, at any time, any place, and at any age. Parents or other relatives can inform the adoptee, or the adoptee can discover it themselves, sometimes accidentally. Some make the discovery over the internet, while tracing their genealogies, while looking through family records, and more” according to DaShanne Stokes.
Some LDAs say they always “knew” on some level something was askew. They just kind of sensed it. They felt like a puzzle whose pieces didn’t fit or with some entirely missing. Many report asking outright and being assured they were incorrect. “The evidence was all around, but none more compelling than the obvious fact that I do not resemble my parents,” writes Kevin Gladish, the author of the blog, A Story with No Beginning. For others, the clues were not being athletic like their parents and siblings or a being musically gifted when no one else in your family was.
“They completely disregarded my own history and my own human need to feel connected to people I am genetically related to by choosing to lie to me every day of my life. Every single day.
“From the day my mother handed me to my adoptive parents until the day I confronted my adoptive father about my true origins, there were 14,897 opportunities for them to be truthful with me. 14,897 days that they could have chosen to do the right thing, but did not. Instead, they chose to be dishonest 14,897 times. They allowed me to live my life believing a collection of lies and deceptions because they weren’t comfortable with the truth. It’s not something you can brush off and then carry on with your life as usual. There is no getting back to ‘normal’ for me–my life is forever changed.” Riess Family Adoption Reunion: Identity Trauma.
Like most all lies, someone eventually slips. Sometimes a family friend or distant cousin lets it slip assuming the person knew they were adopted, as happened to Phil Ruggiero Jr., who is credited with coining the term late-discovery adoptee. When Riggiero was 52, at his father’s funeral when someone said: “I remember how happy your parents were when they got you.”
Initial feelings are often shock, disorientation and anger. Often feelings of betrayal are wide spread when one learns that all their “relatives” knew but them. All had conspired in keeping the secret. It‘s life shattering and most of all shatters the ability to trust. Why did everyone know and keep it from me? The answer is loyalty to the adoptive parents. But, if they lied to me about this, what else did they lie about? Do they love me like they said? How do you keep such a secret for so long from someone you purport to love? Isn’t love based on honesty, respect and trust?
“The realization that you’ve been lied to for your entire life is something I hope nobody reading this will ever experience. If you are not a late discovery adoptee, I promise you have no idea how difficult it is to be in this situation. . . . The impact of this late discovery has been devastating on so many levels. My personal identity and ethnic identities have been shattered. I’ve lost the relationship with the family who raised me (a difficult, but necessary decision I made at the end of 2017.) My trust in others has been damaged.”
Gloria Andrews also felt that shattering of her reality:
“Since discovery at age 47, I struggled the most with my identity. Who am I? Where am I from? What traits do I have that are nature vs. nurture? When I found out I was adopted, it felt like someone climbed the tallest building and threw my identity off the top. I watched it as it fell to the ground and shattered into millions of pieces. Then I am left to put those pieces back together only they don’t fit together like they used to. I start to put it back together and I find out more information or I come up with more questions and it all falls apart again and I have to start rebuilding it all over again.
“Eighteen months later I still haven’t figured it all out and from what fellow LDAs have said, I may never have all the answers. I have found both sides of biological families and there are more questions than ever now as I try to get to know them better. Biological dad wants nothing to do with me and that’s ok but I have started a relationship with his daughter, my half sister. My biological mother is open to a relationship and we are working on that as well. There are challenges though. Growing up I never felt like I fully fit into my family, and now I know why. I will never fully fit into my half sister’s family and I will never fully fit into my biological mother’s family. That is the hardest part of losing my identity; finding out where I fit in and realizing I will never fully fit in anywhere.”
“Some [LDAs] find it brings them closer to their adoptive families and loved ones. Others experience a range of emotions like shock, denial, depression, anger, and anxiety, while some may have few or no problems at all. For some, late discovery can require a renegotiation of the person’s identity (such as resolving an identity crisis) and it can affect their family and intimate relationships. The discovery can have far-ranging effects, such as on a person’s medical treatment and family planning. It can also mean a redefinition of the person’s racial and ethnic identities for those whose true ancestral origins were hidden.”
“Within a few minutes my whole identity as I knew it was swept away in a sea of lies and deception that had lasted 59 years. . . I was not who I thought I was, I had been deceived; none of my life was real, it was all a deception, I was hurt [and] angry but most of all I wanted answers. I had to find out, no matter what, I would be denied the truth no longer. I was torn, could the people I trusted the most really deceive me like this? . . . was it through some baby swap that they were unaware [of]? No, when I eventually received the adoption certificate, their names were there, they knew, they were continuing the deception to the very end. . . . On that faithful Mother’s Day when we met they said “we burnt the adoption papers; you were always ours” that hurt; that cut deep. I showed no emotion to it, it ripped me apart inside, as they squabbled about when and where they had actually burnt them as if it was really relevant. I was a commodity to be owned and traded, nothing mattered so long as they had what they wanted.
“I liken my life to building a house, no matter how nice the house is, it may be a mansion with all the trimmings that money can buy, but if the foundations are flawed, then one day, it will end in a pile of rubble. This is how I see my life, I am searching through the rubble looking for the salvageable pieces and cementing them with the new to rebuild an identity. The scars are still evident as the pieces don’t fit together perfectly, the trust is gone and cannot be replaced, the word love is tainted as a selfish emotion. The people who I should have trusted, chose never to tell me, constantly reinforced the fabrication even in a medical emergency with a genetic condition it was still denied. . . It is abhorrent that someone would conceive such a thing. I feel that I was and still am a commodity to make someone else’s family whole, no thought was ever given to how this would affect me, I feel violated, I feel manipulated, I feel my life was/is controlled by adopted parents, governments past and present, to add salt the wound, society as a whole applauds adoption . . .” Peter Capomolla Moore
Lest you think that “knowing” you are adopted resolves all the pain and grief, you are greatly mistaken. Even those who have “always known” they were adopted often do not find blood kin until much later in life and deal with issues of abandonment and rejection. Janet Nordine, describes herself as an adopted person and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who always knew she was adopted. She says:
“I also have always known I was adopted. I have also always known I was taken away from my mother at birth. These two facts seem separate to me. My coming to know I was adopted took some time.
“Born. Taken away. Placed. Taken away. Placed. Taken away. Placed. Adopted.
“Told I was adopted. Figured out what this word meant by watching others who were not adopted. Spent my childhood making up stories about why I was adopted. Making up stories about who my birth mother might me. Making up stories to placate the non-adopted as to why I was adopted so I wouldn’t feel like such a square peg in a round life.
“And so on and so forth until the weight of the making up the stories got so heavy that I went off to find the truth, my truth of who I came from.”
Finding out that you’re adopted can have extreme and devastating affects as in the case of Jonathan O’Driscoll of County Cork, Ireland who stabbed his two brothers to death before committing suicide. O’Driscoll, 21, learned that he was adopted and his 9-year-old twin brothers were born to their parents before killing them and himself.
Is there any “good” time to reveal that one is being raised by an adoptive family, not the one they were born into? No.
“I only found out that I was adopted when I was about 12 years old. It was a shock, as if I was being suddenly dislocated to Mars.”
While there is no good time, it will sting a bit less and not have the addition of betrayal if told sooner rather than later or never at all. But it will suck no matter when and adoptive parents need to recognize and acknowledge that with the assurance of their love in words and behavior, there is a deep-seated primal wound suffered by all adoptee for having been separated from and deprives knowledge of their kin, their origins, their roots, their heritage, their blood-line. And this will be true even for those in open adoptions who have the ability to see themselves reflected in the faces around them but are need to accept exactly why they were not able to remain with family who has the capacity to stay in touch. Open or closed; told early on or discovered by chance later in life — being adopted is a challenge to one’s self-esteem and identity formation. It is always less than ideal no matter when the big reveal takes place.
We need to recognize these burdens of this legally sanctioned abandonment we subject individuals to; and we need to stop telling expectant mothers that it is in their child’s best interest, because it is not. It might be necessary to protect a child from harm, but so-called “voluntary” surrenders should never be encouraged. Adoption is not a guarantee of a “better life” only a different one and one filled with challenges.
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