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Adoption: Q&A from an Adoptee

On May 18, 1964, I was born in the Provo Hospital (now Utah Valley Medical Center). Two days later — if legend is true — my parents’ lawyer picked me up from my birth mother, who said, “Tell her I hope she has a wonderful life.” (I was there, but my memory was fuzzy, so I’m going off third hand information here — fourth hand if you include my just as fuzzy memory of being told the story.)

Adoption - Q&A from AdopteeThe lawyer took me to the Skaggs parking lot a block away where he handed me over to my new parents.

I like to call myself a “blue light special.” My dad doesn’t think that’s as funny as I do.

As a child my parents were very open about the adoption. I can’t remember being told I was adopted. I can’t remember not knowing. It was always part of my story and something that made me feel special. My parents had to go out of their way to get me. Way out. I was chosen.

My brother, David (4.5 years my senior), was also adopted as a baby. My sister, Nora (3.5 years my senior), was not.

[When I was nine, we also adopted an 11-year-old boy who had been in the foster system for a number of years. He only lived with us for six (very rough) years, until he chose to leave and return to live with his (jerk of a) birth father (who had put him and all his siblings up for adoption). That only lasted a few months when the sperm donor kicked him out. Robbie has been on his own since and his life is a mess. But the adoption of “hard-to-place” kids, is a post for another day.]

In our church, we believe that marriages and family units exist not just “until death do you part,” but can exist eternally. This is an awesome principle if you love your spouse and kids. (Not so much if you can’t stand each other, I suppose.) When Mormons marry, we are counseled to do it in a temple, where we can be “sealed” for time and all eternity. Couples are sealed when they marry or later if they choose (just meaning they are married forever) and children are sealed to parents (meaning they are a family forever).

If a couple who are sealed to each other has children, the children are said to be “born in the covenant.” If they are not sealed to each other — or if the child is not born to them — the children can be sealed in a special sealing ceremony in the temple.

When I was one year old (following Utah law at the time) my parents legally adopted me and took me to the Salt Lake Temple to be sealed to them and to my siblings. Nora, then 4, became despondent. After a couple of days, my parents were finally able to learn the reason. She didn’t understand why they loved David and me so much that they had us sealed to them — but not her. Although it had been explained, she didn’t grasp that she already was sealed and didn’t need a ceremony to invoke it.

In other words, in our home adoption was the norm. Our next door neighbors also had four kids, three of whom were adopted. So even outside our home, it didn’t seem unusual. Because of that — and because of a long-held desire to give kids who didn’t have families a real home — I always thought I would adopt.

My parents served in church leadership most of my life and were often in the position of counseling others. Because of their own infertility issues, they seemed to counsel an inordinate numbeer of other couples with infertility issues. Because of that — and because infertility seemed common — I always thought I would adopt.

As it turns out, my brother adopted one of his daughters, my sister adopted three of her children, and I — in spite of my history of miscarriages — haven’t adopted any of our six kids.

Although never in my 49 years have I had anyone imply that adoption is negative, many people think is mysterious or strange. My entire life I’ve been asked questions about it. So I thought I’d answer the most common once and for all.

Do you know who your real parents are?

Yes. They raised me. My real mother died in 2003 and my real father (nearly 84) lives with us.

OK, so do you know who your birth parents are?

No. My parents were told that my birth mother gave up a baby for adoption before she was married. Then she married my birth father and had children (more than one, but we do not know how many). She divorced my birth father at some point before my birth. They were also told she was in graduate school at the time, to the best of my memory. She wanted me to be adopted by an LDS couple, so I assume she was also LDS.

Do you want to know who your birth parents/siblings are?

It doesn’t really concern me much. If my birth parents or birth siblings found me one day, it would mostly just be interesting, I think. Although I’m sure I’d be nervous, I really don’t imagine I’d be terribly excited. To me they are strangers.

I grew up decidedly not looking like my family, so that’s the norm for me. It would be interesting to see familial similarities and to hear background information. But finding them has never been something that I was curious enough to do anything about. Given that I’m now 49, I’m not even sure my birth parents are alive.

I think I’d be more interested in meeting my birth siblings just to see what our similarities and differences are. You know, how much the nature/nurture factors contributed to the outcomes. Kind of a case study.

When I was in college I had people who knew me really well, mistake another girl for me multiple times. I never met the girl, but people swore we were like twins. It would have been funny if I had  birth siblings attending the same college (and not too far fetched given the ages of siblings and the share religious background (I attended a Mormon college)).

Don’t you worry about genetics?

No. We all have health issues and we all die. I don’t really think knowing I might die of X or Y will improve my quality of life. I don’t really think that feeling I have a propensity for A or B helps me reach my potential. I kind of enjoy feeling like my fate is in my own hands and that I can be what I choose. I also know that I’m pretty glad I did not inherit some of the health issues of my  adoptive parents, so I see having my own set of genes as mostly positive!

Does it make you feel bad that you were given up?

No. Honestly. I didn’t even think about it until we had our first daughter. Only then did I realize how grateful I was that this woman — whoever she was — carried me to term, gave birth to me, and gave me to an intact family because she thought it was best.

As I said above, I know how difficult, long, and expensive the adoption process is and I felt very special that my parents went to such trouble to have me.

How old were you when your parents adopted you?

My parents got me when I was two days old. The Utah law at the time required a one-year waiting period before final adoption, so I was officially adopted when I was one year old.

Does it bother you that you don’t know where you came from?

I don’t really know what that means. I came from God. What else matters much?

I think the fact that I’m sealed to my parents makes a difference in how I feel. I do feel I am where I belong, so the other stuff is just peripheral. As my adopted neighbor friend’s mom said, “You just came down a different chute!”

My oldest daughter just did one of those genealogical blood tests things and found she has a huge chunk of Irish ancestry. Of course, I’ve said that all along.

Is it weird being adopted?

ould I know any different? It’s not weird to me. It’s not weird in my family. It’s not even weird in my neighborhood. (I can think of a dozen adopted kids within just a couple of blocks.) It’s just the way it is.

Do you have any questions about adoption? Do you have experience with it?

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Holly Waterfall July 31, 2013, 12:46 pm

    I love your openness about the subject. So many people DON’T talk about it, and I don’t really know why. You have a story, and you are confident in your upbringing. What an inspiration to others.
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  • Stephanie July 31, 2013, 12:56 pm

    This is a subject close to my heart as our oldest is adopted. Thank you for being so open about it!
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  • Lisa July 31, 2013, 12:59 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story! What a great family you have and grew up with. What a legacy to leave!
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  • Paula July 31, 2013, 1:07 pm

    I loved reading your responses to adoption questions and think it’s neat that you grew up assuming that adoption was the norm. Several of my friends have adopted successfully, I just wish it weren’t so expensive!
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  • Lori Hart July 31, 2013, 1:46 pm

    As someone who met her half sister at 16 (didn’t know she existed until just before then), her birth father at 18 (again, didn’t know my birth father was not my Daddy) and discovered a half brother at 34 (once again, only found out he exited when I was 19), I can relate to a lot of your post and have been asked a lot of similar questions. Thanks for posting.
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  • Amber July 31, 2013, 1:53 pm

    Wow, I really enjoyed reading this. It’s great to hear these questions answered. I think it might be rude to ask someone these things, but it is nice to hear what you think of them. Sounds like you have wonderful parents 🙂
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  • Alison Moore Smith July 31, 2013, 12:56 pm

    Thanks, Holly.

    I don’t understand the silence either. My parents were careful about it, meaning they never introduced me as “our adopted daughter,” which almost sounds like “our not-quite-real daughter.” But they were very open about it.

    Since I lived in a family of brunettes and had flaming red hair, people would often come up to us in public places and ask, “Where did you get that red hair?”

    My mom would say, “We’re just lucky!”

    I would yell, “I’m adopted!”

    I actually think it worked well that way. THEY didn’t make a big deal about it, but they let ME make a big deal about it if I wanted to. I thought it was cool because people thought it was mysterious and exotic and interesting. 🙂
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  • Kathleen July 31, 2013, 2:32 pm

    This is so interesting to me. I don’t have much experience with adoption, but this is a very positive article that I would think would encourage people who are considering. I’m so happy that you grew up in a loving home. I’m also so happy that your “birth mother” was not selfish and saw the benefit of giving you that family.

  • Alison Moore Smith July 31, 2013, 2:26 pm

    Shout out to Stephanie! 🙂 Go adoptive mom! Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Lori, that is quite story! Much more “mysterious and exotic” than mine!
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  • Shelly July 31, 2013, 3:27 pm

    Well, I know I’m for sure happy your mom and dad went to Skaggs that day 49 years ago! Else, I would have missed out on knowing a very special girl and a very good (and very funny) friend starting in 3rd grade!

  • Jesseca July 31, 2013, 5:47 pm

    Adoption is something that we talk about A LOT in our home. It’s nice to see the child’s side of things. It’s been a huge concern for both me and my husband when we consider this as an option!
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  • Pauliina July 31, 2013, 7:40 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing your story – Your thoughts are helpful. I have 1 biological and 2 adopted children and love them to pieces. Each one was meant to be in our family.

  • Marco August 1, 2013, 12:13 am

    Sadly, it’s become decidedly un-hip for an expectant mother to consider adoption instead of keeping the baby. In 1970, 25% of unwed pregnancies resulted in adoption. The number now is about 2%. Society says it’s hip to choose single motherhood now, in spite of the damage it does to the child. The statistics are clear and shocking.

    No other sacrifice can hold a candle to the sacrifice a birth mother makes to go through months of pregnancy, physical pain, labor, self-searching and stress, only to ultimately override her motherly instincts and enable another family to have her child. I heard a beautiful quote from a birth mother, “If I loved my baby any less, I could not have given it to someone else.”
    A birth mother today is one of the elite 2% of people who are selfless and wise enough to give their baby such a gift. That is a gift that lasts throughout eternity and blesses the lives of many people.
    A birth mother allows her baby to have a new life not because she is weak, but because she is strong.
    I can only imagine what love God must have for these inspired, noble birth mothers.

  • Marco August 1, 2013, 12:19 am

    And I hate the phrase, “…put the baby up for adoption.” To me, that gives short shrift to the monumental sacrifice, wisdom and selflessness required for such an act.
    Can someone please come up with a better phrase?

  • Weston A. Briggs October 15, 2013, 10:04 am

    Our kids look very similar to DH and I. It has been easier because they were a little older when we finialized. AS was 4.5. We talk when it is brought up… especially as they grow they want to know how tall they will be. And we explain that it depends on how tall their birth parents were. Now AS will ask people if they are adopted, or if they have had their name changed. He asked my MIL that just a few weeks ago! To him its normal.

  • Kirsten Bastian March 11, 2014, 6:09 pm

    It is amazing to me how much of what you said is almost identical to what I have always said. LOVE IT! 😀

  • smiler March 17, 2014, 3:18 pm

    Last week, I sat next to a birth mother at the funeral of her son–the son she gave to another family to be their eternal child. The child survived only a few months. The chapel was filled with people, many of whom had not even seen him–they only knew of him.
    This birth mother had, due to some adoption procedural issues, spent the first month of her son’s life caring for him. She bonded with him, all the while knowing he was not to be hers. She could easily have called off the adoption and had loving family members help her raise the child. Yet she had chosen a couple hurting for the blessing of parenthood.

    This mother channeled her inifinite love for her baby into a gift that touched the lives of hundreds. While she felt joy and comfort of knowing this child was loved and cared for, she still felt the deep personal loss that any mother does. Knowing he will soon be sealed to his new parents, she tearfully asked me if she would ever see him again.

    Although I am a bishop, I struggled to find the very best words to give hope and comfort to this beautiful and wise yet despondent young woman.

    My heart aches for every mother who chooses to put the eternal happiness and well-being of her child above her maternal instincts.

    For all of you who were adopted, what would you say to this sister? How would you assuage her grief?

  • Alison Moore Smith March 17, 2014, 3:39 pm

    smiler, I don’t know how to assuage the grief of a parent who has lost a child in any circumstances. Is there a way to do so?

    There are personal tragedies that involve death and others that are even worse. There are so many losses in life that we can’t fix. God can. Eventually. But here? Not often. The best we can do, I think, is to move forward the best we can, sometimes haltingly.

    I’m grateful that my birth mother gave me an intact family to raise me, that she gave me to a loving mother and father very selflessly. I don’t know if my birth mother was distressed at giving me up, relieved about it, or some of each. But I hope knowing that she did what was best for me helped her just as it often does in other parenting situations when the actions we must take are very difficult.
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