Words: How To Be Adopted

So far, I’ve shown you a bit of one of my short stories, and a couple of extracts from the start of my novel. Now I’d like to move into something on my autobiography, which is a little of me, a little of the stories I’ve heard, fantasies I’ve had, and advice for dealing.

This is another opening, on a topic very close to me: my adoption story.

grayscale photo of baby feet with father and mother hands in heart signs
Photo: Andreas Wohlfahrt (Pexels.com)

I begin by asking some questions.

How do you tell your child that they are adopted? I can’t imagine the conversations my parents must have had in the days, weeks, and years leading up to that moment when I was three years old.

I had been invited into my parents’ bedroom of a Sunday morning. Normally, I invited myself. As an only child, I was often lonely, so my parents were my confidantes. I would run in to cry, because it was their shoulders I wanted to cry on. I would run in to be sick, because it was their carpet I wanted to vomit on. Or, I would run in just to dive in the bed to be close to them. They were my parents. They had the food, the shelter, and the love.

I can tell you how my parents told me. That Sunday morning in their bedroom, when they held audience with me. The memory is frozen in warm light. It was prefaced in love, by reminding me of the most obvious truths.

“You know you’re our son.”
“You know we love you very much.”
I know.
“You know that’ll never change, no matter what. Because we’re your parents.”
I know that.
“Well, you know how you were born.”

What a wonderful thing it was to be born, mixed race, and adopted by a mixed race family. I would have only ever held unqualified suspicion; that I was half Iranian, not half Trinidadian – my parents weren’t to know, in 1989, how easily one would be able to acquire genetic testing services in the future. What a wonderful thing that they told me such a fundamental thing about myself – that they trusted me, that at three years old I would accept such a complex piece of information. Anyway…

Yes, I know mums and dads make babies.

Cue what, for them, was probably a very difficult yet cute conversation about exactly who was involved in my conception, using words that a three year old would understand.

At a certain point, the conversation came full circle. We ended up at the beginning. I was their son. They loved me very much. That’ll never change. Because they’re my parents.

Just because you didn’t know there was a hole there before, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Sometimes, we find it by accident. Sometimes, growing up, in speaking I would forget, then remember. But it didn’t matter then, because they were my parents, so I wouldn’t correct myself. I was at school, I was clever, I had friends. Better to forget it – how is that knowledge helpful? It doesn’t change who I am. Does it?

But how did they know what to say? They did, you know. I don’t think trained counsellors could have told me any better. I imagined them rehearsing conversations, with my mum comically telling my dad, “DON’T say that, Granville.” To get a sense of it, you have to say the ‘don’t’ almost an octave higher than the rest of the sentence, in the manner of a saxophone scooping up to it, in a Trinidadian accent. I wish I could transliterate it for you. Maybe you had to be there.

Time for an even harder question.

How do you give away your baby? To even get close to this one, I had to start with a whole load of what-ifs, because how could I possibly have any idea, whatsoever? How could I know what it was like to be a 20-year-old woman growing up in the mid-eighties with no sustained income, discovering she was pregnant 5 months in, with a father who manically shifted between wanting nothing to do with it and marrying her as a second wife? My birth mum would say, “I’m nobody’s second wife.” Damn right. Anyway. Too many what-ifs – but I’m already asking them.

You see, the questions don’t end there. Sure, that’s where they start. But once you’re adopted, the ‘hows’ become less important, and even those tricky ‘whys’ are subsumed by the tricksy ‘what-ifs’. They try to trip you up, those what-ifs. As an adoptee, I built my own prison out of what-ifs. Then I got angry at the bars.

I’m looking to hear from people who were adopted, about their decision to search, or not to search, and their feelings about personal identity. Please do get in touch through the contact page.


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