Adoption Life

Photo by sippakorn yamkasikorn on Unsplash

Three surprises came with my Ancestry results.

When my husband gifted me my Ancestry test kit, I thought it would be a simple thing; it was just science.

Growing up, I remember a night my cousins came over to get worms to sell to fishermen. In the darkness, we all trekked out to the backyard with flashlights. They poured a five-gallon bucket of some solution on our lawn, and almost instantly, there were hundreds of worms squirming up through the grass.

That’s what I think of when people ask me what I discovered with my Ancestry results. The following were the biggest surprises.


I have five.

All previous fifty-three years of my life, all those long days and nights, all the wondering about my mom, about my dad, never once a lingering thought about other children. Never a single moment spent thinking about their lives or situations. I lived selfishly alone in my adoption transaction.

I found my mother first, thanks to an incredible amount of help from a second cousin. I was stunned by the news of a younger brother who grew up with my mother. My first gut reaction was, “Why did she keep him?”.  Perhaps because she was older, he was a boy, and she was married and not living with grandma and grandpa anymore –  because she couldn’t do it again? I’ve asked myself all of those questions. No one seems to have the answers, and though she has been dead for twelve years, I am surprised at how closely her secrets are guarded by those who knew her.

By the time I started looking at my father’s side of the family, I was less surprised to find out I had older siblings. I contacted my father’s third wife through Facebook. She was astonished to hear my story but never doubted me for a moment because of how closely I resemble my father.  She had plans to meet my older half-brother for lunch that same week and asked if she could tell him about me. Of course, I was thrilled with her offer and looked forward to her post-lunch phone call.

My brother and his wife were astonished to hear about me. They, too, could not believe how much I looked like him. From Ancestry, I knew their father and mother had divorced in January of 1968. My arrival was still six months in the future; his marriage to my mom was still two years coming. My oldest sister was ten, and the youngest was six. Their lives were turned completely upside down by their father’s shock departure.

For the first time, I thought about living through the abandonment with memory intact. I’m now going to sound crazy for a moment. I believe our bodies carry a cellular memory, a memory in feeling. The kindness is that there are no words, broken promises, canceled visits, or waves goodbye from the living room window.

So many years spent awash in my storm of emotion; it’s like clinging exhausted to a broken plank left from the shipwreck that killed everyone you know. Then it bumps into another piece of rubbish carrying a survivor from an entirely different wreck. As you cling to your sanity, shivering in the cold and dark, you realize you were both hit by the same careless boatman.


But not my own.

My younger brother says it succinctly, “You dodged a bullet.”.

Perhaps jealousy isn’t the right word to describe how he feels. I’m not sure what the word would be.

I don’t know how to describe this realization.  My brother lived with my mom for many years. He spoke to her the day she died, and he knew how she smelled, the sound of her voice, her laugh.

He hated growing up with her as much as I did growing up without her.

The Right Place

As much as I felt out of place, unwanted, and misunderstood through most of my life in Idaho, the dream of growing up Shangrila-style in California was, in truth, something far, far worse.

It’s easy to picture myself growing up a latch-key kid in Los Angeles in the seventies, but it isn’t pretty. My whole childhood, I wanted nothing more than to make people happy. Hindsight and my little brother tell me I could never have satisfied my mother. I didn’t live it, but emptying ashtrays, getting myself up for school, coming home to an empty house, taking care of my younger sibling, I doubt it would have gone well for me.

When I write it, it looks strangely familiar. Going to school, coming home and taking care of younger siblings, making dinner for the family, doing dishes, bathing, and putting younger kids to bed, finishing my chores, then homework, then off to bed, completely exhausted. My parents owned a tree farm and nursery, and they worked from sun-up till dark most days. They were there, but notβ€”the only thing missing in the picture, the ashtrays.

That is a bitter pill.

14 thoughts on “Adoption Life”

  1. Wow…this is so powerful, Carly. Thank you for sharing this with us. You’ve been offered a rare glimpse into a life that you didn’t have, and that must feel unsettling. This is a lot to process…sending hugs, my friend <3

  2. I didn’t know you’re adopted. What an interesting read and an interesting journey you are on! Stories and experiences with adoption are always extremely interesting to me as I have four adopted siblings myself (we’re 8 kids of whom 4 were adopted). All experiences differ, even within my own family, there’s always a lot to unpack. I hope you can find the answers you need, looks like you’re well on your way.

    1. Hey, Esther! That’s funny! I grew up with seven siblings all of us adopted. You are exactly right, even growing up in the same house, we each had such different experiences. I’m just starting to write about my experience. I’ve scratched the surface but now I’m starting to work on the complicated emotional tangles. If you’re interested you could read my post when I found out who my parents were. Here.

      1. You’re one of eight as well! I’m number 6, so five older and two younger siblings. πŸ™‚
        I just read your other piece, very interesting! Thank you for sharing.

  3. I’ve missed you Carly, glad to see you here again. Wow, what a journey you have been on. It sounds like there has been some disappointment in the discoveries but I imagine it at least helps answer questions (with good or bad answers) that you have had running through your mind over the years. These answers lead to more questions and discovers, but you are filling in the empty spaces. I admire how committed you have been to this journey.

    1. Hey Michael, Hello. I’ve been silent a long time, I know. It takes so much inner work, more than I anticipated. Balance is a tricky thing. I’m glad to be back It’s wonderful to start reconnecting with all my old friends here. I’ve missed you too!

    1. Thank you. This is the kind of writing that takes a toll. It should feel liberating. I should feel powerful, owning my story. Instead it makes me sad. No one wants to keep wandering around the Bog of Eternal Stench every time they pick up a pen. I don’t know how else to drain it. That’s what it comes down to.

      1. there were a number of famous authors like that — who wrote repeated iterations of the same story. Anzia Yezierska is the one who always comes to mind. But I have similar feelings and really, I think (a) I want to stop thinking about this and (b) I want to keep writing and am not sure how it is compatible with “a”.

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