Being adopted has shaped me more than I comfortable admitting. I keep these thoughts quiet. My mom and dad are the best parents. I was never without love. If I say these thoughts out loud, I’m worried it will hurt them. They won’t understand that the way I feel has nothing to do with them— how they raised me or how they loved me.
My mom provided stability. She always made sure bills were paid, homework was done, birthdays were celebrated, and dinner was made. This is how she loved us. My dad provided affection. He was always there for hugs, kisses on the forehead, and late-night conversations over a carton of ice cream. That was how he loved us.
I didn’t live without anything I needed. I knew both my parents loved me. While my childhood wasn’t perfect (because no one’s is), it was not my parent’s fault that there were imperfections.
But when I look at my parents who love me fiercely, I don’t see myself.
I don’t have their eyes or smiles. We are all white, but my skin tone doesn’t match either of theirs. My hair is different in color and texture. I don’t have my mom’s petite figure. I can’t bend my toes or fingers in the creepy way my dad can because his mom can, and my sister can because our dad can.
My mom taught at the middle school I attended. One year, they published pictures of the faculty when they were children in the yearbook. So many of my classmates told me how much I looked like my mom. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I don’t agree because I’m adopted. Even my friends who knew I was adopted would say that I looked like this picture of my mother. I couldn’t see what they were seeing. Trust me, I tried. No matter how badly I wanted to look like my mother, with her beautiful long hair and powerful eyes, I didn’t.
My older sister is my dad’s biological child, but not my mom’s. She is stunning. When I look at her, I can see her history. She looks like our dad. She looks like pictures of our grandma when she was younger—tall, thin, and beautiful black hair. When my sister had three kids, they all came out looking like her. Looking like our father.
My sister took me to my first day of preschool. When we got to the class, the teacher asked if she was my au pair. I was confused at what she was asking me. I’m white, she’s not. We don’t have any similar features. Because of this, the only conclusion my preschool teacher could make is that my sister must be hired by my parents to care for me. This was the first time I noticed that me and my sister didn’t match. I’m sure my sister felt it too.
My brother is also adopted, but from different biological parents. I’ve studied him my whole life trying desperately to find similarities. If we were in a line up, you wouldn’t pick us out as siblings. I wanted strangers to be able to pick us out as siblings. That’s MY brother. We spent most of our lives arguing, so I doubt he knows how deeply I need him to be my brother. He did all the things older brothers do. He would tease me or fight with me, but he definitely didn’t let anyone else. Since he is also adopted, he understood the need to feel connected to our parents.
Once, I wanted to run away from home because I was pissed at our mom (this would be the first of many attempts). I was sitting on the front step with a bag packed thinking about where to go. He came out and sat next to me while I cried. He was silent for a long time before telling me all the worst-case scenarios for who could’ve adopted us. Carnies? Fuck that. Stage parents? Hell no. Serial killers? The list went on… He knew that he made his point, so he picked up the bag I had packed, told me to come inside when I was ready, and took my stuff in the house with him. A perfect older brother, he just didn’t look like me.
Both of my siblings have biological younger brothers. My brother has a younger sibling, one that feels more valid than me. My brother is shorter than his real sibling, but you would easily pick them out of line up. While you might not be able to pick my sister and her real brother out of lineup as siblings, you can tell they are family. I always felt inferior to these other siblings. If my sister and brother each had their own genetically related younger sibling, what the fuck did they need me for? My siblings were all I had but they had so much more, something I couldn’t offer them.
My mom would always tell me that I looked like one of my aunts and some of my cousins on my dad’s side of the family. She still does this. I don’t know if she tells me this because she thinks it will make me feel better or because she actually thinks I look like them. I always agree with her when she brings it up because I want it to be true. I admit that when I look at them, I see similarities. Then again, when I look at anyone hard enough, I find similarities because I am so desperate to match.
Still, when you look at me, there are no matches.
I daydreamed about what my birth parents looked like. Do I get my smile from my mom or dad? Do I look like their parents? Do I look like my aunts or uncles? My family could all look at people and know where they came from and who they looked like. I was the only one that couldn’t do that because I was the only one that wasn’t genetically related to anyone else. That’s why I always felt like the odd one out.
The need to match consumed me. I can remember looking at strangers at grocery store and wondering who I matched. Could I be related to them? I started doing this at such a young age that I can’t break the habit. I became obsessed with this game. I would often convince myself that these people I passed were somehow connected to me. It’s weird navigating through life wondering who you are related to because you have no idea. I don’t think anyone can understand how it feels unless they are also living it.
I was 25 when I finally matched someone. After an Ancestry DNA kit and some social media research, I found my birth mom on Facebook. The second I found her profile and saw her profile picture, I knew. The face I had been looking for my whole life was right there on my computer. It made me emotional to see her picture. I had never seen myself in someone else. I instantly began to cry.
I sent her picture to my boyfriend at the time, parents, brother, and best friends. They all saw it too. They looked at this woman and they could pick her out of a lineup. I couldn’t even pinpoint which features made us match, we just did. I would eventually get enough courage to reach out to her and confirm she is my biological mother, but also be faced with the harsh reality that she wants nothing to do with me. (This would become one of several events that would happen in January of 2019 that would lead to my first psychotic breakdown and eventual PTSD diagnosis). She let me know that she never told her family she had me and that she never had anymore children. She promised to send some pictures to help me match myself with my biological family. She never sent them. I never reminded her.
She gave me the last name of my birth father. This was a missing clue I needed. My best friend did some research and narrowed down the search to one Facebook profile. I go to this page several times a week. He is not active on his Facebook. He doesn’t match as easily to me, but somehow, he is exactly how I imagined him to be. I messaged him over a year ago. No response. I don’t know for certain if this is my birth father. I don’t know if my birth father had more kids. A brother or sister to help me feel less inadequate with the siblings I have.
This is why I still look for matches in the faces of strangers. My biological mother’s family don’t know I exist. I look for them in the faces I cross so I can tell them I’m here. My biological father’s family may or may not know. It still haunts me to wonder if my matches from his side know about me. If they do, do they also look for me in the crowd?
I wish this need to belong didn’t take up so much space in my heart. It confuses me to know that I have badass mom, goofy dad, creative older sister, and witty older brother that love me, but I still feel like I don’t match. It makes me feel guilty, like I don’t appreciate their love. It makes me envious seeing my friends all match their parents and siblings. Most of all, it makes me lonely.