An Uncertain Beginning: Shattering Childhood Fantasies


For as long as I can remember I have known my birthdate is an approximation, not fact.

At some point, when I was very young, my parents told me that it was unlikely that the records from the orphanage were accurate. They explained that it was common for orphanages to make up information, identifying information, in order to  appease court and governmental regulations for inter-country adoption. To reinforce this assumption, the adoption agency my parents used said  that it was likely I had spent time in an orphanage in New Delhi before being transferred to Trichy., where I was eventually adopted.

As a child all the uncertainly about my past fascinated me. I began to wonder. I began to try to bend this uncertainty to my advantage. Most of us will remember how important age is to children. Getting to the point where you can tell people how old you are and knowing when your birthday is are exciting milestones.  I realized that if my birthdate was unknown that my exact age was unknown as well. You can image how much fun I had with this, not realizing  that someone would obviously notice if a kindergartener was going through puberty or something equally ridiculous. Nonetheless, my little mind ran free. I could be older than I thought I was. I could be 10! Or even 20! I could barely fathom the kind of dominance I would have on the playground. On the playground, age rules.

I didn’t just extend this uncertainty to age fantasy, I made up fantastical stories about what my first family was like as well. I envisioned them living in all sorts of settings. Most of the time I pretended (or hoped?) that they were bazillionaires, that they were the kings of India. My mind untethered. I wondered how many siblings I had, if I had an older brother, who I looked like. On bad days, usually when I hadn’t slept well or was hungry, I wished they would come in a helicopter and pick me up to take me back to India. Without a real story, I created multiple narratives as a way of understanding and dealing with an uncertain past.

Growing up I eventually pushed these narratives out of my mind and accepted uncertainty as a fact of my life. I accepted that my birthdate my not be what I had thought it was, I extrapolated and figured that since I had no solid explanation for the questions I had I should not dwell on them because I felt my life was hard enough already. I figured I had enough to worry about with one family, and so trying to process my emotions about my first family would just be too much. I remember thinking about searching for my first family and immediately wondering what effect that would have on my family. I figured they would see it as abandonment, resentment and rejection. I easily rejected the curiosity of searching for my first family in favor of not offending or hurting my family. I felt indebted to them. I thought that they had done so much for me that it would be rude or mean to search for my first family.

Its fucked up, I realize that. It’s also genuinely how I processed these emotions as I got older. I wanted to show my gratitude to my family for taking me into their lives, for taking me away from….from…..

………. from what?

I have always believed the helpless orphan myth (this phenomena probably actually has a name, but I don’t know it). The idea that 1) since I was put up for adoption my first family did so willingly, 2) they did not want me in the first place 3) they gave me up so I could have a better life 4) they never regretted the decision or planned on bringing me back into the family and so on. A lot of the ideas I put in my own head, as coping mechanisms for not knowing anything about my past, were based on the fact that my first family did not want to have anything to do with me, that they had put me out of sight out of mind. I lived most of my life with this understanding. I never really articulated it to anyone and no one brought it up or asked me much about it.

This picture I am painting may sound tragic and harsh, but I never harbored any resentment or hatred towards my first family for putting me up for adoption or abandoning me or whatever. I figured they would never do anything to intentionally hurt me and in fact maybe they were being selfless and trying to give me a “better” life (Yeah, I know,Still fucked up, especially since I have no clue what the circumstances were).

My whole mindset shifted abruptly about a year ago. I was sitting on a library somewhere perusing adoption blogs and read an entry about first mothers. I don’t remember the entry or what it said specifically. Reading that entry sent a shot of terror through my body. My blood started to pump and my face got hot. I wanted to cry out, to bury my face in a pillow and scream. I felt my heart-break as I welled up with sadness. Tears came to my eyes before I could get myself out of the library door and to my bike.

That blog struck a chord in my emotion registry that I had never even thought possible, I feel silly saying this now because it seems so obvious. This entry allowed me, for the first time ever, to humanize my first family. They became “real” people, people who could feel loss, could love and mourn the loss of a child. It made me want to cry. I wanted to cry for them, to mourn the loss of their child. I wondered what they might’ve felt as they gave up their child for adoption. It torn me apart and scared the hell out of me for about a week. I couldn’t think about it without wanting to break down in tears.

When I imagine this first family, my first family, I don’t picture myself as the child they lost. This experience made me wonder if maybe they wanted me to come find them. If I had been put up for adoption unwillingly or with the intent of being brought back into my first family then this family may be expecting me to find them. The thought tormented me, the thought that this family may have given up their child unwillingly. I reasoned the only way to know the circumstances of my adoption were to find them. To search, an idea I had never ever said I would do. An idea I removed from my emotional reality in order to simplify my life. As per usual all repressed emotions find the cracks in the vault you have hidden them away in and come screaming out eventually.

I have not started to search, nor looked into it reasonably, yet. I am still in shock, I would say. After 18 years or so of rejecting searching as a possibility it now seems like an inevitability. What started out as a fun-filled fantasy has turned into the biggest reality check of my life.  It scares the living hell out of me, more than anything else. I certainly don’t know if it is the right or wrong thing to do, but I do know I want to do it and that is something I’ve never been able to say before.

I am glad I have gotten this far. Thanks for reading.

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