Ahead of Mother’s Day, InStyle explores how women are navigating motherhood in 2018, from the role of the pregnancy selfie to new legislation empowering the working mom.

By Lisa McIndoo
May 11, 2018 @ 9:00 am
Courtesy

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a “Gotcha Day.” My parents never hid the fact that I was adopted and, in fact, made the day a joyous one with a special song, cake, and presents. What kid wouldn’t love that? A birthday with all the trimmings and then, a month and a half later, another party with sparkly candles. I always knew that I was adopted—that I was wanted.

I grew up trying to process what my adoption meant to me. At some point, when I was about 12, I started to realize that I had a mother and father out there who were responsible for my existence, just like I had a mother and father who were responsible for my getting to school every day and cleaning my room. My older brother, also adopted, invented a fantastical story for himself. Meanwhile, I felt incomplete, like a book with some of the pages missing.

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As I entered high school, it became less cool to have a Gotcha Day. Being adopted became a part of my “I don’t belong to anybody” attitude. I’d love to say it was a passing phase, but it wasn’t. I was stuck in that way of thinking. It lodged in my consciousness, and I used it as armor against the rest of the world. I had no roots. I had no people. I had no history. All my friends had dreams of growing up and having families with children. They all knew where they came from, their countries of origin and the story of their ancestors. With no backstory, I did not share the same desire to have children. I was a country unto myself—population, one.

Many years later, the state briefly opened my adoption records (which were previously closed) as ordered by a lawsuit, and I was notified that I could gain access to my original files. After starts and stops, I received a letter inviting me to the state capitol to see my records. I took my mom with me—the woman who had spent 30-something years wiping my tears, jumping with my joy, and watching me float on my one-person island, pushing everyone else out to sea. In the records office I was presented with a large manilla file folder. I unwound the little string that held the papers inside.

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Courtesy Lisa McIndoo

I had to sign a statement agreeing not to reach out to my birth mother directly, so the next few months involved letters passed between my birth mother and me with the Department of Children's Services acting as a middleman. At first, my bio mom did not want any contact with me, but then very quickly she changed her mind. On a spring day in 2000, I drove to meet her at the house she'd lived in for many years. It was less than 10 miles from where I grew up with my adopted parents.

I was nervous the day I went to meet my birth mother. I had lived a life trying to form permanent relationships but found myself unable to. In hindsight, I think it was because I’d always felt disconnected from my past. I wasn’t lonely before meeting my birth mom, but all of my relationships, romantic and otherwise, were incomplete, just like the story of me. Without a history of my own, it was hard for me to imagine building a future with anyone—not a partner and definitely not a child. I assumed that’s just how it would be.

Pulling up to my birth mother’s house, I couldn't help but worry that even though I had waited so long to meet the woman who had given me life, that relationship would feel incomplete too. But as I stepped through the door and into her arms, I felt a brand new sense of space. For the first time in my entire life, I knew my story.

As I developed a relationship with my birth mother, my heart began to expand. My world became fuller and larger. I loved the relationship I shared with this new addition to my family. But even more importantly, my origin story was no longer a big question mark. Digging into and revealing my history made me curious about my future.

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Previously, I felt I didn’t have a foundation that I could offer to a family. But knowing where I came from, and starting to build relationships with my bio mom, grandmother, sister, and brother gave me a sense of permanence. I knew where I came start, and I wanted to continue my story.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that soon after this reunion, I met and married the love of my life. I felt stable, whole, ready to built a family. I helped my husband raise his two boys, and we eventually had a son of our own.

My adoptive parents helped me become the person I am, but I’d felt like I was starting my book from somewhere in the middle. Knowing how it began prepared me to be a mother and to love in in a way that I never thought possible. I have spent the last 18 years marveling at all the similarities between me and my birth mother, my sister, my grandmother, and now my son. Within the past few months our world has grown even larger as I have found my bio dad and a half sister through 23andMe. The story is still being written—and it’s a page turner.