Unlocking origins: Adoptees advocate for more resources

July 2019 Posted in Community, People, Your Health

By Melissa Wagoner

Laura Antonson and Tyler Boland have two fundamental things in common; they both love plants – Antonson is a Landscape Design Architect and Boland is the Horticulture Manager at the Oregon Garden – and they are both adopted – a fact they have both struggled with.

“It’s uncomfortable growing up and copying someone else’s family tree, wondering where you fit in,” Antonson admitted. “There were times I thought, please just let me be their child because I have no roots. I couldn’t say the word ‘adoption’ until my mid-twenties. It was triggering and terrifying.”

As a child, Antonson struggled in silence with her feelings about adoption. Although her sister was also adopted, they rarely talked about it. And despite her parents’ insistence that she was free to ask questions, she sensed that wasn’t necessarily true. Instead she felt stigmatized and alone. So whenever possible she hid
her status.

“How are you supposed to feel when society says, ‘Isn’t it a blessing that someone adopted you?’” she asked. “Then why do I feel so bad inside?”

Boland remembered feeling similarly isolated. As an adoptee with three younger sisters, who are related by blood to his adoptive parents, he struggled with feelings of isolation. 

“Being adopted has always made me feel a bit alienated from the remainder of my family,” he admitted. “It was something that was always brought to my attention as a young person. I felt really weird about it and closed off for a long time.”

Although Boland and Antonson have known they were adopted from an early age, both adoptions were closed, with very little information being given about their birth parents. Boland knew only that his birth mother was young at the time of his birth and was unable to care for him. Antonson knew slightly more.

“It was non-identifying information,” she said of the facts she received. “But I mean, it was done in the moment and emotional.”

Despite the questions they both had surrounding their birth and subsequent adoptions, neither Boland nor Antonson ever actually planned to search for their biological families. Unfortunately, for Boland that decision was taken out of his hands when he was gifted the contact information for his biological mother by his ex-wife at age 28.

“She presented me with the information in one big dump,” he said. “After coming to terms with everything, I sent an email to my bio mother stating who I was. It got super weird and very emotional.”

For the next four years Boland and his birth mother kept in close contact but then things fell apart.

“I felt a great amount of pain and sorrow,” Boland summarized. “The whole experience opened up a world that has still yet to fully heal.”

Now, although Boland has the necessary information to also contact his biological father, he said he has no plans to do so.

“I have decided to leave this alone,” he said. “I feel as though it will bring only more pain, confusion and disruption to my life.”

For Antonson the decision to find her biological parents was a more personal one. It came about in June 2018 when she recognized some of the emotional turbulence she had been experiencing was stemming from her adoption.

“When I realized it was the adoption triggering my absolute, chronic anxiety and panic attacks, then I had to do something,” she said. “It just suddenly became really, really important to deal with these feelings.”

Subsequent research for adoptee support groups led Antonson to attend the “Beyond Adoption: You” retreat that winter – a decision that has changed her life.

“I had never been around a group of adoptees,” she said. “I got lots of information and resources that I didn’t realize existed. I cried in front of people – and I never cry in front of people.”

The conference also convinced Antonson that she needed to seek concrete answers to her birth story. 

“They use this term, ‘coming out of the fog,’ where you realize this isn’t some happy-go-lucky fairy tale and you start questioning,” she said. 

Armed with a new sense of purpose, Antonson decided to pursue finding her birth-family through genetic testing, not just to find out, once and for all, who her birth family is, but also to unlock her own medical history for her sons, Thomas and Allen.

“I’m 38 years-old,” she said.  “Why should I not know my medical history?”

Even so, it took Antonson several months to take the tests. 

“What I worried about is hurting people, and that’s classic adoptee,” she said. 

Once the tests came back, Antonson worked through them methodically, with more than a little trepidation.

“It’s so mixed with fear and rejection that I’m really trying to take it as one contact at a time,” she said.

So far, the results are decidedly mixed. Photos and a letter to her birth mother have garnered no response. But contact with a maternal aunt and a paternal cousin have been extremely positive and yielded the answers to many of her questions. 

“Even with my birth mother’s refusal to connect, I am stunned by the kindness my cousin and my aunt have shown me – it’s like I’m a deserving human being,” she said.

One of Antonson’s greatest wishes, looking back on the struggle of the past several years, is that she had had more resources to deal with her feelings about being adopted earlier in life and that her family, and society in general, were more open to discussing the negative side of being an adoptee.

“I think it’s addressing the trauma instead of ignoring it,” she pointed out.

One resource that both Antonson and Boland agree has been especially beneficial for them is counseling. 

“I can say nothing but good things about my personal path of counselling and self-improvement,” Boland said. “It has assisted in my acceptance of the topic. If you have issues with your experience, I can say nothing but positive things about reaching out and speaking with a trusted counselor. It will assist you with patterns of thinking regarding the topic and help you with your acceptance of the situation.”

“I want people to be aware that there’s a grief part of adoption,” Antonson continued. “Babies don’t know how to grieve and as adopted children growing up, we don’t know how to do that. I almost can’t stress enough how difficult adoption is for the adoptee and no one gives them a voice.”

Both also suggest using discretion when seeking out biological family.

“Though each person has their own experience, it will open up wounds not only to yourself, but also the ones who put you up for adoption,” Boland cautioned. “My biological mother was forced by her parents to carry me and put me up as soon as I was born. This experience brought up a lot for her that she thought she had left behind.”

“I think a lot of people assume that when they find their birth family everything will be fine,” Antonson added. “But that’s
not true.”

Finally, for adoptive parents Boland advised, “Make sure you treat your adopted children the same way you treat your blood children, if there are any.”

And both Boland and Antonson are advocates for honesty and openness throughout the adoption process.

“I feel as though it is a good thing to tell them when they are small about the whole process,” Boland said. “I have heard of numerous stories of people who found out they were adopted when they reach adulthood. This never turns out good and will most likely alienate the child from the parents indefinitely.”

Antonson agreed adding, “I think it’s addressing the trauma instead of ignoring it. I wish it weren’t so secretive and emotional.”

But even with the difficulties being adopted has posed for them both, Antonson and Boland don’t view adoption as entirely negative.

“It doesn’t mean adoption’s not necessary, it just means that trauma is involved.” Antonson stressed. “That’s what the Department of Human Services is great at here, is saying you have to recognize there’s trauma here and you have to parent differently.”

“We are fortunate to live in a country where there is a tremendous vetting process for potential parents of adoptive children,” Boland added. “My adoptive parents went through a great deal of personal and financial struggle in
bringing me in to their life. For that I am eternally grateful.”

Adoptee Resources

Podcast: www.adopteeson.com

The Primal Wound: Understanding the
Adopted Child
by Nancy Newton Verrier
•  The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.

• www.facebook.com/beyondadoption
• Silverton Adoptee Community

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