Thursday, October 2, 2008

But They Can’t Have Blue Eyes!

An original post for Bridges

One of the best things that my parents did for me as a child was to be open about the fact that I was adopted and to share what limited knowledge they had with me. I have no conscious memory of finding out that I was adopted, I just always knew. This was pretty advanced for the early 1970’s, a time which was known for secrecy and lies in adoption.

One thing that I’ve never understood is when parents try to hide the adoption from their child. Like any secret, it will eventually be found out. And from the adoptees that I’ve talked to or blogs that I have read, where they don’t find out until later in life, it has been devastating. All trust of their parents is lost. And in the cases where they don’t find out until after their parents have died, a lot of time all information is lost too.

I can’t imagine what would have happened in my grade 9 science class if I hadn’t known that I was adopted.

We were studying recessive genes as they relate to eye colour. We had to fill out a Punnett Square based on our parents eye colour to show the probability of what our own eye colour could be.*

Both of my adoptive parents have blue eyes, which is recessive. I however have brown eyes, which is dominant. Using what we learned in that science class, my eye colour was not a possibility from my parents. As it were, I was a bit of a smart ass in high school. I knew full well going into the assignment that our family was genetically impossible. But luckily for me I knew why. Because my teacher did not handle it well at all. When he was handing back the assignments he pulled mine from the pack and used it as an example of work that was obviously wrong. When I smugly told him that it was indeed correct, he went off on a tangent about how my blue eyed parents could not have possibly me, a brown eyed baby. A few kids in the class were shocked, snickering jokes about the milk man and other wild guesses as to how I came to be. And the whole time, my teacher just kept going on, looking at my eyes, “but they can’t have blue eyes! They can’t!”

Eventually I spilled the beans. “Of course my parents can have blue eyes! I’m not genetically related to them. And this is a stupid assignment! I’m adopted, so what does it matter what colour eyes my parents have?”

I wish I could say that my teacher was contrite or apologetic, but he was not. He was smug in the knowledge that he was right. 2 blue eyed parents could not and did not produce this brown eyed kid.

I have shared this story with many people over the years, including adoptive parents who had not yet told their kids that they had adopted them. And still these folks were not spurred into action. They continued to live and perpetuate a lie, focusing their energies not on sharing the truth, but on covering their tracks and spinning the web of deceit wider and wider. Their solution to the school project dilemma? Tell the teacher that the child is adopted and doesn’t know and request alternative assignments for the class. I’ve lost touch with this family over the years, so I don’t know what eventually happened. One of the kids also had a variety of medical problems, so I can’t imagine that they could hide the truth from him forever.

Kids are a lot tougher then most adults. Growing up knowing we are adopted is in no way as scarring or damaging as finding out when we are a teen or and adult. The first time I told my son his adoption story he was 4 hours old. He was bundled up in a pile of hospital blankets and I was pacing the hallway with him. And he’s been told it many, many times since then. There are enough other secrets in my own adoption that I don’t need to make new ones.

* Science has since shown that eye colour is not so simple. You can check it out here.

Andy is the contributing editor for the Adoptee Perspective. She is also a mother through adoption. She writes daily at Today's the Day.


Lori said...

I can't imagine how earth-shattering it would be to find out as a teen or young adult that what you thought was true about you was not. And that the people you had always trusted had not been forthcoming with you.

Then there would be the asking why. Why the shame? Am I shameful?


Funny scene in your science class.

My name is Andy. said...

That's it exactly! Why am I secret? To me secrets fall into 2 categories: things we hide from people because we are afraid of the secret or things we hide from people for a short time until we can surprise them with it (like a party or a present). And a secret in adoption can only fall into the first category.

SeaStar said...

I also grew up knowing I was adopted - never not knowing - and it didn't seem like a big deal, just one good way of making a family. When I was older I learned more about my parents' struggle with infertility, but in the beginning, I just knew I was adopted and that was just fine. I believe I'd do it the same way for any adopted kid in my life.

Kymberli said...

This idea of telling or not telling runs heavily in the surrogacy community also, and it is an especially heated issue for traditional surrogacy and egg donation. I'm a gestational surrogate (the baby is of no genetic relation to me), and this is even a huge issue for me. It has been a priority that I have not matched with couples who intended to keep the surrogacy a secret from their child. I think that how children came to be is as much their business as it is the parents'. I completely respect some parent's decisions to keep it a secret. To each their own. But to me, it seems like the biggest like possible. I personally believe that it robs the children of a bit of their identity, even if they don't know otherwise.

I'd be devastated to learn much later in life that I was adopted.