Why do you have two mommies and two daddies? Can I have two mommies and two daddies?
No, but you have 6 grandparents.
I have an idea. If you and daddy weren’t together, then got together with another mommy and another daddy, I could have two daddies and two mommies.
Yes, that’s true, but …
Naturally, after the above conversation, my son carefully mulled over what I had said and the implications it has on him and what that means for his family. It’s difficult to explain the complexities of having an adoptive family and a biological family to an adult, let alone to my 5-year-old. Sometimes he’ll ask if Abuelo and Grandma are my “real” parents or if Oma and Opa are my “real” parents. Using that word “real” is arduous for me. It is a word that I have flirted with my whole life, a word that asks for an answer when all I have is a weak notion of what it could possibly mean.
His confusion reminds me of my own, which I thought I had cleared up 15 years ago when I “found” my biological family. The reunion was all very enchanting, almost a fairytale: my biological parents married 2 years after I was born. I had two fully biological younger brothers. In fact, I had a whole family that I was not a part of. The irony.
Abuelo and Grandma were young and in love in 1977. But, I’m told, the relationship was a bit “rocky.” I imagine if I were that young and pregnant, I would myself be a bit “rocky” in addition to the relationship. Due to the relationship I now have with my biological parents, I know that the scenario was nuanced with shame and obligations. Because I have trekked through and tried on notions of identity and sense of belonging so thoroughly since I first reunited with my natural parents, I recognize the agony and guilt with which the decisions were made. I was born to the Cerón-Janquart family in February of 1978 and was adopted into the Rademacher family in May of that same year. My body felt the loss, but as I grew, it disappeared from my consciousness. My brain kept the secrets of lost connections and cached it. As I matured, the unfilled feelings grew with me.
Once I turned 18, I chose to do something that I had always dreamt about: finding my birth parents. Alas, when I called the organization through which I was adopted, they informed me that the law had changed. An adopted person was required to be 21 before they could access identifying information about their biological parents. Devastated, I weathered the emotional upheaval. I moved on, agonizing and struggling. Finally in January of 2004, at the urging of a friend, I contacted the adoption organization again. This time at 26, there was no obstruction. I filed the paperwork, and I waited. I imagined it would be years, as such I put it out of my mind as much as I could. But lo and behold, 2 months later, the morning before I was meant to install my thesis art exhibition, I received a call from a social worker. My world collapsed.
It was through a haze and stupor that I completed my undergraduate tenure; real, emotional life took over. I had no more notions of things I wasn’t because for the first time in my whole life, I had a piece of paper–chicken scratch from my phone conversation with the social worker–with decisive information of who exactly I was, who I am. Trembling, I would finger what I had so nervously written on an extra piece of paper from the printer. I walked outside, and paced, as one does in the movies. I walked back inside and sat at a desk in the hallway at school. I was at my student work-study job at the school computer lab. I looked out at all of my classmates desperately trying to finish a design or a paper or a video, engulfed at the end of the semester. While I, less concerned about my final exhibition, I began to undertake the sincere journey of my identity.
When my 5-year-old asks about my mommies and my daddies, I tell him with such ease who they are to me, for him to discover who they are to him. I don’t imagine that the questions around my double parents will stop until he is much older and can more fully grasp the concepts involved in an adopted person’s life and in the life of their offspring. And maybe those questions won’t ever stop, but instead, they will turn into conversations and dialogues about identity and belonging, about secrets and revealing, about truths and frailties.
Complex trauma is, well, complex and also trans-generational. I felt agony while I was pregnant with my son, simply imagining my first mother being pregnant with me, her knowing full well that she would relinquish me to another family. I cannot fathom the anguish and pain. Knowing that I too felt that burden while growing in my mother’s womb and understanding the missed attachments that I experienced over and over before I was placed…strangely it gives me peace: I have a better understanding of why I am who I am. I have come to terms with the complexities that inform my self and my identity.