“Tell your story”: adoption in a family’s tapestry

For National Adoption Month, I asked readers to share their own accounts of adoption. This is from Marian Ward, an Arkansas reader (and I send her my Granite State greetings), adapted from a formal presentation she made last year. 

photo: courtesy of Marian Ward
The “instant family.” Photo: courtesy of Marian Ward

I never remember a time when I found out we had been adopted. It was something we simply always knew. My older brother and I were a toddler and an infant respectively at the time of our adoption. My parents were so overjoyed with their new family that I doubt they could have kept our adoption secret, but they went beyond that to actually recite to us a bedtime story that explained how we became that family.

We were adopted together in what I understand was the first dual-state, simultaneous, sibling adoption in the United States at that time. It still amazes me that our adoption ever happened.

My parents had been living in Dallas, Texas. Sometime in 1979, a church in Oregon requested my dad to come and be their pastor. There just happened to be an attorney at their new church who had worked on family cases before, so shortly after moving to Oregon, my parents were able to start the process of adoption. Their praying, waiting and hoping for their children intensified. Because they had been married ten years and had been unable to have a child, they specifically requested siblings in their adoption application process.

Finally, the call came. The case worker told them about my brother, and through some miracle knew he had a sister in the Idaho foster system. The case worker asked my parents if they would like that baby, too. Both my mom and dad say they knew right away that these were “their” children. On their tenth wedding anniversary in 1982, we became an “Instant Family” as the headline read in the local paper. Of course, as is common in adoptive families, my parents were surprised with a biological son three years later.

My parents literally told us the story of our family in our bedtime stories. One of them was a book called The Chosen Baby that had been given to us by another adoptive family. More importantly, we were told The Story of Timmy and Marian. There used to be a typewritten manuscript, but my mom now recites it from memory.

Our adoption was evidently discussed often and in many nuanced ways and was demonstrated in my behavior in early elementary school. I used to explain to other students that I had been adopted by telling them that my parents got to pick me out while theirs were stuck with whatever kid they got. Being an adoptee was so intertwined in my core as even a small person that I felt as though my situation was better than those around me.

I recommend that biological, adoptive, and mixed families purposefully create and mindfully tell their own family stories. It has absolutely affected and strengthened all the layers of our family and respective individual identities through telling and retelling. Families would do well to actually write down some of the stories of older generations so we can preserve a larger body of narrative history. Be deliberate in creating new stories. Families and individuals can find healing through constructing narratives of renewal rather than loss.

Source: Ward, M. (2013). The Story of Timmy and Marian: the Ward Family Adoption Narrative and the Communication Theory of Identity. Course: Intercultural Communication, University of Arkansas at Little Rock.