On Dani Shapiro’s recent Family Secrets podcast, I listened to Jane Mintz tell her adoptee story, which included a reunion with her birth mother. Towards the end of the interview, Jane spoke about reading the story of “The Mistaken Zygote,” from Clarissa Pinkola Estés book “Women Who Run With the Wolves.” It’s about how the Zygote Fairy was flying over a town with a basket of Zygote babies she was out to deliver. She hit turbulence, and one of the babies fell from the basket before reaching the family she was intended for — the one that would have understood her, and she would have understood them.
I too latched on to this story, as well as “The Ugly Duckling,” as well as most of the stories Estés has in her book. Is there any woman who has never felt like the Selkie whose seal skin was stolen?
As a child, I didn’t feel like I belonged here, not just that I didn’t belong with my adoptive family, but I didn’t belong on this planet. My existence was a mistake. On the other hand, my parents told me they’d chosen me — that I was special. This made me afraid of disappointing them, of becoming the exercise bike that was going to change their lives but instead became a place to hang clothes, a shameful reminder of their foolishness.
It’s my sixty-second birthday this Sunday. Every birthday is a time to reflect on my arrival, first to one mother and father and then to another pair. The difference this year is that I have my original birth certificate (OBC), which gave me a little more of my adoptee story. I now know which hospital I was born in, what my full original name was, and how my parents were listed on my birth certificate.
The only time non-adoptees think about their birth certificate is when they need it to obtain a passport or some other legal reason. Maybe they pull it out to look up their time of birth so they can obtain an accurate astrological reading. For the most part, birth certificates sit in file cabinets, mashed in with a bunch of other legal documents. At least, that is how I store my amended birth certificate, which shows my adoptive parents names and the name that they gave me.
My birth mother wasn’t exactly sure what she had named me. She guessed Pamela. It wasn’t. But what really got me started on my quest for my OBC was how my guts rolled and boiled over the thought that the court and adoption agency had more rights to see the information on my OBC than I did. I wanted my birth certificate because it was MINE. Who better to have possession of it?
I had also recently lost my birth mother and was left with nothing to tie us together beyond my mixed up feelings for her. Obtaining my birth certificate felt like a way to have something from the very start of my life with her. I’d had so little time with my birth parents. I wanted something to hold in my hands that connected me to both of them.
I discovered that my last name on the birth certificate was neither my father’s name or my mother’s maiden name. It was my mother’s last name from her first marriage. So I began life with a non-related, stranger’s last name. Perfect…
Maybe this is why adoptees are warned about the disappointment of discovering too much of the truth. I also saw that I was illegitimate.
When I compared my original birth certificate to my amended birth certificate, I saw that abracadabra, on the amended version I became legitimate! How could I be illegitimate on the true birth certificate and be legitimate on a false document?
The use of legitimate is a legal term. The legal system does not volley with the underlying, emotional meaning of words. But I do. I equate legitimacy with being equal to other humans. A person with full rights. I have rights, but only those given to me within the adoption system. They’re not the same as non-adoptee rights.
A Rose By Any Other Name
So what’s in a name, the name you are given or the one you choose for yourself? A name doesn’t change the chemical properties or appearance of a person, place or thing. Or does it? Would Paris be the same if it was called Hooterville?
I’ve learned that my mother intended to call me “Patty Cake.” That’s one bullet I’m thankful to have dodged. But growing up as Mary Smith (the name my adopted parents gave me) was like being Jane Doe… perhaps fitting for a child with no real identity.
But now I’m Maery Rose — a name chosen because I was going through a divorce, and I was angry about my husband’s definition of me — the why of the divorce. That anger entwined with all the ways in my life people had defined me and tried to determine what my life should be. I grabbed onto the one thing presented to me that was my decision alone — what did I want my name to be after the divorce.
There’s no such thing as being truly in control of what happens next in life. I’ve learned this lesson well with recent events. But I do get to decide the direction I’d like to go and what attitude I’ll have when things don’t go according to plan.
As my birthday approaches, my thoughts are on my adoptee story. But more important than the story I’m given, is the story I create.