Interview with Sybil
I often hear or read stories about inter-racial families and the feeling of “not belonging.” Sybil brings light to a topic I’ve rarely seen: feelings of not belonging, within a family of the same ethnic background; racism within race.
This interview may be difficult to read. It’s easy to gloss over the “tough emotion” parts of adoption and to just hope that we’ll make it, that we’re doing enough. Sybil leaves no doubt: adoptive parents are responsible to learn, grow and listen.
And as you know, that’s what these interviews are all about.
Interview with Adoptee Sybil M. Ezeff
Tell us a bit about your adoption experience.
I was adopted at 6 weeks, a domestic adoption. My parents and I are Black Americans. My parents are best friends. They have a great relationship. Sometimes I feel like it’s them plus 1. I don’t always feel like a part of my family, because they are so close to one another. I feel like my mom defends everything my dad does even if he says something that hurts me.
Growing up my dad would sometimes make some pretty harsh comments, “I should have left you at the orphanage.” He had a short temper. People that know you the most usually know what to say to hurt you the most. My dad was somewhat of a bully in that sense. He can be extremely nice too. If you met him, you would think he was the nicest person you ever met. However, he has an issue controlling his anger. Whenever I did something wrong or disobeyed him as a teenager he liked to get to me where it hurt the most.
How would you describe your relationship with your parents? (Both now and when you were younger.)
When I was younger, I just felt I didn’t belong. My parents gave me everything imaginable. They say adopted children have one of two outcomes:
- We are abused
- We are spoiled
Even with all my parents gave me, I still felt extremely lonely. As a teenager, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I just felt sad all the time, and I had no idea why. Of course, there were good times too. My parents never stopped me from any hobby I wanted to experiment with. I took dancing lessons, music lesson, violin lessons. I was even a Girl Scout.
I think when adoptees speak about our pain or sadness of losing our identity and birth family growing up, other people automatically label us as “angry” adoptees. I wish people would accept the bad as well as the good. Why does my adoption experience have to be good only? Why can’t it be a little bit of both (good and bad)?
Do you have any siblings?
No adopted siblings, but I have at least 1 other from my birth mother. He is a year or two older than myself. My birth mother has not acknowledged to me she has a son, and no one in my birth family will give me any information on finding him. They all say the same thing to me, “We haven’t seen him since he was a baby” as if he just disappeared like a thief in the night. Whenever I do find a birth family member who says they will help me they never come through. They either stop answering my phone calls or just ignore me. This is a half brother. I know nothing about him except his first name may be “Eric,” and he may have been born in or near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is between the age of 34-36. He was not adopted through the system like myself.
Supposedly my birth mother did not want to raise him either, so she gave him to someone else in his father’s family to raise. They kept in contact throughout his life, but I don’t know if they are in contact now. I still don’t understand why he was allowed to stay within the family unit while I was given to strangers. It hurts and make me feel like I was not worth keeping or fighting for especially since my birth mother is from such a huge family.
The bottom line is that all adoptees deserve the truth. People say how much they don’t want to keep hurt. Guess what? The lies hurt. There’s a saying, “The truth may hurt for a little while, but a lie hurts forever.” Lies hurt, and they destroy. One day when I have children I will have to tell them how my birth family will not tell me who their uncle is. The secrets and lies will continue. Adoption is like a bad gift that keeps on giving.
Did you feel different from your adoptive family?
We do not look alike. When I was in high school, this bothered me; I worried what other people were thinking about us.
I think my mom was aware of it, because as an adult she has told me she knew I did not have an easy childhood. Yet, she never sat me aside and spoke to me about it. She ignored my pain.
My dad was worse than my mom. He ignored it, too. He was always the first to say how I could talk to them about anything, but when I expressed my truth feelings of depression I felt he was quick to tell me that my feelings were crap. In my 20’s I was still trying to understand my feelings and was brave enough to ask my dad to come to see my counselor with me. He said, “I think it’s dumb for someone to go to counseling for being adopted.”
He is extremely stubborn and refuses to acknowledge my feelings. Even today he thinks I’m fine with life, because of all I have accomplished. He doesn’t understand that I try to make myself feel important through my accomplishments. I bought a house. I got my Master’s degree. I’ve done everything that one hopes to gain of the American dream except get married and have children (relationships are hard). He ignores my true feelings or my true self (the part I lost from being adopted).
What are some of the things your parents really “got right” as they parented you?
They told me from a young age that I was adopted.
What do you wish they’d done differently?
I wish they’d kept adoption an open conversation in my home. Mom said they would help me search for my birth mother one day, but they never asked how I felt about being adopted. It was a one time conversation.
the conversation where they tell us we’re adopted and how our other mothers loved us so much, but they couldn’t take care of us. OMG! That sounds terrible! So, if someone loves me, they’ll leave me? That’s pretty much what most children get out of “the talk.”
For at least six weeks after I was born, I shook whenever I was touched. My dad once told me he thought something was wrong with me and considered bringing me back. That hurts. People always want a healthy baby. I guess they want top quality if they pay for it. The shaking was trauma.
I wish they had known or done their homework on raising an adopted child. Back then not much education was out there on the effects that adoption loss would have on us, but is that really an excuse. I know my parents mean well, but they could have done better. If not then, then now. My dad still refuses to understand the trauma of adoption loss.
I wet the bed a lot later than my friends in school did. I often had nightmares and could not sleep well. Experts now know that this is part of the trauma that adopted children go through. We don’t know how to verbalize the loss, but our bodies show it.
Do you have contact with your birth family?
I found my birth mother and her family in February 2012 after an active 8-year search beginning with only non-identifying information.
She refuses to tell me who my birth father is. She said, “It’s none of your business.” I am currently searching for him, and am hopeful that I will find him.
She told me she “wanted to leave me and go on with the rest of her life.” Whenever she found out I spoke to a new member of her family, she’d call me. The conversation always started, “Hi, how are you?” Soon her tone changed and she would begin yelling at me telling me how dare I speak to them. I think the reason most of them still have not reached out to me is because of her. Most of them don’t speak to me and don’t understand the trauma I’ve been through.
I think it’s unfair and wrong. The birth mothers always seem to run the show. The birth family seems to react to us however the birth mother’s reaction is.
I hate when I hear other birth mothers that want to speak for all birth mothers. They try to convince me how my birth mother had no choice and how she loves me. My birth mother has completely separated herself from me and has not made any effort to know me or be a part of my life. She lied to me and said harsh things to me even though I told her how I wanted to know her since I was a little girl. It did nothing to her. She is cold and manipulative. You cannot say ALL birth mothers want their children, because that isn’t true. We want it to be true, but it’s not reality.
How did you find your birth family?
After many failed attempts with search angels, I decided to just pay and get results. I get criticized for paying, but that just shows how desperate adoptees can be to find the truth. I don’t think adoptees should have to pay to find out where we come from, but I wanted answers.
I was tired of looking at strangers on the streets wondering who my aunt, uncle, brother, sister, or even mother might be.
In what ways did the re-connection affect you?
Speaking with my birth mother was another traumatic experience, because she was not welcoming at all, but I am glad I no longer have to wonder where I come from. The connection was okay in the beginning, but I started to see patterns of other secrets that people in my birth family were keeping from me. One family member would mention something that I never knew about. It made me think, huh, that’s interesting. No one said that to me before. They’re trying to protect her secrets. Finding them made me realize that I don’t belong anymore. I was raised somewhere else.
My birth family doesn’t understand my fear of getting close to them and losing them all over again.
I’ve already experienced that with several of them now who stopped talking to me. Our relationship was short lived. There were many nights I cried in bed realizing that they didn’t want me. They left me again. It was like a pain I had not felt since I was a little girl. Our birth families sometimes act like we should jump right in and forget the past and act like nothing ever happened as if it’s that easy. Trauma is not something you get over that easy.
People reading this may wonder why I keep saying trauma. When a baby’s born they know everything about the mother: her smell, touch, voice. To have everything they once knew ripped from them and to be handed over to strangers is traumatic.
The baby feels like the mother abandoned them. Of course, we have to go on to survive. I think that’s when the adoptee learns how to separate the hurt part of herself from the other part in order to survive. Yet, it’s still there in their subconscious. The effects of this trauma last well into our adulthood.
Everyone said how much my birth mother would not reject me and how she would want to know me. That was not what happened. She refuses to get past her own pain to give me closure. I no longer speak with her. It was too painful.
How do you think your adoptive family members feel about the re-connection? How did they react?
I told them a year after I found my birth family. My dad never believed I would find anything, so he was shocked. I told them about my birth mother’s reaction. My mom could not understand how she could respond to me that way. My dad said it is her loss. They know I spoke to other family members, but they never asked me about them or how I felt talking to them. They never asked to see photos or anything.
What advice would you give other adoptees searching for their birth family members?
Don’t give up. You deserve to know the truth. It’ s your truth. There will be lots of people who tell you otherwise. Ignore them. Most people only want to hear to candy-coated adoption stories. There are still a lot of adoptees who are afraid to speak their true feelings; they are afraid of rejection.
What are your thoughts on adoption in general?
Adoption will always be needed, because of the world we live in today. Children will always need homes. However, every attempt imaginable should be made to keep the child within the family unit. Adoption is a greedy business. Birth mothers are not strongly advised about the effects adoption will have on their children. They are told that because they are single they can’t do it and a two-parent home is better. Guess what? Adopted parents get divorced too.
Adoption does not always guarantee a better life. Sometimes it’s just a different life.
The first thing that needs to change about adoption is the secrecy and lies. Adoptions should be open unless the mother is at risk for her life. Open adoptions need to stay open. Adoption agencies need to legally hold both parties to this. I also feel counseling should be free and mandatory at least once a month to adoptees and adoptive parents as often as needed until the child is 18 years of age.
If you had a magic wand to “fix the system,” what would you do?
My way to stop it would be to stop the unwanted or unplanned pregnancies.
How do you define yourself?
Lost. I have two families now, and I don’t fit in either one. My adoptive family sometimes feels strange, and my birth family are now all strangers.
If your family was of different ethnic origin from you, did that impact you? If yes, in what ways?
We are the same race, but that doesn’t not make it easier.
With Black Americans, there can be a lot of racism within your own race and birth family.
American slavery told lighter skin blacks they were better than darker skinned ones. This particularly happened in the south and still happens today. Many of my white friends find this hard to believe and don’t understand it.
Although I was also black, my parents had more European-dominated features. Black people can have a very diverse background. Some of us may even have white skin. Because of how my parents looked, It made me feel ugly particularly since I went to primarily white schools and got teased for my “Black” features. My mom who was black had straight Caucasian hair, so she struggled with mine.
Being the same race doesn’t necessarily make it better. Some blacks talk about their struggles with white adoptive families. I had struggles in a family of my own race.
If you have the opportunity to adopt, do you think you will?
Never, because I don’t want to watch someone grow up with the pain I experienced. No matter how good a life you give an adopted child, the loss is always there.
My adoptive mom was adopted. She never expressed a need to know who she was like I have. She did once primarily for medical reasons. I sometimes see how adoption has affected her life in her need to be “perfect” for my grandparents, especially my grandmother, and how it has affected our ability to have a close relationship.
I wish I could give my mom answers, because I know deep down she is hurting but refuses to acknowledge her feelings. I think she feels she will betray my grandparents even though they are no longer living.
What’s your advice for adoptive parents?
Make adoption an open conversation in the home and often talk to your adopted child about how they feel especially on birthdays. They should see a counselor who specializes in adoption related issues. Not all therapists/counselors can help you.
This is a topic that is overlooked constantly in the counseling world. Adopted children often get misdiagnosed for being Bipolar. Talk to adoptees before adopting, not just other adoptive parents.
Don’t ignore the signs of trauma or dismiss the feelings of an adopted child.
Just because your adopted child makes good grades I school and is obedient at home does not mean everything is okay.
There are some adoptees that act out as children. It’s easier to see their pain, but the quiet ones are the ones that are harder to predict that there is a problem. Sometimes as adoptees we feel that we must be good or we might get sent back or abandoned all over again.
Listen to your adopted child. When they don’t say anything, that is probably when they need to be heard the most. ALWAYS REMEMBER: raising an adopted child is not like raising your own biological child.
What would you say to other adoptees?
Don’t give up on searching for the truth or feel guilty for looking for it.
Anything else you’d like to include?
- Adoptees should not have to choose families. There is a belief that if an adoptee want to find their birth family, they don’t love their adoptive family. That isn’t true. We’re trying to find ourselves. Please respect and support that.
- Finding a therapist that specializes in adoption related issues is crucial. Adoptive parents, please do your homework. Do not just take your child to “any” therapist. If that therapist cannot tell you what The Primal Wound is, that is a good sign they probably cannot help you. Finding a good therapist is crucial for you and your adopted child.
- Adoption search shows on TV are just that. It’s television. Those shows make it look so easy. They don’t show the depression we go through every birthday. They don’t show how some friends leave you, because they are tired of hearing about your adoption or they want you to get over it. They don’t show the cost of searching. Most adoptees do not get names or anything to identify the birth parents to us. Some adoption agencies charge us for non-identifying information. I paid $50. I hear some that pay as much as $500. Then we spend hundreds and thousands of dollars more on therapy, searching, and DNA testing just to find what other people take for granted.
Please note: I love my parents. They may have had good intentions, but it wasn’t enough. It doesn’t have to be like that for adoptees today. No adoptive parent has an excuse. Please do not be afraid of our stories or be so quick to judge us and label us angry. Learn from the bad stories and follow the examples of the good ones.
Sybil M. Ezeff lives in the U.S., is in her early thirties and loves animals. She has a Master’s degree and has written a memoir, currently in edit, and is working on a second book about African American adoptees. Visit her blog: https://adoptedoutmemoir.com/
Posted on April 20, 2016, in Adoption, Adoption = Interviews, parenting, Resources and tagged adopt, adopted, adoptee, adoptees, adoption, family, foster, interview, parenting. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.