Illustration by Tallulah Pomeroy
Catapult‘s Adopted series launched this morning and I could not be more proud of our beautiful writers! We will be publishing new essays by adopted writers every Tuesday this month, and a later series will feature stories by birth and adoptive parents and siblings.
My introduction to the series,
At school, at the mall, at church, I was always telling the same story. For years, I thought its real power might be found in repetition: If I just told it often enough, then maybe, eventually, everyone would see me—my family, my adoption—as “normal.” I wanted the story that had once convinced me to convince everyone. I wanted to believe I could make the story serve me.
* For many of us who choose to write about adoption, telling our stories often means reclaiming them first—pushing past the easy platitudes, the urge to accept everything we were told and learned to tell, to get to the mixed emotions and difficult truths we might not have known how to express growing up. But not all of us search for the same things. Some might look to unearth buried secrets; to incorporate new truths, and sometimes new people, into our lives. Others decide that leaving certain questions unasked is what will allow us to find peace.
Megan Galbraith retraces her birth mother’s journey in
“Sin Will Find You Out”:
“My water broke late in the afternoon, around rush hour on Lexington Avenue,” Peggy said.
Peggy is my birth mother. She surrendered me for adoption when she was nineteen. When we met, it was 1996 and I was twenty-nine years old; she was forty-eight. We met in New York City, where Peggy had rented a room at the Fitzpatrick Manhattan Hotel in midtown. She said she wanted to be a few blocks from the Guild of the Infant Saviour, the Catholic unwed mothers’ home where she spent four months leading up to my birth, because she wanted to “show me around the old neighborhood.” I had given birth to my first son less than four months ago, and that weekend marked the first time I had ever been away from him.
Peggy told me about the day I was born. “I was trying to hail a cab with my ‘baby buddy,’” she said. I imagined two teenaged girls, both swollen and pregnant, one waddling to the curb and waving a frantic arm for a cab while my birth mother’s water rolled down between her thighs and into her shoes. “We had no contact with anybody, no family contact, nobody,” Peggy said. “That was a rule.”
“Guilt,” James Han Mattson writes of the years he spent in Korea, his reunion with his biological family, and the stories his grandmother told:
Over the next two years, I researched on my own, discovering the places I’d lived as a young boy. At Angels’ Haven Orphanage, I blinked hard while turning the pages of an enormous yellowing book, grainy photos of children past and present lining the margins. At Kyung Dong Baby Home, I stared at my intake paperwork, where my year of birth was listed as 1976, not 1977. At Holt Korea, my adoption agency, I talked to a woman who said that I’d been bounced around quite a bit, but that finally, in September of 1980, I’d been sent to the United States. In my small apartment in Gangnam, I pieced together my research and constructed a makeshift life for myself, joining date to action, orphanage to year, smoothing out my timeline, formulating a history, generating a childhood, and as everything slowly cohered, as dates and places matched and orphanage testimonials crystallized, I realized that Grandmother’s claims were most likely false—that if she’d wanted to, she could’ve found me. For instance: I’d spent over six months at Kyung Dong Baby Home, and during that time, Grandmother had lived only two miles away. Additionally, while my transfer to Angels’ Haven and other orphanages took me around the city, I returned to Kyung Dong before my adoption, so for many months before my overseas departure, I was right there, right within reach, a ten-minute taxi ride, a forty-minute walk, a quick four-stop ride on the brilliant new Seoul subway. And while it was possible that Grandmother had roamed the streets, searching for me in every possible place but her own backyard, her constant evasion of the matter and her insistent amnesia implied that instead of walking, shouting, investigating, crying, blistering her feet and losing her voice, she’d waited guiltily in her small house, praying every night not to find but to forget me, hoping that I’d quickly and quietly disappear.
I feel like I’ve been gushing about this series and the amazing web team at Catapult forever, but I have to say one more time how grateful I am that they’ve made room for these beautiful and important stories — I owe particular thanks to Catapult’s web editor-in-chief, Yuka Igarashi, who has made my job a breeze. I also want to thank our community here for reading and responding so thoughtfully whenever I’ve written on this subject. I don’t think this series would have happened without your support, and I can’t wait to share the rest of the essays with you.