This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting, amazing, challenging things. This is the story of Sara Jane and how her uncle adopted her.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m 24, and I live in the central valley of California, in the state’s lesser-known wine country. You can’t leave town in any direction without passing vineyards. I’m a writer by trade and I work as a lifestyle editor for my hometown newspaper. I love to read, sing in a worship band and obsess over Sherlock episodes. Also wine drinking? Yes.
When you were born, what were your biological parents like?
I’m not sure of their ages. Younger than 30, I believe. When I was born, my bio dad was deceased. He was drinking and eating with friends one night, went to bed early and didn’t wake up. He and his girlfriend, my bio mother, were heavy drug users and both had addictive personalities. Drugs and alcohol became more important to them than the children they had together (myself and my older brother). Plus, they both had mental health issues including bipolar disorder, which went largely untreated.My bio mother was homeless after her partner died, and she moved from one halfway house to the next. She stayed in motels with us kids when she had the money, and on the street or in a shelter when she didn’t. It wasn’t a great place for kids. The rest of my family, including my bio dad’s siblings, knew she wasn’t doing well. But they didn’t realize quite how bad it had gotten.
What lead your parents to consider giving you up for adoption?
It wasn’t up to her. The rest of my family, including my bio dad’s siblings, knew my bio mom wasn’t doing well. But they didn’t realize quite how bad it had gotten. Until one day, there was a phone call from child protective services. In a parking garage in Sacramento, a guard saw two children near a car where a family was packing up as he left for the end of his shift. When he came back the next day for his next shift, those kids were still there, underneath an overturned shopping cart. He called the police, and the police picked up my brother and me.
Tell us about your uncle!
My uncle is now a retired grandpa of seven little kiddos. But when I was adopted, he was a mid forties dad with three daughters nearly out of high school. He was married to their mother, who worked as a teacher. He worked in quality control for a major food production plant, and they had lived in the same small town for 20 years. He is a quiet man with a sharp wit. He loves his family fiercely, though due to his own mental health issues he had a hard time expressing it. His wife (the woman I call my mother) is the open arms type, hugging and offering food to anyone who walks in the door. They were a better fit as parent figures because they had stable jobs, a warm secure home, and already had children who were well adjusted. There were plenty of hugs to go around, too.
Initially, whose idea was it for your uncle to adopt you? And how did the rest of your family react to this decision?
It was originally the decision of Child Protective Services. They knew he and his wife were our closest relatives, and had offered help to my bio parents on more than one occasion. They had to turn the couple out of the house when they brought drugs in though. They had their own kids to think of.
When the phone call came in, my adoptive mother answered. She waited til her husband got home, and put her hands on her belly like she was pregnant. He turned white and sat down, hard. But when she explained, he only had one thing to say. “When do we get the kids?”
Do you remember moving from your parents’ home into your uncle’s home?
I don’t remember it. I was about 18 months old, and my brother was nearly 3. But the event looms largely in our family’s lore. Years later, we were shopping in Costco when my brother turned to me and said “See? This is where we got you!” I cried, and my brother didn’t understand. But it turned out that the day we were picked up, my parents went right to Costco to stock up on supplies. My brother and I were living in different locations after CPS picked us up. He was in a group home for children, and I was passed through two or three foster homes. His memory didn’t kick in until we were both back together. He’s been the protective sort of older brother my entire life.
At what age were you aware that the man raising you was your uncle and not your dad?
I always knew. It was never hushed up. I knew how babies normally came to their moms and dads, and I knew I had taken a different route. That’s been a bit of a trend for the rest of my life, but that’s another story.
Before the official adoption day, my brother and I asked the same question at bedtime. “Do we get to stay forever?” He couldn’t answer. But after the judge signed the papers, my dad knelt down in the hallway in front of my brother and me. He told us to ask the question we always ask. This time, he said yes. Then my mom and sisters cried, and we went to get pancakes.
Growing up, did you maintain a relationship with your biological parents?
There was no relationship, and there still is not. My bio dad was deceased. My bio mom was not a positive, healthy person to have around. She was in prison for drug-related charges for over a decade. She made some contact by mail and drove by my family’s home a few times. There was a restraining order for several years. When I turned 18, my (adoptive) parents offered to give me her contact information, but I turned it down. I have two wonderful parents, and I don’t need a relationship with a woman who gave up on her children.
How did this experience affect your feelings about the concept of family and parenthood? Has it affected your feelings about having kids?
It’s affected my concept of parenthood very strongly. I knew from a young age that I didn’t want to risk any chance of bringing kids into the world I couldn’t take care of.
I love kids. They are wobbly and clumsy packages of starlight. I can’t imagine abandoning one.
That meant I didn’t have sex until after college and finding a full time job, much to the chagrin of various boyfriends. I’m eager to one day adopt my own children along with perhaps having children naturally. And family is whom you make it. You can craft your own family. Loyalty is stronger than some mythical pull to the vagina that pushed you out.
What’s one thing you learned from this that any of us could apply to our day-to-day life?
Don’t ask an adopted person if they know who their real parents are. Their real parents are likely sitting in their hometown eating breakfast every morning. One’s real parents are the people who raised them, at least for me.
Another thing I learned was to not eff around with drugs. It’s not worth it. They ruin lives, especially for those of us with addictive personalities and mental health problems.Thanks so much for sharing your story, Sara Jane. Are any of you adopted? Or have a less-than-traditional family story?
photo by thomas leuthard // cc