I am an American citizen. On 11 September 2001, like millions of my compatriots, I sat and watched the destruction of three great symbols of this nation’s strength, the instantaneous (I hope) death of thousands of men and women who had simply marched off to work that morning, and I cried. My tears held an extra measure of salt that day because in my solidarity with my fellow citizens, I still stood apart. My terror has deeper roots: I stand on the same U.S. soil as millions of other people do, yet not by birthright or heritage or by choice. And I have to wonder why I’m here. Forty-one years ago the Irish State made a decision on my behalf to send me to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. I was one in a 2,000-strong wave of children sent to the U.S. for adoption. I have no doubt my mother had little say in my destiny, much less me.
As I grow older the whole concept of “destiny” grips me more than ever. For the record, let me state that my adoptive parents and my upbringing itself were lovely. But at age 18, I found myself in the same position as my own mother in 1960, relinquishing a daughter for adoption in Pennsylvania in 1978. And in 1993, what had been an abusive, horrid marriage to the father of my two younger children ended in his suicide. The bullet he used to take his life lodged in my face and left life rather touch-and-go for a few days.
My adoptive mother recently told me that the first few agonizing hours after she’d been contacted by the hospital and informed I’d been shot must have been eerily similar to those experienced by the thousands of parents, spouses and children who waited for word of their loved ones in New York or Washington on 11 September. She was in Philadelphia and I in Florida at the time, so she endured an interminable wait for a flight to my side. Would all this have happened had I stayed in Ireland? This is the question that burns.
I have always considered Ireland my home. Like many adopted adults, I tend to be rootless, creating no strong or long-lasting bonds with anyone save my own children, and never staying in one place for very long. I’ve bounced between Philadelphia and Florida, with a stop in Indiana along the way, three times to date. What brought me back to Philadelphia was not necessarily my adoptive family (although I do enjoy their company for the most part). It was a need to be closer to my now-found eldest daughter, Kerry, and her own growing family.
Moments in my adult life, and a few during childhood, have been inexorably touched by adoption. My makeup, good bad or indifferent, has been defined by my bastard status.
And now, as I wonder what the hell I’m doing here a scant hour and a half away from the carnage in lower Manhattan, I can’t help but feel some animosity toward a government that cared so little for my status as a citizen that they’d send me 3,000 miles from home. As if that weren’t bad enough, my quest to learn more about my birth heritage has been met with frustration, secrecy, and thousands of miles of bureaucratic red tape, government ineptitude, and disorganized records. Ultimately, the cold almost unfeeling attitude I’ve encountered with various agencies and institutions have left me with such a vast sense of isolation, I have to wonder where in hell I really belong.
Perhaps this attitude I sense really doesn’t exist, and the individuals I’ve dealt with for what scant information I’ve received are really just victims of a bungled system in need of radical reform. But no adopted adult — in the U.S., Ireland, U.K. or elsewhere — should be subjected to the levels of incompetence we’ve witnessed in the last ten years. And more importantly, the indignities we’ve suffered as virtual second-class citizens have left us confused and wondering, do we matter at all?
And just to remind those in a position or place to initiate reform, those of us sent abroad have even less in the way of resources or direct contact than our Irish-adopted brethren. So we sit isolated and very much alone, especially in these days of fear and uncertainty, struggling with the fact that our natural parents are now aging and less likely to be found or contacted without fear of disrupting the tangled lives they’ve had to construct to hide their “shame”. We’ve precious little in the way of support from agencies and a mountain of backlog to work against. I fear that without serious reform and a consistent level of service and support from the government or sponsored agents, we will gradually fade into obscurity, our loved ones long dead, and a chance at any claim of national heritage gone.
Our naturalisation papers say we are American, our birth certificates say we are Irish. What we are, at the moment, is without a home or any way to contact those who might claim us through blood.