Friday, November 16, 2018

An Unusual Adoption

Happy National Adoption Month:  To promote awareness for children in foster care in the United States. It began  as National Adoption Week in 1976 by Governor Michael Dukakis and it was declared by President Reagan in 1984. Then it was expanded to a whole month by President Clinton.

The Adoption Series will feature those in the adoption triad: The Birth Family, Adoptee, Adoptive Family. There may be differing opinions among those in the adoption community and that is ok. It is important to respect other's opinions/experiences and sometimes one can learn from someone's different opinions/experiences

This week in The Adoption Series: The Adoptee.  Juliette Sebock is the founder of lifestyle blog, For the Sake of Good Taste. She is a poet and writer as well as a full-time blogger and influencer. In addition to the blog, she has created content for Her Campus and The Mighty and has poems and other creative pieces in a variety of outlets.  She is the author of a poetry chapbook, Mistakes Were Made. You can find Juliette at For the Sake of Good Taste or on social media. Please Remember that this doesn't represent all adoptee's experiences or opinions. This post only represents Juliette's experiences and opinions.
Within a few years of my coming into the world, my biological father decided he didn't want to be a part of my life.  I won't lie--this almost cliche story has bothered me over the years, but I've been lucky, nevertheless. For years, my mom was the best, Gilmore Girls-esque single mom a girl could ask for.  To this day, I'm remarkably close to both her and her extended family and I'm truly grateful for the time we spent together, just her and I. 
Around the time I entered kindergarten, she had met someone, a man named Chris.  She'd had a few boyfriends before, but I can't say I remember any of them now.  Chris was different--Chris stayed around.  They got married a few years later, my younger sister was born, and things changed forever.
As their relationship got more serious, the topic of him adopting me--officially--came up time and again.  He had grown up in a large Czech-Italian family and understood how important family is, in all its forms.
However, there was something else that had an impact on this decision.  In the midst of all of this, my biological grandparents had decided that, despite their son's negligence, they deserved to have a place in my life.  In their eyes, that meant buying that place--first through a lawyer who could finagle a warped custody agreement that forced me to visit them, then with a string of gifts that they believed would win them a place in my heart.  
At the same time, they spent these years trying to turn me against what I consider to be my "real" family.  Not-so-subtle remarks against my homelife and outrageous restrictions amounted almost a decade of emotional abuse.  Thanks to the legal situation, it took until I was thirteen to feel that I could confront them and insist upon cutting off these visits--for all intents and purposes, I hadn't had a valid opinion as a younger child.  
They continued to harass me for years after (and still to this day), but there was one thing that I still couldn't escape from--my birth name.  My mom had had a particularly difficult birth and almost died in the process of having me; so they and their son named me after other family members, with his surname.  
Between his own absenteeism and their years of abuse, this name haunted me through high school and into college.  From the elementary school gym teacher who called everyone by their last name to first-day roll calls, I was struck time and again by memories and relived the trauma.  
So, this was a huge factor in my adoption story: I needed to escape this too, for my own mental health.  But, as time went on, other financial matters took precedence. After all, no one doubted that I was part of the family, despite the name I had to go by.  Where it mattered, I was already "adopted." The cost of making it legally official was an awful lot to our family.  My grandfather---Dad's dad, Chris' dad---wanted to make it happen, but passed away before he could do so.
When I turned 18, it became even less crucial, in a rational sense, to legalise my adoption.  Once I was no longer a minor, it had little bearing in a legal sense. But I still found myself trying to escape the past and the name that forced me to relive it time and again.  
So, I took matters into my own hands as a junior in college.  After months of research, I found out how to legally take Dad's last name and went to court to change my name officially.  It still cost more than I liked spending, but it was worth it to be an "official" Sebock--legally. 
I changed my first name to Juliette (which is similar enough to the former name to continue using my nickname, Jules), too.  To those that don't know this entire story, it's perplexing--people still call me by the wrong name without knowing better, and some even think I only use it as a pen name, since my first book came out not long after the name change was legitimised.  But, to me, this was an equally important part.  When I moved to the UK and entered my new programme, everyone there knew me as Juliette, or Jules. It was the new start I'd needed throughout my entire life.
I kept my middle name, but not because of any affinity for the people that had given it to me. Rather, I'd used it as my "confirmation" name when my mom and I converted to Catholicism to join our family (Dad's family's, originally) church. My grandfather and aunt served as our sponsors and it was one of the earliest times that I knew I was a real member of the family. For me, this memory surpassed any other references.
I'm happy to report that dad teared up when I told him--I kept it a secret until his birthday, no less!  
Dad and I don't have a perfect relationship by any means, but I'm so grateful nevertheless. He never had to be perfect because he did something more important:  he was actually there. 
As you've probably noticed, I never did get officially adopted, at least not in a traditional sense. But I don't doubt that this "unofficial" adoption was just as real to me as a child, and became even more so when I was finally able to share my family's name.  Our family's never been traditional, so, in a way, it fits even more.  Please follow A Word with Liu Miao on Instagram at awordwithlm to receive updates about new posts on the blog and to see a glimpse of my life.

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