By Michelle Riess
Throughout my adoption discovery, writing has been very therapeutic for me. Unfortunately, writing about my adoption on this website is no longer providing me with the peace or clarity it once brought.
While I am pleased to have reached so many other late discovery adoptees through this website, I am ready to move on to different projects relating to adoption, and adoptee-focused issues in general. I am also going to be working heavily on healing from this life-shattering discovery and everything that this event has allowed me to finally open up about without fear or shame. Obviously, this is not the end of our story, but this will be the final post on this website. We will keep this website online indefinitely, but I want to make some final comments and close out this chapter of the story on my own terms.
The purpose of this website has always been to share our story with other late discovery adoptees, and to provide hope to other biological families searching for their adult children. It is also a poignant reminder to adoptive parents on the importance of honesty and openness regarding adoption from day one. I have never set out to make anyone from my life (past or present) look bad by sharing our story — that has never been the intention. However, if the facts of my fraudulent adoption DO make anyone look bad, that is not my fault.
In early 2018, I made the decision to walk away from my adoptive father because the pain was too intense and the depth of the manipulation was four decades too deep. I have never regretted that decision or the manner in which I have handled this life-changing discovery. (Related: When Adults Discover They Were Adopted)
For four decades, my place in the world as a baby, a child, a teenager, a young woman, and eventually, a mother, was artificially filled with lies and a completely fabricated backstory that tended only to the needs of the adults around me, and never took into consideration my unique needs as an adopted child. This created a tremendous amount of inner confusion and conflict for me from my earliest years and made it extremely difficult for me to develop into a healthy, whole human being. I acutely felt those discrepancies within myself even if I couldn’t articulate it or understand why I felt the way I did. From a very young age I was trained to believe these issues were strictly my own, and, as my adoptive mother put it, there was just “something wrong with [me] from day one.” This is a sentiment my adoptive mother drilled into me from my earliest years, and I felt it to my core. I absolutely believed I was bad, ugly, stupid, worthless, unlovable, and a burden because she told me these things — with her words and with her actions. “I love you” is a phrase I have no memory of her saying to me — not even once — outside of the context of discipline (ex. being told “we’re only doing this because we love you” during the course of a physical punishment.) I will spend the rest of my years rebuilding the self-confidence, self-worth, and life that she systematically destroyed in order to gain complete control over me as a child and young woman. Ultimately, my adoptive parents were more concerned about protecting their lies and fulfilling their own fantasies than my long-term well-being.
A good analogy to describe my life before my discovery is to compare it to the game Monopoly. My life was the Monopoly game board, but my adoptive parents gave me the instructions, game cards, and game pieces from Candyland and expected me to turn out completely normal. I could go through the motions and play “Monopoly” the best I could with what they gave me, but none of it made sense and I didn’t understand why. Meanwhile, they were telling me that any problems I experienced in life weren’t because of the faulty game pieces or instructions they had given me; the problem was strictly me. They set me up to fail. That is not an act of parental love; it is an act of selfishness.
The impact of these internal conflicts regarding who I felt like I was trained to be — versus what I felt inside biologically — is still deeply felt. It’s been almost five years since my discovery and I continue to deprogram myself from the learned behaviors and thought patterns of the toxic environment I was raised in. For the first time in my life, I can see things as they really are and can make fully informed decisions regarding myself, my life, and my family. I feel free of the burdens of my adoptive parents’ lives, and have made peace with my past, even though it all still heavily impacts me in the present. (Related: What is C-PTSD?)
My adoptive parents had 40 years, or 14,898 days to tell me the truth, but instead, they chose to maintain and build upon their lies 14,898 times. Forty years… This was not a parenting “mistake;” it was a thought-out, planned, and conscious decision they perpetuated over the course of four decades. Make no mistake about it — this is exactly what they wanted to do regardless of how it could negatively impact me, my physical health, my mental health, or my future (including my children.) It’s almost as if my adoptive parents had absolutely no foresight, or just simply didn’t care enough to consider the problems their lies would so obviously create in the future. The reality is that they never wanted me to know the truth about how they unethically acquired me, my actual origins, or my own personal history as a human being. They destroyed all documents pertaining to my adoption when I was very young to ensure there was no evidence left behind for me to find. They limited my exposure to their own family members who knew the truth to avoid the possibility of anyone telling me. They lied to me about virtually everything in life to maintain their story at great expense to me. It is inexcusable.
To this day, some people close to my adoptive parents see me as the sole offender in this situation because I had the audacity to walk away from the man who did this to me (along with his now-deceased wife, my abuser.) Typically, they cite vacations, a nice house, parties, gifts, and other material wealth as the reasons why I should forever be grateful to my adoptive parents for taking me in when “nobody” wanted me; but completely fail to recognize the very serious problems that existed within that family dynamic which caused me very real harm. They also fail to understand that walking away was not an act of “rebellion” or the actions of a “troubled” person; but actually the direct consequence of my adoptive parents’ own lies, behaviors & abuse — learning I was adopted was just the final breaking point. The long-term (and ongoing) acceptance of their lies by the people closest to them has enabled them to continue the charade and, I believe, has ultimately fueled my adoptive father’s unwillingness to be fully accountable for what they did, for what he allowed my adoptive mother to do to me, and all that has happened as a result. (Related: Why Adult Children Cut Ties with their Parents)
As a parent of three children, it is impossible to imagine a scenario like this, where I knowingly and willingly do something life-shattering to my children. What’s even more impossible to imagine is doing something like that to my children, and then just turning on them; abandoning any hopes of helping them heal — even from a distance — or at least trying to lessen their burdens since I would be the one clearly at fault in that imaginary scenario. I’d also be doing some serious deep reflection, working with a mental health professional, and doing whatever I could to fix the situation that I created. I feel like this is what a caring and devoted human being does after causing such massive & irreparable harm to someone, but this never happened following my adoption discovery.
I am not a perfect parent or person. I have absolutely made (and will continue to make) mistakes because I am human. However, the mistakes that I make will never cost my children their self-esteem, their dignity, their sense of identity, their self-worth, crush their spirits, or negatively impact their health (physical and mental.) There is a big difference between “making mistakes” in life, and willingly subjecting a vulnerable child placed in your care to decades of abuse and carefully crafted lies for your own benefit. That is twisted and cruel.
At this point in my life, I have accepted that there will never be a genuine apology from my adoptive father, being wholly accountable for their actions towards me, or any affirmation of the massive & irreparable impact all of this has made on my life (and the lives of my children, too.) Any half-hearted attempts at “apologies” my adoptive father made in those first few months lacked sincerity and always somehow looped me back into the story to hold me at least partially at fault for their own lies, behaviors, and failure to disclose. Clearly, these are not the actions of someone who knows they were wrong, sees the serious damage they caused, and wants to make positive changes for the benefit of the people they claim to “love.” When someone is truly remorseful you can feel it, you can hear it in their voice, and you can see it in their eyes. I never once felt, heard, or witnessed anything that showed me my adoptive father genuinely regretted anything they did; only that he regrets I found out… Just like my adoptive mother did, I am certain my adoptive father fully intended to take this secret to his grave. (Related: signs that someone is genuinely remorseful)
On December 4, 2017 — just two months after my initial adoption discovery, and in the middle of my heaviest, darkest days — my adoptive father sent me an email proclaiming “Happy Gotcha Day!” I remember reading his message with my mouth open in shock and being blown away by his blatant insensitivity, especially considering he and his deceased wife were the ones who caused ALL of the pain I was experiencing at that time. Also, he was fully aware by that time that I was discovering various aspects of my adoption that he had not previously disclosed to me, including the true circumstances of my illegally arranged adoption, and their willingness to participate in it & conceal it. (Related: the problems with Gotcha Day written by an adoptive parent)
This was one of the first times I can recall thinking that the relationship with my adoptive father wasn’t going to survive because it was becoming very clear (very quickly) that he was not capable of recognizing the enormity of what they had done to me, what he allowed his wife to do to me, and that he could not (or simply would not) acknowledge why all of this was such a big problem.
Like everything in the life I had with my adoptive parents, inevitably even my own adoption discovery became all about them:
“We did the best we could.”
“What about me?”
“This isn’t fair to me!”
“You know how important this has always been to me!”
“What about my grandchildren?”
“I don’t appreciate how you’re treating me.”
“You gave no consideration to me.”
You can get the idea…
Around that same time, my adoptive father started sending me messages signed as “Dad?” — with a question mark. As soon as he started openly questioning his own role, which most adoptive parents would probably consider to be permanent and irrevocable, I knew there was no real hope for the relationship. As a parent, there is nothing that could ever make me add a question mark after signing ‘Mom’ in a message to my children. Never. Not as children, and not as adults. Obviously to him, this title was optional and fully irrevocable, and it completely changed my view of him, and our relationship. His behaviors towards me over the next months ultimately showed me his true colors, and that he was willing to go to extremes to protect his secrets.
After a few very intense and painfully difficult months, I made the decision to walk away from my adoptive father in early 2018 — less than six months after my initial adoption discovery. To this day, I have no regrets about that decision; it was absolutely the right choice for the circumstances I was placed in. My adoptive father’s poor response to the inevitable fallout from their own actions & lies has been one of the most difficult aspects of this entire process (though there are many very difficult aspects…) There is a complete lack of accountability and an acknowledgment on his part regarding the very serious and very real harm they caused me. Honestly, how privileged and entitled does someone have to be to destroy someone’s life and well-being over the course of four decades, and then, when finally confronted about it, just skips off into the sunset in complete denial that any of it happened? It just reconfirms that I absolutely made the right decision leaving him behind. (Related: I am not your little orphan Annie)
At some point, I will revisit writing about my experiences with adoption and continue working on my book, but for now, this is the end of our story on this website. I will continue working behind the scenes for adoptee rights, adoptee-focused organizations, and using my experiences to help other adoptees and biological families. This website will remain active and I will make occasional posts on the Facebook page relating to adoption because it has been a useful tool to other late discovery adoptees — which has always been the purpose of sharing our story. Since 2018, this website has had 50,000+ visitors from all over the world! I have been contacted by many new late discovery adoptees who are just learning the truth about themselves, are feeling shattered, and looking for someone who deeply understands their pain. I will always be here to support these individuals as they navigate those confusing and often traumatic first few months.
Finally, I am so grateful to everyone who has reached out to us about our story, and to those who have shared with me deeply personal details of their own adoption discovery. I’m also so incredibly thankful for my biological family (I just refer to them as “my family” now) who have welcomed me and my children into their big, beautiful family without hesitation. More than anything, I am simply thankful to know the truth about myself and my origins. I am thankful to know my real name (Michelle Riess) and my actual family history. My life makes sense now knowing these important details and having a relationship with my biological family. I feel broken but at the same time more whole because of this experience.
“Change is painful, but nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.” -M. Hale