Cross-post: “The Importance of Story”

Today I wrote this post for the adoption blog called Don’t We Look Alike? that I write with my daughter, but it also seemed to connect with this blog as it concerns the notion of story.

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.” ― Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

Everybody and everything has a story.  According to Terry Pratchett, we are all shaped by stories.  This quote might mean that reading a variety of stories helps develop us into who we are.  But, in fact, we are shaped even more by the stories which are unique to our selves.

We create stories out of our complex lives.  To understand ourselves and others around us, we tell ourselves stories that make some sense out of it all.

As Patrick Rothfuss puts it:

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”

Most of us come to our consciousness with family stories told to us by relatives.  Even in families which are reticent to talk about the past, there is a pattern which is story in hearing that one has the same stubborn streak as one’s father and that he has hammer toes because his mother couldn’t afford to buy him new shoes when his feet grew.  These elements become part of the story of the child.

Some people have stories which are missing big gaps.  Imagine having amnesia in your fourth grade year.  You can remember the rest of your life, but there is a hole where an entire year should be.  Many adoptees have a hole larger than this.  If an adoptee was not part of an open adoption, it’s probable that she was not given much information about who her birth parents were, what their stories were, and what their lives were like when she was not yet born.

The person who was adopted might not know anything about her own birth or what her life was like as an infant.  When there is information shared, it can be sparse and not tied into a narrative.  It might not even be accurate.  It could be lies.

I was not adopted, and I have been told plenty of family stories.  I grew up with family stories and photos.  Many of the dots were connected for me.  Recently I’ve done some genealogical research, and it astonishes me how some of the stories I was told turned out not to be accurate.  However, the most fundamental information has been true, unlike that for some adoptees.

My children were adopted as babies in international adoptions.  We received some pages of information from the agency.  Mainly, we learned about their medical exam results while living in the orphanage (son) or with the foster family (daughter). We learned their weight and health when they were brought to Holt. But there is also information on the charts listing the ages and education levels of their birth parents, and what areas they came from.  When we read these pages with our case worker, she filled in information, providing us with story fragments.

I took all the information we had been given—both written and oral, guesses and facts—and wrote up stories for both children, providing them with a story which pre-dates their lives in our family.

It seemed important that they have their own stories.

“[T]here’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.” ― Mitch Albom, For One More Day

Think of this: “behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin” [my italics].

So while it seems important that the kids have their own stories, these stories had to begin with the stories of their birth mothers.

Next time you wonder why many adoptees search for their birth families and wish to to learn information about these families, remember that you are who you are because you have your own story.  They are only searching for part of their story, a story that is important to their very identity.


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory

12 responses to “Cross-post: “The Importance of Story”

  1. I’m an adoptive mom — my husband and I adopted our son Jacob from Chile when he was an infant. We’ve given him as much information as we got. This was the second post I read today about adoption — one from an adoptee and this one from you. Both made me smile.

    • lucewriter

      Elyse, thanks for saying it made you smile :). How old is Jacob? Did he ask for the info or did you start giving it to him when he was little?

      • Jacob is 21 and a junior in college. The agency recommended we start telling him his story when he was a baby, which we did. It made us all comfortable with it.

  2. I need to finish my daughter’s life book. I wrote everything and started filling in the pages, but got stuck on the “you were found” page. I guess I don’t want to be the one to tell her she was abandoned. Although we use the phrasing, “left to be found,” I’m sure she’ll make the leap to abandoned. What else is it, but, what choice did her birthparents have?

    • lucewriter

      She was born in China, right? According to some accounts, there is such a tacit understanding that it’s not even “left to be found” (ie abandoned). It’s more like an informal system to flout the laws. It’s possible that her birth mother left some kind of clue behind, which may or may not have been destroyed by the orphanage. There are so many possibilities–and possibilities outside of abandonment. What if you wrote a story that gave some different versions so she isn’t left with one single story? Another blogger posted on my other blog about a video about how dangerous oen single story can be. I thought that was brilliant.

      • Yes. China. I’m aware that there is an unwritten code and it could well be that she was part of the system. What that translates into, in her province, is that there is a 50/50 chance that she was part of an “incentive” program. We would call it something more harsh. The basic idea is that the orphanages that do international adoptions provide incentives for people to find and bring to them adoptable children. I think she’s too young to digest that. The official story in her files is a common, “found at the market” story. But the fact that we have the name of the person who found her supports the incentive idea. I REALLY don’t know how to approach that and am pretty sure I don’t need to until she’s older. I will check out the video.

      • Couldn’t find the post about the video. What is the other bloggers name? Can I search on her/his name to find the post? Thanks!

  3. It isn’t only adoptees who have these holes !
    My mother disappeared when I was six. My father came back from war when I was eight, having been gone since I was ten months. He brought a stepmother with him, and we were forbidden to talk about our past, as it bored them. I only saw my grandmother twice after that.
    So I only have the memories that I can remember or have pieced together from ancient clues … I would love to have known something about my babyhood which ended at thirteen months when my sister was born.
    I think it’s beautiful that you and these other mothers care so much to give your children a background and a story …

    • lucewriter

      Yes, I know that is true that it isn’t just adoptees, even from my own family. That is such a shame that you were forbidden to talk about your past because that is like breaking you off from part of your identity. I can understand you piecing together memories from old clues. Thank you so much for reading, Valerie. And thank you for reading and “liking” so many posts! I was happy to find your blog, too!

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