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Wednesday, 02 September 2009

The Shock of a Lifetime

By Johna Ferguson

It’s been so long I can’t remember the exact words from that afternoon, but at the time I thought my life had been shattered into hundreds of unbearably sharp shards that would never again fall into place. My sister, three-and-a-half years older, and I were spending a few weeks with our parents at a friend’s beach house.

They had one daughter, a little older than my sister, so she included my sister in her group of friends. There was no on my age, then 12, to play with so my mother had told my sister to let me tag along to watch the boys playing tennis at courts down the beach.

Those girls were just becoming interested in boys, but I liked tennis so thought it might be fun. I guess I was dawdling too slowly and my sister turned and yelled at me, “Hurry-up slowpoke or we’ll leave you behind.”

I retorted, “I’ll tell mother if you do.”

Her reply then sent my head into a tailspin. “You stupid child, don’t you know she isn’t really our mother and I am not really your sister.”

I was shocked and didn’t understand. Dumbly I followed the group and somehow lived through the tennis matches, all the time wondering if this could this be true and if so what to do. Should I confront my loving parents for the true facts, but I thought if they never told me, I’d better not bother them. I wondered if my close friend knew, or if this was a secret kept from the neighbors, but then how did my sister find out about it?

All these thoughts went through my mind, oh so confusing, but I decided to keep them hidden deep and somehow live through it. Middle-school was starting soon and I could maybe become a new person. I decided to ask my parents to change my given name, Joanna. I never liked it and now I liked it less.

They agreed providing they liked the name I fancied. I chose the name Johna, for my father’s name was John. When I enrolled in middle school, I just registered with my new name and no one ever questioned me about it. Anyway, all my friends and family called me Jo.

Still I wondered where I came from, but decided to forget it; I just buried it deeper and deeper until I almost forgot about it. But then in 8th grade we took health and again those endless questions resurfaced. We touched on genetics; how two blue-eyed parents couldn’t have a brown-eyed child, but could have a blue-eyed one.

My parents had blue eyes, as did my sister. I had brown ones. My mother had blond curly hair and so did my sister. But again, I just buried those facts and never questioned my parents.

As my mother lay near dying, she told me where the key to her safe deposit box was and that I would find my birth certificate there. She thought it was time I saw it. I went the next day to check into the contents of the box, and there in an envelope addressed to me by my deceased father, was all the telling evidence; not only my adoption papers but also those of my sister plus just my birth certificate.

My name was listed as Joanna Watson. No I never tried to trace that elusive mother, but I am glad that years before I had changed my given name for I felt I truly belonged to my adoptive parents.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


As an adopted child, I can sympathize. How cruel for your sister to tell you in that way. Did you ever call her on it?


How sad for you that you went through a great deal of your life with this adoption mystery on your mind.

I suppose it is better now that parents tell their children about the adoption from the time they can first understand, so there are no "Shocks of A Lifetime" in store for them.

Have you and your sister ever talked about that day? I am also glad that adoption is no longer kept "secret". Everyone has the right to know their own story.

How awful that she did that. Yes, too, adoption tore my husband's mother all apart. She never felt wanted by anyone. We do know that my husband has at least ten first cousins out there, but no one has made an effort to find them. So sad.

My daughter and son are both adopted. From infancy, I began rehearsing what I might be telling them as time went by. This was more for me to become comfortable in saying those words to them. Adoption is not easy for anyone.
I read many books beforehand on the subject; attended meetings, but what helped most was a seminar I attended at a university made up of—birth mothers, adoptive mothers, and, most importantly, the adoptees. I say “mothers” because I don’t remember any males present. I listened intently to everyone, but was most interested in hearing what the adoptees, who were powerless at the time, had to say. Some adoptees said they searched and found their birth parent, but later were disappointed and felt rejected once again. Many said they waited until their adoptive parents were gravely ill or no longer alive to begin their search. I felt then and continue to feel that it was the right thing to inform my children with books, and, when appropriate, discussions on the subject starting at an early age. Still, it was not ever easy.

This was great to read I remember my friend who was adopted saying he was chosen and special loved and spoiled and so grateful for his wonderful parents. Wishing you the same thoughts and thank you for sharing your story.

Dorothy from grammology

I was "chosen" and "special" and "loved and spoiled" too - but at a price. I had to be perfect and when I didn't live up to that perfection, I was told "I should have known you can't make a silk purse out of a cow's ear".

How cruel to make an adopted child feel different. They should be made to feel special because they were wanted and chosen out of all others.

It's terrible for a young person to be cruel, but there is no excuse for an adult to be so. Especially an adult that promised to be a parent to a child.

The adopted daughter of some friends was taunted about being adopted at school, since she already knew and was quite open about it. Luckily she had already been primed with the right answer - "My Mum and Dad chose me - yours had to put up with what they were given"

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