Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A family like ours - siblings by adoption

Elizabeth was nearly five when her parents adopted her younger sister. In a direct an honest account of her life she explains what it means to be siblings by adoption.

Nearly five years after I was born, my parents adopted my younger sister Kara. Twenty-five years later, and for the first time, I’ve come across a book about a family like ours.

When Daisy Met Tommy recognises that adoption means huge changes not only for the child being adopted and his or her new parents, but also for birth children gaining a new sibling.

My sister Kara was about to turn two when she became part of our family. Because she was born in Colombia, and I’m a pale freckly Celt, we’ve got used to comments like, “You don’t look anything like each other!” or “No…do you mean half-sisters?” Some people try to insist it’s the same as being biological siblings, as though to reassure us that we really are sisters. I think there are differences, but none that diminish our relationship.

Like most siblings, we grew up with the same parents, same pets, same homes, same extended family. If she starts a story about our early years I recognise it immediately, and vice versa: her impressive range of I’m-not-going-to-bed-and-you-can’t-make-me techniques when she first arrived; my habit of bossing her around (her view) or looking out for my little sister (my view); the endless hours she spent drawing and I spent reading; the car journeys during which our alternate giggling and squabbling would drive our parents mad. Although we each have our own individual recollections – and I’m sure there are things we’ll never agree on - those stories are drawn from a shared childhood.

But I think there’s also something special about becoming siblings after separate starts in life. Maybe it’s knowing it might not have happened - that if our parents had been approved as adopters a few months earlier or later, we might not be sisters. Although it sometimes seems a difficult concept for others to grasp, Kara has every right to find out as much as she can or chooses to about her origins without feeling that in any way threatens her relationship with our parents or me. And while being from different ethnic backgrounds certainly doesn’t define our relationship, it does matter. Not least because when people realise we’re sisters, adoption tends to come up pretty quickly. This can lead to complete strangers asking personal questions about Kara’s background and feelings.

As adults, although we have of course argued and hurt each other’s feelings at points, she is central to many of my favourite times - from visiting her during her extended trip to Colombia to our daily chats on the phone or by email. Six months ago we bought a flat together (a home for me, an investment for her and her partner) and we’ve spent hours furnishing it, findings lodgers and planning renovations.

Being siblings by adoption – particularly intercountry adoption - brings aspects that can be difficult to describe to people who haven’t experienced it. But for the most part it’s pretty straightforward. I have a kind, funny, talented sister and I am incredibly proud of her. I can’t imagine my life without her, either now or growing up. If ‘Daisy’s’ experience turns out to be anything like mine, she’s a lucky girl.

When Daisy Met Tommy is available now from the BAAF bookstore.

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