“Affidavit of Abandonment In Lieu of Birth Certificate”.
It’s not everyday that I read the above title. A few days ago I was cleaning my room and reorganizing my files and I came across a manila mailing envelope that read “Kumar legal documents” in my mother’s handwriting.
“How’d this get into my file?” I thought.
I flipped open the cover flap and pulled out some papers from the adoption agency, which I’d seen before, an old envelope, my social security card application and a few other random papers. I then remembered that a few months earlier my mother’s partner had mentioned that they had found a paper that had the name of my biological parents on it.
I didn’t really believe her, but it sparked my interest and I asked where it was.
They couldn’t find it nor could they remember what they’d done with it. Even though I didn’t really believe the paper existed I felt angry they couldn’t find it. I thought, “how could they lose something that could potentially be so important to me?”
Aggravated, I went upstairs and rummaged, ever so carefully, through all of the adoption related material I knew existed, to no avail. Incredibly frustrated I concluded that it couldn’t exist since I had no memory of it.
Remembering what my mother and her partner had said I looked back at the manila envelope and saw another piece of paper. It was folded and green, like most of the legal documents from the orphanage. I dumped it out onto my desk and unfolded it.
I knew what it was before I even opened it.
Apparently it did exist.
I read the piece of flimsy green paper with blotched black typewritten letters from top to bottom.
“Affidavit of Abandonment In Lieu of Birth Certificate.”
After finishing I found myself returning to two lines from the affidavit that I couldn’t help but re-read over and over.
The first – “a male minor child Kumar now named Kumar Jensen born to Miss Sarai, daughter of Mr. Swami, an unmarried girl was surrendered by her on 02.03.1990.”
A name, at last.
But, wait. Sarai? Then I remembered that one of the few things I did know was that my biological mother was Roman Catholic as was the orphanage where I was “surrendered”. The “surrendered by” date was surprising. It meant that I had spent almost an entire year with my biological mother before she had “surrendered” me. That could mean she hadn’t wanted to give me up, but did so out of necessity. I don’t think I’d ever entertained the thought that I was given up unwillingly. I still didn’t know, but it became a new possibility – another fantasy to explore.
The “surrendered by” date has also become the date marking the point in time when I start to have information on my childhood. It’s almost like a birthdate.
Additionally, explaining the process of giving me up for adoption as “surrender” certainly changed how I viewed the child rearing intentions of my biological mother.
The second, which was the last sentence of the affidavit – “That this is an abandoned child and no birth certificate has ever been made or registered on this child.” Realizing that I never had an Indian birth certificate made the “surrendered by” date feel even more like a birthdate, it was the beginning of my known childhood. This affidavit was the only piece of paper that recognized me as being alive and somewhat identified my place of birth and relatives.
I re-read the first part again, “That this is an abandoned child.”
“An abandoned child.”
My first reaction was to think that I wasn’t abandoned! I wasn’t left on the side of a stream in a basket or on someone’s doorstep with a cute letter or in an alley way behind a dumpster. I don’t feel abandoned. Wait, wasn’t I “surrendered”? Not “abandoned”? Sure it is a semantic nuance, but as I have read others’ blogs it seems that one of the big discrepancies between how people feel about adoption, generally, and how they feel about being adopted themselves largely hinges on the circumstances of their adoption.
The difference in meaning each word could certainly convey drastically different feelings. The sense I get when I think about being abandoned is that of being unwanted, tossed to the side, it implies a lack of care and a lack of regard for the future of that which is abandoned. When I think of being surrendered a different set of images come to mind. Images of a family unwillingly giving up their child, a single parent (most likely mother) without the resources necessary to ensure livelihood or a state agency forcing the parent to surrender the child. Neither one is particularly rosey, but you can see how one person could take one versus the other.
For me, personally, the semantic difference between “surrendered” and “abandoned” does not seem to change my feelings about being adopted. I don’t think one of them makes me feel more or less valuable or wanted as a human-being than the other. One or the other doesn’t change how I feel towards my family. But, the idea that my biological relatives had to “surrender”/”abandon” me out of personal necessity rather than something else (I wont speculate) does spark my curiosity.
It does make me wonder if some type of reunion may be appropriate. I wonder if, for example, if “Sarai” may be hoping I will find her and make contact. Of course there is little use in this type of speculation, especially since I’ve come to learn, that even that name, “Sarai”, may have been fabricated.
It is, of course, always entertaining and most of the time interesting to speculate about how I have gotten to the place I am today.
This is the final piece in my four-part series about “My File”. It was unintentionally lengthy and I really meant to finish it all within a span of a few weeks, but as people say “life got in the way”.
The first three parts can be found by following the links below: