‘What are you?’ is a puzzling thought to many adoptees in closed adoptions and one of the many questions every adopted child wants answered. Should an adopted child know who his or her birth parents are? What are the identity issues of adopted children? Adoptee Keith Cousins shares his experience wrestling with these themes as he learns more about his adoption.
I’m mostly Irish.
That might not seem like much of an opener—in fact, it’s pretty terrible. But I’ve spent most of my 29-years on this planet awkwardly dancing around the question of ‘what are you?’ while on first dates, hanging out with friends, in classrooms and all sorts of other occasions. Sometimes I would completely dodge the question. Other times I would just re-route the question and instead give this anecdote I really enjoy about being named an honorary Rwandan while on a trip there in college. Although sometimes I would tell the truth. I would point out that I am adopted and don’t know the answer to the question of my ancestry. Talk about a quick way to kill a conversation.
To me, that’s what adoption has always been. All of these small questions that pile up and grow into a distorted vision of two people who gave me life and then did a very courageous and tough thing—they let me go.
Up until six months ago, none of my questions were answered. Up until six months ago, I couldn’t say that I’m mostly Irish. Those unanswered questions, combined with an insatiable curiosity for answers, have propelled me through life. They’ve propelled me into a career that revolves around asking questions and presenting the answers to those questions in the form of a news story.
But six months ago is when it changed and some of those questions were answered by my mom. I now, through that information and social media, am able to put a face and a name to the once blurred vision of these two individuals who gave me life.
However, as it so often happens in my professional life, answers give birth to more questions.
These questions, these doors I may or may not attempt to open with my birth family, all of these things have made me realize what I once thought were questions that needed answering are simply the beginning of a much longer and much scarier journey.
What if they don’t like me? What if they don’t like the path I’ve taken these last 29 years? What if, and this is the most terrifying question, what if they don’t want anything to do with me, not even a meeting?
Those questions have replaced the simple ones I always had in the back of my mind. It is my hope that I will one day soon have the courage to finally discover the answer to those questions.
In the meantime though, I can say I’m mostly Irish.
I can easily picture how awkward my grandparents must have been in the hospital the night I was born. My mom told me they just didn’t know what to do with themselves. Yet ever since I was born, they’ve been nothing but my biggest fans, a constant force of support and acceptance. But that initial image of them is one that will always bring a smile to my face.
I can say the names of these two individuals when it’s late at night and restlessness about my identity as an adoptee overtakes me. Most importantly, knowing their names brings me back to two other names.
Kevin and Sheryl Cousins. My parents.
The two people who, for better and for worse, adopted me and made me a part of their brand new family.
For 29 years, my adoption has been a mysterious part of my identity that I have held at bay from most of the world. But I’m realizing that if I want to open some of these doors that are now so close I can feel the doorknob, I can’t be scared of the unknown anymore. I have to take all of the pieces of me that life experiences have created and attempt to put them into words. I have to be tremendously cliché and look at the past in order to not be doomed to leave these doors closed for another 29 years.