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098 – Trained In Trauma
Episode 983rd February 2024 • Who Am I Really? • Damon L. Davis
00:00:00 00:39:28

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Dr. Julie Lopez lives and works in Washington, D.C. Julie’s early childhood was happy at home, but it was her circle of friends that made her question just what was wrong with being adopted? When she graduated college, her need for information, for professional reasons, made her stumble across an old document she’d seen before, which impulsively steered her down the path toward reunion. Along hat road she found trauma that she was already prepared to handle and disappointment that she’s also thankful for because the whole experience keeps her grounded.

Dr. Lopez runs the Viva Center –

You can find her book: “Live Empowered: Rewire Your Brain’s Implicit Memory To Thrive In Business, Love, and Life

The post 098 – Trained In Trauma appeared first on Who Am I...Really? Podcast.

Julie (00:05):

Okay. I think behind every adoption there's usually trauma and then there is the just families don't give up children without some kind of distress and circumstance. You know, it goes against human nature.

Damon (00:28):

Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? This is who am I really a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. I'm Damon Davis and on today's show is Julie. She lives in Washington D C Julie's early childhood was happy at home, but it was her circle of friends that made her question just what was wrong with being adopted. When she graduated college her need for information, for professional reasons made her stumble across an old document she'd seen before which impulsively steered her down the path toward reunion along that road, she found trauma that she was already prepared to handle and disappointment that she's also thankful for. This is Julie's journey. Julie grew up in McLean, Virginia. She said her parents were very loving people who were somewhat open about her adoption from Catholic charities. Julie was the oldest child in their house, followed by a younger sister, adopted from San Antonio, Texas. A few years later, her parents were approved for a third international adoption from Mexico when her mother got pregnant.

Julie (01:48):

And I remembered her asking me, cause at that point I was seven, you know what, what should, what would I like to have happen? And she was pregnant, I'm going to have a child. And we all knew, you know, the adoption had gone through and what should we do. And I said, Oh you know what a both, but they didn't end up adopting the child from Mexico. And then my parents had another biological child two years after that. So there were four of us, two adopted and then a pretty big gap. And then two more children that were biologically connected to my adoptive parents.

Damon (02:26):

So in their home there were two older adopted girls, a five year gap, then two younger boys who were biological to her parents. That age differential can be challenging. But Julie said she was still close with her younger brothers, almost like a second mother to them while navigating the normal healthy battles that come with having a younger sister closer to her own age, but in her family they didn't talk about adoption much, at least not as much as they could have. She said she didn't know enough to be curious and ask questions.

Julie (02:58):

If I brought it up they would would've talked about it, but most of it would be their anxiety about me being upset. Right. It was like they definitely wanted to shelter me from that and so it wasn't really talked about hardly at all unless it was like more factual. Like I had this fact sheet about my biological mother and father had their age and their weight and their height and their interests and their nationalities and stuff like that. I always had that

Damon (03:31):

This fact sheet wasn't comprehensive at all. It only spoke of her birth parents in generalities far less than what her actual non identifying information would have. Julie's parents let her see the document and she knew it was in a file if she ever wanted to review it again. What's interesting is the concept of adoption and its perception among her friends and in the community was the more challenging piece for her growing up.

Julie (03:56):

And so I would say the bigger impact on me as I understood it growing up was in school and the peers and things like that. The idea that I was adopted, I didn't have to know other people that were adopted. Like there was this one family in our church that had clearly adopted a child because their child was black and they were white. That type of thing, like an international adoption, but, but I didn't even really know them. I could just see them across like, you know, we were part of a pretty big church so I really, aside from my sister, didn't know anyone else adopted. Although like looking back there probably were other adopted people. I just didn't know that. But I definitely knew when we did, well, first of all, every time I went to the doctor and they would ask questions about health history, those types of in jokes like other kids would say about being adopted was basically equated with being unwanted or kind of defective actually. It was like an insult you'd say to someone if I would say I was adopted. Most of my friends didn't want that to be true. Mostly because they liked today and it's that like that's not true. I'm like, no, it is true. They're all like, no, because, because they, I don't know, I guess they thought I was normal and nice and kind and that couldn't be what an adoptee looks like or something. I mean, they never said that, but I just know they didn't want me to be adopted, so that was, I don't know. That was hard.

Damon (05:29):

In fifth grade, Julie had one special best friend. They were both little tomboys and they played all kinds of sports together. Usually the only two girls in the mix with the boys. At school, the kids were learning about dominant and recessive traits. Their assignment was to note their mother's eye color, their father's eye color, and the kids were supposed to use a chart to pick the probability of their own eye color.

Julie (05:54):

And the teacher picked mine as an example. Like she was like, let me have one as an example. She showed what I had written. Well of course I guess I had that fact sheet, but at that age I didn't, I don't know. I didn't know that info. So I just put down my adoptive parents info and my friend, so this is in front of all class, that's the whole thing. And she was just being like scientific, I guess, you know. She was like, what? Wait a second. That's not relevant. This whole discussion is not relevant because this is not her biological line. And I remember just feeling so embarrassed that she said that even though it wasn't mean hearted, it was like more trying to understand the truth or factual piece that the teacher was trying to teach. But I was like, Oh my gosh, like kind of horrified. I didn't keep it secret from people, but I wouldn't have announced it like that in front of, you know, 25 kids.

Damon (06:50):

When Julie finished college at 22 she was traveling a lot for work as a consultant in systems engineering and she needed documentation to update her passport. She left her home in Washington DC to visit her parents in McLean, Virginia to pick up the info. The info she needed was stored in the same file as her adoption documentation.

Julie (07:10):

Yeah, I dunno. I guess, my life was feeling more settled. Like I had a job, I was an adult. Maybe I had a little more bandwidth for it, but when I opened that file I was like, huh. And it was on a letterhead and it said Catholic charities and had the address and phone number and just like that without thinking at all. I called the number, I guess I was, if you've read any of the adoption literature, like I was the quote unquote good adoptee, right? Like I performed really well at everything. It was super anxiety driven. Right? I think somewhere in my mind I thought I'm like perfect and do everything well and don't bother anyone and people like me, then I won't be given up again. And so I was that kid and my sister, you know, although she didn't like become a drug addict or anything was like much more volatile. And would do kind of volatile things. And she was like difficult, although you know, she went to college and all that stuff, but she was just a lot more challenging and combative and with some regularity. She would scream at my parents you are not my real parents are like, I'm going to leave or stuff like that where I would, I even remember as a kid saying I'm like her, she can't say stuff like that. Don't you realize what they're doing for us, because I really felt like a charity case. Like they're feeding us they're clothing us. I know my parents didn't think that, but I obviously was like acutely aware that I was a visitor kind of thing. And so yeah, just like that, I had never thought about finding my biological parents. I had never thought about doing anything like that. I thought that would upset my adoptive parents. And so I just called.

Damon (08:48):

On that impulsive call. Julie had no idea what to say. So she just started sharing that she was adopted through charities several years ago the woman invited Julie to make an appointment with a social worker who gave her more non identifying information.

Julie (09:04):

It was very emotional because there I am at agency and I feel like that was kind of, it was just an interesting moment for me. Not so conscious of the whole bigger thing. But um, I could, you know, obviously like hold up a lot of feeling

Damon (09:23):

Right after Julie started talking about her feelings, I realized she expressed another set of feelings that she really hadn't explained. Take me back a little bit to your teenage years because you said something really interesting. You said, I was acutely aware that I was a visitor and I didn't get the impression that your family made you feel that way. Like you haven't said anything that you, that has indicated that you felt othered or like an outsider or anything like that. So how did you arrive at this feeling of, of being a visitor in your home?

Julie (10:01):

No, to be honest I think like I look back on that moment because I know that I was, I told my sister that like I know that those words came out of my mouth. Like that kind of idea like that, that, that the food and the shelter and all that stuff was like a charity. But I think it comes from a bigger, yeah, I don't think it was what my parents were doing. I think it comes from the bigger cultural context of what it means to be orphaned and then taken in by someone else and cause the dominant I, that's what I, that's all I can conclude. Cause no one overtly said that to me. It was more the other types of things that I, I'm mentioning to you about like the other kids not wanting that to be true because it meant something.

Damon (10:51):

Uh, so this was a collective feeling over time

Julie (10:56):

Yeah I think it was more of a cultural thing than about what it means to be adopted. And that's the way I internalized it. You know, there I was born into unfortunate circumstances and it's interesting, but an adult person who has been pretty active in the adoptee community for a couple of decades that the dominant narrative isn't, you know, look how lucky these people are that were infertile and wanted and have a baby. The dominant narrative I think had a lot to do with the way I had internalized my position in our culture. It wasn't my parents.

Damon (11:34):

Julie petitioned to the courts to open her records, paid a private investigator to locate her birth mother and they found her right away. The process continued with Julie's introductory letter being mailed to the woman's confirmed address. Then the rest was up to her birth mother. Julie included her phone number in the letter and she can remember the moment her birth mother called her in Florida 26 years ago

Julie (11:58):

And we had a nice talk. She's super cool. I like, she was like really open and um, I didn't know at that moment like how lucky I was in that regard. Just having had so many friends, adoptee friends work this reunion thing and have really, you know, challenging or no relationship with their biological mom or dad for various different complicated reasons. But yeah, she was really cool. She was super open. Just like so, Damon the reason I stopped is because I think I mentioned it to you, she passed away this summer.

Damon (12:47):


Julie (12:50):

Yeah. So it's like kind of remembering all this stuff. It's like a little bit hard because you know, she's, she was a super cool person and really strong. She went through a lot and uh, yeah, I feel lucky about that. But like also sad that she passed away just last month actually.

Damon (13:14):

Yeah. I'm sorry. I meant that I forgot to how recent her passing was and that's really sad.

Julie (13:28):

Yeah.It was like a week or two after we were supposed to talk for the first time

Damon (13:29):

Wow. Her mother's death is a complicated story. Julie recalls that about a month prior, her birth mother was on the phone with Kelsey. Julie's maternal sister on that call. She said her mother felt tired and her voice sounded weak. They rushed her to the hospital where the medical team diagnosed her with walking pneumonia, a lung infection, and a variety of other problems. The clinical staff put her into a medically induced coma and they corrected many of the major issues their mother was having. When the team brought her back from the coma, she didn't fully recover.

Julie (14:05):

She had come to right away, but she was starting to show progress to the point where like responding, not really talking,...