Bridget is an amazing young lady who works as a freelance hair and make-up artist and I met her and her skills at a blogger event recently. We got chatting and next thing I know we were talking about my kids (I do this a lot) and Bridget told me that she was also adopted. It’s really amazing that we met like this. And so we hugged and became friends and I’ve asked Bridget to share her story with us as it is such a beautiful story of adoption and family and resilience and triumph. Thank you for sharing your story, Bridget!
What is your definition of adoption?
To be adopted is when someone takes you in and raises you as their own.
How do you feel about adoption in general?
I think it’s a great thing because it shows our relationship with God. I always found it hard to understand that we are all ‘adopted in Christ’ but now that I’m adopted, it makes sense…like how it’s meant to feel. It just feels right, it doesn’t feel complicated and I feel like I’m my proper self.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your family
I am 21 years old. I am a hair and make-up artist. I love working with people and I love making women feel as beautiful on the outside as I know they are on the inside. I have a great variety of friends. My brother, Kelor, and I were adopted 5 years ago by an amazing Mom, Dr Heather Tuffin. She is an epic Mommy: she’s a mommy and a daddy. My Mom is single and it’s going to take a really big guy to accept the whole 3-for-the-price-of-one deal! CV’s to Kelor and me…
We’re part of a large family. Our family is rainbow-coloured and very loud. I have amazing grandparents who just took me in from the first time they met me: my Ouma’s first hug had all the love of a long-term Ouma: so accepting, things just feel natural, as If I’ve been part of the family my whole life. Grandad is so awesome: I just feel like… he is gentle, he’s kind, he’s so wise and makes me feel like I’m standing next to a wise-man: I feel peaceful, together and calm. He doesn’t talk much but just his presence excites me.
My whole family is so supportive: my uncles and aunts are constantly there for me and make me feel welcome. They all have different roles that they play in my life which makes the puzzle complete. I love being a Tuffin.
How do you feel about your Mom?
Like, the first time I saw her I thought she was a great woman, not thoughts about adoption etc. But as soon as I knew that she wanted to adopt me, everything shifted…it doesn’t feel weird, because, somehow, I have this love and joy/completeness/harmony, it’s like I was born from her. This love for her just got dropped in my heart and it doesn’t feel weird or awkward.
How do you feel about your biological parents?
First of all I was angry and confused because I had been betrayed and abandoned. Now, some years later, I feel sorry for them, because my Mom pointed out the other side of the story. She is very gentle and compassionate towards my biological parents and she’s made me see that my biological mom has had to deal with a lot of pain in her life. Not that it gives her the right to have abandoned me, but now that I’m my real Mom’s daughter, I can find it in myself to start forgiving my biological mom. I don’t know my biological dad at all as we left when I was still very young.
How were you told that you were adopted?
By the Magistrate – the formal adoption came through five days before I turned 18, even though I had been with my Mom for two years by then. We have a bit of a family joke: when my mom/or someone else mentions that I’m adopted, I put on a show as if it’s the first time I’ve been told, like ‘How could you let me find out like this??’ It gets some people a little flustered until they realise we’re joking!
Has race been an issue? Has it affected your friendships?
We bonded as a family over Trevor Noah and ‘The racist’s guide to South African people’, so we makes jokes about colour all the time. I have friends of all different colours, so I don’t think it has affected my friendships, just made the circle wider!
What has been the hardest part of adoption for you?
The fact that Home Affairs still hasn’t sorted out my paperwork: I don’t have an ID and it has been a problem work-wise as I can’t get a driver’s licence or a bank account or a passport. The court stuff around the adoption took a few years, and the Home Affairs stuff looks like it will also take a few years. It seems like the system is not really proactively supportive of adoptions (like, adoptive parents don’t seem to be able to get the same maternity leave rights: my Mom had to take unpaid leave so that we could bond as a family and so that she could home-school my brother and I so that we were ready for our grades the next year).
Is there anything in particular your Mom has done really well?
The thing that really amazes me about my Mom is that people just love her. She doesn’t put people in a box, she gives everyone a chance and accepts everyone. She always sees good in people and points out things that other people wouldn’t have noticed: she’s like a magnifying glass that zooms in on real things and makes us look at things in a different way. She can explain things really clearly. My friends feel free to tell her anything…she’s great to talk to.
Anything she could have done differently?
She could have continued making broccoli with cheese, rather than handing the job over to me….
How can adoptive parents best equip their children to deal with the hardest parts of being adopted cross-culturally?
I’m very lucky because my family is already cross-cultural – the darker cousins out-number the light ones! I know some people are into taking on aspects of the biological culture in their family: like speaking the language etc. I think that this can make the adopted kids feel different from the rest of their family. My Mom didn’t push anything, but just supported us when we didn’t want to talk about our biological roots and then when we wanted to explore them.
Tell us about your relationship with your siblings
My brother, Kelor, and I are full-biological siblings and were both adopted at the same time. I have other biological siblings, some that I know and some that I don’t know. It’s really nice being able to talk about my younger brother (Kelor) as my ‘sibling’, because for at least five years (after our biological mom abandoned us and before my Mom adopted us) I was kind of more like a mother to him. Now it’s nice just to fight with him and play with him and just be kids in a family together.
Are you treated differently by people of your birth culture when they discover that you are adopted by parents of another race?
Yes! I try to keep it a secret when I go to have my hair done because as soon as the people find out that my Mom is white, they charge my way more! Some of my black friends, when they found out that I had been adopted by a white mom, started asking me what presents I was going to give them. This was quite hurtful because these were the same people that saw me as less when I didn’t have parents.
The issue of not speaking the same language has been more long-standing because we are originally from Angola, so we only learnt to speak Portuguese, not any of the African languages.
Was/is ‘belonging’ and feeling like you belonged ever an issue?
It’s always an issue feeling like you belong. Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong, because I’m not “black” or “white” enough. It seems that other people seem to notice the things that don’t fit into their ideas of how certain people should be: I don’t speak any of the black languages, I’m not really into the typical music and food that my black friends like. And my English is still not really great, so I find it difficult to express myself when I’m with my white friends. Also, my skin colour doesn’t quite blend in with my paler friends, so I kind of stick out as different. So it’s funny, because I don’t really fit a stereotype – I have a diverse group of friends, but I also sometimes feel really out of it because there’s no-one like me.
What would you say to other kids who have been adopted?
Once you hear a child is adopted, they assume there’s a problem. At first I was ashamed to tell people that I was adopted because I thought they’d think that I wasn’t good enough for my biological family. For those whose parents gladly placed them for adoption: don’t see it as bad, be thankful that their parents were brave enough to take the steps to give them a better life. For those who have been abandoned: to realise that it wasn’t your fault. I always thought there was something wrong with me, but have realised that the story was so much more complex. Don’t analyse too much, just become the best version of yourself.
We have a thing in our family about birth mothers and real mothers. Everyone has a birth mother and a real mother, and for most people, this is the same person. For adopted kids, it is two people. The birth mother is one who gave birth to you, the real mother is the one who loves you no matter what. It’s easier when you can look at it this way, because then I can look at my biological mother and the way that she left me and be okay with it, because I’ve got my real mother now.
What to say to your adopted child?
I’d take my mother’s recipe and recycle it into my adopted child’s life. She never gives up on us, she didn’t just say that I had a bad past and to just move on: she helped me deal with myself so that I can come to terms with stuff and accept that I am loved now. I think it would be horrible to adopt a child and just say ‘you are loved by me’: you’ve got to help them love themselves as well. Once you love yourself, you can accept that you are loved and also start to understand your biological parents’ story with compassion. (My biological mom didn’t have someone like my Mom to help her, like I’ve been helped, so I can’t be angry with her for acting the way she did.)
What not to say to your adopted child?
Tell the story about the adoption as honestly as possible, but never put the biological parents down. Your kid has got their DNA and you don’t want them rejecting themselves. They need to be able to honour their biological parents even if you really have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find something nice to say!
Would you ever consider adoption in your future?
Definitely. I feel like someone gave me a chance and there are plenty of kids out there who need a family. Even if I don’t end up having kids (biological or adopted), I would want to help other people when they adopt and be part of the bigger village that raises the kids, like so many of my Mom’s friends and family have done for us.