{Novel Ramblings} When Truth Is [Sadly] Stranger than Fiction

“You always did have a pretty wild imagination.”

That was the (not unkind) response from a friend when I told her the plot overview of the novel I finished in spring 2014: the physical, emotional, and spiritual journey of a young woman who learns, at age twenty-five, that she was adopted at birth and goes in search of her birth family. So, is it a “pretty wild” storyline? Some people have said it is, such as a contest judge who found it “completely unrealistic that a woman could live twenty-five years without knowing she was adopted.” In actuality, though, the plot is the result of a “What if…?” question that I ended up asking after a real-life encounter. So yeah. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Years back, I worked as a pediatric medical assistant. One of my duties was preparing new patients to see the physician. I would put patients in exam rooms, take their vital signs, and ask their parents questions to document a medical history.

One afternoon, I met a sweet new patient named Ashley (name changed). She was thirteen years old, had recently moved to the area, and came into the office with her mom. While her mom was very friendly while I introduced myself and took Ashley’s vitals, her demeanor changed when I started the medical history. She seemed hesitant to answer my questions at first, but then responded with only simple detail. I suspected something was up but made no indication of that (although I planned on informing the physician). I gave Ashley her gown and left the room so she could get changed.

Moments later, Ashley’s mom came out. “I need to tell you something,” she said after ushering me away from the room. “The medical history I gave you isn’t Ashley’s. We don’t know much about her medical history because she’s adopted. She doesn’t know…and we have no intention of telling her.”

That just about blew me away. Thirteen years old, didn’t know she was adopted, and her parents had no intention of telling her she wasn’t their biological child. There were so many questions I wanted to ask. How can you not tell her? Don’t you think she deserves to know the truth? How will you explain if/when she finds out? Of course, it wasn’t my place to probe her. Instead, I thanked her for telling me and let her know that I’d inform the physician.

I didn’t sleep much that night. My mind ruminated about Ashley. A close friend of mine was adopted, and even though she was a Christian, had an awesome adoptive family, and had always known she was adopted, she struggled. Abandonment issues and depression plagued her, and during one particularly dark bout, she even attempted suicide. What would happen to Ashley? Would she eventually somehow find out she was adopted—and if she did, how would she react? Would she be okay with it (maybe she’d already suspected)? Would she hate her adoptive parents for lying to her? Would she be unable to ever trust them—or anyone else—again? God, be with her, I prayed. She’s going to need you.

I don’t know how Ashley’s life has played out, whether she’s learned she was adopted or not. But the sad truth is that this happens. Just google “late-discovery adoptee” and you’ll find information, support groups, and message boards for people who are striving to cope and thrive after learning as adults that they were adopted as newborns or infants. I have to wonder if Ashley is now one of them, or if she’ll join their ranks in the future.

And that’s where the plotline for the story came from. This time, the writerly “What if…?” question resulted in a character who learned, as an adult, that she was adopted at birth. What followed was a lot of research about late-discovery adoptees, candid talks about the many aspects of adoption with two friends (one an adoptee and the other an adoptive mom), and a story that delves into some really tough issues. I hope it will someday bless the adoption community by painting a picture of the struggles—and triumphs—many of them face.

So where have your “What if…?” questions taken you in your writing journey?

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About the author : christydistler