Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

Degree Name

Creative Writing (Nonfiction)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Judy Blunt


abuse, adoption, gender, identity, memoir, native american, place, race, racism, transracial, violence, creative nonfiction, family


University of Montana


I was twenty-seven years old before I met my birth mother. But from the moment I saw her, I had no doubt about who she was. That sensation, of recognizing yourself in another person’s face, was something I’d never before experienced. It is a warm and frightening sensation where all at once you feel that this person loves you and knows you and is you because they look like you. This is different from an adoptive parent who loves you and knows you because they have worked to make themselves familiar. But the familiarity of nurture is different from nature. Like animation, an adoptive family exists only when in motion. Its features are found in example, mannerisms, and beliefs – things that one does: Dad’s a hard worker Grandma is a worrywart The Henderson’s have tempers Nature, on the other hand, simply and irrevocably is – father’s eyes, aunt’s chin, mother’s hairline. Each generation not only claims physical attributes as exclusively their own, they wed them to certain actions and expectations. Like an astrological sign, being born with a grandfather’s square jaw may “pre-determine” you to be tough and stubborn while inheriting your mother’s brow implies a certain sensitivity. But for an adopted child, the jaws, ears, brows and lips on your face don’t have relatives – despite other’s attempts at marrying them off. To say “I am adopted” is similar to saying “I am my past,” or “Who I am is someone else.” When you’re adopted, how do you put yourself behind you?

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© Copyright 2010 Robert Brandon Henderson