From Pieces to Promise: Becoming Whole After Abandonment
By Michelle Madrid-Branch
I entered the world as a “matter” for the country of England to settle. In simpler terms, I was the product of an affair. A “predicament” as government records indicated:
“The birthfather has paid no maintenance for the child and has taken no interest whatever, either in the mother’s predicament, or the baby’s future.”
After my birth, arrangements were made to have me placed in a foster home. Several months later, my mother read these words printed on a brown piece of paper: In The Matter Of Julie. She signed the document, stating that she could not raise me. Some say it is impossible for a child to sense this moment. I disagree. My spirit felt each letter as my mother pressed down on the signature line, spelling out her name, and severing the cord between us.
Her signature officially ended our legal-relationship as mother and daughter, relinquishing her right to parent. It is strange how something so seemingly insignificant, like a small slip of paper, can alter one’s life so completely. The parental order would be filed. Julie had been officially abandoned.
Finding a family could prove unfavorable for a little one born of a secret liaison, who also carried the markings of an ethnic child. I have read that social workers alerted potential parents of my “dark” appearance, and I was marked as “difficult to place.” I had been judged before I could even walk. Surely, every child is worthy of love.
Somehow, this early judgement embedded itself within my DNA. I did not feel of value. Even after I was internationally adopted, when I became Michelle, these emotional scars remained. Abandonment had left a gaping hole within me.
There was a time when adoption, for me, was like death…but not really.
It was like life…but not quite.
For years, it seemed that I lived between two shores—neither here, nor there. I was trapped somewhere between the first me and the adopted me, between Julie and Michelle—biology and biography. My lens on life seemed cast in shadows of black and white. Shame has no color. And, I was indeed ashamed, embarrassed over something that I could not control: the story—the history—of me.
I had been left alone, made empty by a vast open space that could not be filled. A massive sky permeated by nothingness. Free falling. Confused by the questions that could not be answered, the voices that would not be heard, and the feelings that should not be shared.
I wasn’t alive…I was barely living. Treading the unforgiving waters of abandonment, battered by the waves of rejection. Judged and misunderstood, I looked everywhere for life—for breath—and searched in all places outside of myself.
Abandonment was like a bully on the playground. It always found me, even when I tried—desperately—to hide. It hunted me with laser-like precision, reminding me that I was disposable. These reminders would hit me out of nowhere, like bombs exploding all around me, shattering my world and striking fear deep within my soul. I didn’t want my imperfect story to be known to others. Life had taught me that flawed things get sent back—flawed people get sent away.
What I could not recognize, as a girl, was that I carried around the burden of my birthparents’ story. I wore it like a choke chain around my neck. I dragged along with me the baggage of what had been projected onto me by others. I had unknowingly given them permission to define me, to set parameters on my life, and my potential for happiness and fulfillment.
I was their prisoner. I was not free.
The moment when I realized this truth, there was an uprising within me. A fire so hot and a sensation so strong that it caused me to stop and break—not into pieces—but into promise.
My life was not the sum of those things that had happened to me as a child. I was not the definitions that had been placed upon me in foster care. I was not illegitimate. I was not impure. I was not inferior.
Becoming whole after the fallout of abandonment would—first—require me to forgive those who had hurt me, and to also forgive myself for any and all self-punishment. Through forgiveness, I felt lighter. The weight of shame was lifted because I had let go of blame.
Then, it was time to claim my truth. To know who I was—who I am—and to communicate that truth clearly to the universe. Not to control my history, but to assert it with clarity—strong of voice and willing to share. With this, I experienced a shift in the way I envisioned my life.
I began to embrace the imperfections of my story, knowing that without these imperfect moments, I would not be the woman I am today. I am compassionate because I understand the pain of intolerance, I am strong because I once felt weak, I am a champion because I once felt defeated, I am full because I once felt empty, I am whole because I once felt broken.
All that had once held me back, those disappointments that had limited my potential—were now transformed into the fuel that would thrust me forward. This force had been within me all along, waiting to be released. I just didn’t know it… no one ever told me.
I am telling you this: everything that you need to heal and come alive is within you. You may not be able to put your past behind you, but you can allow your past to work for you.
Abandonment happened to me. I won’t allow it—anymore—to define me. On this solid foundation I have built a path to freedom, I have bridged the two shores, and I live a life—not in black and white—but in full color.
Michelle Madrid-Branch is an author, speaker and global advocate for women and children. She promotes the empowerment of women; in doing so, she is dedicated to be a catalyst for change—for when women are empowered to lead full and productive lives, their children, families, and communities prosper.
She is the Executive Producer and Host of The Greater Than Project, a documentary web series exploring the intrinsic greatness within women. The project encourages women to stand together, authentically—scars, flaws, and all—in order to recognize their inner strength, leave the trappings of the past behind, and move forward in their lives.
Michelle enjoyed a decade-long successful career as a television news anchor and investigative journalist, including an Emmy nomination while on-air with ABC-TV. She has three books in print—The Tummy Mummy, Adoption Means Love: Triumph of the Heart, and Mascara Moments: Embracing the Woman in the Mirror—and is currently writing a fourth. Michelle has been referred to as a “world-wide voice on adoption” by Adoption Australia. She was inducted into the New Mexico Women’s Hall of Fame in 2006 and honored with the Governor’s Award for Outstanding New Mexico Women by Governor Bill Richardson. An international adoptee herself, she is the recipient of the 2004 Congressional Angels in Adoption Award.
Michelle never steps down when it’s time to speak up on behalf of others, and does so with a natural poise, genuine curiosity, and deep respect for whomever is in front of her. Her international upbringing allows her to feel at home anywhere in the world. With a shared passion for adventure and service, Michelle and her family live and travel worldwide. Their current home is in Santa Barbara, CA.