September 20, 2012

Are you adopted or know someone who is adopted?

If so I am sure some of these questions have come to mind.  Who do I look like?  Where did I get my hair color/type?  Who gave me these green eyes?  Who do I act like?  What if any medical challenges are in my family history?  Did my biological Mom and Dad marry?  Do they think of me on my birthday?  Christmas?  Do I have any other brothers or sisters?  What do my parents do?  Where do they live? Was there a moment when they wanted to raise me themselves?

I am adopted and these are all questions that I pondered growing up.  There were a few pieces of information  that my Mom and Dad were given about me at the time of adoption and they were: 1) my heritage, 2) where I was born, 3) that my mom wanted me to be placed with a two parent household and 4) that I'd be raised Lutheran. 

I am guessing that some individuals feel resentment towards being put up for adoption, but I on the other hand did not ever feel that way.  I knew my adopted family was “my” family.  They chose me and wanted me to be a part of their family.  My parents were kind and loving parents who gave me direction, discipline and responsibility through my growing years at home.  I belonged even though I didn’t look like anyone in the family. 

As the years passed my curiosity grew stronger and stronger.  I am someone who enjoys connection with others and learning from others.  I knew in my heart that one day I would meet my biological parents in person.  I remember feeling anxious and scared about the first time we would talk.  What would be my first question?  Would everyone in their families accept me?  Did everyone even know about me or was my biological mom’s pregnancy kept a secret as so many were years ago?  Would I fit into their family?

And then on the other hand there were many questions and feelings that arose within me thinking about how my Mom (adoptive) and family that I grew up with would react to my desire.  Would my Mom and family be supportive, angry or hurt with my desire to find my roots?  Would they think that they didn’t do a ‘good enough’ job in raising me that I’d want to seek my past? Would they be jealous of my other family if I found them and wanted to have a relationship with them?  Would they want to meet them? Would our relationship change and if so, how?
When I turned 18 I knew that I now had the power to begin the process of searching for my biological parents, but it wasn’t until 11 years later that I finally filled out the application and mailed it in.  I had previously ordered the application on a couple different occasions, but for monetary reasons I hadn’t followed through.  At the time I filled it out and sent in the application I lived several states away from where I grew up which meant if they wanted to meet me we’d have some travel plans to put in place.

I received a call from the Lutheran Social Services (LSS) Social Worker promptly within the week of mailing off my application.  She informed me that they would have all of the ‘non-identifying’ information mailed out to me with 30 days (by law).  They would also be making calls to contact the parent(s) listed on my original birth certificate to let them know that their daughter was searching for them.  I remember her and I talking about the process, emotions, etc. and she encouraged me to pick up the book, ‘Birth right, The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents and Adoptive Parents’ by Jean A. Strauss.  I would recommend this book to anyone seeking guidance and support with searching for your birthparents and reunifying with them.  There are some chapters that may not pertain to everyone, but overall it was what I needed at the time.  I have since passed it onto another friend of mine who was searching as well.  I knew that there would be indifferent feelings from my Mom when I would tell her about this search and I questioned the Social Worker about this.  She reminded me that it is my “birth right” to know where I came from.  I held tight to those words in my mind and spirit.  She was right. It was my birth right to know my biological parents (if they chose to let me into their lives) and my heritage.  I had to set aside my worry and anxiety about what others would think and remind myself that I was doing this for ME.

When I received my non-identifying information I immediately opened up the package and began reading.  I had hospital records, nurse’s notes, court records from when my birth mom met the judge to agree to give me up for adoption, medical information for both parents.  All information that would identify (name, age, address, phone number, etc.) someone was blacked out with a marker.   

I was 29 years old and more excited than a child at Christmas with the present that had just landed in my mailbox.  I continued to tell myself, “whatever information I receive I will be very thankful for” so that I would not be let down if my parent(s) didn’t want to know me further.

My Case Worker had informed me that they would take up to another six weeks to research and contact the birth parent(s) listed on the sealed birth certificate. I took out my calendar and counted down the days so I could keep track of each and every one of them. Excitement was looming. About halfway through this time I called to check in and to see if they were having any challenges in the search?  There was nothing she could tell me at that point except that they did have the contact information and were trying to make contact.  Another three weeks went by, I called again and ended up leaving a message.  When she called me right back, she told me that she had just gotten off the phone with my birth mom.  I was informed at this time that she wanted to meet me and would sign an affidavit to release my original birth certificate to me, as well as, fill out new documents on updated family history information.  Once she received the signed paperwork she would call me and give me her information.  I was also informed that my birth mom did not list my birth dad on my birth certificate so they had no information.  The search was completed with my birth mom.
I was filled with so many emotions at this point; anxiety, excitement, joy, happiness, tears and some fear.  I was really going to meet my birth mom.  My dream had become my reality.  What would my adopted family think?  How would I break the news to my Mom? I was more scared to break the news to my Mom than to meet my birth mom.  Our relationship over the years wasn’t close and I feared that this could estrange it even more.

Four days had passed and I got another phone call from the Case Worker.  She had gotten the signed paperwork and was calling to give me my birth mom’s contact information; which was her name, address and phone number.  The ball was in my court to pick up the phone.  After all these years snail mail wasn’t going to work for me, I had to pick up the phone and dial her number.  I had written her contact information on a piece of paper and carried it in my pocket through my work day.  I had handed it to one of my closest friends at work, who knew immediately whose name that was and wanted to know when I was going to call.  What was I going to say?  What did I expect?  I seemed to get more nervous with each of her questions. 

I had to ask myself what I would say.  How would I start the conversation? What did I want to know? After work I went straight home and took the phone into my bedroom (before cell phones).  I sat on my bed and dialed the number, butterflies were fluttering pretty fast.  The phone rang and rang and rang and no one answered.  I thought to myself, ‘whew…. I can build up some more courage and call back in a little while.” All those previous questions ran through my head again. 

I called back an hour later and she answered the phone!  She was the woman who gave me life, how could I thank her enough?  When she answered I simply said, “Hi, this is your daughter.”  She immediately said, “Hi, do you have blonde hair?”  I thought that a strange question and I answered, “I did when I was a baby, but it’s strawberry blonde and getting darker all the time.”  She then told me that her Mom was the only person to see me in the nursery after I was born and she had told her that I had blonde hair. 

We talked for hours because she was quite the talkative type.  We talked about everything, from where I grew up, to where I lived currently. We talked about family, friends, occupations, kids, interests, etc.  We decided that we would send each other pictures of ourselves, family and anything important that we wanted to share.  I was on pins and needles again waiting for the pictures to arrive.  I had no idea of what she looked like.  Nor did she have a clue of what I looked like.  Pictures arrived and inside her envelope were also photo copied pictures of my birth dad, and his sister.  She told me later that she did not list him on my birth certificate because she was upset with him at the time of my birth.  She wanted me to know who he was and about his family, so it was very nice of her to send those pictures along to me.  One of her closest friends was his sister, my Aunt.

During these weeks I talked to my brother (that I grew up with) many times to see how I should approach telling our Mom about this.  He thought that it would be best if I told her I was thinking about doing the search to see how she’d respond before letting her know the real outcome.  I was scared to call, so I wrote her a letter.  Weeks went by and she never wrote me back.  I already had a flight booked to go home for a visit in a couple more weeks, so I thought I’d bring it up when I was there to see her reaction.

When I got to my Mom’s I didn’t bring anything up for a few days just to see if she would first.  I was on pins and needles, filled with tension about how to bring it up. One night after dinner she was in the kitchen ironing clothes and I decided it was now or never.  I asked her if she had received my last letter.  She stated that she had.  I then asked her what she thought about me searching for my birth parents.  She snapped back at me with, “the past is the past and that’s where I think you should leave it.”  END OF DISCUSSION.  I flew back to my home a couple of days later and moved forward with my new found families / relationships.

My birth mom and I talked off and on and discussed a trip for me to fly to their area and meet the family, etc.  She wanted me to come and stay for two weeks or more.  I was very hesitant because, after all, I didn’t know these people even though they were my family.  I did agree to make a trip, for one week.  I had watched reunion shows all my life and didn’t want to be part of a big “hoopla” at mine.  So, I asked them (my birth mom and her husband) to come alone to the airport.  They did so, however when I entered into the airport everyone in front of me was cheering and clapping.  I found out later that they were not family, just people there who heard our story.

We had to drive 90 minutes to get to their home and I don’t remember what we talked about, but the time flew by.  When we got to their home, they showed me to “my” room.  I can clearly remember laying in bed that night thinking to myself, “I’m in the home of strangers, yet this is the mother who gave me life and I hope this week goes well or it will be VERY LONG.”

The rest of the week went flawless – I got to meet several family members (Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Grandparents, etc.) and travel around the area to experience its beauty.  Everyone was very welcoming to me and one of the best things I treasured was that I had Grandparents again!  How special was that?  I learned that I was born on my Grandmothers birthday and that she had had a dream earlier in the year that a blonde woman walked up to her daughter’s house, knocked on the door and said, “Hi, I’m your daughter.”   Everything came full circle for all of us.

On the last day of my stay, we had lunch in the town where my birth father lived.  My birth mom was playing “hookie” from work, so we had taken the ferry across the lake to have lunch elsewhere.  As we were eating, my birth mom said in shock, “oh my gosh, there goes your dad!”  As he walked out the door, I got up and ran over to the window to see him walk away and up the stairs to his office across the street.  My birth mom and I talked about him and what we should do, if anything.  We finished our lunch and had a debate in front of the restaurant about whether or not she should go talk to him.  There had been no communication between these two individuals for 29 years and she was very nervous to do so now.  She asked me if I wanted to go up there and my answer was that, out of respect for him, I could not do that.  I told her that if she wasn’t comfortable with going up to talk to him, then I could write him a letter once I returned home.  She looked at me and said, “I can do this.”  I watched her walk away and up the stairs to his office.  It felt like an eternity while waiting for her to re-appear.  She did and my birth dad was walking beside her.  I got out of the car and we met.  We introduced ourselves and hugged.  We were at a loss for words, just tears and joy. 

I later learned that when my birthmom went to his office he was in a meeting with another gentleman so she had to stand and wait for him.  When he saw her, he called her by name and inquired why she was there.  She said, “Do remember what happened 29 years ago?” to which he replied, “Yes?”  She then said, “Your daughter is outside if you’d like to meet her.”  She had told me that when he tried to stand up, his knees buckled, so he sat back down and turned the other direction, wiping his eyes.  He stood up again, cleaned himself off (he’s in construction) and tucked in his shirt to be more presentable.

This was scheduled to be my last day of the trip, however, with the new opportunity to spend time with him, we went to his office, called our travel agent and had my return flight changed to add another day. 

My birth mom drove me to the ferry dock early the next morning so I could catch the first boat going over to the island. I felt anxiety all over again for how the day would go.  It was so incredible spending that day together.  He showed me the area and introduced me to several family members.  Some knew of my existence and others were shocked.  The general comment by those that were caught off guard was, “ah…….okay, well you do look alike, so welcome to the family.”  I think he got a kick out of shocking some these people. 

As we were driving around the island he turned into the airport and drove over to a hanger.  He pulled up the garage door and said, “Do you want to go up and see the islands from another view?”  I immediately inquired to see if he had a license and when the last time was that he had been up flying.  He answered them correctly and up we went!  It was such a beautiful view and definitely a time to remember – I wish I’d had my camera with me.

We took the 5:30 p.m. boat back to the mainland to meet my birth mom.  I remember tears rolling down my cheeks as I had to say good-bye (for now). 
My trip was complete and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.  I got to meet so many incredible family members who were all very kind and welcoming.  I’ve heard of reunification stories that hadn’t gone very well and I believe that mine has been the best I’ve heard of.  I have remained in close contact with everyone since the meeting and have developed incredible friendships.

I don’t want to give the impression that EVERYTHING was joyous, as we did have some challenges along the way between my birth mom and myself.  I believe she thought that she’d be another ‘Mom’ to me, but since I was already 29 years old I wasn’t in need of another Mom.  In turn we’ve become very good friends which has worked out great.  I have always kept the title of Mom and Dad for those who raised me.  I call my birth mom and dad by their names.  They are my friends and two incredible individuals who gave me life and for that I will always be most grateful.  Giving a child up for adoption is a very unselfish act and not many can do this.  It takes a very strong and special person do so and an even stronger one to welcome their child back into their lives. 

The relationship that I have with my Mom has remained the same, as we don’t talk about my “other friends” as she puts it.  She is still my Mom and I love her and always will.  I have had some family members and even more friends, meet my birth families and others that have no interest.  I have let those meetings happen as they wish and others I do not ask to do so.  Everyone knows about my birth families and they ask about them often, but meeting them seems to be a different story.  I’m not exactly sure why, but that is their right and I respect that as well.  My birth mom would LOVE to meet my Mom to shake her hand and say, “Thank You”, but that will never happen.  She’s very appreciative for the role my Mom and Dad took in raising me.

The best gift I could ever give myself was following through with my birth right search.  Even if one doesn’t get to meet their birth mom or dad, they may develop some great friendships with siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.  You will never know unless you do it.  The control is in the adopted child’s hands.
I do feel that ordering your non-identifying information to give you your medical background is a must.  We all are entitled to that information and to know where we came from.

On September 28, 1998 my dream came true!  I wish for others reading this to have their dream come true as well!

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