We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.
― Herman Melville.
Our lives in this world are defined by our relationships with other people. Connections we have with family, friends, acquaintances, and even people we don’t know (yet), are what makes us who we are. We are known to others by the way we treat other people, our capacity for empathy and compassion, or lack thereof.
Most people will agree that their relationships with family members are the most important bonds of all. I agree. I define family to include not only people related to us by marriage and blood, but also those people in our lives who appreciate having us in theirs. Friends who encourage us to pursue what makes us happy, what is healthy, and what makes us feel whole. Friends who embrace not only who and what we are, but also what we strive to be.
I remember my Dad telling me that if I paid attention, I could learn something from every single person I met in life. People can and will teach you life lessons–you just need to be open. You need to be open to the good and the bad. You need to be open to the unknown. Sometimes it takes extra effort or courage to allow life’s opportunities and adventures to hit you head on without allowing the fear of the unknown or what you think you know about a particular situation shut you down.
It never occurred to me that my bio mom (I’m more comfortable referring to this way, rather than referring to her as “birthmother”) might not be open to contact with me. Although I did not expect a “happily ever after” type reunion–she had been through a pretty dark time in her life when I was born, after all. I did hope that there had been enough healing in her life that she would be able to accept me. Or at least acknowledge me, I mistakenly thought that she’d at least want to hear that I turned out okay–that the family that adopted me loved me and provided a home and environment where I could grow and flourish,
So I waited. I had given the private investigator a copy of my non-identifying story. It was pretty easy for the investigator to positively identify and find her. With her last name, my date of birth, and the fact that she had given birth while serving a sentence in federal prison, all the investigator had to do was spend some time at the prison going through the records around the time of my birth.
Margaret Sue Michaels. Born 12 April 1945 in Chicago. Arrested August 1963. Inmate number 0738. In hospital Dec 15 thru 19th–no reason given. Arrested at the school she was attending, turned in by her step-father. Sentenced to 10 years.
Wow. Turned in by her stepfather. I remembered the details from Mr. Witt’s non-identifying report. Margaret didn’t remember much about her “real” father. According to the story I had, Margaret was very happy with her stepfather. She felt that “he was all things a father should be.”
So what happened to Margaret after she was released from prison? The investigator hit a lot of dead ends trying to track her down (it will become apparent a little later why ), so the investigator turned to the information I had provided about Margaret’s half-siblings and other family members to try to make some connections. Those individuals were not so hard to find.
The written report I have from the private investigator chronicles the search, her contact with other family members in an attempt to locate Margaret, and finally, her initial contact with Margaret. Some of the other family members that were contacted were helpful, providing information that would lead to Margaret’s whereabouts. Some of the family members were not helpful, but not because they didn’t want to help, but because they thought the investigator was on the trail of the wrong person. The Margaret Michaels they knew didn’t have any children.
It was actually Margaret that contacted the investigator, after receiving a message from a family member that she was looking for her.
Report on phone call from Margaret Michaels, natural mother of Laureen Hubachek: Collect call about 10 am, very angry: “Do not tell me about my daughter, l know all that. I want to tell you how totally insensitive and unethical it was of you to contact so many people–how many have you contacted? Tell me, how many!” I told her I had only spoken to 2 individuals. One was her mother Eve. She demanded: “Don’t contact anyone else! I had to do something very terrible! I had to lie to my mother!”
The investigator reminded her that she had only used public information and records and that if she hadn’t kept her whereabouts unlisted and hidden, she could have found her without contacting anyone else. That didn’t sit well. Margaret lashed out: “Maybe that should tell you something! I didn’t want to be found!”
Margaret went on to explain to the investigator that the social worker, the good and great Mr. Witt, had already contacted her. Wow! Impressive! But Mr. Witt had to seek her out through other family members, as well as, just like the investigator. Mr Witt had also contacted Eve. Eve told Mr. Witt the same thing she told the investigator: “Margaret never had a child.”
Margaret went on to tell off the investigator–lots of colorful words were used. In the report I have, the conversation is described by the investigator as “hostile.” She indicated that she was considering signing the Waiver of Confidentiality (wait, I thought that was against the rules . . .) and if she decided to contact me, she would do it through the social worker.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that Mr. Witt went to the trouble to find Margaret, tell her that I was looking for her and that I had signed the Waiver, and solicit a signed waiver from her. Honestly, if I had thought that the county social services would provide me with search services for free, I would have never paid money to an investigator to do the job. Remember, the Waiver I signed even says: “I understand that the law prohibits the Department or licensed adoption agency from soliciting, directly or indirectly the execution of such a waiver.” In fact, I had read plenty of stories about waivers actually being ignored. Unfortunately, having a “Waiver of Confidentiality” on file is no guarantee that a social worker or clerk won’t ignore it (or be just too lazy to even look at the file to see whether there is a signed waiver in place) if a birth relative comes looking. There have even been cases where an agency has had contact from both parties (adoptee and adoptive parent), where the worker or workers at the agency never let either of the parties know they were being sought! The waivers were just sitting in a file! That wasn’t going to happen to me. I hired the investigator because I wanted to move forward, not just sit and wait.
Well, the investigator called me on the phone to relay all of this information to me initially. I remember where I was. I was at work–in an office at my university. I cried. I was so frustrated that she was so angry. How could she be angry? It was her lie. Not mine. What did I do? Well, I took a step back and waited for a while. In the back of my mind I thought for sure she’d make contact through Mr. Witt. She’d cool off and figure out what to tell her family, then sign the waiver. We’d get to meet (or at least talk on the phone) and I’d apologize for upsetting her. It wasn’t my intent to be an intrusion or to burst into her life and claim her as my long lost mother. I had a mother and a father and a whole family that were perfectly fine–great actually. She had to want to meet me, right?
Wrong. I never heard again from Mr. Witt. Or Margaret. A few weeks after the phone call from the investigator, I received the complete report on the search in the mail, along with a short letter:
At the request of our Director, I am enclosing your birthmother’s address. The telephone is not available, but we could get it with some expense.
The investigator provided Margaret’s address and confirmed through public records that she was the owner of the home. Case closed.
How did I feel? Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Hurt. Rejected. But I also felt compassion. At first I really wanted to apologize to her, if you can believe that! I wanted to apologize for disrupting her world. She was angry. It was my fault.
After a week or so though, I, too, became angry. I was obviously still hurt, but I came to realize that I did nothing wrong. It was Margaret that lied (or hid the truth–however she wants to define it). I realize with Margaret, there was a double whammy of shame and guilt going on back in 1963–not only was she 18 and pregnant, but she was also serving a prison term. But it had been over 20 years! There had to have been some soul-searching and healing going on. You’d think. Anyway, whether or not she had healed or buried her guilt and shame, lied, was successful in her life, or whether she was living in a garbage bin behind the grocery store–it wasn’t my fault. I still believed that I had a right to information. Information about my birth, about my ancestry, my heritage, my birthfather and other family members. Medical information, My needs are real and valid. I need to know my story.