Scars and Chain Link Fences

Scars fade with time. And the ones that never go away, well, they build character, maturity, caution. — Erin McCarthy

Relationships develop slowly.  Because they have to.  Adults, with their character, reasoning, actions and reactions having been molded by a lifetime of individual (and sometimes solitary) experience, are often cautious.  Sometimes the lifetime of experience builds walls, causing unintended isolation and a kind of numbness to what’s real and what matters. The walls can not only separate you from other people, they can separate you from your true self–making relationships difficult, or even impossible.fence flowers 1

I like to think that I have no walls.  But I know that is not entirely true.  I would characterize them more as fences, rather than walls. Something like a chain-link fence that I can see through and past. It’s easy for me to let people in . . . most of the time.  It’s super easy for me to go outside of my fence and do whatever it is I need to do. But there are times when I don’t let anyone in. And there are times I just hang out . . . alone. But doesn’t everyone have walls or fences?

Writing this blog is a big deal for me.  I’ve let all of you in.  You know my reality–I’ve told it exactly like it is.  The truth–except for changing some of the names.  My reality.  As much as I know.  As much as I allow myself to feel.

I know that my reality, or my adoption truth, is different from anyone else’s.  It’s even different for those who are directly involved in my story.  A person’s reality, whether or not adoption is part of the picture, is a obviously a product of many subjective perceptions, filtered through a personal and unique emotional, psychological and sometimes spiritual lens. But without the truth, reality is skewed.  It’s wrong.

Everyone is entitled to know the facts or learn their own truth. If an individual does not know his or her truth, the lies become the story.  The lies become the history.  The lies become the untruth. It’s unfair.

Why can’t we all be on the right side of history?  The correct and only reality: the truth . An adoptee’s experience as he or she grows should be affirmed with the truth–the story of what really happened.  It’s understood that as a child she is told only small parts of the truth.  As much as a child’s brain can handle and still allow love and trust to enter the picture.  But as an adult, she should be given the opportunity to hear the truths from those that lived it, and to be offered context in order to process and to own that truth. With that truth, an adoptee can build a sense of trust and openness, as well as a willingness to share. Intimacy.

I am thankful that Jackson is open and honest.  He and I are learning about each other.  I am happy that he is open to learning more about himself by letting me be a part of his truth. It’s amazing, really. He’s still grappling with the idea of having a “new” 50-year-old daughter and he has many questions himself.  Questions that I can’t answer.  His truth, like mine, depends on context and answers that can be provided by only one person: Margaret.

Talk about walls. As you know, I was not able to break down Margaret’s walls.  I believe she’s happy content oblivious numb living inside those walls. She feels protected–from what, I do not know. Jackson still toys with the idea of writing to Margaret.  He’s even mentioned wanting to “see” her.

He asked me recently about how I felt about Margaret today. My response:

I want to be as clear as possible about how I feel about Margaret. I know enough about her (her situation 50 years ago, as well as her life as an adult, which includes a successful career and fierce independence as a woman), and while I would have loved to have had some sort of open communication with her over the years, I understand that I won’t. Frankly, the person that I am today doesn’t want to meet her. In my heart I believe that she would disappoint me if I ever did meet her in person–she was not meant to be a mother and she absolutely did the right thing in relinquishing me for adoption. That being said, I am not angry or resentful. Disappointed–yes. But not angry. And definitely not longing for some motherly relationship I never had.

I loved his response.

Laureen, I like you very much…. you are honest and straight forward. I am more and more inclined to write your mom and tell her exactly what has happened here. She needs to understand that whatever has happened is old business. Life is what it is about right now. Making things better on this planet is what it is about. I just don’t want to cause her trouble.

Warm Fuzzy

Warm Fuzzy

I especially liked the “I like you very much” part. [warm fuzzies]

Real Life Unfolding . . . Be Patient

We should not be so taken up in the search for truth, as to neglect the duties of active life; for it is only action that gives a true value and commendation to virtue. — Marcus Tullius Cicero

I’ve neglected this blog.  I apologize.  “Real life” has kind of taken over.  Wait . . . that’s not accurate. Or fair. It’s all real. What I mean is, some things going on in my life have taken a priority over other things. I haven’t been able to keep you properly updated on everything that’s been going on. Nothing earth shattering . . . but that’s okay.  After all, it’s just real life.

I’m currently re-reading Richard Hill’s book, Finding Family.  I devoured it quickly several months ago, at that time I was mostly interested in how DNA testing fit into the search for his biological family. It’s a fascinating story that begins before the internet even existed and continues through the evolution of science and technology. I won’t spoil the story for you (you should read it!), but I keep thinking about how patient he was.  His search over the decades was methodical and creative at times.  Before the internet appeared on the scene, “research” was done with a lot of legwork (especially difficult if you are researching something that happened in another state or another even another country), hit and miss telephone calls, and dogged determination.  Understandably, there were periods over the nearly 3-decade time period when nothing happened.  No progress was made. Sometimes years  went by with his search just sitting on the back burner.  He got busy with “real life.”

Real life includes it all: your health and the health of your family members, your marriage (or your relationship with your significant other), family, friends, kids in school, kids in sports, adult kids moving back home, aging parents that need help more and more, career, hobbies, etc.  At any moment, the juggling act to keep it all going can be thrown out of whack. Throw in a search for biological family members and all of the emotional ups and downs that go with it.  Something has to give.

Needless to say, my real life has gotten a little crazy lately.  I know I don’t need to explain it to you because I know that each and every one of you have experienced some sort of personal crisis or something that seemed to suddenly throw your life into chaos or elevated stress mode. So I apologize for the lag in between posts.  Enough said about that.

There is good news.  I’m happy to report that Jackson and I are communicating again. Apparently the communication “breakdown” was caused by a new e-mail address and a problem with e-mail servers not accepting mail from certain domains. We’ve figured it out and all is well.  He’s still the open-hearted, sweet man he always has been.  We even video chatted!  It was totally by accident (my son just pushed the button and handed me the phone and there he was!) and I was totally unprepared, but it was really fantastic to talk to him “face-to-face.”  He still has questions and still wants to know more about Margaret. I wish I knew more.  He’s written a few letters to Margaret, but hasn’t sent any.  He’d rather talk to her in person (he’s brave).  I told him I’d help him out however I can.  Who knows . . . maybe a road trip is in our future!  Okay, that’s a long shot.  I still haven’t even met Jackson.  I hope to soon.

Jackson does want to go ahead and re-submit DNA to another company to confirm our father/daughter match.  I’m fine with that, so hopefully we’ll be doing that soon.  I think I will also submit samples from both of my sons at the same time.  Perhaps a double dose of an instant grandson matches might convince him beyond a reasonable doubt that he is my biological father.

If you’ll recall, a few months ago when Jackson suggested sending in another sample he thought it would also be a good idea to have his other daughter submit a sample, too.  I thought that would be cool–a sister.  But apparently she’s not interested.  I don’t know exactly how she feels about my arrival on the scene, but she is not interested in sending in a DNA sample to help her father out.  It’s also apparent that she isn’t interested in developing a relationship with her biological half-sister.  At least not yet.  That’s okay . . . remember Richard Hill’s story?  These things take time.  And I know from past experience you just can’t rush (or force) these things.

The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter. — Paulo Coelho, Veronika Decides to Die

 

Rewriting The Past

Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation. — Edward R. Murrow

I had answers to some of the most basic, vital questions.  I knew the identity of my biological mother: Margaret Michaels.

I knew the identity of my biological father (thanks to DNA): Jackson Summer.

As you know, I have never actually spoken to Margaret.  The last “contact” I had with her was the self-bloated letter I received from her over 20 years ago.  She has no desire to meet me or to even carry on a conversation via letter or e-mail.  I have respected that.  She never disclosed to anyone, including her mother, my biological father, or her siblings (4 of them) that she was ever pregnant.  The only people in her “world” who knew she was pregnant and relinquished a child were the prison personnel (and presumably other inmates), social workers and hospital personnel.  It is also possible that her stepfather knew.  According to the story from the social worker (my non-identifying story), he was the one who turned Margaret in to the authorities, which resulted in her arrest.

So was it true that none of Margaret’s family came to visit her during her stay at the Greybar Inn?  She was there for 3 1/2 years (sentenced to 10).  If anyone came to see her during the first 3 months of her incarceration, they would have surely guessed she was pregnant (or she really liked the prison food).  I guess they could have come to visit after December (she was arrested in September) and not known she was ever pregnant. That makes a little bit of sense.  Margaret’s mother (my grandmother) was actually pregnant at the same time as Margaret (let’s get all the complicated details together, here). Remember this tidbit from my non-identifying story?

Baby Christopher is the 3-month old half brother.

Margaret’s mother (my maternal grandmother) gave birth to Baby Christopher (my uncle) about the same time that Margaret was arrested.  And it was Baby Christopher’s father (Margaret’s stepfather) who turned Margaret in. Margaret’s mother was busy raising 4 young children while Margaret was out partying, getting pregnant and getting arrested.  You follow?

Jackson Summer didn’t know Margaret was pregnant.  Jackson claims he doesn’t even know who Margaret Michaels is. More likely, he doesn’t remember. There were drugs involved. Drugs can alter memories, for sure. But Jackson does remember Marion Michaels. His first love. He’s still in touch with her.  Jackson even told Marion about me and our curious DNA match and about this mysterious Margaret person who has the same last name as Marion.  According to Jackson, Marion was not able to provide any information that would be helpful to us.

If you’ll recall, I mentioned that I have been in touch with one of Margaret’s siblings.  We even talked about getting together to meet and talk.  I was hopeful that she could fill in some of the odd-shaped blanks hanging out there.  She was very clear that Margaret did not want to discuss the matter and did not want to be involved in any contact with me. She also confirmed that their mother (my maternal grandmother) still did not know about me.

Well, our meeting has not happened (yet).  Real life and busy schedules got in the way.  In the meanwhile, I started this blog to help me sort through it all.  My aunt read the blog.  She expressed her disappointment with the information I was putting “out there” in the cyber-world for anyone to see (even though I’ve changed the names of the key players).  We had an e-mail exchange about it.  She asked me to “Please stop.”

And you know what’s ironic?  Before the blog, this aunt had asked me to share the information I had discovered about my biological father through the DNA match. She wanted to know what I had learned about my biological father.  I believed she was sympathetic to my plight and genuinely interested.  Without hesitation I told her about the DNA match and gave details that Jackson had shared with me, in the hopes that sharing the information may lead to more sharing on her side of the family.  Absolutely not.  I’ve since asked my aunt specific questions about Margaret and their mother, and I’ve made a request for some specific health information that would aid me in making a decision about my future. She never answered any of my questions.

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that she owes me nothing.  I’m beginning to see a pattern.

I think perhaps Margaret is “bullying” her siblings. Maybe not in a schoolyard, overt kind of way, but definitely subliminally.  From what I can figure out, they are worried that the knowledge of my existence will “crush” their mother (my grandmother).  What information exactly, I wonder, is going to crush my grandmother?  The fact that Margaret had a child?  No . . . that can’t be. Seriously, I haven’t lived the kind of life that can be deemed a disappointment to anyone, in my own humble opinion. It’s gotta be the 50 year old lie. That her daughter, Margaret, never told her she had a child. Surely, she knew that Margaret had been in prison. That “disappointment” had already been felt, processed, and dealt with.  I would think. Perhaps there is more to the story that I don’t know. Margaret’s sibling wrote:

We do not know the circumstances leading to her pregnancy; it may have been quite traumatic.

She also mentioned several times that some of the information I’ve published wasn’t even true.  What!?  Not true?  You mean the story that I know and live every day about my identity and how I came into this world is riddled with untruths, cover-ups, and lies? Imagine that.  No seriously, why don’t you try to imagine that? I’ve lived this way my entire life.

So tell me something new.  Like the truth. There are people that actually know the truth, but won’t tell me.  Imagine that!  

So here are some theories.  These theories, of course, include questions or lead to more questions.  They were either drummed up by me, or by friends and relatives of mine in an attempt to fill the odd-shaped holes. Anyone out there good at solving mysteries?

About Marian

  • Is Marian is somehow related to Margaret?  A half-sister?  Remember–they have the same last name, and Margaret never really knew her biological father.  Her mother and father were separated and/or divorced (perhaps she wasn’t even married when she gave birth to Margaret at age 18!) when she was just an infant.  Marian and Margaret grew up in the same town.  Marian claims she knows nothing about Margaret or me.  It is unclear whether Margaret knows Marian.

About Margaret

  • It’s clear the story she gave the social workers about my biological father was not true.  It could have been an outright lie to mislead, or she could have simply not known exactly who the father was, so she described several individuals.
  • Why did Margaret’s stepfather “turn her in” and have her arrested?  How and why was he involved to the degree of having her arrested?  I have not mentioned this before, but Margaret’s stepfather was a well-known and recognizable figure in the community where they lived.  He was probably in his late 30’s at the time of Margaret’s pregnancy and arrest–and his wife (Margaret’s mother) was pregnant and about to give birth).  Did he know Margaret was pregnant?  Perhaps he suspected she was pregnant and knew about the drugs and didn’t want Margaret to continue with the drugs while pregnant? I wish I could contact him.  He passed away in 2006.

About Jackson

  • Jackson says he was never arrested.  So who was the man who was arrested with Margaret?  Was that made up, too?  I suppose that was something that Margaret could have told the social workers, but I assumed that they would have checked that fact–the arrest records would have been easy to find and confirm. If they knew his identity, wouldn’t he have to sign the relinquishment papers?  Apparently not.  The information I have simply states, “We have no information about your birthfather following his arrest.”

About “The Deed”

  • How did Jackson and Margaret come to meet and get together?  They lived in the same town, but went to different schools.  Both were obviously exploring the counterculture of the 1960’s via drug use. They most likely knew some of the same people. Obviously, Jackson doesn’t remember knowing her, let alone having some sort of relationship with her (even if it was only a one night stand).  Perhaps there was some sort of coincidental meeting “up North” when Margaret claims to have gone to San Francisco for a short time and Jackson was living and working up in Big Sur (hibernating up in the mountains to detox).
  • Perhaps my aunt was right about there being some sort of traumatic experience that led to Margaret’s pregnancy.  Rape?  Yikes.  I don’t even want to consider that.  I don’t know Jackson very well (hardly at all, actually), but it just doesn’t add up. Of course, Margaret was most likely involved with more than one man (who was she talking about when she described my biological father to the social worker?). Perhaps there was a traumatic incident of some sort and Margaret thought I could possibly be the product of it, and she made up a good portion of the information to hide the awfulness?

I suppose that’s enough conjecture.  Do you have any ideas?

The self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.  ~Thomas Szasz, “Personal Conduct,” The Second Sin, 1973

Next up: Something interesting about Margaret.

The Lies That Bind . . . and Other Truths

“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked…The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on…There are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all.”
― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

My story so far, provided to me by the great Mr. Witt, San Bernardino County Social Services, was my truth.  I clung to it.  It was mine.  I believed that it was all true.  Margaret, a beatnik wanna-be hippie, started experimenting with drugs at age 17 or 18.  She had a boyfriend, a couple of years older than her, who also dabbled in drugs.  It was the 60’s, after all.  Hell, it was her own mother who introduced Margaret to smoking pot.  But the party didn’t last long.  She was arrested, along with her boyfriend, on felony drug charges. And this was an interesting tidbit: it was Margaret’s stepfather who “turned them in.” Margaret’s mother had been married to Joe since Margaret was very young.  She respected Joe and considered him to be a fine father figure.  According to my truth.

Now I have a new truth. The truth as told to me by Jackson Summer, my biological father. The DNA evidence can’t lie–he’s definitely my father.  Unless he has a twin that shares his DNA, which he doesn’t.  Of course, with that DNA match, he could be my son.  He’s 70 years old–he’s my father.

But here is the troubling part:  I’ve been in contact with Jackson for months now via e-mail. We’ve been taking things slowly.  He admits that he’s an “old hippie” and dabbled in drugs back in the 60’s (some pretty powerful drugs, at that).  Yes, he lived in the same town as Margaret and her family (just a few blocks away).  Yes, he’s the right age, exactly.  But the description of my biological father and the information provided to me in my “non-identifying information did not describe Jackson (according to Jackson) at all.

In high school, your birth father was the editor of a literary magazine.  He was also on the debate team and participated in political groups.  He and your birth mother enjoyed talking about literature, intellectual subjects and and attended classes together at the city college in their community. . . Your birth father was also working at a pet hospital . . . and had access to narcotic drugs. . . .  Both of your parents were arrested on drug-related charges. . . . We have no record of your birth father after his arrest.

That’s the birth father I knew from my non-identifying information.  Consider, however, that all of this information was taken directly from the social services file on Margaret.  All of the descriptive information about what happened and who was involved is based on what Margaret told the social worker(s). Remember, Margaret told no one in her family she was pregnant, plus, she was in prison at the time, so no one spoke to social workers or prison personnel about Margaret except Margaret.  Margaret could have said anything.  She was 18, ashamed, up against a wall (4 prison walls, actually), and being questioned and pressured for information, and also to make a life-changing decision about the baby growing inside of her.  She didn’t name my birth father.  She said he “didn’t know [I] was pregnant, for sure.”  The information indicated that Margaret “signed sole custody relinquishments on December 20, 1963.”  Sole custody. My birth father did not know.

Or . . . perhaps Margaret didn’t know the identity of my biological father.  Maybe it could have been one of several?  Or maybe she didn’t remember the encounter.  Or maybe she knew, but she decided to describe something different in order to throw off the authorities. The fact is . . . the information provided to me in the non-identifying information did not describe Jackson Summer.  And not just by my comparison.  By his own.

I sent Jackson copies of the photos I have of Margaret. I also sent him copies of the letters we exchanged some 20 years ago (which were really no help at all, since Margaret said nothing at all about the time surrounding her pregnancy, except that it was a handicap that needed to be fixed). He contacted several of his long-time friends, including Marian Michaels, and told them about my contact and the “odd coincidences” (as he called them) of my story.  No one recalled a Margaret Michaels.

Jackson did not back away; rather, he opened up considerably and told me everything he could remember.  I believe what he told me. He has absolutely no reason to hide anything.  If he had a secret to hide, why would he continue to tell me his story?  The odd part was that Margaret Michaels was not a part of his story.  He was also never arrested, as claimed by Margaret. He was not interested in literature or politics and he did not attend any classes at the jr. college. Jackson and Margaret didn’t even attend the same high school!  Margaret had claimed that my birth father was the editor of a literary magazine in high school.  Nope.

Jackson's Art . . .

Jackson’s Art . . .

Jackson was known for his art.  He was a jewelry maker and metal worker.  He used to sell his art and jewelry at the beach every weekend. He had a small studio/shop on the corner near the beach and hung out with other artists and “creative minds,” as he called them.  He told me stories about how his community was a great artist mecca back in the 1960’s and there were even some artists who traded their art for real estate and other valuable items.  He never worked at a pet hospital. That’s not where he got his drugs.

Jackson has been very open with me about the drugs.  He admitted that from about age 15 to 23 he went through a period of rebellion against his mother (his mother raised him alone; his father had died when he was very young), exploration, and searching for the “truth,” or meaning of life. He told me stories of experimentation with mescaline and LSD, inspired by his reading of Alex Huxley’s The Doors of Perception.  He was, and still is, great friends with Dale Pendell, a contemporary poet, author and expert on pharmacology, ethnobotany and neuroscience.

The 1960’s.  What a decade, right?  The pharmaceutical industry exploded with research into new drugs. Drugs were legally developed for every ailment.  Thanks to the industry’s aggressive media campaigns, every medicine cabinet filled up with drugs for every sort of ailment. The phrase “better living through chemistry” actually came from a legit DuPont advertisement. Drugs were portrayed as wonders of modern technology. In the early 60’s, drugs were not seen as evil. So, of course, young people, as young people are want to do, experimented. Jackson wrote to me about his drug use and experimentation with mescaline and LSD. For him (luckily), it was all a positive experience.  Except for one thing: he believed his drug use was the reason he lost the love of his life: Marian Michaels.

He and Marian went to the same private high school (not the same high school as Margaret). They met when she was 14 and he was 16.  She was 1 grade below him in school.  They fell in love as teenagers–Jackson tells a sweet story of their young love. Jackson’s drug use continued into his late teens (and escalated) and this is where the problem started between Jackson and Marian. I believe that Jackson was being completely honest with me when he wrote:

The sad part to all this was that because of my drug use I broke the trust which I had built between Marian and I.  I was no longer the person she had grown to love.

Jackson explained to me that at that point he “went into the mountains” and stayed there for several months until he was “no longer addicted.”  But when he returned home it was too  late.  Marian had moved on.  She eventually married and had 2 children. Jackson also eventually married and had a daughter.

Later communication with Jackson revealed what “into the mountains” may have meant:

You were born when I was 20 and looking back at that time I was in Big Sur living and working at Deetchen’s Big Sur Inn. I think I had started working there sometime in 1962…… at least I have a few photos of me there which are dated 62.

My math indicates that I was conceived in April 1963 (born mid-December, one month premature), so perhaps it was a fleeting encounter (possibly drug-fueled) with Margaret in the Big Sur area.  My “non-identifying” information indicates that Margaret “moved to San Francisco for awhile, and then returned to her parents home to finish high school.” There is no further detail about her move or visit to “San Francisco,” but remember, the information in that report was put together from the interviews the social worker(s) had with Margaret while she was incarcerated.  She could have said anything, true or not.

Jackson and I are still communicating, although it has slowed down a bit.  He had indicated a desire to submit DNA to another company (or resubmit to 23andMe under another name) and to ask his daughter (who is 37 years old) to also submit a sample to see what kind of a match is revealed between the 3 of us.  I understand his trepidation.  But DNA doesn’t lie.  I believe he is my biological father.  He’s not so sure.

Laureen . . . I want you to know that I would be proud to have you as my daughter… I have no negative feelings but I am very confused about all of this.  It seems so unlikely that our DNA would be so close and then the connection to the community where I grew up . . .
What I would really like to do is talk to Margaret . . .  That would settle things . . .

Even back then I doubt I would have been drawn to someone like that. All of the women that I had any relationships with (there were not many) I still know and we are still  friends, including Marian.

I provided him with the address I have for Margaret.  He told me not too long ago that he started to write several times, but started over.  He wanted to say just the right thing.  I know the feeling.  I don’t think he has written to her yet.  I don’t even know whether he still intends to.

Next: We’ll explore the crazy possibilities . . .

Who’s Your Daddy?

Thank you, Science and Technology. 23andMe gave me a genetically “clean” bill of health. Information presented included risk for certain diseases, carrier status, drug response, genetic traits and “health labs.”  23andMe detected a couple of genes that indicated an elevated risk for non-life threatening conditions (psoriasis, restless leg syndrome).  As for the possibility of inherited conditions, my test results detected no mutations or gene variants  that might indicate any of the serious inherited conditions screened by 23andMe. Of course, this was before 23andMe suspended their health-related genetic testing to comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s directive. Lucky me.

After I received the health results, I played around with the ancestry section of the site. I was fascinated to find out that I was British and Irish.  I didn’t figure that!  Given my propensity for arguing, raising my voice in exciting situations, and talking with my hands (flailing uncontrollably while talking, actually), I figured there would be a bit of Italian in me. But no.  Oh well . . . I was enchanted with being British and Irish.  Turns out I was visiting my ancestors’ homeland when I spent that year abroad in college.  Cheers!  My adoptive mother would have loved to have known that.  And with the Irish bit, I secretly imagine that I am related to Bono. Don’t laugh! My past, including my heritage and ancestry, had always been something I could play with in my imagination.  Adoptees do that a lot.

I don’t know why I never thought to look at the DNA Relatives section of the site.  I knew who my biological mother was.  I knew that she didn’t have any other children.  What were the odds that I’d find anything or anyone meaningful through a DNA match?  First, I didn’t imagine that my birthfather was actually looking for me (most likely he was not aware of my existence).  And given his age (early 70’s), I didn’t think he’d be spitting  into a tube getting in touch with his genes. I didn’t venture to the DNA Relatives section.

A few weeks after analyzing the health data, I received an e-mail from 23andMe.  It was a conduit e-mail, from a “potential relative.”

Hi,

Through our shared DNA, 23andMe has identified us as relatives. Our predicted relationship is 4th Cousin, with a likely range of 3rd to 6th Cousin. Would you like to explore our relationship?

4th cousin (maybe even 6th)?  Whoop de doo.  I guess because of the fact that I had no blood relatives that I actually knew, except for my own boys, a 4th cousin did not rouse any sort of curiosity in me.  Even if he was related to me on my paternal side, how would I know?  A potential match would request lineage information via a list of surnames. A potential match with a common surname could help someone putting together a family tree fill in the blanks.  I’m afraid my blanks go much deeper than that. I could not help anyone. I don’t have any surnames.

I ignored the message.  But then I got a few more.  They were all pretty much the same . . . . 3rd to 6th Cousin, 4th to Distant Cousin, etc.  I finally decided to go online at 23andMe and check out the DNA Relatives. I knew that I could “shut off” the notifications if I wanted to, but I have to admit I was a little curious to see what kind of matches I had and how 23andMe presented the information.

Just as I expected, it was a little weird . . . and a lot overwhelming.  The information link to the data looked like this:

Potential "Relatives"

Potential “Relatives”

762 potential relatives?  Sheesh!  What does one even do with this kind of information.  Distant cousins?  Who even cares?  Okay, maybe a lot of people do care about distant cousins–it’s a way to find common ancestors and build your family tree.  But I don’t have a family tree.  Or even a bush.  Or a weed.  

Then I saw it.  1 CLOSE FAMILY.  What?  Who?  I clicked on it. Before 23andMe would reveal any details, a warning popped up.  I had to confirm that I really, really wanted the information.  This was not a game. 

23andMe asks for two layers of consent before it shows family relationships. First, users are given the chance to turn off the “relative finder” function, which shows relations as close as second cousins. Once you’ve opted in, if 23andMe has found any close relatives (closer than a second cousin), a warning is presented to the user via popup that explains how this “new” evidence of a close family relationship can be unexpected and even upsetting in some cases.  Upsetting?  Been there.  Done that (with Margaret).

You may learn information about yourself that you do not anticipate.  Such information may provoke strong emotion.

Thanks, 23andMe.  Now I’m scared.  But I clicked “proceedanyway.  

Father!

Father!

What the hell?  My biological father?  23andMe found my biological father when no one else in the entire world (except for Margaret) knew who he was?  Boy, howdy, this is not a game.  Or is it?  I felt like I had won the lottery.  I just needed someone to confirm the ticket.

I didn’t even know what the information meant:

50.0% shared, 23 segments

But I sure as hell knew what “Father” meant.  I would do the research later on the science and technical stuff.  I had to contact this guy!  Initial contact had to be made through 23andMe.  I could hardly think straight as I wrote the message:

Hi,

I am contacting you because 23andMe has identified you as a relative of mine because of our shared DNA. 23andMe has predicted, through our DNA “match,” that you are my biological father. You won’t recognize my name, because I was adopted and bear the name of my adoptive parents. However, my birth mother’s name is Margaret Michaels. I hope that the name Margaret Michaels is familiar to you, although it was 50 years ago and I understand that it was a difficult time for both of you. I hope that you will respond to my message and that you are interested in exploring our relationship. I look forward to hearing from you! Laureen Pittman (original birth certificate reads: “Baby Girl Michaels”).

Crazy, right?  But it can happen. 23andMe even said so.

You can be confident that the matches listed in DNA Relatives are your relatives, even though they may be quite distantly related to you. The vast majority of relatives found by DNA Relatives share a common ancestor within the last five to ten generations. A few may be more distantly related. There is, however, the possibility of finding a much closer relative — including a parent or sibling. (23andMe Customer Care: What Can 23andMe Do For Me If I Am Adopted?)

It has happened before. The stories I found amazed me. Some scared me. Some were happy endings, or new beginnings.  Sometimes the results were, indeed, unexpected. This story is one of my favorites: Whoops. How DNA Site 23andMe Outed Parents Who Gave Their Baby Up For Adoption. And this one: When Family Ties Turn Into Knots. I guess I liked the stories that tore open the carefully crafted lies revealed life changing information and brought enlightenment to people seeking information.

Science and technology have this incredible way of uncovering secrets.

I waited for my secrets to be revealed.

Hope Springs Eternal

Hope itself is a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords; but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain.  -Samuel Johnson

So I had embraced the science–DNA genetic research and testing as a tool to reveal or predict health risks.  Everybody was doing it.  I jumped on the band wagon.  Why not?

I had also embraced the technology side of things.  The  world-wide interweb was my friend.  My silent partner.  My lifeline, if you will.

I was sure Margaret was relieved not to have heard from me for more than 2 decades and I wasn’t about to try to reach out to her again, but I still had questions.  What about my birth father?  I was pretty sure that Margaret was the only person who knew who he was.  But I knew Margaret wasn’t about to give up that information.  I knew Margaret had no other children, but what if I had siblings on my father’s side?  And what about Margaret’s siblings–my aunts and uncles–some of whom were closer to my age than Margaret’s?

Thanks to the internet–that wondrous gem of technology and my personal lifeline–I was able to keep track of Margaret’s whereabouts–not in a stalker kind of way–more like a “lets-see-what-she’s-up-to” once a year kind of way. I was keeping hope alive. The internet also made it easy to find Margaret’s siblings. She had 4 half-siblings–I knew this from the non-identifying information. Over the 2 decades since I had received the non-identifying puzzle pieces, I had been able to roughly put the pieces together.  Facebook made it even easier to find them. I found them easily, but I was actually terrified to reach out. I knew how Margaret felt and that scared me. I wondered how they felt, or if they even knew about me. How much did they know? How close were they to Margaret?  How would they react if I did reach out? Would they even believe such a story?

As I waited for the health results from 23andMe, I crafted a way to reach out to the siblings. It was also a rogue attempt to reach out to the world wide web to see if anyone would be able to help me find my birth father. A focused rogue attempt.  I got the idea from the internet, of course. There was a growing trend of using social media to find people. People were “advertising”  for all sorts of reasons: missing persons, locating people after natural disasters or after terror attacks, and there seemed to be a growing trend of adoptees and birth parents searching by posting pictures and pleas for assistance that pulled desperately on heartstrings.The power and reach of social media was undeniable. Like a cheesy 80’s shampoo commercial . . . I told two friends; and they told two friends, and so on, and so on . . . (okay, so I’m dating myself with that one).

As I said, my attempt was quite focused.  I figured if anyone knew anything about my birth father, it would be Margaret.  And perhaps her siblings. Margaret was not on Facebook, but most of her siblings were. With the mention of her name and circumstances of my birth right out there in Facebook, someone would have to connect.  Maybe they had information–maybe they knew things about Margaret and even my birth father!  Maybe the door would be opened so that Margaret and I could finally connect.  I had no delusions about a relationship, but I still had hope for answers.

So, I prepared my social media plea, which included the photos that appear in my header for this blog, along with a simple plea requesting help in finding my birthfather.  I disclosed my date of birth, location of birth (California Institute for Women in Chino), my birthmother’s name (that would get the attention of Margaret’s siblings, for sure) and some other incidentals that would pretty much leave no doubt in the siblings’ minds that I was legit.  I posted it in July.  I simultaneously sent friend requests to the siblings who were also on Facebook.  That way, they were sure to see my post.

It worked.  The siblings accepted my friend requests . . . and I started a meaningful conversation (via e-mail) with one of Margaret’s sisters.  I was hopeful.  They had known nothing about me (my post on Facebook was how they found out about me).  And Margaret’s sister made it perfectly clear that Margaret was still not open to contact and really had no interest in discussing the “situation” (past or present) with them (or me!).  I wasn’t surprised.  But I was still hopeful.

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. -Albert Einstein

Quiet, But Too Well Poised to Be Shy

I understand the secrecy. I understand the shame.  But when a woman keeps a secret such as giving birth and giving away a baby, the secret, continued lies and shame should not follow her or her child for life.

Let’s clear up this secrecy and betrayal stuff once and for all.  A birthmother may be told that the birth records are “sealed,” but in reality, privacy cannot be promised or guaranteed, nor should it be expected. We’re talking about another human being’s identity and existence in this world!  Putting emotions aside, in fact, privacy and anonymity  is not  promised to a birthmother. Research has shown that the true intent of sealing the original birth certificate (and concocting a new one) was never meant to protect birthparents.  The two primary reasons for sealing original birth records back when the practice began (likely sometime before 1940)  were 1) to keep birthparents from interfering with adoptive families, and 2) to protect adopted children from the stigma of “illegitimacy.” Birthparents were never guaranteed anonymity under state law or in any adoption/relinquishment documents they may have signed. (Donaldson, Evan B., www.adoptioninstitute.org)

I knew that I hadn’t done anything wrong, unlawful, illegal, prohibited, criminal or even irregular. So why did I feel so bad?  Guilty, even. Many adoptees dive into the unknown with their desire to search for their biological family, even if they’ve had a positive experience with their adoptive families. It’s normal.  It’s even expected.  You can’t deny it–even for individuals raised with their biological families, questions about relatives (what’s up with that “crazy” uncle?), ancestors (maybe you’re related to Annie Oakley, or you share a common ancestor with Frank Sinatra) and family history abound.  Genealogy is big business.

As for birthparents, existing studies indicate the overwhelming majority are not opposed to being “found” by their adult children. Some even seek out their children after years of longing and regret. But always lurking in the back of an adoptee’s mind is the question, “What if my birthmother doesn’t want to be found?” Research shows that the likelihood of a birth mother rejecting contact is extremely small (1%-5%) (www.adoptionbirthmothers.org), but of course, there is still that possibility. Hell, I’m living proof!  But, why?  How can facing the truth be that terrible?   I started out by just rationalizing that she may just be the sort of person I wouldn’t want to have contact with, anyway.  Besides, I knew plenty of people who grew up with their biological parents and who were  trying to create serious distance from them for whatever reasons. I just chalked it up to not understanding “people.”

So let’s move on. My birthmother is one of the 1%-5% who didn’t want to be found.  Or maybe she just needed time to get acquainted with the idea of my presence in her world (a girl could still dream, can’t she?).  So the lie continued.  I moved on.  I graduated from college, got a great job, started paying off student loans, met a decent guy, fell in love, and got married.  We had a child.  I was pretty proud of myself, too.  I did it all in the right order.  Like it mattered.

A bouncing baby boy!  I was 27 when Zachary was born.  He looked just like his father.  Aside from the dark brown eyes and dark brown hair, both of which his father also had, we had no similar features.  Everyone commented on how he looked so much like his father, but not me. The question often asked was, “Does he look like anyone on your side of the family?” 

At this point in my life my adoption “story” became more like a punch line.  If adoption ever came up in conversation for any reason, I would laugh it off and almost always make a joke of it.  I could always “one-up” anyone’s tragic family story, whether it be about adoption or something else.  What?  Your dad left your mom and your 12 brothers and sisters when you were just 5 years old?  Well, I was born in prison!  A prison baby!  Right?  Imagine that!  One month premature–born to a drug addicted, beatnik convict mother!  Given up for adoption . . . [snort, snort] . . . and then, guess what?  I found her just a few years ago–rejected again!  Laughter all around. Hilarious.

Rejected again.  So why would I go back for more?  I could not accept that she didn’t want to know me.  I could not accept that she could not (or would not) acknowledge my existence and my value.  I read and re-read her letter–it was all about Margaret–clearly, she felt like she needed to defend herself (and her decision to relinquish) and do her best to let me know it was “the right thing to do.”  Not only was it the right thing to do, but her life was fantastic because of it!  Super fantastic and full of travel and exotic stuff and a dream job and no time to remember my name.  So super wonderful that she doesn’t even think about me.

It was Zachary that made me think about it again.  Did he look like my family?  Surely, she would want to know about a grandson.  Her only child (me) has now given her a grandchild.  Yuck.  Just typing that felt weird.  I didn’t “give” her anything.  Zachary was mine.  Not hers. But there was something that made me want to give her one more chance.  And seriously, I still believed (and still believe to this day!) that I am entitled to know about my origins, my history, my ancestry, medical information, etc.  I’ll assume that if you’re still reading this, you understand the concept of the search from the eyes and mind of an adoptee.  I had to do it.

I wrote another letter.  I was more careful with my words.  I already knew she’d be a bitch about it resistant to any kind of contact or any kind of exchange of information.  I sent a picture of me holding Zach.  I think he was about 6 months old.  This was 1991.  My hair was big. I think I may have suggested to her that she was insecure–not able to deal with her past in a manner that would allow her to recognize other people’s feelings.  Her lie could not make me disappear.  I told her about Zach–I told her I wondered where he got his nose and other features.

I know Margaret didn’t want a relationship.  I didn’t need (or want) one.  I agree that every human being has the right to decline a relationship with another individual.  A birthmother most certainly has the right to say “no thank-you” to her birthdaughter’s request for a meeting or an ongoing relationship.  Likewise, an adoptee has the right to decline a request from a birth parent.  It’s no different for biological families–relatives are “cut off” all the time (well, it’s different because most biological families already have a solid identity “base” and knowledge of family history–family history is usually what causes the riff in the first place). In any event, relationships between family members (biological or not) cannot be legislated.  So just answer the questions.  Meaningful communication is all I ask for.  The more honest and open you can be (I’ll be patient), the sooner I will feel comfortable leaving you alone.

Whoa.  I received another letter from Margaret.  It was the last contact I have had with her.  Her tone was somewhat softer less agitated but her message was the same.  Her opening tore the scab right off.

Dear Laureen,

Each contact from you (or contact from others on your behalf) has so far been such a negative experience that I was made to feel that no good could come from further contact.

What?  She was made to feel that further contact would be bad?  I don’t get it.  It was my fault?  Wow!  About her “lie,” as I called it:

I find no conflict between the fact that I value my privacy and the fact that I very much like who I am.  One thing that I especially like about me is the fact that I had the common sense at a very early age to make the difficult decision to put a child up for adoption.  And I hope that you can accept that valuing privacy is not synonymous with being insecure!

Well, I especially like that about you, too.  Sheesh–I can’t imagine Margaret as a nurturing mother.  And I find it a little weird that she refers to her “common sense” and the fact that she made a “difficult decision” to “put a child up for adoption” (hello–I’m right here!). Did she have a choice?  Unwed mothers who were not even in prison have spoken out about how they felt that they didn’t have a choice about keeping a child.  They were coerced or made to believe that there were no other options.  And she was in federal prison in 1963 (there were no prison nurseries back then) and she believes she actually made a thoughtful choice?

Margaret went on to lecture me again on what I “needed to accept” (accidents happen sometimes) and what I “needed to understand” (what it was like to be pregnant and unmarried in the 1960’s).  How her decision in the middle of this “bad situation” was “exactly the correct action under the circumstances.”

Margaret–please hear me now: Of course you made the right decision to put your daughter up for adoption.  No one is arguing that you did something wrong in that regard.  Not only did it “salvage” your life (your words), but it obviously salvaged mine, too!

Margaret rehashed the whole private investigator incident (callous and without a “shred of human decency”), as well as the communication with the wonderful Mr. Witt (“a man who worked for the county who violated the court order”) (an untrue statement). Basically, she’s still trying to get me to believe that everyone is against her and out to harm her, or disrupt her wonderful  lie life.

She did address my question about Zach’s features.  She wrote about her nose:

My nose is my most distinctive feature, and I’m not fond of it! I’ve enclosed 2 pictures of me so you can see if in fact that is  where your son got his nose.  There [sic] not very good pictures, but you see, I always try to pose for pictures in a manner that does not show my nose very well, with the result that I had to search extensively to find any that shows it at all, and these were the best angles I could come up with.

Dark hair and dark eyes.  Zach doesn’t have her nose.  Neither do I.  Finally, one last hurrah for how fabulous her life is:

Now I have to ask you a favor.  If you really feel you ever have to contact me again, please write to me at work instead of at home.  If you mark the envelope “Personal & Confidential,” no one will open it.  I’ve enclosed a card so you will have the address.  I’ve been there for 22 years, so you’re more likely to find me there in the future than in the same home address.

What in the hell does that mean?  I wasn’t expecting warm and fuzzy.  I wasn’t expecting hearts and flowers.  But maybe a question or two (or, God forbid, a compliment) about Zach?  How about asking me how I have been?  How am I doing?  How do I feel?  What do I want to know?

I never wrote to her again.  I have no need for her language of self-defense and verbal fortification.  I will let her continue to hide and evade and avoid and disguise in her own world.

A Fabulous Life!

I have read stories of adoptees just showing up at a birth family member’s home: “Surprise! I’m your long lost son/daughter!” {Hugs all around . . . happily ever after . . . blah, blah, blah . . . }  That’s not me.

I had her address.  I looked it up (using the old “Thomas Guide,” if any of you can remember that!).  She lived only 30 minutes away from me.  All this time . . . so close, and yet so far.  I mapped out the directions–wrote it down, even.  But I never made the trip to her house.  Looking back, I guess I was scared.  I figured I already knew what to expect–she could have reached out to me, but she didn’t.  She could have sent a message through Mr. Witt, but she didn’t.  This much was clear: she didn’t want contact with me.

I also knew from the information that I received from Mr. Witt and from the investigator that Margaret had never gotten married and she had never had any other children.

Well, it’s weird to try to explain how that made me feel.  Yes, there was sadness and anger . . . but that passed.  I consider myself a pretty strong person and a pretty good judge of character.  I can process other people’s actions and emotions, as well as my own, and figure out how to fit in.  I feel like I’ve lived most of my life that way: watching and listening to people and trying to figure out how to fit into their world.  So I processed the situation at hand.  My conclusion: Margaret was angry because I had nearly upset her entire world.  I had almost exposed her secret!  Of course, that was devastating to her.  So she lashed out in anger. But here was my problem: her “world” was built around a lie. I am an adult person that exists in this world.  She’s basically denying my existence.  On the one hand, I wanted to respect her privacy.  But on the other hand, I wanted answers.  I was entitled to information.  Was she obligated to give me the information?  Legally, no.

But wait . . . we’re all human beings.  We all have the same basic needs and wants, beginning with our identity.  Most adoptees believe that a moral obligation exists:  a birth mother who chooses adoption should take responsibility for the decision to relinquish a child because the decision changed the identity of another human being. I don’t need ongoing contact–what I need is meaningful communication and information.  Then we can be done.  If that’s the way you want it.

I wrote a letter to Margaret.  I didn’t keep a copy of the letter and it was more than 25 years ago, so I don’t remember exactly what I wrote.  I’m sure I tried to explain my disappointment.  I’m pretty sure I defended my actions (seeking her out).  I’m pretty sure I told her I was “okay” and just wanted to ask some questions.

Margaret responded.  Once again, I was cut to the core.  Shut down.

Her letter came to me, handwritten, on letterhead from The Omni Hotel in South Carolina.  She was traveling.  She got right down to it.

Laureen,

I was surprised to receive your letter–and disappointed.  You need to understand that I strongly feel it was wrong for any records to be opened to you.  To me, it’s more than an invasion of privacy.  I actually feel that by such a disclosure on the part of authorities I trusted, I have been betrayed and violated!

I can’t believe that any good can come from any further contact, and I don’t want to meet or talk, nor to continue a correspondence.  But since you are interested, I will take the time to comment on a couple of things.

Margaret went on to tell me about herself–how she is “strong” and “self-sufficient” and could never be influenced by others.  She has no regrets in life and has lived her life exactly the way she wanted.

Never have I ever done anything that I either felt to be wrong, or later regretted.  As a result, I am well-pleased with my life.  I have a good education and the kind of job most people can only dream of.  So, you see, I have never wondered about you, nor did I expect that you would wonder about me.  I hope that I have now told you enough that you can comfortably let go of your desire for further contact.

Well, that told me nothing.  To be honest, her letter came off to me as defensive and condescending. As if she were defending her actions in life (one of which was giving me up for adoption) and telling me how wonderful her life has been because of it.  She doesn’t need me.  She doesn’t need to know about me.  The closing of her letter said it all.

Got to run.  I’ve got a plane to catch.

Margaret

P.S. Sorry to have left the last name off the address on the envelope, but I tossed your envelope before realizing that your last name was not on the letter.

Wow.  Lucky me.  At least she was able to scratch out a letter to me in between traveling the world for her totally fabulous and fantastic job.  And what great information she provided!  She’s educated, successful, quite pleased with herself, and . . . well, quite pleased with herself.

Not only am I dealing with adoption issues, I am now dealing with narcissism.  Okay, I’m not a psychologist, but really . . . . what would you call it?  Seriously, I am reaching out to this stranger for answers about my identity.  I got nothing useful.  I was even more confused now!  I didn’t write back . . . right away.

The narcissist is governed by his or her feelings, the decent person is governed by his or her obligations” – Dennis Prager

My [Non-Identifying] Story

I think Bill Witt went way above and beyond the call of duty in providing the following information to me.  I am grateful that somehow I found him when I did.  I am curious to know about other adoptees (in California or across the country) who have been provided their “non-identifying” information.  Did you receive a story?  Did you receive vivid detail about skin tone, personality, quirks, family members?  Or did you receive some sort of factual outline or listing of non-identifying data? Thank you, Bill Witt, for putting together my story.

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Good read, right? The information in my non-identifying story provided many more pieces to the puzzle that I was putting together. And there was someone else on the job, as well. In addition to contacting the County Social Services after I got home, I had also contacted the private investigator. She had also begun her search.