Skeptical? DNA Doesn’t Lie.

So, what did it mean?

50.0% shared, 23 segments

23andMe tests autosomal DNA. To break it down as simply as possible (I’m not a scientist and most of what I’ve read about DNA and genetics goes right over my head, so it helps me to keep it simple), the majority of our DNA is autosomal DNA. An autosome refers to numbered chromosomes, as opposed to the sex chromosomes. We all have 22 pairs of autosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes (the X chromosome and the Y chromosome).

The examination of one’s autosomal DNA is highly useful for genealogical purposes. If you share identical segments of DNA with another person, you share a recent common ancestor. The length and number of these identical segments will predict how close the relationship is. The more autosomal DNA that you have in common with another person, the more closely related you are.

A child receives 47-50% of their autosomal DNA from each of their parents, and similarly on average a child receives about 25% of his autosomal DNA from each of his four grandparents. The chromosomes recombine, or mix, as they are passed down from parent to child, so the size of possible shared segments gets successively smaller with each generation.

So check this out:

50% Mother, father, siblings
25% Grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, half-siblings, double first cousins
12.5% Great-grandparents, first cousins, great-uncles, great-aunts, half-aunts/uncles, half-nephews/nieces
6.25% First cousins once removed, half first cousins
3.125% Second cousins, first cousins twice removed
1.563% Second cousins once removed
0.781% Third cousins, second cousins twice removed
0.391% Third cousins once removed
0.195% Fourth cousins
0.0977% Fourth cousins once removed
0.0488% Fifth cousins
0.0244 Fifth cousins once removed
0.0122% Sixth cousins
0.0061% Sixth cousins once removed
0.00305% Seventh cousins
0.001525% Seventh cousins once removed
0.000763% Eighth cousins

(Data from International Society of Genetic Genealogy.)

If you are wading through the vast sea of DNA testing to aid your search, I would recommend reading author and adoptee, Richard Hill‘s website, guide and book, Finding Family.  His story is nothing short of amazing.  He searched for decades and finally found answers through DNA testing.  His results were not at straightforward as mine in the beginning–an adventure for sure. He started his DNA search when the science was just starting to evolve and he followed it through its evolution, using all of the available testing sites and sorting through all of the available information.  Mr. Hill has generously compiled all of the useful and invaluable information and has made it available to anyone who is searching.  For free.

I spent an entire weekend researching and trying to figure out what “50%, 23 segments” meant (thank you technology and Richard Hill!).  I was convinced that the Father that 23andMe found was my biological father.  Was he convinced?  Not so much.

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

Still Untold . . .

Last week I turned fifty.  Fifty?  Eeeek.  No one has flat out asked me if I’m having a mid-life crisis.  I must be holding it together pretty well.  Or maybe it’s just so obvious that no one wants to ask.  Don’t look her in the eye–she’ll crack, for sure!

I’d call it a kind of mid-life identity crisis.  It’s been about 22 years since the second letter from Margaret.  Okay, I’ll just go ahead and say the word I keep avoiding: Rejection. It’s a word that is commonly used in the adoption community, but I refuse to label her treatment of me as “rejection.”  She didn’t reject me, she rejected the idea of me.  She didn’t even know me.  How could she reject me?

To be relinquished at birth for adoption is one thing. That’s Margaret rejecting the idea of being a mother.  She was young and unprepared (not to mention a little preoccupied with serving a prison sentence), and a baby just did not fit in her plans.  Adoption was her salvation (and mine).  But to be rejected later in life by the woman who gave birth to me –to be rejected as a grown, rational (for all intents and purposes) adult asking questions about the very core of my being, seeking answers that most people take for granted, is something completely, utterly, and abhorrently different. I read an article some time ago written by another adoptee who described the feeling of rejection simply, but completely:

Me: I exist.

Margaret: I wish you didn’t.

Exactly.

I can’t control how Margaret feels.  I can only control my reaction.  And I’ll admit it hurt . . . but I’m not the type to kick something around forever.  It happened once (well, maybe twice . . . or 3 times), but my life is full of other moments.  Great moments.  Pretty darn good moments.  Why wallow in it?

Zach is now 22 years old.  He’s out on his own, happily finding his way with his music.  I’m proud of him.  A lot of other stuff has happened in the span of those 22 years.  By stuff I mean life.  Divorce, remarriage, another son.

Garrett (son number 2) is now 13.  When he was little, everyone said he was the spitting image of his dad.  He still looks like his dad.  Light hair, blue eyes, fair skin . . . once again, I was gazing into the face of my child looking for similarities and any sign of familiarity. Nothing.

Identity crisis or not, I have a great family and things are pretty peachy.  Over the years, I didn’t think too much about Margaret or my biological origins.  I was too busy with the here and now–the good stuff.  My boys were growing; they were keeping me busy.  And you know what else happened over the course of these years?  Science and technology happened.  All kinds of science and technology.  On the technology side, computers are now everywhere, connecting everything and everyone. The world wide web is constantly evolving, with its growing data bases, easy access to public information, instant communication and sharing of personal data via social media.

On the science side, I have been especially fascinated with the advancements in and evolution of DNA testing.  My husband, Guy, is a prosecutor who works with people who do forensic DNA testing.  Forensic DNA testing has enabled old cold cases to be solved in an instant!  How cool is that?  Well, it’s cool, but I wasn’t as interested in that as I was interested in the way DNA testing was being used for health and genealogy research. Talk about an evolution.

DNA genetic testing may be able to predict risk for certain diseases and medical conditions. This would be helpful. In addition, DNA testing can reveal information about family background and familial traits, ethnic heritage, and ancestral history. And finally, the newer autosomal DNA testing has become a tool that can accurately identify relationships between family members by comparing DNA segments.  Put technology (easy access via the internet) and DNA testing together and you’ve got . . . big business.  The bigger the database to compare your genetic results (thank you, internet), the more useful results you’ll get!  Genius!

Why not?  It would be great to finally have some information that might shed some light on my health and predisposition to particular illnesses. I sure wasn’t going to get that information from relatives. My boys are entitled to this information, as well!

As technology has evolved, prices for the DNA genetic testing have come down.  What used to cost nearly $500 is now $99.  I went with 23andMe.  I spit in a test tube and sent it in.  And then things got weird.

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.

You Can Lie, But You Can’t Hide

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:

Dear Laureen,

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.

Well Adjusted? How Do You Really Feel?

I was over the moon with this new information. So many possibilities! I had this entire extended family of aunts and uncles and a maternal grandmother. And I felt that I was getting so close to finding my bio mom. Remember, I had already hired a private investigator who was off and running with my bio mom’s name. I couldn’t wait to get this treasure trove of new “non-identifying” information to the investigator. . . .

Whoa . . . maybe I should slow down here. I’m thinking that before I go any further with my story, I should at least acknowledge all of the different attitudes, emotions and opinions surrounding adoption. This story is filled with emotional roller-coaster inducing twists and turns. Frankly, at times, even I don’t know how to feel. I’ll give it a try. So here’s my basic primer on adoption.

First, there are laws (and they differ from state to state!). Legally, adoption is a statutory process that terminates a parent’s legal rights and duties towards her biological child and substituting similar rights and responsibilities with the child’s adoptive parents. Most states have laws that mandate that the original birth records be made confidential (“sealed”). Confidentiality and sealed records were promoted by authorities as a way to decrease the stigma associated with illegitimacy and to make child welfare the governing rule in placement decisions.

During the 1950’s and continuing through the early 1970’s, there were (and still are to a certain degree) social pressures and growing trends, such as the stigmas on unwed mothers and “illegitimate” children and maternity homes as “warehouses” for unwed mothers, where social workers may have practiced manipulating coercion tactics aimed at convincing young mothers to give up their newborn babies (there was even a name given to this period of adoption prior to Roe v. Wade: The Baby Scoop Era). Finally, there were medical advances (such as “the pill”) and the landmark legal decision of Roe v. Wade, which sparked a national debate on abortion rights that continues today. All of these things can affect in an individual’s attitude about adoption. And there is much more.

I know that when I began my search some 25 plus years ago, I thought I had educated myself pretty thoroughly about the sociology, legalities, and psychology of adoption and I knew exactly what I was feeling. Moreover, I [thought I] knew my rights as an individual. There was a growing movement in many states towards opening adoption records (making available to adult adoptees the original unamended birth certificate). It just made sense–of course a human being is entitled to know his or her birth origins, ethnicity, heritage, biological roots or whatever you want to call it. It is one’s basic identity. And it would be great to have some basic medical history–it gets old writing “NOT APPLICABLE–ADOPTED” on pages and pages of medical history forms year after year.

Another big draw for a lot of adoptees, as simple as it sounds, is the desire to find someone “who looks like me.” Seems kind of trivial, really, given everything my adoptive family gave me. But every single adopted person I have ever spoken to talks about the longing to find out where they got their blue eyes, or their thick hair, or their long legs, or their need to flail their hands wildly when they talk (yes, I wonder where I got it). It’s called biological or genetic mirroring. I didn’t know it had a name until just a few years ago, but it makes complete sense. People who are not adopted may find it difficult to understand, but genetic mirroring is easily understood by an adopted child. In a natural biological family, a child experiences mirroring every day from members of his or her genetic family. It’s almost subliminal how it works. Similarities silently confirm belonging. Everything from physical resemblances to how a parent raises an eyebrow, walks, her tone of voice, his metabolism, his athletic ability, musical talent, artistic ability, physical strength, etc. These genetic markers are fundamental to who we are, providing building blocks for one’s personality to bloom naturally. This all takes place at a subconscious level and is pretty much taken for granted by biological families.

I’m jumping forward a little here, but after the birth of my first child, the genetic mirroring thing became apparent. It was so obvious that my son looked like his father’s side of the family–everyone could see it. And they mentioned it, too. “He looks just like his dad!” It was obvious to me, as well–but what hurt was that he didn’t look a thing like me. Everyone mentioned that, too. I remember staring into his little face for hours trying to compare our noses, the shape of our eyes, chin . . . I got nothin’. As he got older (he’s now 22), his features matured and I can definitely see similarities between us, as well as similar personality traits–just like a “regular” biological family.

Back to adoptees. Generally, adoptees are conditioned from the beginning (assuming they know they are adopted) to be grateful–they were chosen by their adoptive parents. There is usually a story ingrained in them about how their biological parent or parents either were not able or did not want to take care of them. They were saved by their adoptive parents from a life as an orphan. The story is usually meant to comfort the child. But really, it’s kind of scary. On the flip side, as a child gets older and understands a little more about being adopted, it becomes clear that even though they were chosen by one family, they were “unchosen,” or rejected by another. Of course it’s more complicated than that, but in the mind of a child, it’s pretty simple. One result is that the adoptee can be overly focused on the needs of others–adoptees tend to be “people pleasers,” always trying to please other people, especially their parents. After all, the reason we were placed with adoptive parents in the first place was to fulfill their desire to have a child; to make them happy or “whole.” In addition, an adoptee may be fearful (consciously or unconsciously) of being rejected (again). Always walking on eggshells. Always trying to figure out how to fit in.

There are so many theories about what an adoptee should feel: abandonment, rejection, isolation, low self-esteem, grief and trust issues–and that’s just for starters. Some psychologists or adoption “experts” also believe that all adoptees experience a deep physiological and psychological trauma due to the unnatural severing of the tie between the biological mother and child. According to these “experts,” the trauma will stay with the adoptee for the duration of his or her life, together with a deep sense of loss and grief that they are not allowed to mourn. Whoa, that sounds serious. The fact is, being adopted and living a “normal” life as a “well-adjusted” adoptee is much more complicated than one would imagine. And each adoptee feels different.

The truth is, some adoptees will identify readily with some or all of these feelings; others will not. Some adoptees will feel the need to search for their biological family; some will not. There isn’t any one right or wrong way for an adopted individual to feel. Those that do choose to search will have their own reasons. I do believe, however, that any individual, adopted or not, is entitled to know his or her own identity, obtain and possess any legal or government documents that pertain to historical, genetic, and legal identification, including legal name(s) before adoption, place and date of birth; and the identities of biological parents.

Okay. So now you’ve been inside the head of an adult adoptee. Sort of. But to understand the whole picture, you also have to understand the mind of a mother who relinquishes her child to adoption. Well, good luck with that. Just like adoptees, birthmothers come in all shapes and sizes. There are birthmothers out there who believe they made the right decision in giving up their child. There are birthmothers out there who regret their decision. There are birthmothers who claim that they were coerced or shamed into relinquishing their child. Some will even claim that their babies were forcibly taken from them. Some search for their “lost” children and yearn for a reunion. Some do not.

Now you know. Or you don’t. The truth is, you know about as much as I did when I started my search. I promise I’ll be honest about and explain as much as possible my own feelings as I move ahead with my story. Be warned, though, on occasion my own feelings were unexpected. Sometimes I would feel different from one hour to the next. Or one year to the next. As I said before, it’s a journey. I’m still trying to find my way.

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.

Baby Girl ____________________

This is the beginning of my story.  The part where I enter the world.  It’s a condensed version–a quick introduction. I hope to share more details as my blog grows.  If you haven’t already, check out my “About Me” page to get an idea about what makes me tick and why I’ve decided to share my story.

I have changed some of the names in order to protect certain individuals who fear their privacy will be invaded by the telling of my story.  But seriously, I doubt that any lives will be torn apart by my mere existence in this world.

Baby picI was born on December 15, 1963. At the time of my birth, Margaret, my birth mother, was 18 years old and serving a 10-year sentence in the California Institution for Women (CIW), a female-only state prison located in the city of Chino in San Bernardino County, California. She was incarcerated on a felony drug conviction.  I was also led to believe that my birth father was also arrested.  According to the “story,” the two strung-out lovebirds were arrested together and both were convicted. At the time of Margaret’s arrest, she claims she was not certain that she was pregnant. She had not told any of her family members about her pregnancy. She did not tell my birth father that she was pregnant. It was her dark secret.  She was determined to keep it a secret during this tumultuous, uncertain time in her life.

I was identified as “Baby Girl Michaels” on my adoptive parents’ legal papers. Michaels is Margaret’s last name. When I started this journey, I had no identifying information about my birth father. My guess is that he was probably never told of Margaret’s pregnancy, my birth and subsequent relinquishment to the county adoption services.

Margaret served about 4 years of her sentence and was released. The adoption records were sealed—it was the law in California. Margaret was promised “privacy” (I have a real problem with that word in this context) and secrecy in exchange for choosing adoption. She was certain she was walking away from this dark time in her life and, if she tried real hard, she could all but forget the whole experience (the drugs, the arrest, the conviction, prison, birth of a baby . . .).  She was, in her mind, “reborn” as an adult and started a new life.

By this time I was a toddler, now named Laureen, running around barefoot in my cozy home in San Bernardino, California. Henry and Lilouise (known as Hank and Little by their friends and family) were doting parents. All was well in my world. I even had a big brother. Little could not bear any children of her own and so she and Hank had adopted a boy two years before I entered their lives. Tommy had red hair and freckles. I was a brunette with brown eyes, like Hank and Little. I was often told I looked like Little. I always thought that was funny, but it made me feel warm and fuzzy anyway.

By all accounts, I had a normal childhood.  Little was a stay-at-home mom and she tried her best to do what she was supposed to do–raise her kids.  Hank worked at the phone company.  My brother was in the Boy Scouts.  I tried to hang out with the Girl Scouts for a while, but I really didn’t fit in.  We went on family vacations, sometimes camping–The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Giant Sequoias up north. My brother and I fought all the time.  I had two best friends that I met in grade school.  We are still friends to this day.  Normal, normal, normal.  Right?Collage

When friends or acquaintances find out that I am adopted, their first question is usually some variation of, “When/How did you find out that you were adopted?”  I think they’re looking for some kind of drama  . . . but it wasn’t like that for my brother and me.  We just always knew. And we were fine with it. We were chosen. I remember my mother used to sing to my brother and me:

I see the moon, the moon sees me;

The moon sees the one I long to see.

God bless the moon and God bless me;

And God bless the one I long to see.

It seems to me that God above

Created you for me to love.

He picked you out from all the rest;

Because he knew I loved you the best.

[Lyrics adapted from Jim Brickman’s “I See the Moon.”]

For a child, this explained it all.  And it was all good.