Invisible

All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible. –George Santayana

I am used to being on the outside looking in.  It’s not a new feeling.  What was new to me was the openness of a complete stranger that happened to share enough mitochondrial autosomal DNA with me to be my biological father.

When I received the results from 23andMe indicating that my biological father was a fellow client, I was stunned.  I knew that it was likely that my biological father didn’t even know I existed.  I also knew nothing about him.  I didn’t know if he had a family–whether or not I had siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews.  I didn’t know how I would be received. Would he ignore me?  Would he even respond to my message?  Would he deny our relationship (unlikely, I thought, with the DNA being what it was).

I was surprised at his initial response.  He was certainly open and willing to communicate via e-mail.  He eventually even suggested several times that we try to Skype so that we could talk “in person.”  We exchanged photos.  We “friended” each other on Facebook, allowing each other an insight into each other’s “virtual” lives and photos of family and friends.  He was eager to “show me” his art studio and the museum via video.  I was so happy to be allowed into his world.

He was confused about the DNA match, however, and wondered whether there could be a mistake.  He had (and still has) no memory of Margaret.  In his mind, he had never met her, let alone had sex with her.  I gave him every spec of information I had– all the details about my “story.” I even gave him copies of the photos I had of Margaret, hoping that the images would help him remember.

He talked to old friends and looked at old yearbooks and photos . . . still nothing in his memory connected him to Margaret.  In the meanwhile we exchanged e-mails.  We talked about everything–cooking (he loves to experiment with exotic ingredients), his art (handmade gold and silver jewelry and masks, etc.), his daughter and grand daughter, my boys and husband and his love and fascination with antique radios.  I was excited about his jewelry and told him about Etsy and suggested he could try to sell some of his jewelry and art on-line.  Guess what?  He now has an Etsy store!

I think he knows in his heart that I am his daughter. So I’m sure you can understand my confusion now. Our communication has stopped. Completely.  For some reason, I’ve been shut down.  The last meaningful message I received from him was before Thanksgiving.  I told him of my plans to travel to Texas to visit a nephew and his family.  I wished him a Happy Thanksgiving and asked whether he had any big plans with family.  I didn’t hear from him before Thanksgiving, but I assumed that he was busy with work and getting ready for the holiday.  I e-mailed when I returned from Texas.  No response. Finally, before Christmas, I sent a simple message telling him I was worried (he’s 70 years old and although his health is good, I could not fathom why I wasn’t hearing from him) and to please just let me know he’s well.  I also apologized for feeling a little paranoid about our “relationship,” I was worried that I had somehow offended him or scared him off.  I didn’t want to be an intrusion.

I got a short e-mail from him with no real explanation–just that he’s been busy and that all is well.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  I e-mailed him before the New Year and told him I hoped he had a nice Christmas and Happy New Year.  No response.

I have a hunch that maybe he saw his daughter, who is 37, over the holidays and perhaps he shared our correspondence with her.  I don’t know–maybe she was shocked at his openness with me.  She got protective.  Maybe jealous.  She has no idea who I am.  Who is this person claiming to be a daughter–just appearing out of thin air?  She could be scamming you! What does she want from you?  He had written to me about some pretty intimate details about his past.  Perhaps his daughter felt violated somehow.

I’m disappointed.  And sad.  Really sad.  Don’t get me wrong . . . I know I have many wonderful friends and family in my life that know me and love me.  I appreciate all of you! It’s difficult to explain.  It’s a familiar feeling, but I honestly did not think I would feel this way again.

I am not sure of my next move.  I never made it to the library in Santa Barbara.  They never responded to my e-mail, but I still plan on trying to get information and details about Margaret’s arrest when I can get up there again.  But I think my next move will be to send a letter to my sister–Jackson’s daughter.  I should introduce myself.

It’s a Good Thing. Why do People Think It’s So Bad?

I’m tired.  Emotionally and physically.  I have a guest post today written by one of my best friends . . . she’s lived an exemplary life and want to be her when I grow up. A beautiful soul and a great writer.  We’ve been friends for a very long time.  We know each other’s stories.  She’s been following my blog.  Thank you, Catherine, for your kind and wise words.  

But first, as I usually like to do, I want to start with a quote:

“The baby explodes into an unknown world that is only knowable through some kind of a story – of course that is how we all live, it’s the narrative of our lives, but adoption drops you into the story after it has started. It’s like reading a book with the first few pages missing. It’s like arriving after curtain up. The feeling that something is missing never, ever leaves you – and it can’t, and it shouldn’t, because something IS missing. That isn’t of its nature negative. The missing part, the missing past, can be an opening, not a void. It can be an entry as well as an exit. It is the fossil record, the imprint of another life, and although you can never have that life, your fingers trace the space where it might have been, and your fingers learn a kind of Braille.”
― Jeanette WintersonWhy Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Adoptive Moms Know

By: Catherine Wilkinson

I have a few things to say about adoption and Laureen’s emotional and frustrating journey toward honest answers about herself and her birth family. Answers she deserves.
I am an adoptive Mom to two “kids”, now 26 and 29 years old. I gained two more children, ages 28 and 30, through my husband, when they were very small. I also am a Grandmother to 8, soon to be 9, two of whom I “inherited” through my son-in-law, who brought his two little ones into our family. So, I am familiar with the idea that families come together in many ways. Through adoption, surrogacy, inheritance and sometimes we gain family members by surprise, after many years of not even knowing they were there.

I do know that if either one of my adoptive children chose to pursue finding their birth parents or decided to include them in their lives, I would be the first one in line to welcome them. I would get down ON MY KNEES and thank them for my two precious kids, regardless of how they arrived at the hard and painful decision to give them up for adoption. I would never look upon their decision as anything other than a GIFT TO ME. There is no room for shame, guilt, regret, or anger. How can that even be? My kids are extraordinary and they are loved and lovable. That’s my gift TO THE BIRTH PARENTS. In my mind, if I was a birth parent who gave the opportunity to raise my child to another, I would feel such peace and relief knowing I did the right thing.

I have encouraged my kids (at appropriate times) throughout their lives to pursue a birth family search. One is interested, one is not. It’s their choice and their journey….I’m just there to help. They were born in Taiwan, and there are adequate records and it would be a fairly easy search. I’m as curious as Laureen….I want to know more about my children’s’ birth parents. And I selfishly want the opportunity to thank them. To tell them how wonderful their birth children turned out to be and what joy they have brought me.

Laureen’s adoptive parents have both passed on. But I know in my heart that they too would feel as I do even though I never met them. How do I know? Because I know Laureen and what kind of woman she is and they are the ones who raised her – a strong, compassionate, funny, talented, generous, intelligent person. They would thank her birth parents for giving them the opportunity to raise such a wonderful daughter. I would hope that every adoptive parent wants that chance. Sometimes they get it, sometimes not. It’s up to their child. Laureen is searching alone (well, her husband, her two sons, and her many friends are with her on this journey!) and my heart breaks that her Mom and Dad can’t be here for her, because I know they loved her so much, they would want her to find the answers, the peace, and the acceptance from her birth family. I know it.

So this brings me to addressing her birth family directly: there is no downside to being honest and helpful. If you think you are “protecting” those who have no idea that Laureen even exists, you are just denying an absolute and wonderful truth. If you think you are “protecting” those who don’t know they have two great-grandsons, or nephews, or niece, or whatever the relationship is, you are perpetuating the idea that adoption is shameful and a legacy that needs to remain secret. If you are afraid, ashamed or embarrassed, let me tell you, unreservedly, those are fearful reactions to a miracle. If you think are “protecting” someone, have you considered you are robbing them of a wonderful opportunity to at least acknowledge that something quite extraordinary came out of a difficult situation?

truth (1)“The truth shall set you free”. Truth ALWAYS trumps secrets and fear. It’s time for truth for Laureen. Since I have a lot of experience with “blending” families and Laureen and I are so close, I feel comfortable appointing myself as Laureen’s surrogate Mom during her journey.  I’m standing in for her loving parents and waiting for the chance to thank the birth family for Laureen. It may sting a few fearful people at first, but I promise every single one of you, there will be no regrets.

I mean, have you tasted her cooking?

An Apology . . .

Apparently, I was wrong.  And I am sorry.

I am lucky to still be communicating with my aunt . . . I received an e-mail from her today. She expressed her disappointment and frustration–and rightly so.

I had asked her about a sensitive health issue and I reported in a blog post that she didn’t respond. She forwarded me her response, which she apparently sent the very day I asked. I either did not receive it, or it went to spam/junk, or I accidentally deleted it.  My bad.  They are not villains.  They are scared, just like me.  The truth about all of this is new to them, too.  They don’t know me.

So, I am sorry. And thank you for sharing your personal information with me.

Gettin’ My Sleuth On . . .

I’m no Nancy Drew, but what the heck?  I sent this e-mail today.
nancy drew
To: Public Library
From: Laureen Pittman
Date: January 26, 2014
Hello,
My name is Laureen Pittman and I live in Riverside, CA.  I am doing some genealogy research and will be traveling to the library next week to do research and track down some information.  One piece of information I am looking for involves an incident that happened in 1963 (probably sometime in September).  The incident was an arrest (drug related charges) possibly at the junior college.  One of the arrestees was Margaret Michaels. I believe she was arrested with another individual—a male.  Margaret would have been 18 at the time of her arrest and the male individual would have been 20. Margaret was the step-daughter of a fairly well-known local tv news editor, broadcaster or anchor, Joseph Michaels.  Margaret was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug related charges.  But what I am looking for is the identity of the male that was arrested with Margaret. 
Am I correct in assuming that the Community News-Press was in existence at that time?  Would they have published or reported on local arrests, or would there be an “arrest log” that I could review in the newspaper from that time?  I’m hoping that the newspapers from 1963 might be archived on microfilm?  Would I be able to access the newspaper archives from September 1963 if I make a personal visit to the library?  Which branch should I visit?  Do I need to make an appointment to have these old archives located/pulled for review?
Any help or assistance would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you in advance.  I can be reached at the e-mail address shown above, or on my cell phone at XXX-XXX-0515.
Laureen Pittman

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.

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

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.