Beating the Odds – And Keeping the Dream Alive [And How to Write A Letter to Your Biological Father Who Doesn’t Know You Exist]

road-to-the-beach-sunrise-facebook-coverI apologize in advance. This is a long post. Since it’s been awhile since I’ve updated my blog and my journey in earnest, I wanted to summarize my story and let readers know where I am on this crazy journey. I also wanted to answer a question that I’m asked often: “What did you say to your biological father when you introduced yourself?” Every journey is different and complicated in its own way (although I’m not sure any journey is more complicated than mine!), but I want to encourage everyone who is curious or is being held back by his or her own fears to move forward. And remember, happy endings are not the goal–the goal is wholeness.  

My entire life has been about beating the odds. Don’t get me wrong—I never felt like an underdog. But given my circumstances, at least with respect to my birth and the inexorable journey I would take, I was more likely to be on the side of defeat than of victory.

I was born in 1963 in a prison. A prison baby. At the time of my birth, my mother was eighteen years old and serving a ten-year prison sentence for drug-related charges. She gave birth to me just four months into her stay at the California Institute for Women.

Given that rough start in life, what were the odds that I’d have an opportunity to live a full life with a loving family in a happy home? Thanks to adoption, I did. I was raised by two loving parents and I even had a big brother, also adopted.

My brother and I don’t remember ever being told that we were adopted—we just always knew. As children, it was a non-issue—something that just wasn’t talked about. We were chosen. Loved. We were taught and conditioned to believe that being adopted didn’t matter. So it didn’t. Until it did.

question-mark-faceI was twenty years old when curiosity got the best of me. Of course, adoptees understand that it is much more complicated than just simple curiosity. It’s a need to understand and know one’s true identity. Identity that includes a sense of belonging and a knowledge and familiarity with family history, heritage and ethnicity. A yearning to find someone who looks who looks like me.

Like most adoptees, as I got older, I understood my adoption circumstances a little better. I may have been chosen, raised and loved by one family, but I was given away, relinquished, abandoned, probably even unwanted, by another. I wanted to know more about that. Wouldn’t you?

When my journey of discovery started, I was living and going to school abroad. It was the first time I had lived away from home and away from my adoptive family. I missed them a lot. I wrote letters and telephoned them every other week. They were the only family I knew. During this time, I even wrote and talked to my parents about my curiosity and my desire to search for my biological family. Luckily for me, they understood that my desire to search and learn more about my origins did not mean I no longer wanted to be a part of my adoptive family. I had their support and their understanding.

After graduating from college and returning home, I started to search in earnest. I got in touch with the county adoption services where my adoption was facilitated. They gave me my non-identifying information. What a revelation! I really didn’t think I would learn anything of great value from my non-identifying information, but I was blown away to find that it was packed full of stories and physical descriptions of my biological parents and grandparents and first names of their siblings and their parents (aunts and uncles and grandparents!). I already had my birth mother’s last name from the adoption papers that my parents kept, so I was on my way! I was eager and excited to discover my story.

It was 1986. I hired a private investigator to help me. She started at the prison. She knew my biological mother’s last name and my birthdate, so she checked the records to find an inmate who was in the hospital on or around my birthdate. The names matched up. BINGO! Found.

The finding part was easy. But much to my chagrin, my birth mother was not happy about being found. She cursed the county social worker for giving out the non-identifying information. She cursed the investigator for contacting family members in an attempt to reach her (she had an unlisted number and was difficult to find). She cursed me for . . . well, just being me, I guess. She had no desire for contact. I wrote to her anyway. In the end, we exchanged letters twice, but she was firm in her position that she did not want any kind of ongoing relationship or any continuing communication. She hadn’t told anyone about her pregnancy and my birth and she wasn’t about to do it now. I didn’t even have an opportunity to ask any meaningful questions. I know from the private investigator that she’d never been married and had had no other children. I was confused. And hurt.

rejected

An Exclusive Group!

I tried to look on the bright side. In a weird, twisted way, I had beaten the odds—again. Most birth mothers actually welcome contact from their adult biological children. In fact, research has shown that fewer than five percent (< 5%) of birth mothers who give up a child for adoption reject contact from their adult adoptee child. Despite my disappointment with being a member of this exclusive group, I was able to carry on and live a pretty normal life. I had a great job as a paralegal and was considering going law school. I eventually met a great guy, got married, and we started a family. Everything was normal. Everything was great! Except for one small thing. The questions were still lingering. Who am I? Who do my kids look like?

When I was rejected by my bio mom for the second time, I was devastated. Not so much because I’d never get to know her (I’ve come to realize that I don’t think she is the sort of person I would like anyway), but because she shut down any chance of me getting to know any other family members and finding out who my biological father is. She was the only one who knew and she wasn’t about to give me any answers. I thought I would never learn my truth.

dna_trailLuckily for me (and other adoptees from the closed records era), the evolution of science and technology over the years helped keep the dream of finding answers alive. For adoptees, a DNA test can provide the first ever connection with a biological relative. You may only get distant relative matches at first, but by contacting those relatives and exploring family connections and sharing stories, many adoptees are able to identify close family members and even birth parents. And today’s internet-strong social media makes it easier than ever to connect and make contact. It’s tricky and can even feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack at times, but DNA testing can reveal so much. Even when it feels like you’re fighting against all odds.

Sure, maybe you won’t get that one-in-a-million DNA family match, but there is much to gain from a DNA test. Most adoptees I know, myself included, don’t (or didn’t) know their true ancestry or ethnicity. With the results from a DNA test, we may be able to discover where our ancestors came from. I found out that I am German, French and English. Mind blown.

Some DNA testing services also provide health related information. For adoptees who keep having to fill out medical forms for family medical history with the words “UNKNOWN/ADOPTED,” even a small amount of health related information can be gold. Science is awesome. So do it, even if you think the odds are against you. You may be surprised at what you find.

Back to the relative finding thing. Adoptees have two issues when it comes to finding relatives: (1) we want to identify family members — if not immediate family, then those closely enough related so that they might be able to help identify immediate family; and (2) we’re racing the clock because we want to identify family while they — and we — are still living. Again, we’re trying to beat the odds.

adoption-treeUnfortunately, a large percentage of the distant relative matches will not respond to requests for contact. But because the databases are so large and growing daily, you are still likely to make many important contacts. And here’s the key: you have to be consistent. You have to be willing to tell your story over and over again. You have to talk about your adoption and provide every bit of information you know. Names, places, even stories that may or may not be true. Share and share again. Someone out there knows your truth. Or, someone out there knows just enough of your truth so that you can put the puzzle pieces together. And you never know—you may beat the odds—like I did.

I never imagined that spitting into a plastic tube could reveal the answer to the burning question: “Who’s your daddy?” But that’s exactly what happened. I beat the odds again. My biological father didn’t even know I existed. He doesn’t even remember my biological mother, or the encounter that resulted in my coming into this world (we blame those crazy free-lovin’, drug fueled, beatnik 60s).

When I logged on to 23andMe to check out the DNA Relatives section, I was initially stunned and overwhelmed. 23andMe had matched me with 762 distant relatives (3rd to distant cousins). I had no idea what I was supposed to do with this information. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

Then I saw it: 1 CLOSE FAMILY. What? Who?

I clicked on the link, but before 23andMe would reveal any details, a warning popped up. I had to confirm that I really, really wanted the information. This was not a game.

23andMe actually asked for two layers of consent before it would reveal my close family relationship. First, a warning was presented via popup that explains how this “new” evidence of a close family relationship can be unexpected and even upsetting in some cases. Upsetting? Been there. Done that (with my bio mom). Of course I wanted to know.

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

Thanks, 23andMe. I was nervous, but I clicked “proceed” anyway.

Father?! My biological father?! 23andMe found my biological father when no one else (except for my bio mom) knew who he was?

I could hardly think straight as I typed out a message to Father.

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

 

That was over three years ago. My biological father and I first got to know each other via email, then a few Skype conversations. He lives over 1,200 miles from me, so the slow start to our “reunion” was necessary, and good. We needed that time to get to know one another and for him to feel comfortable that I wasn’t some crazy stalker up to no good. We finally met in 2015. I flew up to his home in Washington State and was welcomed with open arms by him, my half-sister, and my sweet little niece.

As with all adoption stories and reunions, it’s complicated. We’re still getting to know each other and we’re helping one another to understand how we fit into each other’s lives and families. Together, we’ve uncovered a rich family history and an understanding of life, love, struggle and the evolution of a complicated, but strong family. My life is definitely much richer for knowing him (and other biological family members I’ve met on this journey) and I’ve learned so much about myself. I believe he feels the same way. Beating the odds has its perks.

My memoir, The Lies That Bind, will be published in 2017.

Scars and Chain Link Fences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I loved his response.

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

Warm Fuzzy

Warm Fuzzy

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

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?

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