In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the third annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.
How do you react when a birth parent finds you?
I am adopted. I've always known I was adopted. My older sister is adopted, it has simply been a part of my family dynamic for as long as I can remember. My sister is only fifteen months older than I am and we have so many physical similarities that some of our schoolmates actually thought we were lying about being adopted. Fair skin, light eyes and freckles does not a sister make, the mass of curls dominating our heads seemed to tip the scales however.
It always seemed so silly to us, why anyone would think we'd make up an adoption story, what would that accomplish? The chatter from our friends on our similar appearance did instigate a conversation or two about our genetic coding. Where did I get my hair, my freckles and later on as a teenager, where did I get my height? My mother is 5' 2'' (on a good day) and over the course of the summer of 1990, I grew five inches in two months; in the blink of an eye, I was towering over her. These were snap shots of my life though.
I was certainly aware of physical differences between myself and my mother, I just never found them all that important, so beyond the juvenile musings or curiosities about where some of my physical attributes came from, I was not very interested in my birth parents. This had nothing to do with feelings of anger or resentment, quite the opposite. I had been blessed with such loving and supportive parents, a big sister whom I loved (most of the time… there's bound to be a blowup here and there). I hit the proverbial jackpot of families.
I never felt abandoned or like I had missed out on something. I felt secure, loved, supported, very simply, I felt like part of my family. In the scope of that mentality, there just wasn't anything else out there that I ever registered as needing or wanting.
So on a nondescript afternoon, sometime after my eighteenth birthday, I was stunned to hear that my birth mother had contacted my family. My mom came into my bedroom and asked me to meet her in her office in twenty minutes, because she had something she wanted to discuss with me. Now, "office talks" usually centered around a topic I'd rather not participate in. Had I dropped the ball on something? Did I get caught in a white lie? Had I upset my sister? What did she want to talk to me about?
I spent the next twenty minutes sweating it out trying to come up with an answer. When I sat down in my Mom's office, she seemed nervous, which really freaked me out. What had I done? And then she told me. She told me that the attorney who had handled the legal aspects of my adoption had been contacted by my birth mother and she wanted to get in touch with me.
I was speechless. Never in my wildest imagination would I have pictured this conversation happening. So I sat there, mute, while my Mom very calmly told me that this decision was completely up to me. That she and my Dad would support whatever choice I made and would facilitate any level of contact that I was comfortable with.
Then the absolute horror hit me. Here was my mother, so poised, so strong, so selfless asking me what she could do to help me connect with my birth mother. She is my mother; she is all I've ever needed, wanted. She is my mother! NO, no I don't want to do anything with this information. I don't want to meet anyone. It was from my gut, from every part of who I was, I just knew I didn't want anything to be different.
She remained so calm, asked me to think about, to digest the information, to really take some time with it. She didn't want me to have any regrets. That conversation took place almost twenty years ago, and to this day, I am still in awe of her grace. Ultimately, my gut reaction turned out to be right. I thought about it. I really did. I figured if my mother could put so much out there and make herself vulnerable to facilitating an interaction that must have felt so scary for her, the least I could do is honestly weigh my options.
Nothing changed for me though. Even with time and reflection, I didn't need, or want that moment. So she filed the information away and left it up to me if I wanted to revisit it.
That was it. I moved on, moved out, went to college, met a man, got married, went on my honeymoon and while sitting on the Spanish Steps in Rome on the last days of my honeymoon, my new husband told me that a private investigator had contacted his father just weeks before in hopes of locating me. He had been hired by my BIRTH PARENTS. It was deja vu.
I just sat there mute, listening to my husband tell me that his father had asked for some time. He knew the private investigator wouldn't stop his search. So on my behalf, my future father-in-law asked for time to allow me to have my wedding, to be focused on this new chapter in my life. Then he told my husband and left it to him to inform me when he felt the time was right.
Here I was, almost ten years after a similar conversation, and I felt exactly the same way. My adult self was just as certain as my teenage self had been. I didn't want to do anything with this information. I kind of tucked it away, maybe lied a little to myself that it wouldn't go any further. That I was in control of if it ever happened.
So we went home and started our new life and I went to work, and I cooked dinner, and didn't think about it. And then the Fed Ex envelope arrived at my front door one evening. I actually thought it was a wedding gift trickling in. Inside were two white envelopes, both addressed to me. I opened the first envelope, funny the first thing I noticed was that it was hand written, in a cursive that was unfamiliar, and the words just leapt off the page at me, "I hope this letter finds you well....." that's as far as I got.
I knew exactly what it was. I folded it up, put both envelopes back in the Fed Ex package, and called my mother. I didn't want to read them, but I didn't want to throw them out. I didn't know what to do with them, and my first instinct was to ask my mom. She said, “Mail them to me. I can read them for you, I can put them in the file, I can do whatever you’re comfortable with.” So I sent them to her, I asked her to read them, but of course I didn't want to know what was in them! And why were there two letters? But, I didn't ask.
I mailed them to her and I tucked it away again.
A month passed, maybe two without any conversation about the content of these letters. I spoke with my mom about once a week on the phone, we didn't live close by, and the letters never came up.
Then one afternoon out of the blue, she simply said to me, "They hope you're happy. They hope you're happy and loved, and they just want you to know that they think about you."
And there it was, "They." Were they a couple? Did they navigate something as profound as giving their child up for adoption, and stay together?
Turns out, I did have some questions. They aren't a couple. They stayed in touch, and from the sound of it, my birth mother was the driving force in that. I have to admit, I still haven't read those fateful letters from my birth family. They're somewhere, tucked away in my mom's office, safe.
Things happen, unexpected things, and my life took a different course than I thought it would. I did some soul searching, some reassessing and ultimately, spurred by the gently encouragement of my mother, I sent my birth mother a letter. That was almost five years ago. I didn't want a response; I didn't want to meet her; I just wanted to tell her, Yes, I'm happy. Yes, I'm loved. And convey, if it's at all possible, my sincere gratitude for making what I believe is the most courageous, selfless choice a woman can make.
I wanted to thank her for the gift she gave me, the life I was gifted because she was brave enough to put me first. That was enough for me. That is all I'm capable of right now. Who knows, somewhere down the road, that may change. It's a risk, the opportunity may not always be available to me. But it's a risk I'm comfortable with, and I will feel content knowing I was able to say thank you.
So for now, I tuck it away, and I go on with my life, and I go to work, and I cook dinner, and I look upon my fair skin, light eyed, freckle faced daughter with a mass of curls framing her cheeks and I think to myself, I know where you got those.
Suzanne was born and raised in Northern California and is lucky enough to call San Francisco her home. When she’s not spending countless hours rediscovering the city through her daughter’s eyes, she is trying to keep up with her daughter on the ski slopes of Lake Tahoe. Suzanne works for her father who is a physician in the Addiction Medicine field, supporting his efforts to educate people on the ever-evolving disease of addiction. She and her sister now live in condominiums in the same building. At the end of the day, it's all about family.