Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Jenn Rinella
I start my story as both an adoptee and a birthmother. While I’d hoped to meet my birth parents and my child someday, it was never truly the goal until it became obvious that it would be possible to do both.
I was placed straight into the foster system at birth. Despite the fact that my biological mother was married, she was not married to my biological father. An attempt to save her marriage led to my placement.
I was what they called a difficult placement due to a hemangioma that developed on day seven about a half-inch above my left eye. Then, as it still can be now, people wanted a perfect baby, and I did not fit that requirement.
Four months later, in a last-ditch effort to keep me from being sent to New Hampshire, Mrs. Brown reached out to my Mom and Dad. I was placed with them exactly four months after my birth and the adoption was finalized when I was almost nine months old.
My siblings and I were all adopted, and we always knew that we were adopted. No stigma, no derision, no guilt or threats (no comments of “we took you, so we can send you back”) were ever associated with this status. It did lead to some lovely fights during our teen years (“you’re not my real mom…” I was annoying as a sixteen-year-old). In the end, we knew it was a good thing because, despite not being wanted, we were still chosen.
During my second year of college, I found myself pregnant in the middle of the Bible Belt. Not the most supportive place to be in this situation. After it was established that the pregnancy was not due to a sexual assault early in the school year, I stopped trying to end the pregnancy.
Not having an abortion went against my mother’s direct wishes, but Dad got me back to school and told me I could come home when the problem was taken care of. The only option I had was adoption. I needed to finish school and the baby deserved every opportunity I could send his way; I could not give that to him if I kept him.
I found a lawyer and a doctor. Neither were supportive (see that Bible Belt reference) but as long as the bills were being paid, they ‘dealt’ with me. I chose private adoption because I wanted to be able to pick the parents and I needed help paying for the medical care. I chose a lovely older couple who were solid in their community and careers and had the means to take care of my son.
The last time and only time I have seen him in person was when he was a day old, two days before he went home with his parents. I have always known that I made the right decision. It does not mean it was an easy decision to make, but it was the right one.
Fast forward five years, and my sister decided to get her de-identified information from the state and asked me to get mine too in case Mom and Dad found out about it. The packet came and I started reading all of it, then I read it again and again and again.
De-identified information is your entire adoption file with all the important last names blacked out with a sharpie by hand and then copied and mailed to you. After about five passes through the information, I found a spot they missed and then another.
Now I had the full name of my birth mother at the time of my birth. I also had the name of my birth father. His name was not blacked out because, in Texas, by law you can only list the spouse on the birth certificate whether they are the father or not. However, his name was recorded in all the interviews my birth mother had with the social workers leading up to my placement.
Life goes on and two years later, on a whim late one Friday afternoon, I decided to do a web search (resources were significantly less in ’96 versus now) and I found a hit with all the correct information on the now defunct website Birthquest.org.
I picked up the phone and called the contact number before I lost my nerve. I knew, based on the detailed interviews that were transcribed into my packet, that my birth mother was a “piece of work”, but I also knew I had an older half-sister that I would like the chance to meet.
The call went well and we exchanged contact information. During a few more calls, we made plans to meet in person later that year.
That meeting was difficult since the very first thing my birth mother asked me was to not tell her daughter that we did not have the same father. While we do not know how it happened, this woman did not have stupid children and my sister took one look at me and knew that her mother had lied to her for years.
My sister inherited a rare genetic disorder from her father that, while destroying the bones, brings all recessive genes to the forefront. Since it is X-linked, any daughter sired by her father would have the disorder and be a blue-eyed blonde in this case. Her half-sister on her father’s side looks just like her. I look like her mother.
I told my birth mother that I did not want to have anything to do with her if she was more worried about what people thought of her rather than helping me find my birth father. It was also made very clear that she did not really want to be found, so I made the decision that she does not need to be a part of my life.
On the bright side, I have a great relationship with my sister.
Over the next few years I kept ‘track’ of my son by googling his father (remember I picked them, and their family name was very unique and his career made it easy to see where they might be located). In 2002, my partner and I started looking at genetic research to see if we could determine if my hearing disorder was hereditary. The doc asked the question – do you have kids – to which I always automatically say no.
However, my partner corrected me and the doc said if there was any way to get in touch with my son’s parents, to do so and see how his hearing was, since my hearing loss started at age nine. Google to the rescue and there was a phone number and before I could say boo, my partner was dialing the phone.
I truly believe this is the scariest phone call an adoptive parent can ever get – a call from the birth parent, especially in a private adoption. My partner did most of the talking to the mom but I asked to have the phone so I could finally say thank you, something I did not get a chance to do originally. That was the last time I tried to contact his parents until he was at least eighteen.
Seven more years passed. Given my work in the software industry, I worked on the software used by many of the larger Fortune 500 companies and was able to see how their employees’ email addresses were fashioned. One day I decided to see where my son’s dad was working at the time and realized I knew how their email addresses were formatted. So I reached out.
How do you politely ask someone if they are the person that adopted your child without giving away too much information if you did not build the email correctly? You do what you can and wait to see if anything happens.
And he responded with, “And is this Jennifer?” I responded and gave them my contact information. I let him know that I would never contact my son first and asked if my son knows he is adopted (yes) and if he had any questions (he was not ready to think about that yet). They asked me to stay in touch for when he is ready, and we went on with our lives.
Around this time, my partner and I had started our own adoption journey, first as foster parents and then trying to adopt. While trying to come up with that introductory letter, I reached out to my son’s father and asked how they had gone about the adoption process.
During this discussion, I also asked him if I could meet him the next time he was in my neck of the woods, since he travelled there regularly on business. His response was to give my son my contact information and we have been in contact ever since.
I have helped him reach out to his biological father, who did not know about him – another story for another time. My son and I have skyped but never met in person. He is an amazing young man and I give credit for that to his parents. It reinforced that it was the right decision, though you cannot always know how things will turn out.
In the time since, my partner and I found out that I could not conceive, even after multiple infertility treatments. We were severely burned by the state adoption agency where we lived, so that plan was not realized.
My final diagnosis was that I needed a partial hysterectomy to stop years of chronic pain. The complete death of my dream of carrying another child was devastating, but you keep moving forward.
One thing it has done is reinforce how I interact with my son, because we all know I could have latched on tight and destroyed any hope of having a normal relationship with him.
While I still say “my son”, I know I am not his parent and I am not trying to be. I let my son set the pace for our relationship. We stay in contact and just reach out to see how each other is doing. We have done the ancestry thing and matched as parent child, which we both found hilarious. In the years since, though, we never mentioned visiting.
This year my job took me to a location within easy train travel of my son. After much fighting with myself, I asked him if he might want to come down that weekend to just meet on neutral ground, but it was a work weekend for him. If it had not been for his work, he would have been game.
Sometimes you have to go for broke, and I asked if he would be up for a visit from my fiancé and me, since that might be easier for him, and he said yes.
I do not think most people know how much that one little word means. While we all love to hear the word yes (mostly), if you are expecting a no, it means so much more: hope, happiness, and thankfulness. Now my fiancé and I are talking about possible travel and when it might be good for us to go.
While nothing definite is planned, maybe, just maybe, this year.
Jenn Rinella is a software engineer by day and knitwear designer by night. She loves to read, has two cats, a beagle puppy and a wonderful fiancé that is very supportive of her OCD and depression.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter
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