Adoption Adventure Part 1

I was adopted in 1971 in Indiana. My adopted parents, Pat and Norm Schnell, had told me when I was very young that I was adopted, and perhaps because of this early knowledge, I was content. My life in Newport News, VA with the Schnells–my little sister Suzanne was born biologically to them two and half years later– was the only life I ever knew, and I grew up happy and healthy. I never had an urge to locate my birth mother and/or father, in spite of my friends asking about it all the time, not quite understanding why I wouldn’t want to find my “real” parents. I was all about the status quo…why fix it if it ain’t broke?

I think it started to bother me a little when I was a teenager–when my sense of identity was a crucial stage of formation. Where did I come from? Who was I? My mom and dad always told me I had Irish and Danish stock in my blood. They told me I would be tall, nearsighted and have problems with my stomach! But that was about it. In spite of this paltry bit of info, I always thought that finding my birth parents was an ordeal that I wasn’t quite up to taking on. I had seen one too many Jerry Springer shows, I guess. Searching, and finding, looked too hard, and I didn’t want it that bad. I wasn’t sure I wanted to speak with my birth parents, to get to know them at all, to go down that emotional road. It felt wrong, somehow, like I’d be cheating on my adopted parents. They’d never given me half a reason to go searching for my “real” parents. As far as I was concerned, they were as real as parents got, full of bedtime stories and curfews and carpools and homework help and three square meals a day…they were the best parents I could have ever hoped to have.

Then I had children of my own. Three little crazies…my oldest, a boy, looks like me mostly (fair skin and blue eyes and freckles and strawberry blonde hair), but my daughters favor their daddy (skin that actually tans and brownish hazel eyes and dark eyebrows)! But I  look at them all and wonder if they resemble anyone from my birth background. Perhaps most importantly, I wonder what’s in their blood. I wonder what’s lurking in my own blood–cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s.

The second novel I wrote concerned aging, DNA and the growing field of genetics, and I learned a great deal about those topics during my research. During my research, I got on the website Ancestry.com and was intrigued by the number of people who are very curious about their family trees–even knowing much more than I did about my background. But the whole thing saddened me too…how little I really knew about myself. I was a blank slate. And my kids became half-blank slates as well.

After mulling over my own interests (and my main character’s, incidentally), I actually paid to have my own maternal DNA tested, to see where my oldest female relations came from, and the results were too generic to satisfy my growing curiosity (they came from northern Eurasia!! Along with the majority of the females in this world, I found out.)

Last month, as sort of a New Year’s resolution, I called a local genetic counselor, curious about DNA tests for people like me, who want to know what kind of diseases are lurking in my blood. She said the tests are expensive, and you have to do one disease test at a time. She said that in a couple of years, insurance will likley pay for more of the tests, and the tests will also soon decrease in price, but she said the best way to ensure my own health is to focus on my own nutrition and exercise–it’s the best thing I can do for myself, regardless of what’s lurking in my blood (because genetics only accounts for like 10 to 15% of all diseases).

I still wasn’t satisfied. I was feeling a deep need to know more about myself.

A few weeks ago, I decided to pull out my adoption records. My dad had given my the file, after my mom had died and he was getting ready to move from the house where I’d grown up with my sister into a continuing care retirement community. I read through the records carefully this time, finding my birth certificate and state birth record, as well as some records of payment and correspondence they’d saved from the Indianapolis Children’s Bureau, who had organized the adoption. Reading through all of the information always humbles me–trying to capture their anxiety and joy and fear as they readied themselves to adopt a baby–it  always makes me cry. It was me they adopted, a baby they named Diann Katherine, and brought me home two weeks after the birth. It always brings to mind my mom telling me how happy dad was when they got me home–holding me up in the air ala Simba in the Lion King and laughing, crying. It was nice to know that I made them so happy.

Mom died of cancer almost 11 years ago. It was by far the most devastating that has ever happened to me. But now, my dad is suffering from Parkinson’s induced dementia, and doesn’t even recognize me or my sister anymore, can’t even really speak to us. He sleeps most of the days away. It is like we have lost him too. Perhaps, deep inside me, I felt more inclined to look for my birth parents; losing mom and dad freed me to pursue my own background.

Still rather disconnected from what I was doing, I got online (something I hadn’t been able to do all those years ago) and read through the  Children’s Bureau procedures for adopted children trying to find their birth parents. I had to register with their program first, and if there was a match (if my birth mother had already registered in the program, indicating her desire to be contacted by me) then we would both be sent each other’s contact information.  It was that easy. No Jerry Springer drama, no hiring detectives, no stress. I downloaded some forms, which I printed and filled out and mailed to the Bureau, all without thinking any of it through.

I got a call today, about a month after I sent in the forms, from the Bureau, telling me that there was indeed a match. They will mail my birth mother’s name and contact information to me today…it will show up in my mailbox, and vice versa for my birth mother. How strange, that such momentous information can still show up in a mailbox. She won’t be expecting it, as I will. She will see the return address on the envelope and wonder, though…perhaps rip it open while standing at the mailbox. I hope she’ll be excited to read that the baby she gave up for adoption 40 years ago would like to talk to her.

But I feel as strange as I’ve ever felt. My sense of identity is shifting once more. Was this what I wanted? Geez, all I wanted was my medical info! I feel that perhaps it’s opening up a huge can of worms that I’d rather not have opened…a family that I never knew I had, emotions running high and wild–a long lost daughter, perhaps a sister, a granddaughter, a cousin, a niece has been discovered! It’s like bringing the dead back to life, in a way. It’s the stuff of novels, but I, a novelist, could never write about it. At least not now…

There is nothing more emotional than giving birth. I have done it 3 times now, and every time I have wept afterward (sometimes for days!) for the awful, wonderful miracle of life and love. I felt that I could finally see and touch the face of God while gazing into my baby’s eyes; I realized the power of love, especially for one’s offspring.  I could never have given up my babies; to even consider doing that brings me to my knees with imagined grief.

To to think that a woman, my birth mother, perhaps did the same with baby Me, and then chose, perhaps for both of our better interests, to give me up, well, it’s amazing. And I know that I have to ready myself to experience some pretty wacky emotions, to connect myself with a part of me that I didn’t know was there. To finally figure out who am I, where I came from. And most importantly, to connect with the woman who cared enough about me and my future to bear me to term, and to then give me up…to give her peace of mind that her baby turned out alright these 40 years later…that she made the right decision.

To be continued…

 


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