Adoption Adventure Part 2

Motivated by a desire to find out my medical and ancestral background, I set out to connect with my birth mother a few weeks ago. In the short span of time between now and then, I did indeed find out all that I needed to know. But I also was introduced to probably the coolest birth mother alive! She emailed me when she received my contact information in the mail that day, and she said she did open the envelope while standing at the mailbox, just the way I imagined it. She then spent an emotional day with her sisters before penning a long email to me. The subject line of the email was “40 years ago;” I read the name and subject line on my blackberry while our family was on the way home from my son’s afternoon piano recital. (I had yet to receive her contact info at this point.) I’m sure I paled when I turned to my husband and said, “I got an email.” I read the email alone in our bedroom (while drinking a dirty martini my husband made for me!) when we got back home, and I think it must have been the most emotional email I’ve ever read or will ever read again.

I cried from joy and shock, mostly, at the revealing of such dramatic information, but also from the sadness she must have felt in giving me up. She and my birth father were briefly married, and young, when she gave birth to me. They were having problems, stemming from his issues as a Vietnam vet, and he wasn’t ready for a child (in fact, he wanted to return to Vietnam as a mercenary and was purchasing combat gear instead of baby clothes). Her family convinced her to put me up for adoption, and my birth mother and father divorced soon after that. She said it was very hard for her to give me up, and to make it easier for her in the hospital, they only let her see me once and then took me away for good. Soon after, she joined the Navy and traveled the world, eventually marrying again and having one child, my half-brother. She is now retired from the post office and living in Bloomington, IN, where she gave birth to me, living near her sisters and her mother.

She is tall–at her grandest, she was 6 feet tall, but is now 5’10”. She said her family has always been tall. Of course the first thing I did after reading the email was  Goggle her…and she is on Facebook. So I poured over her photos for a long while, just soaking it all in. I must say that she is very beautiful, with blondish red hair, fair skin, long legs and a big smile. She had posted some photos of herself in her Navy uniform, back in the day, and wow, those Navy men must have mooned all over her! My sister says we have the same facial shape and smile; even my kids said that I look like her.

She told me that my birth father’s background is all Irish Catholic. Lo and behold, that is why my son looks like an Irishman! Red hair, “the brightest blue eyes she’d ever seen,” freckles–describes both my birth father and my son. But my birth mother’s side is English and Scottish and Indian. In fact, she told me that I have some “distinguished ancestors” in my background. On her Facebook page, I saw a family tree that one of her sisters had put together…utterly fascinating! One of our ancestors was a governor of New Jersey and the “father of Newark” when it was still a colony, and his grandson was a signor of the Declaration of Independence, as well as a delegate from Massachusetts! She also said there are some presidents in the line somewhere too (she wouldn’t mention them because she is not a Republican!!), but I haven’t figured it all out yet. I do feel like I am researching for a novel that I’m thinking of writing though–it doesn’t seem quite real to me yet. Just when I was lamenting the fact that I had no family tree on Ancestry.com, I find that I do indeed have one…and what a tree it is! It is a strange thing to find that you have an entirely different family from the one you know…aunts, grandmother, cousins, the works.

Her family has a history of osteoporosis and heart problems, and she had breast cancer years ago, although there is no history of breast cancer in the family. That is about it, on her side. These are wonderful things for me to know–health issues that I can monitor and try to prevent, and I can pass this information along to my own children. And now that I know what most of the medical background is, it sort of pales in comparison to the monumental connection that I’ve made with my birth mother. At first, I was pretty freaked out…my whole sense of self was thrown on its head. There was so much information to process, so many emotions to deal with. I just wanted to be “normal” for a little while, to have my old self back–mom, wife, sister, friend, daughter. I kept checking and rechecking my memories (I grew up in Newport News, I went to college, I was a teacher, I had a mom-she died of cancer), as if to remind myself who I was, what I’d done. I felt lost, sort of, even though a part of me was found. Soon, though, my husband and I took our kids to Orlando for their spring break. Nothing like endless amusement parks to take your mind off things! I returned to Richmond much more at peace with this new dimension to my persona.

The strangest thing about the experience has to do with the technological era we’re in. The first thing she did when she found out my name was Google me, and there is a bit of information about me on the internet, since my novel got published in 2010. Of course, as luck would have it, the first thing she read was the most recent blog post about my adoption! Yikes! When I wrote it, I figured she would read it at some point…and she saw photos of me as well, including the video of me on a Richmond morning talk show. But now we are friends on FB and can see each other’s photos and learn information about each other. This is a fabulous thing, this electronic sharing, for instead of being forced to endure awkward phone conversations and write long letters, we can pen emails and post on Facebook pages. We don’t have to talk on the phone until it’s comfortable for us. We can get to know one another at our own speed. In a recent post, she told me that her family is now reading The Outer Banks House, and I can’t tell you how much this meant to me. She told me that she had already read it and loved it. She too is a beach person!

 We will meet some day, I’m sure, and that too will be a whirlwind of emotions for us. But the hard part has already been done–the making of the connection. This connection with my birth mother has filled a hole inside me. This hole, however much I didn’t notice it on a day-to-day basis, made me who I am today. Some might think that because I was adopted, I must have felt lesser somehow, unwanted, broken. But really, the opposite is true. Because I was adopted, I have always felt fortunate, chosen, given a second chance, saved for some reason. I have always wondered what that reason was–raising children of my own, teaching, writing books and columns and blog posts that other people appreciate, being a good friend, sister, wife, daughter, aunt. Perhaps it’s all of those things, or perhaps the reason is still waiting for me, later in life, and some day I’ll go, “Oh, so that was the reason!” Being adopted has given me the courage to tryvarious endeavors–writing a novel, having a third child, or even finding my birth mother–because I have always tried to make my life “count,” to enjoy and appreciate my life as much as possible, but to also push myself into unfamiliar terrain, somehow knowing that it will do me good, because someone “up there” is watching over me and wanting good things for me. And for that golden feeling, I thank my birth mother for her courage in giving me up, for having enough faith in the goodness of the universe that the decision she was making was the right one.


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