Posts Tagged ‘adoption’

Ireland…home of fairies and long lost birth-ancestors!

January 10th, 2014

I can’t say why I’ve always been drawn to the country of Ireland. I chose it as the setting for my second novel, Chasing Eternity, without really knowing why. Often in my writing, things like plot lines, character traits, and settings choose themselves, regardless of my best intentions. I usually just roll with it, knowing that my subconscious is where my true intellect resides. Those islands off the western coast of Ireland seemed the perfect spot for my very, very, very elderly characters: remote, entrenched in the old, Gaelic culture, removed from the whims and niceties of modern society. I did a ton of research on those islands…the Aran Islands, Inishbofin, the Blasket Islands.

I never traveled there, although I really wanted to, mostly because I believed that an author needs to truly know an area if she’s chosen it as a setting. But alas, life with a family has a way of rendering international travel a Santa-list wish, so I contented myself with the internet and books…besides, those islands had become almost fictional in my mind. Craggy, foggy, lonely, magical, pure of soul. Actually setting foot on one of those islands seemed outlandish, like stepping back in time or into the pages of a book.

If you’ve been following my adoption journey, you’ll know that I’ve recently connected with my birth mother, Lori. It has been a life-altering, heart-warming experience for me. Since our face-to-face visit (with her awesome sister Darla!) last March, I’ve been toeing into the waters of a family and heritage I didn’t know I had. I’ve been exchanging letters and photos with my birth grandmother, Winona, a stunningly pretty almost-90-year-old living in Indiana! Lori also helped me to connect with my birth father’s sister, but unfortunately their family hasn’t communicated with him a very long time and no one knows where he is. He is a Vietnam veteran, and it sounds like the war did a number on him, post-combat. This is in fact a primary reason he and Lori chose to put me up for adoption, and soon afterward, divorce.

But I am now a Facebook friend to his sister, another lovely birth-aunt. She has given me some much-appreciated information about their family’s heritage and medical background. For instance, (drum roll please) my ancestors were very much IRISH! I just knew it. You only have to look at my blue-eyed, red-haired, freckly son Dorsey to see that there must be some luck-of-the-Irish in the blood, and now we know. In fact, my birth great-great-grandmother was from County Clare, Ireland, on the west coast, and married a fellow Irishman, a man whose last name (the same last name I would have had had I not been adopted) now adorns many spots in his Ireland hometown, not the least of which is a book shop. Now my husband and I are in the process of planning a trip to Ireland with the kids for the summer, completing a large and stretchy circle that began back in the 19th century. Isn’t it amazing how life really can be as magical as an Irish fairy tale?

Some autobiography in my book Chasing Eternity

July 22nd, 2012

I haven’t yet mentioned the fact that there are some significant autobiographical elements in my e-book, Chasing Eternity. I have been holding out, mainly because I recently connected with my birth mother, and I didn’t want to write anything here that might concern her! She is, I believe, currently reading Chasing Eternity, and she has likely figured out how I came upon the idea of a character who was adopted at birth and knows nothing of his background, which compels his overwhelming interest in the magic of genetics and the mysteries of aging.

At the time I wrote Chasing Eternity, I too was an adopted child from birth, and had no real information about my ancestral or genetic background. I was a happy person in general, but I always felt pieces of my puzzle were missing. This  blank slate was, I thought, a perfect canvas for creating my geneticist character Ryan. He too wished that he knew more about himself–where he came from, who he really was genetically. As much as the field of genetics intrigued him, he knew nothing about his own genetic makeup! A perfect set-up for dramatic tension, I thought.

I find it kind of strange that now I know much more about myself than when I wrote the book. (See previous blog entries for more info!) Most of the maternal pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place, and I am very grateful. There is a peace, a settling, a connection inside me now, where before there were shadows and closed doors. But if I’d have know all that I now know before I wrote the book, I doubt that the angst inside me would have propelled me to write the character of Ryan so convincingly.

I’d love to know what you think! Chasing Eternity is now available on Amazon, B&, Kobo and iBooks for $2.99! Happy summer e-reading!

Adoption Update: Birth Mom on the Banks!

May 10th, 2012

The last time I stood in the Atlantic. Ellery is cooling off her "chunkers."

So my birth mom just got back from the Outer Banks! She read my novel, The Outer Banks House, and I’m not sure if she booked her trip after that or what, but she and her sister soon traveled all the way from Indiana to Nags Head, North Carolina, my old stomping (well, really stumbling) ground! A few weeks ago she told me that some people in her family were reading my book, and I was so touched by that, these family members I’ve never met picking up copies of my book and actually reading it. She said that she’d read it as well, and maybe she was just being birth-mom polite, but she said she enjoyed reading it, and even saw some of herself in my main character Abby! (I think she’s got some stories to tell me…)

When I found out that she was going to the Outer Banks in late April, I booked my friend Eliza to go with me so that I could meet her down there. I envisioned having her to the beach house for lunch, or meeting her at Chili Peppers for lunch, or having lunch on the beach if the weather was nice…well, there was a lunch involved, and I was happy that I was going to have my BFF with me. But the date fell through for me and Eliza, and my crazy life (kids’ soccer, and lacrosse, and tennis, oh my! not to mention school and work) didn’t permit me to leave my family for a beach jaunt at any point during her week-long stay.

So I contented myself with imagining her down there, going to a few of the places I told her about…where I got married (Duck United Methodist Church), where the reception was held (Sanderling Inn), where I used to waitress (The Roadside), where the family beach house is, where I had a couple of book signings (the wonderful Manteo Booksellers and the charming Buxton Village Books).

All I know is, she stayed in south Nags Head and went to Owens restaurant…that was one of my parents’ favorite places to eat down there, and a real treat for the family. My sister and I would have to deal with pulling on sundresses and sandals over our sunburned skin and get in the station wagon and drive down the sandy beach road to the “fancy” restaurant, where everyone but me would order seafood. A fond memory of mine is dining there with my husband during a terrific rain storm and not being able to leave–I mean literally, not being able to set foot from the restaurant–because the parking lots had flooded so badly. The memory is vaguely Titanic-like in its tension, even though we didn’t have to enlist  lifeboats to get to the safety of our cars. The food there is great though, and so is the (normally dry) nautical atmosphere.

My birth mom posted some beautiful photos of the ocean on her FB page. My heart squeezed, looking at them, because I haven’t seen the Atlantic (with my family, that is–I had an Eliza girls weekend last November–see posting!) since Labor Day!! Inexcusable, but there it is. Such is the state of our lives now. But as it turns out, I’m going down there with Eliza next weekend to drink too much red wine and eat too much cheese and pate and white flour. This weekend is a major coup for me, considering I had to enlist two sitters plus the sitter’s mom to help my husband out. I expect I’ll be seeing my birth mom here and there (in my mind, of course, and yes, the wine might induce this reaction). But I’m really so happy she was there, that she took the time to discover a little bit about me and the things I hold dear. I’m sure I’ll be doing the same for her in the future…

Adoption Adventure Part 2

March 23rd, 2012

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, 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.

Adoption Adventure Part 1

February 23rd, 2012

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 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…