Monday, March 14, 2016

Finding Mother (back in the days before Google and before DNA testing)

I don’t know why some adoptees search and some don’t.  I believe part of the reason I searched is because I never believed I fit in, and I just wanted to understand.  Another reason is simply that it’s always been my nature to search for answers to things and try to understand mysteries.

Or maybe those two things are tied together.  I remember being young and wondering about the meaning of life and why we’re here.  I suppose that understanding where I come from has a lot to do with understanding why I’m here.

On the other hand, I’m sure that feeling like a misfit was a huge reason as well.  I was not raised in a good adopted home and wasn’t nurtured.  I was constantly reminded of all the things that were wrong with me.  I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about all of that.  I know of a lot of others who have had similar experiences and I know I’m not alone there.

It was while my adopted parents were trying to adopt another child that I had learned I was adopted.  I imagine the social workers probably advised them that they should tell me.  I didn’t take it hard.  I was interested.  It sort of made sense actually, as I was already well aware that I didn’t fit.  I began wondering about whom my birth-parents were and fantasizing scenarios in my head of them.  One fantasy had Elvis as my father and Lisa Marie as my sister.  I always wanted a sister, and really wished my adopted parents would have been approved to adopt another child.  We had a bedroom prepared for a new sister – but she never came.

I became pregnant when I was young and my adopted parents pressured me to give my child up for adoption.  This story still breaks my heart and I have difficulty telling it without tears.  I will tell it.  But not now.

In my pregnancy, the desire to find my own mother had felt urgent.  On one of my phone calls to an adoption search group, a lady had told me about a specific legal form associated with adoptions, which would include my mother’s name, and was not sealed with the rest of the adoption record.  She explained that the only people who had the right to access this form would be my birth-mother and my adopted parents.  My adopted mother did, at this time, agree to sign the request for this form.  She had always gotten angry any time I mentioned my birth-mother, but considering what she was pushing me to do, I didn’t hesitate to insist that she sign the form.

I had also found the name of the doctor that had delivered me.  He was still in practice, and so I made an appointment at his office.  When I went in, I explained that I was not there for an exam, but had questions.  He was quite nice, and in fact, did remember my birth-mother.  He described her as a young woman who did not talk much (to him, anyway).  He said that her mother had come with her to appointments, and that her mother generally did all of the talking.

I learned too, that my adoption was not handled by Catholic Charities, as I had been told.  My adoption paperwork was completed by a hired lawyer.  I was able to contact that lawyer on the phone.  He never told me who had hired him – my adopted parents or my grandmother – but said he was doing a favor for a friend.  He said that this was the only adoption he had ever done in his career and that it was against his better judgment.  He said, “I always knew this thing would come back and bite me in the ass one day.”  He sounded angry that I had contacted him, and was not willing to help or provide any information.

When the requested document arrived from the court, it did contain my mother’s name.  It is, however, a rather common name, one that would be difficult to find.  I opened the Chicago phone book and found many pages of people with the same surname.  I typed up a letter, made copies, and began sending it to everyone in that phone book.  I only received a few replies, people telling me that they were sorry they would not be able to help, and wishing me luck in my search.

I visited colleges and looked through yearbooks, as I had learned that mom was a college student when I was born.  I found one picture, with a name close to hers, that I had copied and kept in my wallet for a couple more years.  I had thought it was her.

I wrote the newspaper too, and had an article published.

No luck though.

I was defeated.  For the time being.

I found her a couple of years later.

I had saved copies of correspondence between my daughter’s adopted family and myself.  I didn’t realize until I was reading through those letters recently that I had written so much detail about my search for my birth-mother.  It’s interesting what a funny thing memory is and how our memories change over time.  Some of this history had been slightly re-written in my memory – so it was interesting for me to read exactly what my younger self was writing at the time.

Rather than telling you about that search from my middle-aged memory, I’ll share excerpts from those letters with you:

June 6, 1988

I’m going to continue the search for my birthmother.  Please pray for me that I will stay honest in my search and that it will be successful.  I can’t help but wonder if my birthmother held me, if she loved me, if she thinks about me on my birthdays.  I can make a lot of assumptions, but I’ll never really know until I hear it from her.

June 8, 1988

Anyway, my main reason for writing today is because I heard from Cook County Supportive Services about my birthparents.  My birthmother was born in 1948 in Cook County, she lived in the South Chicago area.  She was English, Episcopalian.  She had one brother one year younger than her and one sister four years younger.  I was her first baby.  She attended the U of I and planned to return after my birth.  She wanted to be a nurse.  Her interests were: drawing, reading, sewing, and she taught Sunday school.  She knew I was going to a Catholic home, and she approved.  Her whole family knew about me and supported her in her choice.  She was 5’8”, 130 pounds, had brown hair, brown eyes, and fair skin.  She had pneumonia once as a baby and again at 11 years old, otherwise she was healthy.  Her entire family had a history of good health.

My birth-father was two years older than her.  He was English, Protestant.  Born in Cook County also.  He was 5’11”, 175 pounds, with blue eyes, black hair, and medium skin.  He wore glasses because he had myopia.  He had one brother and two sisters.  He was in the service before I was born, but was in his 3rd year of college studying engineering when I was born.  One of his parents had diabetes, other than that he and his family had a history of good health.

My birth parents stayed together throughout the pregnancy.  They decided on adoption together because they knew it would be best for me.  This leads me to believe they loved me.  I wish I could meet them.

I’m going to the U of I today to search through some old year books.  If I find any pictures, I’ll photocopy them and send you a copy.  I really hope that at the very least I will be able to see a picture.  I’ll write more later when I get home.

June 9, 1988

I found one picture, but I can’t be sure if it’s her or not.  The eye and hair color does match, and I do resemble her in the eyes, nose, mouth, and cheekbones.  That’s all that fits though.  My adoption decree says her name is _____L., the year book picture is of a _____L. (same last name).  also, this is from a 1975 yearbook, that would mean she graduated at 27.  Maybe it is her, I don’t know, you compare.   I think maybe this could be a picture of her younger sister though, but would a mom name her first girl _____L. and her second girl _____L.?  Maybe… maybe… maybe… maybe not.
(present day me adds here that I carried that yearbook picture around with me for two years and eventually learned it was not my mother.)
I keep on going back and forth, maybe I’ll never know.  Why can’t things be simple?  Oh well!  Kim (a friend also named Kim, not myself in the third person) seen a picture of a lady she works with on the next page, she’s going to ask her if she knew _____L.  I’m not going to give up until I talk to everyone in the world with the same last name, everyone who attended the U of I between ’66 and ’76, every man in engineering, every Episcopalian church, all the _____who were born in 1948, all the nurses, all the school teachers, everyone with an older sister named _____, and anyone else I can think of.  I’ll take out personal ads in every paper around the world and run them until I hear the last trump sound, I’ll put billboards up and down every highway reading, “_____ please call Kim who was born on __/__/68 at South Chicago Hospital at (my phone number)”.  I’ll wear a sign on my back, and put bumper stickers on my car.  Well, maybe I won’t do all those things, but I wish I could.

March 14, 1990

I was a basket case one morning when I came home from work!  I was crying thinking about both (my daughter) & my birth-mother, _____.  I started writing letters to both of them, then calling people out of the phone book looking for _____.  Finally I placed personal ads in both of Chicago’s papers looking for _____.  Guess what?  She called me three days later!  It was wild!  Our voices sound exactly alike and we have the same expressions.  We stand and sit alike too.  We don’t look too much like each other in the face, but there is somewhat of a resemblance.

Jose was at my house the day she called, so he drove me up to see her.  It was funny because every couple of minutes we would stop talking and just stare at each other.  Maybe Jose thought we were nuts.  I look more like _____’s brother.  My little sister is 10 years old, but I haven’t met her yet.  _____’s mother doesn’t want to meet me, her father is dead.  There’s a long story regarding my birth-father making it next to impossible for me to find him, I’ll share it with you one day.  Anyway – I’m happy to have met _____, as for the rest of her family, I’ll have more patience now.

Present day me adds:  In the above letter, I wrote, “There’s a long story regarding my birth-father making it next to impossible for me to find him, I’ll share it with you one day.”  When I first met my mother, I had asked her about my father, in hopes that I would be able to meet him as well.  She explained to me that the information given to Social Services about my birth-father was not actually my birth-father.  She had provided information about her boyfriend – though he was not my father.  My father was someone she had met at a party, who was out of town, and whose name she didn’t remember.  She had never seen him again, and he would have no way of every knowing that I exist.

April 26, 1990

When I met my birth-mother, it was pretty wild.  Jose brought me up there to meet her.  It was funny because every couple minutes we (_____and I) would stop talking and just stare at each other, I know Jose thought we were nuts.  We were just trying to see if we looked like each other.  We don’t look too much like each other in the face, but we have the same build.  We stand alike, sit alike, and walk alike.  We have the same voice too, as she excitedly pointed out when she first answered my ad, “I can’t believe it!  You sound like a tape-recording of me!”  and I’m saying, “what? Huh?  Tape recording? Who is this? What recording?”  

So she said, “It’s me! It’s me! Your mother!”  Then I understood.

Our personalities are pretty similar too, we have a lot of the same interests, and same bad habits too.  We don’t see each other too often because our hectic schedules just don’t permit.  Still though, I have peace of mind just (finally) knowing.

I never expected a lot, I just wanted to “know”.  I’m sending you this picture of her, it’s the only one I have now, but I’ll get another later.  You can see how she’s standing, everyone says that’s exactly how I stand….

March 15, 1992

…_____and I usually get together for dinner around birthdays and holidays.  Danny, my boyfriend, joined us for her birthday this past January.  We don’t look a lot like each other, but he couldn’t get over how much we talk and act like each other.  It’s uncanny.  I still haven’t met my sister, _____, 13.  She was pretty upset when she heard about me.  I know she’s going through a pretty tough time of life, I remember 13 well.  I’m sure she’ll feel like meeting me when she’s older…

Present day…

A lot has happened since writing those letters and it has been many years since I moved out of state, and many years since I’ve been estranged from my adopted family.

I took a trip back to Chicago with my kids in 2012 and they met my birth-mom then.  It was a nice visit and we had an enjoyable time together.  My mom had invited her mom and her other daughter to meet us for dinner, but they had both declined the invitation.  My grandmother has since passed away, so will never meet her.

It was November 2013 when I saw a commercial on the television for Ancestry DNA and it left me covered in goose bumps.  I hadn’t realized that DNA had finally come far enough along that it could actually help me learn where I come from!  Or more – maybe find my father!  This was something I’d never dreamed would be possible in my lifetime, and there it was – being advertised on T.V.

It was March of 1990 when I wrote, “There’s a long story regarding my birth-father making it next to impossible for me to find him, I’ll share it with you one day.”  That’s nearly 23 years from the time I accepted that finding my father would be impossible, to the time I realized that it just may be possible, and the answers may be in my DNA!

I began to research on line and learned that there were several companies offering DNA testing.  The price seemed high to me, and I wanted to make sure I was spending my money wisely, so continued to research and learn about these companies.

I guess it was early June 2014 when I placed an order for a DNA test at 23andMe.  The web site said to allow six to eight weeks for processing, so I expected my results to be back in time for my birthday in September, and considered this as a birthday present to myself.  I remember the day I spit in the test tube, because after I spit, it occurred to me that it was Father’s Day, and there couldn’t be a more appropriate day in the year to take a DNA test.  That was June 15, 2014.  The test was put in the mail the next morning, and I received an email from 23andMe on June 24, 2014 announcing that my initial report was ready.  Wow!  That was much faster than the six to eight weeks I had anticipated!

I took the Ancestry DNA test shortly after that.

I also sent away for my original birth certificate, as the laws had just changed and I was finally allowed to have a copy of it.

Imagine that!  In my mid-forties and being allowed to see my birth-certificate for the first time!

It was the end of July 2014 when I decided I should write a letter to my sister.

I was thinking about all this DNA testing stuff, and how I was hoping to find siblings out there – and this had me thinking more and more about the sister I already know about whom I had never met.

She responded promptly and made it very clear that she wants nothing to do with me.  I think I was accusatory and harsh in the letter I had written her.  I shouldn’t have been.  Maybe she would have received me better if I had worded my letter differently. Or maybe it wouldn’t matter what I said.  I know that she is an educated adult who works in the field of helping people – so I wrote what I wrote thinking she would be able to handle the things I said.  I was mistaken.

I’m angry at her now and believe she is heartless, but when it happened, I was heartbroken and cried for two days.

I know she doesn't want to be a part of my story - but this is my story and this is a part of my story.  She and I do share 25% of our DNA even if neither one of us chose that.  It is that portion of her, the part that also exists in me, that I am including in this story of mine.  I’ll leave the other 75% of her out of it.

The last time I spoke to my mother was just after my initial DNA results came in.  I was pleased with my health report and called to thank her for the awesome DNA.  I explained a bit about the DNA testing to her, and about how I had some cousin matches.  I also asked some questions to verify some of the genealogy work I had done on her side of my tree.  I did not mention that I hoped to find my birth father and hopefully find other siblings – I didn’t feel comfortable broaching that subject with her.

That phone call was before I had attempted to contact my sister.  Since my mother and I usually only talked a few times a year, it wasn’t strange, initially, that I didn’t hear from her.  But then my birthday passed, and Christmas…  and then a whole year passed… and I began wondering why I haven’t heard from her.  Part of me wondered if I hadn’t heard from her because she was troubled by my DNA testing.  Another part wondered if it was because her other daughter made a big stink.

I never called to ask, because, you know, rejection is a hard pill to swallow.

From June of 2014 to March of 2015 I had learned everything I could about genetic genealogy and spent countless hours applying what I learned to my own results.  If you’ve been in search, then you may know how frustrating endless hours of triangulation, spreadsheets, poster-boards, and mirror tree building can be.  If you’ve not been in search – it should suffice to say I often thought my head would simply explode.

It was in March of 2015 when an angel showed up having found something that would take my entire search in a new direction.  I’ll write about that on another day.

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