This is an interview with an adult adoptee, also a friend of mine. She has so many questions, feelings and thoughts that many adult adoptees have – especially when they have children of their own. Meet “Melissa”…..
Tell me about yourself…how you grew up, what your family is like etc.
At about 4 months of age, I was adopted into a home with one older sibling who was also adopted as an infant. Closed adoption. We were raised in a suburb of Minneapolis where we always had a dog, loved being outside and what I think, was a normal life – church, sports, Campfire Kids, music lessons, etc. Now I’m married with kids and repeating how I was raised!
When did you find out you were adopted? Or was it always talked about in your home?
As long as I can remember, I knew I was adopted. But it wasn’t talked about much at all. Still the era of ‘ashamed’ or ‘don’t want to be different’. So never conversations over the dinner table about it. Some of my friends I never told until high school and I bet some don’t even know now. I look a lot like both of my adoptive parents, so it never would have even been assumed that I was adopted. I blame ‘that era’ for not being discussed. I look back and I’m glad it wasn’t – I think it really would have worried me more as a teenage girl.
Growing up, did you ever feel like something was missing? I always wonder that about adoptees…
As with most adoptees – there was something missing, but I could never quite put my finger on it as a kid. Toward my late teens is when I started to imagine -Do I look like my mom? Where did I get my musical talent from? Did my dad pass along this bump in my nose? And then I started to ask a couple questions. But not many as I knew it would hurt my moms’ feelings. But just enough to put a story in my head and have satisfaction so I didn’t worry. “They were too young and just couldn’t keep you”. Adoptees in a closed adoption have this great option to make up a story about their birth parents/birth story. Be it good or bad, I think that is what is missing. How I came to be. At least during this stage of my life. Now that I’m married and have my own kids, I can see so many other scenarios as to WHY I was put up for adoption, but until recently, I never changed that story in my head.
How old were you when you started feeling curious and want to search for your birth parents?
After I married in my early 20s, we thought about having kids and conceiving wasn’t happening as quickly as we had hoped. After many medical tests, my husband and I had a heart to heart and that is when I realized I needed my own blood children. If I couldn’t have kids on my own, we would just have dogs. I realized that since I didn’t have all the answers (regarding ancestry, etc.), but I wanted my kids to have them all. Life is hard as a kid and I didn’t want that burden added onto them. That was also about the same time my dad gave me my adoption paperwork. He said, ‘since getting pregnant isn’t coming easy, we think you should have this’. I set it aside. I knew I needed a day to myself to go thru everything and process it. I had a day off work and I sat on our patio and read it word for word. My parents were right – it stated my birth parents were young and just wanted a better life for me. But one thing stuck out in my mind in the paperwork. Birth mother was going to school for Child Care. STAB ME IN THE HEART. She obviously enjoyed children but couldn’t bear to keep me. WHY? But the stories in my head were confirmed.
Tell me about your search and what steps you took. (agency vs. DNA etc.)
After having our own children with medical intervention, life got busy. I was able to dive in head first to be a FT mom and make this the best life for them possible. AWESOME! But then it hit me like a brick wall. I needed answers. I had lost my dad, have a great relationship with my mom, but that missing factor cranked up after looking at my kids. Why? Because I knew my kids were OK, but my birth parents didn’t know that I was OK. I was able to put myself in my birth mother’s situation now, but I was imagining the hole in her heart of NOT knowing if I was OK. So, after doing some research and inquiring with different agencies, I sent a letter to the Dept of Health & Human services to request my original birth certificate & find out what adoption agency handled my adoption so I could pursue a search for my birth mother. After a year of waiting and numerous phone calls & emails, I finally got the agency name and was able to proceed with a search. During this time, I started to attend a support group of birth mothers and adoptees and it helped me TREMENDOUSLY. I read books and listened to all sides of the story. There was a reason the state took so long – it was so I could meet all these wonderful people and be informed of all sides of the situation before I just jumped back into my birth mother’s life and maybe turn it upside down. Also during this time, I did DNA tests mainly to get some family health history – I am very concerned about Breast Cancer and one of the DNA testing sites checks for those markers. When those results came back was about the same time that the adoption agency got in touch with me to start the search for my birth mom. Within 2 weeks of each other, I had health results in my hand and a letter off to the adoption agency – now waiting for a phone call. But when it came, it wasn’t what I had hoped for. I wanted the perfect happy scenario that we all dream of. But that didn’t happen. “I’ve made contact with your birthmother, but I’m sorry, she isn’t open to having contact with you at this time. “I gave her up all those years ago to have a better life than I could provide for her – I have no desire for contact” ”. STAB ME IN THE HEART, AGAIN….I took a day or two to process it and then remembered the shock that some of my support group members felt, and I just keep telling myself ‘Maybe once she processes this, she might be open to receiving my letter’. But then it hit me – what about bio-dad. So I called the agency back and they said no father listed in the paperwork. My paperwork had nothing listed either. And the first DNA test had no paternal matches. SHIT – I bet he doesn’t even know that I exist. So, I did a different company’s DNA test and that started the ball rolling on my paternal side – but that isn’t an easy task either. It is literally like a needle in a haystack that is as tall as a barn. Many hours combing thru public records and obituaries. And then I hit a road block. Stop searching or send a letter to one of 25 men in a family of 54 cousins and hope and pray they are willing to help. So I did it. Hoping to not send a family into an uproar, I carefully wrote out a letter seeking help. And wouldn’t you know – he called. He wasn’t ‘my dad’ and we still aren’t 100% sure who is, but he was willing to help! So another letter was sent to one of his cousins, another phone call received and now I wait. Wait for him to accept that this could be a possibility. Wait for him to spit in a tube. I’ve waited 40 years – and I’ll wait as long as I need to. I know that he needs to be ready for this too.
Do your parents (adoptive) know you are curious and searching? If so – how do they feel? Does that affect your feelings with the search?
Only my husband and some close friends are aware of my search. I feel like I’m lying to my family – my kids included – but I’m using the analogy of ‘need to know’. As of right now, I know NOTHING. If someone doesn’t NEED TO KNOW, I won’t ante up the information. It is a hard situation to explain to non-adoptees so it isn’t info that I make readily available. I do enjoy being able to talk with the support group about it and hear other stories. It puts me at ease and also horrifies me. Some reunions are great, some tear families apart – both sides of the family. If I’m a secret to some woman out there, then I’ll stay a secret if it keeps her life normal. Does any of this affect the feelings with the search – not really. I have come to the realization that I need this for ME and my closure with the situation.
In your search, what are you hoping for? Reunion? Medical? Questions answered?
I think any adoptee would say ‘I’ll take anything I can get’. So many years without any answers, anything would help fill that missing piece. My main purpose is to let my birth parents know that I’m OK as I think if I was in their situation, I would want to know. BUT, would I be opposed to a reunion – Nope. Would I be opposed to Medical History – Nope. Would I want another Christmas celebration shoved into 1 week of December -NOPE, but I would do it if they wanted it 😉 A wise friend once told me ‘Relationships are like dimmer switches – they aren’t all or nothing, adjust it as needed’. Currently I’m in the dark, but any light on the situation would be fantastic!
What kind of support have you had during this time of searching? (spouse, family, friends etc.)
My husband and close friends that know have all been fantastic. I bounce things off them and ask for honest opinions. Some pull me back down into reality and some say, ‘I don’t know why you need to do this, but I support you doing it if you have to”. The support group I attend has been fantastic too. To just be able to see the situation from the other side is HUGE! One quote from a book states “It was the first time I had met people who could understand exactly what I was feeling even though I wasn’t always able to express myself”. I know I can take any one of their scenarios and slide right into it and adjust how I would react as an adoptee. To just KNOW that my birth mom MIGHT think of me one day a year puts a smile on my face. To know that there are other people out there with these same feelings and emotions is PRICELESS!
What advice do you have for adult adoptees searching?
Read books & find a support group if you even remotely have the urge to search! Many MANY books out there to read – all have different viewpoints, but there is not one book that I haven’t taken something away from! Support groups are fantastic. But most of all – Be Patient. Be patient with yourself and with all sides of the situation.