Last month I auditioned for Listen To Your Mother – OC. My piece was not chosen for the show but I’m happy I auditioned for two reasons. First, I am not comfortable with public speaking and this took me way out of my comfort zone and the challenge felt good. Second, the topic I chose to write about, the story I chose to share…is my beginning. Something I’ve talked about but never actually written about. It’s so personal and so emotional and every time I’ve started to write about it, I stop. But not this time. What I also learned is that this is a two-part story. The circumstances of my beginning are not without their share of drama and so much has transpired since then, and that also deserves to be shared. So I’m working on part two but for now, a piece of me that is close to my heart….
Growing up, my parents used to tell me I made them so happy that’s how they got pregnant with my brother. We’re only 13 months apart and are not just close in age, but are also close as siblings.
As the oldest child, I attempted to rule the roost – and you’d think having the knowledge that the happiness I bestowed made me solely responsible for my brother’s birth would have gone to my head but it didn’t. My parents, after struggling to have a child, were honestly so happy to finally have me, that they had stopped trying to get pregnant and voila…baby brother.
Here’s the thing: he’s their biological child, but I’m not.
While my parents adopted me before I was born, I was never addressed as Dennis and Sandra’s adopted daughter Coreen. That label never entered our vocabulary and not because they tried to hide anything from me. Quite the contrary: as far back as I can remember I’ve always known I was adopted.
Physically, it was clear: I looked different from the rest of my family.
And I’d see family resemblances in others all the time. It’s hard not to, when people love to classify things like looks, throwing out “Oh! she has your smile or he really has his daddy’s eyes!” when meeting new children. This meant to me, especially as a child, that a family resemblance was something purely physical.
When my son was born in 2007, I finally had my own family resemblance. Mattias is the perfect blend of me and my husband. Upon first glance, he is his father’s mini-me but look closer and you’ll see that the shape of his eyes, his fair complexion, his body type, his long fingers, are so very much from his mama.
That’s when the fact that I’m adopted hit home: seeing my physical self in the embodiment of my child kicked my where did I come from curiosity into hyper-drive.
So I began to search. Being born in the era of closed adoptions means California law permits me to know very little about my birth mother. And when I say very little, I mean I’m allowed to know she enjoyed “spectator sports and macramé” (it was the 70s). Knowing her hobbies wasn’t much to go on, and I’m no Veronica Mars, but a good challenge never fazed me.
And this would-be detective had a partner, someone who was there every step of the way, from the beginning. My mom and I had a long talk about my desire to find my birth mother, and bless her heart, she had saved every scrap of paper and committed to memory every detail of the phone conversation she had with my birth mother before the adoption was finalized. She knew, in that blessed heart, the day would come when her daughter said the words all adoptive parents wait to hear: “I want to find my birth mother.”
So in addition to knowing my birth mother liked macramé, I also knew what high school she had attended and probably the most important piece…her maiden name.
Armed with this knowledge, I was relentless in my quest. I road-tripped to the public library near her high school and found pictures of her in old yearbooks; I exhausted the people search on ancestor.com. I scoured numerous State birth and death indexes and eventually met a really nice lady who helps pre-1980s adoptees like me, and together we tracked down her married name.
And one day, in May of 2008, Google came through. I knew where she worked and oh my God I had an e-mail address. My husband doesn’t call me Information Super-highway for nothing.
I didn’t contact her immediately. Instead, I freaked out. I began to question why I wanted to find her and wondered if she would even want to meet me.
I knew in my heart and from my own experience that being pregnant, carrying your child, giving birth, is something you do not forget. And I imagined that coupled with making the decision to place a baby up for adoption, and writing the words my birth mother put to paper in the letter my mom saved for me would make it even more impossible to forget. But I couldn’t bring myself to reach out, even though I wanted to say to her, “Thank you for giving me the wonderful life I have.”
It took me over three months to work up the courage before I finally sent her an e-mail. An e-mail that probably made me sound like a lunatic:
“I’m sorry to do this through e-mail, but I don’t have any other way to reach you except show up at your work and that seemed like an even bigger invasion. I’ve thought about this for a long time but have never been able to come up with a non-shocking way to say this, so here it is: I think you are my birth mother.”
She responded the very next day. And I met her for the first time that weekend. Because, as it turned out, we live 33 miles apart.
The moment we first saw each other was overwhelming yet familiar all at the same time. And Just. Like. That. I had another family resemblance… in the color of my eyes, my fair complexion, my body type, my long fingers.
But it was more than just a physical resemblance. I learned we share a dislike for tomatoes, but like peanut butter and chocolate ice cream. We embrace a love of the written word and our chosen professions reflect that. She was faculty adviser for her school newspaper; I wrote for both my high school and college papers. And we both have a penchant for the mystery/suspense/thriller genre in books (probably why my detective work panned out so well).
I also learned that not only did she want to meet me; she really wanted to get to know me.
There were more reunions to be had: my birth father, grandmother, two brothers, three sisters, three nieces, aunt, uncle and cousins.
Meeting my birth family has given me a better sense of who I am because I now know that a family resemblance is more than just physical, more than having your mother’s smile or your daddy’s eyes.
It’s a blend of nurture and nature, shared experiences, people who touch your life. It’s about having a sense of belonging, being comfortable in your own skin and recognizing the unique traits that make you special, something I hope I am teaching to my own children.
2014 marks five years since we’ve been reunited and my heart is filled with gratitude for my birth mother and her selfless choice to give me up for adoption, giving me this wonderful life.
For my husband, without him I would not be mother to our two beautiful children, who I see myself in every day.
And gratitude for my dad and mom, for picking me to be their daughter, always believing in me and supporting me in my search to learn more about what makes me, me.
Family is what you make it, whether you are born into it or not.