Deep down — whether I realized it or not — I knew what my answer would be. I only had to voice it. But doing so made it become more real. That terrified me. For someone who needed to know the details of how to get from Point A to Point B, there were too many unknowns. Too many questions.
How my family would react. My friends. What would happen if I actually contacted my birth mother? Would she even be happy to hear from me? Or, was I truly just a painful reminder of a mistake she made?
Inner Tug of War
For most of my life, I believed the latter. As an add-on, envisioning my birth father as an irresponsible teen who bailed when he found out about me. In a backwards sort of way, this helped quiet the questions in my mind. Appeased the curiosity and the secret longing of wanting to know the truth. Of confirming if I was where I belonged. Yet, what would learning the real story do to me mentally and emotionally? What if it wasn’t a fantasy? How would it be actually hearing what she truly thought?
Then, on the flip side, there were my family’s feelings. My parents. Sisters. Even they had pledged their support, reuniting with my birth mother would surely open up a well of emotions none of us could adequately prepare for. They were important to me. The only family I had ever known. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.
Each time my parents checked in with me about how I was doing, and if they could help in anyway, I replied with a non-committal “I don’t know.” Thing was, I wasn’t lying. That was the only way I could describe the swirl of stress, anxiety and pressure I felt. Though, the decision was never meant to make me feel this way. Looking back, it was a huge honor that my birth mother sought me out and wanted to know how I was. That should’ve given me a clear indicator of what was to come.
Be OK No Matter What
In the midst of my agony, I asked my dad for advice. He had always been my source of insight, and I knew that he would be honest and paint a realistic picture. He didn’t disappoint. Calmly, he laid out three examples — pulled from books and friends.
In the first instance, he described how his friend had contacted his birth mother, and how it had ended horribly. The birth mother had been angry and told her son that he was a mistake, devastating him. “He’s never been the same since,” Dad said.
His second example was of someone he’d heard about connecting with their birth mother. How it had gone on to the best they’d ever made, and that they had built a fantastic relationship.
Then, finally, my dad spoke of a family friend who had, at one point, wanted to reach out to her birth mother. But, after starting a family of her own, had decided that she was happy with her life, and suspended the search.
“Only you can make this decision,” Dad said. “But no matter what you choose, you have to come to a place where you know that this search doesn’t define you. That you’ll be OK no matter what you find out. You are you. You are your own person outside of us, outside of your birth mother.”
As an adoptee, my sense of self until then had been one of my weakest qualities. This wasn’t because of anything my parents did or didn’t do. Being adopted didn’t ruin me either. It was nothing like that. Far from it, actually! Adoption was the best choice my birth mother could have ever made for me. Her selfless choice of placing me for adoption gave me a wonderful life, filled with friends, family and many beloved family pets! I never once felt unloved or uncared for.
The lifelong struggle to establish a sense of self, though, is something that comes with the territory of being adopted. It’s unavoidable. It’s like always missing a few pieces of the puzzle. Once an adoptee discovers they were born of another woman, the curiosity and questions happen organically.
The Family Tree Assignment
My true “aha moment” occurred during health class at community college. The instructor assigned the class to create a family tree, and really dive into our personal health history. She would then take what we learned and guide us through preventive measures within nutrition and exercise methods. As we were all young adults, on the brink of full independence, she wanted to help us establish healthy habits as we advanced into our respective adulthood. It wasn’t, of course, an exact science, but the class was an elective my parents had chosen for me.
It wasn’t my first family tree assignment. Last time, I had completed the tree with my adoptive health history. Yet, this time, something was different. I felt conflicted. Confused. If this family tree was truly meant to reflect me — I didn’t want to repeat what I had done previously. It felt wrong. Like I was lying.
Heart pounding, I knew what I had to do.
One Step Closer to My Adoption Reunion
When everyone had left, I approached the instructor.
“I have a question about the assignment,” I began nervously.
“Of course!” She smiled.
“Well…it isn’t that I’m trying to get out of the assignment, it’s just that –” Her smile faded into more of a firm frown as I spoke. “It’s more that — I’m not able to complete it. See…I was adopted as a baby. I don’t know any of my health history. So, any information I use…it wouldn’t be mine…would you accept it still if I used my legal family history?”
Her face suddenly softened. “I’m so glad that you told me. I really appreciate it. Yes, using that information will be ok. We will just tweak the later project and see what we can do. Have you ever thought of getting in contact with your birth family?”
I thanked her and breathed a sigh of relief. “Actually…yes…I just haven’t.”
“It might be good to think more about. If only to learn more about your health history. My daughter is adopted, and she has epilepsy. Man, I wish we’d known that earlier. It would’ve helped us diagnose the seizures and caught everything sooner.”
“Assignments like this do make me wonder…I really wish I knew more…”
There it was. I had said it out loud.
Opening Pandora’s Box More
In October 2007, my childish promise came true. I wrote a thank you letter to my birth mother. Typed and single spaced, the letter went to about a page and a half long, with a third page of eight questions. Less than a week later, Dad came into my room and handed me her reply. The envelope had a sticky note on it, revealing her name. It was the first time I’d ever learned what her name was, but the moment I saw it, I felt like I had always known. Nine months in the womb, and then in her arms for three days, apparently the recesses of my brain still remembered. It took further research, and talking with my doctor friends to help me understand how this all worked.
In the reply letter, my birth mother asked me a question that propelled me into the next phrase of my adoption reunion story: “Do you want to meet me?”
To Be Continued…
In Case You Missed it…
Adoption Choices of New York
For more information on adoption or if you are currently in the process of adopting a baby and have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact, Adoption Choices of New York.
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About the Author
Rachel Robertson is a published journalist, book editor, certified Publishing Specialist, and aspiring novelist. She graduated from Central Washington University (CWU) in March 2011, having found her writing voice within the Creative Nonfiction genre and grew to work as a freelance book editor for small presses all across the United States.
In June 2018, she embarked on an internship with Virginia Frank and came on board with Adoption Choices Inc., Not for Profit 501(c)(3), in December 2018. Between her mutual passion with adoption and surrogacy, and her own personal history with adoption, Rachel is excited to research and share topics each week that will spread awareness and better serve the faithful patrons of Adoption Choices Inc.
When Rachel isn’t haunting her local Starbucks or Barnes and Noble, she’s avidly pouring over her Writer’s Digest subscription or cozying up with a cup of tea and book. She currently resides in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her beloved wife and Border Collie.