My Tribe

My name is Exie Marie Melendez.

My message about adoption is a mixed one: adoption broke my family, but it also saved me.

Both of my biological parents were born and raised in abusive households in Puerto Rico. They met at a drug rehab center, fell in love and moved to the Bronx to escape their lives. I was born in April 1976, in the Bronx, NY—addicted to cocaine and methadone.

I’ll start with my birth mother’s story, as it leads directly to mine.

My birth mother and her siblings were abandoned when they were babies. She was the oldest of all. At four years old, her mother left all of them with their abusive father.

He constantly beat my mother and her siblings.

He, along with some of his friends also raped her.

By the time she was 17, she had two children from an older man she had met. It was then she had met my father, with whom she had three more children.

During my adoption, she met another man and had two more children.

During all of this, my mother's siblings were searching for her. In 1982, my mother passed away at 28 years old. It is believed that she died from pneumonia, caught after my younger sister’s father beat her and left her out in the cold, naked.

My adoptive parents renamed me to Marie. Exie was a very uncommon name, which is why my adoptive parents were terrified that my biological father would act on his threat to find and kidnap me.

From what I was told by my adoptive mother, I was taken away from my parents, but they were given a chance to get their act together. During that time, I was my adoptive parents’ foster child.

My biological parents saw me up until I was eight months old, then my mother stopped coming to see me. She said, “How can I take care of a baby if I can't even help myself?” I continued to live with my foster parents.

At the age of three, there was a custody battle between my foster parents and my biological father. I remember being brought into the courtroom and asked whom I wanted to live with. I was scared as I answered, “My mommy and daddy” (my adoptive parents). I didn't know anyone else. My adoption was finalized on December 30th, 1981.

It was May 2015, when I decided I needed to find my biological family. I called the agency where my adoption took place and, by the grace of God, my guardian angel (in the form of a social worker) helped me. She gave me all of my information, including the names of my birth parents, three older siblings, and the dates of when they were all born.

I now knew that my older half-sister was also given up for adoption and that my two older full siblings (brother and sister) started out in an orphanage. It was a place that my biological father often visited.

When he noticed that my siblings were being abused, he took matters into his own hands. He regained custody of both of them and brought them to Puerto Rico where they were raised by my grandparents.

My adoptive parents had refused to tell me anything regarding my father, except that he was a “monster” as he kidnapped his other children and threatened to kidnap me. I think they tried to instill fear into me, so I wouldn't ask about him anymore. It did just the opposite. I didn't see him as a monster. I saw him as my father who loved his children and wanted them.

On Friday, May 29, 2015, I found my older half-sister and numerous family members, as well as other siblings I had no idea existed. My sister’s Facebook page was inactive for over a year, but my search angel (social worker) found my sister’s son on Facebook. I messaged him and asked if his mother was adopted. He immediately knew who I was and told me that my mother was Iris Melendez. He kept saying, “OMG, you found us. We've been looking for you.”

I asked him to call me. When he did, he explained that I had a younger half sister who I had no idea about, that she had found the family five years earlier. The family had no idea I existed until they found my older brother and sister, who remembered me. They said that growing up; I was always mentioned in my grandparents’ home in Puerto Rico. They even had a picture of me as a baby.

In August, I met my older full sister. She came from Puerto Rico to meet me. It was the most overwhelming/exciting experience of my life.

While driving to the airport, my anxiety was the highest it has ever been. I was shaking. We ran toward each other, hugged, and cried for what seemed like an eternity.

She spent two weeks with me at my home. We had plenty of time to talk, and further develop our bond. I finally found my tribe.

She told me everything she knew about our father and mother. She didn't remember much about our mother since she left after I was born. But, she was able to share stories about our father who she loved very much. She remembered him as being such a loving man who truly did love all of his children.

Then, she told me something that broke me. She said that my father had tried to stay clean, but losing me destroyed him. He began to use drugs again, and in 1989 he died from AIDS. He had three children with my mother, including a son from another woman and myself.

I am truly happy to be reunited with my family of origin. I now live in New Jersey surrounded by my biological family.