Now or Never

When I think of words to describe who I am (mom, domestic goddess, charmingly lazy, hilarious, etc.), I can't escape one in particular that defines me deeply: Adoptee.

I grew up in an amazing family with a sister who’s ten years older than me, and my parents’ biological child. She was born premature and spent several weeks in an incubator before she was allowed to come home.

A few years after her birth, our mom had another daughter, but there were complications and she was stillborn. The doctor warned my parents that if a third pregnancy was attempted, it might not be just the baby who didn't make it. My parents took him at his word, and decided to adopt.

They decided to adopt me.

I was born to an unwed mother who had three other children from her previous marriage. I suppose that the idea of feeding and clothing another little one played a major role in her decision to place me for adoption after my birth, and at no time in my life did it ever occur to me to be angry or sad about her decision. I was told from the time I was able to understand words that I had been 'chosen' to come into the family that adopted me, and I always wore it as a badge of pride. 

I was special. 

It's probably the part of what developed my undeniable ego, and some might silently wish my parents hadn't hammered home the "chosen" thing quite so much.

In any case, my parents are loving and kind people who taught me much about what being a parent means. My sister and I, despite our difference in age, grew up as best friends. She was almost a second mother to me. She was the person I would confide in when I felt our mom just wouldn't understand. Aside from not looking like any of my family members, I never felt I didn't "belong.” My parents always let me know that, if the day came when I wanted to find my biological parents, they would support me in any way possible. 

As a teenager, I occasionally wondered what my birth mother looked like. Like many adoptees, I sometimes wondered if my birth parents were secretly rich or famous. Don’t ask: It's apparently a coping mechanism for when our "adoptive" families weren't being cool enough. I honestly never gave my birth father much thought, aside from wondering if I looked like him. Maybe I worried more about how my birth mom was coping with losing a child, and men didn't seem as 'connected' to children. To this day, I'm not even certain he knows I exist. 

When I became an adult and had my first child, I was surprised that, as I held my newborn son, one of my first thoughts was of my birth mother. I pictured this poor woman having to say goodbye to a child she had carried for nine months and, as I looked at my new baby, it hurt me to think of all the years that she had spent worrying about me. I decided at that moment that I must find her. I absolutely had to let this woman know that I was okay, and to stop her suffering. 

As expected, my parents were hugely supportive of my decision to search, and although my first attempts were minimal and fruitless, I was eventually able to locate my birth mother when I turned thirty through a Confidential Intermediary.

he intermediary told me that we would communicate by sending letters back and forth to each other then, after a set amount of time, we would be able to meet up.

About five months in to our correspondence, I received a phone call one day from the intermediary. She seemed to fumble over her words as she spoke to me and finally admitted that she had failed to let my birth mother and I know, at the beginning of this process, that we only had six months to write to each other through her.

After the allotted six months time, we would either need to sign documents allowing her to release our information to each other - and be free to continue our communication at our own leisure - or the case would be closed and we would no longer have access to each other.

The news took both of us by surprise, but my birth mother was blindsided and angered by the new "stipulations" and felt like she had been unfairly backed into a corner.

I don't know what experiences she had faced in life that caused her to feel like she needed to fight back so fiercely about being given this sort of ultimatum, but in a final letter to me, she explained that she had not stood up for herself other times in her life, and had regretted it. She was not going to let someone dictate to her what the timetable of our relationship was and she was not currently able to reveal her identity to me. She would refuse to sign the papers.

The following day, I received another call from the intermediary, telling me that my birth mom (at this point I had grown weary of calling her that so I had given her the nickname, 'Sue') had asked her if there was a way for her to preserve her anonymity but to receive my information, thereby enabling her to write me letters directly and she would just get a PO Box. For a moment I hesitated; I wasn't sure how I felt about giving her all my information and still having NONE of hers, but I knew that if I wanted our communication to continue - and I did - this was the only option.

It would be a long time before I would have the money to reopen the case, and from everything she had shared with me, her financial situation was no better. I had been given the opportunity to tell her thank you for giving me such a wonderful chance at life and I could walk away now. But, I wanted her to be a part of my life and I wanted to know so much more about her and my heritage still. I made the decision to sign the papers, releasing all my identifying information to her. And then I waited for letters that would never come.

Eventually the intermediary agency contacted me and apologized for their error in not informing me of the six month cut-off. I sent another letter to my birth mother, pouring my feelings out in hopes that it would help me “heal.”

My birth mother sent me a letter telling me that she never wanted to purse a relationship with me.

There are a lot of "adoption reunion" stories that present a "fairy tale" ending, and I think it sometimes sets people up for disappointment when reunions don't go as planned.

I want others to know that sometimes reunions aren't happy. Sometimes they can be painful. But, there is still hope for resolution, and sometimes, the outcome can be better than you originally thought.