Friday, June 27, 2014

Adoption Story part 2 - Finding my Birth Parents

If you've read part one of this series you will understand what it was like for me growing up adopted and that I never had any desire to find my birth parents so you might wonder how I came around and decided to search for them. Well, let me talk a little about that. But first, a reminder of the three parts of this story:

Part 1 - Growing up adopted
Part 2 - Finding my birth parents
Part 3 - Extra details about the adoption world

And to help you keep everyone straight, here is my family...

Ruth and Frank 
Adoptive parents 
(I will refer to them as my parents, because that's how I refer to them in day to day life)

(in the past I've often referred to her as my mom) 

Linda and Leo 
Birth parents

Karen and Scott  
Adopted siblings aka, my sister and brother
(I have a gazillion siblings, but these two were also adopted)

Judy, Linda, Barry, Chuck, Ben, Robert, Angel, John
Step siblings
(Ann's kids)

Andy, Megan, Squid, Lindsey, Derek
Birth siblings
(the first three are Linda's kids, and the last two are Leo's kids)

When did you finally decide to search for your birth parents and why?

As I mentioned in my last post, I really had no desire to search for my birth parents. I had nothing against them; I just felt like I had enough in my life and didn't need to invite the unknown into it.

I finally decided to search when I was 34, and working at an adoption agency. This really didn't have anything to do with where I worked except for helping me understand the process. But even so, the laws had changed so much over the years that it only gave me a slight leg up in understanding what was involved.

What really happened was that I wanted my medical history. I've mentioned this on the blog before that I have some health issues. Nothing serious, but enough to be an annoyance that impacts me pretty much every day. I was curious if any of these things ran in the family and if they found any resolution for them that would help me... or even if I had something to be concerned about.

I knew I had an option to request health information only, but I could do a whole search too. I really wanted health information and some pictures. Not sure if I could get just that so I kept thinking about it. Actually, this was just a thought for a long time - not something that I actually thought I would take action on. Plus, the cost of searching was a little prohibitive for me at the time. My dad would bring it up from time to time over the years and even offered to pay for the search since he said he got me into this situation. Haha. Even with that offer I knew I had to really think this through. I think between my medical issues becoming more prominent and with the gentle, yet encouraging, questioning from my dad I finally decided to start the process. It was not an easy decision and one that I constantly doubted.

What was the first step in the search?

I knew the name of the agency I was adopted from so I checked out their website first. I was able to see the cost of a search and download the paperwork to get started. I originally contacted the agency in February of 2006 which is when I discovered that my birth mom had updated her address in 1999, but she hadn't signed a release of information. They noted that since they probably had her current address on file the cost for the search would be less. In April, before I submitted the paperwork to the agency, I requested a copy of my original birth certificate from the state just in case my birth mom had made that public (since that only cost $13.00), but she hadn't. I'll admit I stalled a lot in this process as I second guessed that this was what I really wanted, but I eventually got my paperwork together.  By the end of June I had finally sent in all my documentation and made a payment for the search. I was told that the search was typically 6 - 8 weeks from there.

And??? What happened next?

After sending in my paperwork and connecting with a counselor from the agency I had to write a brief letter and include a picture of myself.

I sent this one partly because I liked my hair... even though I have a bit of 'crazy eye' going on. Lol.

From there the agency needed to make contact with my birth mom by phone as a start. They couldn't leave a message or just send a letter - they needed to get her on the phone. This probably took a week to happen once they let me know that they were going to reach out to her. I wasn't overly anxious about it, but at the same time, every time the phone rang I wondered if it was the adoption agency.

I believe I was at work when I got that call. As I mentioned, I was working at an adoption agency (different place obviously than where I was adopted from), but I hadn't told anyone there about my search. I told a few people in my family, my boyfriend (now husband), and maybe a couple friends. If even that. I was still doubting my search and wanted to feel like it was all mine. I needed to keep this close to me and eliminate the possible comments and questions I would receive that I wasn't ready for.

So anyway, that call came in late August. I remember it being near my one year dating anniversary with Jesse (who, by the way, was completely supportive of this whole thing). I was able to get a few details about my birth mom in that call to help tide me over until she sent a letter to me later. I learned that she's handy too, has a couple cats, the names of her other kids and that she works at a group home.

I wasn't ready for a direct phone call so we started with letters. The agency sent my letter and picture to her after they made phone contact and her first letter came to me on September 6, 2006. In that letter she shared more about herself and about family... and that she and my birth dad were still friends. She shared that she hadn't told him about me reaching out yet as she wanted to leave that up to me whether I wanted to meet him or not.

I did want to connect with my birth dad so I let her know that and we continued to write letters to each other. Soon, I received a letter from him and then from his daughter Lindsey who had no idea about me up to that point. I imagine that was a shocker for a number of people.

When did you actually meet them?

Eventually, I was ready for a phone call so we started communicating that way and decided that we would set a time to meet. Linda and Leo live 2 - 3 hours south of me, but agreed to come to me. I think this may have been in October since I remember the weather still being somewhat decent. We went to lunch and just talked. I remember looking at their eyes during lunch trying to figure out where I got these eyes from. It was a good first meeting and I was able to share my feelings about them (respect for them, thought that they placed me for adoption out of love, etc), and why I was so hesitant to search (my whole situation with my mom, and the expectations that came along with that). I hoped this would provide a good foundation or understanding of what I was looking for and was expecting out of meeting them.

First time we met face to face at my house

Closer to Christmas I drove down to see them. First, I went to Linda's where all her kids were, including her mom, and my sister in law and nephew. I was incredibly grateful that Jesse was there because I pretty much shut down. I had so much unidentifiable emotion rolling around inside me that I apparently forgot how to communicate. He was charming and funny and I was so proud to have him by my side.

Andy, Megan, Linda, myself, and Squid. Squid's name is actually Dustin, but everyone calls him Squid since he was apparently a squirrelly kid.

With grandma Val

Also notice how similar her wall color and texture was to mine in the picture above at my house. Weird.

We also visited with Leo and his wife, Debbie, and his two kids. I was starting to loosen up a bit, but still wasn't my usual self. Again, so grateful Jesse was there.

Lindsey, Leo, myself, and Derek

How has your relationship grown since meeting them?

Well, we still are in contact, but do so more through emails, text, facebook... I see them from time to time, although I've seen my birth dad's side a little more in the past year because of baby showers and such. I used to talk on the phone, mostly with Linda because she would initiate it, but I've sort of given that up. It's partly because she's now online, but I just don't like talking on the phone and it felt like too much for me.

I get the feeling that they would like more from me and I admit when I really start to feel that way I tend to push away. I can only give what I'm giving right now. I don't ever expect that they will fill a 'parent' role to me, but they do feel like family. I do enjoy that they are a part of my family and the less that is expected of me the more comfortable I feel. As I mentioned before, it was hard meeting my mom (Ruth) after so many years apart and knowing that I could not live up to the expectations she had just really sucked, to be honest. I'm trying my best to just have some sort of relationship and not put any expectations on it that I cannot live up to. Easier said than done.

With my birth dad, his wife, Lindsey and Derek and their spouses.

If you could go back, would you search for them again?

Well gee, this is a hard one to answer. Especially, since they might be reading this. And because I'd probably say no. No, I don't think I would search again. But let me make it clear that it's not about them. Each member of my birth family has exceeded my expectations. I was so relieved that they were the people that they are. I'm proud of all my siblings and feel that my birth parents would have provided a safe and loving home for me had they raised me.

Yet, at the same time I feel like I would have been fine without meeting them. I know that might sound cold, but it's true. I have quite a large family that involves relationships and obligations, and there's that whole meeting my mom (Ruth) thing that continues to hang over my head.

I guess you could say that I feel like I should be doing more to connect with them, and yet I don't want to and that makes me feel like I am letting someone down in some way. So I'd rather not feel that way and no searching for them in the first place would have avoided that feeling. Of course, I probably would have wondered about a number of things and when it comes right down to it having a child of my own might have changed my mind as well. I hope this all makes sense (and that no one takes it personally).

How did your parent's feel about you searching for your birth family?

If my mom were still alive I'm not sure how she would feel. Because of her mental illness I'm inclined to think that she would not have liked it, but that's purely speculation. My dad was very supportive and was sort of the one who encouraged it. I had mentioned that it would be nice to have my medical history, and in some ways I think he was hoping I'd want more than that. Part of me thinks that he was curious about these people who created me, but part of me wonders if he wanted to make sure that there were people to care for me and look out for me when he's gone. Sounds a little morbid, I guess, but since my dad is an older dad I know we've both thought about it.

What was your biggest fear in finding your birth family?

Oh, totally that they would want to step in and be my parents. I'm quite the introvert in that I need a lot of alone time to re-energize. I like to socialize, but I reach a point where I just feel drained by interacting with others. Between the nature of my job (talking to people all day long), and having a large family I was worried that they would want more than I could give.

What was the thing you most hoped to get out of meeting your birth family?

Medical information that would give me some insight into why I feel the way I do. Being able to see faces that look like mine. Ok, that's two, but those were the big things. I was about to write something about getting confirmation that my birth family was normal, but I thought of them that way before making the decision to search so I wouldn't say it was something that I hoped to discover.

How did your experience differ from your brother and sister? Did they search for their birth parents too?

My sister did reach out to the adoption agency with the hope of finding her birth mom, but was told that they did not have an address for her. My sister suspected that her birth mom didn't want her to find her, but who knows. My brother had no desire to find his birth parents.

If you could give some words of advice to those that are thinking about finding their birth parents, what would it be?

Um, well... everyone's experience is different, each state has different laws, and depending on when you were adopted those laws may be different from someone else in the same state. We all have different reasons for deciding to search or not search and for some people the weight of that search (and the outcome) is super heavy and other's might be more like me. This is all my way of saying this is a really hard question to address (who is coming up with these questions anyway?)

If I had to give some words of advice it would be to be prepared for anything; to know that you may be disappointed, but you may be delightfully surprised.

Oh, also know what your terms are. It's ok to set boundaries and it's ok to stand by them, but try not to be a dick about it. Early on, I talked with my birth parents about my situation with my mom to help them understand why I may be standoffish at times. It's not my intention to push them away, but I needed to have those boundaries. I also tried to make it clear that I would not be joining them for holidays. It was hard enough to accommodate my family and my husband's family so it was something I decided right away. It didn't stop them from asking, and I think the fact that I set that rule early helps me not feel too bad when I say 'no'.

Boundaries are good, but if you need to adjust them at some point it's ok to be flexible. And if it's too much or not what you expected it's ok to close the door again. It's not ideal, and again you want to be sensitive about it, but not all reunions work out.

How do you refer to your birth family?

My 'birth family'. 'Birth' pretty much goes in front of each relationship 'mom', 'dad', etc. However, I will admit that sometimes the 'birth' part can slip off for my siblings, but usually not for my birth parents. Parent is an important role and I feel like it needs to be defined for what it is here. Plus, as much as I care for my birth parents, they are not my parents - they aren't the people that I grew up with. But mostly, other people get confused when you start talking about multiple parents, whereas it's much easier to grasp multiple siblings.

How many parents and siblings do you now have?

Let's see, I guess I have the break down at the top of the page, but in numbers:

Moms - 3
Dads - 2
Siblings - 15

Did your birth parents name you and if so, what?

No, my birth mom did not name me, but when I asked her what she might have named me she said 'Louise'. It's her middle name.

Three generations

Who do you look like?

When the adoption agency finally connected us, my birth mom sent me a letter and a picture. I eagerly awaited the picture where I would be able to see people who looked like me. And then I got this...

Linda, Megan, Andy, Blake (nephew), Amy (sister in law), Valeen (grandma), and Squid.

I seriously didn't know who was my birth mom at first. I mean, I figured it out by deduction pretty quickly, but none of these people really look like me. I have to admit I was a little disappointed.

Then my birth father sent a picture and whammo, there it was.

Leo is in the dark blue. The rest are his siblings - my aunts and uncles

Maybe you can't tell so much, but for me all I could see were my cheeks on the guy in the dark blue shirt (my birth dad).

Here's the thing, I was actually thinking that the first thing I would notice would be eyes. In fact, I never thought twice about my cheeks until the moment I saw this picture. I thought that someone has to have these large blue-green eyes, but no. Turns out my eyes are sort of a blend of both my birth parents. Hers are a little gray, his are very blue and together they apparently make blue green, but still not sure where the size of them come from.

I also have my birth dad's nose - square with a little dent (otherwise fondly known as the 'butt crack') on the end. I think my chin comes from my birth mom's side and my long torso I found in my birth sister, Megan (Linda's daughter), but no one else. My long fingers I finally found in Leo's mom, Florence.

Me, Grandma Florence, and Leo

Did your birth parents share why they placed you for adoption and if so, why?

We have talked about this and it feels a little weird to tell their story... kind of like it's not my story to tell. However, I will share this... They were both 19. Linda had a two year old son and her parents weren't happy that she was having another baby. I don't think she had a lot of support, including from my birth dad. He has expressed regret over this and honestly, I don't hold it against him. They seem to still be friends and Linda actually introduced Leo to his wife. If they have any long standing issue about this I don't know and I sort of don't care. For me, I just don't want to judge. I wasn't in their shoes so I really don't know what I would have done in the same situation.What I do know is that it was a HARD decision and one not made lightly.

My birth siblings from both sides when they were young (and Leo's two step sons)

Do you see yourself more in your parents or your birth parents (looks, personality, etc)?

I'm inclined to say my dad, but at the same time he and I are different in many ways. A lot of that was probably influence from friends growing up, but also because there is a 44 year age difference in us. There are also similarities with my birth parents and some of those characteristics overlap with my dad (such as the handyman side of me). My birth dad said I am a lot like his sister which was interesting to hear since I rarely heard comments like that growing up.

What do your families think of each other? Do all your parents get along?

I love that they all like each other. That's one thing that I never was really worried about or had to deal with. I know that's not true for all adoptees. I feel very grateful for this. When someone in my family asks me about my birth family there is a genuine interest. In fact, my birth mom is a seamstress and made a few bags for me. When on of my step sisters saw them she connected directly with my birth mom to buy some from her and then even sold a bunch to her friends. I really do have good people in my life.

What do you think your relationship will look like in the future?

Who knows. I'm pretty sure they will stay in my life, but even in the 8 years we've been in contact the relationship has changed. As I mentioned, we hardly talk to them on the phone and I'm ok with that. Thanks to Facebook I know a little more about some of them than others. And I still see them from time to time for different family events. I'll likely never have the relationship with them that I might have if they raised me. As a parent, I can only imagine that is probably tougher on them than it is on me. I'm glad that I've met them, that they are nice people, and that we can appreciate each other.

Next post will be about some adoption details people might want to know about. Please don't hesitate to ask any questions!


  1. This has been fascinating to read! You do have SUCH a huge family, I can definitely see why it would be hard to add in more obligations. Sometimes it seems like I have a big family, but yours puts mine to shame!

  2. I'm so slow to get around to commenting but I wanted to share that I really appreciated reading this series and hearing your honest thoughts about adoption and the good and difficult aspects of it. Thanks for sharing.


Love to see your comments.