I was four when my adopted mom told me I was adopted. A pivotal moment for me when the blank reality of my personal history was brought out of the recesses of my mind into the light of immediate consciousness. Up until that moment the loss of my origins was an implicit, or subconscious, memory.
We were at my Grandpa’s house for our regular Sunday visit, my mom, dad and my older, also adopted, brother. As usual I was entertaining myself in the sunshine and green grass when my mom approached me with the news. I can’t imagine what she felt as she started this conversation. She must have contemplated how she would say it and how I might take it. She loved me very much and more than anything had always wanted a daughter.
She explained that she was not my ‘natural’ mother. She said that my natural mother was young and felt unable to take care of me. Out of love she gave me to people that could care for me. I didn’t ask where or who my natural mother was. I already sensed she was very unavailable.
What I did ask my adoptive mom was whether or not her mommy was her real mommy.
I remember hoping she would say, ‘no, my mommy is also not my real mommy!’ I wanted reassurance that this was not as unusual as I was sensing it was. I wanted this to have happened to her to so that I wouldn’t feel so strangely rejected. But she said no, that her mommy was her real mommy. I was stunned into a feeling of uneasiness and quiet yet desperate curiosity.
That terrible blast of surprise quickly became an inexplicable feeling of embarrassment I tried to hide. We didn’t talk about it much after that, at least to my memory. It wasn’t an easy subject to broach during my childhood or adolescence.
From that point on, I grew up in the strange knowing that I was unrelated to anyone around me. That I knew NO ONE that was related to me. That my original identity was essentially - and later I discovered, absolutely - classified. It’s very distracting - being the adopted kid in a small town. My dad still has never really talked openly about my being adopted and my mom seemed sad when I brought it up. In a house full of books we had one cartoonish book that addressed adoption in a lighthearted way. I referred to it occasionally as a last resort, but it offered painfully little.
I grew up with an older, unrelated, adopted brother who, at a young age, declared his total lack of interest in his past. He, to this day, has never spoken to me about us being adopted.
So, literally the only person I was sharing this strange experience with, my brother, didn’t want to talk about it either. I was met with annoyance and hostility if I dared bring it up – which eventually became never.
I grew up in a small farm town in Illinois. I went to Catholic School. At some point I learned
I was adopted through Catholic Charities. The town comprised of about 6 core intermarrying families. If you weren’t of them, they made sure you knew it.
We weren’t of them. None of us. My adoptive parents weren’t of them either. They were transplants from other small Illinois towns making us even more foreign to these landlocked country people. Not only that, but my adopted father was the local circuit Judge.
We lived there because he ran for and won a Judgeship election.
You might think being the judge’s kids made things easier/ In the long run of our lives it did, but at that time and in that place, it made us stand out even more. We were brought up with more education and cultural activities than our friends. No one traveled there, but luckily we did, at least some. We experienced things outside our little town due to our parent’s relatively diverse interests and fearless pursuit of art and theater. They were and are good people but adoption is still a very emotional issue for them.
Classmates and even friends rhetorically asked regularly why my brother and I didn’t look alike. They made sure we never forgot we were adopted. There were lots of instinces of cruel remarks and incessant reminders designed to hurt. Needless to say, I don’t visit the town I grew up in. It was a place I am glad to have put behind me. It did nothing for my psychological burdens.
One of the most traumatic experiences was the end of 8th grade. I was at the school gym at a basketball game. A boy sitting in the bleachers behind me was harassing and taunting me. I tried to be invisible. With several adults within ear shot, he called yelled, ‘you’re an adopted piece of shit’ and then coughed up some phlegm and spit it on my right shoulder.
My face must have been bright red because I was burning with blinding embarrassment from head to toe. No one said anything. I was on my own to deal with this. My heart broke into painful pieces as I got up and did the most excruciating walk of shame around the court floor to the door I could leave the gym through.
I remember how bright and blinding the sun seemed when I walked out. Everything felt surreal, like I was having an out of body experience. I felt powerless to defend myself. And afraid of what I was going to feel on my long walk home. I didn’t realize at the time how strong these experiences were making me, they just felt bad.
High School was as ok as it can be in a farm community and 60 students in your graduating class. I made the absolute most of it that I could. I leaned on my musical skill and social interests to distract me a little from my self-wonderment - but I still thought about who I was everyday.
I went to college and pursued psychology because subconsciously I was in a desperate search for self.
I gave birth to my son when I was a senior in college and laid eyes on my first blood relative. His father and I were married soon after and both completed our degrees.
My son was about 2 years old when I decided with shaking hands and a pounding heart that it was time to call the adoption agency I was surrendered to and ask them if they knew who I was.
I had no support from my husband. He told me not to do it. I had no support from my adoptive parents who upon learning I had reached out to Catholic Charities, called Catholic Charities and ripped them a new one for giving me any information. They asked me if he had mental problems, which he doesn’t, but that’ how angry he must have seemed to them.
We’ve never talked about. And of course no support from my adoptive brother who I remain barely in contact with.
I have one cousin I grew up with, not a blood relation of course, who told me to go for it.
She was the beginning and end of my familial support.
Due to being adopted in Illinois where the adoptee rights had been granted, I was able to make first contact with my biological parents. I called Catholic Charities explained who I was and asked if they had my file. They did and the process began.
The first person I spoke with on the phone was my birth grandmother on my father’s side. She was happy to hear from me. Her voice sounded calm and reassuring. She said that my father had been waiting for this for 23 years.
Next, he called me. My father. My biological father!! I heard his voice on the phone. It was full of acceptance, excitement, regret and even love. He invited me to come visit him where he lives in the super remote Ozark Co. Missouri.
I packed up my little son and took off from Indiana to go to Missouri to meet my father. It was an incredible 8 hour drive. I listened to a lot of Sarah McLaughlin, mostly the song Building a Mystery. It was the late 90’s.
I couldn’t have been more excited and nervous.
After driving into the wilderness, up and down hills, around one bend after another on dirt roads, alone with a child in the dark of night for hours - I pulled into his driveway.
He was right there waiting. In the light of my car dome light we saw each other’s faces for the first time and he exclaimed! “You look just like me!”
He hugged me and held me and I couldn’t even cry. It was overwhelming to the point of being numbing.
He took me in his home and I met my two younger brothers who were 14 and 15 at the time.
They looked at me with sheepish but welcoming interest and within a day were filling me in on all the family details. They told me the ups and the downs of their childhood and the wonders and challenges of their own young lives. They took me to their tiny rural school and introduced me to people as their sister.
They shared with me their land, trails, cabins, campfires and laughter.
My father, Dennis, and I really bonded. It was so unexpected that it would be my father who I bonded with. He apologized so genuinely for the mistakes he made as a younger man. He told me so much I had wondered about my whole life in those first days of our acquaintance. He solved my greatest mysteries. He cried. I cried. I told him about my life growing up, he told me about his.
And he told me the story of how I got here.
Up until this time of meeting my father, I been told that my birth mother had not yet been contacted. Supposedly direct contact with her was tricky at this time. My father had told me on the phone that her career as a marine captain took her all over the world. Catholic Charities had told me they were having some difficulty getting a hold of her.
My father revealed otherwise. She had in fact been contacted and was struggling with the news that I was interested in contact. Her mother, my grandmother, had been contacted by Catholic Charities but told them to never call again or she would call the police.
Despite, Catholic Charities pursed my mother, Jennifer, and she eventually found out. She contacted my father after years of silence and expressed her fear to him. Coincidentally, years before my search she had mailed my father a card for me. In it she told him to give this card to their daughter, Dennise Lynn. In it she told me she loved me and that he was to give it to me when I arrived on his doorstep.
My father told me how they met. He, an 23 year old baseball player from Illinois, had been recruited by the Kansas City Royals and found himself at spring training in Sarasota Florida. He was married but separated and had a young daughter. My mother, a Sarasota debutante of 15 years old, full of life and talent. She and her friends hung around the ball fields. He said she was the prettiest, sweetest girl he had ever met and they quickly fell in love. He lied to her telling her he was younger and she lied to him telling him she was older.
They spent lots of time on the beaches of Siesta Key. Eventually, due to an article in the local paper about him, her parents found out his age and banned the relationship. They also found out he was married and had a child. Dennis eventually went back to Illinois. My mother became inconsolable and demanded she be allowed to go to Illinois to be with him.
She was from a stable middle class family. Her parents reluctantly sent her, a 16 year old, to a small town in Illinois to live with my future father Dennis – who lived with his parents and his 4 younger siblings.
While in Illinois living in his parent’s home, she became pregnant with me. My father was not supportive and had fallen in love/lust again with another pretty girl - who later became the mother of three of my younger siblings.
My mother gave birth to me there in Illinois, with no one she knew present. My grandfather dropped her off at the St. Monica’s Maternity Center for Unwed Mothers when her due date came around, paid her bills and never saw her again. They didn’t come to visit me, their first grandchild. After my birth she was coerced and shamed by the Catholic nuns and staff at the center. She was told a couple was waiting for her baby. She was told she had no options. She signed relinquishment papers after a few days of turmoil. She told me so much. She said to me once that she had always wondered if I had been a boy maybe my father would have come back to her.
I met my birth mother a month or so after my visit with my father.
She came to see me where I was living at the time. I picked her up at the airport and it was very emotional for her and very weird for me. For me, my emotions were so normally bottled up, I could barely access them. The nervousness was there but it’s still taken years to process the emotion of experiencing this type of reunification.
As we walked through the airport together we looked down at our flip flopped feet and noticed that not only were our feet the same, but we both had on the exact same shade of lavender toe polish and a toe ring on the same toe and foot. We took pictures of our feet together.
She was kind of beside herself during our visit. Understandably. She told me she hadn’t wanted to give me up, but my father had ended the relationship with her and signed termination of parental rights to me before I was born. After her labor and delivery she said she called her parents who, to that point, did not know she had even been pregnant. They cut ties with her when she left Florida to be with Dennis. She told her parents she had had a baby and that Dennis was gone. They told her she could come home - but not with her baby.
She put me up for adoption and went home to Florida, back to high school. To this day, most of her friends from youth don’t know she gave up a baby, as is with many birth mothers.
She says she felt she didn’t deserve to have children after that and finally found a doctor to tie her tubes when she was 21 years old.
She gave me so many details, filling in the blank of my own past. It was nice to hear that they shared something special and felt strongly about their bond at the time. It was incredible to hear their painful descriptions of the inevitable demise of their forbidden love.
They both told basically the same story.
I started healing my identity disorder after meeting them and learning about the circumstances of my origins. It’s not that I wanted a certain outcome, I just wanted to know whatever the truth was. No matter how bad or good or tragic.
I maintain a loving and healthy relationship with Dennis, my father. He and his three proceeding children’s embracing of my presence in their lives made this experience so unexpectedly rich and incredible.
For 10 years my mother Jennifer and I would talk on the phone occasionally, we visited each other a couple times - but eventually our differences drove us apart and we’ve stopped contact. It seems healthier for us both due to our personality differences.
Luckily, just before our falling out, she suggested I meet up with her in her home town – Sarasota, Florida. I did. I fell in love with the city and moved my son and I there. It’s where I live and work now.
Not only that but my father Dennis has visited me here multiple times and has taken me to all the places where my parents spent their time together. He was even the one that took me to see the house my mother grew up in and the baseball fields where he was training.
We found a ball out in one of the fields and he signed and dated it for me with a loving inscription.
It’s been 22 years since I made that first call to Catholic Charities to, for the first time, ask them if they knew who I was.
It was a miracle to me that they did - and that they had the whole time. All those years I wondered silently, painfully, about myself. The information was right there, an hour and a half from where I was growing up, in a classified file.
I remain a classified person, we all do, those of us in this situation. But at least some of us, in the states whose laws allow it, are able to access something of ourselves. I received my original birth certificate from the state of Illinois about 6 years ago. But I had already done my own work, I didn’t need it any more.
We don’t care what the answers are, we just care about getting answers.
Any knowledge about the self is better than nothing.
My father is sick and doesn't have long to live. I've been really thinking about how important it is for adoptees to not wait to search. The opinions and perceptions of others shouldn't stop you. I did my search when I was 23 years old. I've had 23 years of learning and assimilating my birth history into my life. Had I waited until now, I would meet a dying father instead of the strong healthy man I met all those years ago. What a loss it would have been to my own personal healing path, had I waited until now or even later in my life to start searching. If your adopted family truly loves you, they will find a way to accommodate your psychological need to find your truth.
Pictured below -
w/father and sister
w/sister and two brothers