I found my birth family. But now the days crawled by as I waited to see if my sister would reply to my Facebook message and if so, what would she say? Would she be glad and want a relationship, or would she tell me to take a flying leap off the nearest cliff?
Late July, 2015
I’d slept in late that morning thanks to a fractured night rife with insomnia. As I approached the dresser where my phone lay, it rang. Already? I thought. Don’t people know I’m barely out of bed? Suddenly, my irritation morphed into a queasy mixture of fear, euphoria, and relief, as I read the State name above the unfamiliar number: Georgia.
I nearly swooned in excitement and terror. “It’s her!” I squawked.
“Who?” my husband yelled from downstairs.
“Tina! My sister!”
I breathlessly answered and listened as a woman with a lovely Southern accent asked if I was Nancy, and when I told her yes, shrieked like a banshee, “OHMYGOD! WE’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR YOU!!!” A warm, yet surreal conversation ensued, as the story unfolded and Tina told me about our parents, siblings, and growing up near Sacramento for the first thirteen years of her life. About a year after my birth, our mom had remarried, had two more baby girls, Dea and Lisa, and eventually moved to Georgia. Tina was not quite two when our mom had come to Washington to stay with her younger sister Sherry, and her husband, Roy for the last few weeks of her pregnancy with me as she arranged for my adoption, and was too young to remember it.
I told her about the non-identifying information I’d gotten from the adoption agency long ago. A bit hesitantly, she asked if there was any indication in those papers of why our mom gave me up for adoption, as she just couldn’t make sense of it. I told her that the explanation was that she was separated and about to be a jobless, divorced mom of four little ones; she worried that she wouldn’t be able to provide for four kids, let alone five. “Ohhhh…” Tina replied as the realization dawned on her. “That makes perfect sense now, because I remember Mom working three jobs and yet going without food so we could eat.”
If I had respect for my birth mom and her sacrifice before, now it just shot through the roof! Tina went on to tell me that many years later, they learned that they had a sister in Washington state who had been given up for adoption, and that their mom had recently asked Aunt Sherry and Uncle Roy’s help in searching for me. The search had turned up nothing. My siblings tried as well, but all they knew was the city and birth year. Not much to go on.
Just a few days short of a month after my son had come to me with his request, I was reunited with my sisters via phone and Facebook. From that first conversation with Tina and later with each one of them, it was like we’d never been raised apart. It seemed like we grew up together, then were scattered about the globe, only to reunite, picking up right where we’d left off. A few days after that, Aunt Sherry and Uncle Roy called to welcome me back to the family. What a special conversation that was. Finally, a couple of weeks after that first contact, they were able to get together in one place so we could Skype. including my older brother Larry and his sweet wife Pam, who has become another sister! And what made the Skype reunion extra special was my son and his daughter with me as we all met our new family for the first time.
December 7, 2015
This is the busiest airport in the world? I moved in a daze, exhausted from the ravages of Lyme disease, too little sleep, and a long, mind-numbing flight. But God had seated an ATL-savvy angel named Angie across the aisle from me on the plane, and after hearing my story and seeing the glazed look in my eyes, this angel promised to lead me to my waiting family. Few souls traversed the hallowed halls of the “world’s busiest airport” in Atlanta, and an almost mystical, dreamlike hush seemed to envelop the cavernous building as we rode the escalator up to the waiting area. Suddenly Angie leaned in and whispered, “I see Santa hats” (my youngest sister, Lisa, had informed me they’d be wearing Santa hats so I could easily spot them). I looked up and saw them. They saw me. For a split second the five of us stared at each other. Then with a shout, they bolted toward me, enveloping me in the biggest, most wonderful, tearful, group hug I’ve ever experienced. When they let me breathe, I looked around for my angel. She had disappeared.
I spent the next two glorious weeks getting to know at least 40 members of my huge family: so many nieces, nephews, and in-laws, I couldn’t keep their names straight (and I’m still working on it)! But what a wonderful “problem” to have. Tina’s wonderful in-laws even drove up from Florida to meet me. My sisters wouldn’t let me out of their site. I spent several days at the home of each one, and wherever I stayed, they all stayed, including of course my newest sister, Pam. Every night was a slumber party, and the first weekend I was there, we took the slumber party on the road and stayed two nights with our cousin Debbie (Aunt Sherry and Uncle Roy’s daughter) and her husband Ron in Jacksonville.
Talk about a slumber party there, as the five of us were all crammed into two beds in one room, with Debbie joining us for awhile for some giggling. Hyped-up and on an extreme natural high, I’m sure we sounded like a gaggle of demented teen girls. Poor Ron. My cousin and sisters had a ball comparing me to both their moms, as I look like both. In fact, the entire two weeks, I felt like something in a zoo, or perhaps a petri dish, as my siblings kept staring at me, before realizing what they were doing. “Sorry!” they’d say, “We didn’t mean to stare, but…you look so much like Mom! You even have the same mannerisms, personality…everything! It’s like we’re looking at our mother!” I would just chuckle and say it was perfectly okay. And it was, as I really didn’t mind at all. I found out I even sounded like her, as during my visit we placed a call to our mom’s brother Uncle Don, and Aunt Linda, in California. “Uncle Don,” Tina said during the conversation, you should see her! She looks so much like mom!”
“Well, I wouldn’t know about that,” he chuckled, “But she sounds exactly like your mom did, before she moved South and got that Georgia accent!”
I even managed to frighten both Pam and my niece, Kim, who thought they’d seen her ghost.
Our First Christmas
The weekend before I left, everyone gathered at Tina’s for an early Christmas dinner and presents. But all the presents were for me. Somehow, in spite of being together pretty much 24/7, my clever family had conspired to come up with a multitude of Christmas presents for me without my knowing; although I found out when someone admitted that they were still wrapping them even as dinner cooked! They had decided they would give me one gift for each year they didn’t have me, but their enthusiasm and generosity soon went ballistic, and I ended up with over 70 presents under the tree. Some were fairly large, many were small, some were purchased, and many others were special family mementos.
But what really struck me speechless were the ones that belonged to our mom: her winter coat and hat, makeup bag, baby shoes, a doily she’d crocheted and a ceramic angel she had made. Her gorgeous set of porcelain angel Christmas ornaments. There were many more, and as I opened gift after gift, I couldn’t help but be in awe at their unconditional, unselfish love and generosity — especially when it came to giving up so many things of their mothers, a woman whom they’d adored. At times, it all seemed a bit surreal — I was celebrating an early Christmas with my original family! It seemed like a dream.
There was one very sad part about my visit however, other than the fact that my birth mom had moved on to heaven. I also missed meeting my older brother, Dale. He died from kidney failure two months before I was able to visit.
What About Mom?
You may be wondering how the wonderful woman who raised me was handling all this.
She was happy for me and supportive, as was my oldest (adoptive) sister Karen. So supportive in fact, that they sent gifts with me for all my siblings. My talented oldest sister makes beautiful jewelry, so she and mom teamed up: Mom bought the supplies, and Karen created stunning necklaces for each of my sisters. She bought more supplies than she needed, so I could choose which baubles and beads would make up each necklace for each sister. But how was I to know what each of them would like? It seemed impossible, as the only clue I had was having seen Tina wearing a blue necklace in one of her photos on Facebook. But I had to choose, so I mumbled a quick prayer for help and started choosing.
Upon opening, my sisters were amazed. They were perfect, right down to the large beads with the sunflowers on them, as my youngest sister Lisa loves sunflowers and has decorated her kitchen with them. And Larry? Well, we didn’t think he’d appreciate a pretty necklace, so I asked my sisters what he liked. I bought a Larry a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind (not) Ford T-shirt!
The following year, my sister Lisa and her husband, James, came and stayed a week with us, and we all spent a lot of time with my sister Karen and her husband Mark, and my mom, who immediately “adopted” Lisa and James, and they, her. Last March, Karen and Mark took my husband and I on a week-long Caribbean cruise and James and Lisa joined us. When the cruise was over, my husband and I drove to Georgia with Lisa and James, where we spent a week and my husband was able to meet the rest of the family. Well, some of the rest — it’s a very large family, and there are still many more that I haven’t met! This time, more family drove several hours from near Atlanta to meet my husband and I.
Fairy Tale Ending
Perhaps you’re reading this story and, as an adoptee or birth parent, or even adoptive parent, experiencing a spark of hope. Or you may be shaking your head over it, thinking that it just couldn’t have gone so easily and so beautifully. To those who are hoping, don’t give up. Because my search went so quickly and easily, I’m unable to go into an in-depth discussion on exactly how to find your birth family or child that you gave up for adoption. But I can give you a few simple steps to help you get started. First, pester everyone you can in your adoptive family for more information! You never know if someone might suddenly recall some small (and to them, insignificant) detail that would help you. Once you’ve done this, or even if you are unable to, go on to these next steps:
- Start with the adoption agency
This made all the difference for me, because even though I had despaired of the law in my state ever changing, change it did. And I hadn’t realized it, as I am a pretty un-political person.
- Check your state laws
If the adoption agency doesn’t give any information about the state laws, or even if they do, go to your state’s website and look. You may just be surprised. If your state still has restrictive laws regarding finding your birth parents or adopted child, at least you will be armed with knowledge.
- If your state’s laws are restrictive, consider finding a reputable intermediary.
Just because this didn’t work out for me, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. My problem was twofold: Lack of money certainly, but also the ever-present fear. Had I been more determined and less fearful, I would have saved the money, even if that meant putting away only ten dollars a month for a few years!
- Go to court yourself
If for some reason an intermediary doesn’t work out, you can always petition a judge yourself. If you can show good reason that you need medical information, he or she may be more likely to grant your request and open your records. Do not attempt this without much research and legal advice, however.
- Try adoption and genealogical websites
Sites like ancestry.com, myheritage.com, and familysearch.org can be very helpful if you have even one name. If not, then you might want to try childwelfare.gov and adoption sites like adopted.com, or others. Facebook has groups dedicated to the search. Some people have even found their birth families through DNA testing: in this article from the Daily Beast, the author tells how her DNA results and help from people in her Facebook group helped her find her family. Most of these sites offer both paid and free plans. Please note: I am not advertising or endorsing any of these sites. The first three mentioned are the only ones I have experience with, and that was only after I found my birth family. These are merely sites that appear to be helpful; however, only you can make that determination for yourself.
- Local genealogical society and library
Many communities are blessed with local genealogical societies, and these can be a wealth of information. Many of them are located in offices within local libraries, which is a real bonus, as your local library and Librarian can be of much help as well.
- If money permits, there’s always lawyers and private investigators. Just make sure they are reputable and have good references. Again, do your homework.
It Can’t be that Easy
To those of you shaking your head, thinking there was no way it could have been so easy for me, I must say, it’s about time something came easy for me! But then if my whole life had gone that well, I would not have this website! Seriously though, if I were in your shoes I would have doubts, too. Because I’ve never heard of anyone’s search being that easy…but then again, until recently, I’ve never known anyone who came from a State that grants adoptees access to their birth records. However, most States have not made it so easy, and my story is the exception rather than the rule.
Yes, my story — finally — had a sort of fairy-tale ending, the deaths in my family being the exception. But I realize that not all adoptions stories have nearly perfect endings. Maybe most don’t. Sadly, many searches for birth families or adopted children do not turn out well at all. You may never find your child or your birth family. Or you may find them and be rejected which, depending upon your courage, strength, and state of mind, may or may not be devastating to you. It can be a difficult choice to make, and once made, even more difficult to follow through with, as I have found. But whatever choice you make, I wish you success and joy.
Have you already begun searching, or are you considering it? Perhaps you’ve found your birth family, or a child you gave up. Leave a comment and let us know!
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