There are many roads converging for me, and Jonah, right now. I’m not going to say a lot about Jonah just yet – there is an IEP meeting coming up and I’ll write more about him then. Our visits have been good, and he hasn’t aggressed toward me in many months. I’m really looking forward to seeing him tomorrow and giving him the cool t-shirt I bought him last week when I was in Phoenix for work.
I guess I’ve been too overwhelmed to write – too overwhelmed, even, to really turn things over in my head. How expert I am at being the wintertime hermit, staying in, sleeping more than I need to, seeking a comfortable numb from a sometimes crushing and ever-present anxiety. I’m usually good, though, at turning my attention from that which frightens or floods my mind. To be honest, for a while now I’ve kind of kept my head in the sand, ostrich-ing my way beneath a lot of this life.
But recent events are taking me somewhere new now, shaking me awake from the slumber.
You want me to get to the point, probably, so here it is:
I found my birth family.
So my co-worker, Erin, likes researching on Ancestry.com. Back in the summer, when we’d first met, she was really interested in my somewhat half-hearted search to find birth relatives. I presented her with all my non-identifying birth information and gave her the green light to start digging. I’d already taken the DNA test through 23andme.com, so we had a second cousin to work from. Then Erin said Ancestry.com had its own DNA test, so I took that one too. Long story short, we found more relatives and Erin was able to nail down some family names (Hoffman, Moon, and Sweet) and some specific people.
My non-identifying birth information is so unique it wasn’t likely to be confused with another’s. I have four siblings (the paperwork said “probably half siblings”). The paperwork also included their sex, the year they were born, and the fact that the youngest boy (next to me) had died before I was born, cause unknown.
Twice Erin found women she thought might be my biological mother. The first time, mid-summer, I wrote out a script for myself and when I called, no one answered, so I left a message. The lady called me back and was very kind; she had no idea how we might be related but said she’d help me any way she could. None of the information sounded familiar to her at all, though. Erin and I determined we’d followed the wrong branch of a family tree.
The second time Erin found a potential match, back in early December, it was a woman from the Sweet family. I called her, using a script again and, like before, left a message. This potential birth mother, however, never called me back. We figured it was a dead end and Erin kept looking.
And then, one day in early January, Erin showed me an ad she’d found on adoption.com from another person in the Sweet family. The woman who had placed the ad was looking for her sister, and said she had one brother and one sister, which matched my circumstances exactly. She gave her sister’s estimated birth year as 1970 (I was born in September of 1969). Then I saw the baby’s birth name: Christina Marie Sweet.
My breath caught. My parents had told me that, at the time of my adoption, I was named Tina. This was the detail, really, that made me confident it was not just another dead end. “I’m the person she’s looking for,” I said. “Me. I think this is it. You found them!”
And so Erin sat beside me as I called with my script. Another answering machine, but halfway through my message a woman answered, her voice excited. I explained again why I was calling and told her I thought I might be the sister she was looking for. I mentioned that I had four half-siblings, one of whom had died before I was born. Then she knew, and started to cry. “I’ve been looking for you my whole life,” she told me.
With my boss’ kind permission I took 1/2 day off from work and drove out to meet her, only about 20 miles away. After determining for certain that we were not mistaken, we talked and we laughed and she showed me all kinds of photos. I think we look alike, though she is nearly 10 years older:
We both love bohemian, hippie clothes. We both love elves and don’t wear makeup. We have so many of the same mannerisms. We even both stand like a flamingo when we do dishes (something I had to have a photo of when I saw it).
She is kind, and strong, and so happy to have found her “baby sister.”
There is a lot to tell, and more people to contact and see if they want to meet me or not. I always assumed my birth family would want little or nothing to do with me – on the non-identifying birth info sheet it said I was the product of an affair and that my mother had reunited with her husband (apparently the father of all the other kids but me). I envisioned a family repaired behind me, healed in my absence – maybe even because of my absence. A single indiscretion on my mother’s part resulting in a surprise pregnancy and unwanted child – me. They probably wouldn’t want a scar like that ripped open.
I was raised very much wanted and loved, by both of my parents as well as a big extended group of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, none ever treating me as anything but one of the family. Maybe it’s for this reason that I never tried all that hard to find my birth family. It always seemed there would only be rejection waiting for me, and though I told myself it wouldn’t matter, I’m also old enough to understand you never really know how things are going to hit you.
But I wanted a photo of my birth mother, if nothing else. And I couldn’t stop thinking that maybe some of the siblings at least might want to meet me. And now I have both of those things. This is my mother’s wedding photo:
I still have many unanswered questions. It turns out the second woman I’d called in early December was not a dead end after all – she is my birth mother. She just didn’t call me back.
My brother’s death, just weeks before my birth, was a tragic accident. And my siblings’ childhoods were not idyllic. But I’m not here to expose wrongdoings, make accusations, or reveal things the family has the right to keep private.
I’ve been invited into the life of a sister who has been looking for me – a sister who wants me for a sister. It’s something I’ve never even really considered as a possibility. Whether or not I will have a relationship with my other half-siblings isn’t clear yet. It is enough, for now, to have the one.
Mostly I have Erin to thank, for without her this family likely would have all gone undiscovered. Now I know information that was unfairly kept from me my whole life. Information that I (and, I believe, all adoptees) have the right to know. Who I am and where I came from. It matters. My siblings were told they had a little sister and then that little sister never came home from the hospital. It wasn’t fair to them, either.
And so, just like that, my life’s trajectory has changed and will never be the same again. I get to rewrite the ending. I’m grateful for the gift of it.