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Posts Tagged ‘adoption’

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.

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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.

I’ve written a few times in this blog about being adopted.  (Each of those links will bring you to a random example).

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:

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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).

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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:

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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.

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Of course as soon as I posted that last entry, the school called to say Jonah needed a management/two-person take-down that day.  But I wasn’t expecting a miracle, just enjoying a moment.  Or a few thousand moments.  In general, his behaviors have shrunk significantly in both frequency and severity.

Though I have been very sick (more migraines w/accompanying nausea etc.) since early Friday morning and didn’t go with my mom to see Boo yesterday, I am beginning finally to feel better.  I’ll see Jonah on Thanksgiving Day when Andy drives him up for a visit, and I can look forward to that.

I also am looking forward to and simultaneously afraid of revelation number two.  It will be a wandering story, because these kinds of revelations always are…and I’ll start here…

I have this wonderful friend, and though we’ve only spent six days or so in one another’s company, we have remained simpatico even though those six days are now three years ago.  She and her partner are embarking on the journey of foster parenthood, and many of the babies they will foster have been born crack addicted or will have other conditions and disabilities to overcome.

Having regarded Boo a “difficult” baby, I’m unsure how to imagine caring for an infant who won’t/can’t stop screaming, who won’t/can’t sleep, and who, somehow at the same time, needs to be nurtured and loved and held even more than a “normal” child.    I know in my heart that my friend can do this, and can also let go when it is time to do so, however heartbreaking it may be.

Is it heartbreaking for the baby, too?

I was in foster care from birth to six months old, after which I was adopted into my family.  I wish I knew the circumstances of the first six months of my life, other than that I was placed into foster care because “there was something wrong with my feet,” which my parents were later instructed to fix, early 70s-style, by attaching my feet to a straight bar as I slept.

I wonder how much those six months shaped me, and I wonder why, as my parents tell me, I did not seem to mind being suddenly moved to another environment with different people, different sights & smells — a different life.  It kind of worries me (half-kidding) that I was all fine and smiley in my new home.  I would not like it one bit if someone took Boo away from me at six months old — and I would not expect him to like it one bit either.  I mean, damn.  You can’t tell me babies are that malleable.  Or are they?

Or was I simply quite happy to wake up warm and so obviously loved and welcomed by a large family of parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, the whole shebang?  None of my family has ever made me feel adopted.  Not ever.

Still, I was always curious about my biological relatives – and I wanted more medical history for both me and the only other blood relative I know (Jonah-boo) – so I did a spit kit DNA test to see if I could find some blood relatives on www.23andme.com.

It’s been a year now since my results came back.  I did find out which genetic markers I had and whether I was predisposed to all kinds of different illnesses and diseases.  I actually have a low risk rate (compared to the average population) of most everything except Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).

I also found out what part(s) of the world my ancestors are from, and how much of me is from where, and who I am distantly related to based on DNA strands or whatever tool they’ve got to determine these things.

A genetic expert I am not.

I never found anyone closer than a “possible 3rd or 4th cousin” on the site, and tracing relations that far removed, especially with me being adopted, would be near-impossible.  Last month, though, I received a notification that a definite second cousin match, R, had been found.  She wrote to me through the 23 and me site, and I answered.

Long story short, it appears I have stumbled upon my biological relatives.

After sharing all the non-identifying information I had with R (which actually provides quite a lot of details, like four half-siblings born before me and each of their birth years and sexes, plus the fact that one had died before I was born),  she wrote back again.

It appears R’s father is my first cousin, and that one of his five aunts is my birth mother.  R’s whole family is still in the area where I was adopted (very close to where I live now), and though she now lives in the NYC/NJ area, she is coming up to see her family for Thanksgiving and will speak in person to them about all this.

One of the big potential problems is that, based on all that non-identifying information I’ve got, I’m the product of an affair (hence the four half and not full siblings), after which my birth mother reunited with her husband, and my birth father likely just took off running.

So I e-mailed R that I will understand if they don’t want to meet or see me, and that I’m not trying to impose myself on their family.

Exchanging e-mails would be great; meeting them would be cool.  But I need to prepare myself for complete rejection.  I cannot expect they’ll be rolling out the welcome mat for one who may only remind them of a painful situation perhaps best left in the decades-past.

Who knows what will happen?  I am used to questions, and mysteries, and instability, so this is not really all that different.    At any rate, I should know what has been decided, hopefully soon.

I really would like a picture of my birth mother, though, if that’s all I can have.  I want a partial mirror of myself to stare into, the way all my relatives (on both my mother’s and my father’s side) have certain commonalities; the features, behaviors, traits, and mannerisms they share are their mirrors.

I’d like a look at mine.

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Jonah turned 11 on March 7th.

This weekend I couldn’t see him; I was on a business trip to an adoption conference in NYC, so Andy brought Jonah up Friday evening (the day after his birthday) and I met them at oft-requested grandma’s house.

Evidently Boo was a good boy the night before at the residence, where they threw a little party with pizza and cake.   I guess as soon as Jonah understood it was his birthday party, he began incessantly requesting cake.  All through the party.  Cake?  cake?  cake?   And to be even more specific, what he really meant was frosting?  frosting?  frosting?

Perhaps for his birthday next year I will give him a whole tub of frosting right at the beginning of the party.

Of course I am being facetious and am in fact trying harder to pay careful attention to what he is eating and drinking.  Last post was all about how I want an answer to his aggression, and I figure the first place to look is nutrition & what is going into his body.    The school has a nutritionist and I may request the guidelines or whatever to pay more careful attention to Jonah’s diet.  In all probability it is me who gives him more “junk” food than anyone.  He actually eats his vegetables (and certainly gets no black soda) at school, that’s for sure.  Andy always has salad, vegetables, and healthy things for Jonah to eat.  I’ve ordered a continuous prescription of chewable Omega-3s; I think he’s been on them for a year or so now.

Most of the limited medical research I ‘ve done so far emphasizes the comorbidity of autism (particularly that which is accompanied by aggression) with stomach problems and/or sleeping difficulties.  Jonah goes to sleep early and sleeps well through the night, and he doesn’t have stomach difficulty.  Unless you count that the food gets down there unmasticated, as he is wont to shove great chunks of food into his mouth and needs constant reminders to take small bites.  Maybe that does mean something.  One of the problems with this kind of research is that I find either ‘autism 101’ filler pieces about how behavioral problems are addressed through ABA, sensory toys, social stories, etc. or I find articles and dissertations out of advanced medical journals and can’t even comprehend half of what I’m reading.

So I will dig a little more every day.

On Friday Jonah enjoyed his mini-party at grandma’s house.  She’d bought him two helium Happy Birthday balloons, which of course he loved, and as a treat we got him Burger King.  Of course, this was topped off by two baths and a very auspicious car ride to see train, which arrived at the crossing just as we did.  Jonah rolled down his window and stared at the passing railcars.  It was a very good visit.  Boo gave lots of hugs and kisses, and requested music? if we weren’t playing it loud enough.

Boo tries to share a french fry with his balloon

Boo tries to share a french fry with his birthday balloon

“How old are you now, Boo?”

No answer.

“How old is Jonah now?

I’mtenyearold he replies in a word-slur only someone used to his enunciation can understand.

“Guess what, Boo?  You’re eleven years old now!”

Evvenyearold, he tells me.

“That’s right, Boo, you’re eleven now.  How old is Jonah now?”

I’mtenyearold, he answers, as if to say I just told you.

Gotta love my boy.

a birthday bath - one of two

a birthday bath – one of two

That night Andy kept Jonah overnight for the first time since we admitted Boo to Anderson, a year and a half ago.  And Jonah was good, and it went well, though even when he is good he is an exhausting enigma.

And here I am outside Madison Square Garden,
playing around while waiting for my train
because, underground, Penn Station feels
dizzy with people, everywhere people, blurry-quick,
moving confidently and frenetically in all directions…
and I don’t like it to be down there.

Carmelo Anthony and me

‘Carmelo Anthony’ and me

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under my heart

“Not flesh or my flesh, nor bone of my bone
Yet still, miraculously, my own.
Never forget for a single minute
You didn’t grow under my heart, but in it.”

~ Fleur Conkling Heylinger

I’m preparing to go to Brooklyn this weekend to exhibit and maybe speak at an adoption conference.  I’m adopted, and I like to work with prospective adoptive parents.  I have a soft spot in my heart for them and love doing everything I can to help them complete their families through adoption.

Jonah is my biological child and the only blood relative I know, which is weird.  I do like when people say he looks like me.  And yet it never mattered that I didn’t look like my parents’ families (they really all do have similarities in their faces and mannerisms –  nature, not nurture).

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the conference, but also I’m more than a little hesitant to be going to New York City.  The City freaks me out under normal circumstances, but I’m frightened it’ll be eerie, too – a wounded place.

I am there to smile and bring hope to the people who file in to the conference, most of them brand new at this whole adoption thing.  Overwhelmed and emotional, they need a friendly face and maybe some tissue.  You cannot pry but you need to encourage.  I love meeting the people, meeting their frightened eyes with my reassuring ones:  don’t worry; your child will find you, I want to tell them.

So I won’t see Boo this weekend and in fact not until Thanksgiving, when we’ll probably bring turkey sandwiches down to Andy’s, and Jonah will beg for bath and grocery store, oblivious of the holiday.  I miss him already, and would gladly trade a big hug for a small slap.

My dad and I are going out to lunch tomorrow.  He’ll ask me how work has been going and I’ll tell him about the adoption conference.  I’ll bring along The Story of Amy, a red-cloth-covered cling page 70s photo album turned into a book by my parents.  My mother wrote in careful script-like print, using cutouts of congratulations on your new baby cards as illustrations:

The Story of Amy

Once upon a time there was a lady and a man named Mr. and Mrs. Wink.  They had been married for quite a few years.  They were happy and still young, but there was one thing wrong.  They had no baby although they always longed for one to share their home.

One day Mr. and Mrs. Wink said to each other, ”Let’s adopt a baby and bring her up as our very own.”  So the next day they called up the lady who helps people to adopt babies and babies to adopt parents, and said to her, “Miss Brown, we wish so much to find a baby who would like to have a mommy and a daddy and could be our very own.  Will you help us find one?”

Miss Brown said, “It will not be be easy.  Many people wish to adopt babies, and you may have to wait a long time.  But come see me and let’s talk it over.”

So Mr. & Mrs. Wink went to see Miss Brown and told her how much they wanted to adopt a baby.

Miss Brown asked them many questions and said, “I will do my best to find just the right baby for you.  But remember, you may have to wait a long time.”

After a little while Miss Brown came to visit Mrs. Wink.  She was very nice, but quite particular.  She asked more questions, and went all over their home.  She seemed specially interested in knowing where the baby would sleep and play.  She found that the Winks had a lovely home and lots of room for a baby.

Many more months went by and Mr. and Mrs. Wink kept saying to each other, “I wonder when our baby will be coming.”  Mrs. Wink would call up Miss Brown and say, “We are still waiting for our baby.  Please don’t forget about us.”  Miss Brown would say, “Be patient.  It takes time to find just the right baby.”

Several months later Miss Brown came to visit the Winks again.  Surely this means our baby will be coming soon! 

One day Mrs. Wink got a phone call from Miss Brown.  “I have good news for you!  We have a baby girl for you to see.  Can you come tomorrow?”  Mrs. Wink was so happy and excited.  She called Mr. Wink at the office and told him the news.

The next day Mr. and Mrs. Wink went to see Miss Brown.  First she told them about the baby: “She is six months old with the biggest eyes you’ve ever seen and lots of brown hair,” she said, “now go into the next room and see her.

Mr. & Mrs. Wink both held the baby girl.  “This baby is our chosen baby.  She’s just perfect!”

Miss Brown said, “Well go home and get some baby clothes and some baby food and come back tomorrow and you can take your little girl home.”

That night Mr. and Mrs. Wink went shopping for baby clothes and food.  They were so excited they didn’t sleep all night.   The next day, they went to pick up their baby girl. “What shall we name her,” they said.  Mr. Wink said, “How about Amy?  I think that’s a pretty name.”  Mrs. Wink thought for a while then she said yes, “Amy means beloved.  I think Amy Marie would be a pretty name for our little girl.”

After dinner the Wink’s house was a very busy place.  Everyone came to see little Amy.  All her grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, and cousins were there to see her.  And of course they just loved her!

After everyone left, mommy and daddy got Amy ready for bed.  When they put her in her crib they both said “this is the happiest day of our lives; we have a beautiful little girl.  At last we are a family!

The End

My parents read my story to me so often, I suppose, that I always knew I was adopted.  And I was very lucky; it was a good family.   I’ve always been lucky, always been blessed.  I certainly didn’t always realize it or appreciate it, but now I know it.  I know it every day.  It helps a lot to know it.  When I’m grateful I’m happy.

People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong.
Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

‘Manzo knows this!

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