Tick Tock Goes The Clock

Anxiety rules, as I wait for a response to my letter. A week has gone by and surely it has been delivered. The lack of immediate response makes me think that either she is not at home or she is my mother — or otherwise related to me –and is processing the information in her own time.

I found an obituary for her mother from last year, and it listed all of the family. I have discovered why I could not find her family – it appears her mother remarried so the name changed. With her first husband she had four daughters, and with her second a son and a daughter. My potential match is the second of the four daughters, so I did some searching on the first daughter and found a yearbook photo of her. I felt like I was looking at a photo of myself at that age. The similarity to me is stunning. But I showed the pictures to my brother and my companion and both of them stated that they didn’t see any resemblance. It’s so frustrating!!

Still, I thought about the potential implications if my own instinct is correct. I suppose it’s perfectly likely that I might resemble my aunt, but I also wondered what if…. what if the older sister is actually my mother? What if she went away to college and found herself pregnant, and gave her sister’s name instead of her own to protect herself from her peers? And what if she never told anyone about it somehow? Now I have outed her secret to her sister. Or maybe her sister knew and has forwarded my letter to her?

I feel at turns mortified and indignant beneath the general anxiety. Mortified because I hate the idea that I have caused trouble for anyone, and indignant because it seems that everyone gets a valid stake in this situation but me. At this point in time, my adoptive parents (even post mortem) and family get to justify their harboring this secret and my bio-family gets to feel intruded upon by me. The state maintains its own rigid dismissal of my right to accurate and complete information. I am sympathetic to those things, but will I ever get any sympathy for my own perspective?

Buried Treasure

A few days before I sent the letter to the ‘likely’ match I had been thinking over the idea of my adoptive parents destroying the paperwork from my adoption. It just didn’t ring true to me. My adoptive parents carefully kept any and all records, for many decades beyond any possible usefulness. Long story short, through a nagging intuition and some dumb luck I found a locked box that had been among my father’s possessions we stored in my basement after he died. I vaguely remember thinking at the time that we should open it in case there was anything important, but it is a sturdy box that would potentially have required a locksmith to open. For whatever reason (being overwhelmed with his last few weeks of decline and death, and then all the funeral arrangements) we just packed it up. So that night, driven by an odd urgency, I rummaged through the stored boxes and found it.

I brought it upstairs and found a hammer and chisel, ready to try to force the thing open, but then I remembered a key ring I had of dad’s that I had put aside because it had the key for the storage locker we are renting for the bulk of things we took from their house several years ago when he moved into the retirement home. I found that, and lo and behold the key was on it. My heart was pounding. I just knew I was on the right track. There were a few things in there – photos of mom and my brothers, defunct stock certificates, letters to the bank, and a small plastic folio that contained the adoption papers for me and my brother.

I read through everything carefully several times, but sadly there was little information beyond what I already knew from the OBC.  The most interesting things I learned were that I was placed in my adoptive parents’ home on March 14, 1966 and the adoption was finalized (coincidentally, I presume) on my first birthday – December 27, 1966.

Two facts about this timeline:

First, I was 11 weeks old when I was placed in their home. I had been living in the Foundling Home for 11 weeks. Why the delay? Was that standard procedure? Where was my mother during that time? Who cared for me? What was my experience like there? I can’t help but think that for infant me that was a double whammy – taken from my mother and then taken again from whomever had been caring for me as a newborn – though I suppose it was not a single person, but rather whichever nurses were on duty. I am horrified at the idea of doing that to a newborn baby.

Second, either my mother had not given me a name or it was not recorded. So legally speaking I did not have a name until I was a year old. This irritates me on a childish level – either my mother chose not to give me the one single thing she could have given me, or the system denied her the right to do so. The former makes me sad and the latter makes me angry. I think I would prefer to be angry.

Leap of Faith

I composed a letter and sent it off to the ‘likely’ match my search angels gave me. I ran it past my natural mother friend and she gave it the thumbs up. I am going to be consumed with work in the coming week, so it will be good to distract me from obsessing. I figure she will get the letter Tuesday. Possible scenarios:

  1. She is not my mother. She has an incredulous chuckle, feels a bit sorry for me, and drops me an email to let me know it’s not her.
  2. She is my mother, but has hidden this from her family and does not want to connect for fear of exposing the truth to them. She might send me an email denying that she is my mother, or she might admit it and say not to contact her further. I think if this is the case the denial email would be different in tone from the one in scenario #1.
  3. She is my mother, but does not want to think about it. Radio silence.
  4. She is my mother, has hidden me from her family, but wants to contact in secret. We engage in a very slow clandestine relationship. Possibly at some point leading to revealing me to them.
  5. She is my mother and wants contact, whether she has already revealed my existence to her family or open to doing so.

I can’t think of any other potential situations than those, though there probably are more. I watched the mail truck take my letter away. Now we wait, again.

What’s in a Name?

I received my OBC on Wednesday, which was an amazing 10 day turnaround. Go Illinois Public Health Department! And there it was, staring me in the face. The name of my mother. Age 17. No name for me except her last name as my last name, no name for my birth father, but his age also noted as 17. Her address listed as 1720 W. Polk, which at the time was a home for unwed mothers called “The Foundling Home.” It’s all true. I am smack in the middle of the ‘Baby Scoop Era’ just like I thought.

I uploaded it to my Search Angels and within minutes they sent me the birth records for a “likely” match, and her Facebook page. It was so thrilling – this was IT!! And probably setting a landspeed record for discovery to identification! I spent hours combing through her Facebook page and the pages of the family I could identify, searching for commonality with myself or my daughters. I showed her picture to a few of my friends. Some said, ‘Yeah, totally’ but my longtime companion immediately said ‘No way.’ I began to doubt myself and ask ‘do I see  resemblance because I want to?’

I continued my own researching and started really doubting the information on the OBC. The mother’s place of birth was Cincinnati, but I have since found the one my search angels pointed me to going through all of her high school years in Freeport IL – so she was living there before she got pregnant with me. The OBC says ‘place of birth’ so I searched for her family in Freeport and couldn’t find it. The intelius search yielded nothing for her parents that were listed in the information the search angels sent, either in Cincinnati or Freeport. Nothing was lining up.

I was introduced to a natural mother who relinquished in the era, and she has been so incredibly kind with her time and her insight, and open with her own personal story. My original need for her was to try to understand someone who is about the age of my mother, to hear what she went through and ask her advice for how best to make contact. I felt an immediate connection to her and I was struck once again how much all of the members of this strange circumstance band together. We are, all of us, aching and in mutual understanding we reach out to comfort and support one another. I feel that I have mostly been on the taking end of that, but intend to be available if I can help someone else in turn.

I asked her if it was possible that any or all of the information on the OBC could be false, and she said yes. I despair of ever knowing the truth.

Lucky Me

When I was younger I put my stress in my stomach, but as an adult I largely put it in my neck and shoulders. This can cause blistering headaches, and I’ve had one to varying degrees of severity since the day I discovered. It had been waning a bit, but a new emotional challenge presented itself today and brought it back with a vengeance. I decided to go have a massage to try to work out some of the tension before my skull burst and freed the angry bees that have apparently taken residence in my head.

Within a few minutes of the start of the massage I began weeping. I was aware that might happen and warned my masseur that it was likely. Once it started he offered that he was a good listener and it might help to talk it out. I said simply, “I found out two weeks ago that I was adopted.” He said, “You’re lucky that your parents gave you a good home. You shouldn’t feel sad.” So yeah, reasonably good at massage but a pretty major fail at “listening.” Pro tip: Never, ever utter those words. Just. Say. No.

He chatted away and I half-listened, but mostly I was ruminating on his comments. The idea he presented is a common one, and I’m assuming meant to comfort, but reveals a stunning disassociation with essential human nature. To say that I was lucky to have been adopted is assuming that my life with my biological family would have been significantly worse (neither he nor I have any data on that subject), and that my particular adoptive parents did a great job of it (I have data on this, he had none). Moreover, it reduces the entire thing to a transaction with me the goods, and I am supposed to be grateful that I was sold to a kindly massa. Imagine if that idea was workable in a general sense: that anyone with the means (and yes, it would always boil down to who had the money) could just walk up and take a perfect stranger’s baby under the assertion that they could give it a ‘better’ home. What the Fuck.

And, more importantly, entirely misses the point. I am not unhappy and un-tethered because I had a rotten childhood. I suspect if I had had some nightmare childhood, learning I was adopted might have been something of a relief. No, it is because I suddenly have lost connection to the ideas about “me” both conscious and subconscious that I had ascribed to genetics.

I’ve had two daughters… I know what it means to hold a newborn and do the prerequisite toe-and-finger-counting before searching, searching over tiny face and fingers. ‘Dad’s eyes, mom’s chin,’ we say, ‘grandma’s skin, uncle’s feet.’ We are programmed to identify and celebrate our genes expressed in this new life; to assert their belonging to us, and us to them. How many features of my children did I ascribe as genetic heritage of my adopted family? How many of those things were a stretch, at best – a kind of genetic wishful thinking. I feel foolish now. No, my daughter’s red hair is not a long-recessive family trait, nor is my other daughter’s diminutive stature. Maybe someday I will know truly where these things originated.

I continued to weep through the massage, but I kept my tears to myself and reminded myself to be wary of those that consider me lucky.

Imagining Her

My adoptive mother was 42 when I was born. I think it’s reasonable to assume my natural mother fell into the typical age range of the women victimized by the “baby scoop era,” so was likely in her mid to late teens up to early 20s – which would make her in her mid-to-late 60s up to probably maximum of around 75.  I wrote briefly about some of the difficulties I had with such an older mother in an earlier post, and now I have found another: I cannot imagine my mother. I don’t think I know anyone particularly well in that age range, and so when I try to think of her and try to imagine how she views the world I just come up blank. The reason I have been playing this mental game with myself is because as I set the balls in motion to find her, I know the inevitable reaching out to her will occur. It is what I want and why I am doing all this, after all. I am enough of an optimist to think that will happen sooner than later and I want to have thought it all through before the time comes so I don’t make a mistake or hurt her in any way.

I wonder, of course, about the circumstances of my conception and relinquishment, but I think more keenly I wonder what she felt, wanted, was told, and believed at that time, and how she now views it. I know this sounds like I’m viewing all of this experience very clinically but I am not at all – it’s just how my brain works and how I manage. Maybe she is that way too, and won’t feel like I am examining her in a petri dish through a microscope. I can only hope. I imagine sitting with her, looking into a face like mine, holding hands like mine, asking these questions, and the prospect of that being real sends thrills of hope and anxiety through me.

I imagine that when she has thought of me over these past five decades she has wondered ‘Is she okay? Is she happy? Does she enjoy her life?’. I want to tell her that every day since I learned she existed I have worried over the very same questions.

Confusion and Anxiety

I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Books, blogs, articles, websites. That’s what I do, I’m an information-gatherer. But now as I move past basic research I am toe-dipping into the world of activists for adoptee rights and legislation and I find it all rather terrifying. I am not sure how I feel about birth parent right to privacy, but when I learned in Illinois that they could redact their information from the OBC I felt that in and of itself would be an important piece of information. Surely in my case, at least, if someone went to the bother of redacting their information nearly 50 years after the fact (since the right to request an OBC and/or redact information from it only became law in 2011), that would be a pretty clear indication that they did not want to be contacted. I am not sure how I will feel if mine comes in that way.

Having read through the materials on the website for the Confidential Intermediary, I was feeling content that that was a good way to go about my search and contact. Now I am not so sure. I have come across a number of blogs that describe truly horrible experiences. However I have not been able to find anything recent. I think the latest one was from 2013, and in Illinois the CI program only became free in January 2015. Some of the discontent with the program was the cost and the restrictiveness of it, but the main point of the commentary reads to me like the authors resenting needing to have an intermediary at all, feeling that adults should have the right to manage their own affairs. I am pretty sure that there were ‘search angels’ and other resources available to these people, and that entering into the CI program was voluntary, so I’m not sure why they felt so encumbered by it. There were assertions that, contrary to the website’s statements, the CI did not have free access to anything and everything, and even if they did, they were bound by confidentiality rules not to share them with you… which begs the question, why bother with them at all? At least one of these people also had an attorney and there were additional complications, including the fact that they were born in Illinois but adopted in Ohio. I think the takeaway here is that there are probably as many different permutations of this situation as there are people, and it’s so hard to know which might be applicable to me. I suppose I’ll have to just do what feels right as information unfolds (or doesn’t) and hope for the best.

Not feeling so steady today.


Unsurprisingly, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the ideas of families and secrets. I have decided that there is little to be gained by making an issue to my adoptive family that I have learned the truth – whether they knew it already or not. If they knew the truth and kept it from me, I can’t imagine that any of them would have been motivated by anything but love for me and loyalty to my adoptive parents. To confront them with it now would only make them feel bad, especially if I communicated that I am glad to know and disappointed that I wasn’t told earlier. If they didn’t know the truth, it doesn’t seem of any particular consequence to bring it up.

I wonder if my birth mother has kept me a secret from some or all of her family. If she has, I wonder if she will choose to keep it that way. I have decided that I will take advantage of Illinois’ Confidential Intermediary service, so that a professional who is trained to handle these situations can manage the initial outreach. That seems the most fair to both of us. I had a moment of trying to put myself in her shoes (or the shoes of any birth family I manage to uncover) and imagine someone showing up on my doorstep like that, or an email out of the blue, or a letter. It feels like an invasion of privacy – almost stalkerish – that I’m hoping a CI will be skilled at navigating in a much more safe-feeling way. And from my own standpoint, I would just die a thousand deaths after I hit ‘send’ or put the envelope in the mail, if I did not receive a response almost immediately.

I can see my mailbox from my office window. I know it will be weeks before I can even hope to receive my OBC or the Adoption Registry confirmation and potential matches, yet every day when the postman drives up I get a little thrill in my belly. And I know there are lots of people who have been searching for years so I feel like I don’t have any right to complain, but the waiting really IS the hardest part.


True things

Today, ironically, two things arrived together via UPS. The driver took my signature and handed me the deliveries: a cardboard shipping envelope containing the long form (altered) birth certificate I ordered and the small box containing the DNA kit from Ancestry. I knew well enough what the birth certificate would look like. I could not put my hands on one last Tuesday so in my initial frantic stew ordered a new one, but I remembered the salient details: December 27, 1965, and my (adoptive) parents’ names. I had remembered the hospital being listed as “Illinois Research Hospital” but the long form states “Research and Education” without the word ‘Hospital’. Reading that produced a small giggle that is both a defense against and an acknowledgement of the greater awkwardness that is my current state of mind. Who gets born in a research hospital? When I tried to find information about it, it seems to have been a part of the greater University of Illinois (Chicago Campus) medical program. I should get better details on it. I don’t think the hospital is a fact that commonly if ever got changed in the alteration process. The parents and sometimes the birth date were the likely edits. So this is most likely where I was, in fact, born.  It’s probably insignificant – only chosen for proximity and financial considerations, I would imagine. Still, it’s weird enough to be a valid addition to the scrapbook of weird that I am amassing.

The DNA kit had its own level of weird. I knew from reading comments on a blog that you spit into the container but after trying to force my dry mouth to produce more spit after the first couple of awkward spits failed to fill the vial to the proscribed level my earlier ironic giggle ripened into something closer to a slightly maniacal cackle. I didn’t count how many awkward times I spit but I did recall that old Tootsie Pop commercial adapted by my dry sense of humor to my circumstances: “How many spits does it take to fill the DNA vial? A-One. A-Two. A-Three. *hocker* Three.”

I have become terribly impatient so I boxed up my spit and took it right to the post office, where I realized that it was a federal holiday so I might as well have just stuck it in my mailbox. I rationalized that it would get processed FIRST!!! in the morning and that was a good thing. The weird thing about that impatience is that I don’t have any expectations about the DNA test except for curiosity. I think it’s a long shot at best that it might help me in my search. I think the urgency is just that I feel like I must do everything that is available to do as expediently as possible. What I really want is my OBC, but there’s nothing I can do about that but wait.

Still, I thought about the two things. The DNA test will produce true information that may or may not provide me any significant help in my search for Me, while the Birth Certificate is not only not true but is an active truth impostor, with its state sanction, official seals and statements of authenticity. I suppose it was a shield, protecting me from the censure that befell bastard children in the 60s and 70s, who were by default largely assumed to be defective spawn of defective mothers. Still it lies there, almost mocking me now that I know that despite its costume it is only a clever lie, and I hate it as paper proxy for the stupidity that has driven our society.

I am LDA

October 11, 2015

I learned last Tuesday that I am adopted. I will be 50 in December. These two facts place me solidly in a category of adoptees known as Late Discovery Adoptee (LDA). I learned this fact as I careened around the internet in my shock and disbelief. I found forums, I found books. I found out that I am not alone. I created this website to be a repository for data, to create a safe space for me to explore and vent, and to set up a sheltered email. If someone is reading this and needs those things too, please feel free to contact me. It’s been less than a week since my discovery but already I am beginning to see that there can be many common landmines and needs particular to the LDA that really deserve specific focus. Perhaps this will become a resource for other LDAs. If nothing else, apart from my own selfish needs, perhaps someone can be comforted if they see their own situation in mine.