General adoptee thoughts, Reunions

Nature vs. Nurture

Notebooks in every room. Scraps of paper in the car, in my purse and in pockets. I’m a girl who loves the world of analog notes. It’s as though a thought isn’t fully formed until I’ve written it down, pen to paper, and let it sit for a day or so to gel.

Writers write. It’s what we do. I’ve been writing since, hmmm, first grade? That’s more than 4 decades of practice and I’m still learning.

Notebooks and day planners and the odd scrap of paper have been filled for years with my thoughts and studies and observations about Nature vs. Nurture. I’ve always wanted to know what traits I got from my biological parents and which I received from the family I have known all my life.

My personality is very much like my Dad’s personality. He’s funny, charming and a good conversationalist. He is fair and tends to be even-keeled even if he isn’t terribly patient. We both have turned around in the parking lot of a restaurant when we see tour buses (too noisy! too crowded! and too long a wait for food – especially at a buffet!) We both complain to anyone who will listen about traffic and the lines at toll-booths. My Dad has been a salesman his entire life and I followed in his footsteps. I’ve sold different things but the consultative approach that I learned watching him has stood me in good stead.

We’re also very different. And I think that’s the case with all families. There are similarities and there are differences. The things I mention about our similarities are definitely traits that you learn from proximity to someone. I don’t know that you’re DNA pre-disposes you to hate waiting on line.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that our general dispositions are genetic, and if we, as adoptees, are lucky enough to get placed in a family with a similar disposition we get the golden ticket.

My parents are generally happy people. They like to find the silver lining. They’re realists and don’t gloss over challenges, but at the end of the day, they’re focused on the good and the ways to connect and to love deeply.

What I’m saying is this – you can choose to be a victim in all situations or you can choose to see how you fit into the crapstorm that seems to swirl around you non-stop. If you feel like you keep getting rained on, why not bring an umbrella?

I know, easy for me to say – I have the disposition of someone who sees the glass as half-full. Life has thrown its share of pain and heartache my way, and I’ve had periods of time of darkness, however, I still saw a sliver of light. I think that may be genetic and I think this is why my reunion seems to be going well.

My biological siblings are generally positive, funny and loving people. They are quick to embrace and slow to judge. They are open to new things and to letting someone else in – they are curious and genuine. In essence, they are like me!

In observing adoptees who have had painful, sad, uncomfortable or downright awful reunions, I notice that the general disposition of the biological family is generally negative, close-minded and fearful. Often the adoptee had a painful life and was seeking solace with them only to be rejected again. I’m not a sociologist, but there seems to be a trend related to the general disposition of the biological family and I wonder if that disposition has been genetically passed on to their children, adopted or not?

Every adoptee dreams about their biological family at some point in their life. Even those adoptees who have no desire to search for their families share that they have a vision of what their biological parents might have been like.

When I was in my angst-ridden teen years I fantasized daily that my biological family was like me! I felt certain that they asked questions about church and God and finding a way to impact the world in a positive way. I hoped that they were broad-minded with a good sense of humor. I dreamed that my biological mother would look me in my eyes and just know all the things I was feeling so I wouldn’t have to try to spell it out.

Like I said, it’s a fantasy of an angst-ridden teenager.

As I’ve gotten to know my new-to-me siblings I’ve learned that they are all those things and that the generation before them was much more close-mouthed and secretive. (Obviously, Cathy and I were two big secrets that our biological mother took to her grave!) Yet, MY generation is full of people who are all the things that I dreamed about and that is amazing to me. How wonderful that we all created that space in our lives – together and separately. We run the gamut on religion and we’re all committed to making the world better in our ways. We have big brains that explore new ways of thinking and we all love to learn and expand our world-views.

It’s hard to explain if you’ve never been adopted, but I can feel how we are alike and how we are different in my bones. That familiarity is the gift of nature that I’ve been seeking for a lifetime.

emotions, My story, Reunions

Missing out

Excited and nervous and then a wrong turn and I ended up at a gas station on the outskirts of Baltimore. I looked at the time on my phone and took a breath. I still had a better than average chance of being on time. Just to be safe though I made a call, “You’re not begging off on me are you?” he asked playfully. I assured him I was definitely on my way but that I missed the turn and was now in Baltimore. “Great. I can’t wait to see you. Drive safely.”

The gas station guy gave me excellent directions and I was on my way to Renaissance Faire with time to spare.

Those moments are the beginning of the love affair of my life. Within the hour I met the man who is now my husband. I was 42 years old and felt in my heart and gut that this relationship would be different because I was different.

Years of picking poor partners had me doubting myself. I’d had enough therapy and spiritual healing to recognize the pattern I’d put in place from an early age was a reflection of my adoptee M.O. I desperately wanted to be connected and to be loved, but I carried a secret, like a little pebble in my shoe, that said I was inherently flawed and would eventually get my heart broken.

Let me be clear. This is MY stuff. My parents are amazing and never made me feel that I wouldn’t be safe and secure for my lifetime. My extended family never treated me like I wasn’t one of them, so much so that sometimes I wanted to tap them on the shoulder and whisper, “You know I’m adopted, right?” I didn’t believe that I deserved all that love and affection. I suspected that it was all a farce that would eventually come crashing down. I’m now 52 years old and there are still random moments when I remind myself that I’m not going to be abandoned.

When I met my husband I knew I needed to face my own fears and my reactions so that I could have an altogether different relationship than I’d ever had before. I came clean on my fears of abandonment and my innate distrust of people who say they love me.

As our relationship grew I found myself in wistful moments wishing that we’d met earlier, counting the years that we didn’t have together and feeling angry that it took me so long to find him.

That same feeling rushes through me now as I think about the time I could have had with my biological siblings. I grew up with cousins and friends who had 5 or more kids in their family and I always wanted that too. (I know my parents would have gladly had more children but it didn’t work out that way.)

Finding my biological mother’s family has been a miracle of joy and laughter tinged with the longing for the time that we missed together. It’s hard to explain that I miss memories with people I only just met, but I do and the only other time I felt that way was when I met M.

With my siblings, I can either focus on the moments I’ve missed (weddings, births, illnesses, job changes) or I can stay present to where we all are today and let these moments build to their own memories down the road.

As someone who always wanted a huge family with many siblings I’ve gotten my wish and I’m so happy that they have accepted me as one of their own.

emotions, Reunions, Support

Approaching Your Birth Family

When I first found my maternal Uncle I pretty much barfed my entire personal journey and every last piece of information I had to him in an email. Until he received my email he had no idea that I existed. Nor did he really care. Why would he? I was just another random person in the world.

However, I knew he existed. I knew he was the youngest of six kids. I knew the names of his siblings and their ages and I knew the names and occupations of his parents. I’d carried that information around from house to house and through 3 marriages. That folder with my non-identifying information was my touchstone and I had turned the people in that folder into semi-fictional characters.

Every year that I couldn’t find them, the less real they became.

Thus the barfing the information into my Uncle’s email box.

In hindsight, I wouldn’t do that. Thankfully my Uncle is a gracious and kind human who was genuinely happy to be found. He welcomed me to the family with no strings attached.

Looking back, I have some recommendations in case you are looking for a way to reach out to your newly found biological relatives:

  • Stick to the facts that are directly pertinent to the person you’re communicating with. If your non-identifying information has personal details about other members of the family, leave it out.
  • When connecting with someone on a DNA site, stick to the DNA facts. It’s often best to resist the urge to state that you’re an adoptee looking for family. Many people on DNA sites are surprised to find out that a member of their family had an out-of-wedlock child and to identify yourself as such can shut down all future communications as the person tries to determine how to bring the subject up to their family. Instead, let the person know that you’re doing some DNA research and have found a connection and ask them if they’d be willing to communicate to try to find where you are related. (In my search I reached out to a third cousin match with my adoption story and he responded with an earful about his cheating brothers and some not-so-nice terms for his sisters. Frankly, he scared me and I stopped communicating with him pretty quickly. Yes, we are still DNA matches but not immediate cousins.)
  • Remind yourself that even though you’ve known about these people for years, they may have no idea you exist. Don’t take it personally if they ask you for proof or even respond saying that you must be mistaken. If the relative you are directly connected to is a sibling or parent who has died, the person you reach may want to protect that person’s name or reputation and thus deny any connection, even if they have suspicions and know for a fact that DNA doesn’t lie. It’s easier for them to keep the secret than to change the way they see the person in question.
  • Understand that any reaction isn’t personal. Although you share DNA you don’t have any other connection. Getting to know someone and building a relationship takes time. If they do or don’t want to continue conversation it’s not about you, it’s about them working through this new information.
  • Try to be an observer. Put your observer hat on and gauge which reactions are like ones you have and which you feel are so different. I started putting those in my “nature” vs. “nurture” files for future reference.
  • Respect the other person. I know many adoptees don’t agree with me on this point and that’s okay. As a human, I believe we all have a right to our feelings and our own process, even if it’s difficult. I wanted people in my biological family to like me and be okay with me being in their world. I wanted them to like me. Even so, I respect the feelings of those who aren’t psyched to have me throwing a wrench in their lives. I don’t like it. I just remember that it isn’t about me and that it’s not my job to judge them or convince them.
  • Feel your feelings. As Adoptees, we are prone to compartmentalizing our feelings and turning off our feelings if they are uncomfortable. We may do this by lashing out at the person in question or others in general or we may do it by shutting down. Either isn’t an optimal solution for the long term. If you’re sad, own it. If you’re angry, feel it. Let your feelings sit with you and then they dissipate. If you shove them away or pretend they don’t exist you end up prolonging the pain. (I recommend finding an outlet to deal with your feelings – for me, it’s writing and painting.)
  • Give it time. When my biological father and I first spoke on the phone he was shocked! He had no idea I existed. My biological mother sort of disappeared from his life when she got pregnant (as he recalls) and here I was, 52 years later saying, “Here’s a cigar! You’ve got a girl!” While he was gracious, he needs time to process this information and I understand that. I’m hopeful that someday we’ll get to know each other.
  • Ask for help and support if you need it. Adoptees don’t love sharing our “stuff” with others, but asking for help and support are truly outstanding ways to cope with the feelings that come up during a first connection. If you have a social worker, a search angel, a coach or a therapist use them to help you. Or tap into your friends, clergy or other people who can hold the space that you need to navigate this new situation in your life.
  • Resist the temptation to wallow in anything. Whether it’s pain or joy, instead of blasting it everywhere right away, give yourself time to process what is happening in ways that are healthy and affirming for you. There’s a big difference between feeling your feelings and wallowing – one is enriching and the other is destructive. If you’re not sure of the difference, please find someone who can help.

In no way is this a comprehensive list, but hopefully it will help you navigate the process of meeting your biological family.

Those of you who have gone through this – what else would you add?

 

My story, Reunions

Finding siblings

The first person I found was my maternal uncle. After our initial email Q&A to verify I was who I said I was, I couldn’t wait to talk to this man who knew my birth mother. Our schedules were a little wonky at the time and we have a three-hour time difference but we scheduled a time one morning before I got to work.

Sitting in the parking lot of my office I didn’t want our call to end. He let me ask him tons of questions about his family, what my bio Mother was like growing up and he asked me many, many questions about my life too. It felt familiar and odd and after we hung up I had to sit in my car and take a dozen deep breaths before I could switch gears and head into the office.

My uncle was 12 years old when I was born and he had no idea that his oldest sister was pregnant with me. Nearly 10 years younger than my birth mother, there were many things he didn’t know about her life, but he has done the best he can to share things about her personality and likes and dislikes.

The things I most wanted to know weren’t big things – instead I wanted to know what made her laugh and what she did with her free time. I wanted to know how she felt about animals and music and art. I asked about her favorite books and TV shows, knowing as I asked that he likely didn’t have the answers.

One of the biggest surprises was finding that I had a sister who had been given up for adoption. My uncle at first thought I must be a twin, he had no idea that my birth mother had been pregnant once out of wedlock, much less twice. To be honest, that little bit of information threw me off balance for an hour or so.

His recollection of finding out about that child and how she reached out to our biological mother’s family is a little fuzzy and he felt it might be best if I didn’t contact her 4 kids with her husband.

This made sense at first. It’s been a lukewarm (at best) reception from my maternal aunts and other uncle and in typical adoptee fashion, I just didn’t want to rock any boats. Adoptees want to make other people comfortable. In therapy, I learned to recognize that people-pleasing trait as one that evolved out of my own desire to be safe. Adoptee trauma of being relinquished by the only human we’ve known at birth teaches us that we can be discarded at any time and we develop various coping mechanisms to ensure that we aren’t abandoned.

The last thing I wanted was to lose the only connection I had to my birth mother by disregarding his request.

However, in typical Peggie fashion, I began imagining my life with my new siblings in it. Besides, I had tons of questions about my adopted sister and wanted to find out how she fared growing up as an adoptee. I wanted to know why the adoption agency hadn’t included information about her in my non-identifying information and I just had a longing that I couldn’t really explain to meet these siblings.

Doing my own sleuthing I found the names and social media profiles (all but one were private) of my maternal half-siblings.

I reached out to friend the adopted sister on Facebook. She didn’t accept the friend request and I immediately went into a spiral of self-doubt, sure that she knew who I was and didn’t want anything to do with me. In reaching out I figured she’d look at my pictures on Facebook and just magically figure out our relationship! HAHAHAHA. (we look alike.)

When I talked myself off the “she hates me” ledge, I wrote her a letter. The letter included the facts of my birth including my place of birth, my birth mother’s name and my date of birth. I tossed in a few other facts about me – my social media sites, where I live, how I love dogs and ended with a request to connect, stating that I hoped she knew how I felt as an adoptee who had been searching for many years. I also told her that our uncle had asked me not to directly contact our birth mother’s other children and that I hadn’t done so.

Then I waited.

And waited.

I tried to move on with my life, assuming that she didn’t want anything to do with me and beginning to wonder if I could simply go on as I always had, pretending that it didn’t really matter if I never got to meet any of my maternal half-siblings.*

On July 23rd I received this message via Facebook:

Hi Peggie! I am Cathy and I AM Christine’s daughter. Just to confirm…you are too?”

Holy cow! I was so excited and nervous and happy that I nearly peed my pants. (seriously, aging isn’t for the weak-hearted.)

It turns out that the letter was mailed to an old address and had been forwarded, but Cathy was away on vacation when it arrived thus the delay in her response.

We agreed to talk the next day and I couldn’t wait.

On July 24 Cathy and I spoke on the phone for nearly an hour. We talked about how surprised we were to find out about each other (who knew our biological mother gave up two of us?!) and we talked about our lives, growing up near each other (the first house I lived in was in the same town where Cathy grew up and went to high school!)

We also talked about our Uncle’s request that I not reach out to the other kids and Cathy shared her belief that they would want to know not only about me but know me and we agreed that she would call one of our half-sisters and let her know.

That evening I received voice mail messages from two of my four additional half-siblings and we began getting to know each other the next day.

It’s weird to call it a reunion because we’ve never known each other. Still, there is a big part of me that is starting to feel complete with these brilliant souls in my world.

Oh, and the day Cathy and I first spoke, July 24, is our birth mother’s birthday. We all agree that it was a nod from our mother to stop keeping secrets and start connecting.

* by the way, I use the term half-siblings because I think it makes it easier for you to know who I’m talking about – but in my heart, none of my new-found siblings are “half” anything. They are very dear to me and very 100% to me.