- Family and Parenting
When Adoption Reunions go wrong.....
Adopted at birth by two wonderfully loving and supportive parents, I didn't give a lot of thought to searching for my birthmother---even though my adoptive parents had always offered their support of my doing so----until I had a child of my own, and the need to tell this faceless person that I was alright, that she had made the right decision, was overwhelming to me. I couldn't imagine never seeing my child again, and I suddenly became very concerned about the woman who had given me life. I could only suspect that her worry and anguish were unbearable.
The media does an amazing job of portraying "adoption reunion" stories with fairy tale endings, where all the parties involved are blissfully complete, now that they have found each other. They are most oftentimes warm and touching portrayals of a lifechanging event, and although I don't doubt the authenticity of those occurances, I learned for myself in a very real and personal way that there are exceptions to these happy reunions.......there was no way for me to prepare for what I experienced, and given the abundance of evidence on these "feel good" reunion shows, it's no surprise that I was blindsided and heartbroken by what came to be.
Starting my Search in Earnest
When I finally made the decision to begin searching for my birthmother, I didn't have alot of options open to me: My husband and I were newlyweds and living on a full time student income---very little---while I stayed home to take care of our new baby. We didn't have much access to a computer so I researched what I could about registries to join where my name might be matched in a database with anyone else who was looking for me. After 3 years of no results, my husband came to me with a plan: he would cash in his unused sick time from his new job and we would use that money for me to hire a Confidential Intermediary to contact my birthmother. At that time, hiring a CI cost $475 and that didn't include any extra expenses that might be incurred along the way. I was touched by my husband's unselfishness and, after filling out the required forms, I sent off my payment to Colorado Confidential Intermediary Services....and waited for the rollercoaster ride to begin.
The Phone Call
I was weeks away from my 30th birthday, when I received the call that would be the beginning of a life changing experience. The intermediary assigned to my case had located my birthmother---up to that point, I don't think I had entertained the idea that she might possibly reject me-----the television shows made it seem unlikely that would ever happen, and I think that somewhere in my mind, I reasoned that since I could never imagine rejecting MY child, it only followed that she would feel similarly. My only real fear was that she might be deceased and that I would have missed out on the chance of getting to know her. As fate would have it,she was still living at the same address as she had been at the time of my birth---and she was anxious to meet me. She informed the CI that she wished to get to know each other first through letters, if I was agreeable with that, with a meeting sometime in the future. The tears came and it became clear to me that I had longed for this outcome even more than I realized.....the relief was overwhelming.
When I was finally given the green light to start writing to my birthmother, I had no idea the hoops she and I would have to go through in order to maintain a postal relationship. First, we were not allowed to put any sort of "identifying information" in our letters to each other---meaning we could not share our names, our addresses, or anything else that might give the other person a way to locate us. Second, we were not allowed to write directly to each other. All our letters had to be mailed to the home of the intermediary, where she would check to make sure our letters were "appropriate" and then put them in a new envelope, with her address in the sender's place, and mail it off to us. As strange as the arrangement seemed, I was eager for any opportunity to communicate with her, so I followed the rules.
The anticipation of receiving my first letter from her was nearly unbearable, and when it finally arrived, I studied every word. I remembering thinking that up until this very moment, this woman had never seemed like a real person to me...she had been a fictional character I had been told about as a child. But now, holding a letter from her hand, she was an actual person. Someone who truly existed and had a name....although I still wasn't allowed to know it.
Our letters to each other went back and forth for several months, both of us sharing what we could without being too overly descriptive. I learned that she had been a single mother of three small children when she became pregnant with me. Her husband (her children's father) had committed suicide sometime previously, and MY father (whom she only referred to once as 'the unkind man who produced you') was not part of her life, for reasons she never elaborated on.
I learned many things about her that helped clarify why I felt so different from my adoptive family---I had always, always felt loved and accepted by them, to be clear. But there was no denying that my interests, views, and personality differed from theirs in many ways. It was easy to see that I didn't LOOK like any of them, but there were times when it felt like we weren't similar in ANY respect, and it caused me to feel a little "odd". When I finally realized that many of my interests were similar to HERS, it was an enormous comfort to me. I had a million questions I wanted to ask her about her childhood, her other children, her late husband, and family history that I was so curious to learn about. But I didn't want to overwhelm her with questions, and I figured we had all the time in the world to learn about each other, so I kept most of the questions to myself. I had no idea that "all the time in the world" was about to come to an abrupt end.
About 5 months in to our correspondence, I received a phone call one day from the Intermediary. She seemed to fumble over her words as she spoke to me and finally admitted that she had failed to let my birthmother and I know, at the beginning of this process, that we only had 6 months to write to each other through her. After the alloted 6 months time, we would either need to sign documents allowing her to release our information to each other---and be free to continue our communication at our own leisure---or the case would be closed and we would no longer have access to each other. The news took both of us by surprise, but my birthmother was blindsided and angered by the new "stipulations" and felt like she had been unfairly backed into a corner. I dont know what experiences she had faced in life that caused her to feel like she needed to fight back so fiercely about being given this sort of ultimatum, but in a final letter to me, she explained that she had not stood up for herself other times in her life, and had regretted it. She was not going to let someone dictate to her what the timetable of our relationship was and she was not currently able to reveal her identity to me. She would refuse to sign the papers.
The following day, I received another call from the Intermediary, telling me that my birthmom (at this point, I had grown weary of calling her that so I had given her the nickname 'Sue') had asked her if there was a way for her to preserve HER anonymity but to receive MY information, thereby enabling her to write me letters directly and she would just get a PO Box. For a moment I hesitated; I wasn't sure how I felt about giving her all my information and still having NONE of hers, but I knew that if I wanted our communication to continue---and I did---this was the only option. It would be a long time before I would have the money to reopen the case, and from everything she had shared with me, her financial situation was no better. I had been given the opportunity to tell her thank you for giving me such a wonderful chance at life and I could walk away now. But I wanted her to be a part of my life and I wanted to know so much more about her and my heritage still. I made the decision to sign the papers, releasing all my identifying information to her. And then I waited for letters that would never come.
Several months went by as I waited for that first letter to come. Each day I would walk to the mailbox, thinking surely today would be the day I would hear from her. At some point I began to worry, thinking something must have happened to her. Our letters to each other had been so pleasant and she had mentioned how she thought I was a really wonderful human being. She had even told me that all her children knew I had come back into her life, and that her middle son in particular was excited to meet me someday. I had grown up without any brothers, so this information had been especially touching to me. Finally, I contacted the Intermediary, hoping she would remember our case and be able to give me some sort of clues as to what was happening. I was disappointed to learn that she barely remembered anything about our case, and could only offer speculation as to why I hadn't heard from her yet. She suggested that, in order to help me get over my loss, I write one last letter to "Sue" and mail it off to her. She cautioned that she wouldn't be able to pass it along since the case was now closed, but maybe it would help me to be able to move forward. And in a moment of sadness and frustration, I did. I wrote a letter asking the woman who had given me life how she could be so devoid of feelings for her own child that she could not even allow me the privilege of knowing her first name, when I had been willing to allow her every last bit of information about myself. I sent the letter, and hoped healing would come.
I wish I could tell you that a letter finally arrived or a phone call came, and I was able to have the reunion I longed for, but things didnt turn out that way. Ten years later ,in a strange twist of events, CCIS was made aware of the Intermediary's error of not informing my birthmother and myself of the 6 month time limit from the very beginning, and ruled that it was partially to blame for the unfortunate outcome of our contact. In an effort to rectify the situation, they allowed me to reopen the case at a very reduced rate with a different Intermediary. I felt euphoric, knowing I would soon be in touch with my birthmother again, this time both of us knowing what the timetable would be. My only fear was that, because so much time had passed without hearing from her, that she had possibly passed away, so I prepared myself for that possibility. But nothing could have prepared me for what I learned the day my CI called me.
She had easily located "Sue" and briefly explained why the case was being reopened. Given the Intermediary's understanding of the events, I'm sure even SHE was surprised at my birthmother's response. According to the CI, 'Sue' expressed her disbelief at being contacted. She said that she thought she had been quite clear about not wanting to pursue a relationship with me, and when questioned about the PO box, she denied she ever offered to get one and write to me, although she did admit to having all my information and knew that she could contact me if she chose to. She also said that she felt I had not understood or repected her wishes, given this intrusion in her life as well as the final letter I wrote her---the one where I poured out my feelings in the hopes it would help me "heal". The letter that I was told would never be sent to her.
The CI waited quietly on the other end of the line as I struggled to speak through the sobs that were escaping. I couldn't explain why I was so upset. My whole purpose in finding my birthmother had been to thank her and reassure her that my life had turned out well. My adoptive family was the only family I knew and loved, and I certainly wasn't looking for this woman to replace them. I had only hoped that she and I could continue to be part of each other's lives in a way that was agreeable to both of us. I had never asked her to be a grandparent to my children, or to even meet face to face. I had assured her in one of my letters that if we NEVER met, it was okay with me, because I was just enjoying the opportunity to learn more about her through our letters. So why was I so distraught that she seemed to be rejecting me...again?
Maybe I was disappointed to think I might never meet the "big brothers" I now knew I had. Certainly I was saddened to know that I might never have the chance to ask all the questions I had for her. But mostly, I was hurt to think that the woman who had given me life could now seem to be so cold. The mother who had raised me had been such an amazing example of a loving and nurturing human being, that I could only assume that ALL mothers felt that way for their children. The fact that "Sue" was turning me away was something I didn't know how to process.
In order for the CI to close the case, she gave both of us an opportunity to pass along a final message to each other. My birthmother's message to me was brief and unemotional. She apologized for any misunderstanding but stated it had never been her intention to have a relationship with me. That was basically it. To say I felt devastated by the lack of warmth or concern for me would be an understatement, and I'm ashamed to say that my first impulse was to tell the CI that I had nothing to say back to her. But I knew this would most likely be my last words to her in this life, and the fact remained that her decision to put me up for adoption had indeed put me in a family that loved me and given me opportunities I would not otherwise have had. Clearly, if I had stayed with her, my experience with motherhood would have been vastly different. So I chose to look at the positives and decided that, if nothing else came from this experience, I wanted her to still know and understand that I would forever be grateful for her decision to place me for adoption and I would never regret the time I spent searching for her.
It's been 7 years since I wrote my final goodbye to her for the CI to read, and although I have been able to work through most of the heartbreak I felt at that time, recognizing that all things have a purpose in our lives and that I am blessed beyond measure to have a family that loves and supports me, I still admit that a piece of me hopes to find a letter in my mailbox one day, saying: "Ive had a change of heart--I'd like to be part of your life again".
If that never comes to be, I take comfort knowing that I was able to thank her for giving me life and leave her with the knowlege that I care deeply about the woman who remains nameless.
"I just want to express to you how truly sorry I am for making this unwanted reappearance in your life--- please know and understand that it was due to misinformation that was given to me by the first CI, and my obvious inability to read between the lines. I feel so terribly foolish. I find it sadly ironic that in my attempt to reach out to you, I have somehow managed to cause the very thing I was afraid of.
For me, this had never been about burdening you with additional family or responsibilities...my only hope was to have a comfortable relationship between just the two of us, and to someday learn more about my heritage and roots.
Although I am saddened by your decision, I continue to treasure the letters you wrote, and feel blessed at having had a moment in time to know you...my love and appreciation for you continue, and my door remains open."