My birthday is September 28th. I know many people don’t look at birthdays as a big deal, but I do. The birth of a person means the world has forever changed, so why wouldn’t we want to make a big deal over it? I love hearing the lullaby play over the speakers at the hospital when a baby is born. Somewhere in the building, a mother is rejoicing at hearing the first feeble cry of the tiny human she made. That, to me, is spectacular! So, to celebrate the anniversary of when a person became a part of our planet makes total sense.
Well, that’s how I have always felt about the birthdays of OTHER people. I definitely haven’t been so fond of celebrating my own. Every year, as the date gets closer, I am filled with dread, sadness, anger, anxiety, and depression. Why? Because that’s the one day of the year I know in my heart of hearts that SHE thinks of me at least for a moment. Every birthday (even when I knew she had no idea where I was) I would hope that she would call me, and acknowledge me, and somehow validify me. She is my biological mother, and even though she left me all of those years ago, I never gave up hope that I would meet her again one day and feel her arms around me.
I was adopted as a baby. This is where I need to say that if you are adopting a baby, you are not getting a “blank slate.” Being separated from one’s mother, even as an infant causes trauma. The term assigned to this is “The Primal Wound.” Adoptees often find themselves in a situation where they have lost their entire family, but don’t feel as though they are allowed to grieve that loss because they may appear ungrateful to the family who adopted them. Furthermore, at least in my case, I felt like I always had to walk on eggshells. I needed people to think I was perfect because I was aware that I was already “disposable” to one set of parents, and what would keep this family from getting rid of me, too? I felt like I was a mistake who brought sadness and destruction with me when I entered this world. For most of my life, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere, and even though I acted happy and was always a bit of a class clown, I walked around with this indescribable hole inside of me. I put so much pressure on myself to make myself be “worthy” of the space I took up and the air I breathed, that my brain chemistry changed. I’ve lived with crippling anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and depression ever since I can remember.
My adoptive family loved me, and I love them. They weren’t perfect, and when things were good, they were good. But, when my adoptive father started having chronic back pain, he became addicted to the pain killers and also self-medicated with alcohol. There are no words to describe the hell that is loving someone with addiction and many health issues, and the lengths you will go to to try to help them. I, of course, thought I needed to go above and beyond the role of “helpful daughter” because I still needed to prove that I was “worth it”, and somewhere in the midst of his illness, he told me on several occasions that I “owed him” because he adopted me. There were other things that happened during those tumultuous times that I can’t talk about because I want to protect my family. But in the end, my adoptive father is currently living in a memory care unit of a nursing home. He is only a shell of his former self sitting in a wheelchair and had yet another stroke two weeks ago. I am his legal guardian and have to make every gut-wrenching decision about his health.
Finding my birth parents was always something I wanted to do. I filled out an application with the agency that handled my adoption to have them locate my birth mother on my behalf. After paying my $250 and waiting for six months for them to get to my case, I finally received a call. Yes, they had located her. No, she did not want contact. This was difficult news to hear, but I still didn’t want to believe them. When adoptee’s original birth certificates were made available by the state of Illinois, I quickly applied for mine. Weeks later, I opened my letter from the Illinois Department of Public Health and saw her name. I shook in excitement!
This woman I had wanted to know my entire life now had a name! A quick Google search later, I found the names of her sisters and quickly called them. They were cold. They begrudgingly gave me my birth mother’s address and phone number. But she never responded. Finally, her older sister told me in the second and last conversation I ever had with her that my bio mom was angry that I found her, she doesn’t want anything to do with me, and she will never change her mind about that. This devastated me to my very core. I thought the blanket she made and sent with me along with a note saying she loved me meant she wanted to know me. It was what I believed in my heart of hearts for years. I cried nonstop for what seemed like months. I sent her messages begging her to please just talk to me. Or to at least tell me who my birth father was. But, there was never an answer.
A couple of years later, I finally felt strong enough to begin yet another search. This time it was for my biological father. At this time ancestry.com offered a DNA test that could connect you with your relatives. I bought a kit, sent it in, and found lots of confusion, and many obscure relatives (4-6th cousins, etc...). A friend made an internet/social media poster for me which was passed around Facebook- including a site for my bio mom’s small hometown. It turns out, there were a few people who knew her and shamed me for sharing her “dirty little secret”. Yes, I was that “dirty little secret”. Also, with this poster being public, I learned that I look a lot like many people’s cheating ex’s. My next step was to file for my adoption records to be opened in court. The adoption agency said that my birth father did sign the papers- but his name was not on my original birth certificate. Finally, I had had enough. It was time to put my search in God’s hands. I told Him that I knew he was my Heavenly Father and that’s all that mattered.
Submitting my search to God must have been what I was supposed to do all along! A week after I said this prayer, there was a hit on my DNA! I quickly sent the information off to a search angel (adoptees who know how to navigate the system who help other adoptees who don’t), and found that the person who took the magical DNA test was either my grandmother, my aunt, or my sister. By process of elimination, we found out she was my grandmother and only had one son! After years of searching, it took all of 15 minutes to find my birth father. I had his name, his address, an old phone number, and a sister’s facebook contact. It was truly amazing! I messaged my sister, and we hit it off immediately- even though it took her a little bit to understand what I was trying to tell her.
Two days later, I received a text message from my biological father who asked me to call him and reassured me that he wouldn’t bite! Right away when I called him, he began to answer so many questions I had been carrying around with me for my entire life! Being adopted is like reading a book where the first 3-5 chapters are missing. He explained that he was living in Indiana when I was conceived and had come to Bloomington to help his older sister move. It was the 1970’s and he was living a lifestyle that was very typical of the era. My bio mother was his sister’s roommate. He left for home the next day none the wiser. Soon after that, he began dating his wife, gave his life over to Jesus, got married, and started a family. He worked in several different states and became a pastor. He never even knew I existed! Here is the kicker- he had absolutely no reason to be in Decatur, Illinois, except he felt a pull to be the pastor of a church here. He also works as a chaplain at the hospital where I was born. He had lived less than 20 minutes away from me for fifteen years! My children go to the same school that my sisters graduated from!
Three days after our first phone conversation, my husband and I met my father and his wife for dinner. I stood outside the restaurant nauseous and shaking while holding a photo album and a balloon that said: “It’s a Girl!”. The hug I had been longing for since the beginning of me happened right outside of Coney McKane’s and it took everything I had not to break down into an ugly cry on the sidewalk. That next weekend, I met two of my siblings and their spouses. I loved them all instantly! A little bit later, I met my youngest sister (who looks so much like me)! I was accepted into their family no questions asked, and quickly found that our personalities are very similar. Lifelong connections have been made, and we are all friends as well as family. For Christmas, my little family joined them in Indiana where we met grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. My bonus Mom’s family welcomed us with open arms as their own, too. I can’t believe how blessed I am!
No, my story isn’t typical of what happens when adoptees reunite with biological family. No, it hasn’t been easy for everyone involved. But now, I have what I always wanted and extra (good extra). With every text, hug, and get together with my family, I heal a little bit more. I know I wasn’t planned, but for the first time in my life, I no longer feel like I am a mistake. I have learned to let go of and forgive my biological mother for the pain her rejection caused me. For that, I am eternally grateful!
My last birthday was the best one I’ve ever had by far! The dread and sadness were no more! And, I received the most precious gift I have ever gotten. In the mailbox that day, there were 40 birthday cards; one for every birthday he missed (and the actual day of my birth- I’m not 40, yet). He used different pens in them and wrote about what was happening that particular year in each one. Even the stamps were carefully picked. My father, my dad, has given me the most meaningful things I could ever imagine. He gave me his love, his family, his acceptance, and a lifetime together (all symbolized by that stack of cards).
Isiah 61:3 says that He will provide beauty for ashes, and a joyous blessing instead of mourning, so that we can glorify Him. God’s hand was there the entire time, and that needs to be recognized. This is my story proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that miracles do happen, and I have received beauty for ashes.