I woke the morning of 10 March to a ping on phone notifying me of a text message. Several days prior I sent some vague inquiries to few potential candidates, wondering if I would get a response, or if any of the numbers were even correct. Embarrassed, I deleted them immediately and pretended it never happened. One of those numbers responded with an ambiguous single word reply. I asked if I had the correct name. She answered affirmatively. Before I could even launch into the spiel I’d practiced a million times in my head she said: “I know who you are.”
Bingo! Spared from the awkward did you birth me question and a clumsy avalanche of words in an attempt to identify my relation. Almost immediately she agreed with my observation that speaking to me must be overwhelming and completely unexpected. That I could understand. I’ve been a legal adult for 15 years now. Perhaps she thought I wasn’t going to attempt contact since so much time had passed. Whatever the case I can only imagine the state of utter shock my unexpected arrival caused.
Summoning every ounce of self-control, I resisted the urge to bombard her with questions. My insatiable curiosity about any possible siblings would have to wait. Ever since I connected with The Half Sibling my mind races with possibilities. As an adoptee [or at least for me] you think of the biological mother and father– not half, whole, or step siblings. That prospect thrills me. How I’d love to discover and– hopefully– form relationships with other brothers and sisters!
Deliberately avoiding anything too intense, I spoke generally about myself. I thanked her for giving me the gift of a wonderful life with a wonderful family. I sent a recent picture of Allen and me and then another of me with the kids. I told her that I had two children who were happy and healthy. She told me she was very pleased to hear that I was doing well. She didn’t send me any pictures and I didn’t ask. Because I discovered her Facebook profile I know what she looks like, otherwise not having a photo would drive me crazy. She volunteered very little information about herself. Most of her replies were terse– though she was always polite. I feared if I pushed too hard with my line of questioning or talked too much I might push her away. I pace myself and try to avoid expressing excessive emotion.
My oft-recited internal Mantra: 1) We’re at different places on our respective journeys. 2) Not everyone gushes with enthusiasm and curiosity like I do. 3) She’s never been in this situation before and has no clue how to react.
Truth be told, I don’t know what I was expecting. It wasn’t some glorious “I’ve waited my whole life for you and I’m so glad you found me!” type of reunion. Never once did it feel uncomfortable or forced but I definitely felt awkward on multiple occasions. Thankfully I never felt any negativity from her end. She didn’t seem annoyed, angry, upset, or anything of that nature. Initially I misread her brusque replies for irritation– I have since learned that’s just her texting style and [see above Mantra] she wouldn’t be responding if she wasn’t interested in talking.
And then there’s the nomenclature….
What do I call her? We haven’t had that discussion yet and I doubt we will anytime soon. Yet for the purposes of this blog she needs a title. The ‘M word’ feels wrong; besides, I’ve already got one of those. Biological mother seems too technical. Her first name doesn’t distinguish her from any other person I know. So from this point forward she will be known as Treasure. You don’t assign the name Cherish to your newborn–that you know you will be soon relinquishing to another family– unless you are coming from a place of pure love. She wanted the absolute best for me, parents to cherish me. Therefore I treasure her for the loving, selfless decision she made on my behalf. I treasure her for not throwing me into a potentially messy situation and trying to raise me when she could not. I treasure her for the life she gave me with my parents. Treasure just fits.
Actual request[s] for my placement as included in my records
Two days of semi-regular texting passed without broaching any heavy topics. Two days later Treasure suggested we move it to the phone. Gulp. Sooner or later I knew it was bound to happen– the inevitable leap from the safety of text [relatively impersonal with the ability to edit your thoughts] to the uncharted territory of actually speaking aloud and hearing a voice on the other end of the line. My hands trembled and the butterflies in my stomach fluttered vigorously. Was I really about to talk on the phone with the woman who gave birth to me? Shit’s getting real.
Time and time again I sought to convey empathy. I wanted her to know I understood. Though I have never been in her exact predicament at that time…I can only imagine how excruciatingly difficult every aspect of her situation was, from pregnancy to birth to adoption. Even when I was a small child and first learned of my adoption I never felt ‘unwanted’ or ‘abandoned.’ I owe my life to her! She doesn’t owe me any explanation.
Towards the end of our tête-à-tête, I learned that Treasure has been reading this very blog. Wow. It touched me deeply to know that she chose to visit this site and take the time to read what I had to say, thus learning more about me and my life. I felt pretty damn special. She told me that I was a fantastic writer and I should keep pursuing my passion. Thinking back to her request for “well-educated” parents with at least “one of the parents is in some form of journalism.” Not only is Dad extremely intelligent [a highly respected attorney for the State for many years until he ‘retired’ into a second career as a university professor] but Mom earned a Master’s degree and was a professional writer of children’s books! Her article about the treatment of Vietnam veterans post-combat was published in Newsweek. All of us are avid readers. I’ve been writing since I was in preschool. Whether it’s Cocktails With Hemingway, short stories for my memoir, essays, or reporting– I live to write. I started my first online magazine at the tender age of 11 [a story for another day] and most recently was the creator/editor/primary contributor for the now-defunct JiLTED. My degrees are in political science and English, as my original plan was law school. Much to my dismay that probably won’t be happening, though I would love to go back to school for an advanced degree. Forgive me for going off on a tangent….but I want you to know, Treasure, that your hopes for me were fulfilled.
My big mouth is staying closed.
Just because I have no qualms openly documenting every step of this crazy adventure doesn’t mean the other parties involved share my comfort with being transparent. And I respect that completely. It’s astounding what you can do with a name and a birthday these days– personal information in the public domain for all to see. I didn’t have to hire a private investigator to gain substantial knowledge. However, safeguarding her privacy is imperative. Just because I know something [whether I discovered it independently or she told me herself] doesn’t mean I’m sharing. Is this difficult for me? Very much so! Everyone who knows me understands that I am an open book and that’s just how I like it. But there are more lives than just mine involve and I must respect that. Therefore, I will not divulge specific details or share her picture until– if and when– she is ready. Thank you for understanding the need for discretion in this delicate matter.
Treasure repeatedly emphasized that she is in no way ‘ashamed’ of me. Of course I already knew that but I appreciate her reiterating. Her desire for confidentiality has nothing to do with me and everything to do with her own life. Not everyone in her world knows that she had an unplanned pregnancy as a teenager and placed her daughter up for adoption. When she lovingly gave me to my family, she reclaimed her young adult life without the burden of parenthood. This is pure speculation on my part…..but I’m sure she thought of me often, wondered if I was okay, envisioned milestones– yet kept those feelings in her head– and tried to move on with her life as best she could….and I absolutely understand why she wouldn’t want to discuss the adoption with very many people. My existence could disrupt a lot of lives and deeply hurt people who have done nothing to deserve it. I get this. How she chooses to introduce me into her status quo [if that’s what she wants to do] is entirely up to her. I don’t have to be ‘long lost daughter.’ She could have met her ‘new friend Sloane’ anywhere. The ball is in her court with all of that.
Someone once told me if I keep my expectations low then I won’t be let down or run the risk of getting hurt. Smart policy, play it safe and protect yourself. But it’s damn near impossible for me to maintain the emotional equivalent of a poker face. No one will ever accuse me of possessing a stoic temperament. I’m putting myself out there with her– and that opens the door for disappointment. I accept that. We’ll see where this goes. It is my greatest hope that our relationship evolves into something mutually rewarding that lasts for years to come.
None of this would have been possible without the invaluable assistance of some intrepid sleuths– everyone from amateur investigators to curious friends to genealogy enthusiasts took time to help me on my quest. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. The U.S. Family Search Angels were a godsend. Their tireless dedication blows my mind, as does the fact that they are passionate enough to offer their services free of charge. Special thanks to the angelic Karen U. and Ellen R. with her insider knowledge of my case. Alexandra Timberlake from the State of Tennessee deserves recognition for her courteous and prompt service. If not for her efficiency I would not have received my records as quickly as I did. Chrysti H. not only got the ball rolling for me with Ancestry DNA but she also provided me with some valuable information, as did Elizabeth T. My favorite roomie, Megan, inspired me with her own journey and has been in the loop since day one. Birdie shared a unique perspective having been on the other side of this process. Krystal let me pour my heart out on the phone. Everyone in my beloved Grace House Mafia offered unwavering support, just like they do with everything else in my life. Holly T. routinely checked in to make sure my sanity was intact and kept me laughing hysterically with her voice messages. Throughout this I have also grown closer to Aunt Nita…it’s pretty mind boggling how our relationship has evolved throughout the years but she is now one of the first people I turn to with anything. My Soul Sister, Maris, and the Yin to my Yang, Allen, ensure I never walk alone. Last but certainly not least, my parents. I truly hit the parental jackpot with Mom [Suzanne] and Dad [Steve]. They never hid the fact that I was adopted, gave their encouragement and blessing for my search, and taught me the definition of family. Thanks also to everyone who shared my ‘Cherish’ status. I cannot express my gratitude enough.
For those of you interested to see how Operation Biological Information came to fruition, click here to view the archives.
With infinite love, gratitude, and respect,