(Shared by Susan-a follower from Florida)
Half-a-million adult adoptees were seeking or had found their birth families according to a late 1980’s survey. (Groza and Rosenberg, 1998). In a study of American adolescents, the Search Institute found that 72 percent of adopted adolescents wanted to know why they were adopted, 65 percent wanted to meet their birth parents, and 94 percent wanted to know which birth parent they looked like. (American Adoption Congress, 1996)
Susan was no different. Here is her story 54 years later.
I was adopted at about nine months old by loving, gentle parents who fought to conceive and maintain pregnancies. I had an older brother, Bill, who was adopted at six weeks old and a younger sister, Lisa, who was about 18 months old when she joined the family. None of us were previously related.
I always knew I was adopted. My first recollection of this awareness was when I was in 2nd grade and my teacher asked, “Who in this class was adopted?” and my hand flew up. When I looked around, there may have been one other person, but I was never bothered by the fact. I asked my mom how she told me and she claimed she didn’t really remember. She thought she’d used books from the library that talked about being chosen and not coming from her tummy. I just always knew I was adopted. I had nothing to compare it with and didn’t know what it felt like to not be adopted. All I knew was that I was very much loved.
I was born in Ohio in 1961 and it was considered a “closed” adoption: neither party was privy to information about the other. The Ohio laws have since changed and anyone born before 1963 is free to search.
As a child, I was curious about my birth mother and fantasized that she was a wealthy, blue blood type person-someone like Crystal Carrington from Dynasty, a popular TV show at the time. I was very open with my mother. In turn, she was always a bit defensive, confusing me with her instructions not to go alone if I ever searched for my birth mother. Now I know she was trying to protect me. She believed that as a young, college educated adult, I might feel obligated to help my birth mother out if I saw she was struggling. Even though I assured my mother this was not a consideration, I felt she was withholding something from me. I’m not sure if I learned then, or if I knew sooner, but I was adopted from the county welfare department, as was my younger sister Lisa. Our origin was the source of my mother’s uneasiness. At this time, I was just curious and never felt a pressing need to search because my curiosity mostly was about my nationality. I didn’t search.
PREGNANCY CHANGED EVERYTHING
It wasn’t until I was married, living in California and pregnant with our first child that I seriously began looking into my birth background. I had an unsatisfied need to know what genes I was passing on to my children. In the past, when it came time to fill out paperwork at clinics, I’d answered questions about family history with, “I don’t know. Adopted!” Now it was about to affect another generation. If I could find anything out, I desperately wanted to.
During the pregnancy, my mother came to California from Ohio to help me wallpaper the nursery and I kept peppering her with questions about this. She finally had enough and exclaimed, “Damn it!” which I had NEVER heard her say. My persistent questions really upset her. So much so that she shared with me all she knew, which was only my birth mother’s last name. Immediately I began the search, starting at the hospital where I was born and then calling the Cleveland welfare department.
My goal was to know my heredity and disease history, but that’s not what I found out. I opened a can of worms that couldn’t have been further from my ideal birth mother image. The information was so upsetting that my husband Dave convinced me to put it all aside until after the birth of our son and deal with it later. It was great advice since my hormones were all whacked out from the pregnancy as it was.
It wasn’t too long afterwards though when I dealt with the information I’d received. I discovered I was the youngest of my birth mother’s five children, all adopted. The two oldest girls were in and out of foster care before their permanent homes. One brother died at birth and another I know nothing about. I learned I was taken to the welfare department straight from the hospital and that none of us had the same father. Our birth mother had psychological issues and was in and out of hospitals. She ended up dying in her 40’s in the hospital before my search began. To be truthful, her death was a relief because I didn’t have to make the decision to meet her. It was made for me.
I’d gathered all of this information from a wonderful social worker at the welfare department. As it turns out, my oldest biological sister, Judy, started her birth background search within a month of me inquiring about my background. I truly can’t make this stuff up! Judy and I started exchanging birthday and Christmas cards, all through the social worker who understood we’d have some initial trust issues. Soon Judy and I were exchanging addresses.
About a year after Judy and I connected, I got another call from the social worker. She told me my birth sister, Jane, had made an inquiry to her background. So again, we made our introductions and became birthday and Christmas card friends. Judy and Jane are both lovely, decent women with terrific families. We have met a couple of times and I am glad they are in my life. We remain in contact and social media has allowed us to stay up to date with one another.
TO THOSE ADOPTING
I was always open with my parents about my findings because I knew they were just as curious as I was. I certainly have a better understanding of my mother’s apprehensiveness. I know she never felt she would be replaced. My brother never searched for his birth parents because he always thought it would hurt our parents. I never felt that way. Lisa, my youngest sister and only remaining family member, never searched for her birth parents either. She chose not to have children. Maybe that’s why she never chose to look into her background.
My advice for couples considering adoption is to find out the things I never did: Heredity and diseases, even if only on the birth mother’s side because these are important when you have children. I’m still curious about that part of my history.
Finally, I would say to people adopting-love those children. Discipline them and be open with them. Let them know they’re wanted.
Family is who you are with. My wonderful childhood is something I would never change. Nature vs. nurture is an argument that will continue….both are needed.
Susan and Dave and their very spoiled rescue yellow Labrador, Jackson, recently moved to Florida in search of a more relaxed lifestyle on the beach after 20 years in Atlanta, GA where their three children were raised. Susan grew up in a modest house in a small suburb of Cleveland, OH, attended Ohio (Athens) University and worked in radio in Ohio before marrying Dave whose career took them to Los Angeles, CA, Charleston, SC and Minneapolis, MN. She volunteered in her children’s schools, substitute taught and worked as a paraprofessional in an elementary school Physical Education department. As an empty nester, she’s also worked part-time retail jobs.
Each year nearly 120,000 children are placed for adoption. If you’re considering adoption, Here are some resources to explore. Share this story with those you know considering adoption.
Leave a question or comment for Susan below.
Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.
©Copyright. January 2016. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved.