Having Been Adopted...

... and how I feel about it now, over 50 years later. Regardless of how I might have felt at the time, what I might have wanted or even what might have been better for me in the long run, my future appears to have been neatly arranged for me by complete strangers well before I was even born. Or was it?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

All Reunited

It seems to me that most of my adult life has been spent in searching for my natural family... not every single day of every week of every month, but it did take 25 years to finally find my three younger siblings. "Lee" - my half-sister, 17 months my junior... "Butch" - my younger half-brother, born 16 months after "Lee" was... and Michael, my youngest half-brother… who was born 16 months after "Butch". Hmmm - a definite pattern here. By the fall of 1956, my 24-year-old mother had had five babies in six and a half years.

When I was told of their existence way back in 1975 I was confident that I would find them in just a few weeks. I thought it be would easy to find them - that an unusual surname like theirs would be a cinch to trace. Not so. They had been adopted after their mother's death... by their father's mother and her 2nd husband, which meant a different surname - and as all three had been born in California (A CLOSED STATE), their birth certificates had been sealed - and as they had been adopted somewhere in the Midwest, I had no idea where to try to find their adoption decrees. I couldn't even find their father and I had his full name. My search for them stalled.

Time passed. Someone invented the Internet, the World Wide Web and home computers came down drastically in price and my husband bought our first Mac - and I discovered that I could search for my past, for my siblings, for my grandmother, my natural father or for just about anyone right from the comfort of my very own home. No more days spent at the Hall of Records downtown (and they had moved the Birth and Death Records to another location much further away by then anyway)... no more days spent at the library combing the telephone books state by state... no more waiting for weeks and weeks to hear back from the Vital Statistics Departments of every Midwestern state in the Union that there was nothing in their records that matched my inquiry.

One night at about 3 am, during one of my obsessive search sessions, I was searching the database at Ancestry.com for an ancestor from the 18th century and absently typed in the name of my natural mother's husband - the father of my younger siblings. To my amazement - to my shock - to my joy - I got a hit. SUCCESS!!!! Someone (a distant cousin of my siblings' step-grandfather, the one who had adopted them) had submitted her entire family tree to Ancestry and there they all were... all three of them. Their father was there, too, of course. And no wonder I couldn't find him - he had died in Iowa in 1976.

I couldn't believe it. I leaned back in the chair and said out loud to my cat, "I did it. I finally did it. It's over." He purred his applause. I crawled back to bed and tried to wake my husband... "I found them - I did it - I found them". He murmured something like, "That's nice, honey..." but I had to wait awhile to share my news... he's a very sound sleeper. He practically slept through the Northridge earthquake as our 1920's Sears-catalog house rocked and rolled as if a train was crashing through the center of it... so this certainly wasn't going to wake him up.

I immediately e-mailed the woman who had submitted the family tree and over the course of several e-mails told her the whole story. She was fascinated - but being such a distant cousin, didn't actually know this branch of her family at all. There was a minor error in her information regarding my sibs but she decided not to correct it in the hopes that perhaps one of them would also stumble across her entry at Ancestry.com and e-mail her with the correction.

A wise woman. For that is exactly what happened. Well over one year later, I got an e-mail from her out of the blue saying that one of my brothers had contacted her about the error, that she had told him my story and that he wanted contact with me - was I still interested in that? WHAT?!!!! Hellloooooooooooooo!!!! Does a bear s___ in the woods???

"Butch" and I began corresponding via e-mail, sharing and catching up on two lifetimes and filling in some of the gaps of the past. He and his sibs had had no idea at all that their mother had ever had another child - let alone two.

He had lost touch with his older sister and younger brother - deep scars from their painful childhoods and very different interests did little to keep them connected and there had been no contact between them in many years. After about a year, I asked if he'd mind if I pursued contacting them and as he had no objections at all - I did.

I had wanted to call my sister first - for one thing, it was her birthday the day I had steeled myself to make the calls - and after arguing with myself about the pros and cons of laying this shocking bit of news at her feet on her birthday, I picked up the phone and punched in the numbers.

An answering machine answered. RATS! I hung up without leaving a message. Not to be deterred, though, I paced for a while, tried to calm my churning stomach, rehearsed what I was going to say, and then called my youngest brother.

His wife answered the phone. Once I knew I'd reached the right guy, I forgot my rehearsed speech and blurted everything out to her in a rush of words. When I finally stopped for air, she asked, "Wouldn't you like to speak with my husband"?" "Yes", I said gratefully. "Yes - I would."

Michael came on the phone. I said what I always say - "Please - please don't hang up on me - let me explain." And I began to tell him the story of his natural mother who had been killed when he was 18 months old and of an older brother and sister who had both been adopted out at birth. He was, I think he would agree, in a complete state of shock.

I have now met all three of my younger siblings, f2f, as we say in Adoption Land (face-to-face).

I met my sister first... she came to California in October of 2003 from the south-western state where she has lived for many years and we spent five days together. We did a little detective work in Santa Cruz, where our mother was killed, and we stirred things up a little bit in Tulare, where she had been raised. We visited her grave in the pouring rain. We shared the stuff that sisters share, we clung to each other, we laughed and we cried.

"Butch" came to California a few months later from the east coast state where he lives. His itinerary was a little different, preferring to get acquainted with the living first. The timing was a little awkward for me as I had a freelance job with a hot deadline the week he came - but we still managed to spend time together and he was able to meet our older brother as well as our aunt and uncles who never met their older sister Nancee.

Finally, this past February, Michael came back to California from Nebraska where the trio were raised and saw the Pacific Ocean again for the first time since he was about two. Most of the five days we spent together was in Santa Cruz. We looked at the sea... he couldn't get enough of it - we beach-combed for shells... and when we retraced the route on West Cliff Drive that Nancee and Joseph Henry Nickels took that fatal night and got to the place where the motorcycle crashed through the barrier, we argued about where exactly to put the roadside memorial cross I'd sent away for... he won - I think. We both had a touch of food poisoning from a very famous restaurant on the wharf - (it's the big one on the right, you can't miss it... stay away from the shellfish and anything with tentacles.) And we visited Nancee's grave. It was raining, of course... it's always raining when I go there. It has never once not been raining, even in summer. And we spent some quality time with our older brother.

And I think this is why, for the first time in 32 years, I felt a bit of peace on the anniversary of Nancee's death. I have always felt her presence... as though I was being guided... and I believe that I was - that my compelling need to find my sister and brothers was not just my need, but hers as well - to bring all of her children together.

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At June 13, 2007 9:34 AM, Blogger 3rd generation adoption said...

Love your story. I too was adopted in California with sealed records. I waited until I was 21 to start searching - but hit the wall with the state. Your story mirrors mine in that I had no Internet in those days and had to go to every library on every spare moment to look up names all over the nation to find my birth family (used my mother's maiden name as it was the only one unique enough to try). Anyway, enough about me. For what it's worth, congratulations on never giving up - I didn't. It was the only task I ever undertook without any question that I'd either be successful or die trying. Congratulations from someone who knows your pain and suffering and truly knows how monumental a task it is and how hard it is and just how awesome you were to pursue and conquer.

At August 22, 2008 3:09 PM, Anonymous Trace A DeMeyer said...

I am an adoptee from Minnesota-Illinois-Wisconsin. I just loved this. Made me cry and feel so happy for you. I have met 5 half-siblings on my nfather's side. Two sisters on my nmothers side I have not met - yet.
Thank you for putting this on paper. Truly wonderful.


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