I’m sharing a very personal story today prompted by this post on Prudent Baby about learning you’re adopted later in life. This is a story I’ve shared with many and also one I haven’t shared so much. I’ll often share bits and pieces but rarely the whole shebang. It’s no secret but I’ve never sat down to capture it all. Reading the post on Prudent Baby made me realize how valuable it can be to share our experiences, even the ones we’ve made peace with. You never know who’s out there searching for “me too” moment. I’ve resisted writing it all down because, while it’s my story to tell, there is a very important supporting cast, my family. They are a different breed, a different generation, an island apart, secret keepers and good times storytellers, truth tellers not so much. Truth telling always seemed like a sin against my family but it’s my nature. So here is some truth which will hopefully find it’s way to whomever needs it.
I was 13. My grandfather and I were sitting in our car in the bank parking lot. Without any fanfare, in his firm yet gentle voice, he told me my mother wasn’t my mother. I believe his exact words, translated from Spanish, went something like, “Look. Your mom isn’t your mom. Your dad had you with some woman and she left when you were a baby. You were our family so I wouldn’t let her take you away from us. We raised you as our own. This doesn’t change anything, ok? Your mom is still your mom. This doesn’t change how you act towards her. Make sure you tell her this doesn’t change anything when we get home.” We went straight home. Running on my grandfather’s orders, I came up behind my mother at her daily post by the stove. I told her I knew the truth. I told her I loved her. And I’m certain an air of awkwardness settled over us as we were never the affectionate type.
Back at the bank my grandfather may have tried to soothe the news with a pat on the knee, a squeeze of the hand or maybe even a warm smile but I was caught off guard. I was too busy in my own head to pay attention to what was happening in the car. I was surprised but for all the wrong reasons. I had known most of my life that my mother wasn’t really my mother. The woman I had always known as mom was considerably older than all the other moms, like grandma age instead of mom age. No photos existed of her pregnant or even holding me as a baby. No photos existed of her and my father together. I didn’t resemble her in the slightest. And of course there was the fact that there was zero connection between us. I mean none-whatsoever times infinity squared. And of course those photo albums full of pictures with me as a baby, three other little girls, my dad and a woman I’d never met which mysteriously disappeared once I started asking too many questions. I poured through those albums a hundred times as a young child, perhaps making mental notes knowing they’d go “missing” one day (they have since been “found”). You could attribute this all to a vivid imagination but really I always knew in my bones something wasn’t true about the story I knew.
Imagination & Anger
I envisioned my true story to be dramatic, involving a basket, a baby, a doorstep and a late night doorbell ring. The truth was none of those things. It was simple – her, me, she left, I stayed. I admit, I was disappointed. Like any young adult, the possibility of any kind of out-of-the-ordinary, more-thrilling-than-the-daily-grind excitement was wildly appealing. The simplicity of the truth was a major let down.
My disappointment was coupled with anger. Despite having conjured up an elaborate “birth story” for myself, a naive part of me trusted my parents completely. And this confession wasn’t just a correction to the family tree but an admission of over a decade of deceit. The best way I can put it is this – I felt a sense of ownership over my story. I was pissed because they chose to do what they pleased with what was mine. It might seem odd to perceive it that way but I was angry they excluded me from my own story. The truth itself, while disappointing, didn’t much matter to me. I was still me. The only difference was some facts about me had changed but none which altered the essence of who I was. Even at 13, I comprehended this. It was having my grandfather, the man I love and respect most in the world, lie to me for so many years that really shook me. It was a momentary anger because I knew their deceit was rooted in love.
This didn’t come out of nowhere. Earlier that week I’d told my parents I was going to be in a dance competition. To compete in my age group, I needed a birth certificate. Today this detail confuses me because proof of birth seems a bit extreme for a children’s dance competition yet oddly dramatically appropriate for the stage mom scene. I also do not fancy myself clever enough to have made up that fact to trick my parents. So, I shared this with them and when they didn’t readily hand over a copy of my birth certificate with mumbles and poor excuses of having to search for it, I went into Nancy Drew mode.
I snuck into my mother’s drawer in her nightstand. I rummaged through paperwork. It’s there, just a few days before my grandfather’s confession at the bank, that I found proof of my birth. Even though I’d imagined many scenarios for where I might have come from none of them were even possibly true until that moment. The name of the woman on that piece of paper was entirely foreign to me. I read it several times, committing it to memory. I jotted down every last detail on that sheet of paper onto a post it note. Then I went about my life as if I’d discovered nothing.
The Plot Thickens
Before I go on, let’s get the details all out there. My birth mother left when I was still a baby. She took with her my three half sisters. At the time, we were living with my birth father’s dad (my grandpa-dukes) and his sister (mami) and his mother (great-grandma). In their very traditional perspective, a child needed a mother so the only female in the house of age took on the role of my mother – my grandfather’s sister (confused yet?). My birth father remained in the picture until I was about 6/7/8 (not really sure) when he exited stage right due to his struggle with alcoholism.
No need for violin playing in the background or sympathetic looks, it is what it is. Again, the facts of my life but not the story. These things all happened in my life but it never seemed to be happening so much to me as merely around me.
I have never had an urgent need to find my mother. There has always been a curiosity but no burning desire to put my life on hold to seek her out. My sisters are another story. Raised an only child, I envied the lives of siblings, at least the ones I dreamed up in my mind who never fought, slayed dragons together and conquered the world as a team. These three half sisters, again the ones I imagined, would be like me and not, would give me the sense of having bunked with them at camp, would be my tribe. Really, though, it was more of the same imagination which had me on stage at Sally Jesse or Maury Povich for a dramatic family reunion. A girl can make shit up, right?
I let them go for a long time. Then one day I got a message on Facebook. A woman with her name said I looked like her. Knew so much about my past. Said she was my mother. I went online to waste some time and here she was, the woman I’d never looked for. Big life moments happen just as they say – without announcement and quite ordinarily. First came her message, then an onslaught of friend requests from relatives, half sisters, aunts, a niece. We exchanged a few messages. I sent her long lists of questions. She was an open book.
And then one day I got a message and never replied. At the time I had a newborn and a 2 year old. I took a step back and had to be honest with myself – where would my energy best be served at the moment? Those messages were the creaking open of a door, floodgates really. I had to choose carefully and I chose me and my blossoming little family.
There are certain things in life I know with absolute certainty and this was one of those things. I know connecting with my birth family is a tremendous something. However, I believe in staying true to my heart. It told me then, as it still does today, that it’s not the right time now. I realize this may mean by the time I’m ready some of the people I’ve wondered about may be long gone but I’m willing to risk that in order to be where I am.
Everyone processes things differently and for me it’s a choice to not use my energy, precious and already lovingly spread thin amongst my loves, to dissect the past or build a new future. I know someday I’ll arrive at a point when I will want and be able to use my energy to explore this mysterious part of my history but today is not that day and that’s ok.
I harbor no ill feelings towards my birth mother or birth father. In my youth, I was determined to be mad at them forever but that serves to harm no one but myself. As an adult with children of my own I understand how demanding and intense parenthood is. I understand their choice was a gift to me because my life has been amazing and joyful and full of love. Better they have left because they were honest enough to know they couldn’t provide what I needed than if they’d stuck around and done me more harm than good. So I am grateful to them for the choices they made and the trajectory they set me on for a happy life.
The facts about my life over which I had no control are not my story. They are someone else’s choices in another story. I’ve often been told how well I turned out given the circumstances which I never quite I understood. My circumstances were not the mother who left or the father who couldn’t stay. My circumstances were a loving home and loving individuals with my best interest at heart. The former may have provided the idea for my story but it’s the latter who gave my story life. And today it’s I who keeps on writing it.
So to those who might face a sudden rewrite to what they thought to be true remember today is your choice, your story. And as this quote so eloquently puts it, we are more than just science.
I shared my story because I think it’s important to know there’s more than just the option of doing it all right now. To who ever might read this and still be searching or wondering, it’s ok to be selfish, to wait, to be where you are and let people wait.