There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~ Maya Angelou
Birth family. It’s an interesting subject. For some, it’s a touchy subject that adoptive parents and even some adopted kids are scared to get too close to. Do you really open that door when you don’t know what is on the other side? Will you be faced with rejection or some horrible story you never knew about your past, or will the birth family start expecting to be supported or try to join in your life as if they have always been a part of it? There are all kinds of fears that stem from this subject. Some people even choose to act like that door to their past doesn’t exist. If they never mention birth family or talk about their child’s story, or their own story if they are adopted, then somehow they think that entire part of their history can just evaporate.
This subject of birth family is doubly meaningful for me because I can look at it from both sides of an adoption story. #1. I am an adoptive mom to four amazing kids we adopted from Ethiopia. I have my story to tell about searching for and finding my children’s birth families and keeping them connected to them. But there is a second perspective I can view birth family from. It is what helps me better than anything else be able to relate to my adopted children’s birth families. My entire introduction into the adoption world came as a surprise to me. In the year 2000 I discovered I am the biological sister to a long lost brother who had been adopted to another family that I never knew about. My brother was the adopted child and I was the birth family that was looking for him. I was 26 when I found him and he was 31 and didn’t even know I existed.
My brother was my first introduction to adoption. Before he came into my life I had honestly never even thought about adoption or anything associated with it. I thought it was only something people did when they couldn’t birth children naturally. At the time I was pregnant with my fifth child, so obviously I had never thought about adoption before.
Boy did I have a lot to learn!
It was the year 2000 when I finally met my brother.
Years before this, I heard a story from my Grandmother right before she died. She said a woman showed up on her doorstep in 1968 while my father was away in the Vietnam war and claimed her daughter was pregnant. She also claimed that it was my father that got her daughter in that predicament. My grandmother told me that she didn’t believe the woman and basically shut the door in her face and told her to get a blood test if she wanted to prove something. The woman left and they never heard anything from her again after that. There was no follow up.
That is, not until 30 years later.
This story popped up again between me and my sister and I decided to do some research to find out if, in fact, I could possibly have another sibling out there in this world somewhere. My father, who was also interested to see what I found out, gave me the girl’s maiden name and the city she lived in back in the 60’s. I called enough phone numbers in that city until I finally found her parents, who were elderly, and left a message for her to call me back. I said there was an old friend trying to reach her.
The next night…SHE CALLED…excited to find out which old friend was trying to reach her. (insert bug-eyed emoji) I had to drop a bombshell of hard questions on this woman and open a major skeleton in her closet.
I said, “Yes, you knew my father back in 1968.”
She asked me excitedly, “What is his name?”
I told her his name.
Me, “Hello?” (insert super bug-eyed emoji again)
“Yes, I’m still here.” with a major somber tone change in her voice.
Hesitantly, but willingly, she went ahead and answered my questions about what happened back in 1968 while my father was in Vietnam. She told me she did become pregnant before he left for war and that it was definitely his child. She said she was banned from her home and told not to return until she “took care of it”. So thankfully, instead of abortion, she chose to go to another town and live with her older brother until she had the baby. She told me she had a baby boy and placed him immediately up for adoption and then returned to her home. She said she thought that perhaps the family that adopted him lived in New York somewhere. She told me the Dr’s name and the baby’s birthdate that was ingrained in her mind…and that was it. She also told me to NOT give him her information if I found him because her husband and two children STILL knew nothing about the baby or that time in her life. (Ugh!) All these years later it was still a secret buried deep in her soul and covered with shame that her family had put on her so long ago during that time period. I couldn’t imagine what she had lived with all these years keeping a secret like that for so long.
And then what it must have been like for her to get such a random phone call out of the blue that brought it all back to the surface 30 years later. I’ve learned that in life your past and especially your secrets usually catch up to you one way or another so it is always so much better to face it first before it meets up with you unexpectedly. But sooner or later, the two WILL meet up, either in person or in the psychologist’s office.
I couldn’t believe she confirmed I had an older brother out in the world somewhere. I was the oldest of 4 girls and a younger brother at the time. Was I really not the oldest? So strange to think about.
I took that information she gave me and searched through adoption search engines for months. I found nothing. I gave up. I then returned to the computer randomly one day, months later, and sat down and typed his birthdate and info into a new registry site I had just found. I had only been on the computer for about 5 minutes. And guess what?
The girl at the registry site said it was a 99% match and that he would be in touch. She said that he had to be looking as well for him to have put his info into that registry in the first place. She told me his name was Michael. Wow! I had a brother named Michael.
We waited. And waited, with anticipation. Two weeks passed before he finally reached out to me. It turns out that he actually never even looked for his birth family. It was his new wife who had entered his info into the system and she never told him. He just got a phone call one day congratulating him that they had located his father’s side of his birth family. He had no idea what they were talking about until his wife explained. He said it took him two weeks to wrap his head around it and work up his nerve to open that door to his unknown birth family, not knowing what he would find on the other side.
When we spoke on the phone for the first time it was literally like city mouse and country mouse. He had grown up in the Bronx of New York and had the thickest New York accent I had ever heard. I had grown up in the cornfields of Ky and sounded as backwoods as he had ever heard, I’m sure. Not to mention I was 26 and due to give birth to my 5th child any day. I can’t imagine what image he had in his head of his new, countryfide, barefoot and pregnant sister from Ky saying “Hey, welcome to the family, big bro!”, in true Ky fashion. Lol!
But it turned out, HE WAS AMAZING!
We received our first picture of him through our new computer at the time. He was recently married so he sent us his wedding picture. We all just couldn’t believe it! He was a clone of my father! Like, we were freaking out! How could he have been out there all those years, look identical to my father, and we never knew about him?
We learned Michael was a New York City firefighter at that time. He was newly married and his wife was a NY City, policewoman. A few months later he flew to Ky for the first time, met his long, lost, birth family, and we all immediately loved him! He was the older brother I never had. He was such a kind soul. We all had an instant connection with him. Ironically, we popped up in his life and found him just after his adoptive father had passed away. He was an only child so it was just he and his Mom left in his immediate family.
Now he had all this new, found family to call his own!
This was the year 2000. None of us had any idea what was about to hit New York City within the next year in 2001.
911…World Trade Center…and my new brother was a NY City Firefighter.
All firefighters immediately got called to the World Trade Center site that day. His unit was one of the first to go up into the World Trade Center.
As soon as I saw the news I tried to call him as well as my sister, who also lived in New York, not far from the Trade Center.
There have been so many lessons that I have learned since this time. So many ways I have seen God’s hand in this story and how He orchestrated the timing of everything. So many ways my eyes have been opened to adoption, birth family, and all the emotions that come with it.
We had just found my brother a year earlier. Is it really possible that we could have lost him? So many questions and panic were swirling through my mind as I tried to get in touch with him.
Stay tuned for Part 2.