Adoption Reunion

First Family Reunion

 

Honesty

I’d never been an adoptee to spend much time wondering about my first family.  I was afraid to.  What if everything I’d been told in the whispers from my adoptive relatives had been true?  I really didn’t want to know.  I was also terrified that I might find people just like my adoptive relatives.  What they did to me was awful, but the things I saw them do to one another was poor too; adoption was just the excuse they used with me.

Adoption and Passports

It was 1993, I decided to take a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.  I went with Youth for Christ, and we turned an old bar into a school.  Before I could do this, I had to apply to receive a passport.  If you’re adopted you have to jump through extra hoops, because your altered birth certificate is inferior as a legal document.  My first passport took almost a year to obtain.

I’d heard stories from other adoptees who told me that when they received their birth certificates it came with their birth name on it.  I only had a certificate of registration at that point.  Yes, just like a car!  I had to have a birth certificate, so I applied to the state, and they sent it to me.  I remember going into the bathroom by myself and opening the envelope afraid of what I’d find.  It only included my adoptive name.  Nothing new.  I remember feeling both relief and disappointment.

Sy & Dody

Sy & Dody, my first parents

I submitted the paperwork into the post office and the postal worker said, “You’re adopted.”  It caught me off guard, and I asked him how he knew.  It was because my birth certificate hadn’t been registered until I was over a year old.  Now, that doesn’t mean everyone with a delayed birth certificate is adopted.  My husband’s birth certificate is extremely delayed, but he wasn’t adopted.  I had to request a certificate of adoption from the county that handled the adoption.

I was so busy at home that I took a pile of mail with me to work so I could open it during break.  I opened the certificate of adoption, and picked up the phone to give the county a call, because they had obviously sent me the wrong person’s document.  It even had their name at the top in large letters.  Then I decided I’d better look the document over and let them know whose they sent me.  Legal documents are so boring, but the county would definitely be embarrassed because this is a private document.  The document began, “In the matter of HER NAME——.”  I read on… boring, boring, boring and there it was, MY NAME.  Now I couldn’t breath.  I sat at my desk like I’d just been canned.  The feelings were intense, but there were so many of them, I couldn’t identify them all.  I called Charlie and asked him to come to where I worked right away, it was very important.  We went into a conference room and I showed him the document.  We were both floored.

I walked around in a complete daze; it may have taken a week or so before I felt my feet planted on the ground again.  I had documentation that stated very clearly that I had been a ward of the court.  I had never thought of myself like that.  I began life as a member of one family and then as an orphan.  I had new information that had already changed my life forever.  What to do with it?

Years earlier, Charlie and I had applied to be foster parents and we were told that agencies tend to do what they can to keep children in the same counties as their birth families so the children can assimilate within the community.  My last name was uncommon, so it shouldn’t be hard to locate.  The internet wasn’t used yet in work places, so I decided to stop at the library on the way home and look in the phone directory for the county where I was raised.  There were two listed, and they were on the other side of the county from where I grew up.  I wrote down both numbers, and discovered that one of them was my birth mother’s brother and the other her father who’d already passed away.  I went home and got on the Internet and discovered through social security records the date of my grandmother’s death, so I called the local library in that community and got my grandmother’s obituary with the names of all her children emailed to me yet that day.  I knew one of them was my mother, I didn’t know which one, so I made a phone call and ended up talking to her brother.  I was afraid to tell him who I was for fear that I’d get hung up on so I made up a story and got her address.

I wrote a letter and Charlie critiqued it and told me to shorten it substantially, since I didn’t know if she wanted any information about me.  I prayed and prayed and went to church and asked for additional prayer prior to sending the letter.  I absolutely didn’t want to hear from someone if all I was offered was more of what I had growing up.  “God I will trust you.” I prayed.  I mailed the letter to Florida (same city where we vacationed when I was 3).  Her current home.  It was a certified letter that only she could pick up.  I truthfully didn’t want to disrupt her life either.

Within a week, I received a letter from her attorney telling me that she was not interested, and I also received no health information of any help.  I was a little disappointed, but moved on.  I had more than I ever thought I would have.  I told my parents what information I had found out, because I really didn’t want them to find out some other way.  My dad told me that his first cousin’s wife was my birth mother’s teacher.  What the heck!  More lies?

I called the teacher and she had joined a Christian cult.  She was more of a Jesus freak than Jesus and had given everything away.  I got the be grateful speech, love Jesus, don’t open a can of worms, and hung up.  Then I prayed some more. I wanted the name of my birth father too.  So, I called another family and was given the same be grateful speech and gave up and decided when it was time it would happen.

The Reunion

In 2006, I was teaching computers to middle school students and loving it.  They are the cutest group of kids ever, but exhausting.  I got home from work one day and Charlie said, “There is a message on the machine for you.”  He pushed the button and I heard, “Hello, this is Michael Turner.  I’ve been cleaning out my mother’s stuff and found a letter.  I think you’re my sister.  If you’d like to talk here’s my number.”  Charlie said, “I could have told you what it said, but I thought you’d like to hear it for yourself.”  He was right.  I sat right down and gave Michael a call.  We probably talked for an hour.  It was amazing.  He emailed me pictures of family members yet that night and I sent him some back.   He asked if it was okay to give my number to our sister, Lori, of course.  Michael was just three months younger than my daughter, Brook.

It seems that our mother, Dody, had a brain aneurysm which almost cost her life.  She had it shortly after I had contacted her years earlier.  Michael told me that he found my letter to her when he was cleaning out her things because they were moving her to assisted living near our sister in Michigan. When he found the letter he called Lori and asked her about it, and she assured him that it was correct.  Dody had discussed my letter with Lori when she received it, but Dody’s husband didn’t want her to make contact.  He was a very wealthy man and suspected everyone of something. Lori begged her to contact me.  It seems they even drove to Hastings and drove around looking for our house.  I was touched.  Dody’s husband, Michael’s father, had died in an airplane accident a few years earlier, so there was nothing stopping communication.  Michael called our mother and asked if he could contact me and she gave him the go ahead.

Between my first letter and my phone call with Michael, I had gone to the library in her home town and reviewed the local high school year books. Charlie helped me and it was amazing how easy it was to find her without looking for her name.  It could have been me in those pictures.  It was like looking at pictures of myself.  I really looked forward to meeting her to find out what other similarities we had in common.

Verneice Barkley 2005

Grandma Verneice

Even with the brain aneurysm, she was engaging.  She lived an interesting life.  Dody had a pilots license, parachuted out of airplanes, sang professionally in dance halls; she was very beautiful.  Like me, she loved to travel; what I found was a woman who had experienced life.  She told me about my birth, which is different than a placement.  And, she told me about my birth father and gave me his name.  She also told me about my grandmother who was still alive.

My life was beginning to make some sense.  Within a month, I called my birth father on the phone and explained to him who I was.  He told me that he had talked to Dody after she received my letter and he wanted to know why I didn’t write him too.  Sy’s name wasn’t on any of my records.  He told me that after I was placed for adoption, he and Dody hired an attorney to get me back.  The attorney said he’d get a copy of my birth certificate for Sy, but it never happened.  Dody told me that the agency told her not to include his name to make giving me away easier.  I felt like meat; not by them, but by the state.  Scads of unnecessary trauma on loads of people.

I can say that I’ve met both of my birth parents, all of my living siblings, and some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins.  It’s been fantastic.  I even met my paternal grandmother; she was a very nice prayerful lady who said kind things about by birth mother, and she even said that she’d hope to one day meet me too.  She passed away on her 99th birthday; I attended the funeral.  I remember my grandson telling me, “It’s really odd when your grandma has a grandma.”

Birth families are nothing to fear.  I think what caught me most off guard were the number of people who told me that I could now put closure on it. There is never closure to adoption, just more questions, relationships, and more loss.  It’s amazing how many people assume my goal in life is to find out why I was given away.  I can honestly say that I have never in my life spent any time on that; it wasn’t anywhere on my top 10 of things to know.  I was far more interested in knowing if I had siblings, and when I needed my next colonoscopy.  If you’re part of the witness protection program (closed adoption) a colonoscopy is every 5 years with genetic history it’s 10 years.

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Michael & Jill

My Brother’s Death

Michael was my birth mother’s youngest child.  He passed away three years ago at the age of 38.  Part of the loss in adoption, for me, is having great siblings and not really knowing any of them.  Now Michael is gone; he was a pilot.  He even flew Jimmy Buffet’s private plane for a few years, but I will never have the chance to fly with him myself.  I was grateful that I was mentioned in his obituary as his sister, and I said a few words at the funeral.  His obituary is still on my refrigerator.  I love you Michael – God be with you till we meet again.

Three years prior to meeting my birth father, his middle son, my brother Paul passed away.  As of 2014, his death was just 11 years ago.  He left behind 3 sons and a daughter.  I’ve personally met all but one of his sons, and two of his children are on my Facebook.  Sy’s other sons and his daughter have all told me what a great guy Paul was, but I will never know that for myself.  That’s loss.

 

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