About seven years before I met my birth mother I went to a meeting of one of the adoption groups that were big in the city then. A young woman walked up to the podium with her very obviously challenged brother:
Hi, I’m Casey. This is my brother, Michael. I found him after I found my birth mother who lives in a mental hospital. She had seven children by seven men. It doesn’t matter. I never felt part of my family. Now my life is complete.”
Standing ovation except from me and a few other laggards.
Another woman came to the podium. She was older, bright and professional looking. I thought we might be able to relate.
Hi, I’m Andrea. I met my birth mother who lives in a single room occupancy hotel in San Diego. She used to be an attorney before the schizophrenia got to her. It doesn’t matter. Now my life is complete.”
Sensing a pattern, I walked out of the meeting and walked the 40 blocks home in the frigid January weather.
Was it me? Was I lacking an internal mechanism that would allow me to love my birth mother unconditionally?
I was being stalked by a man I had planned on marrying. I had been divorced forever. Was this all part of the same problem?
Yet I loved my family unconditionally. I had large groups of friends; some of whom I felt closer to each day. Though I felt like a fraud (old story,) my bosses and the people who worked for me thought I was incredible.
I knew I could be judgmental. Maybe I was judging these people harshly. But I knew if I had met my birth mother and she turned out to be like one of the woman above my problems would just be starting.
At that time adoption agencies in New York State were allowed to help in your search. They couldn’t give identifying information. I didn’t tell my social worker that I knew my birth mother’s name.
One day I had been at my parents house running from my boyfriend. My father and I watched a Rock Hudson movie on adoption. That triggered something in his mind. Years earlier, after the lawyer who handled the adoption died, my father had been given the file. He had gone through the file looking for identifying information.
I don’t know how my father, a CPA and perfectionist, missed the birth certificate. He claimed, and this could be true, that he just didn’t believe it. The name was so strange. It means a specific occupation in another language, and my father was convinced that in the days before social security numbers were needed for all births, my birth mother could just make up a name using her father’s job.
I wasn’t convinced he was right or wrong.
Today the search would have taken less than a minute. I would have plugged her name into Switchboard and her phone number and address would have come spewing out.
In the pre-Internet age, it took over eight years. I would go to the Annex of the New York Public Library to look at old phone books. I wasn’t obsessed with the search or in love with reading old phone books. They made me sneeze. I could never put in the micro fiche correctly for the microfilmed ones. I knew what state my birth mother was from. The social worker told me she was from a small town that became a larger city. That threw me as it was a small state with a limited number of larger cities. Still I looked at all of them and areas around the cities.
I liked the social worker. At the time I was thinking of going back to school to become one. She would tell me her problems–unmarried son who was approaching 40 and lived with his girlfriend. Would he ever give her grandchildren? She talked about that incessantly. I didn’t pay for the sessions and considered listening to her the price. She found me fascinating and that helped. I wasn’t angry. I was articulate and well-mannered. She said horrible things about the social work profession but at the time I thought it was because she was old and bitter.
I didn’t know that she was the social worker who would become the face of the twin scandal. In the 50’s and 60’s the agency I was adopted from separated twins and neglected to tell their adoptive parents. The agency, once the most respected Jewish one, went out of business later. But the scandal was just brewing then and I wouldn’t hear about it for years.
I wouldn’t go to grad school for over another decade as in the end I did listen to her. However I didn’t tell her that my father saw an ad for a lecture by somebody with my birth name. The lecture was just four blocks from my apartment. I was so anxious before the lecture I drank many glasses of Merlot and ingested way too many Xanax. Neither did anything. They didn’t even give me a false bravado.
When I went to the lecture and the speaker came out, I knew I was seeing my first blood relative. I felt an immense sense of relief that he looked like the Ivy grad he was. It was the 80’s and I was all about appearances. We talked after the lecture and I knew that something in my manner gave me away.
I said my parents had summered in a town in their state years earlier and had met her. It was a stupid story but the best I could come up with. He gave me her phone number, and I called her immediately. I repeated what the head of a newer adoption group told me to say:
Hi, my name is Pia
I was born on___
I’m your daughter.
In retrospect I’m not sure that this was the best approach.
We got along so well on the phone.
Yet the meeting didn’t feel like the fairy tale Oprah loved to make adoption “reunions” into. I know how wrong it is for anybody who has any desire to be published to say anything negative about Oprah, but damn I almost fell into her weave. We all love happy endings and Oprah was going to make as many adoptee/birth mother stories as possible into miracles. This wasn’t fair. Anyway I didn’t fall into spells. I was my parents daughter and a cynic by nature and nurture.
The meeting itself was awkward. We met on her terms. I wanted to meet at a motel half way and was willing to pay for it but she would only meet at her house. I wasn’t sure whether I should say I was in a position to pay for it or not. I wasn’t sure whether I should say my father would gladly pay for it.
That my father wanted this reunion more than I did. After he died somebody told me that he had paid a private investigator to look for her soon after I was adopted. I couldn’t ask my mother as she too was “up there,” when I was told this. My sister has found records of everything but nothing to verify this story.
I took a wrong connecting train but was able to switch. That wasn’t my kind of mistake (though it is common to many people with non verbal learning disorder.) I felt discombobulated. I wore the wrong clothes. True I wore jeans but they were expensive designer jeans. My tee shirts were all made of silk. My hair was highly styled and I hid under too much make up.
We spent the weekend trying to find some common ground. We had none. Nothing that could connect us. I grew up loving to read. My mother would tell me that money spent on books is never wasted but libraries were there for me to actually borrow books not just do research. There were two books in my birth mother’s house, both Reader’s Digest condensed books. Her house lacked personality. Even the cheapest motel has a picture you can comment on. Nothing. Nada.
She was a Republican. Great, she and my father could talk about the wonders of Reagan.
How could I explain my life to her? In her fantasy I drove up to her house in my red convertible with my doctor husband and two kids. In real life I had a string of failed romances and a current friend with benefits. I was a recruiter for a boutique upscale paralegal agency. The year before I had a sorta breakdown, but that word’s never used when you can be functional with some therapy and medication. I didn’t think she wanted to hear about this. I didn’t want to talk about it.
We talked about our families. All our conversation seemed forced. I was choking. I needed to get out of this unadorned personality lacking house. I knew then I didn’t want her in my life.
The two best parts of the weekend were the train ride home where I talked to a young couple and drank their beer. And coming home to a card from my mommy that just said “I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.” That was incredible. I was loved by my real mother!
I felt horrible about the weekend yet relieved. I had done what I was supposed to do back in the 80’s. I found my birth mother. Now I could go on with my life.
Please don’t judge me harshly for this. It’s my truth.