Monday, July 13, 2015

Chapter 3: The Search

Not long after receiving my original birth certificate I got an email from a perfect stranger informing me that my birth mother had passed away.

I had registered with a site called, expecting only to have the information listed so that members of my birth family, if they wanted, could easily find me. But I soon discovered that many organizations also have volunteers working with them who help find information for you. They're known as search angels.  

One of them sent me this message:

"Thanks for registering. Since you know your birth mother's name and age can I assume you discovered she has passed in 2007? I'm so very, very sorry."

Later, given the information she provided, I was able to confirm it.

Since the day I received my birth certificate, I've become obsessed with searching for my birth family and the story of my early life. Turns out, when it comes to finding some people, Google doesn't have all the answers. Trust me when I say that I have a new respect for private investigators.

I've discovered a phenomenon that I call "search craving." I don't think every late discovery adoptee has this, but I sure seem to. For me, it's an insatiable need to know as much as possible.  Every bit of information I find raises more questions and creates new avenues of search. The search craving can never be fulfilled, because I will never know everything. I can't. That's just the nature of things, adopted or not.

But when your own history has been a mystery your whole life, this craving can become addictive, leading to many sleepless nights scouring people search sites, scanning news articles, and sifting through online library records. It can become an obsession.

I need to remember, at times like these, to take a breath... get sleep...  make sure I connect with those around me in the present moment.

But the search can be powerful and therapeutic too.  I am not alone in feeling this.  Now that I've opened this door into myself, there seems to be no closing it.  The search, for a while anyway, has become a part of me. 

It blows my mind that, at one time not long ago, the desire for adoptees to connect to their true origins was actually considered by psychologists to be pathological. We were supposed to be grateful for the parents we had, grateful that we were "chosen." And we were not expected to need more than that. Asking questions meant there was something wrong with us. Worse still was wanting to find and meet our birth parents. Why would we want to do that? What purpose would it serve? Wouldn't that be a slap in the face to the ones who raised us?

Adoptees would often be asked: What do you have to gain from knowing?  The real question should have been: What do you have to gain by keeping us from knowing? 

What I have come to discover is that, even for those of us who learned at an early age that we were adopted, the need to search can serve a deep purpose. For me, having been kept in the dark my whole life, It's like turning on hundreds of lamps, one after another. Like many adoptees whose stories I have read and heard, I have always felt a little fractured, out of place, and distrustful. A deep part of who I am, my history and identity, was hidden away from me. A wall was built around a core part of myself, and I was not allowed entry beyond it.

Imagine discovering that the wall now has a secret door. Could you resist opening it?   

Though I still feel this irritating need to reassure people that I am not "turning against" my adoptive parents, that I am not "anti-adoption," I have fully accepted my need to search for my birth family, and to tell the true story of me. It's been healing, and so many people have been helpful and supportive.  That old knee-jerk tendency I have of apologizing for myself is going to take some time to quell. But it's getting better.

For about two weeks after getting my birth certificate, I created one fantasy scenario after another, imagining what my reunion with my birth mother would be like.

The search put an end to all of that. 

When I received that short message informing me that Judy had passed away, I was at work, about to break for lunch. The words, as I read them, knocked the wind out of me. I felt short of breath and hot in the face. To get my bearings, I went to a small chapel in the building where I work and broke down.  I screamed through clenched teeth and kicked at the wooden pew in front of me.  The sounds and the tears seemed to come from somewhere else.  A part of me that I didn't know existed had just opened up.   It was actually kind of frightening... I wondered if it would ever stop.  

Then it did stop, just as suddenly as it came on.

I know for some, it may seem strange for me to mourn someone I never consciously knew. But the volcanic blast of emotion that burst out of me was too primal to be anything but grief.

One friend has suggested that what I was really mourning was the lost opportunity of seeing her. And it's true... if I'd learned who my birth mother was was in enough time, I might have found her before she died. We might have seen each other, face to face. I don't know if she would have wanted that, but now I will never know. And the anger of being denied that opportunity "for my own good" still burns white hot. But I know I can't let myself live too long in the land of "what if." Resentment lies waiting down that path, and resentment will eat me alive.

Yes, I missed an opportunity, but it's more than that.

What I'm mourning is not just an idea. I'm morning the death of my birth mother, who was a real person. She gave me life. She had a name. She lived on this earth. And eight years ago, she died.

Nancy Verrier, in her influential book The Primal Wound, writes that, regardless of the conditions of the adoption, the child will always feel a deep connection to the birth mother.  No matter how loving the new household is, such early separation will be a trauma and will leave a wound that requires healing, not pretending. We remember our mothers on a cellular level, not a cognitive one.

Does that seem weird? Unprovable? Believe me... I thought her ideas were strange when I first read them.  I don't anymore. 

There is a wound, yes, and there are scars.  But now I can grieve in the open. I don't have to act as if it's not there. I can talk about it. I can write about it. I can tell my story. And I can listen to others tell theirs.  That doesn't make me "anti-adoption" or "ungrateful."  It just makes me more honest and accepting of who I am. I don't have to change any of that to make other people more comfortable with my story.

(On that note, if you'd like to hear some other perspectives, these women are awesome.)     

So, I continue my search. Yes, it's a little obsessive now, but it goes on. There are half-siblings out there whose names I still don't know. And there is a birth father who is still so hidden from view as to be almost a ghost.  But, alive or dead, he is out there too, waiting to be found.  So many are...

This past weekend, though, I decided to take a break from searching and writing.  I shut off my computer and went outside.  I met friends. We ate and laughed and listened to live music outside.  The weather was beautiful and I was grateful... for all of it, my past and my present.  Though my search has yet to lead me to meeting a birth relative, I find that already I feel steadier, more present, and more... well... myself. It feels pretty good.

The search continues..  Thanks for listening and for joining me.

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