As an adopted child, I searched for my identity and this eventually led to a reunion with my birth mother and to self-discovery as well. For decades, I was driven by an all-consuming pursuit for just an inkling of information about my past–birth records, biological details, family connections and sadly, my search would oftentimes turn out to be just an exercise in futility. Years ago, there was no social media or Google search that would take me to websites on how to search for people. In those days, rarely would a person publicly announce being adopted, much less go on a mission, as I did knocking down doors that stood in the way of the who, what, where, when, and how of my very existence. Adoption records were sealed tight.
The day I learned I was adopted, my life changed forever. I was confused and shocked by this rather cruel revelation. I was six-years-old, and walking home from first-grade with two girls, Carolyn and Gail, who I thought were my friends. Carolyn whispered something into Gail’s ear that shocked her. Turning her head from side-to-side disapprovingly, Gail tried to stop Carolyn as she walked beside and leaned in close to me. Carolyn was intent on easing her own discomfort about something she had heard the adults in her home discuss while sitting around the kitchen table. “Miss Rosa is not your mother,” Carolyn whispered into my ear.
I had adoptive parents who loved me, and I was surrounded by a supportive, strong Black community. My adoptive parents had carefully crafted a foundation for me to achieve academic success and instilled values, and spiritual roots as well. Yet, after the cruel revelation, I felt a kind of pure desperation of missing, needing, wanting a biological mother. After my adoptive mother’s nearly crying plaintive response, “I did not give birth to you, but God knows, I wish I had…” admission, my innocent trust in the world as a safe place had been totally shattered.
Hearing someone whisper that I was adopted caused me to have queasy feelings in the pit of my stomach on several occasions. One day, an older girl who lived across the street, walked over to me as I played outside. Without any warning, her words hit me like a ton of bricks. “Don’t you ever forget what Miss Rosa and Mr. Buster did for you,” she yelled. I remember feeling so vulnerable, humiliated, ashamed, and just angry towards all the people whose insensitive comments over the years had caused me pain.
During my adolescence, I stopped asking questions about my background that were disturbing and disconcerting for my adoptive mother, whom I loved dearly. When no one was home but me, I searched desperately through the closets, combing frantically through documents, afraid of what I might, or might not find.
In my twenties, adoptions records were released to me without identifying information such as names cut out of the documents. I desperately tried to piece together the story of what happened. It was very frustrating to read through pages upon pages with lines of text cut out in short and long, square and rectangle-like shapes. Yet, it was empowering to know that I was somehow getting closer to gaining knowledge about myself, and biological family. However, after years without any solid adoption leads, the excitement wore off, and I gave up hope of ever finding my biological mother.
The greatest question in my mind would not be answered until my mother, and I came face-to-face. Why did she give me away? From the records provided me, I read that my mother had given me up because she had no one to help her take care of me. The details of her fifteen-year-old lie are too private to share with the world; however, suffice it to say, her life had been difficult, according to the account provided by the state agency of which she was a ward.
When I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl a few years later, I longed to see my physical image mirrored in another human being and this yearning had finally been fulfilled. At two-years-old, my daughter was scheduled for a surgical procedure. I remember standing in the kitchen of my Jersey City apartment before the operation and suddenly feeling compelled to pick up the telephone and dial 411. I requested the phone number for the Attorney General of the state in which I was adopted. A nice lady answered the agency’s telephone. I heard myself describing to her that I had been adopted, and that my daughter was scheduled for surgery, so I needed to obtain my biological family’s medical history and pronto. The agency rep explained what I needed to do to get the ball rolling with regards to receiving information about my mother. A simple notarized affidavit describing my daughter’s medical need was all it took to start the process moving with the state agency. My birth mother was contacted, and she granted consent for her telephone number to be given to me. After years of angst, struggles and waiting, the path towards finding my mother finally opened up and nearly effortlessly at this point.
Within three months from that day, my mother and I had arranged a time for me to drive to a hotel in the city where she lived. Our initial meeting was pleasant enough, but a little uncomfortable because she bombarded me with so many gifts. During our weekend together, my mother also finally explained to me what I had longed to hear, how she felt on the day she had given me up:
“The care worker came to me and asked what I wanted to do about my baby. You were two months old. I thought that since I wasn’t able to take care you, I would put you up for adoption. I felt I was doing the right thing. I prayed and asked God to take care of you and to make sure you were in good hands with people who could give you the things I could not give you.”
I hung onto my mother’s every word. It was clear to me that her reality was different from mine. She was seeing someone whom she vividly remembered giving birth to as an infant, and lovingly nursing for two months. The woman I encountered was virtually a stranger to me, who seemed absorbed in feelings about her personal experience of losing me as a baby. She entered our meeting hoping to resolve any guilt feelings now that she had found me.
Of course, I wanted to know about my biological father, but hesitated to broach the subject. I was very much aware of how my presence triggered snippets of her life that were not at all pleasant. When I delicately mentioned my father, my mother explained how he was a soldier like any, who had left a young woman with a child to raise on her own and this was the long and short version.
My reunion with my mother has brought us both some measure of healing and happiness over these last thirty years, but there are still those few blips. Honestly, there are times when my mother and I struggle with feelings of guilt vs. blame. There are times when she sees me as a child and attempts to give me unwelcomed motherly attention; when she goes here, she drags me right into the trenches of her past but I am trying to be more understanding.
I am grateful that my mother and I can embrace each other as gracious, mature women who have overcome great odds to arrive at a place of love and mutual respect. Writing this story about my reunion with my biological mother also created a wonderful and unexpected shift in my mother’s perspective, as well. Amazingly, she stated to me recently, “I no longer feel guilty; I am free. I am not ashamed, and I am happy. And the reunion has made us both stronger.”