When Susan Welch and her older brother went out for dinner shortly after her mother died, she did not expect anything unusual.
Little did she know she would discover she was adopted! Her story, like so many adoption stories, is profound and deeply moving. And, as they do for many writers, the twists and turns in her life became the inspiration for her debut novel.
When Susan’s brother told her she was adopted, he felt she needed to know. An adoptive father of two, he understood why adopted children may want to make peace with their pasts.
Susan’s adoptive mother had tuberculosis and difficulties with her health in general. Her brother told Susan that their mother had a rare blood type that would make it difficult for her to conceive a child that did not have the same blood type. After several miscarriages, after he was born, the family decided to adopt. Two years later, they conceived a healthy baby girl, completing the family of one boy and two sisters.
Susan admitted that she had never suspected she was adopted. After she learned the truth, however, a few things began to make sense. “As a child,” she said, “we went to meet a new babysitter. She asked which one of the children was adopted. I assumed she was mistaken, but now I understand.”
Susan’s cousins knew she was adopted, but were told to keep it a secret. Susan knew their secrecy was a result of a “hush-hush” attitude toward adoption that was common at the time. It became an important theme she fleshed out in her novel.
At the time her brother told her about her adoption, Susan was 46 years old and had two sons, one biological and one stepson, who himself was adopted.
After discovering the truth, Susan began the scary and exciting journey of locating her birth mother. She began where her brother told her she had been adopted from, Catholic Services of Minneapolis.
The agency confirmed that she had, indeed, been adopted at seven months old. Her birth mother was twenty-seven years old and unwed when she was born. Susan was placed in an Infant Home for Unwed Mothers for a few days, after which she spent three months in one foster home, and then three months in another.
It made sense now that no one had ever talked about Susan’s infancy at home. Her story also gave her newfound gratefulness toward foster parents.
Catholic Services, however, did not give Susan all of the information she was hoping for. They told her they had reached out to her birth mother, who seemed like a lovely woman, but wasn’t interested in meeting her. She was dealing with health problems and wasn’t ready for a reunion.
Susan wasn’t giving up easily. She was determined to find the biological family that was a part of her past she didn’t even know about until now.
Susan contacted a private investigator who obtained a copy of her redacted records from Catholic Services. After two years of searching, she finally got in touch with a birth brother who was the closest to her in terms of age and proximity. He was surprised and delighted to learn he had a sister. Her birth brother Bobby was careful not to hurt or upset his mother or his newly discovered sister. He tried to keep their relationship positive and respectful. He did, however, struggle to maintain their relationship on his own time.
Finally, one Mother’s Day three years later, Susan reached out to Bobby. “Do you think this is a good time to meet my birth mother?” she asked.
The women had a very emotional first meeting that Susan said was “difficult to put into words.” Both were overwhelmed by the seriousness and awe of their connection and newly discovered relationship.
“Our first visit was nice,” Susan recalled, “but it was like being introduced to an aunt you never knew. There were, however, a lot of familiarities, and we kept dialing in on things. I look a lot like her.”
The women got to know each other better over the next two to three years. It was fun to talk about their similarities and the things they had in common as well as the places they had lived near one another. Susan attended her biological brother’s second wedding. Her son appreciates having a whole new family to have a relationship with.
A Beautiful Relationship
Susan has continued to develop the relationship with her biological mother and siblings. In fact, the ladies of the family just got together for a girls’ weekend in Florida! “We see each other quite often,” she says. “It is a wonderful catharsis.”
The women have had deep conversations about adoption and how it has changed since the 1960s when society shrouded unwed mothers in secrecy.
Susan was never angry with her adoptive parents for not telling her she was adopted. “What I felt was more like respect,” she recalls. “I learned to love them more profoundly. The more I learn, the more I realize that most people are just doing the best they can given their circumstances. They are operating in the times that they exist. Most people then were adopted with the best of intentions. Their choice to keep it from me can’t be judged based on today’s paradigm. You know, had I found out when I was a teenager, it would have been a lot more work for me to emotionally reconcile the new information.”
Susan admits that her life has been forever changed since she found out she was adopted. She now understands why she has never been completely sure of her identity. She is grateful for her journey and how it has helped her become who she was meant to be.
A Thread So Fine
Like all authors, Susan made good use of her experience by writing it into a story. In A Thread So Fine, Susan brought her birth mother and adoptive mother together as fictional sisters. One becomes an unwed mother, and it changes the course of her life. The other is a 19-year-old with TB who needs to be quarantined. She is learning to deal with the possibility of never bearing children. It is a bittersweet tale of yearning and family.
“Adoption is as old as the hills,” says Welch. “So is family. Throughout time, people have made it what they need it to be.”
A Thread So Fine was released in May of 2019, and it will be available in audio later this month (Feb 18th, 2020). It tells the story of two sisters who relied on one another for companionship while their mother remained distant, struggling with the demons of her own past. It is set in St. Paul, MN, during the mid-20th century.
The older sister, Eliza, is taller and more academically successful than her sister Shannon, who is eleven months younger than her. She attends college but eventually has a secret she becomes eager to hide, even from her sister. Meanwhile, Shannon contracts tuberculosis and becomes hospitalized for ten months.
The story deals with the secrets, resentments, and shame that kept the sisters apart for two decades. It is a fascinating tale set against the backdrop of postwar social changes. The narrative is well-researched and captivating.
Welch is currently working on her second novel, a Hitchcockian thriller, as well as a follow-up novel based upon the story of the adoptive daughter in A Thread So Fine.
Adoption Search and Reunion
Many folks who find out they are adopted or know they are adopted from an early age are eager to find out about their birth parents. It brings them a sense of peace, stability, and closure as well as answers questions about their past and identity. It does the same for birth mothers.
Today, most infant adoptions within the United States are open. This means that birth mothers and adoptive parents maintain some kind of ongoing contact with adoptive parents through conference calls, email exchanges, or pictures and letters on birthdays and holidays. This contact helps birth mothers deal with grief and loss and allows older children especially to fill a void in their lives.
If you do not know your birth parents and are searching, there are a few important steps you can take.
First, it is critical to speak with your adoptive parents and ask them for any records they may have, including your original birth certificate. They may be able to give you the names of agencies, facilitators, and lawyers they worked with while adopting you.
Emotions can arise for adoptive parents during this time as well. It is important to explain your intention to them and reassure them of your relationship.
If your state has an adoption registry, your birth parents may have already registered and might even be searching for you. If they are, a match will be made, and you will be contacted right away.
Depending upon the state you live in, it may be possible to request a copy of your adoption records. Some states may not allow you to obtain your original birth certificate. Others have very open adoption record policies that will allow you to request a copy of your original birth certificate. It will contain the name of your birth mother and possibly your birth father.
There may also be some medical history available to help you learn more about your birth family and locate them.
If possible, see if you can contact the agency, attorney, or social worker who facilitated your adoption. Some folks use a private investigator or adoption search service to help find them. These professionals will be able to provide you with useful information as to who your birth parents may be.
If you still cannot get any information, a DNA service may be able to help.
If you have partial information, such as the hospital, date, and country of your birth, you may be able to contact the county courthouse to search through that day’s birth certificate records. Online search and reunion sites have helped those with this kind of information. Informal acquaintances can also help you track birth parents down. Many folks searching for their birth parents have used several distant resources before getting useful information.
Those looking for adopted children can also have luck by listing the hospital, day, and time of birth on adoption search and reunion websites. Modern tools, such as social media and DNA testing can help. Adoption search angels are volunteers who can help you search as well. Make sure to register your search so any adopted child looking for birth parents can find you easily. Again, small clues can lead to big developments, and you could be reunited with your birth child before you know it!
It is critical to be in a safe place emotionally before seeking to reunite with your adoptive family. Make sure you know why you are searching, such as curiosity, medical history, or an interest in your birth parent or birth child’s wellbeing. Remember that adoption searches and reunions are not a rejection of your current family. If you are looking to fill a void or find peace of mind, let your current family know that they still have the same place in your heart.
Know that you may not be welcomed by your birth family right away as it can be an overwhelming experience for many. If necessary, take steps towards connecting with a biological family that is open to small contacts, such as emails or brief phone calls. If you hope to establish a strong relationship, continue pursuing them with patience and respect for their feelings. You may eventually find the connection you were hoping for!
Finding Your Thread
When Susan Welch discovered her adoption story, she found a new extended family, a bittersweet story, and a beautiful conclusion. It led her to become the writer and mother that she is today.
Adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents all know the joys and longings associated with adoption. We know how it makes us a little deeper, a little sweeter, and a little more of a family.