I never thought I was any different than the other kids. Being an adoptee was so normal to me that I just figured there were lots of kids in my class who were adopted. Some days, as a third-grader, my little eyes would grow wide in amazement to learn that most of my friends were not, in fact, adopted; some of them had never even heard about adoption in the first place. But I did. From day one, I knew what adoption was, why it was important in my family’s life, and that it was something I should never be ashamed to share—so here it is!
My biological parents were your typical high school sweethearts. After graduation, they moved to Arizona from their home in Utah, got engaged, and…got pregnant! At only 18 and 19 years old, they felt unprepared and unequipped to give their unborn baby girl the quality of life they dreamt for her. And so my adoption journey began.
For my birth mother, Melanie, it was a nine-month waiting game that felt like nine years. For my adoptive parents, Don and Wendy, it was a nine-year waiting game that culminated in a nine-second phone call.
After learning about their fertility issues, my adoptive parents began the process of opening their home to their forever family. They had already been blessed with their first adopted son, my brother, David; however, they knew their family was still incomplete. They left their hearts open to whomever it was who would round out their family—that’s me!
May 15 was the day my birth mother would remember and silently celebrate every year. It was also the day that changed my adoptive parents’ lives forever.
It was the week of Mother’s Day—a holiday any hopeful parent will agree can be particularly painful. Having waited four years after their first son’s adoption, they were beginning to question whether they’d ever be blessed with another child. That Sunday in church, another woman in my parents’ congregation was eager to announce that she and her husband had just adopted their baby girl. Already emotional, this was the last straw for my mom. She ran out of the room in tears praying to know when she would finally get to hold her baby in her arms too.
It wasn’t two hours later, sitting around the dinner table, that the phone rang. It was the call that hopeful parents dream of. It’s the call that makes your heart explode, the breath catch in your throat, and the tears well in your eyes. “Come pick up your baby girl tomorrow at 10 a.m.”
My birth mom picked out a blue outfit for my parents to meet me in for the first time—an outfit which I (like any healthy newborn baby) promptly soiled. I was instead changed into a red dress which happens to be my adoptive mother’s favorite color. Of course, this made our first encounter even more special to her, and she still considers it her first Mother’s Day gift from me. (I doubt the designated diaper changer at the courthouse had similar feelings of gratitude. Thankfully, this did not disrupt the adoption process, and everyone made it home clean and happy.)
Although less common today, my closed adoption wasn’t something out of the ordinary for the time period. My birth mother was surprisingly allowed to send me three letters within the first two years of my adoption. I didn’t know her name, where she lived, or what she looked like, but from her letters, I did know this: my birth mother loved me. She wanted the best for me. And placing me for adoption was the hardest thing she ever had to do.
Between the three letters I had and the incredible openness my adoptive parents had about my adoption, I always had a very positive outlook on my circumstances. When I had questions, they would answer them; when I felt alone, they were there to comfort me; and when I expressed interest in a reunion, they were my number one cheerleaders through the process.
As a child, I was pretty oblivious to how unique my story really was. But as I grew up and encountered the internal challenges that adoptees typically face, it became more and more clear to me: no one really understood what it was like to be adopted.
I was not like other kids. I had no idea if I had my mom’s eyes or my dad’s nose. I always wondered if I had some long-lost siblings somewhere out there. Was that little girl who looks like me walking down the street actually my sister? Did my birth mother get to hold me before I was whisked away from her? What would my life look like if my birth mother had changed her mind last minute?
These were not questions that your average teenager is being kept up at night with, and no matter how hard I stared at my ceiling, the answers never fell from the sky. Even though my parents loved me, I grew up in a beautiful home, and I had incredible opportunities and experiences growing up, it still felt like there was a piece of the puzzle that would never be found. It felt like I had to be okay with that form of incompleteness until the day I turned 18.
I dreamt of opening my file from the time I was a little girl. I played the moment over and over again in my head of meeting my birth mother for the first time, introducing her to my family, and maybe even meeting hers. Because my adoption was closed, there was an agreement that I would wait until I was an adult to look for my biological parents so that I could be sure I was as emotionally prepared as I could be for the outcome.
So, I started looking. I quickly realized that reunion was going to be no easy process, and I would need my parents’ help to do it. After months of jumping through hoops of an old system that has had understandably changed significantly over the course of 18 years, we found ourselves in a pinch. We got nowhere with our agency.
What my reunion finally came down to was hiring a legal intermediary to find my file, track down my birth parents, and inquire whether they would be interested in reuniting. From our position, there was no telling how long of a process that would be and, consequently, how expensive it would quickly become.
During that time, I had also started pursuing my degree and had moved 900 miles from home to start school. I remember talking on the phone with my mom about the logistics of starting the reunion process. For something that I had been planning and preparing for emotionally my whole life, I had never realized just how hard it would be to actually get it done. Obviously, these types of experiences are priceless, but as a freshman in college just now getting her feet wet with adulthood, the matter of fact was beginning to weigh on my heart.
How many thousands of dollars will it be to even start looking for my birth parents? Even after a legal intermediary is found, will he or she be able to find them? Even when and if the intermediary finds my birth parents, will they even want anything to do with me? The tears welled in my eyes as the worst-case scenarios began racing through my head. But not for long.
Within the same week of researching and beginning to realize the gravity of the process, my answers started falling from the sky. That answer’s name was Patty. By some incredible chance, a connection made through my mom’s coworker led us to find our legal intermediary who offered to work with us at a fraction of her typical rate. The light at the end of the tunnel was beginning to shine.
My Phone Call
A few short days later, I was sitting in my biology lab studying the muscles of the heart when my computer lit up. I got an email from Patty asking about my schedule and when I’d be available for a phone call to discuss my case. I, of course, obliged. She immediately emailed back with the words I thought I would never hear or see: “I found your birth mother!”
My own heart began to race, and I screamed with joy (yes, in the middle of class and, yes, in front of 40 other students, and my professor who after class, thankfully, also agreed that the outburst was justified).
The next day, I sat and stared at my phone eagerly waiting for the call that I’d been anticipating my entire life. Hearing my birth mother’s voice for the first time was everything and nothing that I expected it to be. In some ways, it was like I was talking to a stranger, and in others, it was like talking to an old friend. Regardless, we were both relieved to learn of our mutual interest in meeting and staying in touch. We talked for nearly two hours about our families, where life had taken us in the last 18 years, and what we were looking forward to in the future.
Even though she had remarried and had four more children, incredibly, she currently lived in the same town as my birth father whom she had just bumped into a few months prior. He was also remarried and interested in meeting me soon.
Agreeing that I should finish out my semester before physically reuniting with my birth parents, the next two months of waiting felt longer than the 18 years I had been anticipating this moment in the first place. The craziest part was that they both lived just four hours down the highway from my college campus.
As the semester wrapped up, my birth mother’s current husband, who I now refer to as my Bonus Dad, contacted me with a plan. Knowing I’d be flying back to my hometown for the holidays, he offered to, sometime during my break, fly me out to my birth mother’s house to surprise her and the kids with a big sister for Christmas. To say I was over-the-moon excited to finally meet some of the most important people in my life was an understatement. I was elated!
Six sets of arms wrapped tight around me the day after Christmas as I stood in the kitchen of my birth mother’s house. I spent the next few days learning about all of the silly quirks my siblings and I shared. I sat and talked to my birth mom about my adoption and thanked her for having the strength to offer me a life she knew she couldn’t give me at the time. She introduced me to my birth father who showed me a box of pictures of them, a video ultrasound from the pregnancy, and the original birth certificate with my footprints.
My Missing Pieces
Sitting at the kitchen table looking through history and talking to both of my birth parents about their relationship, my adoption, and how we ended up there was surreal. All of the puzzle pieces were finally falling into place. But I was also hit with the overwhelming feeling that the course my life had taken was exactly right for me. This was right.
I still keep in very close touch with my birth parents and their families. I visit them often, talk to them on birthdays and holidays, and we remain as important parts of each others’ lives. They were even able to attend the special events in my life that followed years after the reunion—including my own wedding.
Growing up, I always knew I wasn’t like other kids, and as an adult, I know I’m not like other adoptees either. I know not all adoptive parents are supportive of their children reuniting, but for me, it has enriched my life beyond expectations. My story is unique, and I’ve been so blessed with a positive reunion where my entire (very huge) family of adoptive parents, biological parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandmas, and grandpas are so supportive and accepting. And while some people may believe that reunion requires love to be divided, they couldn’t be more wrong because, for me, it has simply multiplied.