Caroline Clarke is a successful businesswoman and mother of two. And Caroline is adopted. Being gifted with amazing parents who loved her and loved each other, Caroline never wanted for more. That is, until medical issues sent her on a search for her biological roots.
What Caroline thought would be simply informational turned out to be an amazing, fairytale-like story of her beginnings. Caroline’s afternoon in the chair at the local Spence-Chapin agency was beyond anything she imagined. Without revealing the name of Caroline’s birth mother, the social worker who sat opposite her shared detail after detail that had been recorded. It all sounded too strange; unreal. It was uncommon for black families to relinquish their children in the 1960s, especially if they had the means to care for them. So how could this be true? A young woman with an influential family? Caroline took her copy of the agency record home with her. She studied it over and over, learning more about her beginnings at each reading. The more she read about this young, wealthy black woman who was adopted herself and had twin younger sisters, the more familiar everything started to sound.
It wasn’t long before Caroline connected the pieces and realized where these bits of truth were leading. She picked up the phone and had a visit with her dear friend from college. Caroline’s friend, Timolin was a twin and also happened to be Nat King Cole’s daughter. At age 16, Caroline and Timmie became fast friends. And their friendship continued over the years. It was through that phone conversation with Timmie that Caroline got contact information for her oldest sister, Carole (nicknamed Cookie) and, with trepidation, reached out to her.
Yes, Cookie was Caroline’s biological mother. Postcards from Cookie: A Memoir of Motherhood, Miracles and a Whole Lot of Mail is Caroline’s “thank you note” to all three of her known parents. And it reads like a novel. Brutally honest, Caroline shares the developing relationship of an adoptee with a birth parent. As unique as Caroline’s birth story is, her feelings strike a chord of similarity with others who have searched, found, and reunited.
Reunification is a tricky process. As rewarding as it might be for some, it’s not easy for any in the adoption triad. For Caroline, the consistent support she received from her parents made the whole experience possible. Even at age 37, had her parents exhibited any amount of reticence, anxiety, or hurt, Caroline would have backed off and not pursued reunification. In fact, at the very beginning of the process, Caroline made sure she had her parents’ blessings. It may have been her inclusion from the beginning that gave her parents the confidence that Caroline was not searching because of any lack of familial love or sense of belonging. Thus, as a relationship began to develop between Caroline and Cookie, she did not have the added stress of having to make the relationship “secret.” Caroline kept things compartmentalized. Physical distance was a plus, and she never forced her newfound relationship upon her parents. It was the support of everyone in her life that made reunification a blessing for Caroline, for her parents, and for Cookie. It was truly a gift from everyone, to everyone.
Caroline is a successful journalist. She makes a living telling other people’s stories. And so, as a very private person, to open her life and heart to the public in the form of a book, was not done flippantly. But Caroline had very distinct reasons for doing so:
1. A Thank You. All three of Caroline’s known parents responded to her search and reunification with “breathtaking grace and love” in a really tough situation. And that support was sustained over time. Honestly telling her story is a gift of love to her parents and to Cookie.
2. Adoption Advocate. So often the world only hears about adoption when things go wrong. That’s what makes the news. It’s bothersome to know that a stigma still exists about adoption. There are so many good stories of loving adoptive homes, of a birth mother choosing to place her child, of reunification. But hearing those stories is the exception. Caroline’s sharing her story may be just a drop in the bucket, but it is one more positive adoption experience to help balance all the negative.
3. Support. Reunification is hard. It is rarely smooth and seldom easy. But for Caroline and Cookie, it was satisfying and healing. Birth mothers of Cookie’s generation have suffered greatly. Most weren’t given a choice. Their children were taken from them. So many of these women still wonder where their children are. Did they grow up with love? Do they know they are still carried in their birth mothers’ hearts? Caroline’s book serves as a means to offer hope to birth mothers everywhere.
4. Communication. It is Caroline’s hope that her book will prompt crucial conversations. Conversations among family members, couples, adoptees, and friends. She hopes that communities will begin to come together more and talk about adoption, about reunification, and about healing.
Although Caroline’s story may appear to be complete, she is quick to point out that “feelings are never static.” Perhaps she will someday be reunited with her birth father. Perhaps not. Birth family relationships will continue to develop. Love will continue to grow. Challenges are ever present; but so is healing. For Caroline, as for all of us, life is truly a journey. It is our choice to make it a rich, fulfilling one.