It was August 1997. I was 26. My wife and I were living in a second floor flat in the Pine Hills neighborhood in Albany, sans children. My parents had recently given me a key piece of information about my background: a piece of paper that contained my given name, Stefan Swazey.
I had always been curious about my roots, but I had never seriously contemplated doing anything about it. I had daydreams about who my birth parents were and whether or not I had any siblings, but I just assumed there was nothing I could do to find out who they were, so I didn’t think much more about it. And then the mail came with that piece of paper. My parents told me it was coming and asked me if I wanted to know the name before I opened the letter. I said I didn’t. For me, there was something sacred about being alone when I opened it, just being by myself to reflect on it–my given name.
I was a novice on the Internet. I had only used it a few times, and it was just starting to become popular. To be honest, I don’t even remember whether or not I had an e-mail account at that time. But I did have basic knowledge about how to do an Internet search. And that’s what I did. I searched the name Swazey, and I got some hits. Names and addresses. There was one in Pelham, which was about five miles from Misericordia Hospital, where I was born. The next closest Swazey address was more than a hundred miles away.
Immediately, I knew I was onto something. I wrote down what I needed to, and I sat on it for a few days. I didn’t know what to do. What if I wrote a letter and never heard back? What if I did hear back? Was I prepared for the response or lack thereof? I just didn’t know. Ultimately, I knew I had to reach out. I just needed to know, one way or the other.
So I wrote a letter. It was simple and to the point. I basically said that I was adopted, born on May 5, 1971 to a woman named Margaret, and that my given name was Stefan Swazey. I left my contact information, and indicated that I would appreciate receiving any information they might have about the circumstances of my birth.
I sent the letter August 4th and waited. Each day, I checked the mailbox when I got home from work. Then, a little more than a week later, there was a letter. The name Margaret was on the return address sticker and the letter came from Westchester. My heart began to pound. I felt my anxiety level rising. I was afraid of what the words might say inside that envelope. They could be words of rejection, and I just didn’t know if I could handle that.
I tried to calm down. I found a place to sit, and I prepared to open the envelope. I took a few deep breaths, and I opened it. There were three handwritten pages inside. The first paragraph indicated that my letter had arrived at her mother’s house, and then she went on to briefly explain the circumstances surrounding my birth. She had dated my father for a couple of years, and then they continued to see each other from time to time. She had become pregnant, and he left the picture. She placed me for adoption because the responsibility of raising me alone was simply overwhelming.
I continued reading, and got to the part where she said she was planning to be in the Albany area for her niece’s wedding on Labor Day weekend and wondered if I might be interested in making arrangements to meet on that Sunday. I looked at the calendar. That weekend was fast approaching, only a few weeks away. Oh my God! I didn’t know what to do. After 26 years, I was about to meet my birth mother! I had to mentally prepare myself to make that first call and make plans to meet her in a few weeks. I was about to embark on a wild emotional ride, one that would help me to begin unraveling the mystery of my past, and I had no idea if I was ready.