I am a 50-year-old birth father in reunion with my children after twenty-four years of separation by a closed adoption. Our adoption was not typical. I had custody of our 4-year-old boy and 3-year-old girl, and the birth mother had no part in the arrangements for the adoption. There is much written about adoption, but almost nothing addresses our situation.
Our reunion has sometimes been a difficult time, emotionally, with many trips back to a period in my life that was extremely trying.
At the time of the adoption, the children were living with my sister. I had arranged this after I found my children residing in an unsuitable environment with my ex-wife. Though she was unable to care for them properly, I could not do so myself since I was recovering from a physical and mental breakdown that had left me totally disabled. I was barely able to care for myself.
My elder sister had always been the rock of our family and I had hoped that the children might stay with her, but that was not to be. An officer of the church counseled her that the children needed a permanent home and said they had found a couple in the congregation who were willing to adopt both children. My sister had always been quite close to the church, so advice from the hierarchy was not to be taken lightly.
When this idea was presented to me, I believed that it was the best thing for the children. I had been declared permanently disabled and there was no indication that I would ever be well enough to care for them. I had spent my youth in this church and had always been impressed by the warm, happy families I’d known there; a stark contrast to the chaotic conditions of alcoholism and mental illness in my own childhood home.
The clean-cut, professional couple who were presented to me seemed perfect. The papers were drawn up and my ex-wife was flown in to sign them. That was that. I cannot remember much of that day; there is much from that time that I cannot remember clearly, and what I can remember I’d rather forget.
If I thought that was the end of it, I was sadly mistaken. The pain began almost right away. My children were gone, and all I had of those two babies that I’d loved so much were a couple of pictures and my memories.
One of the sadder parts of this tale is that my recovery began within a year of signing the adoption papers. I had a couple of significant breakthroughs in my condition and enrolled in school again with the help of the state vocational rehabilitation office. In school I met a woman whom I later married. She believed in me before I believed in myself and was a great help in my recovery. Things were definitely improving in my life; but by then it was too late because the children were gone. On a happy note, I later adopted my wife’s two sons.
Over the years I have heard from other birth parents. It seems there is a special sort of hell we share that has so many points in common. I would see a child of a certain age and wonder about my own children. I would watch for children of their age and study them, wondering. I would wake up at night and get out the snapshots and look at them. I carried the pictures in my wallet for years but had to put them away when they began to crumble. I don’t know how many nights I laid awake staring at the ceiling, wondering if they were well, or even still alive.
I had promised the adoptive parents that I would never contact the children. But as they approached their age of maturity, I knew that I would have to search. The pain became more intense and more frequent, and nothing would ease it except the act of searching. I had some sketchy information about them from my sister who knew the adoptive aunt, but the aunt, at the request of the adoptive parents, kept the information very general.
I registered with Soundex. I searched the phone books of the cities where I’d heard they’d lived. I searched professional registries that their adoptive father might belong to. I even placed an ad in the paper of a town to which they’d moved soon after the adoption. I went there for a weekend, waiting for some contact from them or from someone who’d known them. I searched the Internet before it became the Web, but I never got a shred of information.
My sister contacted me with the news that my son was having some problems and that there was a possibility we could meet. I met with the aunt who lived near my sister, but nothing came of this except that my pain got worse.
My life was just about perfect except for this one obsession. My wife and I had been married nearly 20 years and had raised two boys and had a grandchild. I had a career that was going well in addition to my church and family life. Yet, in spite of this, all my happiness was shadowed by my loss. I knew that I could never be truly happy until I had the chance to know that my first children were well and happy, and I could tell them that they had been loved and wanted.
Thoughts of the children were always with me and sometimes the pain worsened and I would spend days searching for them. I was now randomly searching adoption pages on the Internet. As I wandered from page to page, my search engine said that there were over nine hundred people registered, including their names and birth dates.
This went on for several years until a few days before Thanksgiving 1997. On a quiet shift at work, I was surfing adoption pages when I had a match! My daughter’s name and birth date came up on a registry. I was crying and my hands shook so that I could barely type as I sent in my inquiry.
The next morning I had confirmation of a match, and within the hour I was talking with my daughter on the phone. As I write this, the memory of how absolutely beautiful her voice sounded brings tears to my eyes. She had been searching for me for two years. My son was living nearby, and soon I was talking to him too. My search was over.
I have been in contact with my son and daughter for over a year now and our relationship is growing. They live eight hundred miles away so I don’t see them often, but we’ve had four visits. I have met and am getting to know my two, lovely birth grandchildren, though for now I am “John” to them, until we get relationships sorted out.
Not everything has been perfect in our reunion. There are boundary and relationship issues to face. There is an edge to our meetings that could be unspoken anger, but I cannot be sure. There is the grief of a missed life together, which is always between us. But we forge on, working together to build something we all seem to want, though we might not know exactly what it will turn out to be. Sometimes I fear that I will lose them again, but two things give me comfort.
One is that I have lived my dream. I have found my babies to be alive and well and have had the chance to hold them and tell them I’ve always loved them. My prayers have been answered. Anything else that may come will be an extra blessing to be savored, but not clutched and hoarded.
The other comfort is that they will always know now that I love them. If my worst fear comes true, and one or both of my children leave again, I can wait for them with a calm heart. I heard a saying recently that I like a lot: True love is never impatient. And this I know: this blessing is to be savored.