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Using Knowledge To Teach Others

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It was the late 60’s, the era of love, peace, and the free-spirited, when my birthparents met. How they met is still a mystery to me. Perhaps they were in a commune and she heard him read his poetry and got all starry-eyed. Or perhaps he heard her singing Joan Baez and fell head over heels in love. Who knows? But I know they did meet, and I was conceived in a commune, and born to Garrison (Gary actually, he listed himself as Garrison on my birth certificate – perhaps a fan of Garrison Keillor?) Marrius and Mary Elizabeth (Beth to all who knew her) Reilly on May 18, 1969, at Boston Lying Inn Hospital.

When I obtained my hospital records, I was shocked to find that my mother was listed as “Elizabeth Marius” – could that mean she and my birthfather had married? I have yet to find out. It’s very possible they could have married in the “hippie” way,the way of the times, and jumped over a broom – still one of the many mysteries I am spending my life trying to unravel. In any case, I was a preemie baby, born on May 18, 1969, and although I have my hospital records, not much is known about my birth or the circumstances surrounding it.

I was adopted at age three. This is the story I have gathered from various sources: my birthmother had left me in the care of her mother and her three sisters. My grandfather was on the road constantly because of work, and my grandmother had fallen in love with someone else. My mother was a bit of an embarrassment to the family because not only had she given birth out of wedlock, she had given birth to a black man’s baby.

My birthmother’s family was rather “blue-blood”, so to speak, so from what I understand, my grandmother told this man she had three daughters and not four, and thus shipped my mother off somehow, somewhere, and I was placed with the next-door neighbors, the Morrises, for adoption. Also included was a downpayment on the house they now own, which all seems strange to me. So I was adopted by the Morrises, and raised as their own along with their three sons.

Being raised in a small town, being mixed and being raised by a white family, was… interesting. I had a good upbringing, very loving, and very caring, for the most part. When I say for the most part, what I mean is that there is knowledge that has been discovered in recent years that was not available to people back then in regards to mixed children.

While growing up in Keyport, NJ, I never had the opportunity to be exposed in the “other” side of my culture, the black side. I had, for the most part, considered myself “white” but never realized that until later in life. This was also compounded by lack of understanding of the effects of adoption at the time. I had spent the first three years of my life with my birthfamily, which are said to be the most crucial years of a child’s development.

Also, my birthparents were the opposite of my adoptive parents. My adoptive parents were a sort of “Ward & June Cleaver”, whereas my birthparents were runaway, free-spirited, ex-bluebloods. This caused much conflict, and many issues in my life, which weren’t really realized or discovered until later in life. But, as I said, for the most part, I had a happy childhood.

I had grown up, always wondering what what my birthmother was like, since I had no memory of her. Four days after my twelfth birthday, I got somewhat of an answer. That was a time in my life where I dreamed of finding my birthmother, and reuniting with her. Those dreams were shattered when my adoptive mother sat down and told me that my birthmother had died of heart failure. Later on in my years, I found out that was partially true: she had, for a few days prior, been seriously depressed, and had been beating herself up about placing me, and wouldn’t stop grieving for days… then she died. Four days after my 12th birthday, my world crumbled around me. Then when I turned 18, I received a letter from my aunt who lived in Miami, asking me if I’d like to come and live there. Of course, I jumped at the chance.

The honeymoon was short-lived. My birthmother’s family (who lived in Miami) and I soon parted (not so amicably) because it seemed the Morrises hadn’t “removed” the bad seed that my mother had planted in me. My birthmother seemed to be a bit of an embarrassment, and the black sheep had gone through her into my blood. I guess my birthfamily had expected me, as my adoptive family did, to be raised and to grow up as a Morris, rather than be who I was born as. The reunion wasn’t as most reunions are portrayed – happy and joyful – but I’m not bitter. I’m glad I found out, and glad I at least got some closure on that part of my life.

My story doesn’t end there, though. Six or seven years later, I was going through a hellacious and vicious custody battle with the state over my two daughters (I was a single mother), and I discovered I was pregnant. I was terrified the state would also take and traumatize this child as they had done to my daughters, so out of pure fear, I decided very hesitantly on adoption in order to protect my child. I chose a couple in Orlando with an older adopted mixed son, so my son, being bi-racial as well as I was, would not feel the same isolation that I felt growing up.

On July 3, 1997, I gave birth to a gorgeous, healthy son, and placed him in a semi-open adoption with that family, and since have educated myself extensively on every area of adoption in order to benefit myself, my birthson, my daughters, and everyone else. It was the hardest decision I had to make, and I can’t say I don’t regret it. Sometimes I do.

It’s not easy, nor does it get easier, as the wounds I have are still fresh. I love my birthson, and wanted the very best for him, and at that time in my life, there was too much of a threat to take that chance to gamble with his life. I did what I felt I needed to do to protect him. I now know what it must have been like for my birthmother, and it most certianly is one of the hardest things to have to deal with. But unlike my birthmother, in these recent times, we are armed with education and research, and no longer have to hang our heads in shame.

What birthmothers do is a wonderful thing, and something to be proud of. They thought of their children before themselves, and gave them a wonderful life that they knew they could not give to their children. I also have the advantage of knowing where my birthson is, and also getting pictures, and letters, and hope fully continued contact. I won’t have to endure the pain, guilt, and suffering that eventually led to my birthmother’s demise. And because of that tragedy, I am determined to educate as many as I can about the effects of adoption, and the advantages of open adoption.

There is a happy ending to this story, though. I had made a decision to seek out my birthfather, and after a long search, I made contact with my grandfather in Fresno in the middle of last year, and then contact with my father’s sister and mother soon after.

Unfortunately, my father had passed on in 1985, when I was 16, and it’s an issue I’m still dealing with, but I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it was to be welcomed with open arms to my new family. For the first time in my life I felt complete and unconditional love, and also began to explore what it is to be biracial and mixed, which I never had an opportunity to experience before. There has been so much joy in reuniting with my family, and the relationship has been growing incredibly, and I don’t know what I’d do without them. I visited with them for the first time in July of 1998 (one year after my birthson’s birth) and came faceto-face with my heritage, with people from whom I derived my looks, and it was, for lack of a better word, incredible.

My only regret is that I hadn’t met them sooner. I am anxious to share my children with my family, as well as my birthson, when he is old enough.

It’s been a slow, healing process, but as they say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” My life has been full of tragedies and joys untold, and each of them has been a learning experience I have taken from and have been able to turn into a lesson that I can teach others. My only hope is that my story can somehow inspire or educate others about the effects of adoption, and how we can educate others on preventing the same mistakes made in the past with the knowledge we are now armed with.

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© 1999

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