It’s impossible to explain to anyone, aside from an adopted person, what it’s like to be adopted. It’s like a deaf person trying to explain what it’s like to be deaf, or a blind person trying to explain what it’s like to be blind. Some things you simply have to experience firsthand to really understand.
I always felt that, rather than being born, I was plopped down on Earth one day. I never knew where my home planet was, but I often wished I could go back there if, for nothing else, to see the two people who gave me life. It’s not like I absolutely had to have contact with them. Even a picture would have brought me some measure of satisfaction. I needed some tangible proof that these people really did exist and I wasn’t hatched out of an egg or brewed in a test tube.
I didn’t realize, until I attended an adoption search meeting, that all my life I had been searching for other people who might be from my planet. I wanted to look into the eyes of another person who knew exactly how it felt to have never met her mother. I wanted to talk to someone who understood how strange it felt to be in a roomful of “relatives” who looked nothing like you. I needed to be with someone who had finally found the courage to search for their mother, whether their reasons were different from mine or not.
In my case, I had to find my mother. Our son was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a life-threatening heart condition that required three operations to correct. When his doctor told me to “get all the medical information I could find,” I was suddenly propelled into a quest that I had been putting off for way too long.
At first, I turned off the personal feelings that went along with finding my mother. I told myself that I was performing a “motherly duty” for my son, and nothing more. But, the deeper I got into my search, the more personal it got. As my mother’s history unfolded, in the form of school records, marriage licenses, pictures, and stories from her family, I found myself longing to be in the same room with her. I wanted to look into her eyes. I wanted to touch her hand. I wanted to prove that she really existed, whether she measured up to the image of her that I carried in my imagination or not.
I never knew how close I had gotten. As a matter of fact, I didn’t realize until years later that my mother was not more than a few feet away from me for one magical moment, when I was about ten years old.
My sister and I were in the back seat of the car one afternoon, as my adoptive parents were driving to S & H Green Stamps to turn in their books for a toaster or a can opener or a salad bowl. My sister and I were doing what most kids do in the back seat of the car: fighting. All of a sudden, I felt tension building in the front seat. My sensors went off, and I tuned in to see what was going on.
My adopted mother was very agitated. She had seen someone whom she recognized and wasn’t happy about it. We were stuck at a red light, which made her even more nervous. If she could have snapped her fingers and evaporated, she would have. She clearly didn’t want to be seen. And neither did my father.
“That’s her!” she told my father. “Look! No, don’t look! Don’t let her see us!”
The obvious question in my mind was, “Who?” Whoever it was, they certainly were causing quite a stir in that front seat.
“Who are you talking about?” I said, as I stretched my neck out the window to get a better look.
“Nobody!” my mother replied. “Just be quiet.”
Well, that “Nobody,” whoever she was, certainly was a “Somebody” to my parents. But all I could see was a crowd of average looking people waiting at a bus stop. There didn’t seem to be anyone exceptional enough to elicit even a casual glance. But there was a very exceptional person standing there: my mother.
Like I said, it didn’t hit me until years later, that I had seen my mother that day. Her face was in my subconscious somewhere, never to be retrieved again. Whether it was fate or chance that brought us together that day, my opportunity to actually see her was lost. Going to that adoption search meeting felt like a second chance for me. And I wasn’t about to waste it.
Finding my mother wasn’t easy. She moved more often than a person who’s in the Witness Protection Program. I would find her in one old phone directory, only to lose her in the next year’s edition. She had more aliases than a criminal. She would sometimes use her first name as her middle name and her middle name as her first name. She took the last name of any man she was with, whether she was married to him or not. Then, she’d remarry. After 1954, she disappeared altogether. My birth certificate was the only proof that she existed.
Some of her relatives told me that they had heard that she moved to Australia. Others said she was still around, and probably not too far away. Of course, my adoptive parents told me what many adoptive parents told their children back in those days: She’s dead.
The fact that my adoption records were “sealed” didn’t help me. Because of my son’s medical condition, some people in “the right places” gave me access to information that I never would have been able to see otherwise. But it still wasn’t enough. She couldn’t be found.
And then it occurred to me that she couldn’t be found because she didn’t want to be found. The name changes and address changes were her way of trying to “slip through the cracks.” She was a fugitive and she was running from me. I had to admit to myself that, if she were still alive, and she really wanted to find me, she would have. But she didn’t.
Again, it’s impossible to get anyone who’s grown up with their birth mother to understand the need some adoptees have to find their birth mother. There are a lot of adoptees who don’t want to search, and I’m sure they have their reasons, but I wasn’t one of them.
I wanted to find my mother to ask her a few questions:
1. Why did you give me up?
2. Do you ever regret it?
3. Do you wonder how I’m doing?
4. Do you remember me on my birthday?
5. Did you ever try to find me?
Unfortunately, I never got a chance to ask her those questions. She died ten years before I started searching for her. I wish I had started looking for her when I was in my 20′s, instead of my 30′s. If I hadn’t been so bitter and angry that she “abandoned” me, I might have actually gotten the chance to meet her. I console myself by thinking that maybe it wasn’t meant to be.
More importantly, I wish that she had looked for me. It would have made me feel a lot better. It would have confirmed that she really did love me. It would have cleared up a lot of things.
But, in a way, I really did find my mother. I found her in my sisters and my brother. I found her in the recipes that she wrote out by hand. I found her in the afghan she crocheted, which my sister keeps in her living room. I found her in the pictures that her sisters sent to me.
And for now, that will have to do.