Nine months before I was born, my parents had a son who only lived for one day. They had had another son four years prior. My mother had a RH—negative blood factor. Back in the early 1960s, that usually meant that a woman couldn’t have any more “natural” children. My parents desperately wanted a second child, so they turned to adoption, and took me home when I was three-months-old.
From a young age, I knew I was adopted. My parents told me I was “special.” For a long while, I thought that was true.
I’m not sure when I began to feel differently—maybe it was when I saw my pregnant relatives, or when I had to listen to my other well-meaning ones say, “You weren’t in your mommy’s tummy like that baby is.” Maybe I felt differently when I wrote about my family tree in elementary school, or brought baby pictures to share with my classmates. Maybe it was all of the above.
I often wondered, Why was I given away? Yet, I never spoke of my adoption to anyone. I wanted to be like everyone else. I felt like I didn’t belong. Sometimes, that feeling was even reinforced. At a family reunion, one of my cousins told me that I didn’t belong in their family tree, and that they weren’t sure where they were going to “put me.” I felt like telling her to go to hell.
It didn’t help that my brother never liked me. Almost weekly he told me to go back to where I had come from. I don’t think he ever got over the death of his baby brother, and he blamed me. He was further challenged, and angry, after a severe case of measles left him mildly brain damaged.
My adoptive parents didn’t know how to effectively deal with the situation and sought counseling to help us both. As he grew older, my brother became an alcoholic and was in and out a jail several times. We reconciled shortly before he passed away in 1996.
After he died, I decided to search for my birth parents. I had had my own children by that time and was curious. My original birth certificate was inaccessible because I was born in Ohio in 1964. Nonetheless, I posted what little information I had on an adoption search website. A month after I posted, a woman contacted me by email and offered help. She charged $25 to search for records and mail them to me.
She found three possible birth mothers and I researched each one. After I ruled out the first two, I knew the third had to be connected to me. The woman who originally helped me indicated that this third woman had since had other children.
I didn’t live far from the county where I was born, so I traveled there and went to the Hall of Records where I was able to find birth certificates for two of her children. After that, I had enough information to go to the courthouse and search for information that might confirm my own identity.
The courthouse was full of temporary walls and half-constructed hallways. It felt like I was in a maze. I asked a female employee where to find marriage records. She asked if I was doing “genealogy research” and pointed me in the right direction. We joked about how long the construction might take, and I shared that my own office was going through the same process.
Using the information from the birth certificates that I’d just bought, I was delighted to find a marriage record for one of the (now grown) babies. I returned home, looked up the phone number, and chickened out when I tried to call.
My husband called instead, after I left for work, and contacted me several hours later to say he had talked to the woman, Melissa. Melissa said she didn’t think that I could be her sister, but agreed to talk to me if I called.
When we spoke, she said that my voice sounded just like her aunt. Sadly, the other baby whose certificate I had found, Melissa’s sister Melinda, had passed away when she was a child.
Before we hung up, Melissa promised to ask her mom for information and call back. The next 24 hours were agonizing. The next night she called and said: “YOU ARE MY SISTER!”
I asked Melissa to have my birth mother contact me when she was ready. I didn’t want to pressure her. Several days later, my birth mother, Janet, called. We talked, we cried, and then we agreed to meet.
I learned that she was a widow with six children at the time she met my birth father. Her first husband had died tragically in a car accident the year before. My birth father had been separated from his wife when they began their relationship, and he ended it when he learned of my birth mother’s pregnancy. He reconciled with his wife and moved to another state.
She had nowhere else to turn. Janet explained that her mother had said, “You have six kids, for heaven’s sake—you don’t need another one.” And that was that. She had given me an “M” name too: Michelle Ann.
Not long after this conversation, I was on my way to meet her and realized that I had passed her house many times before. My heart was pounding. I got out of the car and walked up the sidewalk to the front porch. Janet had been watching out the window and quickly opened the door. She took me into her arms, hugged me tightly and said, “You look just like the rest of us!” I was 39-years-old and felt like I had finally come home.
Her home was a century-old farmhouse that had been lovingly restored. I stepped inside to find the wallpaper in her front room was the same as I’d used in my foyer. I followed her into the kitchen and there at the table sat the courthouse employee, who had giving me directions a week before.
Did I break the law? What was she doing here? I thought. She looked up and said, “When I saw you at the courthouse, I thought you looked familiar.” Days later, she told Janet about “the woman who had come in to do family research.”
Life is funny— it turns out that that this woman is my birth brother’s wife.
That summer was a blur of familial meetings—I met brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. I was my mother’s seventh child. She had three more children after me, and she had lost three husbands and two children. I was the only child she had placed for adoption.
Relinquishing a child for adoption doesn’t just hurt the child. I learned that a birth mother carries that pain with her for the rest of her life. I had been born exactly one year after my cousin, and every year on my birthday, Janet painfully remembered that I was celebrating my birthday with another family.
When I first met her, she gave me all the information needed to find my birth father. I contacted him a year later by phone. Five years after that initial contact, I received a phone call from a woman named Candi. She said that her father had told her about me, but her mother would not allow him to remain in contact. Candi and I corresponded often and she eventually helped me meet him, albeit it was only once. He looked at me and said, “Not too shabby.”
He passed away two years ago. Candi and I have kept in touch ever since. Another sister never wanted anything to do with me.
Before I began this journey, I was angry for many years. I was angry at my birth parents for giving me away. I was angry with my adoptive parents for adopting me; and I was angry with people who grew up in “normal” families.
Once I found my birth family, I moved past the anger, and am now a much happier person. I have wonderful relationships with my birth mother and siblings, albeit I think adopted children never quite fully fit into either family. I didn’t grow up with them, so we don’t share the same memories, and they can’t identify with the life that I had, since I grew up in the suburbs and they grew up on a farm.
My adoptive parents met my birth mother, too, and welcomed her into our family. In 2003, four years after my reunion, my father passed away. My mother passed in 2009.
From where I stand today, only one remaining thing angers me about my adoption—when I first searched for my birth family, I had to petition the courts to get my original birth record and I was denied.
I’m not the only one who has suffered. There are millions of us in the United States who have no access to this most basic of possessions —a birth certificate. I’m very thankful that Ohio has moved forward and will soon allow adoptees access to their pasts.
Image credit: Molly as a child with her family.
Thanks for visiting our online community. In addition to stories like this one, you can find valuable resources, discover your rights to your original birth certificate, meet other adoptees, and join the discussion by commenting (below) or on our Facebook page.