A California Secret Son Finds his Birth Mother

Jason Clawson recounts his early years with his adoptive parents and how he met his birth/first mother.

In 1972 my first grade teacher threatened to call my mother if I continued to tell her and my classmates that I was adopted.  She thought that I couldn’t be adopted because I couldn’t explain what “adopted” meant.  When I insisted that my mom had told me I was adopted, my teacher called her during class playtime. After several minutes, my teacher hung up, walked over, gave me a hug, and apologized for not believing me.

I don’t remember the day I grasped the full meaning of adoption. I knew I was loved, and how I arrived to my family didn’t really matter to me. I was where I was supposed to be.

My parents lived in Downey, California and had tried unsuccessfully to have children for five years. They had discussed adoption but originally neither was in favor of it. Then one evening, a friend from my parents’ church called and said there was a newborn boy in San Diego available for adoption. “Are you interested?” he asked. Perhaps if my father had taken the call I would have ended up elsewhere, but fortunately my mother answered the phone that night, and immediately replied: “We’ll take him!”  A few days later, my parents met my birth mother, Sandy, and me.

Sandy lived in Phoenix, Arizona. At age 18, she unexpectedly found herself in a family-way.  Her parents couldn’t believe their daughter had shamed their family by getting pregnant. Her father threw a chair at her. Sandy’s parents sent her to San Diego to live with her older brother and his wife. The plan was that she’d deliver me, then give me up for adoption. She didn’t hear from her parents once during her time in San Diego. She had signed an agreement with an adoption agency and the agency had selected a family.

After I was born, however, Sandy rescinded the agreement and decided to do the one motherly act remaining to her—find the right family and give me to them herself. I’ve since learned, Sandy’s decision did not ingratiate her to the hospital staff or adoption agency.  They became quite hostile and tried to coerce her to sign the adoption agreement.

Nevertheless, about two weeks after my birth, my soon-to-be parents Jim and Jeannette, drove from Downey to San Diego only days after receiving their friend’s call.  They had no crib, no diapers, no clothes, no formula—nothing.  Now that I have children of my own, it’s difficult to imagine two people less prepared to receive a baby.

As Sandy spoke with my parents, they learned that my birth father, “Milt,” had denied fathering me and wanted nothing to do with me.  After a time, and apparently pre-assured by her attorney’s vetting of my parents, Sandy handed me to my mother and told her, “I believe you’re the couple that should have my baby.”  On that day, Jim and Jeannette became my parents. They drove back to Downey, me in my new mother’s arms.

With news spreading that a third passenger was on the return trip, my grandmothers sprang into action, buying bottles, diapers, blankets and clothes. Still, not everything was in place for my arrival. I spent the first weeks sleeping in a dresser drawer.

Three baby showers later, and my parents were well stocked and learning about their new son. My mother’s pregnancy cut that time short though. My sister Courtney joined the family ten months after my birth.  Since Courtney and I were similar in size, and both had blonde hair and blue eyes, many thought we were twins. I like to think that my arrival opened the way for Courtney, and for my sister Brooke, and brother Brett.  Had Courtney’s journey into the family started two weeks earlier, I would be living somewhere else with a different life and a different name. Thank you for waiting, Court.

Sometimes I look at my ten-year-old son and know exactly what he’s thinking because in many ways he’s like me.  My parents weren’t afforded that and now that I’m a parent myself I wonder if they had an easier time connecting with my sisters and brother. Similarities or not though, I always knew that I was loved.

I had a normal childhood. I made friends, got along with my sisters and brother, and tended to be protective of them. Occasionally, I pointed out to my sisters that they shared Mom’s genes and were destined to turn out just like her.  It’s remarkable what an insult that can be to sisters.

Not knowing anything about my own genes and heritage allowed me to be the descendent of whatever my imagination could conjure. Before I met Sandy, I thought it would be nice if she knew that I’d turned out okay and that she’d made the right decision. Not surprisingly, I never had any interest in knowing Milt.

As I grew into adulthood, I was reminded that I was adopted each time someone remarked how much I looked like my father. Indeed, most people thought I looked more like my parents than my siblings. I’ve often thought that it’s amazing that an entire family can find ways to resemble the adopted child. Even my personality was often compared to my personable Grandpa Delwin, a US Congressman.

I married in my mid 30’s and my wife and I had a son 14-months later.  It was when, to my complete surprise, our marriage abruptly ended that I began to think about Sandy. When you go through a divorce that you didn’t see coming, there are a few ways you can react. I’d witnessed several unproductive reactions through the divorces of close friends. I decided I needed a positive outlet and distraction, so I began researching my adoptive family’s genealogy.  It turned out that much of it had been completed. The only way I was going to distract myself with a genealogy project was if worked on my biological family’s tree. I was ready for the journey. First step: find Sandy.

My parents were supportive. My mother gave me the name of the hospital where I was born. I knew the name I’d been given at birth, my birth date, and I knew Sandy’s maiden name.  I hired Colleen, who specializes in California adoption searches. I sent her the information. Ten days later, Colleen had located Sandy.  Sandy was married and living in Bellingham, Washington.

On March 16, 2006, I sent Sandy a letter via FedEx, which required signature confirmation.

Dear Sandra,

I hope you’re sitting.  Perhaps for some time you’ve wondered if you’d ever hear from me.  On September 2, 1967, I was born in a San Diego hospital and named Steven Grant Meyer. I have reason to believe that you are my birth mother.  I hope that you are, because I have so much that I’d like to share with you.

Most importantly, know that I love you and that you made the right decision in giving me to my mother and father.  They have showered me with love and if my mom’s story is correct, that you felt that they were the couple that was meant to receive your son, know that you were absolutely right.  If this is the only communication we have, let this letter comfort you in that knowledge.

Because part of me comes from you, I’m certain that this letter is bringing back a flood of memories.  My parents never hid from me the circumstances of your situation and I have never, ever questioned your choice.  To the contrary, I have been forever thankful…

The letter ended with my contact information. Perhaps most adopted children are forced to face the many different ways sending a letter to a biological parent may play out. I wanted to be careful not to upset whatever life Sandy had. I knew she was married, but didn’t know if her husband knew of me. I had no fear of rejection because I viewed finding Sandy as a possible bonus to my life and perhaps comfort to hers. I’ve found that adopted girls seem to have a greater desire to understand the “whys” of having been placed for adoption than do boys.

A day later, the online FedEx confirmation read “Delivered.” Two weeks went by with no reply. I figured the letter might have gone to the wrong Sandy, or it made it to the correct Sandy and she either didn’t want contact, or she didn’t know how to reply. It turned out to be none of those reasons.

Sandy had been on vacation when the delivery person left the envelope on her porch. Sandy and her husband, David, had gone through the mail and left it on the table thinking it was from a salesperson. I’d addressed it to “Sandra,” not knowing that she went by “Sandy.”  She finally read it. She told me that she gasped when she read the letter, and David asked if she was okay. Rather than answer him, she re-read the letter and then silently handed it to David. The next day, Sandy sent me an e-mail reply: “Dear Jason, yes I am your birth mother…”

Image credit: photo provided by author.

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