My Other Half

Despite the title and how much I love my wife, this is not a blog post about her.

I’ve been having dreams lately. Or maybe, they’re memories. Of things that never happened. Neither good nor bad. They just fill my nights.

If you’ve read this blog or my novels, you probably know that I’m adopted. My parents adopted three of us before my mom got pregnant, which wasn’t supposed to be able to happen. My youngest sister was born on my seventh birthday, and that connection has always made us close.

My childhood was fantastic—kind of a typical 60s middle-class upbringing. My mom stayed home with us. We lived in nice neighborhoods, the kind where we kids could safely run around all day, and every mom had her own bell or whistle. The kids all knew the sound of their mother’s signal to run home for dinner. I’m sure it wasn’t as magical as I remember it, but my memories are pretty great.

We always knew we were adopted from the time we were little. Mom and Dad made us feel special, that they chose us specially, something I teased my baby sister about—”They picked us, but they had to take you!”

I never felt any driving need to know who my biological mother was. I was told she was in her early twenties, and after I was born, changed her mind about giving me up for adoption. She kept me for six weeks, I’m sure trying to figure out the best thing to do, before finally making the hard decision to give me up. I’ve always felt incredibly grateful to her for everything—for having me, for loving me enough to hold onto me for those six weeks, and for finally having the courage to let me go.

Ironically, it wasn’t until I was researching adoption records searches for one of my novels that I realized New York state had recently passed a law allowing adoptees to request their pre-adoption birth certificate. I mailed my application in the spring of 2020. Of course, covid disrupted staffing in just about every government office, so I didn’t receive mine until that September.

I remember how my heart pounded as I held that envelope, kind of afraid to open it. This was a “no going back” moment. My hands shook as I unfolded those documents and saw, for the first time, the name of the woman who had given birth to me. I think I sat there for the longest time, just staring at her name, the name of the hospital where I was born, my birth weight. All the normal stuff most people know about their beginnings, but I never had.

A cousin who has done a lot of work on our family’s genealogy was able to look up a good bit of information on her. To my profound disappointment, we found that she passed away in 1996. She’d married four years after I was born, and she and her husband had four children—three boys and a girl. My cousin was looking at the girl’s name, and he said, “I think I know her.” He did a little more digging and confirmed it. San Diego, late 90s. He and my biological sister had been in Customs and Border Patrol training together. And then we found that the man my biological mother married had been a state trooper with my uncle. Talk about few degrees of separation!

But even with everything we learned, I wasn’t ready to make contact. I found my siblings on Facebook, but what if they hated knowing about me? What if they destroyed every fantasy I’d had about my biological mother? So many reasons NOT to reach out. So I didn’t. I sat on the information I had for a year. Not until the next September did I reach out to my biological sister and a brother.

It took a little while for them to realize I’d sent messages, and when at last, my sister contacted me, my hands shook again as I typed a long email explaining our connection. And then I waited. It turns out she’d been told about the baby girl given up for adoption, so my version of events rang true for her, but it was more of a shock for her brothers. My brothers. See how weird this is?

Turns out my new-found sister lives only an hour from me, and only about ten minutes from my same-birthday sister! (Without using names, this is likely to get confusing.) We’ve met up a few times, and she’s absolutely wonderful! It’s been such a joy getting to know her, hearing stories about our mother, what she was like. It makes me even sadder I’ll never know her, but I’m so happy to have even this much.

I’ve spoken on the phone with one brother, and also with an aunt and a cousin. It really touched me to hear my cousin say, “We’ve been waiting for you to find us.”

Between them, I’ve been sent photos. For the first time in my life, I see people I look like!

Which brings me back to those dreams. My nights are filled with conversations and images of people who now make up a side of me I’ve never known—a side that’s always been there, just hidden in my genes, maybe in my genetic memory.

I count myself blessed that they seem to be truly good people. I can’t wait to meet the rest of them in person, perhaps this spring. In the meantime, I’ll let myself absorb these newfound connections. Who knows? This may all end up in a future novel! 🙂

Pax

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24 thoughts on “My Other Half

  1. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience. It’s incredible that you had both a great childhood and relationships with the sibs you grew up with, and now positive beginnings with new found sibs. I imagine it felt so good to hear they were hoping for the day you found them.

  2. Wow, what a story. I can’t even imagine the mixed emotions you experienced during this emotional time. And to be strong enough to share this with everyone is amazing. I’m happy for you. I do hope it turns into a book someday. (Did you write it yet? lol)

  3. I was nervous reading this, trying to put myself in your place – how you must have felt holding that envelope, knowing there was information in there that would change what you knew about your life! What a story and what courage it took to tell it, Caren. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

    • Gayle, thank you. I felt the nerves myself again as I wrote it! And then the waiting for the family’s reaction… I think it was almost braver on their part, acknowledging me and welcoming me. 🙂

  4. This is awesome, Caren! I realize how difficult this was for you at various stages, and I’m so happy it worked out so well. Your courage has introduced you to some previously unknown wonderful relatives! These folks are so fortunate to have you as part of their family. You rock, girl. Love and hugs!

    • Diane, thank you so much. Part of my hesitation for so many years was the risk that finding biological family would introduce me to not-so-wonderful people. I’m happy to say that did NOT happen! 🙂

  5. I feel humbled at having been allowed to read this major piece of your life. Thank you so very much for sharing with us. May your happiness & love continue to grow with your new
    family.

  6. This is one of those amazing stories you couldn’t write as fiction because no one would believe it! My niece found her birth mother through a DNA site. The emotions on both sides are intense and I haven’t heard an update for some time, so don’t know if they remained in touch. May your story continue!

  7. I’m happy to hear that you’ve been able to connect with your biological family and that it’s been a positive experience for you. I am not adopted, but I just started getting wrapped up in family history because I am working on a biography for my almost 92 year old Dad who was a missionary to Belize, Central America for 13 years. He was recounting some of his family stories from when he was a child. He, like me, was the youngest in his family so he doesn’t have solid memories of his grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives. He is the last living sibling in his family of nine children, and even one of his nephews has passed away, so our family, the part we were familiar with, is quickly dwindling. But I’ve been able to go back to Dad’s great grandparents and some aunts and uncles who have living descendants, I just have to locate them. It’s kind of like finding bonus family and it’s kind of exciting because I can make contact with them much more easily and keep up with them because of technology that wasn’t available to my Dad. So, while I’m not adopted, I can feel some of your excitement in finding lost branches of our family. I hope you get to meet up with more of your biological family and can build bonds and relationships with them that you didn’t expect you’d have.

  8. What a wonderful adventure! 😀 … very brave of you too. 🙂 … there’s very ‘traditional’ research done of inter-generational memories that come to us through our bloodlines, (that might appear to us as ‘dreams’) but ask any shaman worth her or his salt and they’ll tell you that such things have been known for millennia, and up up until the whole monotheistic separation of spirituality into ‘good and evil’, it was considered as commonplace and as easy as breathing.

  9. I read this with bated breath – hoping the outcome would be good for you. When I was 16, I searched our attic for a legal pad one Friday evening. Dad’s briefcase had one, I knew. Also knew I wasn’t to open it, but . . . On top of the pad was a white #10 envelope with my initials written on it (also Mom’s initials). Curious, I pulled it out and found a light blue legal document holder with onionskin papers inside. A woman’s name I’d never heard of was at the top, and my name with her last name also at the top. “Father unknown” it read. There was a bill from the hospital (I cost $365 to be born), and that odd name again. The floor fell out from under my world. What ensued was an agonizing few months until finally Mom and I got in an argument one night and I blurted out – in typical teenager angst – “I bet you regret the day you adopted me.” She looked at me, laughed, and said “You weren’t adopted!” To which I replied, “Don’t lie to me – I have the papers.” Her face crumpled and she went upstairs and got Dad. I learned part of the backstory; some questions got answered, and many years later a Google search brought up my birth mother’s obituary. There was a thumbnail picture of her – I stared at it for the longest time. Finally I got to see the woman who brought me into this world. My (now retired) boss is into genealogy and offered to do some research if I’d forward the obit. Next work day she called me into her office, pointed to a high school yearbook page that filled one of two monitors, and said “That’s your brother.” Same wavy dark hair, same gap between the top front teeth. I had no idea. FINALLY I was seeing who I got my features from. A year later a family photo that had been published in a small weekly paper had the whole family gathered around a table. Names were in the caption. There was my birth mother probably in her 20s, an aunt, and my maternal grandmother. The photo is on my phone, along with an official Army boot camp photo from WWI of my grandfather – where my high forehead came from. Never thought I’d see my biological family, but it was such a gift. Congratulations, Caren – I know a little of what you’re feeling.

    • Wow… What a story! I’m sorry you found out in such a traumatic way. I honestly don’t know, if my birth mother had still been alive, if I’d have been brave enough to contact her and take the risk of having her say, “I don’t want you in my life.” Knowing what I know of her now from my siblings, aunt, and cousin, that never would have happened. But I’m happy for you that you were able to find those little pieces that helped fill in gaps for you. And you’re right, it is a gift! 🙂

  10. I’m very happy for you. I have met my cousins on my bio-mom’s side, and they are amazing people. I am not in contact with my bio-dad’s side.

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