Well, it happened. I have tumbled down the rabbit hole....again. But in a good way.
The first time I tumbled down was February 13, 2010. My mother took me out to lunch to "discuss" something with me. It sounded ominous, like she was about to announce she was sick or had cancer. How little prepared I was for what came next.
The gist? I was always told she adopted me because she couldn't have children of her own. I was a gift. Special. Unique. Turns out, that wasn't entirely correct. She confessed that she had a daughter whom she had given up for adoption in her 20s. It was true she could not have children, but from complications from her first pregnancy. She had fully intended on never telling me, swearing to take her secret to the grave. She was only telling me now because her daughter had found her and requested contact. My mom then mentioned that she had just had coffee with her and she wanted to meet me.
She seemed so excited, so buzzed on finding her daughter. She was trying to down play it so as not to hurt my feelings, but it was clearly all she wanted to talk about. She had a picture of her. She wanted to share. I could also tell she was full of angst, nervous about how I might take it all, terrified that people might find out her deep, dark secret. The secret that she made a poor decision in her youth (haven't we all) that resulted in heartache. I assured her that people would not judge her (and I was right). She was excited, but secretive and she wanted to share that with me. I could tell me being OK was important to her, so I asked questions and tried to be as supportive as I could. In reality I was furious. "How could she have not told me?," I thought, "aren't I adopted? Wouldn't I, of all people, have understood?"
For about a week the world felt like it was upside down, much like Alice in Wonderland who fell for a long time through the rabbit hole and came out the other side. I was shocked. I was upset. But then I began to think about all the pain of what my mom must have gone through and I realized, she didn't keep it from me because she didn't trust me, she didn't tell anyone. She quietly hid her pain, stuffed so far down she thought it might even be gone. Suddenly so many things, so many occasional comments that made no sense at the time, suddenly were given new context. She was struggling, and in watching her process, I began to wonder, what would reunion look like for me? Did I even dare search? Life was fine the way it was. But, there are always those unanswered questions (such as the ones I wrote about just over a month ago).
I met my mom's daughter. She is lovely. I very much enjoy her company. I know she was disappointed that my mother never had any more biological children, but she and I have found a sort of sisterly bond, and we share one very important factor. We are both adopted. It was when I was out with her and my mom one day that the two of them ganged up on me. "Why aren't you searching?," "It has been so amazing," "I think it would answer a lot of questions for you," and "I think you are just afraid of what you will find." How to explain to them? It wasn't so much fear of finding rejection but fear of upsetting the status quo. But then my mom commented to me one day on why she agreed to meet with her daughter in the first place, "No matter how uncomfortable I am with what happened, she didn't ask to be born. I owed it to her to meet with her and answer all the questions she had because I made the decision to bring her into this world." Her words gave me hope.
Watching the two of them get to know each other and watching my mom answer questions for her daughter that I had always had for myself, set something in motion. The clincher came when my middle child, Raindrop, started experiencing severe allergic rashes that were covering her whole body. Allergy testing after testing. Food diaries after behavior diaries, all desperately trying to pin point what was causing it. She was going through blood tests and skin tests and x-rays and ultra sounds. Nothing seemed to be helping and she was missing skin clear from the backs of her knees up to her mid-back area. Enough was enough. If I could spare her discomfort, I would. My fear evaporated and I allowed my mom to hire an intermediary to help me locate my birth family. Mama bear instinct reared it's head! If medical information could help us get answers faster, than that was what we needed and quick.
Ironically I did most of the research myself (I had done most of it five years earlier on a whim one day). Turns out I had quite a knack for investigative online searching. (Although in all fairness I did a stint as an Internet researcher for one of my graduate professors seeking obscure data online such as what was the preferred method to skin a deer in X year in the X area of the United States, so I had lots of practice). I handed over my findings and the intermediary attempted to contact my birth mother on my behalf. I didn't have to wait long. She called me with news within a couple of days of her first attempt at making contact.
Back down the rabbit hole....
Whatever starry eyed fantasy I may or may not have had about a potential reunion popped rather quickly. The intermediary was horrified with the response she had gotten and was reluctant to read the letter to me over the phone. The theme of the letter was anger. Fury even (although the words were meant to convey the opposite of that). Closed adoptions are meant to be closed, she was content, and that was that. Um, closed adoptions might have been true in 1976 before the advent of the home computer, but we have the Internet now. You can't hide much these days (a fact I remind my children of daily, lest my daughter get caught having to give up her dream of being president because of a posted Facebook photo of some poor decision making on a spring break trip to Cabo). I only wanted medical information and to ask some questions. There was little chance of that happening. And I really doubted she was going to give me the name of my birth father.
So, I began digging further...I was really getting good at this stuff now. However, I hit a dead end with my paternal side when I realized their surname was one of the top 30 most popular names in the U.S. No way to whittle....or was there? (Enter the scariness of what is available on the Internet). I was surfing high school yearbooks that people have scanned in from the state I was born in and found a high school year book with pictures taken the year I was born. I then used the data I had from my adoption records and abracadabra, I narrowed my search down to two families. Eventually with some more digging I had my confirmation and I sent the information to my intermediary. We were supposed to meet sometime in the next few weeks to discuss making contact. And then........
One more time down the rabbit hole....
They found me first. They were searching for me at the same time I was searching for them. And even more amazing, they are open to meeting with me and answering questions. How exciting.....and scary.....and mind blowing.
The fact remains that I still have two half-sisters out there who most likely have no idea I exist. And if I ever could, I would say to them in the event they found out about me, "I truly understand how you feel". It is shocking and overwhelming to find out something like that from your mother. It calls into question all sorts of things. I know, because I have been there myself. I too have tumbled down the rabbit hole a few times. But, the good news is, it is temporary. And in the end, I feel I know my mother better now than I ever have before. I only hope I can represent that same sense of healing to my own birth family.