Sunday, May 07, 2006

Relationship in Reunion Research Project

These are my answers to a research project being done by Barbara Free from Operation Identity in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I will update this blog entry as I complete the questionaire which includes over 40 questions. If you are interested in participating in this research project and are a member of the triad group or connected to adoption then contact the following address: Barbara Free 1818 Somervell NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87112.

Relationship in Reunion Research Project Responses
Gwendolyn C. Natusch
1. What is your current age?

I am 46 years old and was born on a Thursday; October 8, 1959. I was adopted when I was five. Most of my life a little ditty played in my head “Thursday’s child has far to go.” Before I found any of my biological family the subject of my adoption was quietly taboo. My parents believed that my past could be prayed away and that all of the experiences I had had prior to becoming their adopted child would simply not be of importance. Their intentions were truly good. They didn’t know better, had they known better perhaps they would have made different choices. This family stance meant that my first five years of life were this mystery peppered with the ugly memories that went with them. When I was 23 it occurred to me that I did not know what day of the week I was born on. I had not had the advantage of having my birth story from my birth mother. I decided I would go to the library and search newspapers on microfiche. This was a few years before home/personal computers made the scene. I went to our library in small town Meredith, New Hampshire to begin this search. It would be the first real evidence that I was actually born. When I arrived at the library I was informed that there were no newspapers on microfiche available. We lived in a rural area and this library was my best choice. I asked what my options were for looking for information from October 1959. I didn’t tell them that I was looking for the day I was born as this would sound ridiculous and open up a conversation that would make everyone squirm. They were happy with this limited information and told me that I was welcome to go up into the library’s attic and search the newspapers compiled in bound formed large books. I was warned that it was dark and dusty in these attic eves. I agreed to go on the search. Actually, I was passionately motivated to dig through whatever I had to in order to claim this information. Up I went, climbing multiple staircases. When I got into the attic the sunlight was coming through the boards and scattering light on the dusty faded wooden floor. The books were scattered in piles willy-nilly. There was no order or reason to their placement. I rolled up my sleeves and began to paw through the books. Thirty minutes later I came upon the local newspapers 1959 bound printed news pages. I quickly looked for October 8th. My search was rewarded with the confirmation that I was indeed born on a Thursday in the year 1959. This would be my first act of reclamation of my past and my story.

2. Are you currently Married, single, divorced, or in a committed relationship?

I am currently married. I am in my 25th year of marriage and tied the knot on January 4th in 1982. I married a widower with three children ages 7, 8, and 10. I am now a proud grandmother of 5 sweet children.

3. How long have you been reunited?

In 1983 I began my search for my biological family. This search journey happened just a year after I got married. My husband questioned my desire to find my biological sister. Thus my search began. It was a 5 year process which culminated in a reunion with my biological sister and maternal grandfather, uncle, and step grandmother who knew me as a very small child. It would be another 6 years of searching and gathering identifying information that lead me to my birth mother, birth father, three half sisters, one half brother, and two uncles. The whole search and find process took ten years.

4. What is your position in the adoption triad?

I am an adoptee.

5. Did you search for the other person or did they search for you?

I was the one who began the search for my birth family. My birth father tried to find his three relinquished children for about a year after the state of Michigan took us as wards of the state due to neglect and abuse. My birth mother never tried to find us and never acknowledged our existence to anyone. My birth mother did however have an on and off again relationship with my biological sister who I was separated from for 25 years as she was adopted by our maternal grandfather.

6. Approximately how long did the search take before locating each other?

I began my search in 1983 and my search ended in 1992. I found my sister in 1987 and we were reunited within a few weeks from contact. My initial contact was the Children’s Aid Society. I made contact with the social worker who had placed me in foster homes and ultimately in my adoptive family. She refused any identifying information stating that the history of my childhood treatment stood in the way of her making that decision as she felt it would not be in my best interest. Another few years went by and I contacted the Children’s Aid Society again. The social worker, who by the way had the same last name as my biological last name, retired. (The last name piece really confused me and initially I thought my adopted mother had lied to me about my birth sir name.)It would then be my luck to contact the social worker who had replaced her. This young social worker was more than willing to help me locate my sister. In 1992 I made initial contact with both my biological mother and father. Within a few weeks we were reunited. My birth father lived only 2 hours from my biological mother. This reunion included my biological parents and half siblings.
7. Did your search involve a search intermediary, a search group, or the internet?
The reunion with my sister involved a social worker. The social worker from Children’s Aid Society called the number in my file that was my maternal grandfather’s number at the time of my sister’s adoption by him. After 25 years he still lived in the same house and had the same phone number. The social worker called him to make sure that the desire to contact was mutual. It was and I spoke to my grandfather on the phone about a week later. It was only a few weeks after that that my brother met me in Michigan from California and I flew from New Hampshire to meet my grandfather and step grandmother in Southgate, Michigan. My grandfather had wanted to adopt all three of us when we were little, but the state of Michigan wouldn’t let him based on the size of their home and the fact that they already had three children. In the end he adopted Terry my biological sister. My grandfather told us while we were with him that “all I wanted before I died was to find Danny and Gwennie.” He died less than two years after we wre reunited. He tried to bring us all together in a family reunion before he passed away, but it never happened. We did not go to his funeral. My sister Terry did. He was in his late 70s when he passed. He made many 8mm films of us when we were young and these films are squirreled away in his basement. He made a film for me complete with his own narration and background music. I think part of him lived deeply in the past. He longed for his first wife and the family that would have been together had they not divorced. He was a loving man.

The reunion with my sister happened in Las Vegas of all places. It was the most surreal experience in the most surreal location one could imagine. My brother and I called her from my grandfathers and then flew from Michigan to Nevada.

The social worker came with us to my grandfather’s to oversee the reunion. I am not really sure why she felt she needed to chaperone this event. Perhaps the Children’s Aid Society had a policy in regards to this or perhaps she was just a really caring social worker. We have her in our pictures and the video my grandfather shot. I don’t remember her name. I am sure it is in my extensive files of paperwork that I tend to be unable to really look through with any amount of total focus. It’s like going over to a compost pile that has several maggots crawling on it. You get in and you get out before anything gets too close.

We stayed for a week in Vegas. We did reunion along side of cheap buffet dinners and the sound of one arm bandits being pulled and the smell of cigarettes and booze. All of which were washed down with big crocodile tears. In a way I was really grateful that the reunion took place somewhere that was bigger than life. It was a distraction from the ripping feeling that was happening inside.

When I found my birth parents I tried for several years to piece information together with my sister and information that my grandfather had of my mother’s whereabouts. My mother was married 5 times so I tried tracking down her old husbands; the two that we were able to get names on. I had my father’s and my mother’s birth certificates, their marriage certificate, my birth certificate, and all of the court records that told of the process of my siblings and my self becoming wards of the state of Michigan. Don’t think I have read through all of them yet!

I joined an adoptee/birth mother support group. It was a lay lead group that was formed to assist in searching and finding. I was 30 years old when I had my first conversations with other adoptees. It was an amazing experience to look into the eyes of others who lived in similar life circumstances. I could speak of my experience and someone else understood. Actually just speaking out loud of my life experience without couching it, closeting it, or apologizing for it was miraculous. The group helped me gather more information, supported me through a couple of phone calls to people in my mother’s past in order to discover her address. They also supported me through the reunion and helped prepare me for the experience. I was so fortunate to have had this support. My brother nor my sister had this kind of support and this made the journey much more challenging for them.

In the end I decided that I would never be able to gather the information needed to find my birth parents. I did want to find my birth mother and eventually I wanted to find my birth father as well. I hired The National Locator out of Florida who did my search for both my bmother and bfather for $300.00. I thought it was a steal of a deal. Within two weeks of hiring them they had found both of them.
Now, as many will remember, searching and finding in the 80s and early 90s was not easy. It was totally illegal and many fought against those trying to get identifying information to adoptees and birth mothers. During the time our group was meeting a woman in Florida who was helping triad members in tremendous ways to search for identifying information. At that time shw was arrested and put in jail as a result of her attempts at obtain identifying information. I don't recall the details around this but I do remember the whole deal casting a rather dark shadow over my own search process.
The National Locator took similar risks. One of the things that they requested of those who hired them in regards to the triad search and find is that I send photos of the reunion. I indeed complied with this request. About 8 months later I received a phone call from the National Locator. They were calling in a request from Melissa Gilbert who had identified my reunion pictures and earmarked them for a book she was publishing on her own adoption story and other more politically motivated information included in the book. However, I have yet to find such a book and I fear that it was never published. If you or anyone else knows about this book I would really like to know about it.

Currently I have plans to begin a lay lead discussion group here, where I live, that continues the first group I belonged to. This search group was called Open Circle and it welcomed everyone to come from the triad. My group, which I plan on beginning in the fall, will be called Full Circle. It will focus on post reunion experiences and how individuals are integrating this experience into their lives and their sense of self.
8. Were you involved in an adoption issues support group at the time of the search? Please describe the nature of your involvement.

Yes, I was part of a support group as an adoptee and because I described this in the last question I will spare you from reading it again here. I will add that the woman who lead the group I was in during my search and find journey was actually the biological daughter of an adoptee. She began the group because she wanted to assist her mother in her search for their biologcial family members. She since has become an extremely gifted genealogist. We had an over 90% success rate in finding. The group had two birth mothers and about 8 adoptees in it. The stories we uncovered and remembered and let rise again to our consciousness were quite breath taking, sad, and full of longing.

9. Are you currently involved in an adoption issue support group at the time of the search? Please describe the nature of your involvement.
I was involved in a triad support group called Open Circle. The group was comprised of adoptees and bith or first mothers. In the next few weeks I will begin a discussion group for first mothers and adoptees and will act as facilitator. There is a triad group already where I live, but it is comprised of adoptive parents and I do not feel comfortable attending this meeting. I have been asked on more than one occasion to speak at this meeting.

10. Have you been involved in any professional therapy prior to the search, during the search, or since the reunion? Do you feel your therapist had an understanding of lifelong adoption issues?
I have been involved in some kind of therapy since I was 27 years old. I also had a brief connection with a counselor when I was 13. The therapies that I have been involved with include: sexual abuse group counseling, one-on-one therapy for over 18 years, adoption support group, healing weekends/workshops on many different topics of self help and healing, sand tray therapy, acupuncture, massage, and chiropractor therapy to assist with physical aspects of my emotional life, shamanic drumming meditation groups based on the work of Michael Harner, hypnosis, and biblio-therapy in the self-help and spirituality genre. My therapists have been very good. One was a grief counselor and was an expert in this field. She was extremely helpful to me. My current counselor is an adoptive parent and we are working quite well together. I did have a therapist for several years who didn’t know about adoption issues and it was not a completely successful working relationship. I always felt she somehow missed the heart of my needs. However we were able to do some important work around my career and work goals and personal growth in the work place. I have also worked with a shaman (Foster Perry)
for 8 years and also an intuitive that has shed much light on issues needing to be healed. The work of Michael Newton has influenced me greatly and I have had life between lives sessions that have also shed light on healing in my life. Most currently I attended Joe Soll’s Healing Weekend for adoptees and first/birth moms.

11. At the time of relinquishment, what was the age of the birth mother? What was the age of the birth father?
They were both in their mid to late 20s.

12. If you are an adoptee, at what age were you adopted? Were you in foster care before being adopted?
I was adopted at the age of 5. Between ages 0 to 5 I had (including my adoption placement) 31 different placements from mother, to father, to aunts and uncles, to foster homes, and orphanages.

13. If you are an adoptive parent, what age were you when you adopted? What was the age of your spouse or partner at the time?

14. If You are an adoptive parent, do you have other adopted sons or daughters or offspring to whom you gave birth?

15. If you are an adoptee, do you have siblings with who you were raised? Are they also adopted, or your adoptive parents’ birth children? Please explain clearly.
I was adopted with my biological brother who was 18 months older than I was. I was 5 and he was 6+ when we were adopted together from the Children’s Aide Society in 1964. Our original birth family consisted of three full blooded siblings…me, my brother, and my sister (she was the oldest and I was the youngest of my first family). When I was adopted my adoptive parents had three birth daughters. They were 10 to 12 years our seniors and were in high school and off at college when we came to live with our adoptive parents.

16. If you are a birth parent, did you have other offspring, before or after you relinquished? Did you adopt any children, or have any stepchildren? Please feel free to explain.
As an adoptee who knows my birth parents history I will relay what I have heard from my birth parents and what I know of their marriage/family history.
My birth mother…who has passed:
She had several marriages and one miscarriage after she relinquished her three children. She kept us all, but my sister Terry, a secret.
My birth father…who is still living and is in his late 60s:
My father remarried right away after relinquishment and had four more children. He divorced this wife years later and remarried a woman who was a birth mother who had relinquished and found her birth son. My father was a stepfather when his wife’s children were older so he never took an active role as a father figure. He is still married to this third wife.

17. If you are the person who searched, how long did you contemplate searching before you actually started?
Not long. My husband asked me, after my adoptive mother told me that I had a birth sister (which I knew all along…but had never felt allowed to talk about her) which my adoptive mother thought was a big revealing. After she told me this I felt that I had permission of sorts to search for my sister and began searching within a couple of weeks. My search was halted by the social worker at the Children’s Aide Society who had been my social worker at the time of my relinquishment and adoption. She had known me since I was an infant. She refused to give me any information saying that it was a protection of me and my brother not to know or connect with my birth family in any way.

18. What was your primary motivation in wanting to search?
At first is was to find my sister. I was a newly married wife with three instant step children ages 7 to 10. My mind wasn’t really focused on searching. I made the first contact because I thought it might be interesting to find my sister. Later, when I began searching more seriously it was to know my roots and to uncover the mystery of the first five years of my life and become more whole. It was to fill in the missing pieces of my history. It wasn’t until later that I began to want to see my mother’s face and even later before I even contemplated the idea that I could or would search for my father. I attended an adoption triad support group, did some reading, and was very into self healing and growth and searching and finding was a logical thing to do given my stance towards life.

19. Until recently, many states required a “good cause” such as needing medical information in order to allow a person to search legally for a birth parent or relinquished offspring. Was this a factor in your search or not?
I suppose it was to a degree. The aspect of not being allowed my personal and historical information made it more secretive and dark and it supported my adoptive parents desire to keep it under the rug as it wasn’t really that important to who I was as their child. The triad support group I was in in 1989 to 1991 talked a lot about the “illegal” aspect of gaining and obtaining information. Some activists in the political arena for unlocking adoptee information were arrested during these years and this certainly placed a dark atmosphere around searching and obtaining information. In the end I hired the National Locator to find my parents. This took a lot of the angst or search secret out of the final stages of search for me. I was able to obtain a lot of information though throughout the ten years that I searched. I got my father’s birth certificate and my mother’s as well as their marriage certificate. When I contacted the Children’s Aide Society in 1987 to attempt once again to find my sister my social worker has retired and a new young social worker had taken her place. She was gung ho for me to connect with my sister and open doors within two weeks of our initial contact with each other. Having a sibling search made all the difference for me as my birth sister was adopted by my maternal grandfather and had known my birth mother off and on during her life. My sister had a lot of knowledge accept where our birth parents were at that time. The courts gave me all the documents that told of the relinquishment and attempt at kinship adoption for us. Of course all of the identifying information was blacked out with a big black marker. The courthouse told us that I was lucky to have gotten this information as they were scheduled to destroy these old space taking documents. It is similar to today’s threat of electric document keeping which will destroy these important original documents so wanted and needed by adoptees and birth parents. I guess most of my search was done outside of the regular search via documents mode. After I got married I wrote for my birth certificate using my married name and requesting the document in my birth name. I got it no problem and have done it a couple of times since then. I have also written with my married name and requested my adoption birth certificate which was amended in 1964. I have had no problem looping through the system in this way.

20. What kinds of expectations, hopes, fantasies or plans did you have before, during, and after the search?
This is quite a complicated question to answer, but I will give it my best shot. I was adopted at 5 so I remember my mother; not in detail parse, but I remember her blond hair and I have memories of being with her…some good and some really horrific. When I searched I knew that I was going to find someone who most likely was broken to some degree. My sister had filled me in on her life and some of my father’s life as well from her memories. She held and holds a lot of memories from our past. When I was a child I never fantasized about finding the perfect mother. I knew that my adoptive home was a safe haven and that it was indeed very much improved from the chaotic and abusive care taking or lack of care taking environment found with my birth mother and father. I still longed to meet my mother and to look into her face. My sister had pictures of our mother and father. I was an almost exact copy of my mother only she had blond and I had brown hair. This made me very curious. I was reading recently about how adoptees who are adopted at older ages sometimes make contracts to find their birth siblings or birth family. This was totally true for me. I had an internal drive that was very passionate and powerful to pull my original birth family back together. In fact I believe that I married a widower with three children due to this unconscious contract that I had made to myself as a child. This drive to reunite my family was the fuel that pushed the finding and reuniting of my birth family. I didn’t care about medical records nor did I care about having a close relationship with any of my birth family at the time of search. All I thought about was pulling us all together and finding them. My search took 10 years so the search motivation took different shapes at different times and it was a slow, thank goodness, process.

21. If you are the one searched for and found, did you ever contemplate searching? What were your reasons for wanting to or not wanting to? What were your own hopes, fantasies, or expectations concerning the other person prior to your being contacted? Please answer these questions in some depth, using the back if needed.

22. If you are an adoptive parent, what were your thoughts concerning search and reunion? What were your expectations, hopes, fears or fantasies regarding the birth parents? What information regarding the birth parents did you have prior to reunion? Pleas answer in as much detail as you wish.

23. Please describe as accurately as you can remember what it was like at the time of initial reunion and shortly after, for you, for the others involved (as far as you know), and for other family members, such as spouse, siblings, parents?
In 1987 When I met my sister, grandfather, step grandmother (who knew me as a child), half uncle and some older relatives (all on my maternal side) it was joyous and lacked any emotional angst. I actually hadn’t seen my brother in a few years so in a way it was a reunion with him as well. We met my grandfather and extended relatives in Michigan (the state that held us as wards) and spoke to my biological sister via the phone from there. We, my brother and I, then flew to Las Vegas which is where my sister was living at the time. It was exciting. When we reunited we instantly contacted newspapers and the local news stations. We felt that we wanted other people to be aware of reunions such as ours and we also wanted to use the media as a means to find our birth father. Being in Vegas made the whole experience really surreal. It was in the conversations that we had that brought up more questions of who am I and who are my birth parents.

Quite honestly I hadn’t really had those thoughts until I actually met my birth sister and she shared memories. It was the hearing and recalling memories that made life difficult for me following the reunion. I felt that with the truth came the pain of childhood and so I did indeed feel new feelings. In my life personally I felt fairly lost in general and the challenge that came with being a stepmother at such a young age took a lot of my focus. My sister and I kept in touch, but it was at a distance as I lived in New England. We wrote letters and spoke on the phone now and again. She was busy with my brother who had packed up all of his things and moved in with her. My brother was challenged with mental illness and his life had been in turmoil always. He was desperately looking for family and belonging and felt that he could find it with my sister. It all took a really bad turn and it threw my brother into a deeper state of drug addiction and illegal behavior. She asked him to move out and he did and after that is when he went down hill. There was little I could do about the situation except fret and pray. With my brother taking all of the focus because of his great need I fell into the background and I guess was contented by sporadic contact from my sister.

My grandfather however was very thrilled to have found us and said, “All I wanted before I die was to find Danny and Gwennie,” and 18 months after our reunion he did indeed pass on. Before he did however he was able to make a video from his 8mm films of us when we were little. He narrated them through the haze of beer and elevator music. It broke my heart as he too had been fragmented by the loss of us and with his experiences from WWII he suffered greatly from depression in his life. He also wanted us to have a reunion again with him and that never did happen. I think the story of his daughter and the loss of his grandchildren really did break his heart. He was the one who wanted to adopt all of us, as it says in the court records and as he tells the story, but the courts wouldn’t allow him to because he had three children and his home wasn’t large enough to accommodate three more. Thus, he only adopted my sister. There is a sad and tragic love story that goes along with my grandfather and my grandmother as well. Again, trauma, poverty, and the strictness of the times played a large role in the disruption of the families from my mother’s side.

During the time I was at my grandfather’s home for the reunion the social worker came with us at the beginning. She was very involved and excited about our reunion. She was very kind. Other relatives came to meet us. They were very different. Most of my relatives on my mum’s side are from Alabama. I have always adored southern cooking which has never made sense to my middle American palate. Lima beans, corn bread, grits, sausage gravy, black eyed peas, collard greens, and coleslaw are my favorite foods. On both of my parents side there is Native American blood and more specifically Cherokee from both sides. I have never searched for this part of my heritage. I am not sure how and I sense that there are no records to be found and it feels like too much to take on and perhaps I have all the answers I can deal with in this life time. The southern connection is very deep in my genes, I guess is my point. This spring my sister has asked me to come to Alabama, which is where she lives now, and meet the remaining relatives who are quite old. We are going to do a family pilgrimage of sorts I suppose and I look forward to being with her and rediscovering my family. Perhaps now that I am through the emotional veils of my search and find experience I can be open to enjoying the process from a strong place.

The reunion with my mother and father happened within a 10 day period. It was 4 years after my reunion with my sister and my mother’s family. They lived two hours away from each other. We met our father first. It was totally nerve wracking. Dan, Terry, and myself all flew in from different places and met at the airport first before we met our father and his wife. We planned this so we could all connect and muster courage together. I wrote to my birth parents first and Terry did as well. My brother didn’t. I, as I have said, had been preparing for this find for a few years and had long attended a triad support group. I spoke with both my mother and my father on the phone before meeting them and exchanged letters before the phone calls. Once I got the addresses from the National Locator is would be 4 weeks in between meeting them and getting their locations. During that time I lost 15 pounds. I was scared. We were all scared. We had a great reunion with our father. However, his wife, who was a birth mother who relinquished her son and found him, wasn’t quite comfortable with the whole thing. Most of our reunion was spent drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes at a local Denny’s or Wendy’s. My father’s wife didn’t want us in the house. Near the end of that week…she loosened up a little bit and we were able to visit in the house. We kids shared a hotel room during the visit. We met our 4 half siblings; three girls and one boy. They, too, suffered from the loss of our father through divorce. But to my father’s credit he did not keep us a secret. My half siblings were all aware of our existence and each year my father would put our birthdays on the calendar. They told us that they wanted to find us, but never had. My father told us that he had tried to find us but couldn’t and when he found out that we had been adopted he discontinued searching and went on with his life.

I clicked immediately with my half brother and one of my half sisters in particular. My birth sister Terry became very agitated with me during our reunion with them. She said some very horrible things about me to me and to my newly found family members. On our last night with our father we all gathered in the home of my half brother. All seven of my father’s children were under one roof. We all desperately loved and needed him and I wondered what that must feel like for him…if it must be overwhelming to contemplate trying to meet the needs of all the faces in that room. I knew that I would have to take my proper place and that I would need to share my love with him with low expectations. It was an amazing evening. My brother and my half brother connected as well. The trouble was Dan was still looking for connection and immediately moved in with my half brother and his wife and two children. His mental illness kicked in big time as all of these past hurts, memories, and relationships were brought to the forefront. In the end my brother and half brother parted ways in a very ugly manner. It ended any potential I might have to connect with my half brother. Add that to all that my sister had said to me in her exaggerated and needy state my opportunity was killed for connecting with this part of my family. Gosh, it hurts as I write this quite a bit. Loss. To find is to find loss for me. Finding has never brought full joy. Finding has never been about having or building a relationship with anyone from my birth family. Distance and hurt has taken much of those hoped for opportunities. When I returned from this reunion I received a letters just a few days following from my birth sister Terry. It was 12 pages. My husband opened the letter before me and read it. He tore the letter up before I could read it. He said that it was a letter full of ugly and hurtful words and that he wanted to protect me from ever having to read such a thing. I am forever grateful for this act on my behalf. After the reunion I recognized that I was the only one really prepared for this challenging journey just following reunion. I watched those that I had found and those that I loved move through tremendous pain…tremendous. I wanted to be there for them…to listen…to soothe…to connect with and to assist in healing. Looking back I realized that I put my own pain and need into the background and into a very private and personal place. I felt isolated and unheard. My support group had dismantled and I had no therapeutic assistance through the next 18 months post reunion. I swam in a sea of nightmare emotions. After returning from Michigan I remember the return trip I cried the whole way. I couldn’t turn the tears off much to my humiliation. When I got home I lay in bed for 4 hours crying and crying with my husband sitting beside me. A year after my reunion my marriage fell apart. My kids had left home to go to school and to start their lives. We were building a new house. I felt totally lost. It would be two years of putting myself back together like a broken glass. It was a process of finding all of the pieces of myself and rebuilding my identity. During these two years I started painting, writing, and acting again. I reconnected with the loves from my teenage years. I wrote a play and produced and directed it. I painted and began acting. I wrote poetry like mad. My creative self came pouring out as if in a rebirth and in this creativity was an emotional madness. I had been diagnosed as bi-polar…like my mother…like my brother. I would live life as a bi-polar out of control person for the following 6 years. My life was an emotional yo-yo. My kids had left home which left me feeling abandoned and as a failure as a mother. I felt that healing my stepfamily was hopeless and I lived in severe guilt. I felt that once again I had been abandoned by my family who I loved so tenderly. I cried to the heavens, “All I
want to do is love them…why won’t you let me love them?” It was a mantra of loss. Through lots of therapy, art, time, emotional emoting, wrestling and defeating my demons, I have come full circle. I no longer need to “be” a bi-polar person. I have struggled and worked hard to integrate and heal. I have come a long way and now 15 years post reunion I am more whole than I ever dreamed possible. I am no longer the victim inside myself. I have learned there are a myriad number of ways to love someone and that the opportunities for healing are infinite. I have found, discovered, explored, and claimed my self as an individual…as a whole person…who happens also to be adopted. And here they are…those tears that come whenever I dip into this place. The longing for love and family and knowing that counting what I do have is ever important; how easily it can be to get lost in this sea of loss that swills itself up to the edges of my life.

I’ve never written about my post reunion experiences in such a holistic manner as I am doing in this research questionnaire. In fact it is only in the last year or so that I have recognized that speaking of and writing about this experience is a blind spot for me. In one of my classes in my maters’ of social work program on trauma I was asked to do a difficult project. The assignment was to write a clinical assessment and create a treatment program from a character in a movie. The character and the story were all about a young man searching for his birth mother and his finding her. Long story short…I was so completely un-expectant of such a task that it hit me like a ton of bricks. How could I write this for this man in a movie when it is the unconscious and untold story of my life. I was hit hard emotionally and from this experience realized that I needed to see this part of my life and not continue to be blind from it. So, I began to look at my reunion experiences slowly. I began with my art…that non-verbal…non-threatening medium which helps me so often prepare for the unconscious content of my soul to become conscious. I am committed to being completely aware of the story and listening for the healing that comes from this stance.

My reunion with my birth mother was different than that with my birth father. We three birth siblings didn’t really want to leave my father and extended our stay with him for two days. My birth mother had been cleaning and cooking for our preparation and this delay made things painful for her. In retrospect I see that she had a lot invested in our arrival and the cooking and cleaning and preparing was a way for her to connect and love her. Our tardiness took this away from her and it hurt her. But, our hurt from the past made connecting with her difficult and we had to muster our courage. Me and my siblings began to band together in a different way with the meeting of our mother on the horizon. We began to feel giddy, silly, and connected deeply as if in preparation for the need of each other. As children we had faced many abuses and neglect together and I think that we traveled back into our memory banks and brought forth those feelings and positions as we headed to once again meet the loving mother and the monster of mental illness that over took her in our childhood. I remember arriving at her house. It was dark and she lived in a small town in a closely built up neighborhood. We tried to peek in the
windows to see if we could see her first through the lit pane. We giggled and laughed outside like small children being naughty. We went to the door and there she was. The strange thing was that I had dreamed of my mother many times in my life and what has always been striking in these dreams was her eyes. When I looked into her face…my stomach almost brought up the contents of our dinner…because they were the VERY eyes that I had seen all those years in my dreams and they were eyes that scared the hell out of me. My mother set us all up in the living room of the small house that they lived in and the three of us banded together in pjs and blankets. My mother had sewn matching pajamas for my sister and I to wear when we arrived and we had donned these for her feeling silly and strange. Who the hell was this woman I thought? Her food was greasy, her smell was strange, and her home was tattered and bare.

We woke the next morning after falling asleep late from whispering and giggling through our fears and our impressions. When our mother got up and greeted us that morning she raged at us. Mostly at me as I was the only one who looked her in the face as she yelled out her pain of our lateness in timing our visit to her home and how she was hurt by this. She then said, “Look at the three of you, you are all taking the same roles you did when you were young!” My mother and my two siblings were all born again Christians and I was what was referred to at that time as a New Ager. They all told me I was going to hell and that they would pray for me. How I got through those five days I don’t know. When I got home I became very ill from the flu and remained in bed for two weeks. I always stayed connected to my mother through letters until she died. I somehow understood her and that she suffered from pain and mental illness. When she died almost two years ago I had gotten to a place where I had begun to more actively reach out to her and was beginning to plan a visit to see her. Before she died she was put on life support. The hospital petitioned us to sign the removal of life support for her. It was a difficult decision, but one we felt was best. 8 hours after being removed from life support Sandra Estes Lumley passed away. Before she died, my sister sitting beside her, said: “You can go now mom, Danny and Gwennie and I all forgive you. You need to forgive yourself and go in peace knowing that we love you.” About 10 minutes later she died and I am left wondering why I didn’t reach out to her sooner…why I didn’t feel safe enough sooner…if I could only have connected with her one more time…because what is more everlasting and stronger than any emotion I have ever had in my life…is this love for my mother. I remember hearing a story of a mother who set her child on fire and from amidst the flames burning that child they called out “mommy”. It is this that is true for me…that no matter what the depth of loss, hurt, pain or neglect that she inflicted…I loved her down to the fibers of my very cells. She is my birthing self…she is the core of my beginning…she is the love of my life. I have learned other kinds of love but there is no love like that which I have for my mother. Why this is true I have no idea whatsoever, but this is my truth.

After our reunion my brother once again moved in with another found birth family member…this time my mother. It was a hellacious experience for both of them which ended badly and in trauma. My brother would go out into the world missing for the next 7 years. He once called me five years into his missing time and told me that he had lived in various states and was now part of a traveling carnival. How strange this was for me to hear and how my very bones ached from the pain of it. For I knew that he was lost in a sea of loss and pain and so far into it that he might possibly never return. There was little I could do for him except fret and pray.

Today I write to my birth father several times a year. My husband and I have gone and visited with them in their home one Thanksgiving. He has visited me once. We never talk on the phone. But we write very heartfelt letters. He is still part of my dream world and I love him very dearly.

My sister is a grandmother like me and lives in Alabama. We talk a couple of times a year on the phone and write an occasional letter. We plan, as I wrote before, to visit this spring. I have been to visit her one other time in Alabama. She has never been to my home nor has she met any of my family. Maybe one day this will change.

My husband never took part in any of my reunions. I had my siblings and we worked hard for many years to get to a place where financial freedom was in our favor. Paying for two airline tickets back then just wasn’t within our means. He has been, however, an emotional life saver. Our marriage has been through some really rocky places as I have struggled to heal and to integrate into a more whole individual. My process has supported his healing as well. We are on the other side of that now and enjoying the joy and love that comes from moving out of the dark places and into the light.

24. How did the reality of early reunion compare with your hopes or fears?
My father was a big surprise. I realized that the love that he offered me as a child was quite wonderful and soft. It was this love that became a huge protective factor in my life and because I had this love from him as my father I think I was able to choose a life partner and know what love really feels like and how it is supposed to feel. I am ever grateful for this gift from my father. I wasn’t aware of this until after I met him and recalled memories and knew him in person as an adult. I found out after meeting my father that he had a passion for theatre. He has starred in a B rated movie and one of his life dreams was to open a community theatre in his town. These has also been my passions…although I had not been in a movie, but had taught children’s theatre for years, had become a professional costume designer, playwright, and actor.
My mother was all that I had expected. She no longer looked like me as I had only seen picture of her as a woman in her 20s. So, this was interesting to find that I was picturing her always as this young woman and found her as a woman in her mid 50s. I didn’t expect to find that she sewed, did crafts, was an artist, and a writer like myself. She had won awards for her writing. In fact there were so many things that she did that were like me that it gave me the chills. She sent me a lot of her writing. I have never read these. I can’t as it is too much for me to go into her psyche through her writing.

As a side note: I am also very like my adoptive family who come from a long line of teachers. I became an early education teacher after trying to obtain an education in the arts (fashion and graphic arts…I got an associates in the first and completed only one year of course work as a graphic artist). I then went on to get a master’s in education and most of my professional career has been in the field of special education. Now in my late 40s my life is about being the artist again. What I find interesting is that I developed both parts of myself…both my biological or genetic predisposition/talents and those that I was taught to value in my adoptive home; teaching, education, and intellect. I have always had two careers going…one in the arts which I could never really make enough money at and that in the educational system. I have worked very hard in my life…and in my mid 40s burned out completely…couldn’t keep the pace anymore…had to stop…start living by my own internal passions…and don the authentic me in every aspect. This is the road I am currently on. The development of two selves, as Betty Jean speaks of so eloquently, really has been my reality, my world. I wonder how life would have felt if I didn’t have this need to be two identities…that of the adopted child and that of the birth child. Would life have felt more easeful…would I have been less driven…would I have learned more and gotten more relational experiences and thus more mutuality in my life interacting more within relationship instead of accomplishment? I know that part of me has been really tired for a long time and that I am only now recovering fully in regards to energy as I find myself in a more whole state and the ability to be authentic as I become fully integrated. All aspects of my life coming into view through one lens: mine.

25. Prior to search or being found, what kinds of people had you told about your relinquishment or adoption? Did you disclose different amounts of information at different ages? Who usually initiated the conversation?
Talk about my adoption as a child was always initiated by my parents after the first year I was adopted. That first year I would talk about it until I realized that it wasn’t a conversation that was wanted. When my parents would talk about it it was usually when I was introduced to one of their friends or business acquaintances. I remember once someone saying how much I looked like my adoptive dad, my mother didn’t say anything at that time to the person about my being adopted, she just looked over at me and smiled as if to say…wow…aren’t we pulling one over on them! Part of me felt so proud that they thought I looked like my dad even though it was only a load of crap.

In high school I found out that the girl that I was best friends with was also adopted. It was so thrilling to find this out. I talked with her at length that night on the stairwell of our dormitory. The following day I was called to the head mistresses office. She told me that I had scared my friend so badly that she had called her mother hysterically the following day. I was ordered never to talk about it again. I never did.

When I was in college I drank too much one night. I was not a drinker and so was inexperienced and drank too much wine playing cards with friends. I went into a black out. My friends told me the next day that all I did was cry and talk about my birth family and adoption. I have not memory of this, but it struck me quite profoundly.

I talked about my adoption with my husband and shared this part of my history formally with my children (my stepchildren…I feel that they are my children).

Then in my late 20s I got into therapy and it was all about adoption. From there I understood that I was on a journey of self reclamation and that uncovering these lost years and my lost story was vital to my life and my life satisfaction.

Now, I talk about it a lot…read about it…write about it…understand it more than I ever have in my life. I know that being adopted doesn’t define who I am…it is only part of me and it is a part that I can join with the other parts. For so many years I was a compartmentalized person. When I was in the theatre I was one person…many of my friends there didn’t even know I was married…and when at school I was another person…and when I was socializing I was yet another person…and on an don and on…Now I am all of these things in one presentation…no longer compartmentalized…I claim all of who I am…and as a whole person I have many aspects that are all out in the open…I am artist, teacher, mother, sister, wife, daughter, adoptee, writer, social worker, and more. Being adopted is not the primary focus…I have claimed my humanity…my human-ness…I have claimed myself and I am more than this one story in my life. Adoption is a part of my story it has colored other parts of my story…but I am not limited to this historical story any more than I am limited to a diagnosis of any kind. I am what I believe Alice Miller called: “One of the possibility people”. We all have this choice to make in our lives…be the possibility…

26. If you are an adoptive parent, at what age did you tell your son or daughter about their adoption? Did you disclose different amounts of information at different ages? Who usually initiated the conversation?

27. If you are an adoptee, at what age were you told about your adoption? Do you remember this or was it before you can remember? Were you given more information as time went on? Who usually initiated the conversation?
I’ve answered this in question number 25 I believe. I always knew that I was adopted. I was given more information when I was in my early 20s. In fact my mother gave me my birth sir name then. It happened to be the same sir name that my social worker had…don’t think we are related…never asked that question…but I tend to think that we aren’t as it would have been unethical for her to work with me as a social worker…however in the arena of adoption back then…who knows…actually I have no desire to go down that road.

28. If you are a birth parent, did you discuss your relinquishment with a subsequent spouse or partner, or with offspring? How much information did you have about your child and or the adoptive parents? Did you have any further contact with the other birth parent?

29. Following the initial reunion was there a search for other birth parent or other family members?
My reunion took place over a ten year period and for this I am entirely grateful. After each reunion or found piece of information I needed time to reflect deal with emotions that came with it and to find my equilibrium again. Taking it slow, I believe, kept me from shattering my psyche. Through the use of art, poetry, and therapy I was able to take the search steps over time with success that built a stronger sense of self, an ability to develop skills to be present in my relationships, time to grieve losses, time to heal past trauma, and to integrate new truths that inevitably come with reunion.

30. Since the reunion began, how has the relationship between birth parent and offspring developed? How much contact is there currently and how would you describe the relationship at this time.
This has been answered previously and I will spare you the reading of repeated information!

31. How did the reunion affect the relationship between adoptee and adoptive parents?
Greatly. The first thing that I realized is that a lot of my dissatisfaction and anger towards my adoptive parents had its roots in my birth family. Once I understood this I was able to let go of some of those hurts and pains and place them where they belonged: with my birth family. This cleared a pathway for me to connect and love my adopted parents more wholly and in a cleaner more mature fashion. Life too is a great teacher and as I learned of the challenges, joys, hopes and fears of being a parent…I began to understand some of the choices and stances my adopted parents had. Even though my adopted parents never were fully on the trolley ride with me during my reunion as I didn’t tell them until after I found…they did want to know…a little. My adopted mother told me that she was hurt that I kept the search a secret and when she told me this I was able to share with her that I never believed that she would want to know as the past and those missing five years was a subject she never really wanted brought up. She was silent after I said that. A local paper did a human interest story on me after my reunion with my birth family. She read the article and we looked at my reunion photos together. She will often ask how my sister is doing and feels she played an important role in this reunion…which she did really. She is in her late 80s now and sometimes she feigns interest in this part of my life in regards to my birth parents. I don’t keep any secrets from her now although I respect the fact that it can be uncomfortable for her to talk of these things…and so I let her lead the way and I don’ t push it with her…I have no need to. She has expressed to me that she wishes that she had done things differently and that she feels she was a failure as a mother in some ways. Actually overall she was a wonderful mother…better than what was birthed to me…and for this I am entirely and completely grateful for…none of us get to choose our parents…and they create for us the friction that will energize our lives if we let it. I embrace her in all of her humanness just as I pray that my own children will find that same empathetic compassion for me as their mother. And I realize from this vantage point…as I see my adoptive parents influence on who I am as a woman in the world…connected to how my children are in the world…and I see connections for the first time…I see the chain…I see that I am a link in that chain…no longer on the dusty floor…but perched in between those that I love and those that have embraced me…through history…through choice…through love…and we have helped to build each other into who we are…and this is building who are grandchildren are…I have found a place in history…my history…linked forever…with my families history and I see my place in it because I see my influence in it…both the good and the bad…and I am no longer lost.

I could never have had this had I not searched…had my adoptive parents never acknowledged my search and find…never embraced my whole story.

32. How did the reunion affect other family relationships with spouses, parents, extended family?
My reunion is connected to my coming fully present into my own life. My fantasy world and my real world merged into one. It wasn’t uncommon for my children and husband to call me two or three times before I would come out of my thoughts and respond to them. I think the need to operate in this mode was resolved after my reunion. I had the truth and fantasy was no longer needed to attend to my internal dilemma around my issues with my past and unknowns. I can love more deeply, stand more courageously in who I am, and I have learned to self soothe and as a result to not demand this from those I love. I live now from an internal place instead of an external one where the world and those in it were required to validate my existence. I am validated by my own sense of self and so I can interact with those in my life from an authentic place and not from a wound or a need or a fear or an emotion. I am not driven by my own needs…I can step back and see the other person…and not lose myself in the process and as a result not feel as alone or isolated or fearful of abandonment by them.

My birth family relationships are still a little distant and if I lived nearer to them this might be different. But I am content with this because I know that I am empowered to shift this if I feel the need to or am asked to do so. It is not the quantity of time that defines a relationship but the quality and it has always been at the forefront of my mind and in my actions to maintain my own dignity and a high quality of interaction…working on my own issues so as to interact with my birth family in ways that are not damaging and do not contribute to the challenge of the whole bundle of hurtles that come with this experience.

33. Do the adoptive parents and birth parents have contact with each other?
No..never have and I doubt that they ever will. If I was younger this might be a potential, but at 47 there is no need really. If either set of parents felt that they needed some sort of closure or healing through a connection like this I would be there to assist in making it possible, but I doubt that that will ever happen and that is all right.

34. Sometimes a search results in learning that the person being sought is deceased. If that was your situation, did you go on to search for other family members? Please elaborate.

35. Some observers see a pattern to reunions, with a honeymoon period first followed by some conflict or reduction in contact or a leveling off of intensity. Others see no particular patterns, but do observe changes over time. Please describe your own reunion relationship in this regard.
For me there was a honeymoon period with my father and none with my mother. There was a reduction in contact after the first couple of years. There was never any major conflict in my experience with my birth parents…but a lot of that in my brother and my sister’s experience. I attribute this to the fact that I had counseling and they didn’t and that I was in a triad support group for a while before reunion. Although my first reunion with my sister I didn’t have either of these and had no conflict, but my sister and brother did. Over the years I have maintained a constant contact with my birth sister, mother and father. Not so with my half siblings. Some of these family members have passed, but most of us have just gotten on with our lives raising children and working our jobs. Living in different states has influenced the frequency of contact quite a bit. I know if I lived near my sister I would absolutely love it and we would have a close relationship and I think this would be true of my father as well. I don’t think this would have been true with my mother due to her mental illness.

36. What are your hopes, expectations, or fears regarding the future of your relationships in reunion?
This fall my birth father’s brother died. I met him a few years ago and his children…my cousins…my Uncle Bill took care of us when we were very little. He never took an interest in my after the reunion despite my letters and Christmas cards. My birth father was quite sad about this loss as Uncle Bill really raised him. Their parents both died at young ages. My father didn’t tell me of his passing until almost three months after he passed. He told me in a letter that included a DVD of the funeral. I viewed the funeral which shared more of my own history through the story of Bill’s life. At the end of the video was a group picture of Uncle Bill, his children, and their children. It was a very large group photo. I recognized the faces, the hair color, the smiles as mine. I broke down in a puddle of tears…for there before me was my clan…and I had never known them…I had never been claimed by them…and I find this to be true in all of my families…each and every one…to a degree…I am connected through history, love, and choice…but in regards to clan…and as the Cherokee…it is a profound realization to know that at some level I will always be on the outside. It is this that I am fearful of because of the pain that always comes with it when it sits in my mind. Mostly I know that I am connected…and the photo was proof of that…but the loss of one’s clan leaves a scar…a scar that remains forever.

37. What do you wish you had known before reunion, whether you were the searcher or the one being sought?
That it was going to be so painful and that I would be so lost as I learned to “compose” myself. I would have sought therapy specifically for myself to act as a net to catch me so that I wouldn’t of had to act out and heal on my own. It would have saved me from creating additional wounds for my family and myself.

38. Since reunion have you told your story to more people such as friends, coworkers, or others who have adoption connections?
Yes, telling my story has been the balm and the thread to healing and the development of a solid sense of self.

39. If you are an adoptive parent, what additional kinds of help or support would you have wanted throughout your adoptee’s life and in connection with the reunion?

40. Are there any other aspects of reunion that you would like the researchers to know about? Please give us any additional thoughts, feelings, or observations you may have.
Not at this time.

41. Were there any ethnic or cultural aspects to your adoption or reunion situation that you feel are significant? Please explain.


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