I have a magical tale to tell you. It’s a birth story. We all know how much I love birth stories, but this is my most favorite of all. It’s mine.. but so much more.
I am adopted. I grew up knowing this. My brother is adopted and he came first — 7 months before me. My adoptive family received a phone call one night and they were told there was a little girl a the hospital from a surprise, private adoption situation. They said yes, on the phone, and I always joke that I was taken “sight unseen”. There are photos in my baby book of our party we had in celebration of the adoption being final. My adoptive parents never hid it or made it seem weird. We had several cousins who were also adopted. I had been told my birth parents were young and a few other details that didn’t give me any identifying information. I could write a lengthy novel about how being adopted affected me but there isn’t room for that here. For the most part it was simply a fact of my life. I never had the negative connotation that some adopted children do, but it still affects you. Every medical form I filled out in my life had a big line drawn through the family medical history section with the letters N/A (not applicable) scrawled on it. Every year on my birthday I wondered about my birth parents, specifically, my mother. Where was she? Was she thinking about me? Was she even still alive? Was she happy? Did she have other children? Did I look like her?
Every day access to the internet and my being pregnant with my own daughter coincided roughly at the same time. I found myself wondering more and more about my birth mother. When did she find out she was pregnant with me? Was she happy about it? Did she feel me moving inside her and had she had prenatal care? What were the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy — what if it had been a case of something darker than young love? Would my own daughter be born and share some characteristic or physical trait of my birth parents? Would I even know? As a child I had told myself fantastical tales that I was really a princess and had been given up for adoption to protect my identity. I told myself completely opposite tales of my mother searching endlessly for me and then switching to a story that she had moved on and never thought of me. I found myself in the early forms of forums and message boards (AOL, anyone?) and I decided to register on some national sites for adoption. On these sites you would put a few identifying details such as the hospital you were born at, a birth day, etc. The thing is, in 1972 it was not uncommon for birth certificates to have changed some of these details. I looked at the postings from birth moms looking for their children. Nothing matched. I did, however, connect online with a woman who worked in the hospital where I was born. HIPPA had not yet been signed into law. She said she would search through any records and give me what she could. She gave me a list of last names from all the births that had happened at the hospital I was born at — with a week spread of my birthday. She also gave me more information that something might be off about the details because I had been told I was born in an ER of a hospital that did not have a maternity ward and she told me there had always been a maternity ward where she worked. On a side note, I am happy to report she found the birth family she was looking for and I appreciate her doing that investigation for me even if it would now be prohibited due to HIPPA.
So I had this list of last names. What would I do with it? I would stare at it and wonder about my heritage. But I didn’t know what to do with it. Around this time I did consult with an attorney in Florida, my birth state, about having the adoption records unsealed. It’s a big investment. Financially, time and travel, and emotionally. I decided to pay instead for some “non-identifying information” in the hopes it would give me a direction to head in and some medical information. It was fairly unproductive and didn’t tell me much about either my medical history or heritage. It did confirm some of the details my adoptive family had told me. Not that they were hiding or lying anything but they only had the information given them by the attorneys or a few other involved parties and who knew if it was accurate?
My daughter was born. She looked exactly like I knew she would. She looked (and looks) just like me. I became caught up in being a new mother, beginning my doula journey, and eventually going through a divorce. My birth family did not occupy center stage in my brain any more. I changed names, I changed addresses, emails, phone numbers. I cannot remember if I went and updated any of the adoption registries. I do remember once checking out how many were now available online and finding it dismaying how many charged a fee simply to register. Maybe no one was looking for me, anyway. Maybe they didn’t even want to be found. I could respect that my existence may be a painful chapter someone wouldn’t want to open or revisit.
Years pass… I lose my adoptive grandfather to a heart attack. I see my adoptive grandmother aging. There are estrangements in other parts of our family. I begin to fear I won’t have any family. I begin to feel alone. I am not alone, of course. I still have my amazing second husband and my daughter. I am surrounded by good friends. I just feel like something is missing.
I am hired by a client to be her birth doula. She also wants a postpartum doula but due to the high number of births I attend she is concerned I won’t be able to help as much as she wants so we search for another postpartum doula for her but nothing pans out. It works out that all of my birth clients have their babies by the time she needs postpartum help. She has a Ph.D. in American Studies and Ethnicity. She writes books and lectures on African Americans seeking out their heritage and stories. In our discussions I tell her I am adopted and we speculate and joke about what my heritage may be. She asks me if I have ever done a DNA test. I say no. She asks me why not? I struggle to explain that I am not sure anyone would be happy if I was connected with them. What if they have their own family, perhaps not even telling their spouse or children? She encourages me to do one if only to find out my country of origin. Near Christmas when I am ending my work with their family she hands me a DNA test and says, “Merry Christmas.” I cry at her thoughtfulness and generosity.
I immediately do the test as soon as I get home and mail it off wondering how I can wait weeks for the results even though I have waited 40+ years for any answers. My results come back at the end of January. You receive them in an email and I am shaking so hard I can barely type to open the results. It tells me that I am mostly French Mediterranean, with a smattering of some other countries, like Germany. I am delighted by this news since France is my favorite country. I also have a ridiculous amount of DNA matches to relatives. One is extremely close of a match and says this person is a first cousin or closer. Wow! I am in shock about this. Does he know about me? How are we related? I spend many hours searching through the matches but the format is difficult for me. There are few photos of people and then it is usually very old photos. One sticks out — if I was going strictly on looks, this must be a relative of mine. I save her photo to my computer. Her name is Betty. She is deceased but is the relative of my closest DNA match. I am confused and slightly frustrated at how difficult it is for me to navigate the matches. I put it away for a bit and go on vacation with my husband and then get busy with work and life. After six weeks I open it all back up again, take a deep breath, and message my closest match. It is May 5th, 2016. My email says:
Hi there. I was gifted a DNA kit by a client of mine because she knew I was adopted. You are my closest match and while I hope I am not bothering you, I did wonder if you knew anything about my being relinquished for adoption back in October of 197- in Florida.
I would greatly appreciate any information you may have on my biological relatives and/or background.
I wake up on Sunday, May 8th. It is Mother’s Day. I feel sad for some reason. I write this post on my personal FB page:
I’m quite conflicted on Mother’s Day. I’m adopted and don’t know my bio mom. I have no relationship with my adopted mother due to many reasons…. I have felt quite motherless all my life but especially since I was 17 and moved away from my mom. I tried recently to care for her in her old age..for a few years, in fact, but tigers don’t change their stripes. All I can say though is that I see amazing mothers every day. Ones who struggle. Ones who seem to breeze by. Ones who have heartache. Ones who find the true meaning of mothering in their journey with their children… Which is how I feel about my own child.I had to wing it but I know that my child is worth more than anything. Anything. Being a mother myself…indescribable.
My husband, daughter, and I go on a wonderfully long walk with our dogs. I receive lots of loving messages, texts, etc from friends and clients. I am sweaty and happy from the physical exertion and the sentiments I have. I plop down on the couch and write a quick post thanking everyone for their love. I see a notification in the window of the DNA site and think to myself, oh, it’s probably just the staff wishing everyone a happy Mother’s Day. No. It is this email:
It turns out you are my niece. One of my sisters is your Mother.
There is more to it, his contact information, etc, to contact him off site. I make some noise although I am still unsure what it was. Derek, my husband, is in the kitchen and runs over to see what is wrong. I can only point to the screen. Derek says well email him! I email him and he gives me my birth mother’s name and a few ways to check her out online as well as a bit of family history. He is excited! I spend a few hours looking at my mother’s FB page, and her pinterest, and her Instagram.. and I am thrilled and slightly amused she has such a strong social media game. I can see she is making things public on her FB profile and assume it is so I can see it. I see that it is, indeed, Betty, who was my relative and is in fact my biological grandmother.
The following day I am at a birth. I get a notification that I have an email from my mom. I am very focused on my clients so I wait until I have just a moment to myself and scan it quickly. It will have to wait. I have waited over 40 years. I need to read it and savor it. When I am able to give it my full attention I find she has filled in so many details. All of the details I had been given were accurate, except for the hospital part. I was born at a different hospital and transferred to the hospital my birth certificate is from. She had been looking for me. Was this one detail the reason we missed each other on adoption forums? Sometimes I feel sad about it but I am so overwhelmingly happy and in awe of how we found each other that it really doesn’t matter. We have found one another. We were looking for each other, yet both in a way as to not intrude into someone’s life who may not want to be intruded upon. My friends have many questions and many are unanswered, especially in this early stage. They ask, well, didn’t you ASK HER? And I say… imagine me talking to me. It’s true. We are very alike.
Since then we have talked many times, frequently, and for hours. She will be visiting me in person soon. I have been emailed by the rest of the family and found out I have a brother and step-brother and aunts and uncles and cousins and a stepdad. We are both amazed how some saliva in a test tube brought us together. We are eternally grateful to my client who gave me the test.. In a way I can’t really describe in words. I remember my client saying if I found my birth family that she would know we were supposed to have met each other as doula and client. So you see.. this is a birth story. It’s a lot of birth stories. And as is the case with birth stories, I haven’t shared every snippet of information. Some of it is private and precious and some of it is not mine to tell, but we have the rest of our lives to cherish our magical story.
Kimberly Sebeck, Knoxville Doula, 2016