Friday, August 29, 2008

The Same Smile, and my search

I just finished reading Susan Souza's book "The Same Smile", her touching story of unexpected teenage pregnancy, reluctant relinquishment forced by her parents, and 30 years of longing for that lost child. It is an all too common story, one that I once believed would apply to my mother. I had always imagined her to be some lovestruck teen who let her emotions, and hormones, get the best of her. I pictured the awful admission to the horrified parents, the middle-of-the-night trip to the "unwed mothers' home", the incredible sadness and guilt at leaving her child behind, told that she can never see her child again...

I remember pondering these things as a young child of around five years old. I don't know where I came up with these ideas at such a young age, probably just the natural extension of what I was told by my adoptive mother when I asked where I had come from. She never said much, just something like "your mother couldn't take care of you so she gave you up", so I was left to my imagination. It was around that age that I quit asking altogether, having learned that no information would be made available if it was even known and realizing that this line of questioning made my mother visibly upset. In my mind, I pictured my "real" mother as that lovestruck teenager, someone just like Susan. Someone incredibly sad about losing her son. Someone who would get herself set up properly and return for me. In my child's mind, I pictured this taking months, maybe a couple of years. Certainly five was enough and I spent many, many hours just sitting out on the front lawn watching everyone who drove by, making sure they saw me, waiting for my mother to come back for me. Only once do I remember my adoptive mother asking me why I spent the entire Saturday in front of the house instead of playing in the back yards with the neighborhood kids. I already knew not to tell the truth and invented some fib, I don't remember what it was but it sufficed.

I kept up the watching and displaying for a few years. Slowly and painfully I realized that I was, indeed, left for good and I had better get used to it. I firmly believe that realization caused a true depression. My adoptive parents couldn't have been more delighted. I went from being full of energy and enthusiasm ("high-strung") to sullen and withdrawn ("manageable, well-behaved"). They attributed it to the thyroid medications they had convinced the doctor I needed "due to my too-slender build" (this was before the age of prozac for children). I only took the meds for a week or so - they made me feel "not quite right" - after that I would slip them under my tongue to be spat out later.

Ours was the only adoptive family in the neighborhood and, as such, we were viewed as freaks and teased by the other kids when the mood struck them. When you are that young, being ostracized by the only playmates available doesn't do much for the self-image and it is a problem I still suffer with today.

But I digress.

When I turned twenty-one I realized that, as an adult, I should be able to find her, and her me. I was living in Colorado at the time and tried to get this information over the phone and through the mail. This was my first official encounter with closed adoption records. I was disappointed enough when I could not access my records but absolutely dumbstruck when they told me that my biological mother also would not be able to have any information about me. I pleaded with them, sure that she would show up asking about me, and was put on hold, transferred endlessly, berated and hung up on. I drove back to Michigan and paid a visit to the county clerk's office where the adoption had taken place, asking for a copy of the record. They would not give it to me. (Interestingly, in 2007 I wrote a letter to the same office, saying I had a legal right to the adoption decree which I would sue for if necessary, and enclosed the standard $26 fee for such a document copy. They sent a notorized true copy within a week.)

Many years of life's complexities kept me busy. My birthday was always a reminder of my non-being, my non-connectedness to the "normal" human race, and was always a depressing time. No one seemed to understand why I didn't want to celebrate it, after all, it was "my" day. To me, "my" day signified that I was unlovable, not worth keeping, defective. On that day, an unwanted child was born. Never mind that my adoptive parents had told me the whole "chosen baby" line - I knew even as a young child that I was a second-choice replacement for the son they couldn't produce themselves. But on my birthday in 2006 I made a promise to myself to locate my mother no matter what it took.

Inquiring to the state, I learned that they had instituted a CI program some years earlier. "Why had I not been notified?" I asked. "No one was personally notified" I was told. "It is a citizen's duty to keep abreast of the laws." Well, was this a law? Shouldn't a "Human Services" agency try and serve those humans by at least advertising changes in policy that may affect their personal lives? Michigan never ceases to amaze me. The positive side to this is that they will, no doubt, fail to advertise any portion of HB6287 should it pass, making vetoes virtually nonexistent and OBC's available to any who ask.

I also discovered the ISRR & other online registries. I posted my info everywhere I could, though I knew the likelihood of someone my mother's age searching the internet would be low. I joined a couple of search groups, including one just for Michigan adoptees. I saved up beer money and registered with the CI program. Just before my 2007 birthday, a search angel contacted me with probable information. Later that same day the CI called with the same information. My mother had died in 2000. I felt incredibly cheated.

My mother was 26 at the time of my birth, not a teenager. No matter, I thought, surely there was a very good reason for her relinquishing me. She was divorced, living on her own, gainfully employed. I was told of a half-brother, five years old at my birth. Well... I couldn't form any opinion without more knowledge. I wrote to the half-brother. Three months went by with no response. I wrote again. Waited three more months. In the meanwhile I had found the address of my mother's widower who, I suspected, knew nothing of my existence. I had found the names and obituaries of the grandparents and all the aunts and uncles. I found the name of a cousin who was close to my mother, mentioned in her obituary, but could not find an address or phone number. Eventually, desperation took over and I wrote to my mother's widower. Luckily, he was very receptive, providing me with what information he could. As I suspected, he did not know about me, but he seemed to take it well, knowing full well the atmosphere of the day concerning unwed mothers. And, he got me in touch with the cousin, who spent her childhood with my mother. The cousin was the daughter of my mother's oldest sister and was two years younger than my mother. They grew up together with my grandparents because the oldest sister had TB and spent a lot of time in the hospital. This cousin was the only other person in the family who knew about my birth. She provided many wonderful stories of their childhood before she died this past June, but always avoided answering why, with eleven adult siblings living in the area, my mother couldn't or wouldn't ask for help so that she could keep me too, her second son.

Her stories were full of clues, however.

(to be continued)


Mary said...

glad to see your are blogging. cant wait to read more.

Cheerio! said...

I literally gasped when I read that you firstmom passed away years earlier.
I am am sorry, so very sorry that you were cheated.
It is possible that this 'cousin' you talked about can't answer the 'why' question - because maybe she never really understood it herself?

I hope you will find the time/courage to finish the 'to be continued...' part.