I Am Not Who I Thought I Was
Who finds out after surviving divorced parents, the childhood death of a parent—college—marriage, raising a baby to adulthood, traveling, living and retiring—a secret kept hidden by living family members, something I never dreamt even remotely possible, that they… were adopted?
A few months ago, this year, I had been as active as ever on Ancestry, a website I’d grown to love over several years of diligently building trees for myself and my daughter, so she could have both her mom and dad’s side. I love research, history, culture past and present. I love old photos. Of anyone really, of family. The older the photos, the more intriguing. My trees had gotten huge! I had added comments, facts, links from other sites such as Newspapers which is my favorite I think. You can find so much regular history and your own history there too, if you’re lucky. If you had any of your people arrested, bingo! Some history isn’t always fun and games. It is plain reality.
I went even further, taking their DNA test, adding my daughter’s DNA test. Those results were very cool and fun to review. You get nice charts and graphs and historical content. A history buff’s dream. You get connected to hundreds of people. Most are more than 3 cousins out and the further away those connections get, you start to disconnect.
Something interesting happened soon after the DNA results. I started getting messages from close ties from possible 1st-2st cousin connections. I got one from a female and another from male name. Then a 3rd a bit later from a female not far down the list. All 3 of these people were tied together and to me and to my daughter.
The female in question not far from my age, kept sending messages sometimes weekly that she thought we were too close to ignore. I stared and stared at both trees, trying to figure it out. This went on for a couple of months as I hit a roadblock. I kept wanting to “blame” this on one of 2 Uncles as it had to be a male that was the link from the history we started sharing.
Since I was an only child, hung around lots of mostly adults, and was quite mature, I thought I had intimate knowledge of everything in their lives. My mother had shared lots of early and very private, some painful experiences in her life. She seemed so open, always. She shared stuff about my dad’s early life too, sometimes in surprising graphic/personal detail. Some kids might have been shocked at some of her openness, but she shared things continually with me and as I got older. I could never imagine in a hundred years she would keep a secret this HUGE from me. It didn’t seem possible.
One day, I just couldn’t stand the mystery any longer. I had almost stopped talking to the connections on Ancestry because I had no answer. So, I decided to dive into Newspapers and search dozens of spellings of names from the “other” DNA member’s tree.
The day it happened, my heart almost stopped. I took (the member who’d been writing) father’s name and used a way of spelling it and added the “JR” at the end (since his dad had been a senior, same name). I used a date time frame to search, in California. What came up I will never forget. In tiny print I see his name come up in my hometown newspaper. It was a hospital vital statistic that newspapers do with a list of births in the previous week. His name, with my birth-date and showing a baby girl. Jaw dropping that was. It still is.
After I came down from the cloud I’d been propelled to, I had no choice but to contact my cousin in Central California. I tried emailing, but the address was old. I contacted another relative via facebook messenger and asked if my cousin still used it. Since she did I wrote her there. I told her what had happened on Ancestry with my DNA and then about the newspaper clipping.
Her response was, “I think you better call me.”
What ensued from there, the phone conversation was like a blurry dream. From the moment I heard, “I hate to be the one to tell you this…but you were adopted, Marsha”. Her parents, my other uncles and aunts all knew. My grandparents had known. The information had sifted down to my cousins. This made everything completely more painful.
All I said in my head silently was…. “Why? Why had this been kept from me?”
I heard more words, but they started to fade and trumpet like Peanut’s cartoons. We had a pleasant chat. It ended nicely. And then I felt like a hammer had hit my chest. I am a strong person, probably stronger than I realize. But the information hit my brain and it went on overload, and I felt a similar heaviness I had known the months after my mother died. It’s all true what comes next, shock, pain and then anger is the method of coping, all the phases of grief.
The first few days, I had some angry hours. Pictures were taken off shelves, papers shuffled around.
I had practically a shrine of them mounted next to my computer, my mother and father, whom I lovingly called Carl and Edith in my memoir pieces. They were characters in my stories. They were larger than life. He might have been an actor, she was like a film noir heroine, a midwife, a survivor of a harsh life. I was angry at the truth being withheld from me. I wanted answers, but they would never come. They aren’t here to tell me.
No matter how much you yell at dead people, they cannot hear you. That’s a good thing.
Why adoptive parents keep the truth, or did more so years ago, is vast and complicated – it varies by their own philosophy, their beliefs, their fears. Their ignorance.
People close to me began to tell me the cliché things, “Oh but you know, they loved you like their own”. Yea, of course they did! I never questioned that, even when after their divorce when I was 8, I lived alone with my mother, who had emotional issues, and took her pain out on me. I forgave her long ago, and I forgive her for this too. That doesn’t make the pain of it being kept from me any better.
I have no problem with adoption in the world. It brings babies to couples who desperately want them. It also doesn’t mean every adoption has happy endings either. But I believe it’s the duty of the parents to tell the children, out of love and selflessness. It’s simply the right thing to do. I realize the hundreds of reasons why this isn’t done, privacy, shame, protection. Young people going through it, don’t think 20 years down the line of the life of the baby. They are not thinking ahead to a child not having a correct family medical history.
Today, I must live with the facts. I can’t change the secret. It was withheld, it was known by way too many other people. That was the past. Have you seen the Peloton commercials? The one with different people cycling in their beautiful homes on a pricey exercise machine? The ad ends with “What matters now, is what I do next”. The song playing is On to the Next by Jay-Z.
Forgiveness is now the key to everything.
This adoption “thing” is now part of my new truth. The way I see it is this; truth wins! It’s always best, always. On the back of my sister’s book (more on her later) one of the 1st things I read was:
Prov 24:26 “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” Reading that, I started to get confirmation that a sense of truths that I was now learning about my life was not only going to lead to incredible people, but more insight about myself—I’ve been given a great gift. There are new people and history added to, not taken away from my life. I still have my old history. That led me to be who I am today (good and bad) and shaped my life, but now I have a new future!
I have now gained not only a paternal biological sister, but three brothers too! There are 5 of us. There are also many nieces, nephews, and cousins! There are new descendants! A new tree. My DNA from the countries assigned to me now match correctly. I have a new health history. I get to start over in many ways and it’s exciting as each day passes.
Little did I know, the steady stream of knowledge that began to flow years ago, starting with the Ancestry site, then to DNA, then to helping another person in my adoptive family find his truth via DNA (His DNA didn’t match mine so, CLUE NUMBER ONE!) all of these elements led to where I am today—discovering a new life story.
I believe this reveal to me was purposeful, not accidental. If only a few items on that checklist didn’t happen, the connection would never have been made.
I am now realizing mysteries about myself that never made sense. My adoptive mother and father – both were blonde babies, some of whom later got dark hair, i.e.: ‘tow head’. This is a US phrase and the reference to is to ‘tow’, which is the light-colored fibre of flax, hemp, or jute. ‘Tow-headed’ is having tousled blond hair. This dates back to the 19th century. Both of my dad’s 2 biological daughters were also tow heads.
That was not me. I had a bit of olive tanned skin and dark hair in childhood. My appearance never matched up to either parent although I always tried to find similarities, and luckily for them, I accidentally resembled them, if only slightly. My body was different than my mother. It’s a female thing probably, but we are very attached to physical connection. I could only come up with, “maybe I look like my grandfather’s side, they seemed darker”.
And the story keeps getting better.
I watched a documentary last night called, “Three Identical Strangers”. If you get a chance to rent this, it’s out there. I won’t go into detail as any spoilers would ruin things, but what a story! All I will say is something I took away from the story is how it nails how I personally feel about birth nature. I do believe we are born with personality traits. That doesn’t mean we can’t change or evolve or grow, but my own personality traits were shyness, extreme sensitivity, preferring quiet, introverted. I was also artistic from my earliest memory of wanting to draw or paint. I started writing at age 8 on an old typewriter that my grandfather gave me, and I became obsessed with it. I preferred to listen to people talk and took everything in and analyzed it. I could draw or read or look at magazines for hours, not talking to anyone and be perfectly happy.
My adoptive parents were both very outgoing and extroverted. My dad was charming, my mother loved to laugh and was opinionated and quite stubborn. I always felt they didn’t understand my personality. This made it easy for my controlling obsessive mother to easily manage my childhood. She loved me in the only way she knew how. I won’t go into detail, but I suffered a lot emotionally growing up. I was being toughened up in ways they never knew. It was either sink or swim. I chose Mad magazine humor by JR High and I think it saved my life. That, and a wonderful Christian school and friends.
As my dad (the gentle parent) got to know me more after my mother got sick, I think he viewed my being quiet as weakness. He was never sure how smart or intelligent I was. When I decided to go off on my own after my mother died at age 17, he was shocked. He told me he would be around for me if I needed anything. I knew he loved me and cared that I would make it. He was delighted and surprised I managed to work and rent a place to live and ended up as a supervisor at the very young age of 20 at an LAX car rental company.
My point to this all is, not all naturally born children match their biological parents in personality either. We are born who we are for a purpose.
This whole trait thing makes finding out (so far) that at least one biological parent was also quiet, introverted and artistic. The first thing I read on his military file was, occupation: Photographer. I later found out from my new siblings that he had a darkroom and was quite serious about wanting to pursue photography. My eyes widened when I read that.
More gifts under the tree awaited! I googled my sister. Doesn’t everyone? She is not only a prolific writer and academic, she is still teaching! She and her husband were missionaries in their early years who were Bible translators for Wycliffe. She has written books about their experiences. They have 4 children and quite a lovely extensive family. An older brother was in a band in his youth and now has a videography company. The 2nd brother is an artist and painter, the youngest brother is a talented musician, songwriter and enjoys photography as well.
Some of us have different mothers but I see some similar physical traits too.
This story is still unfolding. My birth mother’s identity is still not known even though I have been in contact with 3 people on Ancestry and 23andMe from her side. The closest connection hasn’t responded in a month, so I have no idea if it will ever happen.
Because the maternal connections have hit a roadblock, I decided to pursue obtaining my original birth record. I went to court to petition the judge to open the file. From what I read, they don’t do this lightly, but it’s worth a try. The Superior Court Deputy that started a case for me was quite sympathetic to my story. The birth mom is most likely passed away, but regardless, since I am trying to find her through her family line, I must proceed with care. If I only get her name, and not much more, that is what I will have. I just desire the truth.
I end with my mother’s favorite poet. She read The Cremation of Sam McGee many times as a bedtime story when I was very young. An odd one to read to a child, but I liked hearing my mother laugh every single time she read it. That helped chisel the pottery that is now me.
Mumsie and Dad are raven dark
And I am lily blonde.
”Tis strange,’ I once heard nurse remark,
‘You do not correspond.’
And yet they claim me as their own,
Born of their flesh and bone.
To doubt their parenthood I dread,
But now to girlhood grown,
The thought is haunting in my head
That I am not their own:
If so, my radiant bloom of youth
Would wither in the truth.
‘Twould give me anguish deep to know
A fondling babe was I,
And that a maid in wedless woe
Left me to live or die:
I’d rather Mother lied and lied
To save my pride.
I love them both and they love me,
I am their all, they say.
Yet though the sweetest home have we,
To know I’m theirs I pray.
If not, please dear ones, never tell . . .
The truth would be of hell.
~Robert William Service~
Just for fun, listen to Johnny Cash read The Cremation of Sam McGee: :- )