Adoption Reunion Story by A Raised Sibling
My two younger brothers and I grew up in a very idealistic world. I had both my parents,two younger brothers, grandparents and an aunt and uncle just blocks away from us. My other set of grandparents lived about 20 minutes away but we saw them often along with the various uncles, aunts, and cousins from that side of the family.
We lived on a cul-de-sac street full of children our ages as well as a few childless couples who were always happy to entertain us. (Well, except for that one old guy next door, but the use of his garden as playground by all us neighborhood children may have contributed to his sometimes crabby bark.) My mother stayed home with us and operated a home daycare for a few years; when she was working outside of our home we always had our maternal grandmother there.
I have a terrible memory; most of it is in bits and glimmers but the ones that are there are so vivid, so much like a fairy tale. Growing up I had no idea how lucky I was, I thought every child had princess tea parties on the front porch, complete with mini sandwiches and lemonade made by Grandma. I thought every child had a band of recorders, mini keyboards, and oatmeal container drums (we “performed” in the tree house my father built, charging .25 to listen to our beautiful music and eat some Oreos we’d borrowed from my kitchen). I thought every child had a park just blocks away, a cul-de-sac to play baseball or hopscotch in, a neighbor with unlocked doors and a freezer full of homemade popsicles just for us, and the ability to pick flowers for their teacher on the short walk to school. I thought every child was welcomed home at the end of the day with hugs from Grandma, cartoons, and cookies fresh from the bakery where Grandpa worked. I thought everyone’s mom sewed them custom skirts and leggings. I thought everyone’s dad built tree houses and teeter-totters and hand painted holiday decorations. It seemed natural that every girl would have porcelain dolls from her Grandma G’s trips overseas and a small town to visit where they could walk and play for hours without fear of strangers. I was sure that everyone had great holidays like mine (we shared one meal with my mothers family, complete with holiday themed decorations and treats from Grandma; then another meal with my Grandma G and Grandpa G where I had so many cousins that I had to write it out on paper to be sure I wasn’t missing anyone when I counted them up.)
It wasn’t until we were discussing the “typical American childhood” in a college class that I realized just how lucky I was. I was stunned to find out that my experience was nothing like most of my classmates, that they would have given anything to have a childhood like that. Funny how we don’t see how blessed we are sometimes. I certainly didn’t when I was a child; I just thought it was all normal. I thought I was a normal happy little girl. Until I morphed, that is.
Enter teenage angst. I wasn’t the friendliest teenage girl on the block; in fact, the friendliest teenage girl on the block lived 2 houses down from me and in comparison I was a vicious brat. So the day I went snooping in my mothers closet and found a manila envelope labeled “Christopher” I thought I had hit pay dirt. A secret child? A lie told to me all my life? (I know, what a terrible way to see the news of an older brother given up for adoption. I am ashamed to admit now that I felt that way, but I’m trying to be honest with a fragile topic here.)
Even more shameful is that I used the information to deliver a blow to my mother. We were fighting one day, who knows about what, typical teenage daughter versus at-her-whits-end mother stuff. When my mother accused me of lying about something I threw my new information at her face. “At least I didn’t lie to you that you were the oldest child all these years! I know about Christopher, and not telling me is the same as lying to me!” When the words came out, it felt good. It felt good to have something to say back to my mom when I was in the wrong and unable to admit it. It felt good to finally admit that I knew about him. …........Then I looked at her face. I will never in my life feel more shame than I did in that moment. I had hurt my mother to the core. I may as well have opened her chest and stabbed a thousand tiny needles in her heart. She sent me to my room and I went without a fight.
A few days later my mom sat me down to talk. She told me a story about a young girl, a crazy decision, and a shocking realization. She told me about the options presented to her and about the anguish of saying goodbye to a child she might never meet again. She told me about years spent wondering. Years spent worrying and hoping and dreading all at the same time. She told me the story, and then she asked me to keep it secret for her, she still accepted his conception as shame- a feeling our society still pushes on young mothers to this day unfortunately.
For a few years I spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about my older brother. During those years I was part of two peer groups. One from my school, full of brilliant minds and days spent in a local coffee shop drinking coffee and debating for hours over which approach to take on a mathematical problem from our honors class or breaking down theories from our biotechnology class. Then there was the other group. This one was from my otherwise really good neighborhood, full of corrupted minds and days spent sitting around doing nothing and skirting encounters with the police and parents. Unfortunately, I spent more time with the neighborhood crowd out of convenience. I allowed the boys in that group to treat me like an object; to talk to me as if I had no feelings or thoughts, and to make decisions for me. Looking back I realize that I must have known the situation was not good for me- because I spent all that time fantasizing about my brother. Not about who he was or where he was, but about him somehow finding us and coming in to save me from the fools I hung out with. Why I didn’t think to save myself I’ll never know.
Well, time moves on, and my brother didn’t find himself magically transported to our house and into our lives. Eventually I quit thinking about him as much; I had much more pressing things to think about from the age of 16 on. You see, I had a baby of my own.
Because of the anguish my mother had been through, she didn’t encourage adoption. She didn’t outright say no to it, instead she and my father just said that I would have to work harder now. I would finish high school and go to college, and I would be taking care of a child along the way. There was never any question of it- it was just a fact of life. So I did finish high school, and I am proud to say I finished with honors while still taking my advanced classes in math and science. And I graduated a semester early so I could jump right into nursing school. I had dreamed of being a doctor but for some reason I set up my mind to believe that tiny bumps in the road were equal to mountains and I limited myself. It turns out this was a wonderful choice, though, as I am now on my way to finishing my Masters degree and being a Nurse Midwife. I’ll work in the same context as an OBGYN doctor, but with more freedom to give my patients a natural and whole birth experience. Oh, and between that age of 16 and now, between letting go of one dream and embracing another, between a marriage and a divorce, between an achingly painful loss and beautiful additions to life- I had 4 more children, all girls. It’s been a crazy decade! So I think it is understandable why I didn’t devote too much time to daydreaming about a lost siblings return. I thought of him, of course, but I no longer dreamed of him coming to save me- I was too busy saving myself.
So I was shocked when my mother came to me 2 years ago with a disk labeled “Chris”. She had decided that it was time to quit letting her fears dominate her thoughts of her son and to look for him to find answers and closure. She had found that society’s idea of what should be her shame was grossly incorrect, and she was ready to find her son and to tell the world of his existence and their story. This is where the miracle woman comes into play. (I originally started writing this as a letter to her to let her know how much of a difference her volunteer work does, and then realized there was too much to say and so many people in my life that I wanted to share it all with.)
My mother posted on an adoption reunion board with her information. My brother posted on an entirely different adoption reunion board with his information. This miracle woman, this adoption angel, saw the similarities in their posts and sent them an email. It seems she does this in her spare time, trying to help people reunite. Imagine how many families must be in touch now because of her. Families who could have gone the rest of their lives thinking the other didn’t want to find them when in reality they were just posting on different message boards. Obviously I like to write, I love literature and language; but this is one of those times when I dislike the English language. Because the words “Thank You” are just not deep enough, large enough, or sincere enough to say what I want to say to her.
So my mother had been talking to Chris via email for a while (a few months maybe?) before she had built up the courage to tell us kids about her discovery. I don’t know for sure, but based on the emails she sent me during that time I think she was worried that we kids would feel slighted by her search- as though we weren’t enough for her. I never felt that way- I knew how much the unanswered questions and the fears pulled at her heart. I understood her need to find him and know he was okay, to know she hadn’t made a terrible choice all those years ago.
I have to admit here that I had very mixed feelings about the reunion as far as myself and Chris went. I was so happy for my mom, but I just couldn’t find it in myself to see him as my brother. My brothers were those boys who I babysat when I didn’t want to. The ones who I had funny stories and inside jokes to share with. The ones who made me laugh, and cry, and fume, and worry. The ones who I spent my entire childhood with. How do you see a stranger as important as those you grew up with? When talking about him to my friends, I would usually stumble on what label to use. Sometimes I called him my moms oldest son, sometimes I called him my half-brother, other times I’d just say “my brother, kind of”. I just couldn’t figure out how to give him the same label as my two (sometimes annoying but very wonderful) little brothers.
Despite that conflict of heart, I chatted with him via email, IM, and fb messages because I was curious to know how he was. I liked him right away. He is an artist, making beautiful pieces of pottery- one of which sits in prominence in my kitchen to this day. He is married and has two adorable little children. He is nice and funny and he thinks my photography is beautiful. So I guess for a while there I saw him as a really cool cousin type person, or a good friend who had a past history with my mother. I didn’t feel any negative feelings about him; I just didn’t understand how to fit him into my idea of my immediate family.
Well... things change. So do feelings and understanding. Chris called me about a month ago to let me know that he was going to be working near our hometown and that he was ready to meet us siblings. He had met my mother in person a few months back, and she had been giving him hints that she’d like him to come here to meet us. (Knowing my mother, the hints were not very subtle!) But he had one condition, he wanted to surprise mom. So we planned a surprise dinner at my parents’ house and carried it out this past Thursday.
I won’t go through the entire evening, but I will share the results. I had thought the meeting would be great for our mom, and that it would be nice to finally meet Chris in person. I had no idea that I would go home that night knowing that I had gained an older brother. I had no idea that I would see a photo of us together the next day and realize that it was complete. As I said before, I had a wonderful childhood and I am not saying it was not complete- but looking at that picture of the four of us just seems right. It feels like I had put this puzzle together long ago and had thought it was great. But I hadn’t noticed that a piece was missing until someone put it into place. I looked at that picture of us for so long, stunned at the feeling of wholeness.
A funny thing happened in the course of that evening. I quit trying to figure out how Chris fit in. I didn’t have to figure it out, because there was nothing to figure out. He just fit. We all fit. In the course of a few hours I went from stumbling over “my brother, kind of” to just “my brother” when talking about Chris to my friends. Because he might not have grown up with us, he might have his own history and a whole different family- but he is still my brother. I spent years knowing I had an older brother out there somewhere, and then I spent a few years knowing I had an older brother living only a few hours and an email away. But he was always this abstract concept. Now he is real, he is a part of our lives, and I look forward to getting to know him better and to sharing the coming years with him.
I think all our lives are changed for the better from that night, and it all goes back to one woman and her desire to help strangers reunite and to my brothers’ courage and his desire to meet his siblings. Thank you doesn’t say enough, but it is all I have. So Thank You to my moms’ adoption angel. You are a beautiful person. And thank you to my brother Chris; I think our family has a beautiful future waiting for us.