I was adopted at birth from Catholic Charities in Des Moines, Iowa. My birth mother was from a small town in Illinois, and was hiding her pregnancy from her parents- well actually- hiding it from all except a very small circle of sisters and best friends. She called upon one of her best friends that she had gone to nursing school with to help her hide out in Des Moines. The friend had grown up in the capital city of Iowa and had family there that could assist in the “refuge.” As odd as that may seem today, that’s exactly what she was doing. It was 1959, her boyfriend with whom she got pregnant was vacillating for the months following the inopportune news between not wanting to be a father at all and wanting to get married. My birth mother finally sensed that this unsteady support was most likely not going to withstand a lifetime commitment.
I have said for several decades of my life that I had won the adoption lottery. My adoptive parents, unable to have children of their own due to a ruptured appendix that nearly killed my mother, yearned for a child for years before they adopted me. Every time another one of their best friends in Des Moines gave birth to yet another child (and there were a LOT of them), the pain and the stigma grew, at least in my parents’ eyes. There was no one in their inner circle of friends or family that was suffering the infertility challenges that Mom and Dad were. This made the whole situation uncharted territory and all the more daunting. They interviewed at Catholic Charities, filled out the forms, answered the questions, then typed up their autobiographies explaining why they each would make a good parent. Then they waited. And waited.
On October 16, 1959, my parents received the phone call that they had waited for for years. Catholic Charities called to tell them that they had a new baby daughter, who was thrilled to come home with them. Dad was out of the country, but Mom took care of that quickly… she told him to catch the next plane home! Thus, the beginning of my life as an adopted child, my parents’ first, began. I never questioned their love and devotion for me. They supported me in every way a good parent could- emotionally, physically, financially- you name it. They made sure that I was grounded in my faith and had the best education available. I believe that is why, for the first fifty-two years of my life, I was never interested in finding out anything about my birth parents or any other biological relatives. My very myopic view for decades was simply that the only adopted people who searched for their biological relatives were those who had an unhappy life with their adoptive family. So naïve and untrue, to say the least.
One day in May of 2012 changed all of that. Seemingly out of nowhere, late one night, I decided that it just wasn’t right that our daughters were in their late teens and early twenties and were missing 50 percent of their medical history. I looked up the contact information for Catholic Charities in Des Moines, and was rather surprised that their offices were so close to the house where I grew up. The first thing I did the following morning was to excitedly call their offices to tell them my maiden name, my birth date, and my adoption date. The case worker found my file in less than five minutes and was eager to help me. I told her that I wanted to pay for a social/ medical search, and as those who are involved in the adoption triad firmly know, that is the search an adoptee can pursue without receiving any identifying information about one’s birth parents, or any other biological relatives for that matter. I knew that I would most likely be told my birth mother’s first name, the same for my birth father, possibly what state each of them was from, but that was as close as I would be getting to their personal information. That, of course, was just fine with me.
Or so I thought.
Five days later, the packet of information from the agency arrived in our mailbox. I remember pulling it out and being surprised that it arrived so quickly, considering that a weekend was part of those five days. I’m also a bit taken aback by my strong physical reaction to holding this unopened envelope that has information about my life…the beginning of my life- that I’ve never been allowed to know or see. My hands were trembling, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I hoofed it back inside our house to open this envelope full of mystery. This rather thin manilla envelope contained knowledge about the first few weeks of my life that plenty of people had access to for over five decades; I just wasn’t one of them! Once inside, I sat down on the couch, took a deep breath, and opened the envelope. I remember thinking, “Why am I so worked up about this? It’s just medical history, possibly a bit of social information…”
Those things were there; it’s what wasn’t expected to be in the envelope that caught my eye. My parents had written their own autobiographies, back in the 1950s, as part of their application to the adoption agency. I had never heard about these or seen copies of them. Each was written on their old manual typewriter, explaining to Catholic Charities why they would make great adoptive parents. The yearning for a child of their own spilled out of each sentence, asking for the opportunity to fulfill this patient dream of theirs. Just after reading those tender pieces, I came across copies of two handwritten letters that my birth mother had written to her case worker shortly after my birth. Her handwriting was my first insight into anything about my birth mother. So odd- never knowing who she was, where she was, what she looked like. As I’d never previously dwelled on any questions concerning who this woman was, it was rather surreal to not only see her handwriting for the first time, but to realize how similar it was to mine. As I slowly combed through the first letter, I got to the end where she had signed it. I could not believe what I was seeing! The most egregious mistake that could be made in an adoption social/ medical search… my case worker had forgotten to white out the last name of my birth mother!
This was the moment when everything to do with my history gathering did a complete 180. If I thought my physical reaction to pulling the envelope out of the mailbox was dramatic, I now found myself on the verge of hyperventilating. How could something like this have happened?! Somehow in a split second, I went from just wanting medical history to running over to my laptop and searching, probing all over the internet for this woman, wondering if she was still alive, if she still went by her maiden name, if she ever married, where she lived.
My memoir, Accidental Sisters, The Story of My 52-Year Wait to Meet My Biological Sibling, tells the unlikely story of the search for my birth mother, discovering that she was no longer in this world, then finding out after half a century that I had a sister. The sequence of serendipitous events that led me down what I refer to as The Road to Marcia is hard to believe but so amazing. This is an adoption discovery story that has nothing to do with any DNA tests and everything to do with good fortune, God winks or serendipity. I have always felt so blessed that my loving, adoptive parents raised me, that my adopted brother was my sibling, and that I had such a close relationship with my grandparents. After experiencing this story, I am of the opinion that blessings have no boundaries if you just open your heart to receive them.
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