I’ve never been a fan of mysteries — no Nancy Drew or Murder, She Wrote for this girl. But at the same time, I cannot stand unfinished business. I can’t leave a book unfinished, even if I’m not enjoying it. I can’t stop a movie midway even when it’s a stinker. I always wonder where paths lead when I turn back and walk over my previous steps. It’s that desire to complete the puzzle that helped me find my birth family.
I was adopted in 1975 through the Children’s Aid Society, as a newborn. I wrote about the beginnings of finding my birth family before. It has taken me two years to begin to digest the information I found, and understand how to move forward with the people I found, too.
Lately, I’ve seen a number of people using the power of social media to track down people they’ve photographed, long lost loves, or birth relatives. It gives me shivers thinking of how these connections matter. We all live for connection, don’t we? Nothing feels better than when we read words we can truly connect with, or when we meet a friend who feels like they just “fit”, or when we feel understood. This is the essence of human existence, I think. And the internet has made it so much easier to do that. Without the internet, I would never have found my birth family.
I always try to help these people find their missed connections, because I know how much that matters.
As a little kid, my Dad always told me that the social worker in charge of my adoption mentioned my birth mother’s surname to him. He could only guess at the spelling, and he knew she had slipped up (they were not supposed to disclose any identifying information at all back then), so he committed the nugget to memory in case I ever wanted to search for her. For more than 30 years, I didn’t want to search. When I told people that, they look at me incredulously as though it was impossible to not want to unravel that mystery. Who was she? Why had she given me up for adoption? I didn’t care, really. I loved my family, and I was comfortable not knowing.
And then, as the wind changes direction, I changed my mind. I was expecting a child myself and it suddenly struck me that carrying a baby to full term and handing it over into someone else’s arms was simply not something I could do. I wanted to know more about the woman who was able to do this. Not out of anger, but sheer curiosity. I was always thankful to my birth mother, for the record. I have lived a privileged life and I always knew choosing adoption was no easy task.
So I started to Google spellings of the surname my Dad told me once upon a time. Around the time my non-identifying information file came, Children’s Aid opened the files of adoptees, allowing us to apply to receive our birth records. I did, and the day mine came, and I saw my birth mother’s full name, I lost my breath. A name. A real person.
I could find no trace of her online, though. How was that possible? Maybe she had changed her name or gotten married and taken her spouse’s surname? Maybe she had died. But someone, somewhere must be related to her.
Every day, I would Google the name, hoping to find a bread crumb to follow. And then, in one small corner of the internet, there was an obituary for an elderly woman who had died a couple years prior. Someone with my birth mother’s name had left a condolence saying that she and another person would always remember their visits.
Hmm. Could that be her? Who was the other person she mentioned?
In the obituary, they listed all the woman’s grandchildren and one name matched the one mentioned by the woman with my birth mother’s name. My birth mother’s child, maybe? Could this really be? There was no contact information, but with nothing to lose, my husband contacted the funeral home requesting the email address used to leave the condolence. We had little hope that they’d share the confidential information but within 24 hours, we had an email address.
With that email address, I searched online, finding various places this person had commented, putting together a picture of who this person may be, and whether she could be my birth mother.
Finally, more than a year later, I decided to send an email off to the person. Who knew if it was her? I couldn’t leave the puzzle unfinished, I just wanted to move on. I used an email address I had set up that used the name given to me at birth, not my current name.
Again, within 24 hours, I had a reply.
I’ll never forget the day I heard from my birth mother. I was sitting in my in-laws’ backyard when I checked my phone.
“[Birth name] you have just contacted your biological mother. How on earth did you get this e-mail address?
I am sure you have thousands of questions just as I do about you. We can start slowly by e-mailing each other and go from there, OK.”
Even today, when I read those words, my chest feels tight. She holds so many secrets, so much information, so many pieces to my puzzle.
I’ve met her now. But I have few answers. And more than two years later, she never did answer the questions I asked of her, and we don’t keep in touch. I harbour no bad feelings, and I’ll never regret opening that treasure chest, but I also know that I’ll never put this puzzle together fully.
One day I’ll tell you the crazy story about how I tracked down the full sister I have met, and the one I still seek who was adopted in California. One day I will tell you how my birth father denies my existence. One day I’ll tell you about the day my parents met my sister.
Maybe one day I’ll better understand my own story. But today, I’m still turning stones.