I always knew I was adopted.
My Mom and Dad must have told me when I was little because I have no recollection of ever being sat down and told.
But I always felt like I was “different.” Even though this was my family, I wanted to know where I really came from.
I recall as a child my grandmother once musing at the dinner table, “Your Great Grandfather Haddaway…”
Not MY grandfather, I thought. I was 10-12 years old at the time.
My Parents Supported My Search
Both my parents were supportive of me tracking down my birth mother.
As I got a little older, I asked my Dad, “Where is my birth mother? How do I find her?”
He said, “She probably lives somewhere right around here.”
I said, “Dad, do you know where she is?”
He said, “No, but when you get a little older we can connect you with the adoption agency. They can help you. I hope you can find her because I would just like to thank her.”
That was my Dad. Sweet, sincere, and kind.
Of course, I did get older. I’d think about her, then get busy with life and forget. I’d think about her, then forget again. She was off and on in my thoughts.
I told myself, “If I ever get to the point when I’m thinking about her for weeks at a time, I’ll take action.”
I was probably 30 at the time and she was starting to pop into my head more and more often.
Act I – Deciding To Make Contact
Somewhere in my 30’s, I developed the belief that she was just waiting for me to make the first move. I was so sure she was respecting my privacy and was waiting for me to initiate contact.
In my mid-30’s, I finally made the first move.
I called my Dad and he gave me the adoption agency information. I made contact and was instructed that the first step was for me to write a letter.
I remember being advised to keep the letter brief, not to identify myself, and let her know that you want to make contact.
“Hmmm,” I thought, “I would actually rather write a letter that goes deeper and which does identify me. I wanted to connect with her, not play a careful game of chess.”
I sat down at my living room table to write the letter they suggested. In that first moment, I felt something move in me I’d never felt before and have not felt since.
I felt a crack – like I was a hard-boiled egg – and the first crack had been made. It was an eerie, emotional feeling.
I wrote my letter – brief and light, just like I was instructed – and mailed it. It was 2002. I was 36 years old.
A few weeks later, I got a call from the adoption agency:
“We found your birth mother. As I spoke to her and confirmed it was her, she asked, ‘I thought this was private and confidential?’ I told her it was and we set up another time time to talk that was more convenient for her.”
Ok, wait a little longer.
The next call I got from the adoption agency, I was at work. It was in the summer, I was working for the Bowie Baysox at the time and it was in the afternoon on a game day – a busy time for us at the stadium.
This is what I was told:
“I told your birth mother you wrote her a letter and that the next step is we send it to her. She asked not to be sent anything, but said it was okay if I read it to her.
“So, I read her your letter, and when I was finished she said, ‘Tell him I’m glad he is doing well, but I wish not to be contacted again.'”
It didn’t really register. My mind was on work, it was pretty hectic that day.
The next thing I hear is, “Are you okay?”
I think I mumbled something and she asks me again, “Are you okay?”
I told her yes and we got off the phone. I think it was a Wednesday.
I was so busy the next couple days I didn’t think about it.
That Friday night, I had a call with an ex and explained what had happened. Then I lost it. I cried so hard and couldn’t stop, “She doesn’t want to meet me.”
Next night, same story, different ex. I told her I’d heard from the adoption agency about my birth mother and she doesn’t want to be contacted again. More crying. Exhausting weekend.
Act II – 15 Years Of Wrestling
In Maryland, the fucking law is mutual consent – both parties must agree. Since she said, “No,” that was it.
It was my understanding at the time that there could be no second chances. You get one shot and unless she changes her mind or the law is changed, that’s the end of that. I’m pretty sure that’s what I was told.
What About My Birth Father?
A while later, I called the adoption agency back and with a laissez-faire attitude asked, “What about my birth father?”
They said, “Ok, let us do some research and we’ll get back to you.”
Honestly, I never really cared about my birth father that much. He never knew I existed. It was her I was always trying to find.
I think in the back of my mind – if I can find him, maybe he can lead me to her.
Well, they did find the man they thought was my birth father. He was in the right place at the right time, they told me.
They got a picture of him and said they were corresponding back and forth. She couldn’t confirm yet that he was the birth father and at one point, she slipped and mentioned his first name.
“You didn’t hear that,” she said.
After a few weeks, he stopped communicating. Contact was lost.
The Heritage Letter
The woman at the adoption agency sent me my heritage letter along with a picture of my possible birth father. (I never thought I looked like him and neither did anyone else until recently).
The heritage letter contained all the details of my birth mother’s meetings with the adoption agency.
There were several clues, but nothing conclusive:
- She was a single woman who had a brief fling with a man and got pregnant.
- She didn’t feel she had the means to support us both and put me up for adoption.
- My birth father was in the Army and transferred to Germany after the encounter. He was never informed of the pregnancy.
For years, I wrestled with what to do: Respect her privacy. No, I have a say in this. Let it go. I want to know where I came from!
Hiring An Investigator
I thought about hiring a private investigator – in fact, I even talked to one on the phone.
I asked him, “How do you usually get the names of the birth parents?”
He said, “To be honest, lots of times, it’s dropping somebody a $50 and telling them to look the other way.”
I didn’t hire this guy at the time. I wish I had.
Instead, I thought about her a few more years, always going back and forth between “letting it go” and “wanting to know.”
Finally, around 2012, I got angry and decided, “Dammit, this is my life, too, and I’m going to try to find her.”
I couldn’t find the contact info for the prior investigator I talked to and wound up paying OmniTrace $1,500 to find her.
I gave them everything I had. They ran check after check and turned up nothing.
In 2013, I sent a notarized request to the Maryland Department of Human Resources for my original birth certificate. No records found, is what I got in return.
At various times, I would do my own research on the internet. I thought, “If I could get the birth records of all the women born in 1943 in the state of Maryland, her name would be in there. Then I could weed through them until I found the ones that were close to 6′ tall with light brown hair of German descent.”
Needless to say, I couldn’t find such records.
I nagged OmniTrace now and again, but they found nothing.
At some point, I felt I had cried enough, gotten frustrated enough. It was time to let it go. It was time to stop blaming her for my missteps in relationships and move on. Heal thyself.
Act III – Trying Again
In 2015, I saw a hypnotherapist and asked her, “I’d like to go back to the womb. I want to know what was going on with my birth mother at that time.”
Thirty minutes later, after being relaxed, I began to feel my heart beating in my stomach. I was very emotional, near tears and received this message:
“You were given up out of love, not out of rejection. You just misunderstood the message that was being sent.”
That was a big moment and further confirmed the vision I got while in Peru, that my birth mother did love me before she decided to give me up.
In a follow up session with my hypnotherapist, I received another powerful message: “I didn’t write the letter I wanted to write.”
Again, I was tearful. I was upset with myself for not following my gut instinct and writing the letter to my birth mother that I wanted to write -not the one they advised me to write.
I left that session feeling, “Maybe if I’d written my letter the way I wanted, I could have connected with her and she would have agreed to see me.”
I regret not standing up for myself and doing what my intuition had told me.
In 2016, I paid for a saliva test through ancestry.com. I was interested to find out my ethnic origins.
During, the phone call, I learned that many people connect with family members through their DNA.
Hmm, hadn’t even thought about that.
So, I did the test and got my results. There were over 100 possible cousins to me in their database.
I emailed all the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd cousin matches. Only one person responded – a predicted 3rd or 4th cousin – and this turned up nothing.
I Thought I Had Let It Go
With geneaology leads exhausted, private investigations turning up nothing, and all these years having passed, I felt I had moved on.
Over the last couple years, I’d still think of her, off and on. But it felt more healthy – I felt I had finally let it go and worked through it.
Or at least that’s what I thought.
My girlfriend helped me make a video using the picture I had of my birth father, along with clues from the heritage letter.
I posted it on my Facebook profile and asked friends to share it. Later, I spent $300 promoting it to those living in the Baltimore area.
I thought, “Somebody’s got to recognize him.” Of course, I was hoping if I found him, he could lead me back to her. It was always about her.
My girlfriend and I broke up in March 2017. We dated for almost 6 months and the breakup hurt me deeply.
Things Come To A Head
Saturday, April 22, 2017
I’m walking at the dog park and I’m thinking of my ex-girlfriend and I begin to feel emotional.
And then, pow!
Out of nowhere, I’m almost in tears, but it’s not my girlfriend, it’s my birth mother I’m about to cry about.
I was shocked. I thought I was over this. Guess not.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
I had a friend in town and we had things to do, but the next day after he left, I let the tears flow once again.
I guess I’m not done with this after all.
Monday, April 24, 2017
On Monday morning, I woke up having just dreamt of her – I had NEVER dreamt of my birth mother before.
In the dream, she left me a voice mail, “I know you’ve been looking for me. If you’re looking for financial help because you’re scraping along, I’m not going to be able to help you with that. I’m going to go ahead and leave you my phone number, so you can reach me.”
And she did. The full phone number.
But as dreams go, I only remember the area code – 267. But even better, she left her name – Ellen Newman.
I woke up tired and instead of going back to bed, scribbled down the information. I made coffee and hit Facebook and Google, searching for “Ellen Newmans” in Maryland or Pennsylvania (the 267 area code is Philadelphia).
There were a couple, “Well, maybe,” but nothing jumped out at me.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
The next day, I decided to call the adoption agency again to restart the search for my birth father and to check to see if any laws had changed with regard to me finding my birth mother.
Much to my surprise, I reached the same social worker who’d found my birth mother 15 years earlier!
I thought she was retiring, so I was thrilled to reconnect with her.
As we started talking, she whispered, “Have you tried DNA testing? A lot of adoptees have found their birth parents this way.”
“Yes,” I told her. I couldn’t find anything out. But she planted a seed.
We talked further and she said, “Your mother was one of the most clear of all the birth mothers I talk to. She was firm in the fact that she did not want to be contacted again.”
I told the social worker, “I am upset because I did not write the letter I wanted to write.”
She said, “Write another letter!”
I thought I only had one shot at this?
She said, “It’s been a long time, maybe things have changed.”
So, the next couple days I started working bits and pieces of my new letter. My ex-girlfriend (the one who helped with the birth father video) even took notes over the phone while I labored through an emotional attempt at dictating it.
At the same time, I was reading The Girls Who Went Away.
I was getting a pretty good picture of the attitudes toward unwed pregnant women in the 50’s and 60’s.
As I read story after story, I cried. I felt for my birth mother – the shame and embarrassment she must have endured.
Things were different then. In the culture that followed the end of World War II up through Roe v. Wade in 1973, birth control was not readily available.
Women who got pregnant prior to marriage were shunned, many of them sent away to homes hundreds of miles away from their home to give birth and give away their babies.
The social worker told me about CUB and I watched the video below on their site.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
I’m reading more and more stories in the book, but here’s the one I’m waiting for:
The birth mother gives up her baby.
The baby grows up and contacts her.
The birth mother rejects that baby again.
I want to find that story, so I can really get into the headspace of how she could not want to see me 36 years later.
I mean, I understand the whole idea of giving me up for adoption. The Girls Who Went Away has helped me make sense of this.
But I don’t understand the part about not wanting to heal. I don’t understand how you wouldn’t want to let go of all the hurt and embarrassment from so long ago.
So far, all the women describe happy reunions with their children.
Thursday, April 27, 2017
On Thursday, I get to thinking and I email the social worker.
“I’m working on my new letter. Any way to confirm my birth mother is still living?”
I’m getting really emotionally involved and before I go too far down the road of hope, let’s see if she’s still still alive.
I mean, I’m guessing she is, she’d only be 73, but let’s make sure.
I’m also hit with a ping of, “Why did she come to me in a dream if she’s still alive? That seems weird.”
The social worker agrees to do some research and get back to me.
But I decide to go a step further. At 2 in the morning late Thursday night/Friday morning, I can’t sleep.
I get up and re-email a few 1st-2nd cousins from DNA matches on Ancestry.com. I also send multiple messages to people who are related to two different Ellen Newman’s on Facebook.
I scratch out a fast. emotional letter (version 4 at this point) detailing our first Act – my first 36 years up to making the first move to contact her, the second Act, the 15 years in between after she says no to seeing me, and what I believe could be our third Act, where we re-unite, heal, laugh, and love.
Friday, April 28, 2017
On Friday morning, I wake up early, having only slept 5 hours.
I’ve decided I want to try to hike Dog Mountain once a week and today’s the day to do it again.
It’s a very difficult hike. It takes me 90 minutes to get to the top. I always try to go non-stop: Slow Don’t Stop.
I arrive at the top exhausted and nautious. I plop down and before I can stomach the food I’ve brought, I check my email.
I have a response from a woman I contacted on Ancestry.com:
My name is ______ and I live in Bel Air, Md, which is just north of Baltimore. My mother , who is 89, is I’m guessing, the CW you referred to in the email you sent my daughter. My Mother’s name is ________ and is the first cousin to the person that I think MIGHT be your birth mother.
I have been on the computer for most of the morning looking for info and now I need to get ready for work. Very sorry to tell you that the person has passed away. I’m just giving you the info I have and I hope it helps.
As I type this info, I realize it isn’t really much proof. The thing that made me think it was her is that she had brown eyes, long light brown hair, was thin and was very tall. She was also very sweet. I will dig more when I get home.
Everything jibes with what I have on the heritage letter.
So that’s it.
I’m not emotional right away. I’m exhausted at the top of this mountain. I’m drained after 51 years of wanting to know her name. I don’t know where I’m going to get the strength to get down this mountain.
Of course, I do get down.
I recite her name the whole way down.
This is where I came from. I get emotional and tear up.
Keep treading down this mountain.
Same middle name as my Mom.
She died 5 years ago. What was I doing in October 2012?
Dating someone else. Maybe at her friends house for Halloween giving kids trick or treats. I remember that evening. We didn’t drink. It was fun.
Her name. After all this time, now I know.
I haul ass home because I have a pre-scheduled appointment with my hypnotherapist. Ironic, yes, I’m seeing her again during this intense self-help period in my life.
By the time I get home, I’ve got another email and a voicemail from someone else on Ancestry:
I left you a message as I thought you needed a answer after all this time. You can find him on facebook but I do not think he is on there a lot. I will try to reach out to his sister as she is in Salt Lake City.
When it rains, it pours.
It Was Always About Her
Contact with my birth father remains to be seen. The woman who gave me his name is trying to track him down. He hasn’t been heard from since leaving Georgia 4 years ago. She’ll let me know.
Honestly, I only ever wanted to find him to get back to her. If he or anyone from his family reads this, I hope they won’t take it personally. It’s just how it is. For me, it was always about her.
My whole life – from feeling different at childhood, wondering about her as an adult, being shut down as I reached out the first time – to trying again; I wanted to know where I came from.
Trying To Understand The Rejection
Thanks to Ann Kessler’s book, I have a good idea now why my birth mother gave me up. That makes sense.
What I don’t understand is why she wouldn’t want to see me after I reached out to her.
Friends and counselors speculate that, “Maybe the pain was so bad, she just couldn’t go there again.”
I wanted to help her heal. I thought I could give that to her, if only she’d met me.
Now, it’s only me that needs to heal and move on.
I’m contacting Ann Kessler. I’m half way through her book and so far all the birth mothers express such remorse, such regret over their decisions to give up their babies.
This is what I sent her:
I’m 51 and adopted. My birth mother opted not to see me after I reached out 15 years ago.
Yesterday I finally found out through geneaology she passed away 5 years ago.
While I am happy to finally have her name and explore that, I still need to really understand how she could reject me after all that time.
Logically, I get it – she was in pain. But I really need to hear it from someone who lived it. I want to know it.
I’m half way through your book and haven’t heard that story yet. Maybe it’s coming. I intend to finish.
If there is anyone you feel moved to share my story with, I would love to hear from them. I would love to heal the second rejection.
I’m waiting for the story from the birth mother who explains how she was contacted and despite her longing, she was still unable to go back. I want to understand and have it integrated into my soul how she could reject her child a second time, after all these years.
Logically, I do get it. But emotionally, I want to feel it.
I know I’ll hear back from Ann. I hope to hear from a birth mother who can really take me there.
Doors close, doors open.
I now begin processing all of this.
Hopefully, I can speak with siblings, family members, and friends of my birth mother to find out who she was.
Did anyone know she had another child? Am I disrepecting her privacy, even now that she is passed away?
I don’t know. But I still want to know about her and what kind of person she was. I’ll feel this out and I decide where to draw the line. At last, the decisions are in my hands.
In one of my new letters, I wrote, “I can’t imagine the pain you must have felt your entire life.”
In another, I wrote, “I love you even though I don’t know you.”
As I sat atop Dog Mountain, I felt, “I’m glad she’s out of pain.”
She’s getting my messages now. Her and I are connected. I believe she knows. I’m working on taking her into my heart.
A close family friend wrote me:
Can’t imagine what you must be feeling right now..relief, sadness, elation and certainly expection of what else you might discover along this journey. I’m happy for you that you finally have some information about your birth mother and perhaps you have siblings that you will learn about. Know that we are thinking about you.
Relief and sadness for sure.
I just wanted to know where I came from. Now I know.
Now I get to move through it and let it all go, once and for all.