Tears From Cold Water

August 1, 2000.  That was the day my half-brother died.  I’d never met him, but since I’d learned about him in 1982, his 5th grade photo always had a prominent place  on my dresser (along with that of his younger brother, a half-brother I have met, though we don’t ‘do fractions’ very well… he’s my brother, and I’m “Hey, Sis.”).  Those photos are  still there. I remember looking at my e-mail at work for the last time  that day, and seeing the message from my cousin. (I didn’t have a computer at home).  She let me know that he was gone, and what we knew of the details at that time.  He’d drowned.  He was  a competitive swimmer as a child, and I couldn’t make sense of it.  I cried.  I went  up to the front office where the accounts person was still working.  I told her what I’d found out, and just sat there, numb, for a few minutes.  I stayed numb about much of his death for years.

My thoughts  immediately went to my birthmother.  She’d been through a lot in her life, and then her eldest son was gone.  I wanted to write to her, but I didn’t want to seem like I was being opportunistic in getting in contact with her during an unimaginably painful time.  I wanted her to know how much I was thinking about her, and that I wished I could do something.  What, I’m wasn’t sure.  But, I was horrified that she was having to go through the death of a child.  He was closing in on 30 years old, but as a nurse, I’d seen many parents face the deaths of their much-older children, and it was always a kind of grief that is unmatched.  But during that time, my bio-mom and I weren’t in contact.   I heard about her through other biological relatives, but it was a complicated situation.

Then I thought about the ‘what ifs’.  What if my bio-mom and I got back in contact, and the chance came about that I might meet my half-brothers?  I’d never know that with A.  What if I ended up with a relationship with my half-brothers, whatever it might be?   I’d never have that with A.  Had he known about me?  I later found out that he had.  But at the time of his death, all I knew was that possibility was gone in ever knowing A, face to face.  My hopes of some sort of  contact died that day.  It’s not a tangible loss.  It’s the loss of a dream.

In 2010, I ended up with leukemia.  I was expected to do well, but in case things ended poorly, I wanted to let my bio-mom know what was going on, and not just find out I’d died, if that should happen.  We hadn’t been on ‘bad terms’ by any means, it was just very complicated, and time was needed since our first contact by mail in 1982.  She did want to reconnect in 2010 and had been trying to find me (my name is pretty nondescript, and I’d moved from the last place she knew I’d been), and we’ve had an incredible relationship since then.

While I still have trouble talking about him, she told me what happened to A.  It was an incredibly hot day, and he’d gone out to the river to swim.  What he didn’t know was that the dam upstream had been released the day before, and much colder water than usual was flowing down the river.  When his body hit the water, that was so much colder than his core temperature, his heart just stopped.  Done.  Over. A life ended.  From cold water on a hot day.  He’d been used to going to the river.  He knew about water safety, and was an incredibly strong swimmer.  None of that mattered.

In some ways, that helped in easing some of the horrible images I had in my head of his last moments.  It’s unlikely he struggled, or couldn’t get his breath. He didn’t fight underwater.  He hadn’t suffered.  He may have felt an odd chest sensation for a few moments, not really long enough to register anything, but then…nothing.   That has been somewhat  comforting, to know that he wouldn’t have felt pain or the panic of final minutes.

But I still cry.  I have some CDs of his music sessions with friends, and it’s very hard to listen to them.  I’ve managed to at least hear his voice on a few songs, and I’m so thankful I have those CDs.  I’m sure I’ll get to the point that I can listen to them. But now, I still just cry when I think about the day I got that e-mail.   I can talk to my birth mom and brother about A.  I love hearing about when my two brothers were kids.  I have a bunch of photos of all of them, which are treasures, and I’ve got some of my bio-mom, brother, and myself together, which I’m also so thankful to have.  I think the three of us ‘kids’ could have been a nightmare together, in a good way 😉

When I see stories about drownings, I always think about A.  When I see those looney ‘polar bear’ ice water swims in the winter, or jumps into ice water after saunas,  I cringe.  When I think about how easy it is for life to be done, I am thankful for the days I have, and wish with indescribable intensity that A had had ‘his share’ of time on earth.  It took me about 12 years to be able to wash my face in the shower. I didn’t want to have to hold my breath in water when I thought my brother had drowned.  (I finally got the bright idea to look down when I rinse my face, so there was no need to hold my breath… :/ ).   Even though I never knew A personally, he was a part of my life for the 18 years prior to his death, in the form of ‘what ifs’, trying to guess what he looked like ,  and those precious photos on my dresser.   Now, I do have contact with my bio-mom and brother, and I’m  so incredibly thankful for the relationships with them. They really are special parts of my life, and knowing them has helped me know myself better.   I still think about A, though.

He’ll always be part of my life.

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Finding Myself As I’ve Connected With My Biological Mother

I was placed for adoption at birth.  Growing up, I was told about the adoption as soon as I was old enough to grasp the concept of being a ‘chosen baby’ (name of a book my mom read to me).  It wasn’t a big deal, and I was accepted into both sides of the family like any other kid.  My parents (what I call my adoptive parents, since they’re the ones I knew growing up) made sure I had everything I needed, as well as a lot of ‘extras’ (music lessons, sports lessons, trips around the country, trip to Europe, etc).  And yet, there was the natural curiosity about where I came from, and who was ‘out there’ that was my biological family.  My parents were aware of this, and always told me that once I turned 18 or 21 (I forget which), they’d help me find my biological mom (or bio-mom as I refer to her on paper… sounds like some type of bio-fuel). :/   I call her by her first name in person, and with people who know me; I do respect her privacy by not naming her in posts.

I was encouraged to do a search when I was 19 by a psychiatrist I was seeing for eating disorders.  He thought that if I felt like I’d ‘come from somewhere’, I’d feel more secure in general.  I’m not so sure about that, but I did want to find her.   The adoption agency was contacted, and with two phone calls, the social worker had her on the phone. He explained that her wishes would be respected if she didn’t want contact, but she did.  We began writing and exchanging photos.  I was so excited to learn about her interests in photography, animals, and that she played the flute (I did, as well).  I was thrilled to hear that I had half-brothers.  She was still in contact with my bio-dad, and shared some information with him.   Both of their situations were complicated, and he didn’t feel comfortable writing, but he saw photos, and I found out I also had half-brothers on his side.  My bio-mom and I wrote for a while, but it was hard to just jump into a relationship (for both of us, actually).

She’d gone through hell during the pregnancy with me, mostly being shunned and shamed by her immediate family, and being sent across the country for the sole purpose of ‘giving me up’, staying with her aunt, uncle, and cousins (it was more complicated than that, but that will work for a blog post).  She wasn’t given a choice, and didn’t feel she had any options.  She never wanted to give me up, and back then, the biological fathers didn’t have any say.  She was almost out of high school when I was born, but for decades, having in illegitimate child was something that was dealt with in cruel ways.  It was felt that ‘it was for the best’, or (mostly) ‘what will the neighbors think?’ were more important than the impact that giving away a child would have on the two who created that baby.  My biological parents had dated for years.  They stayed really close friends until his death from cancer in the 90s, even with their own families.

Anyway, during the time we had  contact  when I was 19, things were  getting  more complicated, and she let me know she needed some time, but that if I had ANY questions, I was free to contact her.  She never cut me off completely, but I felt like giving her time and space was best.   If it meant that I wouldn’t have contact for years, and that it was best for her, that was gonna be  OK. I did have periods of time when I was frustrated with not having ‘general’ contact, but I understood that she had more people and situations to consider.  I had a lot of my own ‘stuff’ to work out, which became much more intense after I was raped a few months later, so I really wasn’t  in a great place to build a new relationship at that time.  It probably worked out for the best that we both took the time we needed to get some things ‘settled’.    I moved to Texas before and during this general period of time, and had contact with the aunt and uncle she’d stayed with during her pregnancy with me. The first Christmas in Texas, I got to meet the cousins in that family, which was amazing. There were times when we were talking, and I’d say something… they’d all get quiet, and finally one of them would say “You sound JUST like __  (bio-mom)!”. 🙂   I got close to one cousin in particular.   We’ve stayed in contact since  that Christmas in 1985, seeing each other whenever she was in Texas, talking on the phone, e-mails, and my visit out to her and her husband’s home in 1986.

Fast forward (I’d been back in my hometown for 8 years, not in Texas) to the period of time I was on chemo for leukemia.  My prognosis was generally quite good, but being an RN, I know that things can go wrong.  Complications can change things in a heartbeat.  I decided that if something should go wrong, I didn’t want my bio-mom to get a call telling her I’d died without the option of reconnecting before that.  I wrote her a letter, deciding that whatever her decision, it was going to be what was right for her, and that was what I wanted. As it turns out, she was ready to reconnect.   I had been talking to the cousin I’d been close to for years (bio-mom’s first cousin) when the call waiting clicked , but I decided to finish the conversation with my cousin, and figure out who had called after that; I didn’t get a lot of phone calls.   When I hung up and checked the call log and saw my bio-mom’s name, I freaked (in a very good way !).  I immediately called my cousin back and told her who had called, and she told me to call her after I called my bio-mom back !  She was excited, too !

I was elated and nervous to talk to my bio-mom, but something that had never happened in 48 years happened. I  heard her voice.   It was on October 30, 2010… coincidentally on the last day I had the arsenic chemo.  When she answered the phone, it took about two seconds to feel comfortable talking with her.  I don’t remember how long we talked, but long enough to do some catching up, and some general interests type of stuff. We also agreed that we wanted to keep talking on a fairly regular basis.

The next Spring (2011), she came to visit.  We met for the first time, and had fun getting to SEE and hug each other, and taking photos (which I won’t post out of respect for her privacy… her friends and family all know about me, but throwing it all out there for the world is different 😉 ).   She and my dad met; my mom had died in 2003.  My mom would have loved to meet my bio-mom.

That summer, my cousin (bio-mom’s first cousin) and my bio-mom surprised me when they BOTH visited !   I’d known my cousin was coming (we hadn’t seen each other in about 13-15 years or so), but after she’d been inside for a few minutes there was another knock at the door (VERY unusual for me to have two people here in a MONTH, let alone a few minutes), and bio-mom was at the door !   We had a ball for the next few days.  They brought me a laptop and all of the accessories and a digital camera.  The laptop has been my primary source of social interaction; prior to that I had no way to interact besides the phone, as my other computer had croaked at least a year earlier.  The computer has been a life-changer, not only with social interaction but with the ability to have things delivered as it’s become more difficult to shop and drag things inside from the car.  They showed my YouTube, iTunes, and some other fun stuff, and I found Facebook a few weeks later.

With the computer, I’ve been able to have contact with my biological dad’s family (his brother, and a cousin), as well as extended family on my bio-mom’s side… I don’t have a family tree.  I have a family tree farm !  And it’s great.  (I’ve started doing genealogy stuff on Ancestry.com, and I literally have five trees going).  The next summer (2012), I got to meet my  maternal (half) brother, which was wonderful (and I really like him- not just care because we’re related- he’s a fun guy ! ).   I’ve messaged my paternal half-brothers (who are considerably younger), but so far no contact with them, and that’s OK.  They found out about me after their dad’s death (by many years), so I’m sure it’s all a little weird.

I’ve listened to my other maternal (half) brother’s recorded music sessions, though I haven’t been able to listen to all of them; he died in 2000 (I’d been told back then what had happened, and it destroyed any possibility of ever meeting him, even though I wasn’t in contact with my bio-mom at that time).  Since getting their elementary school photos in 1983, I’ve had them on my dresser (they’re still there).  They’ve always been close to my heart, and when A died, it was really hard, even though I didn’t even know if he knew I existed.  I later found out that he did.  But it’s still too hard to listen to his voice, knowing he’s gone.  I’m able to talk to my bio-mom and brother about him more now, but sometimes I still just cry, remembering the day I got the e-mail telling me he was gone.  I couldn’t stand the idea of my bio-mom going through that when she’d been through so much (more than I’m writing). I have some great photos of A, as well as the brother I’ve met.

Since that first phone call, my bio-mom and I speak at least weekly, and we sometimes have ‘marathon’ calls lasting for hours.  We have so much in common, and our general interests are very similar.  How we dress, our views on ‘dressing up’ (clean t-shirt, or if it’s really fancy, a woven top :p ), sense of humor, and other things are so, so similar.  It feels  great to know where I get some of my preferences and traits- even though I never knew what she liked/disliked until we started talking regularly (the letters had some general stuff).  There’s absolutely no awkwardness when we’re together.

We’re family.

Being Adopted

I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, but haven’t really known where to start.  I still don’t, but I just got done watching the movie “October Baby”. The storyline isn’t anywhere close to the circumstances of me being put up for adoption, and yet there are things that I think go through the heads of most adoptees. At least while we’re young.

For clarification purposes, let me throw this out there: I differentiate between my families in the following way- my ‘real’ mom and dad (parents) are my adoptive parents- the parents I grew up with and knew from the beginning. This also applies to the rest of my family- my adoptive family is my real family. But, my biological family is just as important in different ways. My birthmother (who I address by her first name) is very dear to me. We had written contact in the mid 80s, and then first talked on the telephone on October 30, 2010.  We’ve talked regularly since then, and she has visited several times; we’ve both been amazed at our common likes/dislikes and interests. I’ve had various forms of contact with many biological relatives. One of my bio-mom’s cousins (I think that makes her my first cousin once removed) has been a very close friend (as well as my cousin) since we met during my first Christmas after moving to Texas in 1985.  

I ‘always’ knew that I was adopted. My parents never hid that fact, and it was essentially a non-issue. My mom used to read a book to me called “The Chosen Baby” that explained adoption to young children in a very positive way. My family never made an issue about me being adopted; I was just one of the kids. (On my dad’s side, I was the only grandchild; on my mom’s side, I am one of twelve grandkids- I’m # 7).  Several of my parents’ friends had also adopted kids, so adoption was just a ‘normal’ part of my life, and the lives of many people I grew up around.

First Birthday !

When I got older (teens) my mom and dad told me that if I ever wanted to find my biological mom, they’d be supportive. When I was 19, in the midst of some intense emotional stuff, it was recommended that I make contact. Through the adoption agency that handled my adoption, contact was made after just two phone calls by the guy at the agency. My birthmom and I wrote for quite a while, and then life was happening, and we didn’t have contact for many years. I understood that she had other things and people to consider, and while she NEVER cut me off completely, she needed some time  to sort through stuff that was stirred up.  While I missed having contact, I absolutely understood that things were much more complicated on her end of things. I  respected the need for time and space. In some strange way, I  ‘got it’.  And, I was also going through some things and needed some time to sort through those things, and to grow up a bit.  I now think that the time without contact allowed for us both to be ‘ready’ when we first talked and then met. 

When I was a young kid and into my teens, I did wonder about my birthmother.  All I knew is that she had gotten pregnant while she was in high school. Pretty standard story (at least from my end of things). I knew that she’d gone on to college, and that was about it.  I always wondered about siblings. I grew up an only child, and dreamed about having brothers and sisters.  I wondered if my bio-mom was OK.  I wondered about that a lot. I wondered if she was happy. I wondered about my biological father as well, but I think the maternal bond is stronger, regardless of any actual personal knowledge of the birthmother.  I  sometimes wondered  why I’d been given up, even though I knew she was still in high school.  I wondered if she’d wanted me, or just thought of me as a major inconvenience that just happened to come along before abortion was legal. I wondered if she cared about my biological father.  Since meeting her, I’ve had these questions answered, and I’m relieved with what she’s told me.

As far as anything ‘deeper’, there were times when I felt like I wasn’t meant to be, though my parents wanted a baby very badly. They’d lost two newborns within two weeks of their births during the 4-5 years before they got me. When I’d see happy scenes on TV, when someone had just had a baby, I imagined the day I was born as something that was a relief when it was over.  When I was going through rough times, I sometimes wondered why I hadn’t been aborted (legal or not, people were still having them).  I did have dark things go through my mind, but in the end, I know I’m around for a reason…I’ve survived way too much to have been a fluke.  🙂

I’ve been asked if I ‘hated’ my birthmother for giving me up for adoption. I’ve talked to pregnant teens who were relinquishing their babies, and also to people who were just curious, and the answer is an absolute “NO”.   I could never hate her.  I could never be ashamed of her. I could never think that she was ‘bad’ for getting pregnant. I could never imagine what it was like for her, going through a pregnancy knowing she was going to have to give the baby away. I could never judge her for the decision to put me up for adoption…sometimes people just don’t have any other choice- for whatever reasons.  Those involved in that decision thought it was the best thing to do- and since I wasn’t in their situation at that time, I have no frame of reference to judge my birthmother. Being an unwed pregnant teen in the early 1960s was judgement enough. Even when I was in junior high and high school in the late 70s and early 80s, I remember people sort of gasping when they heard about someone being pregnant and unmarried. The message was clear- and I can’t even imagine how hard that had to be to live through.

There were times when I wondered where she was.  When I was at the University of Illinois, I did wonder if she was any one of the thirty-somethings I saw walking around town. Or if she was even in that city; I knew I’d been born there.  I wondered if I’d know her if I saw her. Or if she’d know me. Sometimes I wondered if she were alive, or if something had happened to her. I wondered if she’d ever seen my birthfather again. I wondered if she’d like me.  I wondered if I looked like her.  I wondered a lot of stuff.  There was a ‘hole’ from not knowing her, and ultimately about myself, and who I was …where I came from.

I understand why I was given up for adoption. I feel much more badly for my biological parents than I ever did myself.  I grew up in a ‘good’ home, and was given a ‘normal’ life.  They had to give part of themselves away.  I ended up with two families; they lost their child- though they both went on to marry other people and have their own families.  I’ve been able to talk to my birthmom about anything related to my birth and adoption, and that makes me incredibly fortunate.  I don’t have any other frame of reference than being an adoptee.  That’s my ‘normal’.  There are many things I won’t write about, out of respect for privacy for my birthmom.  But I’m lucky. While we don’t have a traditional mother-dauther relationship, I can’t imagine my life without knowing her.  🙂