My mother chose to raise me after I was born to another. I am not sure it was the right choice for her as she was raised in a family of anger, distance and a myriad of dysfunctional behaviors.
I didn’t learn of my adoption until I was 51 years old. I needed my birth certificate to apply for a passport. She said she would send me a copy. A few days later she called to tell me she had mailed me a packet of information. “I sent you a newspaper article about Kent Hrbeck, my favorite Minnesota Twins player, your birth certificate, ‘You’re adopted you know,’ and a recipe for fish boil.”
I learned the specifics of my birth sandwiched in between a sports figure and a method for preparing fish! My head was reeling, my heart pounding and my hands were wet with perspiration.
It was clear that my adoptive mother felt passionate about keeping this secret from me. I chose to honor her wishes and never spoke of it again while she was alive.
While my mom was difficult, she expressed her love as best she could. She was married to a raging alcoholic who kept her in fear all the time. When my father would come home from a night of drinking, he would always want me near him. She would make me sleep on the floor next to his bed so, when he called out for me in his drunken stupor, I was there to calm him.
In her final years, I had to confine my mother to a nursing home because of advanced dementia and, ultimately, cancer. She became more and more abusive to me, making it clear that her role as my mother was one she had never wanted.
I always fantasized about my birth parents. I wondered if they were good people, did they regret putting me up for adoption? Did they ever think of me and what my future held?
After her death, I needed to find answers. I knew one person who could fill in the holes of my life that were so empty to me. I called her, and she did confirm the circumstances surrounding my adoption. She provided me with my actual adoption papers stating the names of my birth parents. To my surprise and disappointment, learned that I was born to a woman who I only knew as my cousin. Mine was an intrafamily adoption, my mother offering to take me from her unwed niece as her own.
I know these people! I used to babysit their son and twin daughters!
Wait a minute. These are my twin sisters and my brother!
My birth father was a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, serving on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, DC. My birth mother was a meticulously dressed woman who never left her home without full makeup, well-coiffed and nails done. Staunch Catholics, they had a Mass at their wedding; my birth mother beautiful in her virginal white satin wedding gown and lace veil.
Here I am surviving a childhood of fear, exposure to the violence of alcoholism, lack of demonstrable love from both parents and feeling that, if I was going to be anything or have anything, I was going to make it happen on my own.
And I did.