Adoption, Connection, Faith, Family, Generations, History, Hope, Monday Mornings, Parents, Relationships, Spirituality

My Old Kentucky Home

(Disclaimer – I do not speak for all adopted folks. I need to make that clear from the start. The process of adoption was much different in 1958 than it is today. I don’t ever recall hearing about “open” adoptions with other adopted people my age. Everything was “closed” – court records, original birth certificates, anything that might indicate who the birth parents were. Adopted kids had little to no information to go on when it came to the birth parents.)

Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash

I recently wrote about finding my birth mother after sixty-three years. I haven’t named locations, names, or siblings out of respect for family privacy. No one ever knew of her first pregnancy, and I waited to share the details until she said it was okay for me to do so. That changed a week ago. She had lunch with some of my siblings on Friday. She wanted them to know about me.

I was on the tractor Friday morning and just happened to idle down so I could talk to one of Opal’s volunteers. I heard the phone rang. It was a Kentucky number with no ID. I thought it might be my insurance company since they’re in Kentucky, so I answered. “This is Greg. May I help you?”

“Hello, this is your sister Dana. Mom told us about you, and we can’t wait to meet you” (I now have two sisters named Dana). An explosion of joy burst in my gut. We’ve spoken, texted, and messaged several times since.

I found out I have two brothers and three sisters. My youngest brother, Danny, sent me a message Saturday morning telling me how excited he was to have an older brother and to come be part of my family in Kentucky.

I’ve learned so many things that overlap my birth and adopted families. In fact, it’s almost a little eerie when I think about it. My sister and her husband farmed until her husband couldn’t anymore. My other sister, Becky, writes for the local paper and has the old family farm place.

I won’t take up your time, gentle reader, with all the stories and conversations that have taken place in the last couple of days. It’s been a lot for me to process and I’m not sure I could anyway. My wife, Margaret, and I were sitting out on the front porch last night enjoying a quiet summer evening. She told me how happy she was for me. I feel a bit of guilt though. She would love to see the child she had to give up for adoption so many years ago.

Like my own mother, she thought that would never happen. I recently purchased a DNA test for her so maybe, just maybe…

Margaret asked me how I feel about this blessing. I had to pause. I fell silent for a couple of minutes. Finally, I had to admit that I was at a complete loss for words. It’s something I can’t explain. It’s as though my life finally came together. The pieces of the puzzle fell into place, and life makes sense.

I could never have asked for a better family than my adopted parents and sister. I loved my parents (both are gone now) more than I can say. My sister, Dana, is and will always be my sister. I was so grateful when my birth mother asked if I had a good life. The answer was an emphatic yes. Far more than I deserve I can assure you.

My parents may have let me know how special I was to them, but the rest of the world doesn’t usually think so. I once asked my maternal grandmother why she treated my cousins so much better than me. She promptly, with bitterness in her voice, informed me that they were blood, and I was not.

(Aside – I found out in my adult years that Mom had once told her that our family would no longer attend family functions if I wasn’t accepted as their son. Thanks Mom!)

I always thought being adopted was special so most of my peers knew it. I remember having an argument with another kid back in elementary school. I don’t recall why we were arguing but the words “at least my mother wanted me” haunted me for years. Kids say the cruelest things…

I began to make up stories about where I came from. Imagination is the answer to not knowing. I could be whoever you wanted me to be. Fear of rejection or abandonment led to a chameleon approach to living and the addiction and co-dependency that often accompanied it. It took recovery and a loving God many years to deconstruct the lies I told to and about myself. But that’s another story…

Words fall short of explaining the emotions going on. This search could’ve gone in an entirely different direction – one leading to the fear I’ve spent so long overcoming. I’m more comfortable with facts and actions than I am words and feelings. So, I’ll be leaving for Kentucky in the next couple of weeks. The journey continues…

Photo by Joshua Michaels on Unsplash
Adoption, Belief, Children, Faith, Family, Generations, Gifts, Grandchildren, History, Love, Relationships, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch

Why This Birthday is so Special…

Saturday was my birthday. I turned sixty-three. I have no qualms about sharing my age. I never thought I’d live this long. My stubbornness, denial, and rebelliousness followed a downward path long past their expiration date. God had other plans and well, here I am – blessed to be one of His kids and grateful for the love, mercy, and grace He filled my life with.

I’m not big on birthdays. They’re just another day in my book. The farm still must be tended, chores still need to be done, and life doesn’t go on hold because its’ my birthday. However, this one was different. It was truly extra special.

I awoke to a message from my birth mother wishing me a happy birthday. I never thought that day would come. I called her later in the morning. She couldn’t believe the day had come either. Tears welled up in my eyes when she told me she had prayed for sixty-three years to be able to wish happy birthday to her firstborn.

Much has transpired since our initial phone call. We speak regularly. She’s waiting for the opportunity to gather my half-brothers and sisters around to tell them about me. Such things are better done in person. Once they know about me, I’ll be taking a trip to meet her soon. I’ll also be able to share more of the details of this miraculous time in our lives…

I learn more and more about my family history every time we talk. I’m constantly amazed by the synchronicities of my birth and adopted families. A bond has developed in a very short time.

She told me that August 17th was the birthday of her favorite nephew. Through family circumstance he became more than merely a nephew. He’s also sixty-three this year. She told me she often thought that God knew the pain of giving me up for adoption and placed Michael in her life to help deal with the loss. She told me that God sees us through loss in a loving and caring way. Her child was gone and yet she was given a special relationship with a nephew born days apart from me.

I thought about that a lot this week. My parents are both gone. Dad passed in 2002; Mom in 2017. My youngest son, Jeremy, died last year. God didn’t “take them” from me. The cycle of life goes on. Yet, God placed my birth mother in my life at just the right time. I’ve been given a special, special gift.

I’ve missed Jeremy terribly over these last few weeks. It was his constant urging that led me to find my mother. I wish he were here to celebrate this joyous moment together. I don’t know what it’s like in the world he finds himself in, but I do believe he knows. I did it Jeremy. Thanks for pestering me about it…

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

Adoption, Aging, Children, Choices, Culture, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Gifts, Grandchildren, Gratitude, History, Monday Mornings, Patience, Prayer, Relationships, Respect, Responsibility, Stories, Thoughts From the Porch, Truth

She is My Mother…

It was a typical hot July morning last Wednesday at the farm. The heat and humidity was already oppressive and it was only nine AM. I’d just set up the pump and started the irrigation going. I drove down to the section I’d be irrigating and got out to move the hoses, muttering all the while about the sweat that had already soaked my t-shirt. It was going to be triple digits that day. “Summer’s finally here!”, I exclaimed and started down the walkway between sections. That’s when the phone rang.

Normally, I won’t answer a number from out of state and with no identification. However, my insurance is in the same area code as the one on my screen. “This is Greg. May I help you?”

“Hello. This is ******. I received your letter. I am your birth mother”. (I’ll explain the ****** in a moment.)

I had to take a second to let it sink in. “Wow. Thank you for calling me”. Words left. Her voice. I heard her voice. I heard my mother’s voice. Sixty-two years of wondering. Sixty-two years of not knowing and dreaming about where I come from stopped with those words, “I am your birth mother”.

“I want you to know I’ve often thought about you, especially in August (my birthday month). I’ve hoped and prayed you’ve had a loving family and a good life.” Her voice was sweet and soothing, chasing away the doubt I often felt about being wanted.

Tears filled my eyes. My face flushed. Emotions went wild. She cared. She thought about me. I had no idea how much it meant to me.

I regained my composure and told her how blessed I was to have been adopted by two loving parents who wanted me so desperately. They told me I was adopted, that my birth mother loved me enough to give them a wonderful son. From the earliest I can remember, they read The Chosen Baby, a popular book among adoptive parents back then, to remind me how special I was to them. I couldn’t have asked for better parents. I hoped she understood what a priceless gift she had given me.

We talked for over an hour. She told me she had looked me up on the internet. People run so many scams on older folks I can’t rightly blame her. She must’ve seen an old newspaper article which quoted my mom about my gardening experience. It turns out I inherited some of my birth mother’s DNA for gardening as well. She’s no longer to work outside due to her health and she misses it dearly.

I asked about my birth father. She confirmed what I’d figured out through DNA Detectives, the folks that started me on this journey. I suppose I have a half-sister in Southeast Texas.

I asked if her family knows about me – that a child was given up for adoption. She told me that no one has ever known except one of her sisters. The pregnancy was hushed and never spoken of again. She was sixteen, Catholic, and it was a different time. Such things were best left secret. Add her father (my grandfather) to the equation and it all makes sense. He was an alcoholic. She never wished to upset him. I understand completely. That’s for the best in an alcoholic home. Apparently, addiction and alcoholic DNA skip a generation, but that’s another story…

She raised a family of her own. I have half brothers and sisters, but time and circumstances prohibit me from contacting. If things were different…

For this reason, my birth mom shall remain nameless for now. I’m careful to omit any details that might reveal who or where she is. It’s out of respect for this sweet woman who gave me life. I tried to have no expectations when I began this search. It could have gone in directions I’d rather not go. My letter could have gone unanswered or worse, I could’ve heard “please don’t ever contact me again”. Like my friend Edgar always tells me: “Pray for the best and prepare for the worst…”. My prayers have been lovingly answered.

Now I know. I wasn’t discarded or placed for adoption because I wasn’t loved. I was given a chance at a wonderful life by sweet, probably scared, sixteen-year-old girl because that’s just how it was sixty-plus years ago.

This might not make sense in today’s culture or to someone who isn’t adopted. What does it matter if anyone knows about it? For one thing, it was a closed adoption. Neither party knew little, if anything, of each other. That’s the way the system kept it. It was 1958. There were few open adoptions in post-WWII America and even fewer in 1950s Texas. Besides, adoption agencies often painted a pretty, but blatantly false and misleading, picture of the biological parents so the baby would be more appealing to the new family.

I had a Zoom meeting getting ready to start so I had to get off the phone. I had to ask, “May I call you?”.

“Of course, please call”. Her voice cracked just a bit and I heard, “May I call you, too?”

My heart leapt out of my chest. She wants to call me! “Yes, yes, of course. Please call me anytime”.

She softly said, “I love you”.

I managed to blurt out, “I love you, too” before I hung up the phone. The tears flowed freely. “I love you, too…”

I immediately called my wife. “You’ll never guess who I talked to for the last hour. My mother.”

“Wow”. She said all she could say was wow. I get it.

I’ve had some time to think about my next steps. In fact, I’ve thought of little else. I’ve started a list of questions. I also want her to know how blessed my life is and I have her to thank for it all. After all, she put the ball in motion…

Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash
Adoption, Aging, Children, Choices, Courage, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Generations, Hope, Persistence, Prayer, Relationships, Stories, Writing

Are You My Mother? Part Two

I wrote “Are You My Mother?” back in May of this year talking about the search for my biological mother. I said I would share my journey and issue an occasional update. Life has been a bit hectic since then (it’s tomato season at Opal’s Farm). Today I find myself seriously (and somewhat fearfully) asking someone if they really are my mother.

I’ve learned a lot since that original blog. I had assistance in my search through an “DNA Detective”. Apparently, my DNA matches were strong. The closest DNA match turned out to be an aunt living in Louisiana. Not a maternal match, though. A series of connections traced back to what appears to be my birth father in southeast Texas. Unfortunately, he passed away in January of this year.

I did see pictures of him. My wife was astounded by the family resemblance. I may not have a definitive answer yet, but it’s looking that way. Patience, patience, patience…

It’s likely I have a half-sister and a niece as well. I’ve always had friends say something like, “I saw a guy in Dallas (or Houston or wherever) that looks just like you. He could have been your brother”. I’m sure that happens to everyone but when you’re adopted there’s always the “what if” question. I’m sure I have at least one sibling out there.

I finally received a maternal match and learned who my grandparents were. They even made an issue of LIFE Magazine, but that’s a whole other story. I’ll share it when the final confirmation is made. It appears their youngest daughter is bio-mom. All of the times, dates, and places match up. The DNA detective sent me pictures from her high school yearbook. They blew me away. I looked in a family mirror for the first time in sixty-two years…

The resemblance was remarkable. I grabbed a picture that sits in my office. It’s of my dad and I when I was a toddler. I held that one against the yearbook pictures. If the woman in the yearbook isn’t my biological mother, I’m sure it must be one of her siblings. Quite frankly, I was elated and terrified.

Final confirmation required contact with this woman I’ve never met. The DNA detective helped me craft a letter. I didn’t wish to open any doors that she wanted to remain closed. Unwanted pregnancies were looked at much differently in the waning years of the Eisenhower Administration.

I wrote the letter, sealed it up, and took it to the post office after a three-day delay. I sent it certified mail – return receipt requested. Now I wait…

I’m acting nonchalant about this whole deal, but inside I’m excited and scared to death. I’ve thought about being able to send this letter for the last forty-plus years. I never thought it would happen. I’m trying desperately to avoid expectations. The reality is that the response may never come and if it does, it may not be the one I want.

Regardless of the outcome there will be another chapter to this story. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com
Adoption, Birthdays, Choices, Connection, Emotional Health, Family, Generations, Grandchildren, History, Persistence, Relationships, Stories, Thoughts From the Porch, What Can I Do

Are You My Mother?

I was perusing my email Saturday and a headline caught my attention – “Woman discovers star of favorite childhood TV show is her long-lost birth mother”. It was a beautiful story about a 54-year-old woman who found her birth mother through one of the DNA testing services – Woman discovers star of favorite childhood TV show is her long lost birth mother – Upworthy. Another feel-good story that went viral….

I’m adopted. I often think about my birth mother. It doesn’t diminish the love I have for my adopted parents. I couldn’t have asked for a better mom and dad (and they were my Mom and Dad). I’d just like to know where I come from. Do I have siblings? What is (or at my age, was) my mother like? Does she ever think of me? Is the profile the adoption agency gave my parents even true?  A recent NPR/Think interview with Gabrielle Glaser, the author of American Baby: A Mother, A child, and the History of Adoption, casts doubt on the adoption process during the post-war Baby Boom years.

I get all stoked up to find my own birth mother every time I hear of miraculous reunions of birth families. It quickly ends up on the back burner and is soon forgotten. The desire to know about my birth mother is real but, if I’m to be honest, is also terrifying. What if she was glad to send me away? Would she even want to meet me? Would it be too traumatic for her? Am I uncovering things best left buried? The list of questions goes on and on.

I’m told by those closest to me and, most importantly, by someone who has given up a child for adoption, that not a day goes by that the child is not thought of. I’d like to think that is the case with my birth mother. Like the story that caught my eye, I’d like to think that my birth aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings have been looking for me; that I’d be welcomed with open arms. It’s a great fantasy, but reality can have a far different result. They are more likely to be somewhat apprehensive of someone claiming to be a long-lost family member. It would be for me.

The search for “bio-mom” didn’t feel right when my mom and dad were alive. They had provided me with the personality profile of my birth parents that was given to them at the time of my adoption. That should be enough. I didn’t want to cause them harm or unnecessary anxiety. That was more in my head than theirs. Several years before Mom died, she asked me why I hadn’t tried to find my birth mother. She let me know that it was perfectly fine with her. She wasn’t offended or stressed out. It would be perfectly natural to be curious. I’m good at offering excuses – adoption searches are costly financially, mentally, and time wise. Besides, I’m too busy right?

The quest became more important after my son Jeremy died last May. Jeremy was always frustrated that I wasn’t diligently searching for my birth mother. He wanted to know more of my past than I did. He loved his grandparents but never hesitated to remind me that we weren’t blood related. He wasn’t content knowing we were supposedly of Irish and Scottish descent. He wanted to know who we really were. Maybe it would answer other questions too like the addictions and depression that lived in our little family.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the last year. I joined Ancestry.com a few months back. Jeremy always reminded me how meaningless it was to look at the Joel family tree – it simply wasn’t us. So last year’s birthday present to myself was a DNA test.

It wasn’t unexpected when DNA matches began to arrive. We’re far more connected and similar to other folks than we’d like to think. We share 99.9% of our DNA with other human beings. The .1% sure seems to cause big problems for such a small percentage, but that’s another story…

I have a plethora of 3rd, 4th, 5th, and so forth cousins. You get the picture. There have only been three close family matches so far. I ventured messages to each, but I’ve never received a response. I’m not sure how to process that. It’s early in the journey so I’ll let it slide for now.

I’m finally stepping out Jeremy. Your brother and the three grandkids will keep me on task. So, this is how it begins…