Thursday, November 23, 2017
It’s Thanksgiving Day. This is typically when many celebrate time with family and friends, watch football and if they are fortunate, have a fulfilling meal. And while this is the case for me as well today, I am feeling especially grateful.
I was put up for adoption at the age of six months. One of the many blessings I’ve had in my life is that I was raised by a family that gave me unconditional love and support, even through my period of struggle with mental illness and addiction. I would not be here today without the care and love I received.
As an adoptee, however, I always had questions: What were my birth parents like? What did they look like? What were the circumstances of my birth?
I spent well over 50 years with these questions. For much of this time I resigned myself to believing that I would never find anything out about my biological parents.
Finally, about two years ago I decided to request information from the New York State Adoption Registry. Several months after my submission I received a document that gave very little information; simply the age of my birth parents and their ethnicity.
But about a month or so later I received more detailed non-identifying information from the adoption agency that holds my adoption records. In this document, I learned some significant things. For instance, I learned that my parents had met in college. It also gave information on their ethnicity, appearance and even their interests. It also stated that my mother had blonde hair and blue eyes! Now that flipped me out considering that I’ve got dark hair and brown eyes. Didn’t see that one coming.
As a result, I decided to search further and sent for an Ancestry DNA kit. Once it arrived, I spit into the little tube, shook it up, and sent it in for testing. About 5-6 weeks later I received an email that my results were in. The first thing I saw was that my ethnic make-up is about 2/3 Caucasian and 1/3 African.
My report also had information on “matches” – people who shared some of the same genetic background I do. I attempted to contact a couple of these individuals with no success. Dismayed, I ended up deleting the app from my phone, thinking that I would never make a connection. All of that effort for nothing.
But then came the fateful day. It was Father’s Day, 2017, one day before my birthday. That evening I received an email from a woman who claimed to be related. I was dumbstruck and astounded at the same time.
This woman, Greta, explained that she had been trying to get information on her birth father’s family and that she and her mother Jan, who was assisting her, came across my Ancestry profile and subsequent match with another family member (who ironically wanted nothing to do with finding out any information).
We agreed to communicate with each other and I was on Cloud 9. We eventually confirmed through another genealogy website that we are second cousins. Greta and her mother then took on the task of searching on my behalf to find my birth mother, who they believed may still be alive.
It was at this time that I decided to reload the Ancestry DNA app on my phone. Shortly after having done so another person appeared as a match. In this case, the person, Charlotte, was identified as a “first cousin, close family member.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. I immediately sent her a message and she responded shortly afterwards. We set up a time to talk. When we spoke, I learned that she too was adopted, and like me, her mother was white and her father was black. We determined that our fathers must be brothers. Unfortunately, she knew no more than I did about our birth fathers. But nonetheless, we were thrilled to have made a connection.
The summer went on and I continued to correspond with Greta and Jan. Eventually, on October 29 I spoke with Greta and Jan again. This time they informed me that they were pretty certain that my mother Jane (not her real name) was still alive. Unfortunately, Greta explained that it was told to her that Jane lives with a serious mental health disorder. This would account for my life experience with bipolar disorder. I can’t say I was surprised to hear this although it was still very saddening. Greta also confirmed that I have three half-siblings. I couldn’t believe my ears.
Greta said she had more information to share and would be in touch shortly thereafter. That day I had to leave for the Beaver Hollow Conference Center (referenced in my last post). That evening, after having settled in, I received several emails. One was titled, “Pictures of Jane,” another entitled “Pictures of Half Siblings,” and the final one was “Important Information.”
I quickly opened the emails with the pictures and was astounded to see a picture of my mother from 1968 holding my oldest half-sibling Tammy (name changed). Jane had the biggest smile on her face. There were also a couple of other pictures, including one of Jane when she was about ten years old.
The pictures of my siblings were great as well. There was a group photo that included Tammy, my other half-sister Carrie, and my half-brother Tom (names changed). I was absolutely awestruck by all of this information. Greta explained that Tom had agreed to correspond through Facebook.
So, there I was, at this conference center, with no phone reception. Fortunately, there was wi-fi so I could at least text and Facetime with my wife and a couple of close friends. I felt alone and separated but I felt God’s presence comforting me.
Finally, on November 1, at around 11:30 pm I decided to send a message to Tom. At that moment, I got extremely anxious. Now, I’m not prone to anxiety but I was literally shaking as I typed the message. I started by saying, “Hi Tom. It’s a bit awkward to say, but how are you?”
And that’s where it began. We messaged back and forth for the next couple of days and then agreed to speak on the following Sunday. When the day arrived, I was so excited. I called Tom and we proceeded to talk for about 1 ½ hours. We had a wide-ranging conversation, much of which was about our own lives as well as that of Tom’s knowledge of Jane. I learned that she has not been a part of Tom and is sister’s life for many years. This is due to her mental health disorder and her estrangement from the family which was something that Tom and his sisters have come to terms with.
Later that week I also spoke with Tammy and Carrie. Each one of them was very open and welcoming, as was Tom. I felt an extra sense of welcoming and acceptance which I’m extremely grateful for this considering that in so many ways it could have been different.
Carrie has made plans to visit me and my family in the end of January and I’m hoping that we will have the opportunity to all get together in the not too distant future.
This past weekend I was able to meet Charlotte in person. It was such a wonderful experience. The simple fact that I was able to look someone in the eye and see a piece of myself was something I never thought I’d be able to do. Charlotte’s beautiful countenance shone brightly and we connected immediately. Her husband Jon accompanied her and his warm demeanor made our meeting just that much better.
Please forgive me for this extra-long post. There is just so much that I need to say. When I was at Beaver Hollow with my feelings being churned in a blender I came through the experience with a newfound sense of faith in God. I can say, without hesitation, that God is at work in my life. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up folks. Looking back at my life I have come to realize that God has manifested through the people in my life. And the circumstances of the last 5 months have served to prove that to me.
So, if you believe in God or not, believe that I do.