I Am Who I Am
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
I Am Who I Am
In the middle of the afternoon the phone rang interrupting Delores from her afternoon ritual of chamomile tea and the daily newspaper. The caller did not identify herself but quickly confirmed she was speaking to the right party. She further inquired if the date, July 17, 1959, had particular meaning to Delores. Assured by her long silence, the caller then announced, "I believe that I am your daughter." Last week the Oregon State Supreme Court ruled that adoption records in the state be opened allowing thousands of adoptees access to once private statistics that could now lead them to the discovery of their biological parents. As much as adoption reformists contend that adoptees can only be fulfilled by reuniting with their birth mothers, there are many self-adjusted adoptees who view the search to discover their roots unnecessary, risky, and a breach of the birth mother's rights. I am one of them.
I was adopted when I was three months old and for as long as I can remember, I have always known and accepted that I was adopted. I consider myself to be well adjusted. I have been happily married to the same man for twenty-five years and we have two children of our own. I have close relationships with my parents, my sister, who is also adopted, and several friends. I have also found fulfillment in my work as a vocational teacher. I do not feel the need to search for my biological parents to find my identity because I have established my own.
At age twenty-four and shortly after the birth of my first child, I temporarily succumbed to the "natural genealogical curiosity that even the most successful adoptee feels" according to Soransky, Baran, and Panner, noted social scientists on adoption reform. I contacted the adoption agency that transacted my adoption to seek non-identifying information. Always thinking that my birth mother was most likely an unwed teen, I was quite surprised to discover that she was twenty-four years old when she gave birth to me. I learned that to protect her devout Catholic parents from the disgrace of an unwed pregnancy in 1955, she moved away to live with her sister and brother-in-law. The social worker at the time stated in the record that my mother was an intelligent, responsible, and caring individual. She was employed as an apprentice to an accountant. The worker went on to say it was after much debate that my mother decided to give me up for adoption, persuaded by the fact she was not yet able to provide the family and support that every child deserves. She stipulated that I be adopted by Catholic parents, but the record showed that, out of concern for my early adoption, she called three months after my birth to state that as long as it was a Christian family she would be at peace. I had already been adopted. Forty-five years have passed since that woman selflessly granted me a promising future. I am not bitter. I feel only gratitude and respect for her. I concluded my query by leaving a letter to her in my file, should she ever search, telling her that I was happy, prosperous, and thankful she had the courage to do what she did.
After an exhaustive nine-year search, a close friend and fellow adoptee obtained the phone number of a person believed to be a biological relative of his birth mother. Shaking with anxiety as he dialed the phone number and then smiling at me as he confirmed his information, he was not prepared to hear that his mother had been killed by a drunk driver just one year before. Consumed by emptiness and heartache, he felt it was as if the earth had opened up and swallowed him in that moment. Searching
has its risks.
After finding her birth father and being rejected, Nashira, age 33, implies in her story, "Very Painful Adoption," that she was about to commit suicide "ending the life that never should have been." All reunions do not end in bliss. Despite this fact, my adoptive sister contends, as well as do adoption search organizations, such as the Adoptees' Liberation Movement Association, ALMA, that every adoptee should reunite with biological parents. In fact, one of ALMA's goals is to unseal confidential adoption records to make this objective easier.
My adoptive sister was fortunate to have successfully reunited with her biological parents who are now married to each other. She was elated when she found her birth mother, but the discovery led to major upheaval in her mother's life. The legal assurance of a lifetime of confidentiality had been betrayed, as a social worker had given my sister identifying information that led to her mother's discovery. Her birth mother risked losing the family she now had, as lies once told had to be revealed to both her husband (my sister's biological father) and five other siblings. She was again confronted with the personal shame associated with an unwed pregnancy in the 1950s, the guilt of her mistake, and the pain of abandoning her child at a time in her life when she was unable to provide for her. I disputed whether my sister had the right to impose on her birth mother's right to privacy. She argued that times and social mores had changed. While it might be true that modern attitudes and realities of adoption no longer support the cloak of secrecy upon which sealed records laws were based, I choose to uphold the assurances made from the moral consciousness of an earlier time.
The decision to search for one's biological parents is as individual as a mother's decision to put her child up for adoption. Betty Jean Lifton, a prominent adoption activist, strongly feels that adopted persons are "social pariahs who are unable to develop a sense of identity, wholeness, or belonging unless they seek and find their biological parents." I have always known who my "real" parents are. They are the ones who chose me, a colicky three-month old baby who was so fussy that she had already been in two foster homes. They provided a loving Catholic home, sent me to a Catholic elementary school and instilled my values. I even look a lot like my father. They always assured me of their support should I ever choose to search for my birth parents. I have my own identity and I do feel whole. I do not need to be defined by my biological parents. I am who I am.