Thursday, October 28, 2010


So here I sit. Emotions thrashed, engaged in discussions about the existence/nonexistence of infant reactions to the loss of their mothers. Why? I need to set it aside for now or risk falling down the rabbit hole of my own anger and sadness.

And yet I have spent much of my life feeling sad and silenced. Asking for help and getting little or none. Being ridiculed and abused, and even worse, being complicit in that ridicule and rejection. How awful is that? I have to return to what my therapist told me last week about my being exceptional at having compassion for others, but being bloody awful at turning that compassion inward.

Writing this blog is helpful, certainly. It feels great to stretch my brain and write for myself. Not an academic paper, not for anyone's approval. Just to write and revel in the pleasure of the words that run to my fingertips as I type. It's like swimming for me, only perhaps even better. I feel at home in the words.

I was speaking with my beloved friend Thomenon yesterday. He has been through more trauma than I can imagine in one lifetime and keeps going; he is first among my cheering section and has a bitchy wit unmatched by anyone I've ever met. He's written brilliantly and poignantly about his experiences under the Khmer Rouge here. I have been honored to be his friend and editor along the way, and to have him mother me when I go astray. He was my maid of honor at my wedding, and in true fashion, I was in my wedding gown trying to get *him* ready for the processional. I digress, but he is a worthy digression.

So yesterday he was telling me that I have a novel in me. "Why do you fight writing so much?" I don't know. Maybe I think I'm not worthy. Maybe I am still buying into the horrible things that people said to me in my youth. Probably. As my brother A, and Mark, and pretty much everyone who's heard my story of reunion (plus prologue and epilogue) has said, it's better than fiction. Certainly seamy enough. Thomenon came up with hilarious chapter titles, sent me off to do some academic reading to ground myself, and told me to have fun.

After all, I may have inherited clots and blood disorders and an insanely powerful liver able to withstand pretty much whatever I throw at it, but maybe I also inherited good writing skills. I can try.

Monday, October 25, 2010


I debated with myself all night about calling C back. My husband said that he probably couldn't. Adopted friends offered to make time over the weekend and hold my hand, to strategize. N called me and encouraged me to come to her house, to forge ahead. I still didn't know if I had the resolve to hear C's rejection delivered from her own voice.

I drove to N's lovely house. We talked, I cried, she held my hand. I dialed C's number what seemed like a thousand times before actually placing the call. I told N that it felt like I was jumping off a cliff. Then I pressed dial, and the phone rang at C's end.

C picked up. I said who I was, and she said she knew. She was angry, that she'd told the agency everything possible, and that she wanted nothing to do with me. I told her that I would gladly leave her alone if she told me who my father was. She told me that she didn't know. I said that there was a name in my file; she responded that she or her mother had made it up. She'd been drunk at a fraternity party and couldn't remember. I became upset and told her that that wasn't good enough. She hung up on me.

Then N, the angel and wonderful friend she is, immediately took the phone from me and redialed C's number. When C picked up, N said, "I am N, one of Kara's friends. We have all watched her suffer while trying to figure out who she is. Can you please give us her father's name, and we will leave you alone?" C responded that her friends found the way I treated her "heartbreaking," that she'd lost 10 pounds and was on anti-anxiety medication since I sent the letter to her last year, that I'd ruined her relationship with A, and that she didn't know who my father was. N told her that I'd almost died thanks to lack of medical information, and that C needed to think again about the party. Who was my father? C said, "Stop making this into a Lifetime movie. I was drunk, and I don't know." C was angry: "I don't know who he is; I can't remember; I feel nothing for you." N asked if she should take a trip to visit Mimi, my grandmother, who might have a better memory. C then screamed, "I wish I'd aborted you!" I couldn't help but agree: "That makes two of us!" Then C hung up.

It was surreal. In a different world, I could have sympathy for C. If she really didn't know who my father was, that was one thing. But it was no excuse for treating me like human garbage. How could a mother talk to and treat her child as such a millstone? To have no sympathy for my illness, to feel no responsibility to help me? I couldn't fathom it. As for ruining her relationship with A, she had accomplished that quite handily, all by herself. She had lied to him and then used coercion to have him end his relationship with me. I was numb and stunned. Where was there to go from here?

N had an appointment shortly thereafter and had to leave. I walked out of her house, got in my car, and called my dear friend Linda for a debrief. I was recounting the conversation when I saw C's number on call waiting. I told Linda I didn't want to pick up, for fear of repeat insults. Linda insisted that I take the call, and I did.

C immediately apologized. "I am calmer now. I do not wish I had aborted you. That is against my religion." I didn't know what to say. I started to cry. I told her that I loved her and that all I ever wanted was for her to be proud of me. She said, "I am proud of you. A told me about all the wonderful things you've done and what a lovely person you are. You all can do what you want." I asked if she meant that A and I could renew our relationship. She assented. I begged her to let him know, and she said that she would when he returned from Afghanistan. I told her that I was very sad not to know who my father was. She said, "I can understand that you are sad. I am ashamed. I wish I could help. I remember nothing. I made up details so that the social worker wouldn't think badly of me." I asked if she could recall anything about his looks. She said she couldn't. She said that my message to my aunt had outed her to her brother, that no one in the family had known about me except my grandparents; she only gained nine pounds during the pregnancy. I wondered to myself if she were relieved to have the secret out. I told her how much I loved A and how much I wished I could have him back. That I was raised an only child, and that he was all I had. She said that she would do what she could, that he was raised an only child too, and that I was his only sibling, but that any relationship would have to be his decision and that her husband "wasn't thrilled" about me. I asked if she had seen pictures of me. She said, "Yes." I then asked if she thought I looked like her father. She replied, "Don't feel bad. I don't even look at pictures of A. I am not a warm and loving person." What a terrible indictment of herself. I was sobbing loudly through all this; she was even toned and sounded numb. I felt that she was trying to take some of the sadness and weight back onto herself at last, to let it be known that none of this was my fault. She left it thus: "I have your number, and you have mine. I will try to open my heart to you. I will try to remember. If I do, I will let you know." And then we hung up.

I still haven't heard from my brother. I doubt that I will. Guilt and shame run deep in my  nfamily. I hope against hope, but I am afraid to open up too much.

Even with all the sadness I feel, my conversation with C has helped me to ground myself in a way that was impossible before. I had spoken to my first mother. I had roots. She had acknowledged me, to me, as her daughter. I wondered what it would be like to meet her; would things be different? Would she be able to feel anything?

I have only one real regret. There are two questions I wish I'd thought to ask her, but that I didn't think of in the heat of the moment. I have always wanted to know if she held me and if she named me. Two innocuous things, perhaps, but two things that are of enormous importance to me in knowing my story. Perhaps someday I'll get the chance.

I cannot tell you the number of times I've replayed that conversation in my head, and how grateful I am that N was with me that day. N is not adopted, and I think that her distance from the triad helped her to push through boundaries that my adopted friends would have considered inviolate. N is the friend I wrote about four years ago when I began this blog, the person I called my long-lost twin when I met her. I couldn't love her more; she is precious to me. She loves me with all she's got, and was there for me in my hour of deepest need.

I dedicate this post, and my heart, to her. She is family.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Only Connect

It was a Wednesday morning in early September. Callum, my elder son, was already back in school. Tobey, the younger, had another week off. We had stopped to visit a friend of his, and at 10 a.m., I found myself at a new dog park in Oakland supervising my dog and two children as they played in mud. I was getting my bearings when the phone rang. It was C's number.

I broke out into a cold sweat. I wasn't sure if it was C, her husband, a friend, or a pastor. I was certain that the message couldn't be good, though, and didn't have the strength to handle it without backup. I didn't want to break down in front of Tobey and his friend. I figured C had to be calling in response to the message I'd sent to M two days previously. I let the call go to voicemail and then immediately rang my beloved friend N, and texted my great adoptee friend Linda for advice. I knew I couldn't listen to the message. I saw it there on my phone, blinking and mocking me. Resourceful N came up with a plan, because I was paralyzed. She told me to come to her house at 2 p.m.; she would listen to the message, relay its contents to me, and then hold my hand as I listened to it.

The minutes ticked slowly by. I made my way to N's house. I gave her my phone and went to hide in the bathroom with my hands over my ears. I knew the message would cut me to the core and touch my deepest wounds. N listened thoughtfully and came to get me. She told me that in her estimation, it wasn't a bad message. She felt that C sounded frustrated, but not angry. I couldn't imagine that to be so. I returned to the bathroom so that N could play the message for Mark. It was brutal to know that my phone had captured the voice of the woman who gave birth to me, the same woman who cursed my very existence. It's quite a terrible thing to be hated by your own flesh and blood, for nothing you've done except be born.

N spoke calmly to me and eventually coaxed me to listen. She held my hand and pressed the button. A tired, and yes, frustrated--but also angry--voice articulated the following:

I hope this is Kara [pronounced incorrectly, of course]. I am calling from Mississippi to tell you to PLEASE STOP. I have answered all of your questions. My brother called me to tell me you sent him an e-mail; my mother is elderly and you will give her a heart attack. PLEASE stop. I'm asking you one more time, PLEASE STOP.

I felt for her. I understood how hard it must be to dredge up things long buried. Although most people assume I've never thought about her feelings, and urge me to do so, I've pretty much done nothing else for years. Weighing my needs against her pain, hating to hurt her. But at the same time, I was--and am--her child. Surrendering me did not sever the ties we share in blood. We had never spoken. She had never answered ANY of my questions except for the brief medical history the CI had taken by phone, and that had been incomplete. Willfully so. How had she convinced herself that she owed me nothing, that I mattered so little?

I winced at the disparity in our voices; I was raised north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and she below it. Had she kept me, my accent would have been the same as hers. It hurt to feel that this, the first time she addressed me by name, was in such a sharp, sad way. I wasn't welcomed, wasn't thought of with love. There was no homecoming, no sense of continuity. I was denied the reunion I had dreamed of; I had suffered the loss of C as an infant, and I suffered the loss of the relationship I had hoped for as I began to search.

And yet, for the first time, we had connected. She called me, spoke to me. I hadn't been ignored. She didn't acknowledge my feelings, but she put more of herself out there than she'd ever been willing to do previously. The question was, "What next?"

I paced the floors and spoke with friends. I wished I could have a friend call C for me, pretending to be me. I was frightened that I might be wounded even more harshly if she hung up on me or turned me away. I knew, however, that there was really no other choice than to call her myself, open myself up, and ask for the name of my father. I wanted to do so very soon, as well; I didn't want her to think that she'd succeeded in scaring me off or that I believed that I didn't belong. No way, not this woman. My time for sitting in the background was over. N offered to have me call from her house, while she held my hand, the following morning. There was no way I could sleep that night.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


It's a truism that we are usually our own best advocates. But stepping up and taking that responsibility isn't always easy. In my own case, I am handicapped by guilt, self-doubt, and chipped self-worth. Who am I to think that I deserve to be heard and treated as a human? It's not been my story so far, so why should it be any different now? 

Then again, if I don't advocate for myself, no one else will. I have a very impressive army of people who have my back, but I am the leader, the one who has to call the shots. It's intimidating, and also rather sad that the only thing I believe I am good at is learning and thinking intellectually. I can be a good friend, but I don't deal with conflict with much self-assurance. 

I have spent too many years of my life being bullied, dismissed, and ridiculed. When I asked for help in my youth, I didn't get it. I internalized what my bullies told me: "You're ugly, you're an idiot, you are hopeless, you're a failure." I still struggle against these ghostly messages. The people who said these horrid things to me are no longer in my life, and I don't think that people I have met in the past 10 years would think any of this about me. And yet it's just under the surface of my skin, ready to be triggered. In therapy today, my therapist said that I have immense amounts of compassion for others; could I perhaps consider treating myself with the same compassion? And yet I don't feel worthy of it. I've done all I can do to be a good person and treat people well, and yet the insults and rudeness seem to have an affinity for me. 

On a funny-sad side note, I was looking at my wedding photos with Mark the other night. There was a slew of guests who were downright cruel to me, not to mention judgmental. My Ph.D. thesis adviser, for example. You know what her wedding gift was? A stack of used magazines from her house. Nice. And my husband, messed up in his own way, thought that it was absolutely normal that his entire family boycotted our wedding (he had the audacity to marry a foreigner). How could they possibly travel to the US to celebrate his wedding with him? I should have told them all to fuck off. Well, at least I could do that now. 

How blind, sad, and downtrodden we were. Ugh. I feel pity for the person I was then, and joy that I had friends who were trying very, very hard to wake me up and show me that things didn't have to be the way they were.

Part of my adoption journey has been finding my own voice and place of power. There were all those years when I felt I couldn't overstep C's privacy, and felt that she needed to be supported and protected. Then I came to my senses and realized that while she's a valuable human being in her own right, I am, too. She doesn't have the right to cause me pain or harm. Upholding her secret is not my job, nor is it ethical for her to withhold my father's name from me. I wanted medical information that might help my chronic illness, and I felt my father and I had the same right to choose a relationship, or not. 

At the end of August, I began to sketch out a letter to send to C that would let her know I respected her position but that I thought she was not living up to the moral code she subscribed to as a Christian.

Dear C,

It has been nearly a year since you wrote to me. I am approaching you now in the hope that prayer and time might have led you to change your mind about communicating with me. I am sorry that my contacting you caused you pain and fear. You are the person who gave me life, and for that I love you.  

If you believe that ignoring me negates my existence, that is not the case. While my birth is something you've relegated to a file cabinet in the back of your mind, I cannot do that to myself. That is part of my story, my identity. However much you might wish me to be a figure in history, I am a living, breathing person with feelings. I hurt, I cry, I bleed, I love. 

You ask me to respect you. I do. What I will not do is deny myself, and who I am, to make life easier for you. I know you are a devout Christian, and I ask you to look closely inside yourself and see if you extend me the same respect that you expect in return.

I still care deeply and irrevocably about you, A, T, and W. However much you say that you have your family and I have mine, I am a Newman by birth. Nothing can erase that.

I have been suffering from medical issues for the past two years that have had a great impact on my life; this extends beyond hereditary spherocytosis. Tests have indicated genetic components to problems that could possibly have been avoided had I been able to provide my physicians with a more thorough medical history. Half of my genes are not Newman. I implore you to tell me the name of my father so that I may contact him and possibly help heal myself. 

Just as it is your choice not to have a relationship with me, my father should be able to make his own decision. 

You rely on the unmerited compassion of Christ, and I appeal to you to show that same compassion to me, one of God's creations.

Please pray on it. 

I sat on the letter for a week and polished it. I asked my friend Lori if she would be willing to mail it from Indiana so that C wouldn't recognize the Oakland postmark and simply chuck it in the trash.

I wrote the letter on nice stationery and had it ready to go. Then I was playing around on FB and checked my brother's page. Although he had broken off contact, he hadn't defriended me. It gave me hope that things might change with time. But that night, of all nights, I looked, and I'd been dumped. Sadness and anger welled up again. The wall between us was now up and complete once more. 

Back in May when I had received his cruel e-mail from Afghanistan and when his wife had defriended me on FB, I told myself that once A had drawn the line in the sand, I would begin to consider other approaches to my nfamily. I knew C's brother's wife was on FB, and I decided to send her a message. I was hopeful that someone in this family would be open minded and open hearted, as well as be beyond C's control. 

I had already drafted a letter to send; I tweaked it for a few hours and sent it off. Mark was horrified, as were other friends. I think they were concerned that I was setting myself up for failure and pain again, but I knew in my heart it would hurt more to attempt nothing than to continue to try and live my message: I am not a secret or an object of shame. I am a person with ties to these people, whether they like it or not. I had to advocate for my humanity because no one else would.

Here is what I sent: 

Dear M,

My name is Kara, and I am C's daughter. You may or may not know of my existence. C gave me up for adoption in 1969, at the time of my birth. I have been in contact with her, A, and T over the past year; C has declined to know me, but I met with A and T several times in San Diego.  

While I respect C's decision not to pursue a relationship with me, I believe that it should be the choice of each family member to decide how to proceed, or not, with the information that I am giving you. 

I am well educated, happily married with two young sons, gainfully employed, and at peace except for wanting to know where I came from. I am writing to you in the hope that you might be willing to share with me what you know of the Newman family. There is still so much about my myself and your family that I would like to learn. 

Humans have a genetic heritage that ties them to their families of origin. There are questions about myself that I cannot answer, nor will these questions simply go away. While adoption gave me a wonderful family, it did not erase the parts of me that are Newman: my looks, my intelligence, mannerisms, etc. 

I understand that I am placing you in a difficult position, but we are all adults. I hope that you won't immediately say no. Please take some time to consider what I've said and the immense difference your help would make in filling a dark hole I've been living with every day for 41 years. It's not a hole I can fill by myself. Believe me, I've tried. I am not an object of shame, or a secret: I am a living, feeling human being who happens to be a Newman by birth. 

Please do not hesitate to contact me either here, via e-mail (, or by phone (xxx-xxx-xxxx). Thank you for your time.


This was on a Monday, and then it was back to waiting, waiting, waiting. I felt proud of myself for being my own best advocate, asking politely and within reason to be acknowledged and heard. Unbeknownst to me, something hugely unexpected was about to happen.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I have felt very low the past week. I lost the momentum that I had in telling my story, probably because I am approaching the part in which I actually spoke to C. I want to tell this episode properly because it's so incredibly important to me, but I have to dig deep and face things that aren't too easy. I will do it. Maybe tomorrow.

Instead of committing to telling my own story, I got embroiled in several simultaneous blog discussions about whether adoption is traumatic for infants. There are different theories, but two main ones. The first says that all infants feel trauma in being separated from their first mother, the only mother they've ever known, the person whose smell and voice are familiar. Some adoptees never get over this loss, and some do. The second theory says that we don't have access into infants' brains to know what they feel, and can only judge bonding by their behavior. This theory states that infants are adaptive and one caretaker is just as good as another because infants will attach to anyone who holds them. Any emotional problems that adoptees feel come from the later discovery that they do not share genetic heritage with their adoptive family and the knowledge that they were surrendered by their first family.

In the discussions, it was interesting that most (not all) people arguing that infants feel no lasting effects from the separation and suffer no trauma were NOT adoptees. First mothers and adoptive parents, primarily. Both having a vested interest in infants feeling no loss. There was one adoptee around who argued that she feels no loss and doesn't want to be pathologized for feeling no loss. I get this, and she's entitled to her feelings. It just sucks for those of us who do feel that our separation and hot-potato handling through NICUs and foster care can't have been all that pleasant for the babies we were; our view, being unpopular with those who were adults in the triad and with society in general, is generally thrown out as being tainted by its unscientific nature and our "angry and bitter" take on things.

I am not angry and bitter. Well, maybe I am. But not because I was adopted, or because my aparents were awful. They did a tremendous job in raising me, and they love me unconditionally. I am angry with a system that let me rot in a NICU with no primary caregiver for six weeks and gave me phenobarbitol to shut me up. I am angry that I was placed in foster care for a month when my aparents could have taken me home from the hospital, or even visited me in the hospital so that my tender little neonatal self could have attached to them. I am angry to be dismissed and unheard as an adult adoptee; to be categorized and judged. To express an opinion and be told that I am unintelligent, unversed in adoption, and unscientific. I am very well educated and work in a very scientifically based field that has EVERYTHING to do with mothers and babies. I care what neonates go through. Advocating for babies is part of my job. I don't think anyone should have to go through what I did as an infant. I can't say for sure that it scarred me, but what if it did? I feel like it did. Anyone who knows me well and has known me from childhood can attest that I am, and have always been, very anxious. It took me years, into my thirties, to think that I was entitled to speak up and have an opinion. To insist on being heard. To feel that my needs were as important as anyone else's.

On Thursday I went with one of my closest and most beloved friends to see "Never Let Me Go," the film adaptation of Ishiguro's elegant but raw book about clones being raised for organ donation. I sat through it and was struck on two levels. The first was nostalgic, in that it followed the lives of clones as children, going to a school in England in the 1970's. I lived in England as a child during the 70's, and so much of the landscape, uniforms, school routines such as hymn practice, etc., were intensely familiar to me. I knew what things would smell like and feel like. Then there was the emotional complexity of what the clones felt, knowing they were different but not knowing. Suppressing things to make it easier to live. Wondering where they came from; looking obsessively for their "originals" in an attempt to find roots. Living in a painful state of in-between, and having society label them and control them. Where is the sense of self if your life is shaped so much by others that you have little to claim? Are you entitled to claim it? How can you? I haven't been able to stop thinking about these questions, or the film.

Sorry to spoil the plot for any of you who want to see the film, but there's a critical moment in which two of the clones go to see a woman who used to display art from their school. They hope to defer their "donations" so that they can spend time together; they are in love, and they believe that the art they made will prove to the powers-that-be that their love is true. They learn, sadly, that there are no deferrals, and that their art was exhibited to the public to prove they had souls at all.

Horrible thing, to be considered soulless. And yet this is how I feel some people, in those discussions earlier in the week about neonatal bonding, saw me. Funny how there's one standard for biological children, and one for adoptees. What a slippery slope.

And for all of my adoptee friends out there, does this resonate with you?

Thinking back now, I can see we were just at that age when we knew a few things about ourselves--about who we were, how we were different from our guardians, from the people outside--but hadn't yet understood what any of it meant. I'm sure somewhere in your childhood, you too had an experience like ours that day; similar if not in the actual details, then inside, in the feelings. Because it doesn't really matter how well your guardians try to prepare you: all the talks, videos, discussions, warnings, none of that can really bring it home. 


Saturday, October 09, 2010

What Am I?

I can say who I am, and in a vague sense who I was born, but my interactions with my first family have left me asking, "What am I?" My aparents did not raise me to treat people as less than human, or as something disposable. I have done things in my life that I'm not proud of, and I've treated people in ways that I wish I hadn't. I have been selfish and rude. I own that. And yet I have never, to my knowledge, treated anyone as an object, an annoyance, an old shoe.

Through all my searching, I hadn't had any direct contact with C until last November. One Saturday evening I arrived home from a relaxing dinner out with my family and went to the mailbox to collect the post. On the top of the stack was a letter, with no return address and the postmark of Memphis. I knew it was from C. I began to tremble. It didn't seem a good thing that the envelope was thin, and when I opened the letter and saw the size of her script, I knew the message was not going to be pleasant.

She wrote:

Nov. 18, 2009

[No salutation]

I am telling you for the last time. I DO Not Want Any Communication Nor do I Want You Contacting my family.

When I left the hospital 40 years ago, I left you and what happened behind. My life has continued very well and happy. There is nothing to gain. I did what I thought was right.

Accept what you cannot change.


[All emphasis and capitalization hers.]

I was struck immediately by the lack of salutation, by the erratic capitalization, and her assertion that I was a personal belonging left behind and no longer wanted, missed, or thought of. How presumptuous of me to think that my own MOTHER would care a fig about how I was doing.

I was stunned. I knew this had to do with her own steel-clad coping mechanisms, which were in direct conflict with mine. It felt enormously, wearingly sad and dark. I was inhuman to her. How could a person treat another person with so much contempt and disrespect? Oh yeah, humans aren't very nice a lot of the time, but still.

The letter arrived shortly after she realized that I was going to visit A, last fall. She was attempting to guilt me into backing off and going back into the closet with whatever other skeletons she has. Needless to say, it didn't work.

A knew, and there was no stuffing the truth down again.

My husband and friends advised me to take the letter with me when I went to visit A, for full disclosure. I showed it to him, and he confirmed it was her handwriting and that it sounded like her.

When I visited T in April, she brought up the letter again and said that when C sent it to me, she was also sending lengthy epistles to A, day after day, begging for his forgiveness and compassion. A was angry that she had lied to him, and she was a busy supplicant, all the while bashing me on the head with venom and guilt. Hypocrisy. Lies. Secrets. They do so much damage, and I seem to come up the loser in all scenarios involving A and C.

I understand that my birth was not a good time for C. I understand that she has her own trauma related to what happened so long ago. I understand that none of this is easy, for her or for any first mother. I respect that she has no desire to know me. And yet it hurts, excruciatingly so, to be a chapter in a book so readily torn out and burned, a narrative denied. To count for nothing. To be a nonentity. To have C insert herself between A and me and destroy that, as well.

I still have the letter. I will always keep it. It's the only thing I've ever touched that she wrote for ME. Sad, isn't it, keeping a poison-pen letter for sentimental reasons?

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Dead

I mentioned in an earlier post that I found a community of like-minded adoptees in 2008, who have been my mainstay through the tempests of the past year. I have also come to love many first mothers who have rallied around me through the worst of things with C, and convinced me the rejection has everything to do with C, not me. [Sidebar: I do hate it when people say, "It's not *you,* it's the situation." Well, the situation wouldn't exist if it weren't for me. I do buy that it comes from C being unwilling to tap into her long-vaulted emotions or to think of me differently than a random piece of flesh she left at the hospital 41 years ago.] Special first moms have been loving and generous and open and kind, and their kindness is backed up with actions, even when I say things that some first mothers might find painful.

One of these mothers is Lori. I love her more than I can say. We met on Facebook and exchanged our stories. She was patient and supportive of me, just listening. It turns out that Lori lives about half an hour away from where C grew up, and where most of C's family still lives. Last spring, Lori invited me to visit sometime and go to the towns where my ancestors are buried, with her by my side. This didn't seem like it would happen for a long time, but I was touched and honored by her offer.

I have been on medical leave from my job for a problem that resulted from my splenectomy. This past spring, the pain in my abdomen became excruciating. Tests showed nothing but the clot, and prevailing research says that clots don't hurt. This I don't understand, especially when my clot is almost 2cm long and blocks the main thoroughfare to my liver. But what do I know? I was put on high doses of narcotics, which I don't actually find all that nice because they numb me up and make me sleepy all the time. I saw different pain doctors and my hepatologist, started acupuncture, massage, and reiki. But it still sucked. Finally a smart doctor decided to run a series of genetic clotting tests on me; these tests should have been done when I walked into my first hematologist's office four years ago, with no medical history to speak of and an existing blood disorder. Nope, she didn't. Then I found out last December from A that he also had had a serious venous clot, out of the blue. I told my doctors this, but they still didn't act on it for six months. Not a bright lot. What *really* pissed me off was that C *knew* about A's clot but didn't say a word about it when the CI asked her for medical history. She also didn't tell me about my grandfather's Alzheimer's, or the alcoholism. Nice. Again, I was never a person to her, and certainly not family, so what good could this information do for me? It's infuriating to be such a nonentity to her, but there was nothing I could do about it.

So as it was, in July, I was off work. The annual Adoptee Rights protest is in the summer and coincides with conference of the National Council of State Legislatures. The idea is to get access to lawmakers and describe to them how adoptees are denied passports and treated like second-class citizens because we are not allowed to have copies of our original birth certificates (OBCs). For those of you reading who aren't in adoptoland, an adoptee gets an amended birth certificate after the adoption is finalized. This amended certificate testifies that the adoptee was born to the adoptive parents. The OBC is put into lockdown and no one, except those working in Vital Records, is allowed to access it. There are currently nine states that have allowed adoptees access to OBCs, but the other 41 deny petitions. I want to talk about this in more detail in another post, but I find this practice of secrecy and treating adoptees like potential rabid criminals to be unconstitutional. The usual argument against access is that first parents don't want to be found, but statistics show that a clear majority *do* want to be found. But even that is a red herring. It's a civil right that we're denied, and it makes no sense. Certificates do not equal search or reunion, and first parents were never guaranteed a right to privacy. That's an invention of the adoption industry that was used to entice women to surrender their babies. We have a right to know our original identities! End rant.

The protest this year was held in Louisville, Kentucky, and I decided to go and put my money where my mouth is. I was thrilled to be able meet so many people I already knew online, and to make many new friends, as well. Louisville is a two-hour drive from where C's family comes from. I wrote to Lori and asked her if she could do a reconnaissance mission and find my grandfather's grave before I arrived. She readily agreed, and fortuitously found it immediately upon entering the cemetery. She took a picture and sent it to me on her camera phone. I cried. It hurt to know that the only people in my first family who would accept me are the deceased ones; they can't reject me or send me away. I asked Lori if she'd be willing to take me there, and she graciously accepted.

Early on a very hot Saturday morning, I drove west from Louisville to the southwest corner of Indiana. I listened to Mary Gauthier's brilliant new album about her experiences being adopted, "The Foundling."
Hot tears slid down my cheeks as she sang, "Rock-a-bye, baby/Mama ain't coming back." I enjoyed the gloriously green landscape as the miles ticked down, happy to be in air conditioning since it was 97 degrees outside with God knows what humidity. I grew up in the Midwest, not all that far away from where I was driving; C traveled to the nearest big city, St. Louis, to have me and leave me behind. I arrived in the small town where my grandfather was buried and pulled into the parking lot where Lori was waiting for me. I looked at the sign by the highway, which rather taunted me.

As I parked, Lori stepped out of her car and ran to hug me. I was so happy to have her with me. She told me that she would do whatever I needed. I didn't want to let go of her. I cried. We got into her car, and I tried to compose myself. I asked to stop at the town florist (hoping there was one, because this was a very small town).

We passed a flotilla of churches, truly one on every corner, and found the florist. I walked in and almost started crying again when I realized this was where the flowers for my grandfather's funeral had most certainly come from. And that the woman behind the counter knew my family. I could have started some great gossip, but I figured it wouldn't do me any good. It was tempting, though. The florist asked if I wanted daisies or alstromeria or carnations. "No," I said, "A dozen long-stemmed red roses." She raised her eyebrows and went into the back cooler to get them. Lori stood by me at the counter as I tried to figure out what to write on the card that I planned to leave at the grave. Here's what I ended up with: "Dear Bill, I am sorry that secrets kept me from you for so long. I love you. Your Granddaughter" I am, by the way, the only granddaughter; it's a small family, and in my generation there's only my brother and two younger boy cousins. I paid for the flowers, mentioned that I was leaving them for my grandfather, and we left.

We drove down the street and around the corner to the cemetery, across from the grain elevator. Lori turned into the driveway, and there was the grave. I got out of the car and walked over to the headstone, kneeled, and started to talk to my grandfather. The words came thick and fast, like my tears. I touched his name on the cold stone, tracing every letter. I lay my head against the granite, wetting the surface and trying to soak him up. I was filled with sadness that I came too late, although I can't be sure he would have accepted me. A said once, though, that he felt that if our grandfather had still been alive, he would have put a stop to all the madness.

Lori sat with me, hugged me, and validated what I said and felt. I was with my guardian angel. We left the flowers and tied the note to the flower holder with ribbon. I hoped that someone would read it, but it seemed unlikely that it would last through all the rain to come. I also noticed that my grandfather's was the only grave without flowers. His two brothers and his parents had silk flowers, but there were none for him. It felt like he was waiting for me, although it's ridiculous to think so.

Lori took me to another cemetery where my grandmother's parents are buried, and I visited their graves, as well. It felt good to be with my family, although I am relegated to the margins, along with the dead.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Before A left for Aghanistan, he asked me to look after his wife and son. I was the only family he had in California, he said, and he wanted me to be there to help them. I told him that I take my responsibilities seriously, and I did.

I called T at least once a week, and we arranged for me and my younger son, Tobey, to visit her and W in April. T and I had great conversations on the phone about all kinds of things. She told me that she enjoyed having a sister-in-law to talk to; she confided in me what things were difficult with A gone; she made me laugh. We made tentative plans to go to Yosemite together in July. I was excited to think ahead about hosting T and W in my home and showing them around. 

The weekend of our trip to San Diego arrived, and Tobey and I made our way south. T took us to a rodeo, and I reveled in the familiar smell of horses. T told me that A had competed in rodeos back in his teens; I had been an avid horsewoman myself. I was thrilled to discover another point of intersection! T and I found a place in the bleachers with a great view for the kids, and we sat back to enjoy the music, John Wayne voiceovers, and the wonderful riding and roping skills. The two boys were entranced, and it was glorious to watch their eyes light up and grins spread across their little faces.

Several hours later, we took two tired young men home, and I helped T cook a simple dinner. We were having a lovely time chatting, although I am far more effusive than she is, and from time to time I wondered if I were too exuberant and too much of a Yankee. After dinner, we took the boys to run at the park near their home, and soon it was time to put them to bed. I was excited to have time alone with T and hoped that we would have a deeper conversation about what was going on in the family.

We sat back, drank some beer, and T opened up. I learned that C had married A's father less than nine months after I was born. I found that T was very sympathetic to me; she said that as a mother, she could in no way understand how C was able to turn her back on me the way she was doing. She said that she felt the driving forces in keeping C from wanting to know me were A's father and C's mother, my grandmother. T described a pervasive atmosphere of bitterness and dysfunction that saddened me. I wasn't sure what I was to do with the new information I'd gathered; did T want my help? If so, what could I do? If I said nothing, would she think I was abandoning her? If I tried to advocate for her, would I be overstepping my boundaries as an outsider? I was deeply confused and unsettled. Every now and then, T would ask if I wanted to stay up and talk, or if I wanted to go to bed. I wanted to talk more than anything, but I didn't want to abuse her hospitality and keep her up later than she wanted to be. She reiterated what A had said about their being in a difficult position between C and me, and about how they worried about handling W mentioning his cousins. I reassured her that I didn't want to put her into any difficulty, and she shook it off. Before we finally headed to bed, she said a remarkable thing: "This family has to deal with your existence. It can't be a secret any longer." 

The next morning we took the kids to the park, spent a mellow morning playing, ate lunch, and soon it was time for Tobey and me to leave. I felt a shadow of unease; was T less open, eager for us to go? Was I imagining a slight greyness, increased reserve? I took myself to task for doubting my welcome; I am hypersensitive to rejection, but it didn't seem possible that things could turn awry overnight. I knew that T was planning a three-week trip to visit C, but that couldn't be influencing anything. Could it?

The next day, I sent a thank you note to T, along with pictures from the trip. I sent an e-mail to A, with pictures. I heard nothing in response. Odd. The next day was my birthday. It came and went without a word from them. 

I sent T an e-mail to ask about their condo in Mississippi because there had been flooding. I received a one-line e-mail back, saying that she thought it would be best if we didn't take that trip to Yosemite, after all. She didn't return my telephone call wishing her well on the eve of her flight to C's house. 

I continued to received letters from A that were warm and kind. Then one morning, less than two weeks after my visit from T, I received an e-mail from A, from Afghanistan, ending our relationship. I was cut through, breathless, speechless, emotionally dissolved. 


First of all let me thank you for all the packages and support you and your family have given me in this difficult time (deployment). Thank you, also, for spending time with T and W while I have been gone.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, I have had ample time over here to ponder things about this situation. I have enjoyed meeting you and getting to know you; however, I must admit that over time T and I have become wedged into a difficult situation. C has conveyed her feelings and her decision and originally I should have just probably dropped this matter altogether. However, I pursued the truth, and got it, but now I am stuck dealing with that decision and it is slowly eating away at me. My Mother and Father mean the world to me and they always have. To hurt them, hurts me. I feel like I must honor C’s decision and walk away from this before it becomes even more complicated. I will never feel that I can explain this to W and I would not even know how, at this point in time. No one else in our family has been forthcoming either but I am not sure that will ever happen. I take full responsibility for making this mistake and betraying what C asked me to do, simply drop this matter. I understand your desire to know C but I do not know if time will change her mind or not.

I am deeply sorry for all of this and I will carry this burden for all of my life, I am sure. I must take into account others around me though and honor their wishes and look out for them. I cannot go on in deception and I cannot hurt others including you. I wish I could take it all back and we could have grown up together and old together but that was not the plan. Neither of us had any say in this plan either. You have a wonderful family and grew up with wonderful parents and so did I but they are two separate entities.

Again, I am sorry and I hope you will forgive me. I just think that for now (maybe C will come around) it is better that we distance ourselves. This hurts me too, I hope you believe me when I say this.


Adoptees often say that they feel disposable. This is why. We never quite matter enough; there is too much baggage; we live in limbo, never quite belonging. 

It took me a week, but I finally gathered myself enough to respond: 


I am heartbroken and angry. I feel that you toyed with me and my family, and that is unfair. What hurts most is that you invited my children into your home, told them you loved them, and now pretend that they're not your family. They are struggling to comprehend how people can claim to love them 
one minute and toss them aside the next. It's a hard, bitter lesson. I will not lie to them about who you are. They know you're out there. When they're adults, they might approach you. I hope you will be kind.

I don't regret meeting you, and I am glad that I was able to learn more about my family of origin. Mostly good things. I remain proud of everything you have achieved.

As for forgiving you, I don't know that it's possible.

I will always love you. No matter how you try to change the facts or ignore me, I am your sister.


Although the pain is less acute five months on, it's still strong and overwhelming. It's something that I think others who haven't been through it can't really understand. It was like losing half of myself due to a horrible, horrible misunderstanding, and never being able to defend myself. 

Shortly after this debacle I saw a truly unhelpful therapist who told me that A's rejection was just like a one-night stand, that I was putting more stock in it than need be, and I should look ahead and move on. Can you imagine? Equating my brother with a one-nighter? She really didn't get it, unprofessionally so. I hate having my thoughts and feelings invalidated, but her lack of empathy went beyond the pale. Then again, why should she understand? Society's implicit messages are that adoptees aren't supposed to dig this deep, ask the difficult questions, or love anyone other than their afamilies. Oh, yeah. I forgot. Be grateful for what you have. Two parents. A roof over your head. You're lucky you weren't aborted, so shut your yap and quit complaining!

Healing and coping is a process, I tell myself. A very long process. There's supposedly a light at the end of the tunnel, but I am too wary to hope for one. Yet.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Reunion, Part II

Several weeks went by before I dared contact my brother. I wanted to give him space, but my nerves were frayed by the stress of waiting. I knew that this was all new to him, but I'd been living uneasily with it for my whole life. 

I sent off a tentative e-mail to T and received this in response:

Hi K,

We did discuss the situation with C while we were visiting. She told us she gave you up for adoption, there was more to the story than the documents you sent me revealed as far as things being consensual. At this time she does not want any contact with you and would appreciate you respecting her decision. As far as A is concerned, he is still trying to decide what to do. He doesn't want to upset his mother and he has some other stressful things going on right now. I'm sure he will contact you when he is ready and let you know how he feels about the situation. A's father is not aware of any of this and C and A would like to keep it that way for now, I hope you understand. If you have other questions, please email me and I will help as much as I can, but I don't want to ruin my relationship with them either.


I wrote a respectful reply, but then felt increasing frustration and anger that my story and identity were being judged and held hostage. How was it that T now knew more about my birth than I did, myself? I sent another appeal:

Dear T,

I have been thinking for a few days about what is most important for me to know. Frankly, I don't think I could enumerate everything in an e-mail or in a telephone conversation. I want to know things about gestures I have, see pictures of C and her family, and hear about the personalities and histories of different members of my family.

I realize that neither A nor C feels able or comfortable providing this information to me, but I do feel that you and I have made a connection and you, better than anyone, can empathize with my difficult position. Likewise, I understand how much you want to support them, and I would not want to jeopardize your relationship with them.

Here is a proposal: if I visit my parents' home in the San Diego area one weekend early in December, would you be willing to meet with me over coffee, just for an hour or two? You could choose a location comfortable for you, and if you want to include A and/or C, that's fine. Or if you want to keep it between us, that is fine, too. I know that this puts you in an extremely awkward position, but there is truly no one else I can ask. I sincerely doubt that J [my grandmother] or B [my uncle] would be open to speaking to me, nor would C want me to contact them. I just can't see myself waiting another 40 years to learn things about myself that nonadopted people know as a matter of course; what A and C prefer is of course in my mind, but I will not sacrifice myself and my desire to know the truth in order to protect them.

To be honest, I cried for several hours after learning that you know more about the infant I was than I know myself. I am a person with feelings, not a clean slate without a past or natural family. This is a painful fact for everyone involved, including myself. I understand that it would be easier on A and C for me just to walk away, but I can't.

Once again, I understand that this is an extremely volatile situation, and that you are in a tenuous position. But I am imploring you, as you have been nothing but kind and respectful of how difficult this is for me. I hope that you won't immediately say no. Please take some time to consider this and the immense difference it would make in filling a dark hole I've been living with every day for 40 years. It's just not a hole I can fill by myself. Believe me, I've tried.

Best regards,

A few hours later, I received an e-mail from A:


Sorry it has taken so long to return your e-mail and phone call. I have had a couple of very busy weeks at work and have not had much free time.

We had a nice trip and visit, thank you for asking. After approaching my mother she acknowledged your birth but I do not think she is ready for contact with you at this time. However, I am not against such contact and hope you and your family are well.

I will try and call this weekend sometime.


When he did call that weekend, he explained that he was being deployed to Afghanistan in February as physician to a battallion of Marines. A was clearly under incredible stress. He did, however, tell me that he very much wanted to meet me before his deployment. We made plans for me to visit him at his home in San Diego. After C's cold response, I was pleasantly surprised that he was treating me like someone who mattered deeply to him, and had made the point of inviting me to come as soon as possible. I tried to hold back my feelings and stop myself from caring too much, too soon, but it was a difficult battle. A seemed so much like me in the way he respected and treated me. I have rarely met anyone so warm and forthcoming. 

On the appointed day in December, I drove to A's house. I was sweaty and shaking, fearful that he wouldn't like me and that this would be my one and only chance ever to learn anything about my first family. When I arrived, he was outside barbecuing while talking on the phone. I heard him say, "Gotta go, Mom, Kara's here." I felt a chill, knowing that C was on the line. He hung up, then walked up to me, hugged me, and called me "Sister." It was one of the most profound and affirming moments of my life; he smelled and felt so familiar, and it was magical to be in the arms of my flesh and blood. 

Inside the house A showed me pictures of my family: it was strange for the first time to see myself in the people in photographs on the walls. I said to A, "I think I look a lot like our grandfather," and he agreed heartily: "Heck yes, you do!" I noticed that in many photographs C would stand with her weight on her left leg and her right leg sticking out at an angle, like Degas' statues of the little dancer. I do exactly the same thing, and my amom and others have tripped over my right leg for years. I thought it was a singular quirk of mine, but it turns out to be yet another way in which I am part of C. 

A and I drank (a lot), ate a wonderful dinner, and talked for hours. I discovered that my brother and I share so much in terms of our personalities and interest. I told him about the process of searching, my disappointments and successes in life, and how much his acceptance meant to me. He was empathetic and said that while he couldn't imagine what it felt like for me, he thought it must have been incredibly hard. I wept. He held me. I felt comfortable and relaxed with him in a way I've rarely felt with anyone else. We decided not to waste any more time without each other; there were 35 years gone, but the future together lay ahead. 
I cried when I later found out that he was initially equally nervous and worried that I wouldn't like him. It never occurred to me that he might be afraid that I'd reject him. 

The next morning he asked if my aparents would be willing to drive my elder son over, so that he could meet his nephew. They agreed. It was a little bit awkward having them together with A, but I was glad for them to meet. Callum, my son, played with A's son, W. They had a blast running and chasing and riding bikes. A and I talked about how much fun it would be to go camping all together. A hosted a football-watching party that morning, and one of his residents  (A's an attending at the Naval Hospital) was over with his girlfriend. While chatting, I asked how the resident had met A. The guest told me, and then asked me the same. I sighed, smiled, and said, "That's an interesting question." I didn't want to put A in an uncomfortable spot, so I deferred to his lead. A said, "Well, you know, this is my sister. I just met her yesterday." The story came out, A was beaming, and I couldn't have been more proud. He acknowledged me; it was clear that he thought of me as family. 

Our relationship blossomed over the next months, through his being deployed to Afghanistan. He called me twice in the week before he left, saying that one goodbye phone call wasn't enough. He said he loved me. He explained how our relationship put him in a difficult position with our mother, and he didn't know how he would explain me and my family to people when W talked about his cousins. He reassured me, however, that it was his problem, not mine, and that he was in this for the long haul. He told me how much he wished he'd had me around in childhood to protect him from bullies because he was a nerd. It warmed me deeply to feel needed and wanted. 

After he left for Camp Leatherneck, I wrote letters, sent packages, and anticipated and loved getting letters from him. He didn't let me down. I archived every scrap of paper he sent me. I learned that if he died, he had told his wife that he wanted me at his funeral. I cried to feel important to him in a way I hadn't had the courage to hope for. 

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Reunion, Part I

The day after I sent the message to my brother, A, on Facebook, I received an e-mail from his wife. 

Hi K,

You have sent a few emails to my husband A about possibly being his half-sister.  We have both spoken to C [my fmom] about this and she denies having another child.  Maybe she just doesnt want to admit it or she is not your birth mother.  Either way, I would like to know a little more about you.  How did you find out about A?  Do you have a picture of yourself you could share with us?  I know you saw our family photo on facebook, does A look anything like you (he looks a lot like his father)?  A is really bothered by this whole thing and is not sure what to believe so I am trying to find some more information for him.  Thanks and I hope to hear from you soon.


Here are our subsequent exchanges:

Dear T,

First of all, many, many thanks for being willing to talk with me. I understand that this is all very strange to you and A, and must seem that it comes out of the blue. I deeply regret causing A and C any discomfort, but this is something terribly important to me. I have been been searching for my family for 12 years, and my adoptive parents are aware and supportive of my search.

I was adopted in Missouri through an agency. If an adoptee searches through formal channels in Missouri, a confidential intermediary system is used. I went through this system; the intermediary twice approached C: once in 2000 and once in 2008. Both times, she was willing to provide limited medical information but nothing else. I did find out that I had a brother, five years younger than I am. This summer with the help of other searchers, I was able to find a match between my information, which included my name "Baby Girl Newman," and the family of W.N. Newman. I am attaching copies of my non-identifying information for you to read; they include a sketch of a family tree because of the spherocytosis. As I mentioned in my first e-mail to A, I have hereditary spherocytosis, which is an added layer of concern (my elder son has it, too) but also of identification. I found out about A from W.N. Newman's obituary, which mentioned C.

I would say that I resemble A in some ways, although this clearly subjective. I am attaching pictures of me and my family so that you can make your own judgments. We have two young boys and very few pics of us as a family, I'm afraid. I've made my profile on Facebook public so you will have access to those pictures, too. I also found some photographs of W.N. Newman, taken in 1954, online at, and I think I look like him, as well.

I would guess that C is still suffering from the aftereffects of having a baby out of wedlock, which must have been incredibly traumatic. It is easier to forget and deny than live with some truths. I have a friend, another adoptee, also born in 1969, whose birthmother took three years to come to terms with my friend's request for contact. C may never agree to meet me, and I must accept this as a possible outcome. But I am hopeful that she will change her mind and that there are other relatives of mine who might be more open to knowing me. I would love to have contact with A, if and when he is able. Please do not hesitate to ask me for anything, more information, whatever is desired. I would of course agree to a DNA test, if that is something A wants.

Once again, T, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to contact me. It means the world to me that you are willing to go out on a limb and talk to a stranger. I know this must be very difficult for you, as well.

I am available to talk by e-mail or phone, as you desire. 

With great respect,

Hi K,

I shared this information with A last night and he is struggling with what to do next. There are a few details listed in the report you sent that do not exactly match the family history as we know it. I think the best thing to do is give him some time to absorb all that he has learned and decide how to proceed. I do believe he will contact you at some point because he has a hard time letting things go unresolved. I also find myself in a difficult position Because I do not want to cause ripples in our family, but you seem like an honest person just trying to find answers so I will do what I can to help. If he decides not to contact you, I will let you know. 


A few weeks later, It was a typical, chaotic Sunday evening in my home. My two sons were distracted from dinner by a thousand things, the dog was pacing around the table hoping for handouts, and I was anticipating the nearing hour of bedtime with unconcealed joy. The phone rang. I jumped up, saw an unfamiliar number, felt my heart catch, and whispered, "Hello?"

The honeyed Southern drawl at the other end said "Hello" back. Then, "Is this K? Have I caught you at a bad time?" I knew immediately it was my brother, and my mind began to spin. I signaled to my husband to take over the circus at the table, reassured my brother that it wasn't a bad time, and escaped to a quiet corner. I was hoping that this call signaled his willingness to get to know me. 

We stumbled through niceties and coincidences. He is a physician, I am a nurse; we both have additional advanced degrees; we both are supernerds. It turned out that one of my closest friends from St. Louis was the sister of one of A's college friends in Mississippi. A told me that he thought that the dark, complicated story involving my birth would make a good novel. I felt frightened and hopeful and ecstatic, all at once. I couldn't be sure this was real. I wanted to know everything about him, and ask every question possible, in five minutes. My voice quavered and revealed my nervousness. I admired A for the courage it took to reach out to this sister-stranger, and for his apparent calm. 

My brother brought the conversation back to the reason for his call: "I have to talk to my mom about this. I have to make sense of it. I want to talk to her in person. I am going to be visiting her in a few weeks. I'll let you know what I think after I get back." We said goodbye.

I was more excited than I think I've ever been, but it was back to waiting. Waiting. Waiting. It could be weeks. The answer might be no. I was too afraid to think of it.