I’m Adopted. Meet My Families!

by Kim Heinke

Scene from Annie

I was just over a week old when my parents picked me up from The Children’s Home in Boise, Idaho. Today, my daughter Rachel thinks I lived the life of  the fictional character Annie.  She often asks me if I had to do chores, or if the people in charge were mean.

“No Rachel, I was a baby.”

“Oh.  Well, did you just lie in the crib all alone all day?”

“I don’t know. I doubt it .” It’s hard for her to wrap her head around the whole idea.

The phrase “I don’t know” has been a big part of my life. I remember in grade school when we were given an assignment to write about our ethnic backgrounds. I wanted to say, “I don’t know” because I didn’t know, but I wrote down the backgrounds of my parents and called it good.

It’s strange to grow up and not know where you came from, or who you are. There are definitely missing pieces. I often wondered if this was how people with amnesia felt. I can relate to people who go through an identity crisis. I definitely had one (refer to my high school years).

Kim and her Mom, Sharon

I didn’t have anyone to relate to biologically while growing up. And although my mom and I looked so much alike, it just wasn’t the same. Don’t get me wrong; I loved my parents with all my heart. I am glad I grew up with them and had the experiences I did because I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. But the answers I wanted are things an adoptive parent can’t give to an adoptee.  I often thought of the day I would have a child of my own–have that connection and know what it felt like.

That brings me to Rachel. I was riding behind her on the bike trails one day, watching her and deep in thought. I see so much of myself in her. She is tenacious, for one. She has a great sense of humor, is really goofy and has a hearty laugh. She is such a hard worker, a bit intense at times. She’s deeply empathetic, cares very much about the feelings of others. She is loving and kind. She purses her lips when focusing and has sudden bursts of crazy energy that come out of nowhere. She is incredibly athletic and picks up any new sport easily. She is a go-getter and loves life. She is definitely a free spirit.

Kim’s daughter Rachel

I see myself in you, Rachel. Or, as they say in Avatar, “I see you.”

Oh, but let’s go back some years before Rachel. I met my birth mother, Bette, when I was 23. I wasn’t looking for her at all. My brother, Tod, was looking for his biological family. When he called The Children’s Home and spoke with someone, this is what he was told: “Wow, it’s funny you called, because your sister’s birth mother just sent us a letter to open up her files.”

Kim’s brother Tod

Tod called me in New York, where I was living at the time. Imagine my surprise!. I think I forgot to breathe for a while.

It was a lot to process.

Kim with Bette

A few months later I went to Seattle to meet my birth mother. Not long after that, I moved to the Seattle area to get to know her and her family. Meeting my birth mother came with a definite honeymoon period, then reality and settling in. Even though there is that biological connection, we don’t share the same early memories and that bond wasn’t instant.  It never has felt anything like a mother/daughter relationship to me, but more like friends.

It’s been a journey–mostly a good one.

I’ve gotten answers to some of my questions.  Bette and I share the same laugh, handwriting, fun-loving energy, dimples (the pursed lip thing too), and we look a lot alike! We were also both in drill team as young girls.

Bette and her husband, Keith, weren’t able to have children of their own, so they adopted a son, Ben. Ben was 13 when we met. He has recently met his birth mother, too. Are you confused yet?!

Kim and Ben at Disneyland

My birth father, Kari, came into the picture later. My mom actually helped me find him. Because he lived out of the country, he was harder to track down. Out of sheer luck, in an AOL member search, I found one person who shared the same last name with him. I emailed her and said, “This is a shot in the dark, but . . . .” She responded, and through her (for which I am so thankful) I was able to find Kari, as well as so much information about that side of the family.

Kari, Tere, and Kai

Kari lived in Sweden.  He and I spoke on the phone for the first time when I was 30 years old. I discovered that we share the same temper, face shape (eyebrows), short, muscular stature, love for athletics (we both studied exercise science/physical ed. in college), and especially skiing! He was a World Cup skier and a member of team USA (biathlon) for the 1972 Olympic Winter Games.  We never met in person, but got to know each other over the phone. He passed away in 2007, just weeks after my Dad died.

Rachel and Kai

Kari had a son, my half-brother, Kai. Kai grew up in Hawaii with his mom, Tere, who is a wonderful soul. Kai and I have been lucky enough to meet.  He is five years younger than I am, and we have a lot of similarities. We were comparing photos of us as kids.  It’s funny how much we looked alike. You know who else looks like him? Rachel. Kai and I now have a good friendship, and I am really happy to have him in my life. He has visited us twice and we’ve had fun getting to know each other through the visits and many phone calls.  He’s a great guy and we love him a lot.

I’ve discovered so much, including the answer to that long-ago school assignment prompt.  I am Irish, Norwegian, and Finnish, in case you were wondering!

Jerry and Sharon

Now that I have been through this path, finding and getting to know my birth parents, I want to clarify my relationships. When I talk about my Mom and Dad, I am talking about Jerry and Sharon, the parents I grew up with. They are now unfortunately deceased. When I talk about my brother, I mean Tod. Speaking of Tod, he also found his birth mother and they are getting to know each other.

When I talk about Bette, she is my birth mother. Kari, my birth father. My younger brother is Kai, my youngest brother, Ben.

In a note of irony, as my daughter is growing up, I am left with many unanswered questions that only my adoptive parents could answer.  Rachel wants to know the answers to questions.  Was I “like that” when I was her age? How did I handle this or that situation?  What kind of student was I in early elementary?  Growing up I had questions which only my birth parents could answer, and now I have questions only my parents could answer. Questions, always questions.

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Kim Heinke is best described as a grounded free spirit. She lives with her husband, John, and daughter, Rachel, in Bellingham, WA. Kim owns a cottage industry where she makes soap to sell to stores, happily volunteers for her daughter’s school, loves being active and adventurous and being outdoors. She is enjoying the journey.

What Do You Want to Know? A Reunion Story

by Danielle Fairlee

I always knew I was adopted. I don’t remember not knowing. Each year on my birthday, my mom Valerie would say to me, “Your birth mother is thinking of you today.”

Growing up, I never yearned to search for my birth mom. I was content in my life and always busy with school/work/activities/life. But when I got engaged, Valerie said, “Wouldn’t it be lovely if your mother could be at your wedding?” Of course, back then, we didn’t have Google like we do now. So I looked into joining a national adoption reunion registry, but there was a small fee that didn’t work with my “salad days”-budget. So searching went on the back burner.

Cut to years later, when my twin boys were born. My husband and I were asked all the time, “Do twins run in your family?”  We knew they didn’t run in his family, but what about mine? We had no clue. So we responded with a simple, “They do now!”  Again, I pondered searching, but didn’t get far.

What I had all along, that many of my fellow adoptees don’t have, was my birth mom’s full name. My adoption had been handled quickly, via a doctor and an attorney, and somehow my parents were given this information. I also knew her age and that she wasn’t from my home state of California.

Turns out, when I finally decided to search in earnest eight years ago, that was all I needed.

In my research, I learned I had to be respectful of my birth mom’s life. (What if she was married, with a spouse or children who didn’t know about her past?) I also had to be prepared for anything I would find. Thankfully, I was blessed to be in a good place in life – I had a happy marriage, a stable home, healthy children. I knew I could handle whatever I uncovered.

An experienced searcher told me sad stories of adoptees who discovered birth parents who were impoverished, mentally ill, or even dead. Cushioning me for what I might discover, she gently shared stories of women who refused or denied their birth children, setting off years of depression on the part of the adoptees.  But somehow I knew this would be OK. I was ready.

A few days later, I plugged my birth mom’s name into an Internet site dedicated to background searches. I knew the odds were slim that she would still have her maiden name, but nonetheless, I tried.  Within seconds I had several hits, including various similar spellings.  Among them was an exact match to her full name — a woman with the correct age, still living in the same community where I was born. Right away, Valerie said, “That’s her. She waited for you.”

So I crafted a carefully worded letter. Addressing her by name, I asked if she could possibly be the woman of the same name whom I first met on my birth date, at the hospital where I was born. If she wasn’t that person, she was welcome to let me know. But if she was the one I was seeking, I invited her to please contact me at my home address or via email. That was all. Nothing else. I sent the letter by return receipt mail.

A week later, I got back the notice with her signature, proving she’d received my letter. Something told me to keep that card.

A few days after that, I received an email from her.

Yes, she said, I am the woman you are looking for. “What do you want to know?” she asked.

That simple exchange began a beautiful reunion that continues today.  And yes, twins do run in my family. Turns out I have twin aunts. How about that?

Danielle with her handsome twin sons

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Danielle Fairlee is a freelance writer and publicist in Los Angeles. She and her husband are the proud parents of college-aged twin sons and two rescue dogs. She looks forward to sharing more about her reunion story.

New Ideas

by Luanne

I’m the mother of two young adults, both adopted from Korea when they were babies.  But my relationship with adoption began much earlier.  I’m the sister of an adoptee, too.  Back in the early sixties, it was still a new idea that adoption wasn’t a secret to be kept and that an adopted child could grow up knowing he was adopted and still feel loved and accepted by others.  My parents embraced this idea.  When they started the adoption process for a boy, they explained all this to me and I thought I understood.  Yet it wasn’t quite that simple.

Sister meets her new baby brother at the adoption agency

Luanne and baby Teddy at the agency

It was a March day, when my parents and I drove downtown to pick up my brother Teddy from Catholic Family Services. We weren’t Catholic, but Mom explained that their agency was the one with the babies and we were in need of a baby.  We pulled up in front of an old house on South Street and went in. Teddy lay in a white bassinette in a small room. My parents and I encircled him, looking down at our new baby. Our case worker said, “He’s just six weeks old. Isn’t he a darling?”

Though shocked to see his face covered with a red rash, I quickly decided not to be picky since I had been waiting all seven years of my life for a brother.

A few months before, when the case worker was going to visit us for the first time, Mom and Dad had warned me that she would ask questions, and I sensed that our family getting the stamp of approval rested on me and my answers.

I kept things businesslike, asking for a brother since our family needed a boy more than another girl. Since it was 1963 and I’d never met anyone who was adopted, I assumed that kids, adopted or not, would automatically look like their parents.  I had my mother’s brown hair and blue eyes, so I put in an order for brown eyes to match Dad’s.

Now I peered closer at the baby with his frill of reddish brown hair.  “He’s got blue eyes like mine!”  I’m sure I sounded accusatory.  The case worker explained they were fresh out of baby boys with brown eyes, so they had chosen Teddy because he looked like Mom and me.  I considered the logic and figured he would do.

When we got him home, all the relatives started coming over to meet him. For two weeks, we had somebody at our house almost every day. They liked to have me sit on the couch and hold Teddy while they took our picture. Teddy felt like one of my dolls, but warm and heavier, and yet I was conscious of how fragile he was and how careful I had to be with him. Every day I rushed home from school so I could see him.  Day by day, I learned to be more comfortable with him, and how to hold the Playtex bottle with its plastic bag insert so he could get formula without swallowing too much air. I learned how to burp him, patting his back which seemed barely bigger than my hand. He relaxed and smiled at me when I picked him up, and he wrinkled his forehead when I lay him back in the crib.

I’d been in the choir at the Methodist church all school year. A group of us would walk from school to the church. We were six kids, all ages, from an afternoon kindergartener to a tall fifth grader, a girl I’ll call Jane.  Her size and confident demeanor gave her a lot of authority.

That day we decided to cut through the backfields to the church, although we usually just marched down the side of Gull Road. Jane said it would save us a lot of time to cut through, and nobody wanted to argue with her, although the snow was melting in the field, leaving ruts filled with mud.

Since having a baby brother was a new phenomenon in my life, I liked to bring up the subject–a lot.  After having been an only child, I loved the sound of the words my brother.  As we walked, I chimed in with something about my brother Teddy.

Suddenly Jane, who was leading, turned around and said, “He’s not your REAL brother. Don’t lie about it.”

My skin seemed to peel back from my limbs, and my stomach got a sick flipfloppy feeling. “What do you mean he’s not my real brother?”

“He’s ADOPTED. That’s not REAL.” A sea of bloody red anger splashed across my eyes.  Jane had no siblings and, since she was eleven, probably thought she’d never get any. But I wasn’t thinking from her perspective.  To me, her words were an act of violence against Teddy.

That’s the first memory I have of being angry.  I lowered my head, aiming straight for her stomach.  Eventually Jane and I got back on friendly terms, but I never forgot that some people don’t really understand what adoption means for those of us whose lives are changed by it.  My parents’ philosophy had become my philosophy, but I now knew it wasn’t shared by everyone.

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