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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