by Tricia Shore, Reunited Adoptee
When I was four years old, I stood watching as a car with a Virginia license plate pulled into my North Carolina driveway. Ours was a driveway that had been surveyed, like the rest of the house and land, by social workers, certified that a child should grow up using it to ride a bicycle and eventually to drive a car into it. Even at four, I did not feel the level of comfort that the social workers had planned for me. It was a nice driveway, yes, but it was not my driveway, not my family, no matter how many legal documents had been signed. A part of me, one that dared not express itself at the time, longed for my real mother and father.
Although I loved Beauford and Ann, the wonderful people who adopted me, I hoped that the young couple in the car were my natural parents. Adoption separated my mother and me when I was four weeks old. I do not consciously remember what it was like not to be adopted. Other people take family resemblances and kinship for granted. As a child, these familial rights were as foreign to me as soil in China.
Psychologists in the 1960s usually recommended that adoptees be told we were adopted and I was. No one told me it was bad to be adopted, but almost inately, I knew that adoption meant being rejected by my parents. As I had watched the car enter the chosen driveway, I hoped that my parents realized they had made a mistake, that they had missed me and wanted to see me again. I did not express my sadness when I learned that the couple was lost and looking for directions. Over thirty years later, when I gave birth to my first son, I would understand the desire I felt that day, the bond that nature creates from conception to childbirth. It is a bond that cannot be broken or changed by legal documents or anything else.
My desire to find my mother was strong, so intense that when my college roommate met a man who told me he would find my mother, I believed him. I was twenty when Sharon* brought Gary* to our dorm room. She had met him at the beginning of the semester, while she was working in the library video room and he, claiming to be a graduate student, came in to rent tapes. When we did not find his name in the student directory, he made up a story about why his name wasn’t there. We believed it.
Sharon was fascinated with the tall tales he told about “working for the government” and “flying planes” for secret government missions. He took us out to eat; he told us stories about foreign countries. His claim of being from the Middle East seemed plausible, considering his strong accent. Somehow, his dark features and different pronunciation of words made him much more appealing to us, European-American Southern young women. By fall break, he offered to take us from the supposed safety of North Carolina State in Raleigh to the unexplored-to-us jungle of Florida. We accepted.
He rented a car. We were soon headed South on I-95. With more courage than sense, we watched the pine trees of North Carolina leave our sight and saw the palm trees of Florida for the first time. It was the 1980s and although we had a sense that what we were doing was dangerous, television was not yet filled with stories of young women who had been left for dead by serial killers. Those things happened somewhere else, not in the South that we loved so dearly.
After we survived our trip, we felt even safer with him, knowing that he had not physically abused us, or left us for dead. We had gone to Disneyworld and Epcot Center, a much more educational experience than we would have had going back to our respective hometowns, or so we reasoned. Despite protests from my roommate’s mother and my boyfriend at that time, we continued seeing this man, spending my birthday, November 3, with him in Washington, D.C. He told us that our trip to D.C. was something to do with some mission with the government. We believed him, both of us appearing as though we were fresh off the proverbial turnip truck.
As an adoptee, my birthday has always been bittersweet. Beauford and Ann had tried to make it a happy day, but to me there was always sadness. Now that I am a mother myself, I understand the happiness of knowing that you have created and delivered a baby. For my mother and me, however, my birth was the beginning of the end, the day that she would see the child she would give to strangers. The days surrounding my birthday are the most vulnerable of the entire year for me. My roommate knew this and thought it would be wonderful if Gary could help me find my mom. Sharon was only trying to help.
During my sophomore year, I had been determined to find my mother. Away from the confines of the small town in which I grew up, I wanted to know where my natural family lived; I wanted to see people who looked like me, not by coincidence but because they were related to me. At the end of my first sophomore semester, I made a trip to the adoption agency. I wanted answers; I wanted to know the names of my natural parents. The social workers told me that they were unable to release any information because of the laws. Only much later would I learn that the agency itself was influential in making those laws, in falsifying my birth certificate, and in assuring that I would never legally be able to find my parents. After driving two hours of highway hypnosis from the agency to my boyfriend’s house, listening to The Police’s “Shadows in the Rain,” rewinding it each time the song ended, I sat down on my boyfriend’s couch. I drank until I passed out.
Less than one year after that experience, Gary assured me that he could find my mother. I not only wanted to believe him, I also knew his promise was the closest thing I had to finding my family. The desperation with which I searched for my natural parents was evident in the zeal I had for his plan. Shortly after taking me to a doughnut shop in Raleigh one night, he told me that a woman at the end of the counter was my mother. It was late and the shop had not been crowded; it was easy to see who my supposed mother had been.
Her hair was dark, like mine. She was shorter than I, corresponding to the 5 feet 2 inch height that the non-identifying information of the adoption agency had stated. Gary’s excuse for my not being able to talk to her was that she was the daughter of French royalty and that he had arranged for her to see me but that I would never be able to talk with her because of her position with the French government.
It would be quite easy to chide myself for being fooled by Gary, but I know that if I had been able to find my parents legally, I would have had no use for his information. Sharon and I were careless teenagers on the verge of adulthood, but we were also trying to find out something we thought was impossible—where I had come from.
As a person with three college degrees, I find it odd, even now, to think that I was so naïve as to believe such a scheme. However, I was desperate to find my family. Even today, I cannot completely explain the desire I felt to find my parents. While some people believe that the reason I so desperately sought my mother was because I was not happy growing up, I find this claim ridiculous. The unhappiness I felt was due to being away from my natural family. I would not expect my children to be happy if they were growing up away from their father and me.
After a $2,500 search by a detective agency found my mother, and after interviewing mothers who have lost children to adoption, I believe that perhaps my mother’s words to me as a helpless infant, “find me someday,” somehow stuck in the subconscious regions of my brain. Now that I have found my parents, I cannot imagine not knowing that my older son’s blond hair comes from his maternal grandfather, or knowing that my sons’ blue eyes are so recognizable as traits of my family that a stranger once guessed correctly that my mother belonged to the Smith clan in Wilmington, just by noticing her eyes when the stranger passed my mom in a department store.
Believing that a woman I had seen at the doughnut shop was my mother provided more hope than I ever had in a system that had closed my records. It was easy to believe such a bizarre plan as Gary’s when a social worker had sat across from me, file with my mother’s name in her hands, telling me that she could not relay that information to me.
A few years later, finding my parents would become so important to me that I would have an abortion rather than carry a child to term who would not know its true grandparents. Only in hindsight do I see that I did not feel it was fair to bring a child into the world without knowing my own family. The importance of finding my family overrode all common sense and that night at the doughnut shop gave me the best shot I had ever had at having that information, facts most people take for granted.
After I saw what I had been told was my mother in the doughnut shop, I broke up with my boyfriend and held on to my belief that the woman was my mother. I took a French class, hoping to bond with what I thought had been my mother’s language. I desperately wanted to believe that I had seen my mother.
An internship that summer took me to New York City and less than two weeks into my work there, I realized what I had refused to believe from other people: the whole thing had been a hoax. My newly found honesty cost me the fantasy of having found my real mother and the reality of losing a boyfriend. In the foggy impersonal air of Manhattan, I began to accept, once again, that I might never know my ancestors.
Of all the harm that Gary did, however, he also did something that I sorely needed. Before I went to New York, he introduced me to a therapist. I worked with her for over eleven years, talking about growing up with Ann and Beauford and trying to find out how I could squelch the desire to find my family. I left therapy still trying to undo my desire. A few years later, I began to realize that my desire was most natural.
A few months after I found my parents, I became pregnant with my firstborn son, Caleb. I cannot imagine having a child who would only know one side of his family, or missing out on my mother holding a grandchild she thought she would never see. Caleb loves my father, his Grandpa Sherrill, and I can only imagine how different Caleb’s life would be if he did not have his maternal grandfather with which to share his love of trains and photography. I treasure the pictures I have of my father holding my younger son, Micah, a few weeks after his birth. Despite beginning as an unplanned pregnancy, Micah was born two days after his Grandpa Sherrill’s birthday.
Beyond the Truth
I still receive financial updates and newsletters from the adoption agency that told me I should be content with the supposed “parents” they selected for me. I think of the many businesses and individuals that support the agency financially. Despite the numerous mailings that Ann and Beauford and I receive, my natural mother and father have received nothing. As my husband says, “They got what they wanted from your mom.” Indeed, they did, but legal documents cannot change nature. I am proud that my children will know their ancestors. Most people take knowledge of their natural family for granted, but I do not. After finally finding my family, I pray that my children and their descendants will always understand the importance of blood ties. A child is born into a family and that familial bond lasts forever.
*Names have been changed.