Feelings Are in the Present Tense
by Barbara Free, M.A.,
ones search and initial reunion are somewhat in the past, we tend to think that
the feelings also are past, over and dealt with. We hear phrases such as moved
on and closure. We are encouraged to put those feelings, both
good and bad, into a metaphorical box with a strong lock and not revisit them. In truth,
although our feelings about some things may change in intensity or our point of view may change,
many of our feelings concerning adoption, relinquishment, search, and reunion do not really
change much. When events or past periods of time are recalled, especially when they are shared,
the feelings may suddenly be very much in the present again, just as intense as if the events or
situations were recent.
This became clear to me recently when I was visiting, casually at
first, with a woman Id met through an entirely different connection. As we were talking
about aging and physical disabilities, she said, somewhat offhandedly, Im an adopted
person, so I dont have my entire medical history.
I told her I am a reunited birth mother.
Oh! she said. Ive not met many reunited
birth mothers. I did meet mine years ago, before she died. She became more animated
and her eyes brightened. I encouraged her to share her story if she wanted to do so.
Oh, its been a long time, but I remember it well.
I wanted to find her, to find my family, to find people who looked like me. Well, they did and
they didnt, but it was wonderful to finally know, to have that connection, to know my
She went on to describe her life, a very positive childhood with
loving, open adoptive parents who did not withhold what little information they had about her birth
family, mostly her birth mothers last name. As anyone who has searched knows, having that
name is a big piece of information.
When she was a young girl, perhaps twelve, thinking her parents were
so awful, to make me dust the baseboards once a week and dust the piano, and even help with
the dishesshe laughed at her young feelingsId go sit under this tree
that faced the highway and Id fantasize that if my mother came driving by, shed recognize
me and take me away.
Of course, that never happened. She grew up and became a nurse, married
and had her own children. But she always held on to whatever clues she had about her origins, including
Frustrated that she did not have any of her medical history, either for
her own needs or her childrens, she decided to try to find out more. At some point, she became
active in ALMA (Adoptees Liberty Movement Association), one of the first adoptees rights organizations,
whose founder, Florence Fisher, wrote The Search for Anna Fisher, one of the first books I read
about adoption search and trying to get records opened. Knowing her birth mothers original
last name, and having her own birth date and birth place, and the papers her parents gave her, she
decided to search.
Her adoptive parents died before she was able to complete her search,
but she knew they had been supportive of her efforts. She had been born in Florida and continued to
live there, so she had an idea of where to go. She wrote to the agency that held the records, and then
The woman at the agency with whom she spoke said, Gee, I dont
know. You were born in 1935; thats a long time ago. I doubt if we have records that far
back. But the woman called back soon and said, I found your records, in the basement. I
can tell you whats written there.
Some of the facts turned out not to be accurate, of course, but they were
a big help. As my friend told me these things, she was excited, and sometimes tearful. I
havent told my story in a long time. I need to tell it again, before I forget the details.
I encouraged her not only to tell it again, but to write it down so her family will have it to share
and pass down.
She compiled the facts she knew, and composed a letter stating who she
was, why she was searching, and that she wanted to know more, and she sent it to all the people with
that last name she could find in that part of Florida. She did receive some answers and calls, and
some were, indeed, from extended family, who gave her her birth mothers current name and
telephone number, and address.
A little scared, but determined and excited, she called her, first asking
if such-and-such a date meant anything to her. The woman said, No. Should it?
Trying a different approach, she asked, Does such-and-such maternity
home mean anything? Do you recall the name so-and-so (her birth name)?
The woman hesitated a long time and then said, Are you trying to tell
me youre my daughter?
My friend replied, I am trying to ask you if youre my
As it happened, her birth mother had long been hoping she would be found,
and had not withheld the information from her husband, other daughter, or her large family. She said
shed always wanted to find her, but hesitated at that moment to meet her, saying shed been
sick. Ill call you again tomorrow, when youve had time to think about it, my
When she called again, the next morning, her birth mother said she wanted
to see her and asked her to come to her hone. It turned out she was terminally ill. They met and
visited several times in a short period of time.
When her birth mother was only 13 years old, her own mother died and she
was left to help her father raise a great many younger siblings. Finding herself pregnant at 18, with
no money, no options, a guy who literally skipped town, and in 1935, she simply could not keep and raise
this child. She had the baby with her for a month after birth, until her father came to get her, and
the baby was adopted, fortunately by loving parents who never said anything derogatory about her
My friend said, I really did not like her in some ways, which
bothered me, but I understand why she was so honored in her family for her efforts to raise her
siblings, and I understand why she couldnt keep me.
I honor her decision to give me up, and I love her for having me.
I just didnt really like her as an individual, and I didnt know how to change that. She
died six weeks later, and I didnt attend the funeral, because I didnt want to be the
center of attention, the newly found daughter, distracting everyone from focusing on her. I did
meet my half-sister and kept up with her, although we were never close, and she is now deceased.
But when I left my birth mothers home that very first day, I felt a peace of mind Id
never known before. I also felt great satisfaction, knowing Id succeeded in my search and
Id beat the system that tries to keep all these secrets.
Talking to her later, to ask permission to share some of her story
in this newsletter, she said, It was good to tell it again. I will gladly tell my story to
anyone who is interested. Most people are so uneducated about adoption issues, and they just
dont get it.
We discussed how intense her feelings still were, when she revisited
those events of over thirty years ago. She agreed that feelings do not go away, that it all comes
back as if it happened just yesterday. As we had shared both our stories that day at her home,
my own feelings about relinquishing my son, and about finding him when he was thirty years old,
were also very much in the present, not the immediate sadness and grief of signing the papers and
not being able to raise him, but the deep feeling of loss of his childhood to me. It also created
a bond between us, both having adoption connections.
Some would say, How could it be the same? She is an adoptee
and you are on the other side as a birth mother? But the point is that we are not on
opposite sides. All people with adoption connections have losses, especially when
they dont have all their information, and when we see adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth
parents as somehow in opposition to each other, we miss the connections we can make.
The more we are open to sharing our stories with others who are
interested (not just the general public on the bus or in the store), the more connections we find,
which serves to validate our own experiences, feelings, and lives. I can see this woman now as
someone who was determined to find the truth in a time when the resources were few and society
had heard little or nothing about search or adoptees or birth parents rights. I can
also realize that thirty years after her mother had to relinquish her, I had not many more options
myself and relinquishment was the best decision I could make at that time. Sharing our stories
with each other was a great gift for both of us.
In researching for the book review in this issue, I contacted a woman
from the AAC, who also lives in Florida. She is a reunited birth mother, and we shared our own
stories. She agreed that the feelings about relinquishment, adoption, search, and reunion are
still very fresh, even after many years. In telling our stories, we dont reinforce the
trauma, but come to terms with it, and integrate those experiences into who we are as individuals.
Our stories are part of the tapestry of each of us.
In the same way, search and reunion are not about closure,
but about connections, about the searcher and the person found connecting with themselves, with all
of who they are. Even if the person searched for is deceased, the searcher can connect with whatever
information they can find. Closure implies that the whole situation, episode, or
feelings, are all over and done with, feelings forgotten. Most people with adoption connections do
not want closure, they want connections, to the past, the present, and the future. They do not want
no longer to have feelings, they want to be able to have and express a variety of feelings, in
appropriate ways. The goal is to let go of both denial and of obsession, neither of which is
healthy. This is what my friend meant when she told her husband, after meeting her birth mother,
I have peace of mind.
Excerpted from the October 2014 edition of the Operation
© 2014 Operation Identity