Help Along the Way

by Mark Dickerson

     As a 45-year-old adopted male embarking on the reunion journey for the first time, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, or where it would take me, mentally or emotionally. Six years after my adoptive mother had passed away, and 12 years after my adoptive father had died, something in me felt like it woke up after a long, deep sleep. My adoptive parents were wonderful, caring people, but I had always kept my adoption questions far at the back of my mind, even out of consciousness. Even though my parents told my adopted brother and I when we were quite young that we had been adopted, we never talked about it and my brother and I never asked questions. Looking back, it seems strange that we didn’t pester our parents with questions about adoption and our birth parents, A conspiracy of silence reigned. For me, there was just a black hole where that part of my story, of my reality, would have been.
     Yet the day came when, seemingly quite suddenly, I felt the hole and the loss—to me it seemed that with such a big piece of my truth missing, how could I really know who I was? In my journey through life, I realized that, aside from my daughter, I had never looked into the eyes of someone to whom I was genetically related. I didn’t spend a lifetime seeing myself in my mother and father, looking for the similarities and differences, both physically and in personality. In fact, looking at my adoptive parents was a constant reminder that we were not physically related, for I towered over both of them, as my mother used to say, like the Jolly Green Giant! But we never talked about it—more evidence of the disconnect. These were some of the motivations that led me to search for my birth parents.
     I began the journey with great anticipation and enthusiasm, and in my usual style, I attempted to learn everything I could about adoption and the reunion process. So, along with searching the Internet and reading books, I sought out an adoption support group, actually two of them. Little did I realize how important the groups would be in my quest, because for me, the journey from embarking on the reunion path and actually taking the action to make it happen—writing the letter and initiating the possible contact—took over a year. Along the way, I had to go through many stages of processing in order to face the reality of reuniting with my birth mother. At first it was exciting—long suppressed curiosities and longing for the connection might be satisfied! To look at someone and realize that many of my traits, gifts, and abilities, as well as shortcomings or quirks, came from that person. And to know about my birth father—as a man, I was extremely interested in this.
     So, when after only four weeks into the opening of records and the search process, the intermediary who was intervening with the courts back in Texas on my behalf called to say she had already found my birth mother, I was stunned. I was asked to write a letter to include with my official court contact letter asking my birth mother for permission to open the records. Whoa, Cowboy! So fast? I wasn’t ready for this! I was thinking months or years, given the struggles others have had to go through to penetrate the wall of secrecy and misunderstanding that seem to infect society and its institutions when it comes to adoption.
     Along with the discovery of my birth mother came a chunk of non-identifying information about her as well. I discovered that she was only fifteen when I was born. This small piece of information totally threw me into a disorienting spiral. I don’t know how others have reacted to this kind of thing, but for me, my whole sense of who I was fell apart. It was both exhilarating and stunningly disorienting. Where for forty-five years a partially unconscious black hole existed where the concept of my birth mother resided, suddenly there arose a figure, albeit one without a face. She had been only 15, a child, really! The power of this information caught me off guard. I didn’t realize how it would transform my own concept of myself. Perhaps I had personal and current life issues that others have not had which led to such a reaction, but I think I’m not the only one who has experienced this.     
     Also, as an adoptee, I had to go through what seems to be fairly common for adoptees on their quest for reunion —the belief that somehow my reunion would solve all of the problems in my life. This one idea put so much expectation on the reunion outcome that it was also extremely threatening! In my case, the possibility of rejection, another common fear of adoptees, would be catastrophic, I thought.
     Luckily, I had my adoption support groups to go to during this process. They supported me and gave me a;; of the roan I needed to make my way to a more balanced footing within myself; I had to have this before I proceeded further. My fears, my questions, my misunderstandings—I took them all to my adoption support groups (in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque) where they were received with acceptance, love, identification, and understanding. I didn’t realize how much I would have to process! Having birth mothers, adoptive parents, and other adoptees meeting me in my struggle gave a breadth and depth of understanding and support I never could have anticipated. Not only did I get to hear and identify with other adoptees’ stories about being adopted and about the reunion process, but I got to hear of the birth mothers’ experiences and their struggles around relinquishing a child. Also, I hear from adoptive parents about their experiences of why they adopted and of raising an adopted child. These divergent perspectives drastically opened my mind about adoption: I got to see outside of my own small point of view. I truly felt at home in those groups, truly understood. I also had the help of an excellent counselor who was experienced with adoption issues and happened to be an adoptive mother who had helped her daughter reunite.
     I had no idea how the interactions with these wonderful people from all three parts of the adoption triad would significantly alter my perceptions about adoption. Unfortunately, my reunion didn’t come off, but that is another story in itself. Again, the only place that I could find a special kind of understanding for the confusion, frustration, and hurt that ensued was my adoption support group. It has been a wonderful gift, and one that I still cherish. I will continue to be active in my support group, for myself and others.
     (Mark is a member of O.I. who originally was active in both the Santa Fe support group and O.I. and has since moved to Albuquerque. More of his story will be in a future issue of this newsletter.)

Excerpted from the October 2006 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2006 Operation Identity