Where Do I Belong?: A Story of Adoption

by Carolyn Seibold Simmons

The following story was sent to us two years ago, but we are just now finding room in the newsletter to give it justice. The author, a resident of Garland, TX, is a friend of Diane Herman, a therapist and member of O.I. and the Santa Fe Adoption Support Group.

     When I was almost six years old my mother sat down with me and told me that I was adopted. She said it was a good thing to be adopted because when someone adopts a child that means that they really want that child in their life. She told me she went to Kansas to get me when I was just twenty-four hours old. Of course I was too young to understand the full meaning of adoption and just what this would mean to me throughout my life.
     During the first part of my life, in some ways, being adopted made me feel special because it meant I was a chosen child. I was very close to my adopted mother’s family as we all lived within a block of each other and spent many hours together. In this family I had my grandmother, Maude, who was like a second mother to me as I lived with her or next door to her until she passed away when I was just over ten years old. I always felt I was special to her and I remember one time when we saw a friend of hers at the drug store. Her friend said, “My, my, she looks just like you, Maude,” and my grandmother beamed and agreed with her friend. I also had three uncles who were my mother’s brothers and their wives who were, of course, my aunts. There were nine first cousins and I had one brother four years younger than me, who was also adopted but from a different family. Of course, everyone in the family knew I was adopted and for the most part they didn’t treat me any different and usually I felt I was one of them. I do remember a few occasions when I had the feeling that they thought of me as adopted and not quite solid in the family.
     I never hid the fact that I was adopted and growing up all my close friends knew it. When I was in my early twenties my adopted mother, Ramona, was cleaning out their safety deposit box and at this time she asked if I would like to see my adoption papers before she destroyed them. I was very interested in knowing what information was on my adoption papers but I didn’t want to offend my mother. I hesitated but not wanting to miss this opportunity, I said, “Yes, I would like to see them.” I always knew exactly where I was born because it was on my birth certificate, but these papers contained my birth mother’s name, Berniece. I didn’t need to write down her name because I knew I would always remember it.
     After I married and started having children of my own, I became very curious about just who and where my biological mother was. I had no biological or medical information about myself and therefore didn’t know just what I might be passing on to my children. As time went by, I became more and more interested in knowing my biological mother, Berniece. It was often on my mind and at times when I would see a woman in a crowd or elsewhere, I would wonder, “Is she my mother?”
     I was finally driven to see if I could find Berniece, for after all I did know her name and where I was born. So I drove to Kansas to the town where I was born to see what I could discover about my biological mother. I went to the local hospital, and they informed me that the home for unwed mothers which was once in this town was no longer there and all the records had been destroyed in a fire years before. They suggested I go to the Vital Statistics Department at the state capitol in Topeka and request to see my true original birth certificate.
     So I drove to Topeka that same day and went to the Vital Statistics Office and requested to see my birth records. After I had showed them the birth certificate which I had used all my life and my driver’s license with my photo to prove I was actually this person, they showed me my original birth certificate.* I wrote down all the information that was different from the birth certificate I already had. Of course my biological mother’s name I had learned several years earlier, but the original birth certificate also listed the town where she had lived before I was born. Now I had something more to work with in finding my biological mother.
      went back home and immediately began a serious search for this person, Berniece, who had given birth to me twenty-eight years earlier. I wrote letters to schools and places in both the town where I was born and also in the town where she came from. In just a short time I heard back from a person who had known Berniece years before and they informed me she had lived on a farm just south of Garden City, Kansas, when she was a young woman. So I went to the local library and looked in the Garden City telephone book and there was a listing for a man with the same last name as Berniece who lived on south star route just south of Garden City. Now I had a very good lead and a phone number.
     That very evening I called the phone number. When a man answered, I said I was looking for someone I had known a long time ago and gave my biological mother’s name, Berniece, and asked if he knew or was related to her. The man who answered said, “Yes, she is my sister and she lives not far from here. If you want, I can give you her phone number.”
     I quickly said, “Yes, I’d like her number.” I was very excited because now I might find Berniece and actually be able to talk to her.
     However, now that I had some reliable, current information on my biological mother, Berniece, and was about to contact her, I began to feel deep emotions related to this fact. Although I was very excited and hopeful about finding her, maybe she wouldn’t feel the same way. I wondered how she would react, would she be happy or mad, would she accept me or hang up on me? I was very nervous about making this phone call, but I had waited years to reach this point and I didn’t want to give up now. So I dialed the phone holding my breath and waiting to see what was going to happen. A woman answered the phone and once I had established that she was truly Berniece and the person whose name was on my birth certificate I said, “This is your daughter.” Then there was dead silence on the phone and I thought, “Oh my, what have I done?” But soon she responded and said, “Oh, you are? I tried to find you when you were about one or two years old but I never had any luck. I only knew that your adopted parents lived somewhere in Oklahoma. I am so happy to hear from you.” What relief I felt at that moment, Then she asked me about myself, “How tall are you, what color is your hair, are you married, do you have children?” We talked awhile and then decided that we needed to meet each other in person as soon as possible.
     In a few weeks my husband and I drove to Kansas to meet Berniece. It was a Memorial Day weekend and her family was having a big family picnic. Berniece was from a very large family and she was one of thirteen children born to my grandmother and grandfather, so this was a very big picnic. Berniece insisted that we go to this picnic so the whole family could meet me. Apparently only my grandparents and one aunt knew that I even existed, so there were many surprised faces and lots of questions. I could see that Berniece was proud of me and she wanted her family to accept me, and they did, but for some of her family it was easier and sooner than with others. Now I had this large new family to become familiar with and learn about.
     Now the mystery of my biological mother was solved. As it turned out, I was the only child Berniece ever had. I never told my adopted parents that I had found my biological mother and there was reason for this. The main reason was I felt that it really had nothing to do with them and the way I felt about them and I didn’t want to take a chance of hurting them. In my mind they were still my parents and nothing was changed in that regard. They both died never knowing that I had found my biological parents.
     A few years after I met Berniece she told my biological father, Al, about me. He was still living in Kansas and was married with four sons. When he learned about me he immediately called me and said he wanted to meet me as soon as I could get there. At the first opportunity I went out to meet Al and his wife and boys. It was a little awkward meeting his wife because I could tell she had known nothing about me and was not too happy with the whole situation. My half-brothers on the other hand accepted me and wanted to get acquainted with me and my husband and children. It was apparent that Al was very proud of me and happy to have me in his life. He said he always wanted a daughter and now he had one. Al was also from a large family and he was one of nine children. So once again I found myself with many aunts, uncles, and cousins to get acquainted with and learn about.
     During this same time I met more and more members of my biological families and got to know them and began to feel some connection with them. I attended several of their family reunions and in many ways became one of them. The first reunion I attended of Al’s family was interesting because several relatives came up to me and apologized for staring at me. Then they would tell me that I looked so much like my grandmother that it was uncanny. They said that I not only looked like her but I had a lot of the same mannerisms. One of my cousins gave me a photo of my grandmother and I must say I could see a strong resemblance.
     In many ways it was good to have all these families to care about and share life with. Then on the other hand, at times it was stressful and caused complicated feelings within me. I mean, can you imagine having two mothers and two fathers and being closely involved in their lives but one mother and father know nothing about the other mother and father? I’ve struggled for years to understand this interesting but unusual life I’d created for myself.
     I had a wonderful adopted family and also two nice biological families in my life. As the years went by I remained close to some of my adopted family. In my heart they were still my “real” family. Of course as we cousins all got older we moved to different parts of the country and had our own families. I lost touch with many of my cousins during this time and as the years went by my adopted uncles and aunts passed away and were no longer with us. It was only recently that I have reconnected with all my adopted cousins and their families.
     My adopted mother, Ramona, passed away when I was thirty-seven years old and about four years later my biological father, Al, died. Then two years after that my adopted father, Oscar, passed away and Berniece lived for about twelve more years and passed away when I was fifty-five years old. So I have had no living parents for over fifteen years.
     When I was around sixty years old, I became very interested in genealogy and began doing research and putting together my family genealogies. It was fun and very exciting to learn about former family members and their lives and the history of each family. I have continued with this and now, ten years later, I am still searching and building my family genealogies. I began by doing my adopted family and have done work on both my Ramona and Oscar’s families. I gathered an enormous amount of history and genealogical material on Ramona’s family dating back to around 1750. Oscar’s family genealogy has been more difficult because it seems that not much has been previously done on his family genealogy. Then I gradually began to work on both Berniece and Al’s family genealogy. I discovered that some genealogy had already been done on both these families and so I just needed to update it and do some research in areas that were missing or never documented.
     The interesting and very important thing that has come out of my doing all this genealogy was what I discovered about myself. While gathering all this research and working on the family genealogies I began to realize I have some deep and unexplained feelings about being adopted and about my adopted and biological families.
     On one hand, I have an adopted family that I love and I am close to. I have life history and experiences with this family and so many memories from the beginning of my life until now. When my adopted mother died I felt as though my “real mother,” the mother who took care of me all my life and loved me unconditionally, was gone. I still share early life memories with my cousins who have the same memories. We can get together and talk about our younger days and our family. But when it comes to the genealogy, I have no blood nor genes relations to these same family members, and this makes me feel somehow separate from my adopted family.
     On the other hand, I have two biological families that have been in my life for many years, and in fact for more than half of my life. I have gathered memories and experiences with these biological families through my adult years and I do care very much about them. However, the feelings I have for my biological family are not the same family feelings I have for my adopted family. I am related to them by blood and by genes, but I don’t have the childhood memories and experiences with these families. This causes me to feel separate from my biological family.
     In fact, in some ways I feel separate from both my adopted and biological families. There are times when I feel that I don’t really belong anywhere. This has resulted in mixed feelings and at times a sense of feeling strangely alone. So now the big question in my life is, where do I belong? Or do I really belong anywhere? Perhaps someday I’ll know the answer to this, but for now I’m still searching for the feeling of truly belonging somewhere.                                                                                               March, 2009

Thanks to Carolyn for sharing her story. We would love to hear readers’ comments on this story, and also would welcome other stories. You may give us permission to publish your name or we will be happy not to reveal your name if you wish to keep it undisclosed. Send your story to Barbara Free, 1818 Somervell NE, Albuquerque, NM 87112.

Excerpted from the July 2011 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2011 Operation Identity