My Own Journey Through Adoption
When I was 11 years old, and away in the Pocono Mountains (that would be in Pennsylvania) my adopted cousins, my adopted sister, and I were so excited about our first time at summer sleep away camp. My adopted sister and I flew on an airplane all the way from California. We had moved out of Pennsylvania when I was 6 years old, so this was a summer I couldn’t wait for. I did not know, yet, that I was adopted. My adopted parents felt (which I learned later) it was best not to tell me. She would tell me, they just wanted me ‘fit in’ with the rest of the family. Actually, I really didn’t fit in at all. My younger adopted sister was very short, very thin, and had brown hair, and blue eyes. Me, I was very tall for my age, also thin, but had blonde hair, and yes I also have blue eyes!
By the end of our first month at camp, things turned. My cousin, who I bunked with, got mad at me for something (I can’t even remember what) and she blurted a comment to me that would change my life, forever. She said, "I hate you, AND you're adopted!" Wait, what? What just happened? I was understandably horrified. All I knew about adopted kids was that people left them on door steps, in baskets. Now, with all this commotion, the crying, the trauma….my parents were called, and had to fly back to Pennsylvania to pick me up, and take me to my adopted Aunt and Uncle's’ home, hours away, where they thought was a safe space for me.
They were very wrong. I remember them trying to console this tall waif, who now felt parentless, I remember thinking, "who are these people. Why was I in this car, on this day, not knowing who I was, or where I came from?" And them trying to explain to me that they were my "parents". Huh? Wasn’t I left in a basket on your doorstep? My adopted parents – god bless them both – did not know how to handle this new situation they now found themselves in. At age eleven, I didn’t get what they were telling me either, really. Some lady, another mother, gave me away. That’s what I heard, that’s all I heard at that time of my life.
As I grew older, my adopted mother, never wanted to talk about my adoption. I mean this was 1960 when I was born. She felt stigmatized that she was unable to have her own biological children. She explained that this was one of those sticky situations you didn’t want your neighbors to know. Argh.....
But I still had so many questions and they haunted me from the age of 11 until I was old enough to begin my “search”. I was about 16 or 17 when I opened that Pandora’s box of secrets. I was hungry to find anything about myself. One night, when my parents were out, I foraged through their private file cabinets. Crossing my fingers, and praying for something I’d find about me! Then, I saw a blue, long folded pamphlet looking like thing. It looked important. What I found in my parents private papers, was my amended birth certificate, a Petition to Adopt, and there it was, the first sighting of my name Baby Girl Thompson. I actually had a name! I couldn't believe it. I was actually born to someone. I thought to myself, but where do I go from here?
In those days, the late 70’s, there were no computers yet. I know, imagine that!! I continued in trying to figure out my identity by sending away for my original birth certificate and what ever else I could figure out, only to be turned away by all governmental agencies. I joined every adoption group I could, every library in the area I thought I might have been born in. I laughed at myself and thought I can’t figure this out, I will just never know. I was as defeated as anyone can get.
In 1983, my then future husband really pushed me. He knew how important it was to me. Where to start again, where to start? My adopted parents had always said that I was born in a hospital in the city of Philadelphia. But they couldn’t remember which one. So I wrote to every hospital in Philadelphia until – weeks later – a letter came, that said yes, there was a baby born February 1960, in Frankford Hospital. I had to write back. I wanted those records, desperately. It took me months, petitioning the hospital, being turned down. In about 3 or 4 months since I started my campaign, I received a letter saying that I couldn’t have my records because I was ADOPTED. I thought to myself, "This is just not fair. Why am I not able to have was is rightfully mine? Why are adoptees treated like animals. Even dogs have a pedigree." Then, I got really mad. I called the hospital's’ legal department and because I was adopted, they turned my case over to their legal team. After much trauma, and about a year's time, they did send me my records. To my astonishment, all names were redacted with black marker. But, they made one mistake. If you truly don’t want anyone to be able to see the redaction, then make a photocopy. I could actually see a partial name. I knew I was Baby Girl Thompson. In the space for 'mother's name' all I could see was an An?? ?ari? Thompson. Something like that. And a partial address. I was ecstatic. I went to our local library, looked through every phone book available. Befriended a gentleman at the Philadelphia Free Library, who researched it for me too. Months later I came up with a John R. Thompson, on Memphis Street. I found neighbors who still lived on Memphis Street. I called them all and asked if anyone remembered the Thompson family.
Luck was definitely with me. One very old woman told me yes, she remembered the Thompson family, and that there were a bunch of kids in the house. Then she told me, yes, I remember an Anne Marie. So, finally I had confirmation that the family lived at that address, and that there was a young lady who had lived there named Anne. But to find her now (1999) how would I do that? I turned now to the internet (in its infancy) and joined every adoption group that I hadn’t been a member of yet. I had put out a question to this group, asking if anyone knew the neighborhood to which my perspective birth mother lived. I can’t remember the specifics of those events, but somehow a woman named Jackie, emailed me. She told me that she lived in the neighborhood, and that she KNEW THE FAMILY! Not only did she know the family, but she lived around the corner from my perspective birth mother’s brother, my birth Uncle! All the people in those neighborhoods in Philly, all grow up together. Go to school together, go to the bars together! My angel had been found, Jackie offered to walk over to Anne’s house, and ask her if my date of birth, meant anything to her. Later that day, I was on pins and needles not knowing what was to come of this. Jackie called me at my office, to tell me that yes, Anne says that date in 1960, was the date her daughter was born, who she had given up for adoption! Oh my gosh. I have never felt so overwhelmed, so nervous, in my entire life.
It was March of 2000. And it was that day, that I spoke with my birth mother for the first time in 40 years! I remember that first conversation very well. There was a lot of crying, and asking for forgiveness. She had told me that I had 6 half siblings, that she had told them of me since they were teenagers and that she never wanted to put me up for adoption. She told me my birth fathers name, and that she was 7 months pregnant when he left her for another woman. Her mother, my birth grandmother, didn’t want her to keep “the baby”. My birth grandfather wasn’t working at the time, and there were 4 other mouths to feed. I was sad, but I understood.
In August of 2000, myself, my 10 year old son, and my husband walked down the escalator of the Philadelphia airport – Right there, right in front of me - there was my first mother. She had a bunch of flowers for me, and a huge smile but with tears rolling down her face. I cry, now as I think of that moment. Here was a woman who had gone without knowing anything about me, who had no way of knowing how to look for me, what had happened to me? Where I was? Nothing. I felt so much empathy, and such pride all at the same time. Look what she did do. She gave me to another family, who at the time could not have children. She had done the most selfless thing anyone can do for another, for a child. I was forever in that moment so beyond grateful – for both of my families.
I had seventeen beautiful years, getting to know by birth mother, my first mother. I have just recently lost both of my moms. My first mom, this past April, and my second mom, just a month ago. My heart is overflowing with love for them both.
In the years since, I have come to understand all sides of the adoption triangle, the triad we call it. For 20 years now, I have volunteered my own personal time to help others with their own journey's. It is something that when I was searching, I had told myself that after I find my birth family, I am going to “pay it forward” and give back to a community, the adoption community, who had helped me so much. This has always been my passion. People, families, lives coming together is what is important. For those of you who have not had as positive an experience, your journey is still important. I truly feel that no matter what you may find at the end of your, you have found something that most people on this earth take for granted - you have finally found yourself. What more can any of us ask?
~ In Loving Memory of my Two Moms ~