Daily Archives: July 16, 2013

In the Dark

My friends and in-laws were intrigued when I told them I was adopted. Among the questions they asked:  “What are you going to do to find your parents?”  “Aren’t there adoption records on file? and “Don’t you think someone in your family knows something?”

I had no answers. I didn’t have a shred of documentation when I first learned I was adopted in 2000. Everythng I knew was based on a conversation with my sister and my godparents’ daughter. The three of us were adopted around the same time but unlike my parents, my godparents informed their daughter she was adopted. They also filled her in on my adoption and my sister’s adoption and she passed that information on to us. Some people (non-adopted of course) thought I should jump on this mystery and solve it pronto but the thought of digging deeper, possibly turning up painful facts, was too daunting. A little voice inside me said, “Lynne, you don’t want to go there.” I was afraid. Finding out my parents weren’t my birth parents was mind blowing enough. I was working full time for a weekly trade magazine and raising a family in New York City so I just kept doing what I was doing. I didn’t dwell on the past.

birth certificate photo for blog

But the past has a way of intruding into the present. Last year, at the urging of my curious husband, Tom, I obtained a copy of my original birth certificate from the state of Illinois. I was able to get this document after a new state law went into effect, permitting people adopted in the state to obtain their original birth certificates through the Illinois Department of Public Health. It took a couple of months but then one day the mail brought a thin business sized envelope addressed to me from the state of Illinois. My hands were shaking and I swallowed hard as I opened the envelope. The birth certificate provided my birth mother’s name, her address, her place of birth and her age at the time she had me. She was 28, which I found surprising. The birth certificate listed her maiden name and married name but I have to wonder if she was really married. She has beautiful handwriting, based on her signature, but that’s all I know about her beyond the bare facts. My father is “not legally known.”

After spending several hours poring over sites like ancestry.com, Tom and I got tired of looking for my birth mother’s whereabouts. Tom thinks I should travel to southern Indiana to look for my birth mother but I’m on the fence. Again, I fear what I might discover.

Reading about the Baby Scoop Era only reinforces my qualms. The Baby Scoop Era refers to a period between 1945 and 1972, when American adoptions of newborn infants soared to an estimated 4 million infants. Born in the 1960s, I could be a Baby Scoop baby. These women gave birth to babies and surrendered them for adoption, often under pressure from social workers who believed the women would be unfit mothers. In those days, unmarried women were sent out of town by their families to have their babies in secret at maternity homes. The Baby Scoop Era Research Initiative cast a spotlight on these dubious adoption practices that left many birth mother scarred for life. The experts estimate women surrendered as many as two million infants during the 1960s alone. Times have changed. Just 14,000 infants were given up for adoption in 2003, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Bombshell: How I Found Out I was Adopted

My parents were long gone when I found out, at age 38, that I was adopted.  My sister, Melissa, called and dropped the bombshell. I was stunned, saddened and basically dazed by this revelation. Of course it raised all sorts of questions. Who were my birth parents? Why did my birth mother give me up for adoption? Was she still alive? Were Melissa and I biological sisters? Did I have other brothers and sisters out there somewhere? What’s my ethnic background? What’s in my medical history? Things I had taken for granted about my identity were suddenly up for grabs.  My slender fingers, thin build, Roman nose – I thought I got those features from my father, who was small, thin as a rail with a nose that resembled a beak. Blue eyes, fair skin and curly hair of course came from my mother. “You look just like your mother,” my cousin told me at the lunch that followed Mom’s funeral.

Nobody likes being lied to. I wish my parents had told me the truth. If they couldn’t bear to talk about it, they could have at least left a letter or something for me to read upon their deaths. Not a word. No adoption paperwork. Nothing. They took the secret to their graves.

I am sure my mother and father had their reasons for not divulging the truth. I can’t entirely chalk up their secrecy to the different world of the 1960s, when Melissa and I were born. Gina, who is about the same age as my sister and me, was also adopted. Her parents, my godparents who were good friends with our parents,  told Gina the truth about her origins and also told her about Melissa and my adoptions.  The three of us were all adopted around the same time.

Bullies have been known to hurl “You’re adopted!” at other kids on the playground. Even today, some people think  adopted children are somehow not as “good” or authentic as biological offspring. I suspect my mom and dad kept quiet because they didn’t want my sister and me to feel any less loved than any child being raised by birth parents.

Personally I think it’s better for parents to be straight with their adopted children. My good friend, Lucia, told her boys they were adopted when they were 1 ½ and 3 ½ years old. “That’s what the experts advise, too,” Lucia says. “Then the kids accept it as normal.”

The American Adoption Congress  supports openness. This non-profit advocacy group has worked to change laws to make it easier for adoptees to get access to formerly sealed adoption records.  For moral support, there’s also a Facebook group for people who, like me, found out later in life they were adopted.

family tree for blog