You’re Adopted: The Late Discovery Adoptee’s Moment of Truth

It hurts to find out, as an adult, that you were adopted.

Every late discovery adoptee’s moment of truth is delivered differently but there’s no way to sugarcoat it. The blow may come in a relatively gentle way as it did for me. Thirteen years ago, my sister, Melissa, called me one evening. “You and I were both adopted,” she said very matter-of-factly, with no tears or anger in her voice. (Melissa and I both hate drama.) MeIissa, who suspected we had been adopted, confirmed it with our cousin, Gina, who had been adopted by a couple who were close friends with our parents.

I was stunned. I felt betrayed by my parents who never so much as hinted at the possibility that I was not their biological daughter.

My parents, Claire and Bob, and me on my wedding day
My parents, Claire and Bob, adopted me without telling me. Here we are on my wedding day

They fooled me and now I felt foolish. Here I was, married, a mother, 38 years old and finding out for the first time that I had been adopted. Mom and Dad were both in their 50s when I was born and baby Melissa arrived 14 months later so I should have figured it out on my own. I was no detective, despite having devoured Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries as a girl growing up the 1960s and ‘70s.

Mom and Dad were both deceased. I would never be able to ask them about my beginnings. I would never know how difficult it was to bring me into the world or whether I was born by C-section or the natural way. Did Mom and Dad meet my biological parents? I would never know the whole story. My genes, family history, ethnic identity and everything else I thought was mine was lost. All the interesting stories about my grandparents, aunts, uncle and the cousins on Mom’s side of the family didn’t belong to me anymore. Poof! Just like that, it was gone.

I’ve learned that my discovery, though painful, was far less dramatic than other adoptees’ stories.

At the age of 52, Darlene Coyne found out about her adoption in a brutal and unexpected encounter with her mother, a woman she loved dearly. Darlene’s 21-year-old daughter wanted to know about the family’s medical history. At a family gathering, the daughter, who has bipolar disorder, pushed her grandmother for information, knowing there was some history of mental illness on her side of the family. Darlene’s mother was tight-lipped, revealing nothing.

Grandmother and granddaughter had a rocky relationship. It wasn’t the first time Darlene’s daughter had bugged her grandmother with questions about mental illness and the older woman was fed up with the questions.

“I have something to tell you,” she told Darlene. “You should sit down.”

Darlene’s mother revealed that Darlene, like her siblings, was adopted. “I adopted you also—so she (Darlene’s daughter) can quit blaming my family for her mental illness,” she told Darlene.

What a way to find out you’re adopted. Darlene was shocked and deeply wounded. Her mother never apologized to Darlene for lying about the adoption or being so callous in revealing the truth. Though Darlene eventually forgave her mother, their relationship was never the same.

Every late discovery adoptee’s moment of truth is unique. I’d love to know how you found out you were adopted. Tell your stories in the comments.

26 thoughts on “You’re Adopted: The Late Discovery Adoptee’s Moment of Truth

  1. Your story sounds so much like mine. My cousin told me, in a kind and loving way, and I was the sister telling my brother that we had been adopted. My adoptive parents were both dead when I found out and mine, too, were too old to be having children in the 60s. I did feel different, but I always just ascribed that to the age difference.

    By the way, I was also a ‘curl up in a room reading’ sort of kid with no evidence of that in the rest of my family. Turns out my maternal grandmother was also a voracious reader.

    I’ve chronicled my path in a journal at http://iamlda.net

  2. I did not have such a dramatic approach to finding out I was adopted. In fact, I never “didn’t” know. When I was little, all the other kids thought babies were brought by the stork or found in a cabbage patch, I thought all babies were adopted. We still laugh about this today. My parents always told the story or when they “got” me. My sibling (not biologically) was also adopted, 3 years before me. He can remember, “when we all went to pick you out”. It was an endearing story then and still is to this day. We celebrate mine and my brothers adoption days just as you would a birthday, which is also highly celebrated. I was always considered very very special since I was so very wanted. My parents always told me and I always felt it.

  3. Hi J. Your story proves that children can handle the truth about adoption at a young age. I’m glad your parents were forthcoming with you. Have you or your brother made contact with your biological family?

  4. Thanks for sharing your story, AlyWho. Maybe we would have figured things out sooner if we had spent less time with ouior noses in books? 🙂 My bio mom was also a bookworm.

  5. I found out at age 40, i was adopted. I was the family secret. I had asked many times while growing up but my family held strong to the lie. My adopted mother had passed away approximately 6 mths before i found out. I was caring for my adopted father and during a family reunion he sent me to find some pictures for a cousin. I inadvertently found my baby pictures and in the back was written (adopted daughter of joe &sue). Yes, just like that all my truths were gone. My life was a lie and i felt betrayed. I never told my adopted father i knew. His health was poor and their was really no reason to upset him. God had other plans anyway and led me to find my natural family. It has all worked out but its a betrayal that i am still working to forgive.

  6. That is a hard way to find out, Deborah. Yeah, I understand that feeling of betrayal. I feel like I have unfinished business with my parents and it’s always going to be unfinished. How was your reunion with your natural family?

  7. A cousin from my adopted family told me when I was 21. It was the happiest day of my life. Everything that hadn’t made sense suddenly made sense.

    I’m 58 now, and reunited with my first family over 20 years ago. Wham! I felt instantly connected, which was very different from my experience with my adoptive family.

    Later this week, I’ll be spending time with many of them. They are wonderful people who have supported me and loved me unconditionally from the moment we met. Some of the stories I’ve written are linked on my webpage (michelejleavitt.com).

    The woman who searched for me, Sandy Musser, is a long-time adoptee rights activist. We recently reconnected. Sign her petition to open sealed records at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/an-executive-order-to-1.fb52?source=s.icn.fb&r_by=10829605

  8. I was 23, which seems like it shouldn’t be a bad age to find it out, but it’s really bad since you’re just trying to sort out who you are and what you’re doing with your life. I’ve never quite recovered. I wish I had found out a lot earlier or a lot later.

    Anyway, I found out because my mother hired a search agency to find me. They called my adoptive parents and my mom gave me the number to call back. I called and the woman got on the line and said “I’m calling about your adoption. *long pause* You did know you were adopted, didn’t you?”.

    I had suspicions at various points, but I brushed it all off. There were a bunch of little things that made me wonder, but nothing obvious enough to even made me ask my parents if I was adopted.

  9. So sorry that your truth was kept from you. But know that you’re not alone. And also know that there’s still every chance you can learn more of your truth despite that your adoptive parents have passed. They would not necessarily have know your birthweight, how you were delivered, etc. in any case. These are not details agencies tend to give adoptive parents. But there are any number of groups at your state and at the national level who can help. Start by understanding your rights (or the lack of them, depending upon where you were born/adopted) at http://www.bastards.org

  10. At 40 started building a family tree and found my parents marriage license. My mother had a different last name that was also not her maiden name. I called and asked her if I was her biological child and she said yes. I asked if I was a member of the family of the last name on the marriage license and she said no. For 2 1/2 years she has continued to not tell me the truth. She is dying of breast cancer and I refuse to speak with her because she won’t tell me the truth.

  11. Tim, that’s terrible. I cannot believe your mother refuses to tell you the truth. Is there another family member who could persuade her to talk to you? This must be a difficult time for you and your mother. I wish you both well.

  12. Lisa, that’s an amazing way to find out about your adoption. Have you reunited with your biological mother? How are things between you and your adoptive parents? They must have been shocked to hear from your birth mom. I wish you the best and thank you for sharing your story.

  13. Michele, how very nice to meet you. I am friends with Sandy on FB. She’s wonderful. I’m so happy that you reunited with your first family and that they welcomed you into the family. When I was growing up, I never felt like I fit into my family. Was it like that for you? Thanks for reading and sharing your story!

  14. Hi Mari. Actually, my adoption was private. No agency was involved. My parents must have destroyed the paperwork since my sister and I never found anything after they died. Just recently, I obtained my original birth certificate from Illinois and with that document, I was able to track down family on my mother’s side. My “new” sister has provided a lot of interesting details about our mother. Thanks for the link. I’ll check out bastards.org

  15. J, it’s always interesting how different our stories can be, even as they parallel each other’s. I was born 4 yrs after my brother (yes, also adopted & not biologically related- funny, another ? we are always asked). Brother, of course understood that we were “chosen”, as he- like your sibling, was also included in the day they…picked me up. I, on the other hand, do not recall ever being told, or explained the fact that I was adopted…until I was abt 11, & the manner in which led to it is through one of the words you used in your comments – one that to this day I do NOT like at all…”special”. My parents would use that very word whenever I was upset, trying to comfort me…”but you are special”, “we love you; you are so special”. Well, at 11, during an angry outburst (I grew up as an anxiety-ridden bundle of nerves), I asked, ‘WHY? Why do you always say I am SPECIAL?’ I was not ready for the answer, “because you were chosen. You are adopted”. It WAS like everything I knew was a lie, and even though my mom loved me so much, I KNEW then why I was so different than them. Why I was scared of severe storms, when they would all watch them from a window, why they liked hamburgers, and I hated them…on and on. It did however take decades to understand that some of us suffer with separation trauma and anxiety, and THAT helped me understand why before school every day I would ask my mom if she would be home…I was terrified that something would happen to me at school, and she would not be able to come and get me! Now, I KNEW that was what made me feel so sick, but I didn’t understand WHY, even after being told…Now, I do.
    I love that you were always told, but so many of us were not…and look how much more calm your emotions are when discussing your adoption! That’s a big key- full disclosure and assurance. My own mom was so loving, and it had to be heartbreaking to her when I would lash out during my teen years, saying things like, ‘my real mom would understand’. Yes, I did say horrible things. I also had an adad who said horrible things, was an alcoholic with his own set of issues, which in reality should have probably kept him from being able to adopt. My brother suffered the most from my dad’s emotional abuse, and angry verbal put-downs his whole life. But again, with age it is easier to see how dad’s own issues were what made him so insecure and volitile, but boy oh boy, he sure set my brother up for failure, and his life continues to suffer from the yrs of messed-up dealings with our dad.
    For me, there was always the desire to search, but it wasn’t until 4 yrs after Mom passed did I actually have the courage to let it happen; unfortunately it was 2 yrs after my bmom had passed. I had the loyalty for my mom that would not allow me to hurt her- & I KNOW it would have been devastating to her. I already felt awful that she married Dad…she deserved someone so much better. But, if she had not married dad, who was the one who had fertility issues (yes, one BIG reason I believe he was so unhappy and angry his whole life), then I would not have had my Mom…the absolute most loving mom in the world. So, it is what it is, and all of this written just because… I read how “special” you were.
    The only thing special abt adoption is that some of us live with no scars, or at least that we know of or acknowledge. For me, I know my anxiety came from that separation. It explains why I was a screamer. It explains why I had to have tonsils and adenoids out at less than 2 yrs old- to keep me from screaming long enough to heal my eardrums, which had broken a total of SIX times- & not from infection, but from pressure built up from continual crying and screaming…all this related by my a-uncle, our pediatrician through childhood…and the one who told my parents abt me, as he was a volunteer for the home! My guess is he had some pull there too, when it came to helping my parents adopt. (He wasy mom’s beother- a very good man, with a kind heart…and his family loved us very much. I am still in contact with most).
    I can now say I have two sisters, one found through search, one found by surprise on 23andme. The instant feeling of empowerment & self recognition came on the day I discovered my name at birth, and my bmom’s name. The joy of having my two sisters, the only biological connections in my world is incredible. You probably cannot fathom my story, and I am truly glad for you, but…I have to share my atory, like so many do because…it is MY story. It is a story of my ancestry, my beginning, and my future. It went from carrying my ap’s stories, to carrying mine. 🙂

  16. Thank you for sharing your story, Lynne, and for allowing, even asking us to share ours. ♡
    Mel

  17. Thank you for sharing your fascinating story, Melissa. I think I’m with you on the use of the word “special” – feels like a euphemism for “different.” Though we all have unique stories, I think we can all agree adoption is “different” from being biologically related to one’s parents. Thanks for reading my blog 🙂

  18. My new book called “Separated Lives” is a true story about the adoption of a baby boy and years later a friend taking him on a fascinating but uncertain journey to search for his birth parents. It is available from Dorrance Publishing (in Pittsburgh,PA) http://www.DorranceBookstore.com, Barnes& Noble barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com.
    Author: Lynn Assimacopoulos

  19. Melissa, I know how important it is to feel connected, not like an outsider in your own family. I grew up feeling like I didn’t fit in at home and to this day, I feel like an outsider in many situations. It sounds like you and your new sisters are enjoying one another’s company. Congratulations on finding your siblings. Take care. Lynne

  20. I guessed very early on (around 8 years old), but everyone, and I mean everyone (family, friends), told me that I was wrong, that I was my parents biological child, until I tested my DNA as an adult at age 51 after my (adoptive) mother died and I realized that no one was going to tell me of their own accord. Even then, the state (Maryland) at first denied my adoption, claiming the DNA test was wrong.
    I’ve since discovered who my biological father was (he died in 2003) and who my biological mother was (she died in 1999). Now, at age 53, my (adoptive) father finally decided to tell me about my adoption because he’s nearing the end of his life and he didn’t want to die with this on his conscience.
    Honestly? I’m hurt that no-one told me, that no-one gave me the chance to search for my biological parents while they were still alive. Given the very rocky relationship with my adoptive parents, it’s a relief to know that I wasn’t imagining the differences that I saw between us (physical and personality).
    Finally seeing pictures of folks that I am related to, I can finally see where I fit in, and I can look at myself in the mirror and see a reasonable looking woman, rather than a misfit. It’s really that significant to me.

  21. Evelyn, it is unfortunate that you never learned the truth until recently. Even the state government denied the truth, despite the DNA test. Do you have any siblings? Don’t be surprised if they know about you. The adoptees from our generation are usually the last ones to find out their status. Thanks for sharing your story and best wishes.

  22. Imagine getting a phone call late on night from your brother telling you to sit down because he had something shocking to tell you? He did this to me only 3 years ago when I was 57 years old. I sat down as he asked me to and my brother, David proceeded to ask me if I ever wondered why I had never seen baby pictures of me. I told him, “no, I had never wondered about it because I had seen many pictures of me with my baby bonnet on in a park in Châteauroux, France while my father, Jewish Chaplain, Abe Sheingold was serving in the US. Air Force at the time. Then David proceeded to tell me while he was cleaning out our father’s apartment in NY, he found a metal box with a lock on it and when he opened it, he found my European Adoption Documents inside. Wow! I was adopted! Neither David nor I had ever known.
    David then told me my adoption documents were half in German, half in the French language with English translations too. My birth mother was Jenny Helene Levy, a Jew, born in Strasbourg, France in May 1921. My given birth name was Darlene Barbara but my adoptive parents, Abe and Norma, both from NY, changed it to Deborah Susan since this name was more appropriate for a now daughter of a Rabbi. I called the only relatives I ever knew and Aunt Mimi told me they always knew I had been adopted… but they never told me.

    Once David mailed me the adoption documents, I reached out to a Jewish adoption agency in the states, but was told that my adoption was done entirely through the courts in Europe. Then.. I contacted the local rabbi in Bellingham WA where I lived and was referred to the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State who then referred me to taking a DNA test through Family Tree, since they have the largest Ashkenazi data base, meaning Jews from Eastern and Western Europe. I took the test after pondering if i would ever know about my birth mother since she would have been about 93 years old, but within 4 to 6 weeks after the test, the results came back to me. Logging in to Family Tree DNA, there were pages and pages of possible genetic relatives but looked at the column of “Autosomal DNA” in centmorgans. The higher the number (anything over 100 points) I was a strong match to that person.

    There was one woman named Jeanette Rosenberg, who was a 2nd to 4th cousin with 114.57 autosmal points to me with 22 shared chromosomes. I sent Jeanette Rosenberg a personal email explaining who I was and that I just found out I had been adopted and my birth mother Jenny Levy was from France. She told me she had a friend in Belgium who speaks French and will get my birth mother’s birth certificate from Strasbourg, The Jeanette, who is a Jewish Genealogist by profession found that my birth mother had come into the US as a Naturalized citizen only 3 months after my adoption was finalized. There were 2 witnesses on Jenny Levy’s naturalization document named John and Ginette Launay, both from France.
    Jeanette Rosenberg also found a man named Gerard D. Launay who was an an attorney in Berkeley, CA who might be their son, so I was instructed to contact him, tell him who I was, who my birth mother was. He wasn’t in his law office so I left him a voice message on his business phone. Within 1 week Gerard called me back to tell me his father was my birth mother’s brother. Gerard explained that his father was born Joseph Levy in 1913, but because he was a spy in the French Secret Service during WWII, he had changed his name to John Launay. He and his wife, Ginette Launay has come into the US as naturalized citizens in NY in 1944.
    Gerard went on to tell me my birth mother had told the family that she did indeed give birth to a baby girl in Baumholder Germany in 1957, but that baby (me) had died of a disease. Wow again! I died? Gerard’s mother, Ginette never believed the story that my birth mother had told the family. She would always ask Jenny, “what did you do to save this baby’s life?” “Did you take her to the doctor, or the hospital?” but all Jenny did was shrug her shoulders. Gerard Launay then told me that he didn’t think this story originated with Jenny but her mother, Hedwige Julich Levy, who was a strict German Jew, kept kosher and because her daughter wasn’t married when she got pregnant with me, she concocted this story for Jenny to tell the family. Also possible, was the fact that my birth father might not have been a Jew, and that back then was a positive “no, no”.
    I understand that so much time had passed and my adoptive parents grew up in a different time back then. My relationship with my adoptive mother was not a good one, with my having to run away from her in 1979 to join the US Navy. My adoptive father Abe and I were close, but maybe he felt that if he ever told me I had been adopted as an adult with over 50 plus years having gone by, he wasn’t sure how I would react.
    My finding out I had been adopted has truly shaken my world still, 3 years later. I am struggling still to find meaning and asking questions as to who I am. I found out I had been adopted only 4 months after my long-term marriage of 36 years abruptly ended with him walking out, so I was still reeling from that event.

    My advice is to others is to take a DNA test, research all possible avenues, naturalization and ports of entry like Ellis Island, social media, hospital records and more. It took me about 6 months of research to find out so much about my birth mother, Jenny H. Levy, I found out she had gone to Israel to live in 1988 and passed away in Jerusalem around the year 2002. Jeanette Rosenberg has boots on the ground looking for my birth mother’s grave there, but as of now, we still don’t know. There are 8 cemeteries in Jerusalem alone and Israel still does not have the information online.

    Jeanette Rosenberg, ,my second cousin, has found a document pertaining to Restitution against the German government with many Jewish plainiffs for land stolen by the Nazis’ from my birth family in Freiberg, Germany. This document is dated 1949-1951 so this too with be something I plan to pursue to find out what happened. Gerard thinks the LevyLaunay?Julich family was awarded some kind of restitution back then.

    My story is truly amazing, no doubt but others like me are finding out to due to new technology, social media, dna testing, etc.

  23. I was born in the early 1960’s and put up for adoption. I didn’t find out that I was adopted until I was nearly 18 years old. My first reaction was shock and disbelief. I never had any anger towards anyone which I’ve been told is very unusual. However, this answered a lot of questions that I had about myself which were answered.

    I knew from an early age that something was different about me. I look nothing like the family I was raised in (most of my family has either blonde hair and blue eyes or dark brown hair and hazel/brown eyes). I have dark brown hair and blue eyes.

    I didn’t share the same interests as most of the family seems to have the same likes, dislikes and interests.

    I remember asking my mom when I was 13 years old why no one in the last 100 years of known family photos or no didn’t have dark brown hair and blue eyes. I knew no one in the family had this hair and eye combination. The response that my mother gave me was interesting. She took out a photo album and showed me a picture of her and my uncle when they were children and said that they didn’t look alike and that family members don’t always look alike which is true. At the time I didn’t think about this but if you look at the picture, my mother is a clone of my grandmother and my uncle is a clone of my grandfather. Very strong resemblance to each parent.

    For about 3 days after I found out I was adopted, I had a very weird feeling that I’ve never felt before. I was sitting at the dinner table and felt like I there was there and then there was another soul which was spirit like which was part of me but not part of me. It was like it was next to me. Can’t exactly explained it except to say it was the unknown or a part of my soul which was unanswered.

    In the 1990’s my birth mother found me. No one really knew what to do with me or my emotions after I met both my biological parents. I wasn’t myself and others around me noticed. I went to a counselor who didn’t know what to do with me as people who he had counseled people who were adopted as the result of abuse or neglect or who were in foster care and later adopted me. I had none of the problems that they had. The counselor had never counseled someone who found they were adopted as a adult. Talking with this counselor helped me somewhat but what really helped me was talking with a adoption support group for about a month helped. They knew and understood my feelings and what I was going thru. They understood even though their experiences were very different from mine.

  24. Thanks for sharing your amazing story, Deborah. Secret adoptions are unraveling in today’s world as people turn to social media and DNA testing to find their truth and make connections. I’m glad you learned your truth.

  25. Thanks for sharing your story, Lucy. I’ve heard there are not many therapists or counselors with experience with people like us. It’s time for mental health professionals to get educated on issues that affect adoptees, especially late discovery adoptees.

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