Just two months after starting the search for my birth mother, I had her name (Carolyn). A name is a huge step forward, but tracking someone down after 30 years can sometimes be very difficult. But I’d done a lot of research, and had a bit of luck as well.
Once I located Carolyn, I entered an ambivalent state of euphoria mixed with panic (and about a million other emotions). I’d thought a lot about finding her through the years, but the fantasy was always different. And I hadn’t really considered what it would be like if she didn’t want contact. Those thoughts were now an unrelenting plague of insecurity circling in my mind like a drain.
There are a lot of things to consider when making initial contact. After being in touch with so many adoptees and birth mothers online, I was acutely aware of many the sensitivities. One was the shock factor. Another was taking into account her privacy. I knew there was a very real possibility that no one in Carolyn’s life knew about me, so I needed to be mindful of her life circumstances (whatever they were), and be respectfully discrete.
As I mentioned in the last post, Carolyn had written a letter to my parents, which was read to them by an agency worker upon my adoption. The gist of the letter, which the agency later destroyed, said she loved me very much and asked that they please always read to me. My parents honored that request and made sure books were a huge part of my childhood. Growing up, my mom would frequently remind me of that letter and my birthmother’s request, which was wonderful and always made me feel very loved. So of course she’d want to know me now, right? Maybe, maybe not.
But I had to take the chance since I’d come this far. There was never any question about that. The issue I struggled with was a contact strategy. I ultimately decided on writing a letter. It seemed fitting.
The letter, which was just a couple of pages, took me hours and hours to write. I decided to give her an overview of my life, tell her that I was a voracious reader (and now a writer), enclose a few pictures through the years, assure her that I was okay and let her know that I had grown up in a loving home. I also asked a number of questions. Once it was finished, edited a billion times, hand-written on special stationary and a copy made for me, I sent it via FedEx (to California) so I could track delivery.
Then I waited.
The next day, I knew the letter had been delivered. Hours had passed. In my heart, I felt we had always been connected, but my insecurities and fears were getting the better of me after the limbo and emotional exhaustion of search. The letter had been received early in the day and now it was almost 9 p.m. Every doubt and negative scenario was bouncing around in my brain. So I opened a bottle of wine and tried to relax.
It’s funny how certain things — like time, music and scents — burn into your brain when big, life-changing moments are involved. This was one of those moments. At 10:18 p.m., the phone rang. It was the call I’d dreamed about for years. She’d had my letter for just an hour and had been trying to compose herself so she could call me. As it turns out, the address I’d been given was wrong and the letter had ended up in the hands of her ex-husband. Thankfully he’d delivered it to her that evening.
But that first call … it was wonderful, very emotional and lasted more than three hours. During the first five minutes, Carolyn rushed to answer my questions and tell me as many details as she could in fear that I would hang up … or just disappear (she later confessed). She hardly took a breath as she told me about the circumstances of my birth, her life at the time of my relinquishment, the reason for her decision, my medical history, my half-sister … and my birthfather’s name (more to come on that in the next installment).
That first call — of so many that would come later — set the stage for a reunion and relationship that would be filled with truth, answers, friendship, laughter, love, understanding and discovery.
Hanging up was so hard.
During the next six months, we called each other a lot. Sometimes daily. We wrote letters, emailed, sent cards and photos. We really got to know each other (which is never easy for two introverts). But we both were clearing the secrets out of our lives.
And it was liberating!
Next post: Reunion