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My Birth Mother’s Daughter

July 14, 2014


As a child, whenever I conjured my birth mother from the blackness of memory, she was always alone, a solitary shadow.  I wondered sometimes if she ever married, if she ever had other children, and hoped she had.  In my child’s simplicity, I wished that whatever love came to her after she relinquished us had filled her back up.

But even then, even with my wishing, I was still caught off guard when the confidential intermediary from the Midwest Adoption Center who found our birth parents in 2009 told me that my sister and I had a full biological brother, just one year older than us.  My intense months of searching had been so focused on our birth mother that I did not even think of anyone else.  Now there was a mother, and a father, and a brother.   Then there were more children our birth parents had adopted: another sister, two more brothers.  But not biological.  Even the confidential intermediary issued them forth as asides.  So not a sister, not two more brothers.  Just three more children.

The search for a birth family is, in many ways, a search for blood, for biology.  The reunion is about blood, too.  And the days and months and years to follow, they are also about blood.   What other motivation is there to keep at it?  To do the hard work that goes along with meeting at this stage in our lives?  If not for blood, we would still be strangers to one another, enjoying each other’s company–or not–the way people in this world come together, drift apart, come together based on myriad other circumstances.

It took me more than a year to reach out to my birth parents’ daughter.  She wasn’t blood, so what right did I have to pull her into the story, into my story?  I kept putting myself in her shoes and wondering what it would have been like for two biological daughters to spring forth from my own mother’s past.  I didn’t want to bother her, to intrude, to stake any kind of claim.  But I wanted her to know, from one adopted person to another, that she mattered.  Just because she wasn’t blood, she mattered.  After all, she is my birth mother’s daughter.  I was relieved when she wrote back.  She’d wanted to reach out, too, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear from her.

In 2013 we decided to meet at Hersheypark. We brought along our husbands and, between the two of us, our seven sons.  We talked all day, and we haven’t stopped talking since.  It’s hard to explain this bond between the three of us: my birth mother’s daughter, my twin sister, me.  It has nothing to do with biology.  It has something to do with adoption, but that’s not everything.

Earlier this month, they stayed with us here in Philadelphia for a couple of nights.  In the days before they arrived, I told people we were expecting company.  I said, “My birth mother’s daughter and her family are visiting from North Carolina,” and watched them try to sort it out.

photoOur kids don’t have trouble sorting it out.  They consider themselves cousins.  They don’t know what to call the adults–are we aunts? are we uncles?–but they are sure of each other.  On the first night they were in town, we took them to Rita’s for water ice, and as we stood in front of the counter weighing our flavor options, their oldest boy threw his arm around my oldest.  “You know what I like, right?” he asked my son.  “Because we’re related.”

Of all the gifts this journey has given my sister and me, this one has been the most surprising, this gift of my birth mother’s daughter.  Our connection is not about blood.  It’s not even about a shared experience of adoption.  While we understand each other in profound ways because of our adoption, we experienced adoption very differently.  It’s that: She loves this woman she calls mother, our birth mother, the way we love our own.  It’s that: This biological family that is ours by blood is more truly hers. It’s that: She claims the ancestors we don’t feel connected to.   It’s that: When we say family is family, we are saying the same thing.

My birth mother’s daughter, my twin, me: we share a mother although it’s far more complicated than that.  We share each other, too, but there’s no word for what it is.  It’s something like sister, but not, something like it, but more.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2014 9:05 pm

    Wonderful as always. You have shared so many facets of adoption that most of us “regular family” people would never have even thought about, thus giving us really good sense of your history and continuing story. I loved seeing the pictures of all those boys but did t realize until now you they were! So glad, Jenny, you have good relationship with you sister!

  2. Judy Stoltenberg permalink
    July 14, 2014 8:44 pm

    We know that in all things God works for the good of us.


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