We are so excited for tonight’s Supporting Girls in the Middle School Years event, Somewhere Between: Identity Development in Transracial Adoptees. To kick the day off, we have another guest blogger, Heidi, here to share her adoptee story:
I am a child of the 70s who was relinquished for adoption at just three-days-old. As I was born in the midst of the sealed records era, I didn’t know much about my origins. The non-identifying information that was provided to my parents indicated that my mother was caucasian and my father’s mother (paternal grandmother) was a native of Venezuela.
I was a mixed-race child growing up in a white family in suburban Washington. I often wondered, ‘what am I?’ and could sense others wondering the same. The only label that we could slap on me was Venezuelan, which was not too telling or informative as there were no Venezuelans in my community (aside from the exchange student who enrolled in my high school during senior year). I question whether most people in my community could have pointed out Venezuela on a map.
The defining feeling of my childhood was that of being the ‘other.’ I did not look like my family nor did I necessarily behave in the way that they had imagined their adopted daughter would act. Being different was hard, but it also motivated me to succeed.
The other paramount struggle was hair. What in the world were we doing with my hair?? My locks are curly, dry and thick. I longed to feather my hair a la Farrah Fawcett, but it just was not to be. My mom would take me to a hairdresser friend who ‘knew’ how to cut curly hair, but she would just chop up my shit with thinning shears. Those things give me nightmares to this day. Where was the black hair salon when I needed it?
I was always, always, always on the lookout for my mother. I would strike up conversations with strange women on the bus, and, when my grandma asked who I was talking to, would reply, “my mom.” Certainly, my mother was not as mean as the parents of this family, would let me have hot lunch on pizza day and would not change out the banana seat on my bike without my permission.
After graduating from college I did two things:
1. traveled to Venezuela to figure out ‘what is Venezuelan?’
2. employed a non-profit group to search for my mother
Venezuela was amazing and holds a very dear place in my heart. It was my first travel destination outside of the US. I love the people that I met there and still feel like I cannot get enough of my country.
The non-profit search group, WARM, picked up my case and ran with it. In Washington original birth certificates are sealed, but WARM can petition to open the record and perform a confidential search (i.e. no info will be released until both parties have given written consent) on behalf of the client. Over the course of 15 years, I worked with three different volunteers. They did find my mother, but were never able to make contact as she did not respond to certified letters or calls. In 2009, they told me that the case was closed.
In my eyes, this was not good enough.
I read the book Birthright by Jean Strauss, which provided instruction on how I could start to search on my own. I called the lawyers, hospital and vital records department, which all turned out to be dead ends. I started to feel like a second-class citizen after hearing “oh, you’re adopted…” over and over again before being transferred to another unsuspecting records department employee. I wrote to DSHS in September of 2009 and received a postcard from them indicating that I would receive non-identifying information by July 2010. I put that postcard up in a prominent spot on my fridge.
July 2010 came and went. In August 2010, I sent an email to DSHS to check the status of my request and received an out of office message (vacation). I kept waiting. In October 2010, I sent another message and finally received a response from a live person. The documents were on the way! In late October a CD arrived in the mail.
I tore in to that 61-page PDF trying to find some answers. Bingo! I found my mother’s name. Eileen. She was from New York City. There were two potential fathers, but neither knew about me. She could not identify the father because she did not even look at me when I was born.
I found pages and pages of ‘what is she?’ questions posed by the social worker. Maybe black. Perhaps Hispanic. Mother says she is white. Definitely not Puerto Rican. Two placements fall through due to incompatible skin color. Oriental blood. Good god, this is how I have felt my entire life. I can just picture a group of white-haired, little old ladies starting down at me in a crib, “hmmmm…”
I googled for days on end, but I was up against tough odds. I was looking for a Smith surname in New York City.
I decided to try to narrow my search to my birthplace, which was a small community on the Washington peninsula. In the DSHS document, I found reference to a PO box in a town called Beaver. I immediately rounded up a couple of friends to go search for clues. We met some interesting people, but came up short on information regarding Eileen.
In April 2011, I took a few days off of work in honor of my birthday and decided to make a return trip to Port Angeles/Forks/Beaver. My strongest lead was the PO box number and I wanted to beat the street to try to find a resident historian/town gossip. I met with a genealogist and librarian. I also went to the court house asking for documents related to my original court order. No dice. On a whim, I stopped by the post office to ask if they have any sort of reverse directory history for the boxes (side note: I knew that my mother was living with a male friend, who was not my father, but perhaps the renter of the PO box). I found an angel in the post office who, when she discovered that I was looking for a ‘lost relative’ (I’ve learned to never say adoption), offered to call some locals that were living in Beaver in the 70s. She made phone calls for two hours. We ended up with a couple of ‘let me think about it’ leads and the name of a man who moved to Oregon. When you have an ally, it is hard to feel defeated, even if it is unlikely that we accomplished what we set out to do. I jotted down the Oregon guy’s name and headed home.
Oh, he lives on the east coast. Isn’t that interesting?
I googled Eileen + his last name.
Holy sh*t! Exactly 11 minutes before my 37th birthday, I found my mother. I. could. not. believe. it.
I spent no less than two weeks on high anxiety – no sleep, reading anything that I could get my hands on about adoption and attending support groups. My world was flipped upside down. I tried to contact Eileen by email, phone and letter. At first I treaded lightly and wrote, ‘we have a connection,’ but, by the time I wrote the letter I declared, ‘I am your daughter.’ All of my emotions were amplified and I started to feel like I was on a roller coaster that could take me from elated to tears in 60 seconds. There were so many emotions, feelings and thoughts that I had never addressed regarding adoption. It was a struggle (as evidenced by some of my posts), but fortunately I have a lot of loving people in my life that held me up when I was truly down.
It is hard to accept being rejected once, but even more difficult to accept the second round. I am lucky as I’ve had many questions answered (bits and pieces of who is she and what is her story? is there a possibility of reunion or relationship?). I still have a burning desire to know the identity of my father as it will help me to resolve my own ‘what am I?’ quandry (Eileen is Irish-American). It is likely that I will never know who he is.
A friend questioned, “what, in life, could be more scarier or painful than what you just went through?” Nothing. Just nothing. Except maybe being pulled from a kayak by a hungry alligator, but that would be over quickly. I’m proud that I did this and now I hope that I can help others to reach acceptance in the face of an undesired outcome.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, I have sisters! They do not know about me and I’m not ready to make an official move on them yet, but maybe someday…
You can follow Heidi’s journey at Ms. Wander Girl.