As an adoptee who had a relatively uneventful childhood, searching for my birthparents wasn’t a consuming goal for me growing up. I had a natural curiosity regarding obvious biological things: did anyone look like me, where did my blue eyes come from, who could I blame for this skin that burns in the slightest sun? Sometimes I would fantasize about how different my life might have been if I had been raised by my biological family or wonder if I had any siblings. As I became an older teenager, I developed a persistent concern that I might accidentally fall in love with a biological relative, heaven forbid, and having seen a cover story in the Weekly World News, have a resulting love child born with three heads. On the whole, however, I gave very little thought to the family of my birth as I was busy immersing myself in the day-to-day happenings of my life.
My college adventure opened me up to all of the complexities of life and the mysteries that accompany each individual’s journey. As I became friends with people who had vastly different family backgrounds from my own, I began to think more about where I had come from, and later, trained as a historian, started to believe that I owed it to myself to find out whatever I could. The need to know,however, was still only more of an academic interest, as if it weren’t my own life story, but rather a long dead subject that I could study through the lens of scholastic interest. When I would mention this to my friends, most of whom who were not adoptees, they were fascinated, eager to help me search if I wanted to.
Still, I wasn’t highly motivated to search. My family was my family with all the wrinkles of any family and I was comfortable in the Polish/German heritage I had grown up. Probably because of remarkably good matching on the part of Catholic Charities during my placement, no one could tell that I wasn’t biologically related to my parents so it rarely came up unless someone actively inquired. Beyond that, I tried to put myself in the shoes of my birth mother particularly & imagine how I would feel if someone just appeared in my life after I had put my life back together & moved on. It seemed cruel, unfair, and intrusive to me and I believed that she would have an easier time finding me if she wanted to since she had more information than I did.
At twenty-one, I started encountering the medical question that all adult adoptees dread: family history. Nothing is more frustrating than having to tell a doctor over and over that you have no idea about your family history of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, etc. It seemed crazy to me that I didn’t have anything to go on, any road map to tell me where my health might be headed in this era of personalized medicine. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that such information should be mine for the asking. I didn’t want to intrude on anyone’s life, but I wasn’t going to just sit around and wait for some perfectly preventable condition to sneak up on me.
With medical information as my goal, I embarked on my search. I thought it would be simple. I thought it would be easy. I thought it was the matter of a phone call or office visit. I could never have predicted the path it would take me down or how long it would take.
Photo Credit: 2008 LisaB.