When I was
four years old, I stood watching as a car with a Virginia license
plate pulled into my North Carolina driveway. Ours was a driveway
that had been surveyed, like the rest of the house and land, by
social workers, certified that a child should grow up using it
to ride a bicycle and eventually to drive a car into it. Even
at four, I did not feel the level of comfort that the social workers
had planned for me. It was a nice driveway, yes, but it was not
my driveway, not my family, no matter how many legal documents
had been signed. A part of me, one that dared not express itself
at the time, longed for my real mother and father.
I loved Beauford and Ann, the wonderful people who adopted me,
I hoped that the young couple in the car were my natural parents.
Adoption separated my mother and me when I was four weeks old.
I do not consciously remember what it was like not to be adopted.
Other people take family resemblances and kinship for granted.
As a child, these familial rights were as foreign to me as soil
in the 1960s usually recommended that adoptees be told we were
adopted and I was. No one told me it was bad to be adopted, but
almost inately, I knew that adoption meant being rejected by my
parents. As I had watched the car enter the chosen driveway, I
hoped that my parents realized they had made a mistake, that they
had missed me and wanted to see me again. I did not express my
sadness when I learned that the couple was lost and looking for
directions. Over thirty years later, when I gave birth to my first
son, I would understand the desire I felt that day, the bond that
nature creates from conception to childbirth. It is a bond that
cannot be broken or changed by legal documents or anything else.
to find my mother was strong, so intense that when my college
roommate met a man who told me he would find my mother, I believed
him. I was twenty when Sharon* brought Gary* to our dorm room.
She had met him at the beginning of the semester, while she was
working in the library video room and he, claiming to be a graduate
student, came in to rent tapes. When we did not find his name
in the student directory, he made up a story about why his name
wasn't there. We believed it.
fascinated with the tall tales he told about "working for the
government" and "flying planes" for secret government missions.
He took us out to eat; he told us stories about foreign countries.
His claim of being from the Middle East seemed plausible, considering
his strong accent. Somehow, his dark features and different pronunciation
of words made him much more appealing to us, European-American
Southern young women. By fall break, he offered to take us from
the supposed safety of North Carolina State in Raleigh to the
unexplored-to-us jungle of Florida. We accepted.
a car. We were soon headed South on I-95. With more courage than
sense, we watched the pine trees of North Carolina leave our sight
and saw the palm trees of Florida for the first time. It was the
1980s and although we had a sense that what we were doing was
dangerous, television was not yet filled with stories of young
women who had been left for dead by serial killers. Those things
happened somewhere else, not in the South that we loved so dearly.
survived our trip, we felt even safer with him, knowing that he
had not physically abused us, or left us for dead. We had gone
to Disneyworld and Epcot Center, a much more educational experience
than we would have had going back to our respective hometowns,
or so we reasoned. Despite protests from my roommate's mother
and my boyfriend at that time, we continued seeing this man, spending
my birthday, November 3, with him in Washington, D.C. He told
us that our trip to D.C. was something to do with some mission
with the government. We believed him, both of us appearing as
though we were fresh off the proverbial turnip truck.
As an adoptee,
my birthday has always been bittersweet. Beauford and Ann had
tried to make it a happy day, but to me there was always sadness.
Now that I am a mother myself, I understand the happiness of knowing
that you have created and delivered a baby. For my mother and
me, however, my birth was the beginning of the end, the day that
she would see the child she would give to strangers. The days
surrounding my birthday are the most vulnerable of the entire
year for me. My roommate knew this and thought it would be wonderful
if Gary could help me find my mom. Sharon was only trying to help.
sophomore year, I had been determined to find my mother. Away
from the confines of the small town in which I grew up, I wanted
to know where my natural family lived; I wanted to see people
who looked like me, not by coincidence but because they were related
to me. At the end of my first sophomore semester, I made a trip
to the adoption agency. I wanted answers; I wanted to know the
names of my natural parents. The social workers told me that they
were unable to release any information because of the laws. Only
much later would I learn that the agency itself was influential
in making those laws, in falsifying my birth certificate, and
in assuring that I would never legally be able to find my parents.
After driving two hours of highway hypnosis from the agency to
my boyfriend's house, listening to The Police's "Shadows in the
Rain," rewinding it each time the song ended, I sat down on my
boyfriend's couch. I drank until I passed out.
one year after that experience, Gary assured me that he could
find my mother. I not only wanted to believe him, I also knew
his promise was the closest thing I had to finding my family.
The desperation with which I searched for my natural parents was
evident in the zeal I had for his plan. Shortly after taking me
to a doughnut shop in Raleigh one night, he told me that a woman
at the end of the counter was my mother. It was late and the shop
had not been crowded; it was easy to see who my supposed mother
was dark, like mine. She was shorter than I, corresponding to
the 5 feet 2 inch height that the non-identifying information
of the adoption agency had stated. Gary's excuse for my not being
able to talk to her was that she was the daughter of French royalty
and that he had arranged for her to see me but that I would never
be able to talk with her because of her position with the French
be quite easy to chide myself for being fooled by Gary, but I
know that if I had been able to find my parents legally, I would
have had no use for his information. Sharon and I were careless
teenagers on the verge of adulthood, but we were also trying to
find out something we thought was impossible—where I had
As a person
with three college degrees, I find it odd, even now, to think
that I was so na´ve as to believe such a scheme. However, I was
desperate to find my family. Even today, I cannot completely explain
the desire I felt to find my parents. While some people believe
that the reason I so desperately sought my mother was because
I was not happy growing up, I find this claim ridiculous. The
unhappiness I felt was due to being away from my natural family.
I would not expect my children to be happy if they were growing
up away from their father and me.
After a $2,500
search by a detective agency found my mother, and after interviewing
mothers who have lost children to adoption, I believe that perhaps
my mother's words to me as a helpless infant, "find me someday,"
somehow stuck in the subconscious regions of my brain. Now that
I have found my parents, I cannot imagine not knowing that my
older son's blond hair comes from his maternal grandfather, or
knowing that my sons' blue eyes are so recognizable as traits
of my family that a stranger once guessed correctly that my mother
belonged to the Smith clan in Wilmington, just by noticing her
eyes when the stranger passed my mom in a department store.
that a woman I had seen at the doughnut shop was my mother provided
more hope than I ever had in a system that had closed my records.
It was easy to believe such a bizarre plan as Gary's when a social
worker had sat across from me, file with my mother's name in her
hands, telling me that she could not relay that information to
A few years
later, finding my parents would become so important to me that
I would have an abortion rather than carry a child to term who
would not know its true grandparents. Only in hindsight do I see
that I did not feel it was fair to bring a child into the world
without knowing my own family. The importance of finding my family
overrode all common sense and that night at the doughnut shop
gave me the best shot I had ever had at having that information,
facts most people take for granted.
After I saw
what I had been told was my mother in the doughnut shop, I broke
up with my boyfriend and held on to my belief that the woman was
my mother. I took a French class, hoping to bond with what I thought
had been my mother's language. I desperately wanted to believe
that I had seen my mother.
that summer took me to New York City and less than two weeks into
my work there, I realized what I had refused to believe from other
people: the whole thing had been a hoax. My newly found honesty
cost me the fantasy of having found my real mother and the reality
of losing a boyfriend. In the foggy impersonal air of Manhattan,
I began to accept, once again, that I might never know my ancestors.
Of all the
harm that Gary did, however, he also did something that I sorely
needed. Before I went to New York, he introduced me to a therapist.
I worked with her for over eleven years, talking about growing
up with Ann and Beauford and trying to find out how I could squelch
the desire to find my family. I left therapy still trying to undo
my desire. A few years later, I began to realize that my desire
was most natural.
A few months
after I found my parents, I became pregnant with my firstborn
son, Caleb. I cannot imagine having a child who would only know
one side of his family, or missing out on my mother holding a
grandchild she thought she would never see. Caleb loves my father,
his Grandpa Sherrill, and I can only imagine how different Caleb's
life would be if he did not have his maternal grandfather with
which to share his love of trains and photography. I treasure
the pictures I have of my father holding my younger son, Micah,
a few weeks after his birth. Despite beginning as an unplanned
pregnancy, Micah was born two days after his Grandpa Sherrill's
I still receive
financial updates and newsletters from the adoption agency that
told me I should be content with the supposed "parents" they selected
for me. I think of the many businesses and individuals that support
the agency financially. Despite the numerous mailings that Ann
and Beauford and I receive, my natural mother and father have
received nothing. As my husband says, "They got what they wanted
from your mom." Indeed, they did, but legal documents cannot change
nature. I am proud that my children will know their ancestors.
Most people take knowledge of their natural family for granted,
but I do not. After finally finding my family, I pray that my
children and their descendants will always understand the importance
of blood ties. A child is born into a family and that familial
bond lasts forever.