Wednesday, July 11, 2018

This is Me: An adoption story, part 5

For anyone just stumbling on this story, the earlier installments are here:
Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:
After that intense, emotional, incredible first conversation with my new uncle, Paul and I continued to talk - via phone, email, and text. Over the next weeks, we got to know one another.

I found out more about my sprawling family tree, including cousins and an aunt (Paul's half sister through my maternal grandfather) who is almost a decade younger than me! I had several phone and email conversations with her and she is lovely, kind, thoughtful, and welcoming.

She put me in contact with Robin's widower Ed, who she had kept in contact with.

I then had a long chain of email conversations with Ed, learning about Robin as an adult. They were very much in love and had a very happy life together. She's been gone now 8 years and I know he misses her keenly, still.  He was even able to find and send scans of some old photos of Robin, from when she was in her 20s.

My birthmother, Robin, late 1960s?
Ed was thrilled to know something of Robin's survived her death. Even he hadn't known about me. He and I continue to be in contact.

And here's where I have to pause to repeat that writing cliche: truth is stranger than fiction. My experience has confirmed that is very much so. 

I mentioned in an earlier episode of this tale that my uncle Paul and I had mutual friends. It goes deeper than that. We had been at the same science fiction & fantasy conventions, not once, but several times. Balticon in the Baltimore area and Arisia and Boskone in Boston.

These are not huge conventions. It is more than possible that he and I were at the same sessions and never knew there was anything other than a fan connection between us. In fact, we were both invited guests at cons and might have bumped into one another in the 'green room'.

Paul retired from his teaching and his work with SETI (yes, the listening in outer space for sign of alien life!) and performs as a filker - think a combination of Weird Al and Tom Lehrer with a science fiction twist. He is unbelievably smart (2 PhDs), a lifelong geek, and with a sense of humor that prizes cleverness over mockery. Reader, I adored him. Even before we met (spoilers! We got to meet!) I knew I would feel comfortable with him.

We discovered that we were both invited guests at Boskone, to be held in Boston February of 2018 - just a few months away. I was thrilled that I'd have the chance to meet him and we made plans to have my family join me there as well.

Then a few conversations later, he asked me if I would be attending Arisia - another Boston con, one that takes place in January. Because he was able to attend and was hoping to meet me even sooner.

And yes, I was also on program there. And yes, I was eager to meet my uncle in person.

And here we are.

We sat near the con's registration area and talked for hours. He would often break off in the middle of a thought to stare at me and smile, remarking how much a particular expression of mine was so like Robin's.

Was it weird?


Was it remarkable and incredible?


To be continued. . .

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Sunday, July 08, 2018

This is Me: An adoption story, part 4

If you've been following along, this is part 4 of my adoption search story. While it reads very much like the end, truly, it marks the start of a new journey of discovery that is ongoing. Stay tuned!

If not, start at the beginning:
Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:

After I had my hard, ugly cry and caught my breath and washed my face, I was ready to call the phone number, ready to speak with my Uncle Paul.

With shaking hands, I called..

I honestly can't really remember much of that conversation. My whole body was trembling. I'm sure my voice was strained.

Part of me was still afraid he would hang up on me, or angrily insist on proof of my story. I half expected the same kind of hostility and rejection I had received from his mother, despite the email he'd sent.

Instead he expressed wonder and astonishment.

And he welcomed me.

As I quietly cried, we traded our histories - sketches of a lifetime compressed into an hour-long phone call.

I learned that he hadn't known of my existence. That his parents and sister had kept the secret all these years, and took it to their graves.

Paul was a year older than his sister - my birth mother. He was away in college when she got pregnant. All he knew was that his sister deferred her college acceptance for a semester, saying she had some kind of job or internship in San Francisco.

What she did, was have a baby and give her up for adoption.

Then she started college in January of 1964.

Paul gave me so much more than the answers to my lifelong questions. He also helped give me context for my maternal family.

My sketchy handwritten notes
As Paul describes it, my maternal family tree is less a tree than a vine. Part of that is because my maternal grandfather (Ben) was married and divorced multiple times and had children with several of his wives.

Ben was born in Eastern Europe, walked across much of the continent, got passage on a British freighter to Liverpool where he learned English. A self-educated man, my maternal grandfather became a British citizen and traveled to Toronto. He then took a train to Chicago, because he knew they didn't check papers. He married my maternal grandmother Phyllis and enlisted in the army in WWII, and became a citizen afterwards.

Ben was a poet and he worked as an advertiser. A man who came here as an illegal immigrant and self-educated, self-taught in English.

I told Paul about my experience with his mother, all those years before. After a brief silence, he expressed regret that she had reacted in such a negative way. That she had been a fierce family matriarch and he was sorry I had been rejected.

And he told me about Robin.

She was the one who introduced him to science fiction. Yes, my birth mother was a science fiction fan. She also was a writer, a theatre costumer and set designer, and was outspoken for social justice.

It hit me, then, and I think I started to laugh: Poetry, geek, and social action were, in part, genetic. My legacy. 

I remember telling Paul my greatest regret was that I never had the chance to tell Robin that I was okay. More than okay. That I had a wonderful upbringing and harbored no anger about the circumstance of my adoption. That I had two grown sons and a family and a life that I loved.

Paul was silent for another long moment. There was a sadness in his voice when he said how much Robin would have liked to have been a grandmother.

He also told me that she had been married and had had a child - a son. My half-brother. J (and I'll be using initials for some of the people in this story, first names for others, all to protect people's privacy) had estranged himself from the family decades before. Paul had no idea why. Only that when Robin was dying, J never responded to their emails and didn't attend her funeral.

She was divorced from her first husband, but had found happiness in her last years with her second husband, Ed.

Sadly, she died at 65, of cancer and I will never know her.

The best I can do is learn about her from the stories of those who loved her.

And that will have to be enough.

To be continued . . . 

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Thursday, July 05, 2018

This is Me: An adoption story, part 3

I had to laugh when several people who I'm connected with on social media mock-chided me on ending the first 2 installments of this story on cliffhangers. Yes, I'm a novelist, so part of what I do as a storyteller is to ramp up the stakes to keep the reader interested. However, where I chose to stop each piece of the story mirrors my own experience during this journey. As I replied to them: #sorrynotsorry

Here's part number 3.

Pat 1:

Part 2:

For several days, I sat with the knowledge that I had a new uncle in the world, and that he'd had a close relationship with his sister - my birth mother. I studied her image in the photos my friend had linked me to, searching for the kind of resemblance she clearly saw. But mostly, I tried to read between the lines of my uncle's website to figure out what kind of person he was.

Clearly, he was a geek. That was a huge point in his favor. And a scientist with an interest in astronomy and space. He'd been involved with SETI, which set my own geeky heart racing with excitement.

So in the quiet of the house one day, I decided to send him an email, through his website. I clearly stated who I was, who my mother had been. The circumstances (as I understood them) of my birth and adoption.

And then I waited.

And waited.

A few days went by and I was convinced that this, too, would be a dead end.

And I realized I didn't want it to be. More than that: I needed to make contact.

Maybe that sounds selfish. I'm willing to admit there is an element of selfishness in pursuing old secrets, regardless of how revealing them might affect other people. But there's also some degree of feeling I had a right to know my own history. And certainly, I had a duty to my children to find out about our genetic legacy.

So when I didn't get a reply, I searched for my uncle on Facebook. I figured that someone with such a large internet footprint would likely have a Facebook profile.

And he did.

That was not really surprising.

What was surprising was that we had several friends in common. People I had met and interacted with over the course of several years. One an editor of a small press out of Brooklyn. The other, one of my fellow members of Broad Universe.

By this time, I had traveled with my husband to Denver, where he was attending a conference and where in a few days, I would be attending a science fiction convention.

So from our hotel room, I reached out to my editor friend, and sent him a private message on Facebook.

And when my friend replied with his email, I sent him this:

Well, it's kind of complicated and a little wild, but. . . 

[redacted] is my maternal uncle. And I only discovered it a few days ago.

You may or may not know I'm an adoptee. ([other mutual friend] and I talk a lot about how weirdly parallel our lives are). I had obtained my records - which were scanty - about 30 years ago and didn't do anything about it until my eldest was born 25 years ago. I contacted my birth grandparents and long story short, they weren't very pleasant and hung up on me. End of the line. End of story (I thought).

Over the years since, I would occasionally search for my birth mother, but nothing showed up. Then I thought the records burned in our house fire in 2010.

I was looking for something in our attic and found them in a box of random paperwork and decided to do one more search.The good news is I found her. The bad? She died in 2010. But I was able to find bits and pieces of other information, including that [redacted] was her older brother.

If he's someone you know, and you feel comfortable pinging him on my behalf, I'd really appreciated it. I think you know I'm not an ax murderer or wacko stalker. And if geekiness is carried in the gene line, I know where mine comes from. :)

I also reached out to a filker I know through Broad Universe who knows him as well.

So that's what's up.


My friend wrote back right away, that he indeed did know my uncle and would be happy to forward a message from me.

I think it was only a matter of a few minutes when I received an email.

The subject line read: Call your Uncle Paul
The email began: We have lots to talk about.

Alone, in a hotel room in Denver, Colorado, I had the biggest, loudest, ugliest cry I've ever had in my life. Huge gulping sobs. It felt like my heart was heaving so hard it was going to tear itself apart.

I couldn't catch my breath. I couldn't sit still.

I wasn't alone in the world. After losing both my folks in a five year span, I had felt as if I'd been orphaned. All my aunts and uncles had passed away and an entire generation was gone. Never mind that I was a married woman in my 50s with a family of her own. Never mind that I had a sister, cousins, neices, nephews, in-laws, I was suddenly among the oldest generation in my family or origin. And I felt that I had no one to call on to ask for advice, or look to for their experience. It was a very lonely place.

But in that moment, I knew no matter what came next, I was not alone. That some part of me was still alive and welcomed me home.

To be continued. . . 

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Tuesday, July 03, 2018

This is me: An adoption story, part 2

Yesterday, I started to tell the story of my search for my birth family. If you haven't yet seen part 1, it's here:

So, we're at the point last October when I realized I hadn't lost my adoption file in our 2010 house fire and that the paperwork had been in a box in the attic for the prior 7 years.

My birth mother's information

The file consisted of about a dozen pages of handwritten notes - information about my birth mother, her parents, birth father, his parents, 2 letters she wrote to the adoption lawyer, a CA birth certificate, and the court proceedings ratifying my adoption.

The last time I had googled her name was early in the 2000's and didn't find anything helpful. This time, my search turned up a genealogy website with her name on a family tree. The limited information that was there matched - including her birthdate and my first shock was finding that she had died in 2010.

My second was that she had been married and had had one child.

Somewhere in the world, I had a half-sibling.

I spent some time looking for her husband and finally found him and his email address. I sent him a message, but never got a reply. (7 months later, I still have not.) Another dead end.

I told a friend what I had found and she decided to do some internet sleuthing. She found that Robin's brother had a large internet footprint and even found his online family holiday letters, including photographs of Robin in adulthood. And though his website, I had his email address.

Everyone I showed the photos to told me how strong a resemblance they saw.

Suddenly I had to make a choice. Do I try to contact this man? How would I be received?

This was no small matter.

Because this wasn't the first time I had held these papers in my hands, facing a similar decision.



In 1993, my first child was born. A son. With my blue eyes and black hair. My round face. It was like looking down at an infant version of my own face and it was an incredibly powerful moment: Here was the first time in my life where I was actually in the presence of someone I was related to.

It shook me.

It made me understand that my past wasn't just a matter of my own curiosity, but a deep need to connect my history with my future; especially for the sake of this new life I had helped create.

And, as a mother, I had a surge of emotion and empathy for my birth mother. If I had to give up a child, I would want to know that child was okay. That I had made the right choice for that child's best future.

I was determined to let Robin know I was okay. I was more than okay. And I felt she deserved to know she had a grandchild in the world.

These were the notes the lawyer wrote ahead of his first meeting with my birth mother

I've redacted the identifying information, but included in this document was her parents' address and phone number as of June of 1963.

I gathered all my courage. By this time, my son was about 5 months old, and looking more like me by the day.

I called the number.

A woman answered.

It was Robin's mother.

When I told her who I was, she had her husband pick up the other line, and she began to interrogate me.

I don't remember the exact conversation - it was almost 25 years ago, and I was in a highly emotional state - but the gist was she didn't trust me. She kept demanding to know what I wanted. When I tried to tell her I just wanted to make contact, to let Robin know I was okay, she strangely responded that she wasn't going to give me any money.

I tried to tell her I didn't need money. I was a physical therapist. My husband was a physician. We had just bought a house. We were fine.

After making no headway in trying to get any information about Robin (they told me she wasn't married and had no children, which I later was to discover was not true), I asked for a photograph of her.

The woman who was my grandmother offered this: she would send a photograph if I swore never to contact anyone in the family ever again.

I was stunned.

I didn't know what to say.

I stammered something about that being emotional blackmail.

They hung up on me.

I sat in front of our home computer shaken and weeping.

It took some time for the hurt to fade, but in some ways, it made me even more grateful for the incredible family I had.


So fast forward to October of 2017.

I have a name - my Uncle. I have his email address.

And I have the painful memory of being rejected by his mother.

More importantly, I have a decision to make.

To be continued. . .


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