Friday, April 27, 2007
A Birth Day
I turned 46 years old this morning at approximately 7:15 AM... I think. I know most of what I know about my birthday from my adoptive parents. For example, though my birth mother recalls my being born as the sun rose, my Mom always clocked it at 7:15: the moment when she got the call. That's when I was "born" as far as she was concerned.
I think that's fair.
My longing for what I believed was a relationship with my birth mother began in my mid twenties. I had always taken the party line, that is, the position I instinctively knew my (adoptive) parents hoped I would take: that adoptees shouldn't/ needn't know their birth parents, that the parents who raised me were my "real" parents, that looking for birth parents might prove an intrusion into their lives that would be unacceptable.
Then, when I was 25 and married and thinking about starting a family, I had the following dream: the family friend who had helped to arrange my adoption took me to the city where I was born to meet my birth mother. We met at a "mom and pop" grocery store (!), which also had booths, presumably for sandwiches from the deli. In the dream my birth mother was indistinct-- I couldn't see her, or make out her features. What I did see was my own shadow on the wall. As I looked at my shadow, I thought, "I'm pretty, and I'm nice. Why didn 't she want me?" I awakened in tears, and I knew that, sooner or later, I would begin to search in earnest.
In the state where I was adopted, the law (at least in the late 80's and early 90's) required the consent of all three parties in order to open adoption records: the adoptee, the adoptive parents, and the birth parents. It didn't matter whether I was 19 or 91, if any of the three parties objected, I had no legal right to see my original birth certificate or to learn the identity of my birth parents. That meant I had to ask my parents to sign a letter giving their permission. It is one of the hardest conversations I ever had with them-- harder by far than when I told them I was getting a divorce. But they took a leap of faith in love, and signed a letter I had prepared. I submitted a packet requesting the files be opened, and waited for the surrogate court to do its work.
About two months after I made my request I received a phone call from a woman at the courthouse. They had obtained my birth certificate, and called directory assistance in the sate of my birth mother's last known residence. They got three numbers with the same unusual German surname, dialed the first one, and got my blood uncle, who wept upon hearing who was calling. He called his sister, my birth mother, and, shortly thereafter, I received my phone call from the court clerk, followed by a letter from my birth mother to "Katherine Mary" (the name she had given me). I called her a few days after receiving it.
I wish I could write of a happily ever after reunion, the sense of my half-self being cured and made whole. I wish I could say that my longing for what I thought was a relationship with my birth mother was fulfilled, and I continued through life satisfied with this relationship, at last, intact. The woman I met was similar to me in body type, with the same blue eyes. Like me, she is a singer, though she has a big clear soprano-- much like my daughter's-- to my chocolatey mezzo. Like me, she is religiously inclined, though she has remained true to the Roman Catholic faith of her childhood. Like me, she is a writer (though she tends to poetry while I, of course, tend to sermons).
But the truth is that she feels like a somewhat distant relative, one whom I know loves me a great deal, but one for whom I don't have a great mother shaped hole in my heart. My mother died a year and several months ago, and no one-- not even the woman who carried me in her womb for nine months-- can replace her.
Today my birth mother called me to tell me some news. My youngest half-sister (I have two, and three half-brothers) gave birth today, on my birthday, to her firstborn son. He is a boy. His name is Gabriel: man of God.