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002 – When the Law is in the Way, Try DNA

Laura became a dear friend when we quickly bonded over being adoptees while working together. Laura had been searching for her family of origin for years, before the age of the internet, and the promise of consumer DNA testing linking long lost relatives. In this episode Laura reveals her childhood challenges to bond with her adopted family who were open about her adopted status in unhealthy ways. Their mental health issues and the emotional childhood that Laura lived, drove her desire to find her family origin, as the wondered about her biological mother every day.


Laura: 00:00 From the beginning of doing that DNA test I specifically have looked at it as whatever comes of this and whether people are welcoming or they, they don’t want to know me. I just have to accept it like, and I think as a message to other adoptees on that journey, you really need to get to that place. If you don’t get to that place, you’re going to be in potentially for a lot of pain.

Voices: 00:26 Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?

Damon: 00:37 Who am I really? Welcome to Who am I really? A show about adoptees who have located and connected with their biological family members. I’m Damon Davis and on today’s show we have my former colleague Laura, Laura told me the story of how she had a challenging childhood in adoption. Had a struggle to gain identifiable information from her birth records out of New York state and her ultimate connection to her aunt through DNA testing and a happy family reunion.

Damon: 01:20 So thanks for coming. What, what do you have here?

Laura: 01:23 So that is the information that I received in 1999 it was the combination of a request I’d made to the State, New York State for non-identifying information, which you’re allowed to receive without the consent of any party because it’s not identifying as no names or addresses or anything attached to it. And I think I made the request like two years before and it came kind of, so it came as a shock when it actually came. I was like, wow, I didn’t even remember like making the requests. It been such a long time before and we were living in Pittsburgh and I had just been accepted to law school.

Damon: 02:01 Wow. So this is a generic description of everything about your adoption situation,

Laura: 02:10 Right. It’s like a time capsule. It’s what was recorded between August 30th, 1968 when I was born and February 20th of 1969

Damon: 02:19 that’s amazing. Wow. So let’s start back at the beginning. First of all, you and I worked at HHS together.

Laura: 02:27 Yes.

Damon: 02:27 I remember one of the things that was a bond for us was the fact that we identified ourselves as adoptees.

Laura: 02:34 Yeah. And that walk in Providence from a restaurant.

Damon: 02:36 That’s right.

Laura: 02:37 And I don’t even know how we got onto that subject.

Damon: 02:39 I know. I think I just talk about it so much. Well, it just comes up. So yeah, that was really a revelation.

Laura: 02:47 Yeah. And that was before either of us found anybody.

Damon: 02:50 Yeah, that’s right. You’re right. I had not, I may have initiated my search, which might’ve been why it came up, because it wasn’t too long after I joined HHS that I decided that I was going to reach out. And that’s probably how we got to talking about it. So tell me a little bit about your community, where you grew up, what your family was like, your parents.

Laura: 03:11 So I grew up in a little town called Bavel, which isn’t so little anymore, but back in the 70s was a very small town. My parents adopted me in February of 1969. My father was a mail carrier. My mother was a stay at home mom. It was a blue collar oasis and a lot of wealth, but it was like this little blue collar enclave. Both of my parents had mental health issues. My childhood, I would say was not a happy one, but I think they loved me as best they could. And I’ve come to terms with all of that. I think it adds a really important, I think in, in sort of initiating that search to not, and I think it’s interesting that it happened when it did, when I’ve probably been at the most stable and the most happiest of my life. Right. So open to anything good and bad. I think that was a really important part of it.

Damon: 04:03 So in your childhood, are you saying that part of the trauma of your childhood was there mental illness? Yes. In what ways?

Laura: 04:11 It’s very difficult to explain it. Um, people who knew my parents understand it. I’ll give you a really good example. I can kind of sum it up. So people will ask me, Oh, did you always know you were adopted? And I answered that question would be yes. I never remember not knowing because my parents made such an issue out of it. So if I did something bad, they would threatened to take me back to Mineola, which is the county seat for Nassau County, which is where the adoption took place. Right. And so they would often do that. My mother would say it all the time. I remember even maybe when I was seven or eight years old, them actually getting me in the car and driving to Mineola from Bavel, which is about a 20 minute drive, at least maybe 30 minutes. Yeah. So it was, it was a lot of chaos and it was not happy.

Laura: 04:57 And so I had a, a very traumatic adolescence probably dealing with a lot. And because I, it was always very front and center that I was adopted. I never really felt part of that family. And because I also knew it from the beginning, I thought about my parents, my biological parents, every day, every day. I mean, and there were times in my life when I very much wanted to find them. There were times that I was worried about finding them and explaining to them what had happened. That really bothered me to be able to say, well, you made this decision didn’t work out so well. I mean I do tend to look at the world as all’s well that ends well. And so I think in the end there’s reasons for everything and why things worked out the way they did. I think I gained a tremendous amount of strength and now knowing who my parents are and where I came from, I think it’s better that I was adopted by my parents because I don’t know if another child could have dealt with it.

Damon: 06:00 Interesting. So you feel like you are a person of inner strength that ended up being able to handle this situation and perhaps someone who might not have had the same inner fortitude might not have been able to deal as well. Right. That’s fascinating. And the challenge of this continual mental warfare against you because of their own inability to sort of manage their own mental health. Do you know what their diagnoses were?

Speaker 1: 06:24 Um, my father I think had depression. Has a really strong history of depression in the family. Basically the end of the day, the diagnosis I’ve received was schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and OCD. It had basically been untreated her whole life and my father protected her and wouldn’t let you know anyone sort of get in the way. So even though social workers would reach out because there were reports of abuse or she would do erotic things in the community, he would constantly protect her. So she just never got help. So once we moved to Pittsburgh, she actually got help and was on medication, which definitely helped. It definitely helped in working with her and, and so that was a productive time, I think. But at that point I was in my thirties and already had children of my own. So I did take care of my parents as, because I’m an only child and I just, I’m very responsible. And knowing now people have come from that is really evident that that’s the sort of,

Damon: 07:19 So let me ask you this. You’ve been reminded constantly in your childhood that you are not their biological child. But as I look at you, you’ve got beautiful dark red hair. Did you look at all like anybody? Like what other reminders were around you that you just had other people to search for because you have a distinctive look that is clearly probably evident in one family, right?

Laura: 07:41 Yes. So I definitely look a lot like my mother, my mother actually dyed her hair red so it would look like mine.

Damon: 07:48 Really?

Laura: 07:49 Yes. And I think I remember people saying to me, I was very young, like you’re so lucky you’re adopted cause you were wanted and hearing that all the time or a lot of time hearing about as a small child constantly. I’m like, where did you get your red hair from? Which people didn’t realize what a painful question that was for me and cause I didn’t have an answer to that. And I was always like, I don’t know cause I, being a very blunt and honest person. So I was basically like, I don’t know. And it’s true. I didn’t up until recently, but I felt much closer to my father than my mother. My father had similar interests and he loves, he loved the news. He would follow the stock market. I’ve always been incredibly into the news, which I now know is a family trait, but that was something that we could connect on and he was much more lucid. My mother really wasn’t lucid at all and so that I really never really developed that sort of mother-daughter relations.

Damon: 08:40 I understand. Yeah. She was just never completely there for you guys to make a bond. That’s really sad. So you’ve had clear signals throughout your childhood that is probably a good idea to search. I know a lot of adoptees just have this moment there, just it clicks. Tell me about when you just crossed the line and said, okay, I’m going to bear down and begin this, begin this journey to find some people that I might be biologically related to.

Laura: 09:05 You know, I’ve always looked to the extent that I was able to so when I was a child, you know, as a teenager I would go, I’ve been to Rockville Center was where I was born, Rockville Center high school and gone through like the yearbooks to see if I could see anyone who looked like me. Um, I, you know, I did that sort of search. So that was it. So I tried to like make that connection. As I got older and the Internet came out, I would look on the Internet and try to find different search places. I finally did connect, you know, a couple of times I think in the 90s with New York state.

Laura: 09:35 The first time they, I asked for medical information, they told me there was nothing and there isn’t anything as of 68 because they were young. And then I finally asked for non identifying information probably around 97 and that was when I received a couple of years later the non identifying information. And that gave me so much information that I actually, I had something to work with basically. And as particularly because my father’s family at the time I was born was prominent. My grandfather was an attorney. I found that out a week after I got into law school. I thought that was really interesting. And my grandmother and my father’s side was an a journalist. And so knowing and she’d been to college. So knowing that it was that put the, her having been born in the forties, I think knowing my social history as well as I do, it gave me some clues.

Laura: 10:22 One of the clues was that she probably was Jewish, um, because she was in journalism and she was educated and that would be a social thing, right. Um, in that sort of social history, who was sending their girls to college? That was a rather Jewish culture thing to do. And I was ended up being right about that. She was half Jewish.

Damon: 10:39 Oh, interesting.

Laura: 10:40 And so thinking that she had this journalism thing, I was hoping to sort of find that, that I thought was the best piece of, of information I had to work with. So I went to the New York public library with my daughter, Emily. We went through all of the microfiche that we could find in all the New York City newspapers to see if we could find her name anywhere. Like how many women, we just, there were so few women in journalism in the sixties and fifties that it wouldn’t, I mean if you could get 10 names, you could narrow from there.

Damon: 11:13 Right. And then match it with someone who was married to a lawyer. So I had enough. But the problem was that it wasn’t New York at the time. It was, it was Philadelphia. So you learn this probably later after you. Yes, I was close. I had, I’ve had, I known that I would’ve gotten it.

Damon: 11:28 That’s so amazing. You were really hot on the trail.

Laura: 11:31 I think that that critical moment, that moment where you’re like, I’m doing this was um, I was walking into HHS, um, I think that’s two years ago and I don’t know what it was, but it hit me like I am finding this family, like I’m done with this and I’m finding them. And that really started like more of the hardcore search. And so I’ve, I’ve had, I was a listserv for adoptees where people just sort of crowdsourcing any kind of information they are and it’s, and they still can’t get any information.

Laura: 12:01 I mean it is so preposterous because the promise was never made to the women who gave up these babies that these records would be sealed, actually. The records sealing was based on protecting the adoptive parents, so that the mother wouldn’t come back and take the child or do something, not to protect these women. Cause if you think about who has the power in this relationship, it was the adoptive parents who had the funds and who were doing this with what was really an over abundance of babies who were being coersed from their mothers. Frankly, in most cases at this point in time.

Damon: 12:36 Coerced. Really?

Laura: 12:37 Yeah, absolutely. And every case I’ve read or people I’ve talked to, that’s what had happened. If they were unmarried, they had no resources. There was a belief that there was something wrong with them for having gotten pregnant. You know, is this is all prior to the sexual revolution. I mean it’s a different worlds.

Damon: 12:52 But as I recall, you then have the challenge of even getting to your own records. Cause I remember you told me the story standing outside the records room.

Laura: 13:02 Yeah. So I in 07 I started working for the New York City Department of Health and at a meeting and I was walking and there was a sign on a door and it says like birth certificates, 1880 to 1979 or something like these dates. And I stood there and I looked that door and, and one of the people from the State Department Health is at the end, I said, is every birth certificate for people born in New York state in that, behind that door. He’s like, unless you’re born in New York City, that birth certificate is in there.

Damon: 13:33 That’s incredible.

Laura: 13:34 Yeah. And so I stood there like, wow, here I am the closest I will ever be even to this day to my original birth certificate and I can’t get it.

Damon: 13:44 Still can’t get it.

Laura: 13:45 Yup.

Damon: 13:45 That’s incredible. So you’ve begun to launch the search, you’ve gone online, you’re on registries and things like that. You haven’t really turned up any solid success. Now what happens next? There’s a, there’s a linchpin here.

Laura: 13:59 Right. And so on the LISTSERV is a lot of crowdsourcing information as I said. And one of the things I start seeing about a year and a half ago is ancestry DNA and DNA tests in general being that tool. Now the way it’s described, you know, maybe you can find a fourth cousin or third cousin and you trace it back and you call people and you see who will talk to you. And this is sort of this very difficult process, but it’s something that, it’s something. Then some people were like, uh, found my father found my mother or my brother, like, and people were like, oh, that’s amazing. Congratulations. That’s so wonderful. You know, please people like lower your expectations. It’s unusual. You usually don’t find a first degree relative, but you know, as this gets more popular, maybe you will. So I was like, I, I got to do this test.

Speaker 1: 14:46 And so by February I decided to do the test. I think I ordered it in about a year ago, about a year ago this week.

Damon: 14:53 And did you hold it for awhile.

Laura: 14:55 No did it immediately did it within, I’d say a few days and sent it back. So in May it’s May 17th or so I’m at work, I get this, look at my Gmail, have this message from ancestry, your results are in. It’s like wow, you know.

Damon: 15:10 A defining moment right there.

Laura: 15:10 And so I go onto my computer, log in to ancestry and the first thing that comes up is that the way Ancestry sets it up is the first thing you get is your ethnicity, which I was predominantly English, which was interesting cause I was always such an Anglophile. I took such heat from it from people. So I thought I wasn’t trusting. And then Irish and then Jewish. Um, so I’m like ‘cool.’ That’s..

Damon: 15:34 You had some big parts of it along the way.

Laura: 15:36 I would have expected, I think a lot more of other ethnicities. I would’ve expected African-American and I would’ve expected other things because I believe so strongly. Like, oh everybody’s everything. If there’s, I’m, I’m the one going, everybody’s everything and I come up like, no, I’m 100% white.

Laura: 15:52 So that’s the first screen. You kind of get this sort of breakdown and they’re little graphic things. Then the next page you hit is actually the people that you’re related to. And I had a first degree relative, very high confidence. It gives you like the, the relative and the confidence level they have is, is very high. It’s like the highest confidence and it’s the closest degree that you can get, right? So it gives me a name and I’m like, wow. And then it gives you a whole bunch of other names. Like Bob Bolo, that person then goes all the fourth and fifth and sixth cousins and maybe those people, you know, it’s all of lesser degrees. But here’s a name, right? Here’s a name. And I’m standing there looking at this name and I’m like, oh my God. I was like, Oh wow, that, that’s like incredible.

Laura: 16:38 So I googled her name and the first thing I got was the obituary. And I’m reading, I see the picture. There’s an uncanny resemblance. And yes, and he was the right age and, and he died very young. He died at 54 and totally into politics and to healthcare, started the first Medicaid HMO in New York. When he passed away, he was ambassador to Grenada. I mean, incredibly prominent, incredibly successful person. And with so many of the interests and the career interests that I myself had, which was just bizarre. Right? I’m standing, I’m looking at this going, wow. I mean, am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? Right.

Damon: 17:24 So how did her name relate to him?

Damon: 17:26 Oh, so she was listed as a surviving sibling in the obituary. So you found a DNA aunt.

Laura: 17:34 Right.

Damon: 17:34 Awesome.

Laura: 17:35 So now I’m like, okay, now what do I do? And I’m sitting, look, it’s like, what are those things in your life where there’s a fork in the road and you can go down one end and you can go down another and say, I’m going to, that’s great information. I’m good. This has been very helpful. Thank you.

Damon: 17:49 Right.

Damon: 17:49 Or are you going to open that Pandora’s box? You have no idea what’s behind it. And this has been irking you for 30 something years by this point.

Damon: 17:58 So I’m sure I know which fork you’re taking.

Laura: 18:00 And I always take a road less traveled as a rule. So I was like, I think I sit there for about a few seconds. I’m like, am I going to do this? Because if I do this like it’s open, right? And I did it and what you’re allowed to do three hands to the street, you can message them through a portal.

Laura: 18:15 And so I drafted an email. I didn’t say I looked into it obituary. I guess I just, I just was like curious who I am, here’s what I know about my parents. And I just gave the run of it. Right. Here’s what I know. Here’s everything I know and I would love to find out more.

Laura: 18:28 It was an introduction of yourself.

Laura: 18:29 It was an introduction. And that was it. And I just sent it and I’m like, you know what? From the beginning of doing that DNA test specifically have looked at it as whatever comes of this and whether people are welcoming or they, they don’t want to know me. I just have to accept it like, and I think as a message to other adoptees on that journey, you really need to get to that place.

Damon: 18:50 I think that’s right.

Laura: 18:51 I think if you don’t get to that place, you’re going to be in potentially for a lot of pain and a lot of disappointment. And it’s really important to come at it. Like, I’m okay if people don’t want to know me. It’s really, it’s okay and whatever comes of this, um, it’s, it’s more than I knew before and I have more insight than I did before I did it. And I want everyone to really internalize that and really get to that place. Because if you’re not at that place, you’re probably not ready to really launch into this. You have to have at least be okay with people may reject you. I was very fortunate in my case that I wasn’t rejected.

Damon: 19:29 That is very fortunate. But you’re right. I mean, I think that there’s a lot of folks, we as adoptees, you imagine and sometimes that imagination can be fantasy and you’re absolutely right. If you reach a point where you’ve discovered a clue, you really do have to ask yourself, am I ready to do this? And if I am, am I good with myself?

Laura: 19:50 Right. You have to. There has to be some inner strength to say I’m going to proceed with my life pretty much no matter what happens here. But that can be incredibly challenging for people.

Laura: 20:00 Right. And I think it does come down. Like I don’t think I would’ve been ready for this at 25 right. Although sadly at 25 my parents would have been alive. Both my parents are deceased, so, and I missed my mother by four months.

Damon: 20:14 Your biological mother and she passed right before you found her.

Laura: 20:17 Four months before I found her.

Damon: 20:18 Oh, that must’ve been frustrating. So tell me before you get to that, let’s, let’s take a quick step back. You’ve now messaged your biological aunt in the portal. How long is it before you hear from her and what happens?

Laura: 20:29 I think it was only two or three days. It was funny because in the interim, my kids were going insane. Why isn’t she got back to you? Oh my God, she has it. I’m like, Oh, you have to all chill. And I know they were very excited, but I’m like, you just have to wait. I mean, and yeah, I told them, you have to accept whatever happens if someone reaches out or never reach out. That just has to all be okay. Meanwhile, Emily was like, you know, living on ancestry DNA and I think it’s been 24 hours straight on it because it does allow you now to link everything and go back all these years. And she was just having an absolute ball with doing that, but they were all very desperate to really know this family. So finally Maria messaged me back through the portal and she says like, I’m so glad to hear from you.

Laura: 21:12 And I actually have a son who lives in Washington DC who actually works on the hill, is an attorney. Lots of attorneys in our family, which is also hilarious.

Damon: 21:22 And you were in law school.

Laura: 21:23 Well, this was now, I mean, this was what she had.

Damon: 21:27 Right but you had gone to law school is what I meant.

Laura: 21:27 Oh yeah, yeah. And also my uncle is also a lawyer. My grandfather was a lawyer. My cousin’s a lawyer. There’s a lot of lawyers, so she, you know, she’s like, I would love to talk to you. And I was like, absolutely. I mean I think I messaged back, I said, when did you want to talk? She’s like, how bout now? And she called me and we, I think we spoke for like an hour, an hour and a half, and the next day we spoke for three hours and we have just become so incredibly close. I mean, I feel like I’ve known Maria my whole life and we say this all the time. We just cannot believe we have known each other less than a year.

Damon: 22:02 That’s incredible.

Laura: 22:03 I mean it is really unbelievable.

Damon: 22:04 Yeah. You’ve said you had a really deep connection, but I’m interested to know, did she know that you existed?

Laura: 22:10 No. Here’s what we think. There was one person who knew. My parents were married. They married after they gave me up. Your biological, right. My, my mother and father were married probably maybe six months to a year. We think after they gave me up for adoption. They did not want to give me up for adoption from what we can tell from the paperwork and from kind of just the run of events, we think the one person who may have known was my father’s aunt, my great aunt who live in Rockville Center because my mother had a relationship with her whole life. So there was a really clear bond there. Even though my parents never really spoke again as far as we know after the, after the divorce. Right. But this aunt was extremely important to, to both of them. And we think, and I was born in Rockville Center. She lived in Rockville Center.

Damon: 23:01 So you were born at a place that your parents did not live in, right.

Laura: 23:04 They were residents of another place.

Damon: 23:06 Right.

Damon: 23:06 So you feel like this aunt was a confidant whom they went to?

Laura: 23:09 I’d even lived with her for a period of time.

Damon: 23:12 Wow.

Laura: 23:13 All of that’s a little murky. So we do know that. She almost certainly knew. And the only other person who knew because all those three people are dead is my mother’s second husband. He knew. The other ironic thing is that the information from New York state matches completely and every single detail. So even if there had been no DNA, we didn’t even need DNA. I just needed the name. I could have linked it just by what I knew from the state. The DNA was the, was the way to find them.

Damon: 23:41 Yeah. DNA ended up being your first puzzle piece that allowed you to figure out everything else.

Laura: 23:44 And the rest of it all fit together.

Damon: 23:46 So can I ask, you expressed a little bit of pain over having just missed your mom. Tell me a little bit about that. I mean, four months you were so close.

Laura: 23:55 Ironically, I felt that I would never meet her my whole life. I always had this underlying feeling. I didn’t know whether she had already passed away. I just never had the sense like this could ever happen or I would ever meet her. I mean, I obviously would have loved to have, but I never felt it would happen. Something in my gut just told me it was never going to happen. So when I talked to Maria the first time, she’s like, well, I know your mother. I called her when your father died, so she was alive at least 13-14 years ago. I believe she lives in North Carolina. I think she’s still alive. I’ll, I’ll go find her.

Laura: 24:29 And Maria is amazing in every way.

Damon: 24:32 It sounds like it.

Laura: 24:32 It took me a couple of days to find the information to make the phone call. So I had about a 48 hour period of time, maybe two or three days where all of a sudden I’m like, wow, this could actually happen. I may actually meet my mother. And that was like mind blowing. I just never had any confidence it would happen. I wanted it to desperately, but I just had this feeling I never would. And so..

Damon: 24:55 Still your mind races?

Laura: 24:56 Oh, it was, I was way into like imagining, I’m imagining hugging her. It was such an incredible, like it seems so realistic. This could happen. So when she called me and she’s like, I’m so sorry, she passed away in January. Ironically on my adoptive mother’s birthday.

Damon: 25:13 Is that right?

Laura: 25:14 Yes.

Damon: 25:15 This is very strange. That’s a cruel irony.

Laura: 25:16 Yes, it was. And I think it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was so devastated. It was, I mean, I just, I was sobbing and I heard my husband come in and I had to give him any, he just picked me up and he just held me, he didn’t say a word. He knew exactly what it was and how it felt. That was the hardest part of the whole thing. I think that was very hard. I just, you know, I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner. I really, that is a big regret that I just didn’t do this sooner, but I also have come to like accept that everything happens the way it is and not to, it’s just, it’s otherwise they can just drive you crazy. You know? It’s just can, there’s lots of things I wish I could have done and gone back.

Damon: 26:03 But I mean we all live and learn and there’s so many lessons across our life where we just think, man, I wish I had done this differently. You can beat yourself up.

Laura: 26:11 And there’s no way cause no way of knowing. Right. Hindsight’s 20/20.

Damon: 26:15 Absolutely. Absolutely. But you’ve gained an amazing bond with your aunt Maria. When did you first meet her or anybody, who did you first meet? How did it happen?

Laura: 26:27 So immediately they quickly start planning this reunion where like 20 people come to Maryland, Silver Spring.

Damon: 26:36 Awesome.

Laura: 26:37 For three days. So there was a family reunion in August and so here I am now meeting all of these people. They’re all my aunts, they’re my cousins and my cousins children, their husbands.

Damon: 26:49 Yeah. Yeah. It’s, and how do you fit in? So you’ve connected with Maria, I presume there’s an awesome connection near these people have come to silver spring. Like where do you fit?

Speaker 1: 26:57 Well it was like the only, the best way to describe what that was like was it was like para-shooting into a family’s reunion and you have no idea who anybody is. They all know who you are, who are these people? And it was the most bizarre experience because I felt completely comfortable. I felt like it was like, I’m just here eating and cooking with these people who I’ve never met before and they’re related to me. And is this just like, it’s okay. Wow. And I just felt really comfortable and my husband’s like, it’s weird. It’s like, I know what you mean. It’s like, it’s totally okay. That was just amazing. I’m not that comfortable with everybody, not the way I am with this family. Right, right. It is a weird thing, genetics. It is truly strange.

Damon:                       27:44               Nature vs nuture is a thing that you just, you can’t describe it until you feel it. And when you feel it, you’re just like, yeah, this is absolutely surreal.

Laura: 27:51 It is surreal. And it’s the I, and I say that all the time and other people say it all the time. Its a surreal, it’s a real situation. But I had a wonderful time at the reunion, got along with everyone, every, it was completely comfortable. It was just comfortable. It’s like I’ve known them my whole life and it has always been that way from the beginning on this whole thing. I have felt, I have known these people my whole life.

Damon: 28:12 That’s amazing.

Damon: 28:13 And you look like one of your Aunts.

Laura: 28:15 I look a lot like one of my aunts, I have not met yet, but I may soon exciting it. Yes. I look a lot like her. So, and everyone at the reunion was like, you look like

Damon: 28:24 Right. They’re picking people that they know and seeing pieces of that person.

Laura: 28:28 It was all the same person. It’s always very interesting. No, it’s been great. And then in November I went out to meet my brother who is the only child, only other child of my mother.

Damon: 28:38 He’s your half-brother.

Laura: 28:38 My half brother.

Damon: 28:40 How was that?

Laura: 28:41 That was amazing. He had reached out to me a couple of months after his dad. My mother’s second husband is so phenomenal, so really, really good person. And he spent like three hours on the phone with me about two days after I found out that my mother had passed away.

Damon: 28:57 Really? That’s really kind of him.

Laura: 28:58 So kind because for him, this just happened. His wife just passed away, four months before and here comes this daughter who we knew about, but like never expected. I mean the whole timing was extremely painful. Um, and he was just so, so giving and selfless and kind.

Laura: 29:18 And we just had this really wonderful conversation and really clicked and I just really appreciated hearing so much about who my mother was. She was an incredibly strong, adventurous person. She rode race horses and show horses. She was daring. She was incredibly strong willed. I have so much of that and on both sides, almost an obsession with animals. I say like really, really into animals late on my father’s side, they’re breeding dogs. My mother had a farm. She was also a big dog person. I love dogs. I love all animals. My kids all love animals. I mean, I think one of the second things Maria ever said to me was, do you like animals?

Damon: 29:57 That’s so funny. You knew that was going to be one of the traits.

Laura: 29:59 Animals are a really big thing!

Laura: 30:02 That’s awesome. A couple of months after I spoke with my stepfather, I guess what it is, and I proud to call him that. He’s such a wonderful person. My half brother who I really consider my brother, uh, contacted me and was like, Hey, you know, I think he needed some time to process everything. He had no idea that I existed. Yeah, that was, that was a lot. And he just sent me this beautiful email, just incredibly beautiful email and he’s a wonderful writer and he’s talented. He’s an artist, he’s a computer game designers, like this amazing person. And he’s like, you know, I’d just love to talk to you or see what kind of relationship we can have. And so we did a Skype thing like about a week later, and we, we text regularly. Um, I went out in November to see him and my stepfather, but I was there for four days.

Laura: 30:46 That was amazing. Went through five photo albums of my mother. That was incredible. And so I see her petting the dog, you know, her dog that she loves so much and just, it was just surreal. And amazing and really healing. I have such a better sense of me than I did before.

Damon: 31:05 Through the lens of her life and what you’ve seen.

Laura: 31:08 Just from both on both sides. Like I know who I am. I did not know who I was before I suspected and I just, everything makes so much more sense to me. I have a sense of clarity when it comes, not just to me but to my children. It fills me with terrible frustration that the state believes that it is appropriate to hide people’s information from them and I think that’s also a take home. These laws are unjust. No one has a right to keep someone’s identity from them. I think that’s right and we now know like the role that genetics plays, not just in personality but in health. It’s just egregious and it’s not right. I’ve really important, incredibly important healthcare information that came out of those.

Damon: 31:51 Really wow. Yeah, that’s incredibly enlightening to say ‘Oh I need to change my path’.

Speaker 1: 31:57 Right? Heart disease is a huge problem. My mother passed away of a really terrible and very difficult to diagnose heart issue that it has some genetic component. Like I’ve actually gotten into a pulmonary specialist for that. There’s actual issues here. It’d be really helpful to know, you know, 30 years ago, really inappropriate on the part of the state.

Damon: 32:19 Wow. So you just came off a road trip?

Laura: 32:21 I did. So I went down to see my aunt and her husband, my uncle, with my cousin who lives here in Delaware and with my two kids.

Damon: 32:29 So this is biological cousin going to see biological aunt and uncle and your own children. And how was the trip?

Laura: 32:35 It was amazing. It was so amazing. I mean, um, I, we connected at the reunion, I mean I just felt a bond with her almost immediately and we just had such a blast. We really get each other and I mean is just one of the things is so incredible to me on that side is almost an obsession with the news, which I have always had. And it drives everyone around me insane. I always want watch the news cause when you’re there it’s the news all day long and not only that, everyone has all the same alerts on their phone. Anything happens, and of course we all know in this administration something’s happening every 10 minutes. Right? Everyone’s phones go off at the same time. Right. And they’re the only people I know that watch the news while googling everything and looking at the news and reading other alerts. I mean it’s so me. It is.

Damon: 33:17 I didn’t know there was a DNA trait for the news intake.

Laura: 33:21 My grandmother was a journalist. Right. But it was like..

Damon: 33:27 You were in heaven!

Laura: 33:27 News all day long on the enormous TV it was awesome.

Damon: 33:31 Cool. I guess I’ll just ask, in closing, what would you do differently? You’ve said a couple of things throughout, but looking back you’ve said you would search earlier. You wish that the laws would change. Tell me some things that you just wish were just different.

Laura: 33:43 I wish I had done the DNA earlier because my parents had passed away so early. I would have done it sooner. I wish I had done it sooner because it’s been so positive. I know I’m a happier person and my husband has said this. He’s like, you’re a happier person. You’re just happier. And I’m usually a really happy person anyways, you know? Yeah. But I think I have such a piece that I did not have before.

Damon: 34:04 And I can’t help but think, you know, you and I, you’ve said we’re both in healthcare and we’re looking at healthcare from a much larger perspective, both your physical health, but I can’t help but think as you talk about one’s mental health.

Laura: 34:17 Oh yeah.

Damon: 34:17 And you don’t necessarily have all of the pieces and you can drive yourself a little bit bonkers in trying to like create a picture that might not be reality. And to the extent that a person can feel whole by knowing the entirety of their past, both DNA genetically as well as like a healthy, when it’s possible connection to people, um, it can be a huge boost to someone’s mental health as well.

Speaker 1: 34:44 Absolutely. I think, you know, honestly, through the grace of God that my life is what it is, because it didn’t have to turn out the way it did. It was really bad for from probably the time I was a teenager to my early twenties there is a lot of scars I carry from those years that would have been ameliorated to a large degree by knowing who I was.

Damon: 35:06 Right.

Laura: 35:07 That was just really, and looking now at who my family is and the character traits and the things that people struggled with. I am very much those people like I am, I see myself in their own struggles and I think in the way they think, and I think you, you pluck somewhere, they’re like habitat and then you just sort of like, well go forth without any information and you know, just figure it out. And I think that’s so unfair.

Laura: 35:34 I think we, people who are not adopted don’t realize the degree that they may be subconsciously leaning on that information that they just take for granted.

Damon: 35:43 I think that’s right.

Laura: 35:44 And they’re just like, oh, well maybe my family does that. Yeah. Yeah. My wife, my, my so-and-so was like that. I’m just kind of like that. Or, and maybe that’s a little bit of a cop out, but not when you don’t have any of it ever because you’re just trying to navigate your way through the world with nothing.

Damon: 35:59 Right.

Laura: 35:59 And so much of who we are, we now know is genetic. It’s just is. And it’s, so this story is so obviously that it is, I was never raised to even go to college and I ended up going to law school and getting a degree in public health and you know, pursuing this career. My parents didn’t even think I would ever go to college and they were like, oh, just graduate from high school, get a job and you know, doing something, they just..

Damon: 36:21 The difference between your genetic break makeup being a news hound and a curious person drove you to that where you weren’t actually encouraged to it in your adopted family.

Laura: 36:30 Not at all. Not at all. And I think I even, it was, I was raising my kids. I wouldn’t recognize things that they did that were just like me or, I mean it just, I would, I, there was so much in that raising of them where I was like, well, that’s like me. Yeah.

Damon: 36:45 Yeah. But you can’t reach any further to say, oh, and I got that from my biological father.

Laura: 36:51 The whole thing being completely blown open has been so helpful to my own children who this has had a huge impact on them. They love their new family.

Damon: 37:02 That’s excellent.

Damon: 37:03 Well, I’m so happy for you that you finally found who you are in your family. I know our bond over being adoptees was just immediate, but I was always, I always felt a little bit of sadness for you, for the fact that I had made a discovery of my family and that you who had been looking for much longer, had not.

Laura: 37:24 And that’s because New York state law is so strict.

Damon: 37:27 I was ecstatic when you told me you had news. I was, I was overjoyed.

Laura: 37:31 I believe you were the first person I called, I called you immediately. I was like, you’re not going to believe.

Damon: 37:36 That’s so cool.

Damon: 37:37 Well, I’m so thankful that you came and shared your story here and see your news alerts blowing up on your phone. Thank you so much for coming.

Laura: 37:46 Yeah, this has been great. I really appreciate it.

Damon: 37:48 I am so excited for you for the future with your family. This has been really exciting, so thanks for being a part of who am I really. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Speaker 2: 38:00 I hope you enjoyed hearing what turned out to be a very emotional journey for Laura. I was so honored that she said I was the first person that she reached out to when she said she had news about finding and connecting with her biological family members. She and I had truly bonded over being adoptees and I had long wanted her to locate her family just like I had. I thought it was so fascinating that she actually indicated how comfortable she had been with her family of origin once he met them and got to see them all in the same room at the same time. But she also said some very important things about the need to change the laws in New York state and other places to allow adoptees to gain access to their personal information for reasons of their own mental health and fortitude, let alone their own physical health. So I hope in her story, you’ll find something that inspired you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn who am I really? If you would like to share your story of locating and connecting with your biological family visit, who am I really?

Who Am I Really?

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