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123 – I Have Room In My Heart And My Life

Michelle, who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, shared her story of growing up in the care of a workaholic mom in a family that she didn’t look like at all. After moving from Hawaii to Africa, then back to the states, Michelle finally decided to search for herself, and therefor her biological family. After a random layover in the south, she met her birth mother and siblings, found her birth father through DNA, but can’t boast of a strong relationship with either biological parent. Still she’s thankful for having gotten confirmation from her search. This is Michelle’s journey… 


Michelle (00:04): Once he acknowledged me. I felt like, like these strings kind of loosen around my heart. I was like, gosh, I feel like that’s really, really, really what I needed. And just to say, yes, it’s true. You are half of my DNA.

New Speaker (00:34): Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?

Damon (00:44): This is who am I really a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. I’m Damon Davis and on today’s show is Michelle who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Michelle shared her story of growing up in the care of a workaholic in a family that she didn’t look like at all. After moving from Hawaii to Africa, then back to the States, Michelle finally decided to search for herself and therefore her biological family, after a random layover in the South, she met her birth mother and siblings found her birth father through DNA, but can’t boast of a strong relationship with either biological parent. Still she’s thankful for having gotten confirmation from her search. This is Michelle’s journey. Michelle was born in Hawaii. She was adopted into the Mormon faith, where she had a large family. Many of her aunties and uncles lived at home with her adopted grandmother. She was surrounded by all of them and she felt like a bit of a gift to the family. Michelle was celebrated and the family believed God had brought her to them feeling special. She remembers being a child who openly told people that she was adopted. Michelle’s mother was a single mother in Hawaii where they lived until Michelle was six years old. Then someone special entered her mother’s life.

Michelle (02:08): My mom met a person and decided that we should move to Africa for a year. So we moved all the way from Hawaii to Africa. And that was a pretty intense shock. I kind of they were in the middle of a civil war and I really was super close with my grandma and my aunties and my uncles. Cause they were still young enough to be living at home.

Damon (02:37): You said in your submission that your mom divorced your father?

Michelle (02:42): Yeah. I was adopted at three days old and the man that my mom adopted me with. The one that I whose name I still have actually. He came back from Vietnam and had been a helicopter pilot and he came back a heroin addict and nobody really understood what was happening actually. And so when my mom finally figured out, you know, there was of course, no like PTSD or veterans help or anything. And so she divorced him. Yeah. Yeah. And then she met another man who was from Africa, from Rhodesia. And that’s why we moved there. She married him

Damon (03:35): When their family moved to war torn Rhodesia. Michelle was extracted from the limelight in Hawaii and she was no longer the center of attention. It wasn’t long before Michelle’s mother decided to move to Colorado where Michelle grew up from eight to 18 years old. Michelle said her stepdad, the Rhodesian man didn’t really like the cold. So Colorado was tough. He didn’t really like America that much, but there he was living in the Midwest and he didn’t really like kids, but there he was a stepfather, a miserable trifecta for this generally unhappy guy as an only child. Michelle used to wish her mother would give her a sibling every birthday and every Christmas until she learned that her mom couldn’t bear children of her own Michelle’s mom was a very busy woman, truly dedicated to her career as a nurse and scholar getting two master’s degrees and a PhD. All of that work meant Michelle spent a lot of time with her stepfather, which she thinks is the reason why she wanted a sibling so badly.

Michelle (04:41): I did find him when I was in like 2008. And he apologized profusely to me and you know, he was, he was grouchy and he, you know, said that he had not been treated well by his family. And he really was apologetic. And I totally believed him.

Damon (05:11): When Michelle was 21. Her mom became a professor and moved back to Hawaii, staying behind in Colorado. Michelle really missed her grandmother and wished she could go back to see her. She was the person who picked Michelle up from the hospital on adoption day because Michelle’s mom was working.

Michelle (05:31): I think, you know, instead of me looking for my birth mom and thinking about my birth mom, I was always thinking about my grandma because I wanted to go back to Hawaii and live with my grandma. So that kind of took a lot of my questioning away about my first family. Yeah. And my grandma, you know, like I said, she’s the one that me up from the hospital. She’s the one that always told me, you know, Oh, cause it’s a two hour drive. I was born in a little tiny house, get on the North shore of Hawaii. And she said, you cried and cried. They didn’t give us enough milk. And you just cried the whole way home. I said, finally, as an adult, I’m like, I don’t think it’s because I didn’t have enough milk. You know? Cause I was being taken away from my mom

Damon (06:31): Michelle admits she made up stories about who her birth mother might be a singer with dark Brown hair who tragically had to give up her daughter, her famous fictional birth mother was of course going to be very happy to see her when they found one another again. But in reality, Michelle was an adoptee in a Mormon family.

Michelle (06:50): Well, it was strange in my family because I have 35 first cousins on one side, you know, the Mormon people have a lot of children and I was the only child and everybody knew that I was adopted. So I, I did definitely feel like I didn’t belong and that I didn’t look like anybody. They’re all blonde hair and blue eyes. I’m not everything was always nice to me, but I did feel different.

Damon (07:28): Wow. Yeah. I bet if you’ve got 35 first cousins and most of them are blonde hair, blue OD. And you’re not, I mean that’s as you stand out,

Michelle (07:40): Right? Yeah.

Damon (07:44): What then was a trigger for you to actually want, well, before you go there, let me just ask you about your relationship with your adoptive mother, where you were, you guys close, she’s got this husband that didn’t like, you you’ve moved to ground the globe and you’re, you’re no longer the center of attention. She’s a workaholic. Like my sense is maybe you weren’t, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth. What was your relationship like with your adopted mom?

Michelle (08:14): He was pretty strained. I, I think she was very stressed out and she didn’t really understand what it was like to be a child for some reason, you know, children, weren’t her forte, shall we say? So

Damon (08:41): What does that feel like? What is, what can you describe it?

Michelle (08:45): Well, I mean, I, I feel like I kind of was alone and that you know, I was allowed to, as long as I follow the rules, I kind of did my own thing. Yeah.

Damon (09:04): Are tough. Sounds lonely.

Michelle (09:07): It was super lonely.

Damon (09:09): Those feelings of loneliness left Michelle feeling like she just wanted to get out of there, just get away. She suspects. It’s one of the influential factors in her career choice to be a flight attendant. She said it gave her the chance to go places, but that deep within herself, she was looking for home because it wasn’t where she lived.

Michelle (09:29): Yeah. And one thing that’s really interesting is I remember going to the Greenville, South Carolina airport, and I got out of the airplane there and I was like, Oh my God, this is one of the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life. And I loved this little tiny airport and it was just so charming and so sweet to me and come to find out that’s where my first family is from.

Damon (10:02): That’s crazy. Really? Wow. That’s unreal. You were, you were a flight attendant. You left, you were on layover in Greenville, South Carolina. And so you got to tool around a little bit in town and you found this town to be just to be Amazing. Wow.

Michelle (10:26): Yeah, I was, I was totally enchanted by it. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, wow. You know, I’d never really been to the South. I, I mostly lived in Colorado, been on the West coast and, and I was flying internationally. Mostly. I just happened to end up there that one day

Damon (10:47): Really you’re normally on international flights and this one day you land in Greenville, South Carolina of all places. Wow. Okay. So now we know some part of Michelle’s story is gonna involve Greenville, South Carolina. So let’s explore how this search for herself took her there. Since Michelle hasn’t said, what triggered her search? I asked her to explain what catalyzed things within her.

Michelle (11:14): I call it the year that my life exploded. It was 2004 and my grandma had died. I got divorced. I lost my best friend. I quit my career. And I moved across the country. I was starting a new career. And I also got the primal wound that year. I got all of this happened in that year. And I decided, okay, I’m going to finally look because the state of Hawaii, you had to hire a private investigator through the state. And I always thought it was going to cost like $10,000 for some reason, that was the number that I had in my head. And so finally I called them and I was like you know, how much does this cost? And they’re like, Oh, that’s like $180. And I was like, Oh my God. So yeah, I think it’s just like, everything fell apart. And I was like, okay, I need a direction to go towards. So I hired the private investigator for 180 bucks and he’s like, yeah, it’s going to take me six to eight weeks. And I got a call back a week later and I was, you know, eating lunch. And he said, okay, well, I talked to your mom last night. She’s going to call you tomorrow.

Michelle (12:46): I was like, are you serious? I was like, can I have a little bit more? And he’s like, that’s how, you know, you said you wanted her to call you. And then I was like, okay,

Damon (12:56): What a year Michelle’s dear grandmother passed away. A dear friend passed away as well. She got a divorce moved cross country, quit one job to start another. And the private investigator Michelle hired for far less than she thought she’d have to pay, found her birth mother immediately the day before her birth, mother’s call Michelle called everyone. She could think of to share the news about their big reunion call the next day, the night before Michelle said she doesn’t remember sleeping much at all.

Michelle (13:30): So, yeah, so she calls the next day and she has a really deep Southern accent. She seemed, she was so sweet and she was like, just really humble and like kind. And she was talking to me about my siblings, her three kids and you know, just real open. Yeah. She didn’t have any, she didn’t hide anything. And I was like, okay. I was actually, I was still working for the airlines at that point. I was like, I’m going, I can’t be there tomorrow, you know? Cause I could fly for free. And yeah. So I mean, I think I waited a couple of weeks, but you know, I went down to Greenville to that same little airport and I knew I knew her when I first saw her. I could, you know, I picked her out of a crowd and that feeling of seeing somebody who you look like and who looks like you it’s indescribable. It was really beautiful

Damon (14:49): On that first reunion trip. Michelle got to meet one younger sister whom she talks to a couple of times a week, a little brother and a younger sister who is only one year younger than herself since her birth mother was so open. During that first conversation, I asked Michelle to take me back and share what she learned. Her birth mother said that when she was pregnant, her mother Michelle’s maternal grandmother decided to ship her off to Hawaii, to stay with a military family who were friends of theirs reminder Michelle’s birth mother’s family is from Greenville, South Carolina. Her birth mother was sent across the entire United States. Then out into the Pacific ocean, about 5,000 miles away from home for all intents and purposes, she disappeared in the middle of the night, her own siblings, unaware of what was going on that family in Hawaii. Wasn’t getting along so well at the time. So her mom got a job with a woman who owned a gift shop with a small apartment upstairs at 17 years old, her birth mother ran the gift shop while pregnant all the while pining for her love.

Michelle (15:58): She had been in love with my dad and she really thought that he could keep me and that he went to Vietnam as well and didn’t come through for her. So she had to do that or she had to go there and do what her mother said.

Damon (16:24): What does that mean? He didn’t come through for her

Michelle (16:27): Well, didn’t marry her and you know, kind of save us from the state

Damon (16:35): Shop owner and everyone Michelle’s birth mother met, treated her very well and her birth mother wanted to stay in Hawaii. Michelle said when she was finally born, it was in a three room hospital in a sugarcane village on the North shore of Hawaii.

Michelle (16:51): Well, the story goes that when I was born that the nurse wasn’t supposed to bring me in to see her and she did. And so my mom called off the relinquishment and kind of shut everything down and kept me for two days, three days in the hospital. And on the fourth day when she had to leave the hospital, she, she relinquished me. And let me go,

Damon (17:24): Man, what did you think when you heard that story?

Michelle (17:28): Well, as a young person, it made me think, you know, we’ll just at least she did want me, but as a young person, it was also hard for me to think of her and the pain that she was probably having. You know, like I think I kind of thought that it was not that hard for her.

Damon (17:55):

Yeah. As that adoptees we make this assumption that we were just kind of very casually and relatively easily cast away. And you know what I mean? Like you you’ve heard this before and, and it’s fascinating that we don’t until we’re really like old enough to fathom what the possibilities are, what pregnancy really means, what it’s like to endure delivery and bond potentially with your child. It’s not until you can fathom all of that stuff that you kind of think, Oh wow. That, that might’ve been actually pretty hard to do. Even if, even if you knew you didn’t want to be a mother that I could still see and really challenging. So yeah. It takes us a while to get to a place of consciousness where you can recognize that’s a big deal.

Michelle (18:50): Yeah. Yeah.

Damon (18:53): You fly to Greenville, South Carolina, you meet your birth mother face to face. And what do you see in her that looks like you?

Michelle (19:02): Well, we both love to dance. You know, music came on and both of us just started dancing. I was like, Oh wow, this is great. And my sister and my brother they’d be like, Oh mommy, does that stop doing that? Like, some of my mannerisms were like hers, which was like, amazing for me. I’m like, I didn’t come from somewhere. You know, like, yeah, I wasn’t just hatched out an egg.

Damon (19:39): Michelle said during their quick visit, they just kind of hung out with her younger sister who was pregnant. Michelle went back a few months later. So her maternal relatives had a family party. She got to meet aunts, uncles, and her maternal grandmother while she was on the ground in Greenville, Michelle searched for her birth father’s name and the local phone book. The name her birth mother had given her, but she could never find him there.

Michelle (20:06): It was kind of surreal, you know what I mean? This was 2004. So it’s been a while. Yeah. You know, it’s like the honeymoon, you know, where it’s like, you kind of rush in and you’re like, let’s get all these stories down, like what’s going on. But it’s like, you don’t really know anybody. And they’re also like, kind of from a different culture than me, you know? Well, I mean, Southern Baptist are different than a, you know, like a world traveling international person from the West, you know?

Damon (20:45): Yeah, yeah. I could see. So did the honeymoon wear off, is that kind of what you’re alluding to?

Michelle (20:52): Well, the honeymoon kinda, yeah, it did kind of wear off with my mom, but with my sister and I, we stayed, we stayed really close and that is like the biggest gift that I have found from this whole reunion stuff. Yeah. You know, my, my birth mom didn’t seem to really have a lot of, I mean, she had three kids and a husband. And so she was, I feel like she kind of had a little bit of arrested development. Like I think after giving me up at the age of 17, you know, she never went back to school and she turned around and had another baby right away. And I think she just was really hurt. And she kind of seemed a little, a little bit like a teenager still, even though she’s a grownup, I have to say this too. That even though I met them in 2004 and I got the final will and I kind of read it and I knew that I had been hurt by adoption. And I knew that like some of my tendencies came out of it option, but I didn’t really come out of the fog until about two years ago when I started listening to all these podcasts to your podcast in particular and found groups on Facebook. And I was like, Oh my God, I’m not alone. And I started reading all these books, like your memoir and other people’s memoirs and started realizing there’s actually kind of a political movement behind us. And that adoption is trauma and it has caused a lot of suffering for the whole triad.

Damon (22:51): Yeah. Yeah. It’s true. That’s fascinating. Why do you think that you considered yourself to be in the fog still after reunion until recently? What do you, how do you, cause that’s, I’ve not heard that before and it sounds really interesting.

Michelle (23:07): Yeah. Well, I think I just didn’t go any further, you know, like I met them, my sister and my brother and my mom and I was like, you know, this is enough. And their culture, like I said, was so different for me that I was trying to get to know them and you know, not I’m trying to stay connected. Right. And I didn’t really think about myself that much. So those adoptees, we can tend to be people pleasers really just wanting to, I just had this fit in with them, you know, kind of do what I thought would not rock the boat. Yeah.

Damon (24:02): So your relationship with her has basically faded off.

Michelle (24:09): Yeah. I mean, if I go to South Carolina and visit my nieces and nephews and my sister and my brother we’ll meet up. But if I ever have any questions I could call her, but yeah, it has kind of faded away.

Damon (24:30): Well, that’s too bad, but it’s, I mean, sometimes it’s kinda natural. You haven’t known this person, your entire life, as you’ve said, you’re completely culturally different. And while you may look alike and be interested in some similar things like that doesn’t necessarily constitute the depths of a healthy relationship. Right. So what’s left.

Michelle (24:51): Yeah. Yeah,

Damon (24:54): Yeah. That would be really tough. Michelle said she made time to find a good therapist, found her way out of the fog then decided to search for her birth father after submitting her DNA sample to ancestry. She got a match for a second cousin when she got in touch with the woman, Michelle asked if she knew her birth father and revealed the man’s name, her cousin confirmed Michelle’s birth father was her uncle.

Michelle (25:21): And she said, Oh yeah, he lives in Wisconsin. So I put his name and Wisconsin into Google and I had his address, a picture of his house, like, and my sibling. And so I sent him a letter and he did not respond. And then I sent him a second letter with like all these pictures and my whole life story. And I’m, you know, I’m pretty animated person. And I was like, Oh, and so the third letter I finally said, Hey, I found you through ancestry. And this person knows about me and DNA doesn’t really lie. So, and then he sent me an email and he was like, Oh, Hey, I’m really sorry. Not being in contact.

Michelle (26:19): That was over about six or seven months. I got, I guess I got the email about three months ago. And he sounded, it sounded like his wife was not very happy. He told my half brother and my half sister about me and my half brother sent me an email and I emailed him back and I haven’t heard back from either one of them. And I did find out though that his, his mother is still alive. My paternal grandma. And I was kind of more excited about being in contact with her then, you know, I was like, Oh my grandma’s so like, please, you know, tell her about me. I would like to go immediately. You guys, well, I haven’t heard.

Damon (27:13): Oh no.

Michelle (27:15): I know. And it’s, it’s starting to feel a little bit like a failed reunion. I don’t know what else to do. Yeah. No welcoming parade.

Damon (27:37): These reunions are tough. Cause it’s, it’s two parties have to agree to do it, you know, and if only one of them is interested and is putting in the energy and the other one isn’t, it’s just doesn’t work. And I’m sorry. That’s really hard.

Michelle (28:00): Yeah. I mean, I haven’t feel as attached as I did to my birth mom, I think because I have my siblings know that I always wanted that. I’m okay. I have room in my heart and my life for the other side of the family, but I’m okay.

Damon (28:26): Well, that’s good to hear. Have you been continuing therapy just to work through this last piece of starting to feel like this is a failed paternal reunion?

Michelle (28:40): Yeah, I definitely have, and once he acknowledged me, I felt like, like these strings kind of loosen around my heart and I was like, gosh, I feel like that’s really, really, really what I needed just to say, yes, it’s true. You are half of my DNA. And here we are.

Damon (29:12): So the acknowledgement is enough for now.

Michelle (29:15): It is. Yeah. Yeah. And I really would like to see my grandma before she passes, but I don’t even know what his relationship is with her. So

Damon (29:33): Yeah. It’s impossible to tell meant impossible. Well, it’s good that you’re continuing therapy. I’m glad that you feel like you’re in a decent place. Cause you know, the maternal validation is really important and the fact that you even got to be face to face with her is more than a lot of people get. And like you said, you get to keep your relationship with your siblings. So that’s kinda awesome.

Michelle (30:02): It’s amazing. That’s really cool. Wow. I’m super grateful that I looked and I know who I am and I know where I came from and those are kind of two separate things. Yeah.

Damon (30:22): Yeah. They are two separate things, but very important things. And you’ve got both and that’s, that’s pretty darn cool. Wow. Thanks so much, Michelle. I appreciate you taking time to share your story. And I’m glad that you found some clarity and were able to attribute a piece of your coming out of the fog to this show. And I’m glad you decided to share your story to help others out. So thank you so much.

Michelle (30:50): Thank you so much, Damon, for all the work that you do for our community. It really is so heartening to know that all of us are out here together and we’re like making it happen and telling our truth and not hiding.

Damon (31:09): It’s my pleasure. I couldn’t do it without folks like you who are stepping forward to bravely share everything that’s in your heart, all of your experiences and your own emotions. The show is not a show without you. So thank you for being here. Appreciate it.

Michelle (31:24): Thanks a lot. Take care.

Damon (31:33): Hey, it’s me. Michelle had an interesting childhood raised in a Mormon family. She looked nothing like reared by a workaholic mother and moving all over the place from Hawaii to Rhodesia to Colorado. It was fascinating to hear that her mother was working. So her grandmother picked Michelle up from the hospital on adoption day. Michelle ended up missing her grandmother very much when their family moved away. And it seems like that affinity for grandmothers continued in reunion wanting to meet her maternal and paternal grandmother’s respectively. It was incredible to hear that all the places in the world, Michelle, the international flight attendant could have landed. She had a layover in her birth. Mother’s hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. I’m glad they got to meet, but it’s too bad. They don’t have an ongoing relationship. Of course, it’s also kind of sad that nothing developed between Michelle and her paternal family, but at least she got the validation she needed to loosen the strings around her heart.

Damon (32:37): I’m Damon Davis. And I hope you’ll find something in Michelle’s journey that inspires 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 adoption journey and your attempt to connect with your biological family, please visit You can follow the show at or follow on Twitter at waireally. If the show is meaningful to you, you can support me with a contribution to keep it going on. Patrion.Com/waireally please subscribe to who am I really on Apple podcasts, Google play, or wherever you get your podcasts. It would mean so much to me. If you took a moment to leave a five star rating there, those ratings can help others to find the podcast too. And if you’re interested, you can check out the story of my adoption journey. Who am I really and adopt the memoir on on Kindle or as an audio book on audible. I hope you’ll add my story to your reading list.

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