Rebecca always knew she was adopted, but she also recognized that she didn’t quite fit with her adopted family. While she loved them a lot, she noticed physical and personality differences between them. She was taller with a different skin tone than them. She’s an extrovert raised by introverts and she calls herself a circuitous thinker that was raised by linear thinkers.
When her own child was born, then got sick, Rebecca thought to herself “I’ve got to find these people” and began her reunion journey. But the laborious process to try to uncover identifying information in Washington, D.C. is closed adoption system seemed to be a daunting task, especially after her child got well.
Rebecca says that she wasn’t really looking for her relatives at the time reunion found her. A friend of hers, who is also an adoptee, had extra DNA test that she was sending off to people as part of her own search, so she gave Rebecca a spare test. After reading through her biological connections on AncesteryDNA she was able to find her biological mother’s online identity. Her mother maintained a blog and social media which Rebecca read through feeling like she could have written the content herself.
Rebecca has had several revelations about adoption and it’s impact on herself and her family. She says what she gained thru reunion is context about herself, her children, and her adopted family.
I don’t begrudge her not telling her children either. I mean, how do you, how do you look at your kids and say to a child who’s not gonna understand it? I gave away your sister.
Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
This is Who Am I Really, a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members.
Hey, I’m Damon Davis and on the show today I’m joined by Rebecca. She lives in Vermont, but grew up in Washington, D.C, completely comfortable with the fact that she was adopted. In her journey, Rebecca kind of searched here and there for clues about her biological identity, but the process seemed like it was going to be too challenging. But then reunion found her rather unexpectedly through DNA testing. On her journey, Rebecca gained a connection to her biological family and siblings who are just like her and a context for her life that she never had before. We pick up Rebecca’s story when she was a child in the nation’s Capitol. Rebecca says she always knew that she was adopted and she was given some non identifying information about her closed adoption that she clung to. She said that while she never felt stigmatized, she did notice differences between herself and her family. In some ways they’re physically different, but she says she also noticed how they just kind of think differently too.
Well, I mean, I didn’t look like anyone the most basic level, which, um, you know, people love to tell you oh, that doesn’t matter. It, it matters when you’re the one that doesn’t look like anybody. I would also say..
You didn’t look like anybody in your family? In your community? Where?
In my immediate family, and I mean in some ways I guess I, I could pass. I’m not an interracial adoption. I’m not a trans racial, you know, I’m not from another country. So in one way, I guess the very base level, I’m a white kid, adopted to a white family, right? So I looked racially similar, but I tower over everybody. Um, my skin coloring is different. My eyes color different. I mean, I didn’t, I don’t look like them. And my temperament and my, my way of thinking and being and moving in the world, it is different. I was unable to relate that to being adopted until I was in reunion, however.
Gotcha. What are some of the differences for you? Like is it temperament? Is it shorter fuse? Is it more excitable? What are, what are the differences between your family?
I have described it this way that I am a circuitous thinker, um, and speaker, uh, what raised by linear thinkers, um, where, you know, a plus B equals C and for me it was like, well let’s talk about a for a while, then we’ll hop over to Z and then come back on. And also, um, massively extroverted and was raised by introverts. My adoptive father has some extroversion to him. He can speak to people that he liked. He liked everything orderly and buttoned up in a certain way. And this is how you do it. And just naturally that’s just not at all who I am, who I was, my adoptive mother, I would call her introverted. She also can be very social, has lots of friends and speaks well and is out in the community. But I would say loves to be, gets refreshed by being alone. I just never had that. I always wanted to be surrounded by people.
So fascinating So when did you have this desire to search? What sort of sprung you into action for wanting to look for your biological family?
I mean, I’ve gone in and out of wanting to search my entire life. And you know, I certainly had fantasies about it when I was a kid growing up and envisioned, you know, who is the elusive mother, you know, mostly about a mother. You know, I would think about my bio dad sometimes, but it’s all, I think it’s usually tied up in the mom. Right. And so I always, I had fantasies about it and I would think, Oh, it would be this amazing reunion and it would be like coming home. And I looked at this feeling, you know, in my early years there was this woman just sitting out there waiting for me. Just biding time until we could be reunited, you know? And then I would say I, you know I turned 16, 17 around the age of when she gave birth to me and all of a sudden it kind of hit me like a ton of bricks. Hold on a second. This is not the simple story I was told, I’m sure that because if I was pregnant right now, that’s what I’m thinking. At 16, 17 I started to see the complexity of what the story like we was and what it might mean to want to find her.
As time passed, Rebecca would take breaks from her search. She would haphazardly sign up for discovery registries here and there, but she never got any hits for people that were looking for her. Washington DC has very strict rules for opening adoption records and Rebecca had the impression she had a black line adoption. That is an adoption where the original record is literally redacted with black lines to prevent re identification of the family involved in the adoption plan, but as is the case sometimes with adoptees, a medical issue in her family reignited her desire to search for her biological family member.
Then I had a child who was very, very sick and we thought she might need a bone marrow transplant.
So that was a catalyst for you.
Well that was about six years ago, seven years ago. And I said, all right, I got the paperwork from DC, I’m going to fill it out. I’m going to have to fight, I’ve got to find these people. But she got well before and then all of a sudden the process felt overwhelming to me again.
Rebecca told me that reunion actually found her. One of her friends that’s also an adoptee has been using DNA testing as her tool to locate her family. She had been sending DNA test kits to people that she thought might be related to her. Her friend had some extra tests. So she suggested Rebecca try the DNA testing route herself. So she sends you a test.
And in three weeks I had found my family.
Wow. So what happened? How did that go down?
Well, first of all, let me say, you know, struggling with the massive adoptee guilt over the fact that she still hasn’t found them and that it was just so easy for me. But so I took the test, I was expecting to get a result back in, they said six to eight weeks. It happened very, very quickly. Um, right before Christmas I got my results back and I was thinking I would just find out if my ethnic background was correct, which it wasn’t. I knew I was Lithuanian, which is true. And I thought I had Jewish background, which is not true. And I am about half Irish and I had no idea that I was Irish, but my kids are all Irish step dancers. So I guess there’s some genetic memory. So yeah. So I took the test, I got the results back really, really quick and I had some third cousins, but I also had a very close match and I knew by the age of this person online and the age of who my biological parents were, you know, I kind of added it up. It had to be an uncle and he had put about six, seven generations of history up on ancestry.com and so since both of my grandparents, his parents are deceased, I could see the names of my grandparents and they had six children and so I knew one of those six children was a parent. I didn’t know if it was a mother or father and I started, I started Googling all their names and I found, I hit upon this one woman and I found her two blogs and I just knew that was my mother. I knew it was my mother.
How did you know?
Because if there was someone who was going to have a mother who was an Episcopalian priest, does standup comedy storytelling and writes blogs and with like kind of a crass but also reverent sense of humor, it’s me like this is, that is me like that. It was so bizarre and I just knew it and my heart kind of went in all directions all at once. It became very, very real, very quickly.
So you tracked her down online and you basically discovered her online identity without really ever connecting with her, but you just felt like that was it.
I knew it. Absolutely. I read her writing. The way she writes is almost identical to the style. The way I use words. That was huge for me. You know, I was a theater major. I use words a lot. I write and to see that this woman is the way she was writing. I mean I just knew it. I could have written it and then through there I found my sister. I have three full siblings. I found my sister’s blog and my sister’s blog. I read the whole thing before she even knew I existed and that I was, I could have written that blog. It was so insane the way they think, the sense of humor, I don’t even know how to explain it. I have never related to someone like that, and I hadn’t even met them or talked to them yet.
Wow. That must’ve been so cool. What an amazing feeling to sort of feel this connection to these people and have it resonated such a deep level that you felt like you could have written their own writing. Tell me about what happened next. How did you reach out to them? What did you decide to do?
Well, I felt that I should go through my uncle since he’s the one who put his information out, I felt it was probably better. I didn’t want to freak out my birth mother or anyone else, you know? I figured, Hey, he put all this information out there, he can take responsibility for this. So I contacted him and I waited to hear back from him and I first I wrote like the email you’re supposed to do, which is, you know, I want to be really respectful and I’ve had a really great life and you know, very low key. And then I started reading the blogs and then I said, forget it. I’m going to write how I write. Once I read their blogs, I just, I felt like there’s no way these people are not going to want to know me. If they knew who I was, its just impossible! So I’m, I said, you know what, I’m going to write another email to this poor guy, but I’m going to write with my own voice. And I basically used words like obsessed and like I’m totally obsessed with my sister and Oh my gosh, I’ve never profoundly seen people so much like me, you know, and I described how I saw on their blog. They can’t follow directions. Like they’re terrible at math. I mean, literally point by point.
And it was stuff that was just, just they were plucked from your life.
As if it was as if it was plucked from my life. So I wrote a more passioned plea and little did I know I was doing all of this. My uncle was getting married the next day.
Oh wow. That’s heavy.
Happy wedding. And my mother was officiating the ceremony.
What? Wow. I can’t wait to hear what they said.
And so it was the night before, I believe it’s the night before, I believe it’s the night before he’s getting married and she’s officiating. He has to say to her, you remember when you, you know, gave birth to that kid 44 years ago? And, and she’s like, yes. And you know, and he said, well, she found me on ancestry.com and had to explain it and it was a massive, complete and utter, she says it like called it a tsunami because she had never told anyone really about me. I mean her ex husband knew, that’s my father, but they had three more children and those children who are now grown had no idea that I existed. So I picked, well, I don’t know, the universe picked the most auspicious moment, the Eve of this wedding. She’s officiating, you know, it’s almost Christmas. And..
let me pause you for a quick second there because what I think I understood was the uncle was not part of the inner circle of people who knew.
No, he did know but he was 12 when I was born and he never spoke about it with her. He knew that it happened. He knew that I existed, but it was just, he says that I was persona non grata. I was never ever spoken about ever. Um, it was just, it was just kind of tucked away. So he knew I existed, but he had never actually had a conversation with his sister ever about me.
Yeah. And how do you do that though? Honestly, like even just as a guy to a girl, you just, it’s not.. That’s not an easy conversation to have no matter what. And if you’re only 12 like how do you bring that up so I could see how he would never do that.
Absolutely. And not only that, but I don’t, I don’t begrudge her not telling her children either. I mean, how do you look at your kids and say to a child who’s not gonna understand it? I gave away your sister for adoption, so I don’t even, and then at that point, at what age is the right age to tell him. I don’t know. This is why coming out of this era of super closed adoption, it doesn’t serve anybody, you know? And so at that point now, 44 years later, oops, I gotta tell you now, I’m very lucky how it has all turned out, but I know that for others it’s not. I feel like I have sort of a fairytale reunion story. You know?
So tell me how did she make it through this wedding the next day with your, the news of your reemergence?
Apparently, apparently she barely made it through and she called me and I had to remind myself, I have been dealing with this openly for 44 years. My adoption has never been a source of secrecy or shame ever. And so I had to remind myself that even though I was talking to my mother, the woman who gave birth to me, that I was also talking to, you know, a broken 17 year old that just stuffed this away because she’s coming at it from a completely different perspective.
Rebecca’s mother was very concerned that Rebecca would contact her siblings and reveal herself before her biological mother had the chance to do it herself. She wanted to be the one to open the door to this secret from her past. And Rebecca respected that. But her mother’s initial reaction about her siblings made Rebecca wonder if her mother would ever tell them.
But I also thought if she’s anything like me, she will get over herself probably pretty quickly and she’ll just want to like rip that bandaid off and get her done and that that’s exactly what she did. And I was right and then, and that’s what happened.
And that’s what she did. What did she say? What did they say?
I believe she called my sister first and she lives in D C she got an Uber late at night and went over to my bio mom’s house and they, you know, crying and talking about it. And this is what happened to me when I was 17 and that’s actually why we got married and then we had you guys later and then they called my two brothers and then they called my dad.
Yeah. What was the reason that she told you for why you were put into adoption prior to the other three being born in the marriage?
Well, according to her, and I believe her is both her and my father were in fairly dysfunctional homes and grandfather, her father was a pretty well known doctor in DC and I think they had on from her family side they, I think there was definitely an image that they kept up. Certain expectations about what a family looks like. I don’t totally know all the details, but she was very young. She calls him her best friend and they found comfort in one another and here here am I. Then they got married because she was pregnant and they moved out. She was basically disowned. She tells me that they got married so that she could actually make decisions on my behalf because she was a minor and she did not want her parents to be the one making decisions for me. She wanted to make the decisions. My thinking is a part of why they got married, besides just probably feeling very much like they wanted to be married was so that she could give me away for adoption.
Oh, that’s fascinating. How smarter for her. But how hard, wow.
Yep. I don’t know. I don’t know that. Smart, hard. I mean that’s the thing is that there’s no, no, that’s adoption though is holding two polar opposite things in one hand. All the time. All the time. It’s like a walking dichotomy. You’re walking around saying, Oh, I love my family very much, but I also miss this family I never had like so I’m, I don’t belong here, but I do. I find for me is starting with that story of my biological parents, it’s muddy and complicated and involves so many different seemingly opposing forces.
You’re absolutely right. We adopt these often feel that those opposing forces, there’s the, I really want to reach out to these people, but I want to be respectful of their, the fact that they’ve had a life without me, but by the same token, like I’m here and I’m here because of that. And then there’s the, you know, I want to reach out, but I want to acknowledge the amazing life in many cases. And not everybody has one, but an amazing life that was given to me by my adopted family. But you know, there’s the opposite side of that, which is you can’t help but think there is another person whom I actually came from and I would like to try to know those people. Yeah, you’re absolutely, you nailed it. There are definitely some dichotomies there that you can’t avoid as an adoptee. And, and it’s, it’s a really challenging thing.
But I liked that she just dove in and said, look, this is what happened. Let’s get right with it. And uh, cause she’s back.
So after the secret was out, Rebecca and her mother decided to methodically get to know one another. They talked once a week to allow her mother to be very careful at first. But with the turn of the new year, her mother had gotten comfortable and told everyone that Rebecca existed. Her mother’s comfort with this new chapter in their lives started to blossom in verbal displays of affection and to plan to meet each other.
It’s been an interesting process, but she wanted to come and meet me. And so she flew up here and stayed for two nights. That was March 7th, St Patrick’s day. Ironically, my Irish mother. Um, and so she came and she, I have three kids. She spent time with my family up here in Vermont on my farm. And I basically just like, all right, let’s just go do stuff. I just, let’s go walk, let’s go to this bookstore, let’s walk around, let’s go to this museum. You know, I wanted to keep moving. To me that feels like a better way to get to know someone.
Yeah, that’s right.
Instead of like staring at people’s eyes and crying. Oh gosh, I can’t, yeah. You know what I mean?
Yeah, yeah. You’re sitting there trying to have meaningful conversation. 181 questions and then like uncomfortable silence. Well, look at that convenient subject change.
I know. So once she came, that also was like another, I feel like another turning point in everything because I think that’s probably showed my siblings, would they? I think they wanted to make sure she was okay and her coming here to see me and to meet her grandkids and to get this over with for her. I think that was the big, that was a big, huge thing. And once that was over things that started to, I mean, I hate the word normal, but normalize a little bit. And then my brother came in April and my sister just came last weekend. So I still have my dad and a brother to go.
So as an adoptee with a biological son and adopted children too, I was so curious to know what Rebecca had told her own children about her reunion. She expressed feelings and realizations very profoundly in a way that I hadn’t contemplated before. Adoptees often think of the reunion journey as a solo quest, but that’s not the case at all.
You know, my children, they always knew I was adopted, but it didn’t really occur to me that that means they’re also a little bit adopted. It did not occur to me until about a month into reunion. Like I was going through this whole reunion thing in my mind by myself, because us adoptees, we are so used to, I think, feeling like we go through things alone. This is my thing. I’m the only one, right? So this was me and my adoption story, right? And so I’m going through this whole reunion and I’m getting all wrapped up in it and it’s basically all I can think about and I’m realizing that I’m, my kids are asking me questions and I’m kind of pushing them away about it. Like, well, you know, mommy, will deal with that later. I’ll plan to, you know, and then I realized, wait a second, these kids I kind of adopted too. I mean, yes they know their parents, but there’s an entire side of the family that they know they’re not biologically related to. They love them very much, but they know that there is this other mystery family and it’s just as intriguing and exciting for them.
And especially because you’re, you’re now introducing someone brand new, like a grandmother doesn’t grow up with you. A grandmother is, you know, an older woman older than your parent already. And so when you introduce this older person and say, Hey, I got an extra grandparent here for you, you’re right. The adoption thing definitely transfers to the kids as being partially adopted too. That’s a fascinating thing.
Well, and also think about when my daughter was really, really sick, um, when she was younger and we, her bone marrow kept shutting down and you know, that question of medical history, she was also not having a medical history, I mean she had half of the medical history, but she didn’t have a full, a full medical history. So for her she had that moment too of, Oh wait, this is who I am. I keep saying it’s like my whole life I’ve been looking through a camera that was slightly out of focus and then reunion just kind of made it go into focus and my daughter had that too. My boys are having that too. So adoption is not just me.
Yeah, no, you’re absolutely right. It resonates with everybody and impacts everybody. You know, the DNA biology, the, you know, bone marrow issues, all of that stuff is impact on everybody around you. That’s unbelievable. Rebecca talked about some of the places in her adopted and biological families where she sees herself as an outsider and kind of welcomes that position sometimes. We chatted a bit about how thankful she was for the life that she was given and the family she was raised in. I made the assertion that she seemed to have found an identity. Once again, she astutely clarified what she really gained through her reunion experience.
Reunion has shown me so many things and one thing is reunion really shows me my adoptive family. I can see them as a unit, the four of them, whereas before it wasn’t as clear to me cause I was there. Right? In a way it, it shows me even being a little more outsider. Everyone should be grateful for their families, adopted or otherwise. Um, but I would say that I don’t know that what I found is an identity because I think I’m maybe at 18 I needed to find an identity in my age now and, and raising children. I, I have an identity. What I gained through reunion is context and that context is profound and it allows me to see the context that my adopted family has with each other. It’s not bad or good. It just is. I see things differently. I look at myself in the mirror. I actually spent hours after finding my biological family, looking at pictures of myself through my life because I looked different in those pictures with context. She pictures of my children. The way my children look is different because of the context that red hair has context. My grandmother had red hair.
Yup. All of a sudden this context, and I know it seems like these are such silly things, these like outward appearance things, but for an adopted person who never had any genetic context whatsoever, it is almost everything in some ways. Wow.
That’s really profound. I hadn’t, I hadn’t thought of it from the perspective of context, but as you say it, it absolutely resonates.
Welcome to my brain.
It’s an amazing place. It’s an amazing place.
Circuitous thinking. I told you!
I don’t mind that at all. For some of us who are in a little bit in between, between the linear thinkers and the circuitous thinkers, it’s not bad to be able to talk with you all, so that was really fascinating. Well. I’m so glad that you were able to find your biological family so quickly that they were welcoming. I hope that your reunion with your father will go well. I know that’s coming up in the in the summer, did you say?
Uh, in the fall.
In the fall.
Hey, so when I come down to DC, I’ll let you know.
Yeah, do that! Sounds real good. I’d be down to have a drink with you.
All right, absolutely.
Thanks for sharing your story, Rebecca. I appreciate it.
I appreciate it. Thank you, Damon.
Hey, it’s me. Rebecca has been very thoughtful about her feelings about her reunion. I appreciated that she had a little guilt over the expeditious discovery of her own family while her friend who gave her the DNA test in the first place continues to search for her family. But how cool was it that Rebecca was able to really identify with and feel a connection to the biological relatives? She found through their online personas. Their writing styles felt like content she could have created herself, but even deeper to me was her observation that our adoption journeys often feel like solo sojourns, but the reality is our own kids and other loved ones are adopted too. As a side note, Rebecca told me that during her journey, she learned that she’s a unique former Washingtonian. She’s a biological seventh generation Washingtonian whose ancestors were born in Anacostia in the 1700’s. You just never know what you’re going to learn about your families adopted or biological, and about yourself when you launch your search. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in Rebecca’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? This episode was edited by Sarah Fernandez. If you would like to share your story of locating and connecting to your biological family visit, whoamireallypodcast.com/share. You can also find the show on Facebook or follow me on Twitter at waireally.