Jennifer was perfectly comfortable with her adoption until her teen years when her self-awareness was heightened, and her desire to learn more about who she is bloomed. Protecting her parents feelings, she pushed away her desire to search for decades until one day her curiosity exploded again. In the end, her residual drive from her experience as a detective on the Chicago police force helped her to keep asking questions and pressing on with her search. Jennifer shares her warm feelings from knowing her birth mother always talked about her and her birth father’s family welcomed her w/ the same love they felt for her father.
She says, you know, when your mom would talk about you and say she had this baby in 64, you know, we just listened to her, you know, we didn’t know cause they couldn’t put a face or, you know, they’re just listening to her, tell this story. So for me to start, this was like, you are real.
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. I’m Damon Davis. And today you’ll meet Jennifer. She’s a recent transplant to Nashville, but she originally hails from Chicago’s Washington Heights. On the South side, Jennifer told me she spent two years in foster care before being placed with her parents who were somewhat older. She was perfectly comfortable with her adoption until her teen years, when her self-awareness was heightened and her desire to learn more about who she is bloomed. Protecting her parents, she pushed away her desire to search for decades until one day. Her curiosity exploded again. In the end, her residual drive from her experience as a detective on the Chicago police force helped her to keep asking questions and pressing on with her search. This is Jennifer’s journey. Jennifer was placed with her family from foster care. At two years old, her adoption was an open topic in her family and in her community. And she felt special because of it. But her teen years brought more self awareness and therefore more interest in the real meaning of what adoption actually meant for her.
I was permanently placed there from foster care. I was in foster care for my first two years and, uh, it was great. You know, I always thought I was special here chosen and I never felt like that was a bad thing. I thought that was a pretty cool thing. Um, and everyone knew like, I, I don’t ever remember like being sat down and told you’re adopted, you know, so it was, um, yeah, it was something that was just kind of known to me and to everybody, you know? So it was in the family. Like there was no secret about that. And even in my neighborhood, you know, even, you know, even in a neighborhood, people knew and it wasn’t a bad thing, you know, I just never felt that way now. I don’t know what people were talking about, you know, amongst themselves, that, for me, it was a good thing.
I think around adolescence though, I began to wonder, you know, like how this different, um, I guess, uh, status how that, what that really meant, what does it really mean to be separated from my birth family? You know? And I, I do remember thinking that maybe this isn’t so cool, you know, like other people look like each other cause they were biologically related. And so if I look like someone in my family, it was just like happenstance, you know, because I wasn’t biologically related and I did, you know, it was interesting. I looked like my first cousins, like we look alike. And so people would say, Oh, I knew that was a cousin. Cause you know, cause I know that is not because we’re related by blood, you know?
Right. Jennifer’s parents were born in the early 20th century, her father in 1916, her mother in 1924. So they were older parents, almost like grandparents to Jennifer. Usually people tell me their parents were of a certain childbearing age at the time of their adoption. I asked Jennifer if she knew why her parents adopted her when they were older.
I think there was some ambivalence about it on my, from my dad. I think that he, that was not what you did. I know, I remember there was a story told to me that my dad said, well, first of all, my mother could not conceive. So that was always a point of contention because she wanted a baby. She wanted to have children. And um, her friends were having babies. And, and so this was a big deal to her. And I think that she wanted to adopt sooner, but my dad was kinda like, nah, you know, black folks don’t do that. You know, like I remember a story being told to me that, that he said, you know, well, so and so down South, you know, a cousin of some relative had a baby that they really can’t take care of. Why don’t we just take care of that baby? And my mother was not for that because she felt that that cousin or that family member may come back in the picture and want their baby. And so she didn’t feel comfortable. So I guess time was going by and you know, between her and my dad, they were just trying to figure that out. And I don’t know, I guess maybe he just gave in, I don’t know, but I think that that’s why it was so much later. I think it was talked about much, you know, when they were younger,
Jennifer was the only child in her family and her parents drove her to be a strong woman. Her father was a janitor in the public school system, but he was a people person, a traveler, and always read the newspaper to stay in touch with the world around him. Her mother was a librarian whose love for books, drove Jennifer’s strength in reading. She says in her teen years looking like the others in her family, wasn’t really an issue for her. Her mother was dark complected and her father was light and skin color. And Jennifer’s skin tone was in between the two of them, but her teen years and the increased emotional awareness kids get around that time exacerbated Jennifer’s curiosity about the differences she had noticed between herself and her family.
I do remember, um, preadolescence adolescence, really kind of that rebellious, uh, age where I started to think, you know, I am different from, from my family, you know, there’s some stuff going on where I’m different and I’d like to know why, you know what I remember feeling like that kind of like an edginess, you know,
was it like starting to see differences in how you think about the world and may think about the world and approaches to sort of life issues? Or was it other stuff?
I think it was, I remember I was a tomboy and I remember just thinking, you know, I’m not identifying with the things my mother likes, you know, like I’m that I feel like, like there’s a lot, that’s different about her, but at the same time I was thinking, well, I’m just my own person. And I kinda just, yeah. Rationalize that I am a teenager, you know, I don’t really think like their parents and I kinda put it away like that, but as I got older and I like now, when I think back what I was really feeling was, yeah, I’m different. There’s something about my nature. That’s different.
[inaudible] what did you do with those feelings about starting to really recognize, Hey, this is more than just me being a teenager. This is fundamental differences in me and the people around me
tucked it away. Just really put it, put it in the back. Yeah. Background. I think, you know, my life has been pretty full meaning, you know, from high school to college to, you know, work in, you know, my career and then a family. And, and it just feels like it’s just been nonstop in so many ways. And so maybe when the thought would pop up, I would just kinda put it down. And I will say a lot of it has to do with the fact that I knew my birth. I mean, my adopted mom didn’t want me to search.
Oh, is that right?
I knew. Yeah. Yeah. Like she didn’t want to talk, want me to talk about it? So it was never really talked about, um,
Yeah. The wool ball, I guess. I mean, I remember asking her, you know, what does she think about? I might have been a teenager. I still was. She think about me searching. And she said, why would you want to do that? You know, you have your family. And so it was just really taboo. The whole topic was taboo. And so I never wanted her to feel like I was unappreciative, you know, or, you know, didn’t was unhappy know, like that’s what it seemed like. It meant to her that I must be unhappy or I must not feel good about this family. None of that.
So Jennifer buried her feelings for a long time. It wasn’t until many years after her mother passed away in 2002 that the feelings came back, her natural and career trained curiosity for asking probing questions kicked in as well as her desire to fill out her son’s family tree from her side of the family
years after she passed that it just, it hit me like, what are you waiting for? You know, because I am a naturally curious person, you know, I was a detective my last 16 years, um, with the police department and I, that was what I did, you know, ask questions, you know, dig and dig and investigate, you know? So here I am putting this off after all the time.
Yeah. You did it as a career for everyone, but yourself.
Yeah, exactly. But when the time came, it was odd. It was like just really something. When I finally said let’s do this. And I think my son, cause he was around 20 at the time, it really started to hit me that his tree was really not balanced. His family tree. You know, he had his dad’s whole biological piece, but he didn’t have mine. And somehow that just didn’t feel right.
So Jennifer contacted an Illinois agency that provides adoptees guidance on how to do a search. They recommended she obtained a copy of her adoption decree and recommended. She wait a little while because the adoption records laws in the state were about to change in her favor still. She knew she could be accumulating information about herself prior to Illinois adoption records being opened. She found out what hospital she was born in, what agency assisted with her adoption and other information. The adoption decree had her birth name redacted, but the Chicago childcare society was listed as the assisting agency and is still open today. They prepared a non-identifying report for her for $100. The information in the report was invaluable to Jennifer because it allowed her to connect with parts of her past.
So all of this is going on prior to the lot changing where I can request my original birth certificate and all of this information is actually very valuable. I mean, it’s like more than an OBC can give you, you know, so yeah, none of that was in vain, you know, as I waited for the law to change.
Yeah. What kinds of, what, what kinds of stuff did you learn in that document?
Well, the agency, the hospital I learned, um, the salvation army hospital is where I was delivered, which was actually a home for unwed or pregnant mothers. And so I learned that my birth mother had gone there to stay, you know, and give birth. I learned, um, and that’s what, that was a hospital on the North side of Chicago. And so my birth mom was living far South. So this was a great big distance, so to speak from home so that nobody would know what was like, where she was or what was going on. Yeah. And I learned, um, what that facility was all about, you know, um, I took a visit to the salvation army building and actually the building is so much like it was back in the sixties, you know, like walking through Santa cafeterias and the chapel, like all that was set up like that years ago. So that was really interesting. You had to see that to see the rooms that the girls stayed in, you know, while they were pregnant.
You, you took a walk through history and you, you as an infant had passed through those hallways.
Absolutely. It’s funny you say that. Cause that’s exactly what it was, was like I had been there before, so I was really just revisiting it cause I had been there before.
That’s amazing what an experience Jennifer was still waiting to get some identifying information. The Chicago childcare society was very clear. They could only give Jennifer limited info.
Yeah. I hadn’t gotten any identifying information. And the Chicago childcare society, you know, was quite clear that legally they could only give me bits and pieces. I mean, when they were looking at a file, my file and in that file is my original birth certificate is, you know, my originally I was just information about my birth family. They couldn’t give that to me, you know, according to the law. So I remember being very frustrated about that. You know, that they’re looking at documents that would never be as important to them as, as they are to me and yet having to kind of just get these bits and pieces, you know, and try to put it together. But then I understood you know I understood that their hands were tied, but it still doesn’t make you feel any better.
No. Cause it’s still documents about you, you know, and you are well past that point of needing protection as an infant, you’re an adult with an adult child. It’s like the logic was standard. It would stand to reason that you should just be able to say, look, here I am, I’m of a legal age to basically sign anything. You should be able to hand me that, but their hands are tied as you’ve said. So Jennifer started to familiarize herself with and build connections to the adoption community. She started attending conferences like the American adoption, Congress, the AAC, and built relationships with a variety of people that she wished she had bonded with earlier in her life.
Just being connected to the adoption community was amazing for me to be around other adoptees, to be, you know, with a group of people that I hadn’t been with, you know, like all my, you know, for decades, I had never really been with that community. And, um, it was awesome. You know, my roommate, um, was, uh, both moms and we’re still very close friends to this day. Uh, she allowed me to kind of get a grip of what it was like for our birth parents to, to, um, set up an adoption plan for childhood, you know, birth to, you know, she carried for nine months, you know? And so now I’m getting a better picture along with things I’m reading. Cause the girls that went away by ancestral was just so healing because here were these birth moms talking about, they never were promised anonymity and they, you know, they wanted to reunite, you know? So these were things that had never heard before.
So this probably allowed you a level of empathy that you just hadn’t even contemplated you needed going into your search, huh? Yeah,
absolutely. And you know, if there’s anything I could have done sooner, like sooner, sooner would have been a connect into the adoption community. You know, if I had been able to do that, even as a teenager, I think it would have been such a good experience.
Jennifer told me that connecting to the community was the best thing she could have done for her own healing or coming out of the fog as we sometimes call it. I wondered if coming out of the fog, changed her feelings about her adopted family. She said, she’s never felt bitter about her adoption. And she fully understands that people make decisions. They believe are the best that everyone won’t agree with those decisions. And we all have a choice as to how we elect a view, the decisions of others. However, she feels strongly that a person has a right to know who their biological family members are. I asked what happened next in her search.
Well, I remember going back to the Chicago childcare society and said, listen, can you please go back through my file? Give me just a little something extra, you know? And I remember, um, they did give me, um, some information about my foster family and I, and it was kind of interesting cause I was like, Oh yeah, that’s right. I was two years in a foster home. You know? So then that, I remember that becoming like all I want to know about them, you know? So when they gave me that information, I was able to locate one of the children. Well, he’s an adult now, but at the time he was, I think he was about 12 years old when I was in house anyway, I was able to locate him. And um, they had also given me a picture. Now this was the first time I’d ever seen a picture of myself younger than two years old.
So I, here I am six months old sitting on the lap of this woman that was supposed to be the foster mom. That’s who they thought she was. So I take this picture of me at six months to the, to the son. And because he didn’t remember anything about like, uh, like, uh, he really didn’t ever remember a foster child being in his home, but when he saw the picture of me on his mother’s lap, he’s like, yeah, that is my mother. And um, and yeah, so then he had siblings. So he reached out to a brother who was younger than him. And it turns out that that brother remembered me so well because he spent a lot of time with his mom taking care of me. And so he was able to, yeah, he was able to give me so much information. And uh, I remember that being a big highlight to them, my search. And so of course I was still interested in finding my birth family. So I’m asking them if they knew anything and they didn’t know anything, but you know, wish me well. But that piece was pretty big.
In November, 2011, Jennifer requested her original birth certificate or OBC from Illinois. She’s exhausted all of the non-identifiable leads she could possibly uncover. Then she gets her OBC, reads her original name and enlists a search angel to help her get more information. They learned that Jennifer’s birth mother passed away 16 years prior, but they kept going forward. And what they found brought Jennifer peace,
not really an angel. Um, Melissa Mitchell is, um, and I don’t know, maybe she does call herself an angel. She’s an angel to me, but she, she’s a really good searcher. Like if you give her bits and pieces, she can, you know, she’s able to use her resources to just really get information for you. So she like right away found out that my birth mother had passed and it’s kind of like, Macy’s like, let’s keep moving forward. I want you to grow up yet. You know, her death certificate so we can get some more information, you know, things like that. And that’s what I did. And the long story short is that I found an aunt and when I connected with her is, Oh, wow. It was like, she knew all the time. She like, she reached out to my brother. She reached out to her cousin and everybody had known about my existence.
And they also knew that my birth mother had been searching for me, but just kept coming up short. And I don’t think she would have ever been able to find me cause you know, my name was changed and there was no way for her to know what my name was, but to learn that everybody knew about me was so healing for me. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had been in a secret, you know, but it was very healing to know that I wasn’t that like, it was like I had mattered all these years. Yeah. Yeah. That was pretty cool because they were so glad they were like, wow. You know? Cause, cause the way my aunt put it, she says, you know, when your mom would talk about you and say she had this baby in 64, you know, we just listened to her. You know, we didn’t know cause they couldn’t put a face or you know, they’re just listening to her. Tell this story. So for me to surface was like, you are real like right.
That’s awesome. Jennifer says her brother was so happy for her emergence because it was like a part of the family had returned in the family. Many people passed away at early ages. So Jennifer’s appearance for him was like a piece of their mother coming back. She says, she sees the family resemblance with her family, noticing elements of her own son in her cousins and her own resemblance to her nieces and nephews. I asked Jennifer about meeting her birth family back in Chicago. So you spoke to your aunt first. It sounds like she sounded the alarm to the family to let everybody know that you had returned. What happened after that?
Well, I met everybody and, and just kind of wanted to kind of get caught up if there’s such a thing, you know, like, like I wanted pictures and they really didn’t have many pictures. There were a couple of pictures that was shared with me. Um, and of course I wanted to know where my mother was buried and um, things like that, you know? Um, so we spent a lot of time sitting around talking and, and um, me telling them about my life, you know, so that was, that was pretty good. And we still do that, you know? So all of this is like the early part of 2012. So yeah, so we spent the entire year and the next year in Chicago, just, just kind of getting to know one another.
Wow. That must’ve been amazing. I was curious about the story behind why Jennifer was placed into adoption. Her aunt had the most details about the situation and Jennifer believes her mother who was opposed to the adoption plan, never got over, placing her daughter for adoption.
My aunt said that she told her that she was pregnant as a teenager and um, and her mother, which would be my grandmother just did not want her to be pregnant as a teenager. You know, like how you got to finish school and to life, you know, all of that. And so, um, basically my grandmother made the plans more so than my grandfather was really my grandmother. I was told that was insistent upon an adoption plan. My birth mother was not at all in agreement with this. Like she was really unhappy about it. And I guess through the years she never, she never got over it. And I think she grieved maybe her whole life about this decision.
Yeah. Because if she spoke openly about it with the family, it sounds like for years on end, it doesn’t sound like she ever really finished grieving for having had to give you away.
Exactly. So my brother is like 22 months younger than me. So it was shortly after that she got pregnant again, you know, but she married his father and, you know, carried on and even had another child after my brother who died as an infant. So she kind of got out of whatever grips that was even at 18 as a young adult, um, got from up under that whole thing that, you know, with my grandmother, making her give up a baby, you know, kinda get, yes, she just moved on from there. And I guess said, I’m not giving up any other babies. And my brother even talked about how he felt. She was so protective of him, you know? And I’m thinking, she probably said, I’m not ever letting another baby go. You know, I’m not going to experience that.
Jennifer wasn’t able to get any information about her birth father from the family. So she enlisted the help of a friend of hers who was supposed to connect her with someone who knew her birth father. The friend ended up connecting Jennifer with two women who actually knew her birth mother. The women shared their teenage years with her mother and gave her bits and pieces from the recesses of their minds about who he was. But Jennifer kept hitting dead ends in her search for her paternal links. She realized the only way she could try to find the man was if she had some luck with DNA testing, she submitted her ancestry DNA kit in may, 2017 had her results by June and connected with one of her birth father’s relatives. The DNA doesn’t lie, but Jennifer’s fact gathering mission also helped legitimize her story with them. After she revealed the bits and pieces of information she had accumulated Jennifer is very glad that they got to meet and she’s been very thankful for the reception she’s gotten as a reflection of how the family felt about her birth father.
I connected with, uh, my birth father’s first cousin by July. You know, he responded to an email and sure enough, he was still in Chicago. He said, your dad was my first cousin and gave me all the background. So when I was in Chicago, the end of August, I got to meet him and aunts and cousins. So I am totally a real here with that side of the family. And he passed like 1990.
Uh, he’s been gone for awhile.
What did they tell you about him?
Well, they tell me that, um, he lived a pretty rough life, you know, pretty hard life and that he didn’t talk about me, so they didn’t know anything about me, but you know what I have been welcomed. I have been, it makes me emotional, how welcomed. And I think it speaks to, especially with my aunt because my aunt, his youngest, my birth father’s younger sister was really, really close with him. And she took care of him his last two years. And I think the reception that I have received from them, you know, like they don’t know me, you know, but I think the reception is because of how they felt about him, you know, because they loved himself. So if this is his daughter, we’re going to love her too, you know?
so it’s, it is really great. It’s really great. When people see things like that, you know,
I wondered how Jennifer shared her journey with her 20 something year old son. She pointed out how differently his generation’s opinions are about unwed pregnancy. Then those opinions that were held in the 1960s still, he was pretty nonchalant about the whole search and it really didn’t hit home for him until Jennifer’s journey. Very clearly pointed out just what a small world. It can be. You have a son and you took this journey, you know, pretty much on your own. But tell me what kinds of things your you’ve said to your son or what kinds of emotions you’ve shared with him throughout this process?
Well, you know, um, the start is when I first told them, you know, listen, this is what I’m gonna do. And I’m just doing it for me. I’m doing it for us, whose opinion was very blahzay. And that was like, you know, why, why, why do you care? Like they didn’t want to keep you. And, and at first I thought, okay, I gotta really explain this to him. And then I thought his generation cause he’s 27. So his generation has come up in a very different time in the sixties, you know, like, like the shame of pregnancy and you know, not being married is nothing today. Like it was then, you know, so my approach to him was that things were so different back then, you know? And so this whole idea of, um, giving up a baby today sounds like ridiculous, um, to you.
But back then, it wasn’t like, it was just a different time. So as we talked about and we would, we talk, he walked up the whole road with me and the more we talked about it, I think he saw the importance, but he really got it with the reunion. You know, he really got it because like one of your questions was, you know, what was most shocking and what was shocking to me was how close I had lived to my birth mother all this time. We had all been eight miles about eight miles apart. And so was my brother. Same thing we had never, all these years, we had really been kinda traveling in the same circle, you know, in Chicago, the South side. And so it turns out that my brother’s kids and my son were crossing paths at this neighborhood park, like all through their childhood. And so when my son made that, he was like, he really got it. He was like, Oh, this is, this is the big, this is big stuff. You know? Cause you need to know who your, who your family is, who you’re biologically related to on so many levels.
That’s amazing. Yeah. That’s cool that he finally found a way to sort of understand, you know, the importance to you and the importance to him of this whole thing and really how it’s such a small world too. You know, you, you, you run across people and you’ll look them in the face on the street and you have no idea who they are. Um, but the fact that you could pass people in the park, in your community and actually be related to you, that changes the dynamic of how you think of yourself in the world. Right?
Yeah. That’s really cool. Well, it sounds like you really found peace in reunion and with adoption and, and I love the fact that you said, I wish I had joined the adoption community earlier because I think there’s a lot of people you see online and Facebook and stuff like that, that every day more and more people are being welcomed into this community of folks who are trying to identify with both themselves as a person and their biological relation and to have other people around you that feel the same way, understand what you’re going through and can be supportive is incredibly helpful for those of us who are trying to, you know, find what the next step is, the next piece of information, where to go next. Um, having people around you that can relate and say, he, you know, take it easy. We got you with this. Here’s what I would do. It is incredibly valuable. So, um, I am sorry that you missed your parents. You know, it, must’ve been really hard to learn that they had both passed away, but to be able to, you know, reunite with the extended family, sounds like it was a real blessing and, and something that gave you some peace. So I’m thankful for that for you.
Yeah, I am too. I, I, you know, I kind of prepared myself and I would urge any member of the adoption community to do some reading, you know, to find those books that are such valuable tools and resources for us, because I had read about that, that happens, you know, that birth parents have transitioned. And so it’s kind of softened, you know, my father wasn’t, it was kind of softened, you know, um, when I learned that, and then I was really concerned about the entire family, you know, like, yeah, it was true. I was looking for my birth mother, but I was interested in everybody else too, like right alongside her. You know, that was my thinking. Like if I have siblings, I’ve never, the sibling piece was really big me, you know? And I think because if my siblings had kids, these would be my son’s first cousins. And see, I really was close with my first cousin. So I thought this is cool. You know, that you really want to know those people.
Yeah. Fascinating. Well, Jennifer, thank you so much for telling your story. Just do me a quick favor. Tell me what is your website for your book? You’ve written a memoir about your experience, right?
I did. It’s called the truth so far a detective such to reunite with her birth family and it’s available on Amazon. And it’s also available on my website. Jennifer, Diane goes to that town.
Very good. Well, thank you so much for taking time to share your story. I mean, we all learn a lot from one another’s journey and I’m glad you were able to share yours. Jennifer.
Thank you so much, Damon. And I’ll be listening. I love your show.
Thank you. Thank you so much. Take care all the best to you. Okay. Okay. Bye bye. Bye bye.
Hey, it’s me, Jennifer really sounds thankful for the connection she’s made to her maternal and paternal relatives. Even though her parents were deceased. When she found them, she unfortunately missed the chance to meet her parents before their passing, but she still got the heartwarming news that her mother had spoken of her throughout her life. On her father’s side. It must have felt so good to step forward into their family, feel welcomed and be able to accept the love they felt for her father as it enveloped her too, because she is one of them. I’m Damon Davis, and I hope you’ll find something in Jennifer’s journey that inspires you, validate 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 to your biological family visit whoamIreallypodcast.com/share. You can also find the show at facebook.com/waireally, or follow me on Twitter at WAIReally? And please, if you like the show, take a moment to rate who am I really on? Apple podcasts, Google play, or wherever you get your podcast or leave me a comment @whoamireallypodcast.com. Those ratings can help others find the show too.