Diane called me from St. Petersburg, Florida, but her’s is a story that originated in Germany. Diane tells the story of her parents wanting to form a family with her, but her grandmother frequently talking about her adoption such that no one could ever move on. On a trip back to Germany, Diane stood in the orphanage where her story originated, but answers to her questions were not to be had. It turned out that her birth father was her first connection, and he led her back to her birth mother’s family. Diane met her birth mother’s widower who said her mother always searched for her, and made him promise to accept her if Diane were ever found.
This is Diane’s journey
Hey there. I just wanted to take a sec to let you know that I took time to write a book about my own adoption journey. It’s called, who am I really? Of course, go to who am I really? podcast.com and click shop. I hope to make it to your reading list. Okay, here’s this week’s show.
He said, I’ve always wanted to meet you. She told me all about you. She told me that she was going to look for you and she did look for you that for the rest of her life she tried to find you and they couldn’t. They wouldn’t. They wouldn’t let her have the records and he said during the 50s when they were courting, she had made him promise. She told him about me before they were married and she’d made him promise to be my father if she ever found me.
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’re going to meet Diane. She called me from st Petersburg, Florida, but hers is a story that originated in Germany. Diane tells the story of her parents wanting to form a family with her, but her grandmother frequently talking about her adoption such that no one could ever move on. On a trip back to Germany Diane stood in the orphanage where her story originated, but answers to her questions were not to be had. Diane met her birth mother’s widower who said her mother always searched for her and made him promise to accept her. If Diane were ever found. This is Diane’s journey. Diane was an only child in her adopted family in Philadelphia. She says her adoptive mother was related to the people who ran the orphanage she came from in Germany.
I had a kind of six degrees of separation kind of experience because my parents, my adoptive parents in Philadelphia were related to the person who ran the orphanage in Germany. Um, so what had happened was I was surrendered in a German orphanage at age one. Um, and prior to that I was in what’s called a kinder home. So it’s a children’s home, but the mother, the biological mother can still visit you there. None of this I was aware of, but what I was aware of from a very early age and all along was that I was adopted and was that I was in a German orphanage and that my adoptive maternal grandmother’s brother ran that orphanage, that he was a child psychologist. And the implication was always that, um, you know, I was lucky to escape the fate of being in that orphanage. I was lucky to have been brought to America, to these loving parents outside of Philadelphia and to be raised in this comfortable home. Um, so, so that was, my awareness was kind of a, a kind of survivor’s guilt or, or a kind of a feeling of escape. Like I had escaped from something and I was just sort of like, whew, that’s a good thing. You know, that’s, that’s past, that’s behind me
as a first generation immigrant family. Her adoptive mother’s mother had moved to the United States from Germany and she lived close to them in Philadelphia. They had many family meals together and it was she who communicated the idea that Diane had been lucky to escape and was very proud of the fact that her brother ran the orphanage and basically brokered Diane’s adoption. He had sent her parents photos of Diane and made the recommendation for her adoption.
She communicated it. Um, I think she was proud of the role that she played in it. She was proud of her brother. I think my adoptive parents, they could have done with less of this story floating around all the time.
Why do you say that?
Um, well I think they just wanted to get on with it. Right. They were coming out of that time of loss of not being able to conceive as a young married couple and they kind of wanted to put that period behind and they didn’t, I think they wouldn’t have kept that story alive as much as my grandmother did. Um, you know, she was always saying, well, I, I, I’m the one who went and got you. I flew over there and we got you from the orphanage and I brought you here. And they had this film of her descending the plane steps and those days you went down onto the tarmac and carrying me and bringing me into the terminal at Philadelphia airport and handing a to my, to my mother, my awaiting mother and father. So it was just this moment of pride that she had where I think my parents were much more interested in me assimilating and in them completing their lifelong wish or their wish together as a couple to have a child to kind of complete their family and to complete a dream, you know?
Yeah. That’s an interesting thing. It’s in any sort of challenging, deeply emotional situation. There are those who want to move on from it. Like you want to acknowledge it, you have lived it, that has happened and now you know it’s time to move on with life. And then there are those who have also been in this situation and they keep saying, you remember the time you remember back then? Oh my gosh, I remember when, and you, and they prevent you from moving forward. And it’s, that can be an interesting juxtaposition for, and especially as you’ve said, your parents were trying to move on also from the probable pain of not being able to conceive a child themselves. And so here’s, you know, her own mother, this was your mother’s mother, you know, this is her, you’re her own mother who’s constantly saying, you remember the time when I brought you this baby? That must’ve been really tough. Huh?
I really agree. And I think it’s a brilliant point because there is a way in which the wound never quite healed over. Right. It’s constantly being re-exposed. And I think that for my mother, I think that was aggravating. And for me, you know, I kind of adapted this source of pride. Like I assimilated my grandmothers message. I was lucky to be here. I was lucky to have this family. I was lucky to have this situation. Um, it was unique. It was somehow special. Um, it differentiated me. But then as time goes on, as a kid, you just want to blend in. You, you don’t want this story anymore. You want to just be a cool kid like everybody else on the block and not be special anymore. And it won’t go away.
When Diane was about seven years old, she thought perhaps she was going to have an adopted sibling. She had opened her mother’s desk drawer where she found an envelope with an assortment of photos of children, including herself.
And I saw my own picture and all these other kids. And I remember just like sitting back on my heels, like, you know the sweat, you know, you’re just sort of perspire. You just are, you know, you’re just hot. Suddenly. It’s like,
it’s that adrenaline rush of,
right, right. And you’re seeing actually the reason you came, you know, you there was you and there was this description of you and I was at, had a sunny disposition. That’s what they said. Um, and I was, you know, and I was struck by that because I thought, well that’s, I have to keep that up, right. I have to keep up that sunny disposition. Or else? I might have to be sent back, you know, returned or something. Um,
it was like, it was, this was part of your, the sales pitch, the marketing material around you.
Exactly. This is how I was promoted. So I mean, um, but you know, I, I kind of was that same time, it got lodged into my consciousness at that point that I, that I had to keep that, that game on. So I had to ask her, you know, are you, am I getting a brother or sister or, you know, I had to obliquely ask or, um, it turns out that they never adopted other children. Um, so
my curiosity about what that might be like was, you know, if that was, that was the end of that.
Hmm. That’s really interesting. Can you remember examples of, of times when you felt like, Oh, this is one of those moments where I better look sunny and have a sunny disposition or just did it, how did it impact your personality? I mean, I get the impression that it was in fact very much part of you anyway. But I get the impression also that there were times when you thought to yourself, Ooh, this is might be one of those moments.
Well, you know, when you were like introduced, um, to other kids, like two other, you know, couples, kids and um, especially, you know, well, I mean it could be a girl or a boy, but, um, I can remember thinking, um, you know, because it would be, you know, if, especially if my grandmother was present, it would be, well, and she’s the girl that we got, you know, from Germany. Um, and, and I’d be like, I just want that to go right. Or I just wanted to own the information. I said I was much too young to be able to say that that was what I was feeling, but I wanted to express it when I was ready to express it and on my own terms. Um, and so I might be thinking to myself, Oh, now that little boy knows that about me and I’d have to stand there and be kind of performing this happiness ritual of yes, you’re, I am the happiest smiling child who was lucky to be in this family.
You know, and of course I was lucky there was but, but there is that lack of agency, right? There’s no owning your situation. It’s actually kind of um, manufactured for you, uh, on a kind of a continual basis. And, and I think that something that a lot of us adoptees really struggle with is just being able to own your own narrative. There’s no way of preempting it. There’s no way of holding it as your own until much later. You know, when you’re out of the house and out of the story and, and, and you, you know, look like others and people don’t know that you’re necessarily adopted. And, um, that seems more organic to me and more natural.
When Diane was 17 years old, her grandmother took her back to Germany. It was a coming of age Rite of passage for her, her grandmother. And adoptive mother had been returning to Germany for years, visiting family and friends in their home land. The family was making every effort to maintain their ancestral connections.
But of course for me it was much more loaded than that. I was tapping into something, a Lodestar, a kind of a home, um, if you will. And so for me it was completely different experience than going back and meeting all the aunts and uncles and sitting around and having coffee klatch and um, you know, yes, I, I was happy to learn about my German heritage. I was more than fascinated to learn more about my adoptive, um relatives. But there was something in me that was just instantly galvanized, you know, when my grandmothers said, okay, well we’ve gone to Germany now four or five times and now these aunts and uncles would like to meet you. And you know, it’s time that you went back to, you know, our Homeland. And I’m thinking about, it’s my homeland too. And you know, for me, I was instantly like riveted by the idea of going to Germany because I knew that for me it’s symbolized much, much more than just it tripped back to the old country.
Let’s consider the family dynamic for just a moment. Diane’s grandmother, a native German who only learned English when she arrived in the States, felt a deeper connection to her country than her daughter, a woman born and raised in America. So naturally the trips back to Germany meant a lot more to Diane’s grandmother because she was truly going home to the place where she grew up. So Diane’s parents didn’t go with her on that first trip to Germany. It was just Diane and her grandmother. They visited her grandmother’s family in a small town of only a few thousand inhabitants in the Southwest region of the country, a Northern suburb of Stuttgart. Diane knew from her grandmother that she was born in Stuttgart that the orphanage or Kindler Haim was also in stood guard and she got the sense that those details really should be enough to satisfy her about her own origins.
Just knowing this much would should be enough. And um, anything else would be when I met, finally met this uncle, um, my grandmother’s brother, he told me flat out, but anything else would be just too confusing. And children were not meant to know about their biological families that would make their loyalties divided and they were only to have one family. That’s how it was to be. And that the only way to cement that in your heart was to not know anything else about their biological family. But he held firm on this idea that one family. And of course inside me, I, there was just this loud protestation I thought, no, I love my parents. I will never not love my parents, my adoptive parents. I simply need to know. And also I was so close, you know, so channelizing here I was talking to people that I knew full well. He must know and, and no, but it was a kind of like the, the glass door just dropped down right there. Like just couldn’t ask or you couldn’t know. You could ask, but it was futile.
That glass door coming down, blocking Diane from her information changed the trip for her. She said she was thrilled to meet people she had heard of and put faces and names to stories. But the real impact came when her grandmother and grand uncle took her to the Kindler Haim
once we got to the orphanage. And I met the woman who had been the caretaker there when I was there. So she remembered me as a baby. Um, and I was so I felt like wow, I a witness, you know, knew that I existed prior to this life in America. Someone saw me and I actually existed then and I felt very, yeah, witness sort of validated for that part of my life that I was meant to kind of disavow. But she wasn’t allowed to talk either. So I asked her, you know, in German, cause I learned a little German in school and I’d been picking up a little German. I was asking her, did she know my mother, my, my biological mother or you know, does she know anything about my past? And, and she was sworn to secrecy as well. So at that point I really, something in me kind of closed down in a way, like when into a kind of melancholic state of, of kind of mourning of feeling very sorry for myself actually, that I had come this far and I wasn’t going to learn anything else.
Um, and I knew in my heart I knew something in my heart that I deserve to know. I knew it was somehow a birthright. It felt like a primal. Right. And I was being supported and you know, we lived during a time, this was like 1970s. Right? So, you know, it was when, um, you know, the 60s and seventies individuals mattered. Like, you know, it was power to the people. You could make a difference. You could have, you could take action, you could, it was, there was a sense of individual power. And at that moment I felt completely, I felt like it drained out of me that I as an individual didn’t have any power. I didn’t matter. What mattered was this scenario that was being construed and I was just to go along with it. And maybe if it hadn’t come so close and close up so much in front of my face, I wouldn’t have necessarily felt that. But I did at that moment feel very ineffectual and I kind of mourned a loss of myself or have some child and inner child kind of going away, not really being like allowed to exist.
That’s fascinating. I’m thinking about how the scenario could have been different had you not made the trip and simply wrote letters overseas and been rejected. It would be an entirely different scenario than actually standing in the building, meeting the woman who was the caregiver of all of those infants who passed through there. I mean, that’s a far more intimate experience. Way more emotionally charged than an overseas correspondence with no interpersonal connectivity to the players and the actors. Yeah, I could see how that would have been really, really, uh, a huge defeat.
Yeah. I mean it was looking at a room full of empty beds where the cribs where the babies were kept. It was being phased out of being an orphanage. So it was an empty orphanage. So I was in a room of empty beds talking with this woman and I felt like I, most of all I, I felt like, well, why am I here? Why am I having this experience? And you know, the only thing I could think of was that I was meant to feel grateful that I wasn’t in this institution, that I hadn’t lived in this seral environment. I mean, although this woman was terrific, she, she remembered me. She remembered characteristics that I love to eat bananas. I mean I felt very touched by her memory of me because I knew it was true because I still loved bananas. And also she said, I like to wander around on the floor instead of being in the crib. And all of it kind of resonated. But I did feel supported for sure.
Diane returned to the United States. She said she had to keep her game face on, pretend to be that happy kid. She was advertised to be, she was performing well in school and was into extracurricular activities. But she said she started acting out too. She felt like she was split in two, if her family and the orphanage wouldn’t give her what she wanted, then she wouldn’t give them what they wanted. She maintained the facade of being a perfect girl, but she also got into a relationship with a guy. Her parents did not. Like Diane said, he seemed to understand her, but her parents were no fans of his. A year after she returned from Germany, she graduated high school and moved in with the unacceptable boyfriend that move, got her ex-communicated disowned by her parents at 18 years old.
At the same time, it all kind of brought everything to a head clash. Right. And so I experienced it like I say 18 or 19 a complete separation. I complete severance from my parents and oddly that is when my biological mother, when I finally found out what had happened, that’s when she separated from her family over and had me, which caused a big riff in the family as well. She was 19, um, became 20 when I was at a time I was born. But nonetheless, it was just an odd thing that I found out generational pattern that had happened, but so that’s what happened. I went to live. Yeah. I went to live with my boyfriend and I think there was part of me that felt like I don’t owe you anything anymore. And, and then of course it was incredibly wounding to be disowned.
Diane’s parents told her point blank. They didn’t want anything to do with her and they didn’t want to hear from her. Her boyfriend’s mother tried to reach out to her parents, but that didn’t work. She had gone from a trajectory that had her headed to college to completely off the rails in their eyes. She was off script and it was unacceptable to her parents. Diane didn’t hear from her folks at all for two years. Then her father started calling her from his office so his wife wouldn’t know. The family members in Germany who heard about the strife in their family, called her too when Diane eventually broke up with her boyfriend, everything changed. She moved home. The prodigal daughter was embraced back into the family and she got engaged at 21 years old to a guy whom her family adored, but she couldn’t go through with the marriage. She hadn’t even been to college. Diane took out some bank loans to find her way and started to reconcile herself to a mindset that moved away from thinking that things either had to be only on her parents’ agenda or exclusively on her own terms. She figured there had to be some middle ground. She went to work to support herself and went to school part time,
but I really was then feeling I should, I was in the world of shoulds. I wasn’t clear on my own identity, which is my, I totally love. You know, who am I really? I love this title. I wasn’t sure if my own identity, and I think that feeling of being a chameleon was still an element
still searching for herself. Diane pursued the person she thought she should be. She had a brief three year marriage with a man she met at work, a marriage she says never should have happened, but during those three years, Diane found a new interest that she hadn’t had before.
So I’d gone back to art school and there I found a passion there. I found something that really made my blood flow and by the end of the marriage, I’d applied, started applying for jobs in New York, and I got a job at the Guggenheim museum and as soon as the marriage ended, um, it was amicable. I moved off to New York and I started working at the Guggenheim museum and my life took off. I was really somehow tapping into something that really turned me on and I, I dunno, I grew into my shoes. Somehow.
While Diane was employed at the Guggenheim, one of her adopted cousins, a law student in Stuttgart was in New York for a visit chatting over cocktails. He asked her if she wanted to know more about who is she said yes. Then recited all of the lines that everyone else had given her about how it wasn’t a good idea to go searching for her biological family. He replied that his parents back in Germany didn’t think it was a big deal, and since he worked in city hall, he could help her get her records. At 36 years old, Diane’s adopted cousin provided a copy of her birth certificate.
It was totally cool. It was wonderful, wonderful gift in life to have gotten that we were connected on this page. On this paper, we were there
only Diane’s birth mother’s name and her own birth name could be seen, but there they were. Their connection officially documented. Her birth father’s name wasn’t present because he had relinquished all rights at that time. Those were nascent days of the internet, so searches yielded little and every time an internet search agency thought they had something. It was a disappointing nothing. Diane wrote a lot about her experiences in creative writing classes, but the feedback from those classes always said,
but the story doesn’t go anywhere. We don’t have an ending, you know, as like, yeah, that’s kind of my life. You know, I don’t have a resolution. Nobody feels like they’ve stepped out of an airplane as much as I do. I wish I had a parachute to get to the ground, but I don’t.
In February, 2002 when she was 46 years old, Diane’s adoptive father passed away after a lengthy illness. Out of the blue in September of 2002 a letter arrived at her adoptive mother and father’s home in Philadelphia. The letter was from an international social services organization. Diane and her mother were still grieving their loss at that time. So this letter, which clearly had the heavy vibe of importance that it was about Diane’s adoption was hard for her adoptive mother to turn over to her. The letter told Diane that someone was looking for her and it asked if she consented to being found. Of course, Diane consented. The intermediary in the social services branch in Baltimore, Maryland made contact to share that it was Diane’s biological father who was looking for her from Zurich, Switzerland.
So I was sitting at work one day at the gallery and I got the phone call and you know, we had Swiss collectors. So when I looked at the caller ID, I didn’t know if it was another collector or who it was, but with him and we had open offices. So I had to have this conversation like out in the open and, and, and I said, hello, I am so glad you called. And of course we both were so glad. So it was very, um, trans. It was, it was, it really was. Transfixing it was something that, you know, went beyond any kind of experience I’d ever had.
Their conversation was brief with a lot of small talk, but they agreed it would be good to keep in touch. Diane gave the man her home and mobile phone numbers and they talked comparing traits that they shared between them, like most adoptees and birth parents, beginning of reunion do.
But then I found out that he was actually keeping this whole thing a secret from his wife. So, um, it really threw a curve into the whole sense of right intimacy and, um, honesty about it then suddenly got tainted. He wanted to be sure through, we’d had to have the DNA tests had to be done and you know, while all this was happening, she knew nothing. And then that made me feel very kind of scummy and you know, like not, um, out in the open. So anyway, it, it all blew up because she happened to read one of his emails and found out that he in fact had initiated the search that I existed to know I existed. Um, so right away I kind of went back to having been discovered and being extraordinary to being like unwanted, like a something that appears in a marriage that then what do we do with this? This is,
it’s like a stain on the carpet. You’re like, Oh,
exactly, how do we, right, exactly. But then, you know, with time, um, she came around and she became one of my leading advocates if not a close friend because he, um, you know, hadn’t given her credit to understand well, you know, as a mother. She, he’d married eight, 15 years after, um, having the liaison with my biological mother and had, they’d had when they married, had two children. So she was a mother and she said, of course I understand that, you know, this is important, um, but he reclaim you or get in touch with you. But she was just so sad that he hadn’t taken her into his confidence.
Diane talks about her first meeting with her birth father who flew to New York to meet her.
Well, it had this kind of other worldly feeling. It was very, I met them. I went out to the airport to Newark airport to meet them. I was completely mesmerized by my biological father, of whom I have a drop dead likeness. I’m the spitting image of him. Um, I, I knew that because we had also exchanged photographs via email, but in real life it was just something, the electricity of the chemistry of someone that you’re related to is so completely different. Of course, we look exactly alike and even had some mannerisms that were alike. So it was extraordinary. It was other worldly was, it was all those things.
She spent three days with her birth father Otto in New York. On that first trip, Otto also had an old friend who lived in the city when Otto first found Diane, his friend went to visit her at the museum to meet Otto’s long lost daughter. The three of them spent time tooling around the big Apple together. Otto wanted to meet Diane’s adoptive mother. So they took a road trip to Philadelphia to make it happen.
It was very, I mean, he was very cryptic about, um, and mysterious about, you know, we was always this kind of euphemistic. Well, your surrender was, your mother was very sanguine about it. She, she didn’t, she was willing to surrender you because she thought it would be the best. Um, it was very oblique. The facts were not clear all the times that I talked with Otto walking around New York. Um, and then we went to my mother’s house in Philadelphia and we started fudging some of this story. Um, like he brought this file of documents with him. I could see, and I knew that I’d been in the orphanage for a year and a half. And when he was with my mother, I guess he was trying to downplay his role as someone who had abandoned me. Right. So he said to my mother, look, we thought she was, we thought she was adopted in three days.
We thought the matter was settled. And I was like, you’re kidding. That’s not true, because in the file I could see that you, he paid for my support in the orphanage for this year and a half until I was adopted. Um, so I, I don’t know. He’d started at that point, he’d started to shine, shine up his, his image. He started burnishing his image for others and including my mother. Um, and I, that’s when I said, that’s, that’s simply not true. Um, you, you, you were aware I was in the orphanage for a year and a half. And, um, he said, well, what does it matter that you were too young to remember any of this? And it, it doesn’t matter.
Interesting. Because it does if you’re going to lie about this, which is kind of not really consequential, but if that’s something to lie about, what else are you not telling the truth about?
Well, there’s definitely that aspect. Yeah.
So tell me more.
Um, so, and by then, I mean, I, you know, I’m, I’ve always been devouring books on adoption and Nancy Verrier’s books, the primal wound. And I knew perfectly well that the first year of life was critical to a child. Um, and I even walked out of a college psychology class where the professor stood up and said, if anything has happened to you during that first year of life, you’re forever scarred. And I just, I could, I felt tears in my eye burning. I got up and walked out of the class and never returned. But I did do my own investigation and I knew perfectly well. Um, about this first year of life. And so when they, my mother said, no, you’re right. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that there was a happy ending and that Diane came here and we raised her and we had this happy family. And I was like, no, you’re both just out of bounds here. It does matter. It’s terrifically important. And I’m going to get to the bottom of this. And I, you know, I vowed that I would learn and understand what had happened.
Diane made a trip to Zurich and she reports that Otto paraded her around with great pride introducing her to many people, but she got the impression that she was supposed to be proud of the fact that he was proud of her. All of that seemed to be less about her and more about him. Diane was still very focused on getting her full truth, but Otto was a huge source of frustration in that quest. She finally told him that he had to help her follow the trail back to her biological mother, Helena, which he agreed to do. Otto went through the German phone book to locate Helena’s family.
The mutual friend of my biological father had done some matchmaking and had introduced me to the man who became my husband and I was living with him when, um, my biological father located my biological mother’s family and he called me at my house, um, at our house and said, you know, I found the family. Good news, bad news. I’ve found the family, but your biological mother is already gone. And I was like, gone. Where did she go? Is it cause she’s dead? She died in 1987. Um, so this was 2004 around and I was just heartbroken. I was heartbroken that I was, you know, that I’d never find out what really happened and that I’d never meet her. You know, it was just crushing. But he, when he made the contact with their family, they wanted to meet me. They told him they want, they wanted to meet me. And the following year, my new fiance was also Swiss because he belonged to the Swiss American society that they all knew about in New York. And so we three, my husband to be my biological father and I drove to Germany and met her family, which was just this most heartwarming reunion
from Zurich. The drive took hours to the rural area of what is formally known as East Germany at the family home. Diane met six of Helena’s, eight siblings
and we had hours and hours of pouring over in photo albums and retelling stories about her and her life. She’d four years after I was born, she immigrated to America and she lived in Rochester, New York. She married an American service men and she lived one state away from me the whole time.
Are you serious?
It was crazy. It was crazy. Damon it was crazy. So it was even more, it’s six degrees of separation. But through these delightful people, her family, I found out that my mother had taken a job in the orphanage to be with me and that she was with me the whole, well certainly for the full time when she was working there for like the first six months and then after that she was visiting me and it was not a sanguine experience where she decided it was all okay. She did not want to surrender me. She fought it tooth and nail and I wouldn’t have known any of that if I hadn’t met them.
Absolutely. Wow. That is unbelievable. How did learning that fly in the face of what your biological father had portrayed but then also juxtaposed against the fact that he then connected you with them? Like how did you reconcile all of these pieces in your mind?
Well they were, there was all that that witness was like a recurring theme. Right. I mean I, cause I, I had gotten into situations where I was confronted with my past and it was different than what I was told like before. So, um, you know, he was there. Um, they were trying to be diplomatic. Um, but at the same time I had this creeping sensation. Like he was kind of an enemy in the midst. He’d done something that had caused or provoked this relinquishment and they weren’t willing to really talk about it just then because he was there. But it became clear that far from being unwanted, I was tremendously wanted. And here I was in the circle of family willing to tell me this and to willing to share with me how much they wanted to try to do something to help. But they were all kids themselves when it was going on.
The parents were in and out of money didn’t have enough to even keep the eight children together. Some of them actually went into foster care at different times until they were able to come back into the family. So it was a difficult destitute time in postwar Germany and Eastern Germany was severely depressed economically, emotionally. I mean, what could have been worse than what preceded, you know, the second world war? So I understood from them in a way that I never understood before the conditions of my surrender and how in fact, there was no blame. There was no sense of, uh, you know, any kind of accusatory feelings or feelings that I don’t know, adoptees sometimes Harbor that like this could have all been avoided. It couldn’t have been avoided. It was, it was not something that was wanted. It was something that was fought for, um, to keep me.
And it just, they couldn’t, it just didn’t, it couldn’t happen. And then later, so my, my relationship with my biological father got frayed as a result. I really didn’t trust him anymore. I didn’t trust him at his word. And that’s a fundamental right of a relationship. So I had a different relationship with him altogether. It was much more formal. I still enjoyed his company, but I kind of put it to him. You know, I’m, I’m actually not gonna forgive you for, for misrepresenting this story. I, I think less of you as a human, and I’m just sorry that you couldn’t come clean, but I realized that that was like my culture, right? American culture come clean, be honest, be open. And he’s Swiss and this was do everything they can do to protect secrecy. They, you know, they had the secret bank accounts, you know, they, they’re very private culture and you know, the Germans not so much. So I, I was also going up against something cultural, generational. He wanted himself to look good in my eyes.
Later, Diane learned that Otto had a few lovers throughout his life and one of the girlfriends he used to have was, shall we say in the picture around the time Diane was being surrendered, that old girlfriend and Otto had been in touch throughout their lives. And Otto had told his old girlfriend about his recent adventures locating Diane. The old girlfriend was elderly and was relocating to an assisted living facility. She told Otto that she had found an old letter that she would like to mail directly to Diane.
So she sends it to me and it’s, it’s a letter in my mother’s own handwriting to my biological father beseeching him, you know, saying I’m here with Peterlly, I was called Petra, I’m here with Petra in the orphanage and we’ve gotten the toys that you’ve sent and um, that’s all well and good, but we, we hope that you’re going to introduce us. Um, you have told your family about us. Right. You know, and then it just, it just goes off. You know, she’s saying, I’m holding Petra in my arms and kissing her and she looks just like you. My biological father, which was true. So anyway, it was the most touching thing. And of course it’s my most, I’m sorry, it’s my most valued possession.
I can only imagine that’s in her hand about you to him right at a moment. That was critical for everyone involved and, and she’s not around for you to even talk with her about her feelings. So you get that validation from her own words, from you know, correspondence that his girlfriend kept. That’s really unbelievable. Wow.
But validation is the right word. You used the right word.
Since Otto found the biological family of her mother in Germany, Diane decided she wanted to search for Helena’s widower in Rochester, New York. She called many phone numbers in the phone book for men with the widower’s name. When she asked one of them if he had been married to Helena, he said yes he was.
And I said, I’m her daughter. And the total silence, he said, I’ve always wanted to meet you. She told me all about you. She told me that she was going to look for you and she did look for you that for the rest of her life she tried to find you and they couldn’t. They wouldn’t. They wouldn’t let her have the records. And he said during the 50s when they were courting, she had made him promise. She told him about me before they were married and she’d made him promise to be my father if she ever found me.
And he said he would. And I said, you know, I want to meet you. You sound fantastic.
Oh my God, that’s incredible.
So it was incredible, Damon. It really was. It was very emotional. And of course, my husband and I drove up to Rochester to meet him and he’s saved her, um, handmade sweater that she was knitting before she went into Rochester medical clinic and never came out. She, he saved her pocket, watch her grandfather’s pocket watch, and he saved all these things for me. He was like, I, I, I thought someday maybe you’d turn up.
Oh my God, that’s incredible.
And her family in Germany had done the same thing. I had her Pearl earrings from them and her baby spoon. I mean, these people had a kind of face in the mystery of life, the magical way that it works that a mother and child find one another somehow. And just in case they saved all her things for me,
I’m blown away. That’s really, really believable. That’s so cool,
yeah, it was unbelievably cool. And so even though I don’t her, I have her love,
I’m always curious to hear from adoptees who get to hear about their birth parents, but don’t actually get to meet them. How the descriptions of that person resonate within themselves. Diane says that while she doesn’t look like Helena, she’s just like Helena in many ways. A fact that Helena told Diane herself,
well, it was interesting because I, um, as much as they say that first year, it doesn’t matter. I actually did have pretty conscious memory of her, um, particularly a scent. And I talked about that with her brother that I met in Germany. Um, and he said, that’s exactly the type. And I said, I think her voice sounded a certain way. I mean, we were not, I did not look like her. And I was, you know, I, but I described her the impressions that I had of her very preconscious impressions and the brother, you know, his jaw dropped. He said, that’s, that’s exactly what she was like, you know, as a teenager, I’d sewn my own clothes. She had sewn all of her own clothes. And then I did a very strange thing, not the first strange thing I’d done, but I contacted a channeler, a woman that I’d read about through a magazine article who contacted people who would move on to the next life. And everybody said to me, you know, the way you are. Is what she was like, I mean, you don’t look like her, but you are like her. You love animals. You, you know, you love to, so you’re creative. I’m digging in the garden. Um, all the stuff that you do, books, all of that was her. And of course I was thrilled. And then when I, I did contact this channeler and, and she named my mother. She described my mother and she said she didn’t want to surrender you.
She said that right on, right in that moment.
Right, right away. That was the first sentence. And I said, well, I hadn’t told her anything. Nothing.
Not even in a pre-call. Like, Hey, I’m coming in and looking for right.
Not, not, not in the pre-call. She said the pre-call was w w well, yes, the pre-call was, what would you like to do? I said, I’d like to contact my mother who’s deceased. I didn’t say anything else. I didn’t say it. The circumstances that she was biological, that I was adopted nothing. And then, and I maintained this skepticism because they thought, well, maybe she Googles me, you know, blah, blah, blah. Then the next thing she knew the cousin’s name who supplied the birth certificate and that was deep, dark mystery that that was something most people didn’t know. So there was no way
you got to know the whole story to know that piece. Yeah,
I know. It was fun. I mean, fun, you know, most serious kind of fun. It was very meaningful. And she said, and she said the same thing. If you want to know what I’m like, look at yourself. You are, you’re very much like me. You know? It’s another one of those moments where you just think, wow,
that must’ve given you a chill too, because then also means she’s watching.
Oh yeah, definitely. Definitely. Oh yeah. And that’s okay. I really, I, I’m quite comfortable with that idea. I quite liked the idea that she’s sitting on my shoulder and she’s kind of a presence. I am quite happy about that. Yeah, no, that’s, that’s brought me a lot of, a lot of piece. All of it brought me a lot of peace that I didn’t have before.
I can only imagine. Tell me quickly about the book fixing the fates. Why did you call it that?
Well, I felt like everyone was trying to fix it, like the way horse races are fixed or the way a soccer match is fixed, you know, to pre ordained the outcome so that I wouldn’t necessarily know the truth, but I know their version of the truth. Whoever’s that was my parents, my biological father’s, um, that everyone wanted to alter the reality because the most painful thing was to know the truth. And the truth was the only thing that brought me peace. So for me, I just felt like I had watched this kind of kaleidoscope of manipulation for so long and I just wanted to name it.
That’s incredible. That’s a very thoughtful way to put it together. I love that. That’s amazing. Well, congratulations on your memoir. It’s super exciting. And I know the feeling cause I’m right there with you.
O. h, I loved your photograph. So happy.
Oh God. That was so exciting. I totally didn’t expect that book to walk through the door at the moment that it did. So it was a really meaningful moment, especially because I was with my son. He brought the box of books in the house. He’s like, Oh my God, this thing is so heavy. And I was like, well, could that possibly be? And then I went, Oh my God, it’s a box of books. And we just had such a moment. It was really cool. And especially because everything in it is, uh, basically for him and every generation that follows. So, uh, but I’m excited for you for your book and um, I’m looking forward to reading it. Thank you so much for taking time to share.
Thank you! Damon, you have a, a wonderful gift for drawing, drawing people out. And I, um, I congratulate you again on your work and I know you feel that thread, that connected threads. I think you feel it, you know, across generations too, which is so awesome. So, um, just more power to you is what I say back to you. Take care of Diane.
All the best. All right. Thank you. Okay. Bye. Bye.
thanks Damon. Bye.
Hey, it’s me. Diane lived a scripted experience as a child that she felt she had to live up to. It wasn’t so much a false narrative as much as she couldn’t control the narrative and that’s disempowering for anyone adoptee or otherwise. Her trip to Germany with her grandmother started out so well, but to have the glass door slammed in her face is something so many adoptees experience. You want your answers, you may even know where to get them, but someone is standing century at the gate so you can’t get inside the walls of your own truth. Even though her birth father turned out to be someone who was trying to save face, I really appreciated that he reached out to her. That took a lot to follow through on. But to hear her birth, mother’s widower say that Helena searched for her her whole life was just awesome.
That’s what so many of us want to know. What did you do when you thought about us in the years? After we parted, you can find a link to order Diane’s memoir, fixing the fates and adopt these story of truth and lies on her website. Dianedewey.com that’s D I a N E D E w E y.com on Damon Davis, and I hope you’ll find something in Diane’s journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have this strength along your journey. To learn. Who am I really? You can find the show at facebook.com/waireally, or follow me on Twitter at WAIreally, and please, if you like the show, you can support me at patrion.com/waireally, you can subscribe to who am I really on Apple podcasts, Google play or wherever you get your podcasts, and while you’re there, it would mean so much to me. If you would take a moment to share a rating or leave a comment, those ratings can help others to find the podcast too.