Jennifer, from Standardsville, Virginia, said growing up in New York, she had a very different childhood experience in her family than her sister, who was biological to their parents. Their mother suffered with substance abuse and deep down the woman probably knew she wasn’t as good a mother to Jennifer as she could’ve been.
In reunion Jennifer realized that secrets of the past were hard to overcome because they were ladened with stigma from her birth mother’s pregnancy experience.
Her paternal reunion was a surreal phone experience that you have to hear Jennifer tell to believe. Thankfully her aunt and younger sister made up for the shocking phone conversation she had with her birth father. This is jennifer’s journey.
Season Open Cold Cut
[00:00:00] Jennifer: she needed to do what was right and comfortable for her and her children. But it does occur to me that we as adoptees have so little voice and so little choice in our place. And you're either accepted or you're not, you're either welcomed or you're not, or you're kind of welcomed, but you need to like bring your own chair and it's never clear cut.
[00:00:27] Damon: I'm Damon Davis. And today you're going to meet Jennifer who called me from standards, Ville, Virginia. Growing up in New York, she had a very different childhood experience in her family than her sister who was biological to their parents. Their mother suffered with substance abuse and deep down.
Probably knew she wasn't as good a mother to Jennifer as she could've been in reunion. She realized that secrets of the past were hard to overcome because they were ladened with stigma from her birth mother's pregnancy experience.
Her [00:01:00] paternal reunion was a surreal phone experience that you have to hear Jennifer tell to believe. Thankfully her aunt and younger sister made up for the shocking phone conversation she had with him. This is jennifer's journey
[00:01:14] Damon: before we get started. I should tell you I was having a little bit of trouble with some new equipment. So I apologize if my voice is kind of faint and distant. Anyway. Jennifer was born in the early 1960s in New York and was adopted through the well-known Spence Chapin and agency.
Her adopted parents weren't able to conceive. And they were told that adopting a child might be a good option to create a family. Then after two years and 10 months, Jennifer's adoptive mother found herself pregnant with Jennifer's younger sister, Susan. They grew up on long island, New York, living close to the water and enjoying a lot of sailing.
Her adoptive dad, a new Yorker was in the Navy and her mom was [00:02:00] originally from AstoriaOregon. Jennifer said that she knew that she was adopted. During her elementary school years She knew another kid who happened to be an adopted child as well. They didn't talk about it but they both knew that they shared that common bond of being adoptees
[00:02:17] Jennifer: And so he and I all the way through high school always had kind of a special connection. We didn't talk about it, but we would look at each other and just kind of know, you know, I know about you and yeah, I know about you too. And that was the end of it. later as an adult, we dated briefly and I wound up finding his natural mother.
So it was kind of funny. I found his one before I ever found mine. Um, so I figured if I could find someone's, maybe I could find my own.
[00:02:48] Damon: Do me a favor. Just go back for a moment to your childhood. You were adopted first and sort of classic fashion parents ended up conceiving [00:03:00] naturally. And you had a sister.
[00:03:02] Jennifer: Did you say I do. I have a sister who is two years and 10 months younger than I.
[00:03:09] Damon: And tell me a little bit about how family life may have changed for you or what your relationship was like with her and your parents thereafter.
[00:03:19] Jennifer: , my relationship with her was very dictated for a very long time,, by our mom.
I think when my mom was told she was pregnant, I think she was absolutely in shock because she had believed, you know, that she couldn't conceive. And so they went ahead and adopted the baby. and then when my sister came along, I have the distinct feeling of, well, now I have the baby and I wanted, what the heck am I going to do with this one?
And things definitely changed whether she consciously made those behavior decisions. I don't know. [00:04:00] I think, I think two kids was a lot for her and I should probably add, , that my mom was a pretty serious alcoholic. , she was not a day drinker, but four o'clock, five o'clock rolled around and the house changed quite a bit. , and my dad was generally at the office, , for those parts of the afternoons until dinner time, you know, a late dinner time. And by then we would either be on our way to bed or are already in bed. , my sister and I, as adults have recently. Talked, , we had very different experiences being raised by the same woman.
, a couple of years ago, there was an incident over a very public birthday dinner where I had slipped my, , credit card to the waitress and it was for my dad's birthday. And he, you know, in, in great dad fashion, there's always an arm wrestle over the who's going to pay the [00:05:00] bill and. And I said, you know, it's your birthday, please.
Let me, let me treat you. You've done everything for us for forever. And my mom kind of went through the ceiling of the restaurant and started shouting. "Why do you always embarrass us? And why are you always making us look bad?" And just that moment to capture how our relationship was my whole life, that, that pretty much summed it up.
[00:05:29] Damon: Um, why do you always embarrass us? Why do you, what was she saying?
[00:05:35] Jennifer: I think, I think in 1963, or actually they didn't adopt me until 1964 because I was sick as an infant. And I was in and out of Lenox hill hospital and off to a couple of foster homes until I was well enough to be back on the adoption market.
, I don't think they prepared young parents who were creating family through adoption by, you know, [00:06:00] Saying your baby might cry a lot or your baby might not bond with you, or you might have to work extra hard to give the baby attention, or, you know, and I don't know when they started having those kind of therapeutic, helpful conversations with new parents of, of, you know, other people's babies adopted babies, but they certainly didn't have that with my folks.
And, , I think she didn't understand me a great deal of the time. I'm a super creative person. I, I write, I act, I draw, I do voiceover work. I do a whole bunch of other stuff when I'm not, you know, doing my regular day job. And she, she was like, a mystical animal for her. She didn't really know why I was the way I was or where any of that came from.
Um, and I think my hair is unruly and hers was blonde and straight and blue eyed. And I think while I may have [00:07:00] fit in and filled a gap or it need for her to be a mother and create a family, I don't think as I grew and kind of exhibited my own personality, that I, that I was what she had in mind.
[00:07:16] Damon: That's, that's really fascinating.
And it's, it's funny to hear sort of how a person expresses the disconnect between themself and their adopted parent in this case, your mother, you know, she's, it sounds like she had her own struggles as you've indicated with alcoholism, et cetera. And so there was probably some mental challenges there for her anyway.
Let alone an inability to conceive or in conjunction with an inability conceive, that may not have been on her side that could have been on your father's side. One never knows, but just in general, there's the stress of that time in their life. And then [00:08:00] I wonder what you may have been too young to really know.
, but, , I am curious like how, for lack of better words, good of a parent. Was she before your sister came along and then did she like step up her game when your sister came? You know what I mean? I don't know if you could ever say that or be able to tell, but, ,
[00:08:19] Jennifer: I tell you, I have, I have very distinct memories, visual, and also, um, I want to say visceral.
, I remember the day they brought my sister home from the hospital and, um, I remember being able to hold her. And I remember my adoptive mother being absolutely terrified that I was going to do something to hurt the baby. And I mean, she had already had me for the better part of, two years. I, I came home with them November of 64 and my sister arrived in August of 66. and. I was, I was pretty compliant and sweet and you know, not a rambunctious [00:09:00] person at that age. And, , I think she was terrified that I was going to do something to hurt her. And as we grew, um, I wasn't allowed to go into the room.
I wasn't allowed to play with her. I wasn't allowed to play with her toys. If she had friends over, I wasn't allowed to play with them. , she was always kind of looking at me sideways, you know, like, what are you going to do now? Or, you know, I have to watch you. And so I kind of grew up feeling like, , I can't make a move.
I can't do anything because it's not going to be right. Or, acceptable plus in the afternoons and evenings, when she would be drinking. Never really knew who we were coming home to. When we were getting off the school bus. Is it going to be friendly, pleasant, sober mom with a snack, or is it going to be, I've been drinking this afternoon, taking a nap on the couch, mom.
I mean, you know, and I, it's hard to hear myself say this because they're really nice people [00:10:00] and they're really good people. And like everybody they're flawed and it's taken me a really long time to not take a whole lot of that experience with them, especially with her personally, but it's taken a lot of time to get to where I am now.
[00:10:19] Damon: wow. You've hit on so many interesting things. I want to start. I think with the last thing you said, sort of taking finally taking time to not take other people's flaws personally, you know, That's a real challenge for a lot of adoptees, because the realization that you are not in the family that you were born into can be, can make you feel like an outsider.
If you are not sort of well loved well received. And some of the things that, you know, very are very nurturing that can make adoptees feel great in their families. , right. And, and it sounds like you were vilified preemptively, [00:11:00] right? You hadn't done anything wrong, but you had a criminal record. Like there was a rap on you that didn't, you know, it wasn't attached to any actual offenses.
It's kind of crazy.
[00:11:10] Jennifer: I think my mother's inability to conceive really, really hurt her. , and I think in many respects, I remained a reminder of that big portion in life where she failed.
Jennifer said her adoption story had some odd twists and turns to it. When she was born, the adoption agency called her new parents to say their baby was ready to be picked up. About a month later, the couple was ready to Trek into New York city to bring their baby girl home. When the agency called again to say,
All adoption appointments had been canceled.
It was late in the month of November, 1963. And president John F. Kennedy had been assassinated that prior Friday. Unfortunately, Jennifer was sick as an infant. So the delay [00:12:00] in her adoption was surreptitious as it placed her back in the hospital's care for the entire year. Up to this point. Jennifer has talked a lot about her mother and sister. I asked her about her relationship with her dad.
[00:12:13] Jennifer: My dad is an and a remarkable person. , he is. Calm. , he is genteel, he is loving and sensitive and, , very, very caring., and he was very devoted to our mom right up until the end. She, she died, uh, in August 20, 20, not, not pandemic related.
, but she was, you know, her time had come. She was in her nineties and, , and it was just her time, but I don't think he is aware of a lot of what went on when he wasn't home. and at this point in my life and in his too, I don't know that I really want to tell him because it's kind of water under [00:13:00] the bridge, but he's, , he's very funny and he's musical and,, , he's the kind of dad that if you didn't have a dad to take you to.
Brownie father daughter square dance. He would say, well, then you're, you're going to come with us and I'll be your dad for a night. So, I mean, he's just a very generous, loving person.
[00:13:20] Damon: Wow. He sounds pretty amazing guy. And I can appreciate where you are in terms of not necessarily sharing, you know, , the tales of woe from yesteryear, you know what I mean?
You're right. It is water under the bridge and what's it gonna do, right. You know, you're gonna make him feel badly about years that maybe he feels decent about. And the truth is, you know, if he knew his wife was an alcoholic and you know, he may have had a decent sense of what was going on too.
[00:13:52] Jennifer: It could, he definitely knew about her, , her, , relationship with alcohol and, um, [00:14:00] There was a time, , that he, it, it got so bad that he actually was contemplating sending her out to Betty Ford and, um, you know, with anything like that, you have to heal as a family.
You can't just send one person into treatment and wait for them to come home all shiny and new while you keep being who you are, everybody has to change and grow from that. , and it, he didn't do it and she didn't go, it was, it kind of came off the table, but, um, they, they stayed together forever. They were married, um, 65 years.
And that's a, that's a really long time to be with somebody who has, , an addiction really hard, but they stuck together and you know, I have to give them a lot of credit.
[00:14:45] Damon: Jennifer and the one adoptees she knew as a kid dated in their adult life. She told the story of sitting down one Saturday afternoon to look into finding the guy's birth mother and within minutes, her job was done. She couldn't believe it [00:15:00] was so easy to find someone online. It helped that the woman had information about herself all over the place, but still.
It was eye-opening to see the task of searching for a biological relative could happen so quickly. Jennifer's search for her birth family took her 20 years. She said her parents were very open with her about her adoption,. But she also learned at an early age to tread cautiously around the subject, searching for the right time to broach the topic.
Her mother told Jennifer that her mom had been a ballerina and her father was a dancer as well. But somehow the ballerina's story didn't fit with Jennifer believed. Then her mother would deflect the conversation with comments like you're here now. Let's talk about that later. When she was much older, Jennifer returned home from college for spring break.
She always knew there was a bundle of old papers in her mother's dresser drawer because she had snooped through it before. [00:16:00] But she had never opened that bundle of papers.
[00:16:03] Jennifer: I open that drawer because I'm, you know, always snooping and looking for clues or something. And I decided to pull the papers out and I opened them up. And lo and behold, the first paper in the stack was a letter from Lenox hill hospital, from the social worker who handled my adoption through Spence Chapin and.
The next page was my birth record with my weight and my height and how long it took to deliver me and a first name and last name. And I was blown away. but I felt, I shouldn't know this. I I'm, I, this is a really bad thing I'm doing. I shouldn't know this. My mom would kill me if she knew I were in her drawer.
So I folded up the papers and I put them back and I closed the door and then I left it and went back to school. I graduated a few months later. I asked her, , you know, I, I [00:17:00] found some papers in your drawer when I was home, , in March. And, um, could I look at them again? And she said, I don't know what you're talking about.
So the next time I was home alone, I went looking for them and sure enough, they were gone. And about 20 minutes later, I found them in the bedroom in a different location and I read them and it was exactly. What I remembered and all the details were there and the facts and things. I, it was like, wow, I really did have a birth.
I really was begun at some point. , and my first name was Susan, which was so bizarre to me because my younger sister that came after I was adopted, they named her Susan.
Really? Yeah. Oh, wow.
And, um, it talked about my birth mother and her age and her name and where she was living. It gave an address and.[00:18:00]
I, uh, I knew I couldn't take the paper since my mom had known enough to re hide them. So I put them back in their new hiding location and I, and I left them there for a couple of years. And now I'm in my mid twenties and I asked her again, you know, I'm, I'm not going to leave you. I mean, I had to do so much reassuring with her, you know, I'm not going to do anything bad and I'm not going to just call them up or show up.
And cause that would have been, you know, a big, a big no-no in my mom's book. And she said, oh, I threw those out.
[00:18:35] Damon: And
[00:18:36] Jennifer: I'd seen them. So I asked her again, , on a night that she had really imbibed. Cause I figured she wouldn't remember the last time I asked her and she said, oh, they're in the bank in the safe deposit box. And I said, okay. And I, that didn't feel like an honest answer. And then the third time I asked her, she said that they were lost and gone forever.
So [00:19:00] I, I didn't know what to believe, but I knew the answer was, I'm not giving you the papers and you can stop asking. So I stopped asking on my 26th birthday, late at night, I was living nearby in an apartment and, you know, doing my own thing as a 26 year old. And she called up and she said, I want you to come over.
I have a birthday present for you and come now, or, or you're not getting it. And I didn't know what it was, but I, you know, I never said no to her. And I certainly didn't want to misbehave even as a young adult. And so I drove over, it was about 10 minute drive and she met me in the front hallway of the house with that stack of.
Folded papers and slapped them into my chest and said, here's your pedigree. You can go now.
[00:19:51] Damon: Wow, happy freaking birthday.
[00:19:56] Jennifer: and she was angry and bitter [00:20:00] and hurt. And so many things that I don't know at the time, I, I was just shocked that she kind of proved, you know, that she had been lying this whole time.
And, and I think now in retrospect, lying to protect herself and, and a whole bunch of other things. And, and she said, here you, you can go and you can go find out that I'm a horrible mother, but you probably know that anyway. So just go and just get out of the house. And I don't want to see you for a long time.
And, , I, I didn't know how to reply to that because on one hand I was over the moon that she gave me the papers. Right. And on the other hand, I could see how much it hurt her, just so much to do that and to admit whatever it was. She was admitting by giving them to me at all. And I went home and I treasured them.
[00:20:56] Damon: That sounds like a really difficult moment for so many reasons. Of course, the [00:21:00] ones that you've stated, you know, her own sort of, one of them that came to mind for me was what would she said, this sort of, I'm a horrible mother, but you already know that, you know, I'm sure on some level you were like, no, no, no.
But on some level you were like, oh
[00:21:16] Jennifer: yeah, uh, yeah, pretty much, pretty much.
[00:21:21] Damon: Yeah. Think there's so much packed into that moment of her slamming it into her, your chest. You know, she has sounds like she was guilt ridden about having lied about having gotten rid of the papers. Yeah, knew that you were going to keep coming.
And so she was, she felt some way forced lives. She clearly had had a conversation in her mind, if not with your father about the fact that you kept , asking, it's just, wow, what a really odd and powerful moment of defeat and your sort of success for something you already knew [00:22:00] was there, um, you know, you're, as you've said, the feelings, you sort of empathized for her for feeling badly for the fact that she had come to this point of admitting, you know, that she had lied and knowing that you were going to go find someone else.
[00:22:18] Jennifer: Yeah. It should have been a win moment. It really should have felt like a real success, but because I knew how much it was hurting her, it, it didn't feel. It didn't feel as good as it it might have. And, and I, and I understood that at that young age, and I totally understand it. At the age I am now, I will say in that, in that period of time, , I, I had, by that 0.2 letters with non-identifying information from, from Spence shape and, and in between those letters, I had paid them a visit in person.
I had actually made an appointment as a former, you know, adoptable baby to come in and [00:23:00] see if there was anything else in my, in my file. Um, and while, while I was in Manhattan instance shape, and this is just something wacky out of a movie, the young woman left my file on the desk and said, well, this is your file on the desk, but I have to go down the hallway for just a moment.
I'll be right back. And do you know how tempting it was to stand at the edge of the other side of the desk and just want to reach over the pencil over onto the bladder and open the file. But she literally came back into the office like 20 seconds later. So she only did just have to go right down the hallway.
I didn't do it, but I certainly imagined doing it. And she read the file to me and said, there really isn't any more than in here that I can share with you at all. You know, I'll, I'll see if I can rewrite another letter of non identifying information. And I said, no, I, I have everything that you could possibly give me.
It sure seemed like the woman at Spence champion was inviting [00:24:00] Jennifer to look in her own file, but she returned so quickly to the desk. It was impossible to know what her intentions really were. Jennifer said that if she had been wearing a trench coat or something like that, She might've snagged the folder and ran out of the building.
In the late 1980s, Jennifer wrote a letter to the medical records archive at Lenox hill hospital, where she was born. Using her birth name as the inquiring party. Her friend and attorney had notarized the letter to make the request official. Jennifer's friend did not know her by that name, but he believed she could prove her birth name with access to her hospital archive file. So he proceeded with notarizing the letter.
The hospital sent her a huge stack of medical information from the entire year. She had been hospitalized as an infant before she went home to her parents. I asked what it was like to read about that time in her life that she had never known details about [00:25:00] before
[00:25:01] Jennifer: it was very gratifying and very, very deeply validating to see that I had been an infant that was born, that had weight and depth and time.
And somebody had to deliver me and put me in a bassinet and weigh me and then take care of me. It was like for my whole life up until that point, I had not existed until I was a part of someone's family. And that was closer to 13 months. So, and I know many, many adoptees don't have a picture of themselves as an infant.
Um, and my first picture is of me, uh, an adoption agency photo. And I think I'm about 12 or 13 months old. So even though I'll never see myself as a baby, I could feel myself as a baby in those [00:26:00] medical papers and in those records and, you know, I was here and I had anemia and then I had two full blood transfusions as an infant.
And then I, you know, and then I was over here and then they did that. And so it's really kind of a roadmap of this whole first year where I actually existed when I didn't really know I did before. And it was very grounding. It was really grounding.
When Jennifer received the stack of records, she told her husband all about it. He liked that they had information to go on. So they took a road trip to Scarsdale, New York, where the trail of clues began. They went to the public library,
where they searched through yearbooks, but they didn't find much. It was very early in the internet era. So Jennifer made an online account to begin searching. She was astonished to see how many people were online, looking for other people. Folks were looking for old college friends, veterans were looking for [00:27:00] others who had served in world war II or Vietnam.
Then she found adoption search boards with adoptees and birth parents searching for one another. Ultimately the Scarsdale trip didn't yield any new information. So the following year, they went to the New York city public library. In the birth records room, the librarian guided Jennifer to her original birth record using her birth certificate number. There was her original name and the birthday. She had always known, confirming her identity. Soon Jennifer gave birth to her own daughter in the spring of 1998. so her search stopped for a few years
[00:27:41] Damon: Because I thought, I'm going to have this baby. And, , I'm creating my first family member and I'd really like to get to know her. And I have no idea if I'm ever going to find any of the people I'm looking for. So I can put that on hold while I, while I get to know this, this person that I'm really [00:28:00] related to.
[00:28:01] Jennifer: I picked up my search and I, at some point I found. Um, a site that had, and I really had to dig for it. It was a site for birth mothers who had stayed at the Washington square home for friendless and fallen girls. And that is where my name. Yeah. Is that just remarkable? Can you imagine that plaque over the door,
you walk up to
[00:28:33] Damon: that place and you're reading the sign.
You must feel so awful about yourself.
[00:28:38] Jennifer: Um, friendless and fallen girls. And, um, there were women there who were, you know, in a chat room on a message board or whatever, and they were other mothers and I messaged a couple of them and they seem to maybe remember somebody like my birth mother or somebody who [00:29:00] might.
I have had a name like my birth mother. , and that was, that was a really incredible insight to know that they, you know, here we are, 20, 30 years later, they're still hurting and they're still kind of walking around, um, with their hearts on their sleeves. Kind of wondering what happened. , that was a dead end, but it was, , an amazing couple of weeks of, of, um, conversational thread with these women that, that were at the time, my birth mother's age.
And, uh, I was very honored to be able to communicate with them.
Jennifer was 19 years into her search. She had a trove of information, but she couldn't figure out how to make meaningful connections between the clues. So she stopped searching. At 38 years old, Jennifer went to graduate school for a teaching degree. At the same time her husband was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer. So the family really didn't know what they were going to do. [00:30:00]
Jennifer continued her studies taking her three-year-old daughter to her school lectures sitting her under the table to patiently wait for class to be over. Later that year, Jennifer received an email invitation from a woman who wanted to help her with her search.
The woman had seen Jennifer's name in some of the adoption search boards, but Jennifer wasn't interested. The investigator wanted $1,000 to complete the search. But that was way too much to pay. And Jennifer felt she had so much information and she was too close to getting her answers that it didn't make sense to hand the trove over to someone else to take credit for crossing the finish line for her
[00:30:41] Jennifer: , and she wrote again in January, it was, you know, again, another form email and, , and I replied and I said, listen, I have been looking for 20 years and I have all of this information and, , I don't know if any of it's right or not, and women get married and change their name, which makes them really [00:31:00] hard to find.
But I haven't found any obituaries and I haven't found, you know, any ex-husbands or anything like that. So how about I give you the information I have and you see how much you'll charge. And she actually wrote back like a real email and she said, send me everything you've got and I'll take a look at it.
And she wrote back the next day and she was like, holy cow, you did this yourself. She found her the next day. And that was February of 2009.
So Pamela called her, uh, I don't know how she found her. I only had her maiden name and she obviously had access to some bits of information or databases that I would never have. And, um, she called her and said, you know, my name is so-and-so and I'm looking for so-and-so, I'm doing genealogical research for my [00:32:00] friend.
Are you this person? And my birth mother was very confused and rattled because, and of course we didn't know this at the time she had had a friend in her youth named Pamela who died in the terrible accident. So here's this woman calling her saying, hi, I'm Pamela blah-blah-blah. So once they got that straightened out, she did say, yes, you know, yes, I am the person that you say I am and you know, what, what can I do for you?
So she said, you know, can my friend and I'm helping find family. Can I kind of give her your contact information? And she said, yes. So, that night when I got home and I put my child to bed, I called her,
how was it leading up to that?
Uh, it was a little bit like leading up to this call.
[00:32:56] Damon: Hopefully that one was way worse than this one.
[00:32:59] Jennifer: [00:33:00] No, no. I mean, it was just really thrilling and exciting and you know, there's so much you can control and, , you hope it all goes well. And I mean, had spent 20 years preparing for every single outcome. I am an avid reader.
I love the movies. I have a wonderful imagination, you know, that every, every configuration of outcome went through my mind except for one. And that was being welcomed. So the phone rang and she answered the phone and the minute I heard her voice, every hair on my body stood straight up and it was like, she sounds like me on the phone and it just hit me so hard in the middle of my chest.
And I thought, I know it's her, but I don't know that she wants to talk to me. [00:34:00] So I introduced myself and I said, I believe my friend called you. She's helping me do some genealogical research. And, um, thank you so much for agreeing to share your contact information. , and she said, well, , how old are you?
And I told her, and she said, where were you born? And I told her, are you tall? Yes, Do you have red hair? Yes. Are you creative? Yes. And then there was the longest pause and she says, are you my daughter? And I said, I seem to think so. Yes. And she said, well, I probably think you are. I'm so glad you called. And we talked for an hour and a half.
And in fact, I, I still have my, my page of notes from that conversation. [00:35:00] And one of the first things she told me was, , you know, I never looked for you and I knew. Because I had looked everywhere. I had looked in paper, phone books and in online phone listings and I had looked under her last name and under her father's last name and could find nothing.
And I had spoken to those birth mothers that lived in the same maternity house and they had nothing. And I looked all over the message boards for where people search and, you know, pray and hope for any connection. Then I found nothing and my gut told me she did not look. I didn't feel that she had died.
I just firmly felt that she had not looked. And I was right.
[00:35:51] Damon: Wow.
I can't though. Her words are echoing in my head. I'm so glad you [00:36:00] called. Yeah. That must've just. felt undescribably good
[00:36:10] Jennifer: (laughs ) I , um, I, you know, when you have a chill, I had a chill in my body, on my skin, and then in my hair the entire time we were talking, um, and I kept getting distracted by listening to her speech because she sounds so much like me and I never heard anybody that sounded like me. And, I just, I kept wanting, I just kept wanting her to talk.
Cause I was like, oh my God, somebody actually sounds like me. This isn't insane. , , she told me that she visited me in the hospital until January 15th, 1964, and signed me over to the agency when I was well enough or so they thought, , she knows exactly where she was the day that Kennedy was [00:37:00] assassinated because she had come to visit me that Friday in the hospital and was passing the nurses station as the broadcast came over the transistor radio,
[00:37:12] Damon: been to visit you immediately before you were supposed to go home with the next family.
And she visited you the entire time. It sounds like you were in the hospitals that.
[00:37:26] Jennifer: Yeah. She told me every, every few days she was there to visit or bring me clothing or a toy or something. I don't know where she lived at the time.
[00:37:37] Damon: Wow. How was it to hear that she had come to see you?
[00:37:42] Jennifer: I don't, I don't think it registered. I don't think it registered, , for a while. I don't think any of it registered. , what did, what did register was during one of our conversations?
And it may have been that first one. , She told me that she [00:38:00] tried her best to keep track of my age, but she didn't actually remember my birthday. And I told her when it was, and she said, oh, that makes sense. and she said, I was young and I was frightened and I needed to make a decision that I could live with.
And so I did. And I think that takes a lot of courage to say that, especially as a 20 year old college student with no support from anybody.
[00:38:28] Damon: Yeah. Yeah. Wow. She did tell me that's really interesting and very powerful.
[00:38:35] Jennifer: I needed to make a decision I could live with and then walk away from and, you know, or walk away and, and, and live with it.
And I, I can imagine what that felt like. I mean, when my daughter turned three months old, cause that's how old I was when she signed me over to the agency. I remember distinctly thinking, I'm going to see when my daughter is three months [00:39:00] old. If I could put her down and walk away from her. And you know, of course I couldn't.
And I can't even imagine how gut-wrenching that was, I can't for any birth mother, for anybody who has to make that decision.
[00:39:15] Damon: Yeah, certainly not for any, but I mean, especially for a person who has decided that she's going to come back and visit you time and time again
[00:39:25] Jennifer: Well, it's about 10 minutes, 15 minutes into our conversation. My daughter who was four, maybe four at the time, not even, uh, had heard me quietly talking. And by this point I am, I have left her dad.
And, um, and it's just the two of us. And she came upstairs to my room and she was like, you know, mama who you're talking to. And my birth mother heard it. And she said, who is that? And I said, that's my daughter Bailey. And she said, oh my gosh, I have a [00:40:00] granddaughter. Aye, aye, aye, aye. I just had my first grandchild last fall and I said, well, she's, you know, X amount of years old.
So she was really taken with the fact that. Had this grandchild for a few years and only learned about it now, which is pretty cool. ,
[00:40:16] Damon: After 90 minutes, the reunion call was over the women exchanged email addresses, but Jennifer's birth mother said she was going to need a few days to wrap her mind around everything, but she would be back in touch soon.
A few days later, Jennifer's birth mother emailed her to say, thank you. And that their experience had been a lot for her. During that first call Jennifer's birth mother shared that she went on to have three more children whom she kept in her family. With that news. Jennifer went from having one sister to having four siblings, but her birth mother also said there were very few people in her life that ever knew she had relinquished a child and Jennifer's maternal siblings were not among [00:41:00] them. The woman said she wasn't sure she was going to share the
[00:41:04] Jennifer: I understood it hurt to hear that, but I did understand, and I'm not, , I wasn't expecting anything and she needed to do what was right and comfortable for her and her children. But it does occur to me that we as adoptees have so little voice and so little choice in our place. And you're either accepted or you're not, you're either welcomed or you're not, or you're kind of welcomed, but you need to like bring your own chair and it's never clear cut.
[00:41:42] Damon: You're absolutely right. And it's, it continues a feeling of discomfort and displacement, you know what I mean?
[00:41:51] Jennifer: Yeah. Totally know. I mean,
You know, sort of more unconditional had we grown up together and you just accept, like, this is just who we are. , and it's no nobody's fault, really. Like it's hard for folks. If you haven't grown up with them, your entire life for them to just be like, throw the door wide open and be like, come on in and everything.
You know what I mean? Like, it's so very tough for people to do. And, but I, but I hear what you're saying, that it must've been really challenging to know that you had siblings that might or might not end up knowing about you and that, you know, you could end up being a secret, but, but that she wanted to know you herself, you know, splitting her life and that's, that's tough.
It had to be hard for you to come back and for her to be faced with the decision as to which new [00:43:00] branch of her life she was going to take the continued secret.
[00:43:05] Jennifer: I remember something really telling and telling and beautiful, but also incredibly vulnerable. She shared with me. , "my kids think I'm a really good mom."
They think they think I'm a great mom and I am a great mom and I just don't want them to think that I'm a bad person or a bad mom, because I gave you a way and.
It told me so much that she didn't want to disappoint her children. But I think the bigger older picture is that somebody or everybody along the way, when she had been pregnant with me and going through that time, they made her feel bad. They made her feel bad about it, that it was a difficult and disappointing circumstance to get yourself into however the conception happened and [00:44:00] that it was shameful of you to be in the situation and an embarrassment.
And I think that that stuck because she didn't want to pass that element of judgment onto her children or risk them turning around and judging her, or the way that more than likely she had been judged when she was
[00:44:21] Damon: The stigmatizing legacy of having been a quote, friendless and fallen girl when she was a teenager. I lived on in Jennifer's birth mother, as I'm sure it did for so many birth mothers who were cruelly judged during their pregnancies.
Jennifer and her birth mother emailed back and forth. Then they started texting then calling one another on the phone. In August of 2004, the woman had had enough of the electronic communications. She wanted to drive down from Massachusetts to long island, New York, a four hour drive, to meet Jennifer. Jennifer's daughter Bailey was at her father's house. So [00:45:00] Jennifer's birth mother stayed at their home.
[00:45:03] Jennifer: it was amazing. She pulled up in my little driveway and got out of the car and, teary there was no big Terry reunion. There was no, you know, gone with the wind rushing into each other's arms kind of moment. She got out of the car and was griping about the traffic. And, um, and I thought that was pretty funny and we didn't really make eye contact and it was lovely and awkward.
And you know, what do you say? And then I don't remember why she might've handed me something to carry for her, but I touched her skin and I thought, oh, I know that skin it's the most buttery, delicious, creamy, familiar, loving skin. And I never, I don't remember touching her skin, but for some reason it just sent like this little bzzzt of electricity into my body.
And I thought , there really is something to be said for that connection. [00:46:00] So she brought a photo album and we sat and looked at photos of her family and her children. And she talked in great deal with amazing adoration and fondness for my two brothers and sister. , she still hadn't told them, but on the way home, she left Sunday on the way home, she called my.
Youngest brother. And or he called her and said, you know, Hey, we've been trying to get y'all weekend. We're where have you been? And, um, and she told him and he said, that's pretty blank. Cool. What else are you hiding? So it was a great answer. Great reactions. Um, I'm thinking it was, I think it was great. It was like a new gee what, what the heck, mom?
You know, what else are you got up your sleeve? And, um, I will say to the best of my knowledge and what my instinct tells me, that was the best [00:47:00] reaction out of the three of them. , I think, um, I displaced the older brother because I am the eldest child in that family. And I know that my sister who was about 23 or so at the time had a really hard time.
Had a really hard time with it. And, uh, and it's been that way, you know, ever since I, I was in communication with them, I had visited them in Massachusetts a few times. I spent a mother's day with them the first time Bailey and I, my daughter, and I went up together and, it was amazing. And it was heartbreaking because when I was with them, I kept thinking I could have grown up with you and I don't, we didn't have any Christmases together.
And you don't really know my birthday and I don't know yours, and we don't have any secret handshake and I can't rat on you. We're tattle. And, and even though we're [00:48:00] siblings, I I'm the one that wasn't kept. And I think until I go to my grave, I will always wonder. "What was so wrong or bad about me that I couldn't be kept?"
And I know it had nothing to do with me per se, and everything to do with, with someone being able to mother or provide adequately. But there is something I can help inside that always asks, "What's so wrong about you. Why weren't you kept, there must be something bad or wrong or unlovable or unlikable about you.
And I feel that, and I felt that very distinctly when I was around my other siblings.
[00:48:52] Damon: Yeah. I can imagine, even after she told you I made a [00:49:00] decision that I needed to be able to live with. Right. It's clearly sounded situation. It wasn't about you as a baby. It was about the situation through which you came into the world, still seeing them together was too challenging to have it be just about that situation.
[00:49:20] Jennifer: Yeah, it was everything I had missed. And yet I had, you know, I have my life where I grew up and how I was raised, had challenges. But as I said before, they're good people. They were, you know, loving people. My dad, you know, still being alive. And I know that my mom did the best with her, you know, limitations and her addiction.
I know she did her best. , I just looked at my siblings and I think you don't know what to do with me. And I have no idea where to fit in and I don't want visiting to always be, oh, Jennifer's here. You know, we have to gather as a family and, you know, do the obligatory , [00:50:00] niceness, and. In my time that I was actively in relationship with my birth mom and her other children.
, I was invited to two weddings, , and one wedding at the rehearsal dinner. I was sat all the way at the very end of the table. not near really , any next of kin family members. I think I was sitting next to somebody's girlfriend or fiance and the second one. , I was told it was a casual wedding on the beach, and I didn't want to ask for too much information and I didn't want to come across as needy.
But, , the way that I had been raised was, you know, you dress accordingly. If not, , you dress a little bit above what's expected just in case. And I was told this was a casual wedding at the beach and it turned out it was, uh, way more [00:51:00] than casual by the beach and I did not dress for the wedding and I felt terrible.
And then when I had to go and find my seat assignment, it turned out that I had been seated with, uh, um, the people from the office. And I don't mean the sitcom, like the obligatory co-worker friend table. And I, I didn't know who knew who I was. I didn't know how to introduce myself. I wasn't introduced to anybody.
And I mean, it wasn't about me. It was about my sister's wedding, of course. But my kid had a great time, both of those weekends, because she was with her aunts and her uncle and her new grandma and she had cousins and she had a great time. And I, I was like, I don't, I don't know who I am here. I don't know how to behave.
I don't, I don't know. What's expected of me. I, I just had my shoulders up around my ears. And I thought they sat me with the [00:52:00] people from the office. then people were asking me, you know the bride? How do you know the groom? And I was like, oh, I'm I'm, I'm an old family friend who doesn't come out much.
Jennifer felt really uncomfortable at that wedding. It wasn't clear beforehand what her role was and how she should play it. She didn't know who truly knew who she was and who didn't. In 2015. Jennifer woke up one morning and it hit her. She was always going to feel out of place in her maternal family.
She just wasn't sure if it had been a good idea to come out from being a secret. She couldn't tell if the family really wanted to know her or if they were just being kind
[00:52:42] Damon: so I wrote my birth mom. An email. And I said, you know, I'm, I'm so glad that you answered the phone that night in 2004. And I'm so glad that I've gotten to meet you and you've come to see me perform and you know, my daughter, your granddaughter, and I, [00:53:00] I love you so much.
And I know that you love me, but I think, I think we've gone as far as we're going to go, because you don't know what to do with me. And I don't know how to be with you. And I think I make people uncomfortable and I don't want to. And, um, I, I think it's better if we just, if we just stop here,
what did you feel like after you press send on that one?
[00:53:36] Jennifer: , I wasn't sure it was the right thing because they didn't know how to ask for what I wanted and I'm still not sure what I want. I do text with my birth mom. I do. In fact, I saw her advice just yesterday. , and she, she and I, you know, ping back and forth on Instagram messenger and we send each other recipes and pictures and [00:54:00] gardening things and she's has a good relationship with , my daughter.
And, , my daughter's now 23. , and part of me, part of me thinks that I think if you're a secret, there's always something kind of negative and bad attached to that. And maybe. Mysterious and not, not a good way. And it was just past my 40th birthday when I remet my birth mother.
And those people were, you know, 38, 34, 23, they're all adults. And so here they are in adulthood discovering a 40 year old sister they didn't know about. And, um, I don't, I don't think anybody knows how to act or behave except kindly. , , I would love to have a relationship with them, but I, I, I, anytime I have been around them, I feel like, you [00:55:00] know, loser girl,
[00:55:04] Damon: , as you were describing the weddings and, you know, the distance that was physically placed between you and the family at these special events, How you've talked about how awkward you've felt.
I can't the phrase sibling strangers keeps coming to mind for me.
[00:55:23] Jennifer: Oh, that's so interesting. I've never heard
[00:55:26] Damon: Yeah. I, and I, I don't know where I pulled it from, but that's what it feels like that you guys are siblings and strangers at the same time, and you're having a hard time figuring out how to make your actual connection,
jennifer and her birth mother are in touch connected on social media , and they have one another's phone numbers. Jennifer sometimes sends flowers on her birthday and mother's day when she remembers, one of her sisters has had two children that Jennifer's never met. She just watches her family, nieces and nephews grow up on Instagram. [00:56:00]
Jennifer told me she loved to be part of their world, but she's trying to be okay with watching from afar and sending them good vibes. But it's still confusing with her birth mother
[00:56:11] Jennifer: and as far as my birth mother is concerned, I think,
since my adoptive mom is no longer with us. There is a part of me that thinks, you know, that little kid, baby part of you, that's like, are you ready to take me back now? Which is completely silly and unrealistic, but there is a part that's like, so my other mother has gone and she didn't do a great job, but I turned out pretty.
Okay. And I think you'd really like to know me, but I don't, I don't want to make a pest of myself. so we right. And I did ask her not too long ago. Uh, and I did tell her that I had been invited to, to speak with you on your podcast. And I asked her, is there anything that you would like me to not [00:57:00] mention or speak about?
And she said, you need to speak from your heart. And there's nothing that I... Don't censor yourself. And I was, I was really thrilled with that answer. Um, I may asked her, you know, that the people that you're related to on social media, you're your cousins and things do they know about me and they do.
And I, and I love that they know, but then it begs the question. Why haven't you introduced us? And I don't, I don't know why. and we talked about the email that I sent her in 2015, where I, I told her I didn't really know what I was doing or what any of us were doing. And I thought that I had, you know, probably made people uncomfortable and I was sorry for that.
And. , she said, well, some people were aghast that you would do such a thing [00:58:00] by, you know, withdraw, but it really is just about you and me. And I guess in some ways it will always just be about the two of us, because I was a secret for such a long time.
[00:58:10] Damon: Jennifer said it made her feel empowered to speak her truth here. I told her, it sounded like her birth mother is a good person and Jennifer agreed. We had talked a lot about her experience with her birth mother. So I was really curious to hear the story of Jennifer's birth father. She said, this is where the story gets kind of bizarre.
In her first phone call with her birth mother, the man's full name was revealed. Her birth mother told her the man was likely to be found out west somewhere. Apparently he had been kicked out of Harvard university for stealing science hardware from the lab, beakers, Bunsen, burners, and other items. The kinds of stuff a person would use to manufacture drugs
That's totally my biological father. , I called him. , right before my 41st birthday. So the year that I reunited with my birth mother, I called him in California and I left a message, not realizing that it was his office phone. And a couple of days later, he called me back and it happened to be my birthday.
And I have never met a bigger, more pompous horse's ass. in my life was, it was this bizarre phone conversation. So I, I, there's a message on my answering machine, you know, like the, the kind that blinks and you play the tape and, um, he's, I'm just, I'm just returning your call and this is, you know, so-and-so and you can reach me at this number.
So I call [01:00:00] him back. And he says, yeah, I'm, I'm pretty sure I know who you are, you know, what's it been about 40 years and you know, you, you think about this, uh, for years to come that, you know, maybe that person's going to call me and you don't really think they are, but, but here you are, you're calling me, what do you want to know?
And I thought, oh my God, he's an idiot.
And she had told me that he was not a very nice person and I didn't realize what I was in for. So I said, well, I don't, I don't know that I want to know anything. And he says, well, you must be calling for a reason. You know, don't call people after 40 years for no reason. And I said, well, , I, I guess I just wanted to meet you or know you a little bit.
And he's like, well, how old are you now? And I said, well, I'm, I'm 41 sexually. My birthday today. Never wished me happy birthday. No, not that I was expecting it, but this is just kind of how [01:01:00] self-involved he is. And he says, well, I'll tell you about us. And I kid you not. When I'm about to tell you is what came out of his mouth.
We're all really good looking people and we're all very well-educated. And most of us have been around the world a few times and we all do very well with money and none of us had ever died of cancer except for one aunt. And she also liked to play poker and she smoked. So yes, she died of cancer, but, , you know, we don't tolerate idiots and we don't do this and we don't do that, but I can't believe that he started out with world terribly good looking and we've all been to college and, and he was, you know, I don't really know what else you'd like to know.
But you know, that's it. And, uh, I said, oh, well, um, well, that's very interesting. And, um, he said, we don't, we don't discuss sex and we don't discuss politics and this and that and the other. And I thought, well, I, I could probably peg yours right off the bat, but we're not going to go there. And, and then, , He didn't tell [01:02:00] me, because I had discovered this on my own.
He didn't tell me that I had two half brothers and the very younger half sister, um, or that he was what I would call a serial, , monogamous, you know, lots of created three different families with three different women. , and he, he said, well, if you don't want anything, I guess, you know, I guess we're, I guess we're done.
And I said, well, I, I do have a daughter who would, you know, by rights be your, your granddaughter would, would you like to see a picture of us? Well, if it would make you feel better, you can send it. And I said, okay. So I, I emailed it after we got off. I said well. Thanks. Thanks for , you know, thanks for speaking with me.
And he was like, yep. Any hung up the phone. And I thought I will never have to speak to him again. He answered every one of my questions and I never opened my mouth. So I sent him the picture and he wrote back about five minutes later. [01:03:00] Uh, thanks. Have a nice life. Wow.
[01:03:04] Damon: It's like he was to prepare, he said, you know, there's this, there's a chance that this person's going to call me eventually.
It's like he was preparing himself to be a jerk
[01:03:13] Jennifer: pretty much. Well, actually I think this is kind of the way that he operates through his whole life. So that was, that was when I was 41 and we jumped forward a few years and like five years. And I get a phone call from a woman out west who is one of his sisters who has found me through social media because I met my half-brother and.
He has, they have the same name, you know, second and third, junior and senior. And he and I have spoken on the phone. He's a nice guy. And on the, probably never meet him in person, but he's like, yep, Nope, you're right. That's our dad, you know, I would never know about you, but I'm glad you got in touch and this woman, , ironically enough [01:04:00] named Pamela, no relation to the searcher or the dead mother's friend, she calls me out of the blue and says, you don't know me, but I am your aunt on your birth father's side.
And I would love to get to know you. And she, and I write back and forth very infrequently, but you know, like two or three times a year, she makes sure to send me a birthday card every year. Um, really, really nice. And she told me things about him. She remembers him gloating and bragging that he knocked up some girl.
In Boston and that he didn't have to take care of it because she was either getting rid of it or doing something else, but he would never know. And it wasn't his problem. She also told me that when he was living in New York city for a brief period of time, he would go out to the bars and pretend to be a gay man and lure gay [01:05:00] men back to their apartments and beat the crap out of them.
and I was floored. .
[01:05:07] Damon: Oh, I'm sorry.
[01:05:09] Jennifer: I am too, but I'm okay. I'm okay. Because I know that, and I knew it when he picked up the phone and started saying, you know, it was all about him. It was all about him and how wonderful they are and how, you know, incredibly good looking and an educated, and I thought you're just a horse does ass.
[01:05:28] Damon: But you know, part of why I think you were also okay, is, cause you already know who you are, right? Your, self worth is not defined by finding any of them. Right? Your brothers, your siblings, your parents, like you grew up, you know who you are, you know what you're capable of, you know, how awesome you are.
And him being in a horse's ass. Well, that's kinda on him like that has nothing to do with you. You didn't turn him into a horse's ass. That's his own damn fault. Right?
[01:05:55] Jennifer: I was like, my God, I did not expect this bizarre comedic relief and this phone call. [01:06:00] And I hung up with my jaw, just hanging open. Like did that, was that really a real conversation?
It was so weird.
[01:06:07] Damon: Jennifer told me one more quick story about her paternal connections. One of the horses. Asses youngest daughters sent Jennifer a Facebook message one day because her father had told her there was a gold Digger out there who claims to be his daughter, but she's not. Her younger sister asked Jennifer to share why she thought she was related. As they messaged back and forth the paternal sister simply asked if she could call jennifer to chat more
[01:06:35] Jennifer: So we get on the phone and she is so defensive and angry and guarded. And I was, I had nothing to hide. I certainly didn't lie. And, , we hung up and about a year and a half later, I got a message from her that said, I am so sorry.
And I believe you. [01:07:00] And I have learned things about my father that I didn't know, and I want to spend. So much time making it up to you because I've always, I've always wanted a sister and I have one and, and I really want to know who you are.
That is amazing.
It is amazing. So we're like 20 something years apart.
And she has two little tiny, small children who are cuter and cuter and, , we'll message. And I have her phone number and we haven't spoken much on the phone, but we do message back and forth. And I, I love her to pieces and I have never met her in person, but I would love to meet her because, um, our dad raised her as a single father and I think he did a very, very good job.
But there are some things, [01:08:00] right, right. He did a good job with her and he should have, it was long overdue for him to be a good person to somebody. But, , I do keep a blog and I did write about knowing everybody on both sides of my family. And, , she sent me a note and said, you have pegged all of the members of my family.
So perfectly without ever meeting any of us. I, I can't, I can't believe how you did that. That's perfect. Oh, that's
[01:08:27] Damon: incredible. What is your blog? Where can people find more information about your
[01:08:32] Jennifer: story? Um, it's called October ration.
[01:08:37] Damon: Oh, C T O B E R a T I O N.
[01:08:42] Jennifer: That's really
[01:08:42] Damon: cool. Does that name mean just really quickly before?
[01:08:46] Jennifer: Um, I'm a baby who was born in October and I think of it like celebration motivation. Like a word and movement or process of doing, I
[01:09:03] Jennifer: Woo.
[01:09:06] Damon: It was so I really appreciate you opening up and sharing your story. I'm glad your birth mother, you know, sort of granted you the openness to say whatever it was that you wanted to say.
And, you know, I hope that she will hear your words one day and understand sort of this perspective that you've had in coming back to that part of the family. , I'm so, so glad that your aunt and, you know, your, a little sister were able to connect with you and, you know, as for dad. He is who he is, but it sounds like you've got two amazing other people out of the relationship with that part of the family.
So congratulations to you on that as
[01:09:40] Jennifer: a really cool do, thank you so much and thank you for your time. It's it's just invaluable. Thank you. Be well, you too.
[01:09:48] Damon: All the best take care of Jennifer. Thanks for being here. Bye.
[01:09:51] Jennifer: Take care. Bye
Hey, it's me. [01:10:00] Jennifer started out finding another adoptee's birth mom, almost instantly only to have her own journey take nearly 20 years.
When she finally connected with her birth mother, she learned her birth was a secret and it seems like something, no one else wanted to do the work to get past, except for Jennifer. I really empathized with her birth mother having been one of the quote, friendless and fallen girls. It must've been hard to have her past come back to life with all of the stigma and bias that was attached to her pregnancy from years ago. I liked that her birth mother told Jennifer that she had to speak from her heart when she came on this show.
That support exemplifies a lot of empathy for Jennifer's lived experiences and how she feels about the way things have unfolded. Ask for her paternal connections. I just loved hearing that Jennifer is connected to her aunt and younger sister. Sometimes the blessing of reunion, doesn't come from the paternal connections.
The real gifts can be [01:11:00] in the people you meet, who are in your birth, parents orbit, and can bring comfort and love in a way you didn't realize you needed. I'm Damon Davis, and I hope you will find something in Jennifer's journey that inspires you. Validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learney.
Who am I really. Did I mess that up? Nope. I did that for Jennifer. Inside joke. Take care of y'all.