A year ago, I dialed a phone number. When a man answered, I said, “Hello, I think I’m your niece.” He responded, “We’ve been waiting a long time for you to find us.” And so, at age 50, I found my biological family. I had gone down many fruitless paths before a DNA test with Ancestry; several “non-identifying information documents” and the sleuthing of a cousin by marriage led me to this moment.
That phone call, to who turned out to be my birth father’s older brother, was the beginning of many connections to my birth family.
It has been an intense year, to say the least. When it first unfolded, I could barely think of anything else. It became the discussion at work, dinner parties, coffee with friends…for some, ad nauseam.
For me, it was the completion of a very long journey. I have known I was adopted all my life. Possibly my earliest memory is my mom gently explaining I was adopted just like my older brother. I may not have understood it then, but I have revisited that moment throughout my life. My parents who raised me were from families with their own deeply rooted traditions and cultures. They never met my birth parents and were given very little detail, as my adoption was closed. However, they knew, and wanted me to know, of my own Greek heritage. It was through Ancestry that I discovered that my paternal biological grandfather left his hometown of Nafplio, Greece, at age 17, boarded the SS Columbia and passed through Ellis Island, where his name was shortened. He then traveled on to California, where he married, settled and raised a family in the Central Valley.
I think about this often with our younger daughter, whom we adopted. When my husband and I started the domestic adoption process, I remember our social worker asking us if we would consider open adoption. Believe it or not, our first response was hesitance. We didn’t really understand what “open adoption” meant. Ten years ago, it wasn’t a new concept, but one that was evolving. We had been pursuing an international adoption, but many countries were closing. An open, domestic adoption seemed very messy by comparison. Our social worker explained how open adoption could benefit our child. The child would always know their health history and how their life began. Most important, they could have the opportunity for a lifelong relationship with their birth parents. I could relate to that.
Not long after we completed our application and profile, we received a phone call from our social worker that a couple wanted to meet us, which was so different from the process my parents had experienced. After we met, we were in touch weekly leading up to our daughter’s birth. We know the decision was incredibly difficult for them, and we had to work at developing a relationship after she was born. Today our open relationship is one of the most important in our lives.
Our daughter has many possibilities available to her and so much time to explore them. She will never wonder about how her life began, because through open adoption, her life began with all of us. Meeting your birth family as an adult comes with many challenges. For me, it has had many joyous moments, but, of course, it has not been free of complexity. However, when I reflect on how our family has grown, and how the many connections through adoption are now interwoven into our lives, I am very grateful.
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