In the United States, adopted children make up roughly 2% of the total child population under the age of 18. In 2014, only about 6,400 kids were adopted out of the hundreds of thousands who are eligible. Each one of those 6,400+ kids comes with a unique story, full of ups and downs, about their life and the journey of their adoption. For many adopted children, the details of their stories are a mystery waiting to be solved. Disentangling the web of who, what, where, when, and the all-important why, can be a daunting, emotional, and discouraging process. However, beyond the doors of discouragement and disappointment, there are fields of happiness and understanding. I know this because, after 26 years of wondering, I have taken the onerous journey of locating my biological family and meeting them for the first time.
Where do I Begin?
A few weeks ago I was able to obtain some of the paperwork surrounding my adoption (i.e. original birth certificate). Through my research I was able to locate my biological mother on Facebook and a couple other social media sites. Although I had located her Facebook profile, I spent a day or two just looking at her pictures and coming to terms with the gravity of what I was about to do. Although locating my biological mother was difficult, finding the right words to say was even harder. What if she didn’t want to talk to me? I don’t want to come on too strong. Is there an artful way to start this conversation? I spent a good amount of time just outlining all of the things I wanted to say. I found that just the process of thinking about what I wanted to say challenged me to truly come to terms with how I feel. Was I upset that I was given up for adoption? Was there animosity? Indifference? If I only get one opportunity to speak with her, what are the most important things that she should know? For me to answer these questions, I needed to block out any outside perspectives that could potentially influence my opinion. I didn’t talk to other people about it and I didn’t ask for advice.
I spent a lot of time alone just reflecting on my life and evaluating my wholesome, middle-class upbringing. At times, I found myself daydreaming about how I would feel if I gave a child up for adoption. Other times I would get upset, thinking about some of the challenges I’ve had to overcome. Challenges that in my mind more traditional families do not have to overcome. For example, explaining to my classmates why some of my family is black and others are white. Or filling out medical paperwork and knowing in the back of my mind that none of the information about my parents would apply to me. I hated every moment of learning about punnet squares in Biology class, because it was just another reminder that my physical traits are derived from someone I have never met and do not know. Eventually, the more I sat and forced myself to think about my feelings (i.e. why I have them, where they come from), the easier it became to write what I wanted to say. Ultimately here is what I came up with:
My name is Josh Thomas and I was adopted by a family in Iowa back in 1989 through Catholic Social Service of P
xxx. I just recently learned that J xxxof I xxxis my biological mother. Through my research, I learned J xxxchanged her last name to T xxxdue to marriage. Everything I have recently learned about my biological parents has led me to this moment, and I believe you are my biological mother.
If I only get this one chance to share myself to you there are some things I want you to know.
First, I want you to know that I am not upset and I am incredibly happy to have found you after 26 years. Although I don’t know all of the details, you made an incredibly difficult choice back in 1989 and I appreciate your courage and strength. I have often dreamed about what I would want to say to you when I found you. I have waited a really long time just to say thank you. Thank you!
I was adopted and raised by a loving family in Iowa. I have two brothers and one sister. My older brother and older sister are also adopted and we are all very close with each other. After high school, I went on to graduate from college with a degree in Political Science and a minor in pre-law. In addition, I am an ABA certified paralegal. I applied to a bunch of law schools and was accepted to a number of schools all over the country. Currently, I work full-time for one of the top law firms in Chicago. I also own a website that focuses on politics and the issue plaguing urban communities. Although my life has not been perfect and I have worked hard for the things in my life, I am incredibly happy of the man I have become.
I know this is all a lot to digest and I understand if you have a lot of question. It is not my intention to intrude or force myself into your life. My only goal is to let you know that you made the right choice, so we may find solace in our past. I’ve always tried to put myself in other people’s shoes before rushing to conclusions. I can only imagine some of the fears you might have. I hope it is comforting to know that I have made the most of my life and I have accomplished many great things.
Again, I know this is a lot of information coming at you out of the blue. I can respect if you need time. I am content to wait. When the time is right, and you’ve had an opportunity to sit and think, you are welcome to contact me via facebook, email or by phone.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 773-xxx-xxxx
The Waiting Game
Once I sent the message, I knew the next few weeks would be difficult. My anxiety was through the roof. Each day, each hour, seemingly every few minutes I would look at my cell phone to see if I had a Facebook message notification. After about a week, I was beginning to think that my biological mom wanted nothing to do with me and was ignoring my message. I could tell that my mind was trying to do whatever it could to rationalize why I have not received a response within a preconceived timeline. Controlling my emotions and keeping myself from immediately thinking the worst was the most challenging part.
After about 10 days, I felt like I should try something else. Back to the drawing board. I decided it would be a good idea to research and contact other individuals in my biological family, in the event there was something going on with my biological mother. Through my research there was one name that continued to pop up as (potentially) being associated with my biological mother. At first, I had disregarded this name because my biological mother had married and I thought the name could be from a previous marriage. However, I found newspaper articles about my biological mother’s wedding and other public records that suggested this individual was a more significant player than an ex-husband. Little did I know that it was my biological grandfather – my mother’s dad. I was able to locate his Facebook profile by searching through the list of friends on my mothers profile. Eventually I even came across a Facebook post that linked him to my biological mother through a family photo. So I sent him a message, letting him know that it might be a strange request, but that I was looking for my biological mother and I was hoping he could help me. Less than a day later he responded and confirmed he knew my biological mother. And the rest, as they say, was history.
Reunited After 26 Years
The emotions that I felt meeting my biological mother for the first time are nothing short of magical. Unlike many other adoptees, I’ve never felt as though my life was necessarily incomplete or lacked substance. Maybe that is a testimony to my parents, who raised me and taught me the foundational tools to navigate the treacherous waters of life.
In the book of life, I have always felt that the chapter of who I am and why I am here was missing pages. Until recently, the first few years of my life were a complete mystery to me, an unknown past that I cannot remember, with people I do not know, and a decision that would dictate the trajectory of my entire life. It is an understanding that someone made a selfless and significant sacrifice, out of an unbreakable love, to see me succeed and live a life better than they could provide. It is a bond that is not written on a birth certificate and not communicated out loud with words. It is a very deep and rich emotion that I have spent years trying to find ways to suppress, and avoid the reality of not truly understanding why or how it impacts me.
When I saw my biological mother for the first time, I started to understand all of the emotions she has had to live with for the past 26 years, many of which we share. When I saw her, I didn’t need an explanation as to why she made the choices that she made or the circumstances surrounding those decisions. It was as if those conversations were placidly taking place non-verbally. The overwhelming amount of happiness and love I feel radiating from her soul brings me to tears. At 26 years old, it is unconscionable to me that anyone is even capable of harboring or displaying that level of love for someone, not to mention someone they have barely met. But it is there, real and tangible. A transformative air that permeates the conscious and substitutes doubt with jubilant satisfaction. A confidence in the unknown and the strength to accept the things I cannot change.
“The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.” Norman Vincent Peale
Reflecting on Blessings
I realize that there have been so many people whose lives were affected by my adoption. Many of them harbor my same concerns and questions. Their hearts need mending just like mine. My biological grandma and grandpa, who themselves adopted 4 children on top of having 2 biological children, are just one example. Listening to my grandpa describe the conversations that took place regarding the choice to place me up for adoption will stick with me for the rest of my life. My biological mother’s siblings still remember going to the hospital the day I was born and holding me for the first time. See, being adopted is way more than an individual internal struggle to find your identity or see people who look like you. I was never alone on my journey and I had people in my corner looking out for me every step of the way. I will forever be grateful to each and every person’s contribution.
The sad reality of being adopted is accepting the fact that sharing that loving moment, in person, with your biological family isn’t an experience most adoptees get to enjoy. In fact, very few are afforded that opportunity. In addition, you never really know the type of reception you will receive once you do choose to reach out. Knowing this, it has been life changing to have had the opportunity to meet my biological family and I feel truly blessed to have been welcomed with love and happiness. This experience truly puts into perspective just how unique my life has been and the opportunities that I’ve had. Opportunities that I no longer take for granted because the missing pages, in my book of life, have finally been inserted into their proper place. Now a new chapter begins.
Photos by Ryan Thomas