Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nothing's Ever Simple

While I was working my way into my second food-induced coma in two days, I was also neglecting my email. I didn't even log on when I got home, even though it wasn't that late. Instead I just stumbled to the couch and collapsed. It was really all I could do.

So, first thing this morning I went to retrieve my email. There were several emails letting me know I had comments waiting (thank you!) and a couple of SHOP NOW emails from L.L Bean and WalMart. Then there was a sneaky little email from someone I hadn't heard from in a long time.

Several years ago, I joined a group of people who believed that all adults, including adopted adults, had the right to their original birth certificates. This group, which called itself Access (and then OBC for ME - Original Birth Certificates for Maine) believed that, at the very least, everyone should be able to know their original surname. In this group there were a lot of people who wanted this. Like me, a lot of members wanted access to more medical history. Some people wanted to track down birth family for other reasons, and just about all of us admitted to being unbearably curious.

Since the law in this state has sealed the records since 1953, it wasn't that easy to get them opened. It took years, and at least 2 failed bills before the state Legislature finally passed LD 1084, but it happened. It was signed into state law in June of 2007, and will take effect January 1, 2009. I was told that it was going to take such a long time between passage and implementation because the State was going to have to develop a system, and forms to fill out, and LOCATE THE RECORDS. Evidently, depending on the situation, an adoptee's original birth certificate might be in any of a number of places. Hearing that sure didn't make me feel all warm and secure. What if they can't find it?????

Anyway, this morning I got an email from someone I met through Access who says that we're not just going to be able to show up at our town office (or the state house) on January 2 and pay our $10 and pick up our birth certificates. She said that we have to APPLY to someone at the state - it wasn't clear who exactly - and let them know we are going to want our records. Then, they have to locate them. So, if this is true, it looks like January 2 is not the day.

Why can't everything just work like it's supposed to? I mean, the folks at the state have known this was going to happen since May of 2007. What the heck have they been doing the last 18 months?

I am going to check into all of this, and will be sure to let you know what I find out. I'm a bit cranky about it, but what can I do? I've waited a long time, and if I have to jump through some more hoops, I'll do it.

I'd do anything.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Still Celebrating

I hope everybody had a wonderful Thanksgiving, whatever that means to you - whether you packed up and went to somebody else's house for a feast, or whether you got up at 5 AM to start working on the feast at your own house (like me) or whether you laid around on the couch with your pj's on and watched movies (gosh that sounds like fun!).

I, for better or worse, am still celebrating. I am lucky enough to be invited to join another family's celebration which - as luck would have it - happens the day AFTER Thanksgiving. Being invited to this party actually accomplishes a bunch of cool stuff:

1. It keeps me from having to decide whether to go Black Friday shopping. I didn't really want to, but sometimes I get caught up in the 'everybody's doing it' frenzy. This way, I don't really have time, so I just won't go. Problem solved.

2. I get to go watch the Bruins game on a huge high definition plasma TV. Which is AWESOME. Until I have to go home and watch the next game on my crappy regular, non-HD TV. Oh well, you can't have everything.

3. The whole time I'm watching the game, somebody ELSE will be cooking me a fabulous meal. And most likely, afterwards, I'll only have to do my share of the clean-up, which might just be carrying my plate to the counter! For sure, it won't be the hours of clean-up I had to do yesterday.

4. The only thing I have to contribute to this feast (other than my sparkling personality) is a couple of desserts. I'm kind of a dessert specialist, and inevitably if I am going somewhere and ask "what can I bring?" they say dessert. The 3 most-requested items are Apple Pie, Flourless Chocolate Cake and Bailey's Irish Cream Cake (ask Hallie about that one!) Anyway, today I'm contributing a couple of apple pies - traditional Thanksgiving fare - and a flourless chocolate cake for the chocoholics in attendance.

So, I hope you all are having a great time shopping, or watching movies, or decorating for Christmas, or just spending time with friends or family. I will be back tomorrow with more of my ramblings of adopted life as I countdown to my birth certificate.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thank God for Adoption

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I expect a lot of people will be busy with their various activities, cooking and cleaning, or traveling to another place where someone else is cooking and cleaning. I will be doing the cooking at home again, as I do every year. I always make everyone around the table say what they are thankful for (and I usually get a bunch of eye rolls from the guys) but I insist nonetheless. Only those who have something to say are allowed to eat!

We've heard thanks being giving for everything from "I passed that algebra test" to "the cat didn't puke on my bedspread this morning." Yes, really. And once in a great while, one of them says something sweet about being thankful for the wonderful meal, and I wish like heck I had it on tape.

I usually say something about being thankful for my family, which I am every day. But this year I will have a few new things to say (even if I only say them to myself - the boys hate it when the gravy gets cold!)

I am thankful for adoption. For adoptive parents who opened their hearts and home to give me a chance at a better life. For biological parents who created me. For extended family who never once treated me as if I were different than their biological children. For the state legislators who finally had the courage to pass the law allowing adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. For the fact that it is only 37 days until I can hold my birth certificate in my hands.

And I'm thankful for you, my new blog friends, who have been so open and supportive. I hope you all have wonderful things to be thankful for this holiday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Mother's Eyes

I want to say how much I appreciate all the support you folks in Blogland are showering on me as I set out on this journey. You've been so kind to me, and some of you have shared how adoption has touched your lives as well. Adoption is really about love and how it grows in a family however that family is put together. Hallie told me that I would find that the blogging community is a safe and supportive place, and she was right (yes, Hallie, I just admitted you were right - don't get used to it!)

As I was writing yesterday's post about the non-identifying information I received from the adoption agency, I began to think about something that happened a lot when I was a child.

My mom had lovely eyes. They were light colored, kind of greenish blue, and one of her best features. When I was growing up, people would sometimes remark that I had her eyes. Mine are more truly blue than hers were, but a lot of times people would point out how similar they were to hers.

We didn't tell everyone that I was adopted; close friends and family knew, and it was never kept a secret, but we didn't bring it up to casual acquaintences unless the conversation led there. When someone would say that I had mom's eyes, she and I would share a secret smile. She would say, "yes, she does." In those moments, I could so clearly feel the love between us. It was as if only she and I knew that while I didn't get her eyes genetically, I was so much her daughter that the resemblance was unmistakable just the same.

When I got the report about my biological mother, and I read that her eyes were blue, my first reaction was "just like mine." But then I thought again. No, not just like mine. My eyes are like my mom's. I may have gotten the color from my bio mother, but everything I see is through the eyes of my mom, whose love enabled me to be the person I am.

I love you, mom, and I miss you every day.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Not what I was expecting

I remember walking really slowly back toward the house, holding the envelope from St. Andre’s in my hands. I think I left all the other mail in the mailbox. When I got to the steps to the house, I stopped and sat on the second step and just breathed for a while. I actually thought about just bringing it in the house and leaving it be for a while – opening it when I was ‘ready.’

But who was I kidding? I couldn’t wait any longer. I felt like I’d been waiting my whole life. I carefully pried the flap open and extracted the single sheet of white paper inside.

As I write this, I have the paper next to me, retrieved from the file where I keep all my adoption search papers. I wanted to be sure to be accurate in this account, but to be honest with you, I’ve got every single word memorized, so it doesn't matter. The paper St. Andre's sent was a form with various categories, and only about two-thirds of it was filled in.

St. Andre’s Home, Inc.



This section contained my date of birth, time, sex, weight, length, place of birth, and date of discharge from hospital, and “birth history,” which basically reported that I was a healthy baby girl.

All of this I already knew.


This was the part I’d been dying to see. The paper was shaking (okay, maybe it was me) as I read. It reported that her age at my birth was 24, that she was single, white, had blue eyes (like mine) and fair-colored hair (not like mine). This completed the physical description. There was room for more, but the rest of the categories were blank.

It went on to say that she had a high school education, worked as a clerk (it didn’t say where, or even what industry), and had two sisters. Her nationality was listed as English/Scotch. Nothing was listed in the TALENTS, AMBITIONS OR HOBBIES sections. It said she was Protestant.

I took several minutes to digest this. I had believed all my life that she had been a teenager. I had cultivated a story in my head, which might have been encouraged by my parents, that she was a young girl, probably madly in love with a young boy. When she had gotten pregnant, she had realized that she was unable to give me the home she so wanted for me, and had turned to adoption.

It was a romantic story, and somehow, it made me feel better. I just knew she had wanted me, but at such a young age, how could she have cared for me?

But now, I realized that she was 24 – not a young girl at all, and she had a job. I know intellectually that I had no way to understand her circumstances, but all of a sudden, emotionally, it felt like she just hadn’t wanted me. My stomach clutched. Tears began to pour down my face. I remember putting one hand on my very-pregnant belly, feeling my child move, wondering. It took me a long time to continue reading.


Finally. What I needed most, I was thrilled to see that this section was filled in. Then I started reading: Rh neg, no family history of: TB, diabetes, allergies, hypertension or multiple births. Biological mother’s mother is deceased of cancer (no details known.)

No details known? Are you kidding me?? What kind of freaking cancer was it? So, instead of answering questions and alleviating fears, this just made everything worse. Was it breast cancer? Cervical cancer? Ovarian cancer? Some other cancer that I could be saved from if I had the heads up to get screened for it? Unbelievable. Now I was mad.


This was where I might get some answers. Here is the part where she, supposedly in her own words, explained why she was giving up her child. This is what it said, word-for-word:

Biological mother expressed the wish to place her child for adoption from the start of her stay at Group Home. Biological mother wanted her child brought up in the Catholic faith.

Now I was confused. And still mad. First of all, what kind of a reason was that? I wanted to hear that she couldn’t afford a child. Or that she wasn’t emotionally equipped to deal with a baby. Or something. Not that she wanted the child raised as a Catholic. The report said she was Protestant, anyway. Why did she want me raised in a different church? It all made no sense.

Then I turned the page over. Here was the information about the Biological Father, but precious little information it was. He was 27, white, 5’11”, athletic, dark brown hair and eyes. He had a high school education and was a telephone worker. He was Franco American.

And Catholic. And married.

Ahh, there it was. She was a single Protestant woman, and he was a married Catholic man. In a split second, everything I’d always believed – wanted to believe – was shattered. I’ve grown up a lot since that day, and I understand that one can never truly understand other people’s lives. It’s not up to any of us to judge, and you can never know what’s in another’s heart. But in that moment, I was a child again, and so incredibly disappointed.

I sat there for a long time, looking at the paper and reading it over and over through streaming tears. I’d waited so long for answers, but all I had ended up with was more questions.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

House of the Rising Sun

Dear Mr. Sun:

I was so happy to see you this morning. After so many dark, cloudy days, it was delightful to see your rays and feel your warmth through my window.

However, I must ask you one thing: Why do you feel the need to illuminate all the dust particles floating around my house? And the streaks on the windows I just washed 3 days ago? Nothing in this place looks quite as good when you're around.

And while we're on the subject of not looking good, why do you make me squint? These permanent wrinkles between my eyebrows are so deep I'd need a gallon of botox and probably a bunch of fat to inject in there to get rid of them. Of course, I have fat to spare and taking fat away from somewhere else would be a good thing.

Wait, what was I talking about, again?

Oh, yeah. Nice to see you, Sun. Stop by more often, 'cause you make me happy.


Mary Ellen

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Didn't mean to leave you hanging

To those of you who commented that you hated where I left it yesterday, I apologize. When I started that post, it wasn't my intention to stop at that point. Actually, I was planning to go on and explain what was in the envelope, and how it changed everything I had always believed about my birth situation.

But, as it turns out, I am incredibly long-winded, and the post turned out way too long. Imagine. Me, long-winded (Hallie, don't say anything). So I stopped. And to my great astonishment, several of you said you couldn't wait to find out the rest. I'm sorry to say that I am not going to continue that part of the story until Monday. It may seem ridiculous, but some of this stuff I've been writing is exhausting. I think I'm getting feelings out that have been sort of buried for a while, and I decided to give myself a break on weekends, at least for now.

I will still post on weekends, but it will be something short, light or funny, or like this one, where I speak directly to you all. I want to tell you how incredibly grateful I am that you are there. The blogging community is full of amazing, supportive people who are so willing to open their hearts. I thank you for coming along with me.

Only 41 more days until January 2nd!

Friday, November 21, 2008

May I see some non-identification, please?

In my quest for information about my birth family, one of the first things everybody said to do was to contact the adoption agency. If you read yesterday’s blog, you already know about St. Andre’s. Lots and lots of babies were adopted through this place starting around 1940 – and it still operates today.

I called St. Andre’s, ironically, while I was pregnant with my younger son, who’s now 16, so this was a while ago. I was having some difficulties with the pregnancy, and my doctor really urged me to see what I could find out about my medical history. I spoke to a very pleasant woman, probably a nun, who told me that she couldn’t tell me anything. Don’t you love it when that happens?

She did, however, connect me to another person, a man, who told me that they did have ‘some post-adoption services.’ He then proceeded to spend several minutes lecturing me about why looking up your birth parents was a bad idea. He concluded with the instruction to “take some time, think about whether this is what you really want, and then, if you still want to, send us a letter asking for the documents you need.” Okay, I will come right out and admit it: he pissed me off. But I kept my cool and told him I would reflect on what he’d said.

However, since I had been ‘reflecting’ on this subject since I was old enough to reflect, I hung up the phone and typed out a letter requesting assistance. Three weeks, and two more phone calls later, I got the precious documents. There were a lot of them. Basically, there was a letter which told me that I must register for the state’s Reunion Registry, which serves to match consenting blood-related adults separated by adoption. I was already registered, so I moved on to the other requirements: completed St. Andre’s release form (notarized), a written request for the desired information, and $25 fee.

So, what would I receive after all that? Non-identifying information. This is the term they used to describe the tiny tidbits of info about my birth mother – facts that would make it impossible for me to identify her. They warned that there might not be much there, as birth moms were allowed to fill out as much or as little of the forms as they chose, and if they didn’t want to name or describe the father, they didn’t have to.

But – there might be. There might be all kinds of pertinent details in there – physical descriptions, medical histories, even stuff like her education, her hobbies and talents. And one other thing: the Reason for Surrender, a statement she was required to write in her own handwriting explaining why she wanted to relinquish her baby. Finally I would know why she gave me up. I can’t describe my feelings other than to say I could hardly breathe just thinking about it. Good thing they warned me not to get my hopes up!

Oh, and they told me that I would have to pay $50 per hour for them to go look for the stuff in my file. This irritated me too. As it turned out, it took them 1.75 hours to access the information, including the correspondence to me, so I got a bill for $87.50, which was a pretty good chunk of change to me back then.

A few months and several reminder phone calls later, the envelope arrived. One thin 9x12 manila envelope that would change my life. I’ll never forget walking back from the mailbox that day. It was hot and humid, and I was almost 8 months pregnant. I kept turning the envelope over and over in my hands, looking at it with emotions somewhere between excitement and terror.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

How come it works on Oprah?

Once in a while, people who know I’ve been searching for my birth family for 18 years will remark that they just can’t believe I haven’t had any luck. After all, people on talk shows are constantly reuniting with long lost birth mothers or children. Sometimes I think the underlying comment is something like, “you must not be trying that hard.” I have to admit, watching those shows makes it look pretty easy.

But, it’s not. I’ve done everything I can think of to do, and everything that’s been suggested to me. I could say that talk shows have nearly unlimited funds and resources to do searches or hire private investigators, and, while that is true, it’s not why they have luck finding people and I don’t.

It’s because they have something else that I don’t have: information. They have something: a birth name, a social security number, the name of a relative. They know that the birth father was in the Army, or the birth mother worked at the library in the next town. The adoption was arranged through the church, and everybody knew who the pregnant teenager was. Or, they were lucky enough to be adopted in a state that didn’t seal the darn records up like the national mint. They had something.

I, on the other hand, have nothing at all. My adoption was arranged through a Catholic agency, St. Andre’s Home for Unwed Mothers. This place still exists, although in an unexpected attempt at political correctness, it is now called just St. Andre’s Home. Back in 1960, pregnant women (or girls) went to live at St. Andre’s during their pregnancy, and surrendered them, usually at birth or shortly thereafter. At that point, the child went home with the adoptive parents, and a few months later, the adoption was made final in a judge’s office at the parent’s closest courthouse. The only other person to attend the adoption hearing was usually a nun, the one who had worked with the adoptive parents.

The records from the adoption were then sealed up in the Court of Probate, never to see the light of day again. The Probate Court, and the Adoption Agency both guard this information as if it’s the secret nuclear launch codes. Now, there are several probate courts around the state, and it is legal for a probate judge to open the records. Some of the judges have opened quite a few of the files, usually for what they consider good reason, for example, if an adopted child needed a bone marrow transplant or something like that. SOME of the judges will open the records just because you ask, but not MY probate judge. My judge believes that there is NEVER a good reason to open up adoption records, and has NEVER done so in the 20 years or more he has presided over probate in the county I was adopted into. Sigh.

I’ll tell you about the experience I had when I tried to get information from the adoption agency tomorrow, but for now, you can assume that they were less than helpful. So where does that leave me, with my desperate desire to find out my medical history, my birth family, my origins? It leaves me with the internet. I have signed up for every registry online that I could find. There are quite a number of reunion registry sites, where you can list your birth date and place and say you are searching for birth relatives. Then, if they sign up too, your birth mother or other family can be matched with you. I’ve never had even one hit.

So I wait. I wait for that magical moment on January 2, 2009 when I can at last hold my birth certificate – my REAL birth certificate – in my hands and see my birth mother’s name (and maybe the father’s name). Then I will have the thing that Oprah’s guests have (no, not all the cool gifts!). More valuable to me than gold: Information.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Chosen Baby

Before I start, I must say a heartfelt thank you to all who welcomed me so warmly into the blogging world. I was incredibly moved by your comments and emails. This really is an extraordinary place filled with extraordinary people. I am overwhelmed and grateful.

When I was a child, my parents used to read me this book entitled The Chosen Baby. It was incredibly old-fashioned, which is ironic, since I think the version they read to me was updated in the 50’s to replace the original one from the 30’s. Still, it was outdated in the mid 1960’s, which is when it was first read to me, and seems impossibly so now.

It was a happy little tale about Mr. & Mrs. Brown, who lived so very happily, except that they had no babies of their own. So they adopted – a boy first, and then a few years later, a girl. The Browns loved these babies, and introduced them to their extended family, including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Mrs. Brown took care of the children (one assumes Mr. Brown was out earning a living) and everyone lived so very happily.

Okay, it sounds lame, I know. Even to me. Still, it was a very important book in my life, and I want to tell you why.

The Chosen Baby was only one of dozens of books in our bookcases at home. We had just about every kind of children’s book suitable for infants on up to the ‘chapter books’ I couldn’t wait to be allowed to read (I was an early reader, and my mother questioned whether Nancy Drew contained too ‘adult’ material for my tender age!). My mom was a teacher, and she would rather spend money on books than food any day.

Anyway, every night my brother or I chose a couple of books from the bookcase and Mom or Dad read to us (more often Mom – Dad liked to ‘rest his eyes’ while she was reading). The Chosen Baby got picked every so often, but so did Peter Rabbit and Thumbelina. No extra emphasis was ever placed on the message in that story. And that’s the important part.

As a child, I never felt that being adopted was weird or bad, or something to be ashamed about. To me, it just was. Like having brown hair and blue eyes. Or being part of a family where one parent was musically gifted and the other one couldn’t carry a tune to save his life. I don’t remember being told I was adopted, or that my brother was. It was always just known – no secrets, but no extra emphasis either. I tell my friends with adopted kids who ask what age their child should be when they tell them: if you have to sit them down and ‘break the news’ you’ve waited too long. It should just be part of your family story, like how your aunt was in labor for 3 days with your cousin, and Uncle Jack was born during a hurricane... or that you were adopted and so was your brother.

We all should be part of the family story that unfolds every day while you’re doing laundry, or playing cards, or driving to school, or reading a bedtime story.

This was a precious gift my parents gave me. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Looking for M.E.

Hi, I’m Mary Ellen, and I want to welcome you to my new blog. Let me tell you a little bit about me and what brought me to begin a blog, and then you can decide if you’d like to come along for the ride.

I’m in my late 40’s and I’m adopted. I was adopted as an infant by a terrific couple who turned out to be the best parents I could have ever wanted. You’ll hear a lot more about them as time goes on because they were both quite the characters, and were completely responsible for the fun-yet-slightly-twisted human being I turned out to be. Unfortunately, both of my folks are dead. I still miss them a lot.

Maybe because I was lucky enough to have such great parents, I was late in getting to that place a lot of adoptees get to – wanting to find out about my birth family. Of course, I had wondered occasionally from the time I was quite small, mostly about my birth mother. What does she look like? Does she ever think about me? And of course the big question: Why did she give me up?

Even though I wondered, I didn’t do anything about it for many, many years. Part of this was because I didn’t want to hurt my mom and dad’s feelings, but part of me just didn’t dare. It’s amazing how complex these feelings can be.

Anyway, when I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s, I was having some problems and suffered a number of miscarriages. My Ob/Gyn at the time said, as every doctor I’d ever seen had said, “I wish we had some medical history on you.” Me, too. Around this time, it seemed like every week scientists were discovering another serious medical condition, disease or cancer that was genetic. If only you knew what scary stuff was in your genes, you could protect yourself, get screened early, take preventative measures. It didn’t seem fair that I couldn’t have that.

So I started looking into it, and found that in the state that I live in, adoption records are sealed. If you were born between 1953 and 1977, they are completely sealed and unobtainable. Your original birth certificate, with your birth parents’ names on it, is removed from the town records where you were born, and it’s like it never existed. The state prints you up a new thing, called a birth registration card, that has your adoptive parents’ names on it, and that’s that. There are several other states with similar restricted access to records by law, some states with recently opened records, and other states that never sealed the records in the first place.

Well, I tried a lot of avenues, which I will talk about as time goes on, but the bottom line is that I couldn’t get any information, no matter what I did, or who I talked to, until recently. A group of people, many of them like me, formed about 5 years ago with the sole purpose of passing legislation granting access for adult adoptees to their original birth certificates. It was a long, hard battle with many starts and stops, but the legislation finally passed in June of 2007, with an effective date of January 1, 2009.

This means that on January 2, 2009 (the first business day after the law takes effect) I will be able to go to the town in which I was born, and request a copy of my original birth certificate. I still get chills just thinking about it. What this will mean to me is hard to put into words, but I think about it all the time. What’s her name? It will be right there, on a piece of paper in my hand. Something I’ve waited my whole life to find out.

I find myself counting the days and weeks until January 2nd. I think about things in terms of before I get my birth certificate or after I get my birth certificate. And then I wonder what it is I’ll do once I have the name. Will I try to find her? What if my birth father’s name isn’t listed? Do I have siblings? There are a lot of things to think about, and talk about, which brings me to the reason for this blog.

I want to talk through this experience. I want to talk about what it was like to grow up adopted and how it has affected me, my personality and my parenting style. I want to tell someone all about this journey I’m on to find out about my birth family.

I’m an extravert, and I like to discuss everything. My friend Hallie over at Wonderful World of Wieners has shown me how therapeutic blogging can be. And how much it can reduce pressure on friends and family who otherwise would have to listen to me. And Hallie, like me, thinks everything you do in life is better with some company! So, I’m inviting you all to be my company. Hang on, it might be a wild ride.