How Finding My Birth Mom Helped Me Redefine Myself

People always ask me, “How old were you when your parents told you that you were adopted?” And the boring answer is, they never really sat me down and dropped that particular bomb on me. It was something I knew as long as I could remember, a fact that was simply ingrained in me, like the fact that I have brown eyes. It was part of me, a defining factor of who I was — for better or worse.

Being adopted was never anything particularly interesting to me. Sure, it was my “go-to” fun fact about myself when I had to participate in an ice breaker exercise at sleep away camp or the first day of school, but other than that, it was just the status quo for me for most of my childhood. My parents did a great job of teaching me that I wasn’t “abandoned” by my birthmother, and I wasn’t loved any less because I wasn’t their biological daughter. In fact, I was always deeply aware that it takes a lot of love and bravery to both put a child up for adoption and fight to adopt a child. If anything, I was loved twice as much, from both sides of my adoption equation.

My parents were always willing to answer any questions I had about my adoption — my birthmother’s name, what her voice sounded like, her favorite animal, if she looked like me. They only met her once, briefly, when they came to pick me up from the hospital, but they recounted everything they could from that visit. I was always a curious kid in general, so I can only imagine how many times I must have grilled them about one aspect of my adoption or another.

Whenever I tell anyone that I’m adopted, there are usually three major questions that I’m asked: 1.) Are you ever going to meet your biological mom? 2.) Did you ever live in an orphanage? 3.) Do you have any brothers or sisters?. Until I was 19, my less than exciting answers to these questions were simple: “sure, maybe, one day”; “no, my parents picked me up from the hospital when I was a day old”; and “I have no idea”. I’d grown up assuming I’d meet my biological mom one day, probably when I was a “grown up” — older, more mature and ready to enter that aspect of my life. It was something I was excited for, but it seemed far off in the distant future. The thought that it may never happen, that my birthmother would always somehow remain a mysterious figure to me… it honestly never occurred to me. I was going to meet her.

As far as any biological siblings went, I was hopeful. I’d never had sisters growing up, so naturally I emphatically hoped that I had a bunch of sisters somewhere, and that I’d get a chance to meet them one day and experience that “sisterly bond” that a lot of my friends had and took for granted. I’d study faces of strangers on the street, trying to see if any of them looked like me if maybe I might just pass the face of someone who was blood-related to me one day.

Despite the fact that my adoptive parents handled everything to the best of their ability, my adolescent years, like most people’s, weren’t exactly easy. I was faced with struggles and hardships that tested me, and as a result of those experiences, I battled with depression and serious anxiety. I felt detached from my adoptive family for numerous reasons, and gradually, the reality of my adoption and the uncertainty of my roots began weighing on me.

When I was around 19, I decided to do a basic search of my birthmother’s name. This wasn’t anything new, I’d done it sporadically ever since I’d started using the Internet years prior, more out of boredom or curiosity than an avid search or attempt to find any information. Usually, nothing came back, and I’d go back to daydreaming about the mother I had, somewhere out there. But this time, there was a relevant result — and it immediately sent my heart racing.

It was an obituary. Immediately, I told myself that (despite the fact that my birth mom had a pretty unique first name) it couldn’t be her, it was obviously someone else. But no, it was from a paper in the same city she’d given birth to me in, and naturally, I froze. I kept reading. The obituary said that she was survived by three daughters. My sisters. Before I could even allow the information to sink in, I immediately began Googling each daughter by name. Right away, I got a result for a MySpace page (throwback!), and clicked on it. I saw the girl’s default picture, and staring back at me was something I’d been searching for for as long as I could remember — someone who looked like me. I knew immediately that I had the right person. We had the same eyes, the same skin tone, the same dark hair. It had to be her.

I sent her a message, and she had the same reaction — she knew exactly who I was. So, in an intense conversation at 1:00 a.m., I spoke to my sister on the phone for the first time. In the timespan of half an hour, I was able to answer countless questions that I’d been asking myself for 19 years.

My birth-mom had passed away of a drug overdose about four years earlier, which broke my heart. It still hurts that I won’t be able to meet her, or hug her, or thank her for what she did for me. I hate that she isn’t around for me to get to know, but I’m also sad that she had to leave this world in such a scary way. The information hit me pretty hard — all of sudden, I was mourning a woman I’d never met. I would never be able to sit down with her, or thank her for the huge sacrifice she made for me. I’d never be able to call her up and pick her brain about her childhood, or ask her about her favorite movies, or tell her about my upbringing. In a moment, I lost a lifetime’s worth of daydreams and “what ifs”.

However, even though I lost something, I also gained so much. I have three half-sisters, and since that initial phone conversation, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know them over social media, phone calls and texts. I’m honored to say I’m related to them. They’re tough, strong and tenacious women who have built amazing lives for themselves despite facing their own personal struggles. Thanks to them, I know that my mother liked horses and hiking, and that (like me) she was an avid reader. She had a nervous habit of snapping her gum, we have the same smile and she loved to sing. I’ve seen pictures of her, and I’ve gotten to know her as well as I can without actually getting the opportunity to meet her. She had a rough life, but it took real bravery and strength to do what she did for me. I like to think I inherited some of that strength from her.

I’ve had people ask me if I regret finding information about my birth mom, if maybe I would have been happier remaining in the dark, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. A good portion of my pain stemmed from uncertainty, from not knowing — and for the girl who was always looking for answers….it feels nice to finally have them. Discovering my biological family has given me an entire new outlook on life. At the end of the day, I know I come from strength, and not only has that given me peace of mind, it’s something I’m extremely proud of.

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