Adoption Reunion

Now that school is out and we have 10 interns helping our photography business grow, I’ve finally had a chance to breathe…and share with y’all my adoption reunion story.

I was adopted at birth – well, 2 weeks after, to be exact. I spent the first 2 weeks with a foster mom who called me Heather and gave a very detailed letter to my parents that included my eating, sleeping, and pooping habits and an astute observation of my personality – which, oddly enough, still holds true to this day: inquisitive, energetic, alert.

I grew up knowing I was adopted. My parents told me from a young age; they read the “Why Was I Adopted?” book to me over and over, and slowly I digested what that meant. When we adopted my little brother, I realized just how awesome adoption could be – especially on the receiving end. One day I didn’t have a brother, and then suddenly – I did. We went to pick him up at the lawyer’s office and they placed a little wrinkly baby in my arms that we would get to keep forever. I instinctively felt protective of him. I transformed from a lonely only to a big sister, virtually overnight. At the age of 7 (and a half!), I didn’t think about things like attachment, bonding, or even where my brother came from. All I cared about was that I had a little brother.

There was no question in my mind as to whether or not he was a part of our family. He was. He was meant to be my little brother. And thinking back, I would say our bond was instantaneous. They put him in my arms, he grabbed my finger, and I knew he was my brother. I’m not sure how it was for my parents, but I’d wager it was the same for them. Likely, it would’ve been different if he had come into our lives when he was older, but he was a cute, tiny newborn and he needed us. And we needed him. And this gave me a much deeper understanding of adoption than any book ever could.

Most days, I didn’t even think about being adopted. It was just a fact of my life. My family was my family, and adoption was just the method I got there. But as I got older, I started exploring my thoughts about adoption some more. Friends would ask me, “Do you ever think about your real parents?” which always confused me because my parents were my “real” parents. But it made me realize that our family was different from my friends’ families. Once, frustrated that my parents wanted me to watch my brother when I wanted to go over to a friend’s house, I shouted, “Why should I? He’s not my REAL brother.” Um, yeah. Not my proudest moment. Did I mean what I said? Heck, no! I truly never felt the he wasn’t my real brother. I was just trying to push buttons, to strike that nerve in my parents, thinking erroneously this would somehow let me get my way. I regretted saying it the moment it left my lips, even before I saw my mom’s face fall. Ouch. There are few worse feelings than wounding someone with angry words.

But as I moved into my moody and awkward middle school years, I did think more about where I came from and who might share my DNA. And then in high school, as I thought about being a mother myself one day, I wondered what it must have been like for my own young birthmother to give me away. I was sure that it must have been painful – I never felt that there was any nonchalance on her part about making the decision to place me for adoption. I intuitively felt that she must have cared about me. She took great care of herself when she was pregnant – I was a healthy, active baby. And still, in spite of knowing this, in spite of the sympathy I felt for her incredibly difficult decision, in spite of the gratitude I felt for having a loving, supportive family… there was that teeny, tiny part of me that felt abandoned.

Sure, all the adoption literature will say that’s normal. But rationally, it’s not. As emotional a creature as I am, I do have my rational side. And I get frustrated when my emotions don’t listen to my logic. I tried rationalizing that unwanted/abandoned feeling away for years. Not an easy thing to do when you are a shy and self-conscious teenager, feeling that no one in the world can possibly understand what it’s like to be you. “My parents don’t GET me. I’m ugly. I’m weird. I don’t fit in. School is stifling my spirit. No one takes me seriously.” For many high schoolers, those are some pretty common thoughts/feelings. But you don’t realize it at the time. And if you have these lingering feelings of abandonment, no matter how irrational they might be, those feelings make it easier to justify the untruth. Of course my birthmother didn’t want me, I’m an ugly, awkward freak! And now my parents are stuck with me cuz adoption is forever, but I sure bet they wish they could trade me in for a prettier, more popular/mainstream child.

Those aren’t very fun thoughts to carry around, are they?

Luckily for me, I also knew that I was, in fact, loved and cared about in spite of my feelings of freakishness. I had awesome and supportive friends who nurtured and encouraged my “weird” side (I’m not really THAT weird – I just felt that way). I had parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who all showed their love for me and never did or said anything to make me feel I wasn’t a legitimate part of the family. So those thoughts stayed in the background. I didn’t walk around in a state of depressed self-loathing, not by a long shot. In fact, ask most people who knew me growing up and they’ll describe me much like I am today – cheerful, happy, overly enthusiastic, a tad bit eccentric. That’s me. I didn’t truly feel unwanted or unlovable – 99% of the time. But once in a while, when I was having a tough day or feeling particularly insecure, those thoughts would creep up to the forefront, and I’d have to spend a day alone… first crying and steeping in self-pity and unlovableness, then thinking about what my birthmom must have gone through when she was scared and pregnant and not able to keep me, and then I’d be able to rationalize those thoughts away and get my self-worth back.

I don’t have to do that anymore.

Now I know, without a single doubt, that my birthmother DID want me and love me. Yes, I know, DUH, Of Course she did. But there IS something different about hearing her say it, feeling the love she has for me, seeing her pride in how I’ve turned out. It’s that rational part of me – as great as it was for chasing those negative and untrue thoughts away, it would also play Devil’s Advocate on days when I felt especially insecure…. “But how do you KNOW she wanted you? What proof do you have?” And I didn’t have any tangible proof. I had no idea who my birthmother really was. Perhaps she did just give me up without a second thought. Perhaps there was something about me that made her unable to love me. Now, had that been the case, I would’ve gotten through it – because I do have a family who loves me.

Not everyone is so lucky. There are some pretty terrible parents out there. But I got good ones. And if I happened to find my birthmother, and she told me she didn’t want anything to do with me, that she never wanted me, that I wasn’t worthy of her time or affection…. yeah, that would’ve hurt… but I would have been ok, thanks to all the wonderful amazing friends and family who heap their love on me on a regular basis. And, even more than that, I would have KNOWN. For sure. One way or the other. No more questions. No more back-and-forth conversations in my head.

But I’m even more blessed than I imagined, and it turns out that she is thrilled to know me, that she has always thought about me, that she loves me fiercely, and that she has a whole family of folks who are excited to know me. I have a new sister! And brother! And grandparents and cousins! And so a new journey has begun, with new family to get to know, and even more love to be shared.

Of course, purging the feeling of abandonment wasn’t the only reason I wanted to find my birthmother – it wasn’t even the main reason. It was just an added benefit, really. In my adult years, those insecure thoughts haven’t really been cropping up. So I forgot about all the times in my teenage and college years I grappled with feeling unwanted or abandoned. What I did think more and more about was what my birthmother went through, and how that might have impacted her life. I thought about having kids of my own, and how, were I to give my kid up, I would always wonder about her and hope that she was happy and loved. And I wanted to let my birthmother know that I was OK. More than OK, I was fantastic. So I decided to reach out, to give her the chance to hear from me and – if she wanted – the chance to know me.

I met Debi for the first time in January. She lives 10 minutes down the street from me. We share physical features, hand gestures, interests, and a sense of adventure. It’s been awesome and surreal getting to know her, her children, her parents. Do I wish I hadn’t been adopted? No way. I wouldn’t trade my family in for the world. But I wouldn’t trade finding Debi and her family, either. I get the best of both worlds, the nature and the nurture. I can’t say that one is better than the other – they are different and wonderful in their own ways. I have two families that love me. And if you count Mark’s family, too, I actually have THREE families. And then my super close friends whose families I have been unofficially adopted in to…well…I actually have five families, then. There is no shortage of love in my life.

I had no idea what would come of the search and reunion process. It’s been SO much better than I ever expected – an overwhelmingly positive experience. I’ve made new friends through the Adoption Reunion support group – folks who genuinely know what it’s like to be adopted, to give up a child, to get a child. I’ve found new family members who have been so open and welcoming, eager to get to know me. I’ve been touched by the support, encouragement, and excitement of my friends and family as I dealt with the nervousness of searching, and of meeting Debi and her family for the first time. I graduated from grad school with both of my moms sitting in the audience, side by side.

Lucky, blessed, grateful… appreciated, wanted, loved… I am all of this and more. To everyone who has supported me along the way – thank you. Your love and enthusiasm means more than you know.

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  • Niki 7 Jul 10 at 7:20 am

    What a Beautiful post! So honoring to both adoptive and biological. You have a wonderful, positive story of adoption. Thanks so much for sharing it with us! I have always had a heart for adoption, therfore, I volunteer with Adoption Discovery, a non-profit. I just LOVE being able to see amazing, life changing journeys, like yours! Keep telling your story…as an encouragement to those considering adoption.

    • Leah 8 Jul 10 at 10:11 am

      Thanks, Niki! Wow, what an awesome place to volunteer. I'll have to look into that!

  • Judy Klein 7 Jul 10 at 12:27 pm

    Leah dearest……thank you for the wonderful story….we are so glad you found us and, in doing that, brought us a joy we never expected, at a time in all our lives that we needed to experience!!! We love you and Mark so much and we see daily the happiness you bring to Debi.

    • Leah 8 Jul 10 at 10:12 am

      Aw, thanks so much Grandma Judy!

  • Debi-mom 7 Jul 10 at 8:06 am

    My darling Leah…our adoption story is as beautiful as you!!! I am so grateful to your parents, family and friends who gave you the love and support every child needs when I could not. Thank you for having the courage to find me and more importantly, allowing me to be a part of your life! That your parents unselfishly let you become YOU and have … See Moreso graciously accepted me is more amazing and generous than I feel I deserve! I have loved you for 28 years and am blessed and honored to be able to say that to you as I give you a big ol' "mom" hug!!!
    XOXOXOXOXOX ~ Debi-mom
    ps—I need to find the pic of Amanda that I have in a nearly identical outfit as your first pic, with virtually the same expression on her face! No denying you two are sisters!!!

  • stephanie g 7 Jul 10 at 2:30 pm

    thanks for sharing this awesome story with us leah! i totally have goosebumps reading about this and so happy to hear that you've got a great story and a positive example showing adoption can be a great choice.

  • Anita 7 Jul 10 at 2:56 pm

    Leah, this is so touching simply because I have been through something similar to your story but can't go into full details. I knew my mother and lived in the same town, placed in a foster home at the age of 8 and stayed with my parents until adult. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • James Adamthwaite 7 Jul 10 at 3:05 pm

    Leah, you are such an inspiration. I never stop being impressed with who you are, your strength, your honesty and your pure spirit. I'm so humbled to know you and to have the opportunity in life to love you.

    • Leah 8 Jul 10 at 10:29 am

      Big love to you, my James.

  • "GP" Dennis 7 Jul 10 at 3:44 pm

    Leah, my darling granddaughter, you have brought more joy to our family then you can imagine. As your "New" grandma Judy said we are so thankful that you found us. God has blessed us by watching over you and helping you grow into the wonderful person that you are and guiding you to us. May he continue to watch over you and Mark and bless both of you with his everlasting love. All our love forever and ever!!!

    • Leah 8 Jul 10 at 10:27 am

      Thanks Grandpa Dennis!

  • Megan T 7 Jul 10 at 4:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing Leah. I have often thought about what it would be like if Mia (our adopted baby girl) wanted to be reunited with her birthmom. It is awesome to hear feelings and thoughts from your point of view. Thank you so much!

    • Leah 8 Jul 10 at 10:27 am

      Mia is so precious – what a lucky mom you are! It took me a long time to search – I was really scared of hurting my parents, and nervous about what I might find or what might happen as a result. It really helps to have supportive parents – and for all the parents out there, it's important to know that just because your children might want to find their birthparent(s), it does not mean that they don't love you or see you as their "real" parents. In the support group I go to, that seems to be a common fear among the parents – it's hard to let your child search for their "other" relatives – obviously you don't want your child getting hurt, and you don't want to feel replaced or rejected. But if you are able to openly talk about adoption with Mia as she's growing up, and let her know you support her, it will only deepen your own bond with her. Sometimes, adopted kids just really want/need to know exactly where they came from. Even if what they find isn't happy and wonderful, like my story, it can help just to know.

      I'm so happy for your beautiful family and I wish you all the best!

  • juliana 7 Jul 10 at 4:37 pm

    I could have written this one myself. So glad I know someone who understands, now. 🙂

    Congrats on your reunion.

    • Leah 8 Jul 10 at 10:29 am

      Yay! Thanks mucho. We should have lunch again soon! I keep missing all of your concerts. I'm telling Mark to clear my calendar next month, geez. You'd think I could make it to at least ONE. Soon. I am glad to know you and have your beautiful words and music in my life!

  • Nichole 7 Jul 10 at 8:13 pm

    Hi Leah,what a nice story! I was adopted at birth too and searched for and was reunited with my birth mother (her family) and my 1/2 sister in 1997. What a wild ride. There is something so comforting though about waking up in the morning and knowing your story, where you come from. So much different than not knowing that.

    • Leah 8 Jul 10 at 10:28 am

      Sweet! We're like part of some awesome club. It is definitely a wild ride. And it's so nice to know! Thanks for sharing, =)

  • Kathy 8 Jul 10 at 1:40 pm

    We love the pictures (some of our favorites!)…we love your sweet and heartfelt words….but most of all, we love YOU….then, now and forever! Mom & Dad 🙂

    • leah 8 Jul 10 at 4:52 pm

      Aw, thanks Mom! Love you too!

  • FauxClaud 9 Jul 10 at 1:12 am

    Hello everyone! I just found my way here and I am so very glad I did.

    I am a birthmother myself in reuinion with my son who is almost 23. This year a dear adoptee freind and I started working with EMK press to collect various adoption reuinion stories form all members of the adoption triad. You can learn more about the project here :

    SInce all of you are so open and vocal about your stories it would be wonderful if to have you be part of the collection! It's going to be quite a challange to find stories form the prespectives of both moms and the adoptee! I hope you might consider it?

    Any questions at all, please feel free to reach out!

    Thanky you and so gald that you all had such a good experince!

    Claudia Corrigan D'Arcy

  • Susie 9 Jul 10 at 2:33 am

    Amazing story! I am so happy for all of you. I am a mother who chose adoption for my firstborn child. We have been reunited for a year, but have not met in person yet. It would be a dream to have a reunion like yours!

  • writersday 10 Jul 10 at 4:43 am

    This is a great story and every reunion story is different but I'm going through something similar right now.
    I'm curious – what moment, or what thing happened, that made you finally purge the feeling of abandonment?

    • Leah 12 Jul 10 at 12:14 am

      When I met Debi in person, and I could see and feel her genuine love and concern for me… there was no more second guessing whether or not she wanted me or cared about me. She did. She still does. =)

      I wish you all the best with your reunion!