A Doorstep Baby’s Search for Answers
While I had always known that I was adopted, it wasn’t until my mom revealed the one piece of information my parents knew about my origins that I launched a search for my birth parents. I had been found on the back doorstep of a residence, estimated to be three days old, wrapped in a man’s black wool shirt and a blanket. I had not been born in a hospital.
“You don’t tell a small child that someone left her on the doorstep,” explained Mom who had let the secret slip to my daughter as they sorted through the upstairs junk room. The right time to reveal the secret never seemed to present itself, she said. It’s not like we talked about our adopted status, my three brothers and I, very often. Not because it was taboo or confidential information that folks outside of the family were unaware of. To the contrary, I think everyone in the county knew the four of us had been adopted as infants. We’d been blessed with great parents who, more than anything, just wanted a family.
It took my internet-savvy, genealogy-loving daughter fifteen minutes to find the archived front-page news article reporting my “foundling” beginnings. What had been mild curiosity about the details surrounding my birth exploded into an intense desire to uncover the who, the what, the why. Thanks to social media, we connected with the granddaughter of the couple who had found me on their back doorstep just after 5 a.m. on a November Sunday morning, more than fifty years ago. And two weeks later, we stood with her on that doorstep, mesmerized by her retelling of that day as her eight-year-old self had experienced it. Her parents had tried to adopt me, but the court system had denied their request after concluding that I needed to be placed farther from the scene of the abandonment.
With zero clues to aid our search, we turned to DNA testing. Novices where this technology was concerned, we delved into this new science by learning all we could from a kind, experienced search angel. As we waited for my test results, I felt the need to examine my motives for searching for my biological family. I had always wondered who I looked like and if I had a sister because I’d always longed for a sister. But I was not looking for a mother or a father. And I couldn’t really say that I felt a huge hole in my life. What I did have was an overwhelming desire to let those involved know that I’d had a good life and that my story, despite its rocky beginning, had a happy ending. I understood my appearing on the scene could be shocking, devastating, even painful for people who never dreamed the truth would someday come calling. Still, I wanted to at least try to find whomever had to be wondering what happened to his/her daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece.
The DNA test did not disappoint, but what it revealed in no way resembled the story any of us had imagined. You know, what most people picture: a young, scared teenager, desperate to hide a pregnancy and a baby. Instead, my birth mother was 37 years old when I was born. Divorced and the mother of two teenaged sons, she lived in the home and backyard adjacent to where I was found. She had passed away 26 years ago, and apparently, took the secret of me to her grave. To say I was stunned barely scratched the surface. Shocked and dismayed summed up the reaction of the one half-brother who tested to confirm the relationship. Even so, he shared photos and details about our mother as well as lots of family history.
Several months after the biological mom confirmation, we pieced together the identity of my birth father. This revelation left me utterly dazed, as well as speechless and kind of numb. At the time of my birth, he was a 21-year-old married college student with two babies at home. He knew nothing of a pregnancy, let alone a baby on a doorstep. A month after my birth, he and his young family moved back to their hometown, a thousand miles away. Now, he was very much alive and living in Hawaii. Without a second thought, he welcomed me into his family of three sons, one daughter, and two adopted daughters from Thailand. He invited us to Hawaii to meet him and the sister I’d always wanted, who happens to be just eleven months older than me. It was a once-in-a-lifetime vacation in so many, many ways.
We met the paternal half-brother closest to my age, just fifteen months younger, and at his invitation, vacationed with our immediate family in bio dad’s hometown, where this brother has always lived. Our in-common father, anxious to meet his grandchildren and oldest great grandson, popped in for a visit at the same time. A second once-in-a-lifetime adventure, soaking up being with family in the place where half of my roots originated.
So, who do I look like? After resembling no one my entire life, I now look like everyone! My maternal brother remarked after watching me so closely that I began to squirm, that talking with me was like talking to our mother! My mannerisms were so similar to hers and the resemblance quite noticeable, as well. It gave me goosebumps. And then my birthfather announced that my face was a perfect blend of his mother’s, my paternal grandma, and my sister. Friends have noticed a resemblance between me and my bio dad and paternal brother as well. One of the coolest things about finding my family is discovering who I look like.
I regret that I’ll never meet my mother. I’ll never have the chance to tell her I understand the decision she made in the early 1960s, when the situation she found herself in would have been a huge stigma for all of us to live under. Although I would welcome the chance to meet more maternal family members, I would never want to bring criticism upon her and the decision she felt she had to make. While initially welcoming, my maternal half-brother’s struggle with the reality of the situation grew, and he came to resent my desire to connect with a biological father who remembered little about his (our) mother and had no recollection of her teenaged son. And so, I am content with knowing who she was and having access to my maternal roots through the pages of history.
Reunion is an often unpredictable, frequently overwhelming, and always intriguing journey that melds the past with the present and forever changes the course of the future, creating a ripple effect that cannot be undone. Am I happy that I searched for and found my birth families? I am indeed. As difficult as it was to wrap my head around the facts, I’m glad I know the truth. I look forward to more introductions and deepening the connections with the biological relatives who have and will choose to be a part of my life.
For all the details and an in-depth look at the DNA-anchored search, check out the blog series “A Doorstep Baby’s Search for Answers”on my website.