I don’t understand why so many families try to avoid visiting with each other during the holidays. They allow petty feuds and misunderstandings to get in the way of spending precious time together.
There are many adoptees in the world who would gladly trade places with them – adoptees who would love to spend time with their families but can’t because of closed adoption records, closed doors and closed hearts. They may never know the family with whom they would love to share the rest of their lives.
Many New Jersey adoptees have been waiting a long time for the opportunity to know their birth families. But since bill A752, which would make original birth certificates and other related information available to adoptees, has yet to be heard by the full Assembly, they will have spent another holiday season (and quite possibly the year ahead) without them.
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My siblings and I never were supposed to meet. Our birthmother wanted it that way. In fact, she did everything in her power to keep us apart. But I walked into my family’s life one day anyway, unannounced, after 35 years. I appeared out of nowhere. I felt like an intruder – like someone who had burst onto a stage in someone else’s play. I had a good reason for being there, whether I was invited or not. My son was very ill and I needed to find my birth mother. I also needed to find my siblings. If my son’s illness ran in our family, there was a good chance that one of my siblings had it, too.
When my birthmother signed the adoption papers for my twin sister and me, she hoped we would disappear forever from her life and the lives of our siblings. She was terrified we would find one another someday and expose all her secrets. And our mother had a lot of secrets.
There are seven of us altogether (that we know of). After our mother’s arrest for child neglect, some of her children were placed with family members. Others went into foster care. Our birthmother reared the youngest sister, who was told the like that her siblings were all “living out in California.” Our sister was shocked to learn that our brother was actually living within walking distance of her house. Two other sisters also were living in a different town, a few blocks away from each other. Mere miles separated the rest of us.
I was warmly welcomed into my family. Since finding each other 17 years ago, my siblings and I have spent every holiday season together. How could we not? We’ve got to make up for a lot of time that we lost. Grateful as I am for the time that I’ve gotten to spend with my siblings – one of the greatest blessings to come out or our now-healthy son’s crisis – there are moments when I’m selfish for more. Why did our mother try so hard to keep us apart?
Shame. That’s the word that filled our mother’s heart. An alcoholic woman in the 1950’s, who had children fathered by numerous men, she was an embarrassment to her family. When her family disowned her, her life spiraled downward, until she was virtually destitute. So she lied a lot. She moved a lot. She changed her name a lot. She suffered excruciatingly, until she tragically took her own life, before I had a chance to meet her. But I miss her, whenever our family is together. Even though she and I never stood in the same room together, I try to conjure her presence whenever my siblings and I trade presents and stories and smiles.
I imagine her smiling, too. I imagine her finally at peace with all of her secrets – secrets that don’t matter in the least to any of her children.
I hope she know that what does matter to us is that we’re a family again. Nothing can compare to spending time with your family, whether you’ve always known them or are just getting to know them.