I Grew in Her Heart, Not Under It

My family is defined by love, not blood. November is National Adoption Month and since everyone seems to have very different stories and experiences, I’m here to share mine.

Note: when I say mom and dad, I mean my mom and dad — my parents, the people who adopted me and raised me and love me. The other people? They’re birth parents or biological parents.

I am reviving this 4-part, now 5–7 part series from an old blog of mine. To save you having to come back for more, I’m putting it all out here in one post. However, if you have questions that I haven’t answered, let me know because I’d be happy to create a follow-up post or respond to your comments.

Part 1: I was Adopted

I was adopted when I was two months old. The first two months of my life were spent in a foster home — I have no idea what I looked like from birth-2 months old.

We didn’t go on Maury and my parents didn't cause a scene — I grew up knowing I was adopted, and it was totally normal to me. I thought I was cool because I had a different story.

Since I cannot remember that far back, though I have an impeccable long term memory, I asked my mom when and how they told me. She said:

When we adopted you, Dad and I had wondered how we would actually tell you when “the day” came. We never wanted it to be a secret, yet on the other hand we didn’t want you to feel that you were “unwanted” by your birth mom and that as a little girl you would think we would place you for adoption, too! Never know what goes through the mind of a child. So, we decided we would be very matter of fact about it and if the question arose, we would explain it when we thought you were ready. The best way happened very naturally. You were about 3 or 4 and had seen pregnant ladies at the store, or moms of friends. You asked why their tummy was big and I explained about babies and you said, “ like I was in your tummy too, right, mommy?” I said no, you were in someone else’s tummy but your daddy and I were blessed by God to adopt you. You just looked at me and said,” Oh, that’s so good.” And that was pretty much the end of it. I did hear you telling your little friends, “ I was in someone else’s tummy but my mommy and daddy dopped me.” (You were born in my heart, not under it. I had told you that many times when you were much older.)

I might not have understood what being adopted meant, but I rolled with it. Being adopted has never been a big deal to me and has not negatively impacted my life. Obviously, it was a great thing, because as my biological mom wished, I was placed in an amazing, loving, caring, and giving home.

I look so much like my parents, so no one believes me when I say I’m adopted.

I have one memory from being at the adoption agency. Several years ago, I told my mom that I think I remember being in a crib at the adoption agency. in my memory, the crib was brown, and I had Sunshine Bear — the yellow Care Bear. She was speechless. There are no pictures, in existence, of that scene, but it’s true.

People have said some strange things to me over the years when they found out:

“Oh my gosh, I’m sorry to bring it up”

Wait. Are we having the same conversation? What are you sorry for bringing up? I just told you that I was adopted. I was 2 months old, and don’t know any different. If my parents never told me, I wouldn’t have a reason to ever suspect it.

“Oh, that sucks”

What part sucks? The part where my biological mom gave me up for adoption so that I could have a better life? Or…oh wait, there isn’t an or. I don’t understand what sucks. If I was 16 when I was put up for adoption that would be a different story and this would be a very angsty article.

“Do you know your REAL parents?”

Yes, they raised me and I lived in their house for 18 years until I went to college. I know them pretty well. Oh, you mean my biological parents, the ones who created and gave birth to me? I think parents are the people who raise you, not the ones who create you, though they can be both. Sure, I have biological parents, but they are not my parents.

“What the hell? I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.” or “I’ve known you for this long and you never told me?”

I’m sorry? Next time I meet someone I’ll be sure to tell them when I was born when I was adopted, how much I weigh, my social security number, and my real hair color. What the hell have you told me about yourself? I can’t believe you haven’t told me that you weren’t adopted.

“Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have to talk about it”

Ok?

I grew up knowing. It’s like having brown hair or grandparents in England. Uh oh, now you’re going to be mad at me because you didn’t know I have family in England.

Growing up knowing I was adopted was not a big deal to me. I also grew up knowing there was always the option to find out more when I turned 18. How much could I find out? Nobody knew.

Part 2: Deciding to find out more

I wasn’t anxious to turn 18. Well, I was, but for other reasons. I wasn’t counting down the days to find out more. I really didn’t care if I didn’t ever find out more — my life was my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I turned 18, I didn’t take a single step or even think about finding my biological parents — which is really unlike me since I have zero patience for anything. I think I was having too much fun in high school and college to even think about it.

My mom, as well as others I’ve met along the way, have shared horror stories with me from when they or their friends met their biological parents. From the biological parents thinking the child was showing up to ask for money, to find out they died or were in prison — the stories weren’t that great. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t in a rush. I didn’t need a relationship or money or disappointment, though money is always good HAHA!

When I turned 19, I received a check for $80 from my ex-husband (boyfriend at the time). I had no idea what the random amount of money was for. When I thanked him, he said “you know what that money is for right?” It took me a few minutes because I was a broke college student and loved going to the casino — it didn’t make sense. Then, it hit me.

Oh! It costs $80 to fill out the paperwork for the adoption agency!

I ordered, filled out, and returned the paperwork. I remember receiving the check when I lived in a dorm and getting the results back when I lived in an apartment, so I think I sat on that for a long time.

What was I waiting to find out? I didn’t really know. What I did know was that I would find out if my biological parents consented to future contact with me. It reminds me of middle school love notes — circle yes or no if you want to go out with me.

The second I received the envelope in the mail, I called my best friend since preschool, Christina. Ever since she found out I was adopted and old enough to make ridiculous stories up, she was convinced that Dennis Rodman and Madonna were my biological parents — because they’re from Michigan. If you haven’t noticed, even with all of the tanning I did in college, I am not African American or any percentage of.

I read the packet word for word — my first time reading it, her first time hearing it. You know when you adopt a purebred dog and get papers all about its history? I have papers. I don’t even think non-adopted people (is that a term?) have papers.

I sat on my bed in my college apartment, reading the history of my biological grandparents’ health and careers down to my biological parents’ siblings and to my biological parents. Want to know what else was in there?

Part 3 — the juicy details

Stick with me — the fun stuff is coming up!

On April 24, 1985 (my birthday is 3/16) your birthmother signed her consent to have her name and address released to you should you request it after turning 18. Your birth father has not signed any statement of consent or denial so his last known name and address (from 1985) can be released to you.

This is the part where I freak out

My birth father has the same name as my cousin. No, my cousin (a year older than me) is not my father. But, that does mean my mom’s maiden name is the same as my birth father. Does my mom have a brother she never knew she had? Am I really related to my parents? What the hell is going on here?

Your birth name was “Baby Girl”

Thank goodness it was later changed to Chelsea.

Birth history: You were born by Cesarian section at 1:20 p.m. Labor was 13 hours. You weighed 9 pounds 5 ounces and were 22 inches long. (My son was 9 pounds 10 ounces and 21.5 inches long, also via c-section). Your gestational age was determined to be 41 weeks. (Sorry, bio mom!)

Birthmother’s: Your birth mother was 23 years old and unmarried when you were born. The record indicated that she was 5'1.5" tall with a usual weight of 100 pounds. (I am 5'5" and not 100 pounds haha) She had light brown hair, hazel eyes, and fair skin. (I have dark brown hair and blue eyes)

The record indicated that your birth mother was in good health. She did have a history of alcohol and marijuana (keep reading — it gets more interesting) use but stopped using all substances when she learned she was pregnant. She received prenatal care.

Your birth mother was a sophomore in college when you were born. She was attending college part-time and also worked as a waitress. She liked racquetball, bowling and being with people. (I was a server, played tennis, and typically like being around people).

The worker described your birthmother as being “a bright, lively young woman with a good sense of humor.” I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I found out about her family history — who is alive, who passed, how many siblings she has, as well as their descent (Irish, English, and French) and medical, educational, and career histories.

Birth father’s history: your alleged (Damn! haha) birth father was 29 years old and not married. He was 6' and 170 pounds. He had brown hair, green eyes, and fair skin coloring.

The record stated that he was in excellent health. He had a Master’s Degree in Education. He was a teacher of English as a Second Language. His interests and hobbies included travel, anthropology, reading, film, and outdoor recreation.

Your birth mother described your birth father as being a heavy smoker and heavy drinker. She described him as “quiet, not real outgoing, sincere and concerned about people.”

On May 30, 1985, you were placed in the home of [my mom] and [my dad] for the purposes of adoption. On July 21, 1986, the judge confirmed your adoption. Your name was legally changed at that time and you were subsequently discharged as a ward of the court.

Okay, okay — the juicy details:

The night I received “my papers,” I did some searching online — Facebook was still new and only available to certain college students, so it was a lot of searching on White Pages and People Finders. I should’ve started the show Catfish — I can find anyone.

Since I was given my birth mother’s first, middle, and maiden name, as well as her last known address, it didn’t take too long to find her. I paid $10 for her phone number, and I left it at that. I didn’t have the guts to call. Well, I had the guts, I just didn’t know what to say.

As for my birth father, his name is much more common — that’s going to take some additional time.

I drunk dialed her

A few nights and probably beers or Long Island Iced Teas (barf) later, I stumbled (not really) into my roommate’s room with my cellphone (a Nextel, of course) and F’s number (we’ll refer to my birth mother as F).

I called the number, said my name was Jessica, and asked to speak to F. The person who answered was her sister and asked for my number so she could pass it on. I told her I was her old college roommate looking to reconnect. Whatever, I was nervous and full of shit — I’m not good at lying.

Now that I am writing this, I can’t remember the sequence of events since it was so long ago, but I think I called her back and told her the truth because I wanted F to call me back. It’s such a blur. I went to bed wondering if that was the best or dumbest thing I had ever done.

I wasn’t looking for a relationship or a new family, I really just wanted to see what everyone looked like. I know some people look identical to their parents and some who truly look adopted, though they aren’t.

I was in a lecture hall in business school (boooooring) when an unfamiliar number called. I looked at my roommate and we both knew — so we left class and I answered, on speakerphone, of course. We laughed about my lies from when I called her sister and she told me all about her family. At the time, she was happily married with 7-year-old twin daughters.

We kept the conversation pretty short since I was in class and it was awkward, but we exchanged email addresses and promised to send each other photos as soon as possible. I could not wait to get back to my computer.

That weekend, I went back to my hometown to hang out with friends and family. I received an email with photos from F while I was home. I was sitting on the computer with my best friend, Katie. We opened the email with excitement and then got really confused — we thought did we just open the email I sent her with my photos?

We double and triple checked. Holy shit — she sent me photos of herself at my age, which were identical to me.

We were in shock. How crazy is that? Minus the 80s hair, it was me without eyeliner.

I wasn’t sure if or how I would tell my parents that I decided to find out more. They’ve always been open to me doing whatever I felt like because they knew I wasn’t looking for another family or relationship — just curious. I still thought there would be some emotions surrounding it. It’s not a typical situation.

How the hell was I going to tell them about this? Once I got the photos from her, I knew. I printed the first photo and went into the kitchen. Katie and I were laughing our asses off and couldn’t contain ourselves. My mom was in the other room and my dad was cooking dinner.

I handed the photo to my dad and asked if he knew who those people were. He looked at Katie and said, “are those your grandparents?” We kept laughing, so my dad asked my mom to come in the kitchen and my mom was like “Oh yeah, those are Katie’s grandparents, such sweet people.” We were dying laughing.

I told my mom those aren’t Katie’s grandparents and that I don’t think she had ever even met Katie’s grandparents. She kept trying to figure out who they were and I finally told her it wasn’t me.

Her next assumption was that I Photoshopped my head into that photo because I was taking design courses in college. Why the heck would I put myself on that random photo?

Then it clicked:

We sat down and I told her everything. She asked if I had met F, and I told her no and that we didn’t have plans to meet yet. If we were to meet up, my mom didn’t want to be there. Not that it would be a bad thing, but she wasn’t ready for it. Understandable.

Part 4: I met her

At the original time of writing this, this was the final post, but so much has happened since.

F and I emailed for a couple of months as friends. Catching up on the past 20 years and sharing funny college stories with each other. She told me a little bit about her family and I told her a little bit about mine. We emailed about once a week.

We found a time that we would both be in the same area. I drove to my hometown and she would drive to the neighboring city and we’d meet at a restaurant. She hadn’t told her twins about me yet, which is completely understandable. They were about 8 years old and she didn’t want them to think she was going to place them for adoption, too. I never thought about it that way. Valid point.

We met at one of my favorite restaurants (RIP Bennigan’s!) for lunch and she brought her sister with her — the one I drunk dialed.

I thought it was going to be a little awkward, but it really wasn’t. It was like catching up with an old friend. We had stories to share and things to talk about since we had been in touch for a couple of months. Just when I didn’t think I could look any more like her — in walked her sister. Hello me when I’m wearing glasses.

A few months passed and I drove with my then-boyfriend from Michigan to California and stopped by her town on the way.

F said she was not going to tell the girls about me until they turned 18 and they could then decide if they want to meet/know me, or not. All of that changed when my son was born. 6 days after he was born, I received this message on Facebook:

F: I did it! You will be happy to know the girls know who you are. C did not believe me at first, but they are handling it quite well. I know I said I would wait, but I decided 12 years old was a good time to tell them.

Soon after I added C & K on Facebook, I started to notice how much C looks like me. Granted, there are 13 years between us, but you can see it.

I finally got to meet C&K at my son’s 1st birthday party.

This post originally ended with: My biological father? Oh, him. I might be on to something. When I was writing this post, I got curious and started searching and found him. Unfortunately, neither he nor his wife has social media, but I found some of their relatives, a phone number and address. I’m not going to be creepy and write, but maybe I should have a few drinks and give him a call haha! I’m really not interested in him for some reason, but I’d love to see a photo.

Spoiler: I met him

Fast-forward 4 years after meeting my sisters — I met my biological father. Since this is already so long, I will try to only mention what’s really necessary.

After finding out his information, I told my then-husband. One night while he was bored on duty (Marine Corps) he called my biological father. My detective work proved to be quite accurate — it was him.

We spoke on the phone the next day. He lives in Hawaii, so we likely would not ever meet.

When I moved back to California, he mentioned that he goes to Northern California once a year for a Giants game, so that year he made a pit stop in Southern California to see me.

Days before I met him, we decided to get a divorce. My husband was deployed and my son was 4. I had enough on my plate so meeting this guy was the last thing I wanted to do. Especially on Mother’s Day.

We met for lunch, he brought my son some toys, it was super cute, however, I certainly get my chattiness and personality from my biological mother. Long story short, he sends an email once a year on my birthday and it simply says ‘Happy Birthday.’ I don’t think he knows I’m divorced, have a new family, or honestly anything about me at all. It was nice to meet him, have his contact information, and to know what he looks like.

Oh — and everything they said about him above? It was a lie. He never moved there. That’s not his degree. That’s not his profession. He never knew if I was actually born or anything about me. It’s hard to want to get to know someone who is full of shit and LIED to the person he knocked up, as well as the adoption agency. You guys know I can’t stand liars. I spent years looking for an English Professor — something he never was.

Like I said much earlier, he has the same name as my cousin. After talking to him about his family history and the fact that he is IDENTICAL to my grandpa, we are pretty sure I’m actually blood-related to my mom, but we’ve never compared family trees. It’s so crazy.

My sister — my friend!

My biological mother had twins 13 years after I was born. Carly, was always intrigued by my Facebook posts and photos she would see on her mom’s account before she ever knew who I was. She was obsessed with watching The Parent Trap. It’s like she subconsciously knew.

We formed a bond over Sephora, makeup, and all of the fun things life has to offer that we have in common. A few years ago, she visited me in California and it was just the best!

Alzheimer’s SUCKS

This photo was taken at my grandma’s house in 2013. I think this was the last time we were all together in person because I have either lived in Virginia or California since a week after I graduated college in Michigan.

Shortly after this photo, F really started to go downhill. She developed Alzheimer’s in her late 40s/early 50s. THAT’S EARLY. Way too early. My sisters lost a lot of their childhood — they had to grow up and become self-sufficient and caregivers. Fast forward to 2020 and F is in a home and no one has physically seen her since May. She suffered a seizer and clearly needed around the clock help. Due to COVID, they don’t allow visitors, however, my friend with Cancer can have people in and out of the hospital every day. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not fair. They need to see their mom.

I can’t remember the last time I talked to her when she knew who I was. It’s been years, and I’ll never get that time back or be able to make new memories. I’m grateful for those who pushed me to meet her and I’m grateful for all of the stories she told me. Don’t do LSD, kids.

I gained sisters I never knew I had, and am extremely grateful for. I worry every day that this is going to happen to me and I never want my son or bonus daughters or the love of my life to have to experience Alzheimer’s. Granted, I’ve never done LSD, but Alzheimer’s is deep in my blood.

No, I won’t get tested to see if I have the gene or not — what good would that do me? I’m already a mess.

If you’ve made it this far, I appreciate it and hope it was interesting, funny, and insightful. If you have any questions, please ask! Seriously — you can ask me ANYTHING!

Hug the ones you love and make sure they know you love them. You never know what tomorrow could bring.

Mom & dad — thanks for adopting me and giving me the best life ever. Even if I am finishing this post waiting at my tattoo appointment, and I know that drives you crazy.

Love you!

I believe in social media fundamentals and community management. I tweet/write what most are thinking, but afraid to say. I’m the devil’s advocate.

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