March 30, 2007

My New Identity Crisis: Part 3 -- My Answer to Ruth

When I last left off, I was perusing a proposal from Ruth, the genealogist I had met online but had never met in person. She asked if she could help me find my birth family, and something that I had thought about off and on throughout my life was suddenly sitting in my lap.

What kid, who knows he or she has been adopted, doesn't think about finding his or her birth parents? I can't say that such a desire was at the top of my list of things to do, but it was always something I thought I would explore "someday." However, I can't deny that I hadn't thought about my birth mother and father, what they looked like. Sometimes at night on any December 29th, my birthday, before I went to sleep and as I lay there in the dark, I would wonder if somewhere out there someone was also thinking of me.

As I began to hit my forties, I think my mid-life crisis took the form of an identity crisis rather than an "Oh my god I'm halfway to death" crisis. I realized that, having been adopted after I was 2 years old, that I had no history before my earliest memory and that there was nobody that could tell me what I was like. I had no baby pictures. My earliest picture of myself was at 2½ years. For some reason, this began to bother me a little.

I knew I existed before two. I heard the stories. The rumor that was passed to my adoptive mom, Shirley, was that I was the product of an affair between the wife of a college professor and a milkman. I thought this was funny, but it was the only archetypal story of my "beginnings." I knew that at some point, I was placed in a foster home with a family for what was to be a temporary stay, but the wife, named "Mama" Joyce, became greatly attached to me and she and her husband intended to adopt me. She had been trying for nine years to be pregnant, and had for all intents and purposes given up. As luck would have it, as soon as they made that decision she became pregnant. There was some difference of opinion between her and her husband at this point, and she reluctantly gave me up. I was placed in another foster home for three months, with Thelma and Laurence Wills, and then I was adopted by Vernon and Shirley Hess.

My difficult childhood also fueled my speculation as to my birth. Without going into too much detail, I had a very difficult time at home. Vernon was an alcoholic. Shirley coped by trying to exert control over the home. Vernon also violated the lines separating appropriate and inappropriate attentions to me, to put it mildly. My younger sister developed anorexia-bulimia. To say that we were a dysfunctional family is almost making light of the gravity of the situation.

In these situations, it is easy for a guy to imagine "what ifs." What if I had not been given up for adoption by my birth parents? What if Mama Joyce had been able to adopt me? Don't get me wrong. I was happy with the way I turned out given the possibilities. But with a difficult past, it's easy to imagine somewhat greener pastures, or at least an easier time getting to the pasture in which I now stood.

However, the other part of the equation also included a lot of "what ifs." What if we can't find anything at all? What if we find something and my birth mother, father, or any family doesn't want anything to do with me? These were questions I had to reconcile if I was to move forward. I had heard too many stories of adoptees finding birth family only to realize that they were dragging up old wounds and re-opening old scars that were to remain forever closed. I did not want that for myself - I didn't want to be dragged into some new drama which would, no matter how hard I tried, affect others and even possibly my self-esteem.

After weighing all these questions in my mind, and talking them over with Megan my wife, I decided to go ahead. But Megan had one question that I hadn't thought of. "Why is Ruth doing this," Megan wanted to know? "What does she get out of it?" Megan was a little suspicious because it's not every day that someone just offers to help you without wanting something in return. And the fact was, I wasn't sure I wanted to put out a lot of financial effort to do this. I had been sitting on some paperwork from the adoption agency that handled my case for over a year. I had to pay $100 to get a copy of whatever was in their file on me. The file could include a waiver by the birth parents which would allow me to find them, or it could contain information I already knew. I had been reluctant to send in the money because, with my being a student, we were really only living on one full-time income plus whatever I brought in from some part-time work.

So I wrote to Ruth, saying that I would be interested but that I didn't really have anything to spend on this search financially, and if that was something that was expected I didn't think I could go through with it. I also said that if we go through with this, if there were any indications that going farther would result in pain and hurt to anyone, I would back off immediately. Ruth answered immediately, putting my fears to rest. "My family thinks I'm a bit daff," she wrote, because of her intense interest in genealogy. No, there wouldn't be any financial expectations. Perhaps if we ever met, I could buy her a piece of lemon pie at a little restaurant. And yes, I would have complete control over the process -- if she found something she would inform me first and ask me how to proceed. She would not commence contacting anyone unless she had my complete approval. She further wrote that she felt that I had been sent to her in some way and that her role in this adventure was to help me find what I was looking for, and she was willing to accept the role.

With that out of the way, I gave Ruth the go ahead, and off we went.

Next post: Finding Mama Joyce

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Blogger Mary B. said...

Oh, Mike, I'm on the edge of my seat! Ruth sounds like an interesting woman. You should send her a whole pie if everyhting turns out well. :)

4:19 PM  

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