Guest Blog: What I've Learned in Twenty-three Years of Reunion
I last saw my daughter’s face in 1972. Though they told me I could never search for her, I knew I would. I told her I would find her as I gazed into her beautiful sleeping face. Through my tears, I told her I loved her and that I was sorry I couldn’t keep her.
I began my search in 1997 by contacting the agency who took custody of my baby. The caseworker cheerfully gave me absolutely no information. I asked for a copy of my file and was sent copies of the relinquishment paper I signed and the letters I had sent to them over the years to update my address. It took many months, and help from other searching mothers, to piece together the puzzle of where my daughter was located. On September 5, 1998, I called my daughter and heard her voice for the very first time.
“Take it slow” I was advised, “and let the adoptee choose the pace.” So I encouraged her to get an email address and we began an email correspondence. We did not speak on the phone again for several months after that first call. Slowly she shared with me about her life, both current and of her childhood. Finally, I asked if she’d like to come to my city to meet and she said yes, so I quickly bought a ticket before she could change her mind. Our slow introduction helped me to learn patience.
After that first visit, I saw her twice more again that first year. For the next few years, though she lived 800 miles from me, we were lucky enough to see each other a couple of times a year. I could not get enough of looking at her sweet face! Eventually our visits spaced out to once a year, but we continued to email regularly with phone calls in between. So through the years I learned contentment in our relationship.
She has done a wonderful job of incorporating me into her family events. She has invited me to both of her weddings and to the births of both of her children. Her children call me “Nana” just like my other grandchildren do. I’ve even been allowed to babysit them, take them out to play at parks, and for swimming at our hotel! I always feel welcome at her home and I think she feels welcome at mine. As a busy professional (and mother and wife), she doesn’t get to come to my house as much as I go to hers. This part of reunion taught me gratitude.
I treat her like I do my other children, dispensing advice and showing her how much I love her through word and deed. Though not as close to her as I am, the siblings have slowly accepted that she is a fixture in my life and that I will not abandon her ever again. There has been no jealousy, but I don’t think they are in contact much. They are too different; they were raised too differently. I do not involve myself in their relationships with each other nor do I discuss her much with my other children. It hurt my husband and raised children to see my grief and fear over possibly losing her again. Reunion is hard and many adoptees (and mothers) stop contact when the emotions become too difficult. So the fear is real and in the beginning, I always felt like I was “walking on eggshells” just in case. After twenty-three years, I learned how important it is to avoid falling into the trap of fear and just give her unconditional love with no expectation of a return.
We’ve experienced ups and downs (the so-called roller coaster) of emotions in reunion. In the beginning, I wanted more and more of her, to be with her; to hear her voice. But that was hard for her to deliver at times and she did back off contact when the whole thing got to be too much. It’s best never to make assumptions about the other person or whatever is going on in their life. This is especially hard for mothers of adoption loss since we underwent intense programming convincing us that we were not good enough to keep our babies and, thus, should relinquish. That feeling of unworthiness seeped into every aspect of our lives. So of course, any negative reaction from our lost children must be our fault because we were somehow flawed. It took a long time, but eventually I learned not to take her silence as an indictment of me.
My grief over losing her expanded after finding her again. How could I have signed that paper? Why didn’t I fight harder to keep her? Will she ever forgive me? My grief was expressed as anger for a long time, until I realized that my experience could maybe help other adoptees understand their own first mothers. Reunion does not fix the grief. I joined Adoption Search Resource Connection to hear more adoptee stories and feelings and this helped me to better understand my own daughter. Though I am healing, I have learned that through the trauma of losing her, I will never healed. Her loss will always be felt in the deepest part of me, in my soul.
In a couple of years, we will have been reunited for longer than we were separated. I wonder how that will feel, for me, and for her. I can’t wait to find out!
Kathy Aderhold, RN, BSN, MSN is the ASRC Vice President. She has served on the boards of the American Adoption Congress, Origins-USA, and Adoptees in Search - Colorado's Triad Connection. Kathy was featured in Dan Rather's Emmy-nominated documentary "Adopted or Abducted?" Kathy has a Bachelors and Masters in nursing and is a Certified Nurse Midwife. She developed a clinic for pregnant teens at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, Colorado, which she directed for seven years. Currently, Kathy has her own business as a Legal Nurse Consultant and is now using genetic genealogy as a Search Angel to help others find their families. She and her husband Ben, who has also connected with a son who was relinquished for adoption, live in Denver, CO, and thoroughly enjoy time with their children and grandchildren.