On July 1, 1991, I wore a new path in the already threadbare carpet of my third-story apartment. I was pacing and waiting for a return call from my birth mother. What will I say? What will she say? How will I breath? These were the questions that raced through my mind. I was readying myself for the first shared words with the woman who bore me.
After she confirmed my identity (by having me tell her my birth name) there were no words for at least five minutes. Instead of talking, we cried together. We cried for the loss of so many years, with the relief of finally knowing and for the future we might share. I was ready to move forward with her — alone. I was not mentally prepared for the cast of extras that are part of every reunion package. Especially the ‘kept’ siblings.
Being raised with one brother, also adopted (born 3/13/68 in NYC in case you are trying to find him) I experienced a sibling closeness built upon bricks of survival. I was my brother’s protector growing up, standing often between his face and our adoptive father’s fist. We survived, grew up as the first generation of latch key kids, and are both fiercely independent with decent jobs and families of our own. Siblings raised in abusive homes share the same bond as soldiers fighting side-by-side. Their survival depends on a near physic connection. The added psychology of adoption loss made us even closer.
When I found my birth mother and learned that I had two half siblings, I was surprised. I had never thought about the fact that she could have given birth to children after me, and kept them. My reunion fantasies were all about her. I was searching for a lone wolf, not a pack. After reunion, the reality of siblings was fraught with extra emotional baggage. To accept them was to accept that they were somehow more important, more deserving than I was. After all, they were kept.
My half-siblings never knew about me, and my birth mother chose to continue keeping me secret until after we met face-to-face. This meant that I would call to talk to her, and end up chatting with my adult siblings (who both still lived with her). They believed I was one of my birth mother’s co-workers. It was awkward, but deep down I liked being unknown to them. I wanted my birth mother all to myself, even if it was just for just a little while.
To introduce myself to them, I made a video, which my birth mother played for the siblings when she returned to Florida from our reunion in Massachusetts. She opened a bottle of champagne, announcing that she had some news. My half-sister said, ‘What are you pregnant Mom?” Little did she know.
After the sister secret was revealed, I learned about their lives and had a hard time adjusting to the truth. While I was given away because my birth mother wanted me “to have a better life” than she could afford, my half-siblings were raised with ample opportunity, stability and wealth in their formative years.
After my relinquishment in the early 1960’s, my birth mother became a successful banking executive. While my adoptive parents divorced when I was 11-years old and we experienced hotel homelessness at a shelter for battered women and children, my half-sister had a fur coat, a diamond nameplate necklace and a trip to London, all before she reached age 17. The irony of being the one who was supposed to be ‘better off’ was not lost on me. Neither was the jealousy.
Sibling jealousy is rarely discussed in terms of adoption reunion, but it was one of the toughest aspects of reunion adjustment for me. It still is.
I found my birth father five years after I was reunited with my birth mother and the sibling situation there was even worse. My birth father’s two sons were told about me and decided that I was the unacceptable result of their father’s whorish behavior. I have not met them to this day, and do not expect them to ever be a part of my life.
I am writing this on ‘Sibling Day” (who knew there was such a thing) to remind adoptees in search, that beyond the leading lady in your reunion story, there will be extras. There will be probably be ‘kept’ siblings. It is crucial that you recast the reunion reel that plays in your head to include them now, before the reunion. Doing so may ease the adjustment of finding more than your birth mother.
Remember- “Searching is difficult. Finding is life-altering.”
Blessing for successful sibling relationships,