In June 2015, when I was 45 years old, I found out that I had two siblings I did not know about. My father called to say that a woman had contacted him claiming to be his biological child. Apparently, when he was in the process of divorcing his first wife, she became pregnant with a child they placed for adoption. During this same conversation it was revealed that my mom had told my dad before they got married that she too had placed a child for adoption when she was in high school. Pause.
Wait now, what? My mom had a child in high school? My dad was calling me to express his concern that the recent opening of birth records in Ohio would cause someone to “knock on my mother’s door,” which could be upsetting to my mom as she was suffering from Alzheimer’s.
My stepfather, whom my mom married when I was 7 years old, had been taking care of her and my dad believed that he did not know about her first child. I did not feel emotional when learning about my dad’s child, but became very upset in learning about the child my mother placed for adoption. I felt all sorts of emotions. I was angry because my mom was my best friend. We shared everything yet she did not feel she could share her experience with me? I was also sad because I missed out on all the years of knowing this person. I was mystified that she and my grandmother had been able to keep this secret from me my whole life. I felt betrayed.
I immediately wanted to find both siblings. Since my dad’s birth daughter, Lisa, had contacted him, I was able to talk to her right away. We spoke only one time and she is now my friend on Facebook. That is our relationship at this time.
All I knew about my other sibling was that my mother had given birth while she was in high school. I knew that I needed help to find her because information was so limited.
I told my younger half-sister, Meghan, about our mom having a baby in high school. Meaghan contacted our stepfather and he said that contact had actually already been made and to “leave it alone because it didn’t go well.” Regardless of learning this, Meaghan and I decided to go forward with a search.
First, I was directed to call Adoption Network Cleveland by Catholic Charities. I literally had no idea where to begin or what information to ask. Traci Onders at Adoption Network helped me identify the details necessary to proceed with a search and recommended that I read The Girls Who Went Away. I read the book cover to cover, stunned by what my mother must have gone through and the pieces started to come together for me. I finally understood all the shame and guilt she and her family felt at that time.
Eventually, during one of my mom’s lucid moments, my sister was able to find out that she had a baby girl. We began searching for a girl with the last name, born in 1962 or 1963 since my mom graduated from high school in 1964. There were four possibilities. According to Traci, one of the girls was born in Cleveland and had been named Wendy at birth.
My stepfather finally mentioned traveling by a maternity home in Cleveland where he knew my mom stayed to have the baby. So it was the Cleveland baby named Wendy. I called to give Traci this information and the next day Traci found my sister, now named Susi. I found a picture of Susi online and the person I was looking at looked exactly like my mom. She also shared a resemblance to both Meghan and me.
Meghan and I sent Susi a letter with help from Traci. After a short time I got a response from Susi saying, “Yes, you found me.” I immediately called her and we spoke on the phone for a long time.
I learned that, yes, she had already met my mom in 1998. My mom had initiated a search to find her daughter and they had a two-year private relationship. They met face-to-face once and spoke on the phone often. Susi had known about me all along, although my mother kept Susi secret. Susi always felt it was my mother’s story to tell, not hers.
She decided to end their relationship because she still felt she was being hidden away. At this point my mom must have told my stepfather about Susi for the first time and he must have been upset. So the reason it “didn’t go well” was because of his reaction to the news. I don’t think he had known about Susi until then.
Susi let me read correspondence that my mom had written. It was surreal to read the letter my mom had written, sharing how she and my stepfather decided they were not ready to tell Meghan and me about Susi. Meghan and I were both very angry because we felt that not only was my mother made to relinquish Susi when she was born, but then had to give her up again.
Susi flew here to visit last December to get to know my sister and me. I wanted to get her something meaningful and decided on the book, The Girls Who Went Away, in addition to a few other gifts.
While Susi was here we took her to see my mom, who was in the hospital. They had a beautiful and emotional reunion. My mom knew what was going on, which was such a blessing. Susi told my mom that her girls had found her and that we were together now. Going forward it was hard to know how to proceed with our relationship. Luckily, Susi and I were able to communicate very well from the beginning and we were able to have, and continue to have, a great relationship — one that I see getting only better.