Tag Archives: birth certificate

 Adoptee Questionnaire – What Traits Do We Share?

I clicked on a link from my Twitter feed that requested I take a survey about adoptees. They wanted to know if I believed that adoptees should be able to have access to their original birth certificates (OBCs). Of course I do. On the federal level, not state by state. They wanted to know if I believed that birth mothers, original mothers, should be able to find, have information about the child/baby they relinquished. Yes, I believe they should have that right. They also asked about transracial, gay, single parent, and other types of adoptions. Yes, those seem like valid questions. I believe the most important quality for those wanting to adopt is their want to give love to a child.

The questionnaire did not ask anything about if I believed that children should be given up for adoption because they couldn’t afford to raise the child. Or because the birthmother’s parent forced them to. Or how I felt about a child being relinquished because a church considered childbirth without marriage is a sin. They also didn’t ask if I felt that a birth mother and a child should stay together if at all possible. That would have been a good question to ask. Yes, I hate stories where a young women put her child up for adoption so she could complete her college degree. Four years later she has a piece of paper and an empty space in her heart for the rest of her life?? That’s wrong. I’d like to see that never happen again. But that wasn’t my survey. I answered the questions on my iPhone without adding much. Once I get started on the subject it’s hard to stop me.

Anyway, one question really took me by surprise. They asked: Have you experienced any of the following: divorce, depression, anxiety, OCD, ADD, dyslexia, obesity, anorexia, thoughts of suicide….There were more but this is a long enough list. WOW, I’ve experienced all of these! Are they trying to say that these are symptoms of adoption? Symptoms of the adoption system? Do they believe most adoptees have deep rooted issues because of the circumstances of their birth? I don’t know if I believe that. I’d like to know what part of the general population suffers from these issues.

There’s also a part of the equation that we’ll never know the answer to. Again it’s nature vs. nurture. My having these issues could be due to the separation from my birth mother. However,since there was a reason that my birth mother couldn’t raise me, I might have had the same issues had she been in my life. Or worse. Also, what about my particular situation? My adoptive mother was abusive. I was not raised in the ideal situation. I believe my psychological issues had to do with my adoptive mother. Her insecurities. Had I been adopted into a more loving environment, I might have turned out very different. More confident. And then on the other hand, perhaps the challenges I faced growing up helped me become a stronger person. Made me work harder for what I have. Made me appreciate the love of my husband more. Made me a better mother.

When we look at psychological issues, I believe there are so many factors to take into consideration that perhaps a 45 question survey is just the tip of the iceberg. Genetics play a huge role in all these conditions.

What do you think? How many “experiences” would you place a check by? Do you blame your adoption for any or all of your problems? Or is it just a convenient excuse?

Same Sex Marriage 

Sometimes justice is served. Sometimes things go right. Sometimes it seems we wait forever to get what we should have had all along. Freedom to marry the person you love is a human right.

I’m naively surprised the decision was 5-4. The same way I’m surprised by how many people still fight to display the confederate flag. I’m saddened that there are so many people who want to keep the Constitution the way it was written, forgetting, or maybe remembering, that when the Constitution was written there was slavery and women couldn’t vote. I don’t want to go back to those days.

We, as a country of individuals from all walks of life, need to learn to love and respect, and perhaps embrace our differences.

I’m especially pleased that the SCOTUS made this landmark decision on the anniversary of the day I met the love of my life!

Next, how about the Supreme Court rules that every adoptee has the right to their original birth certificate.

Adoption – It’s Not Just My Story

I selfishly thought my adoption was about me. Just about me. I had asked my mom so many times about my birthmother. What happened to her? How did she die? (Mom always insisted she had died in childbirth but I learned years later she hadn’t died at all. They lied to me.) Did Mom know anything about this woman who “sacrificed” her life for me to be born? About the woman who gave my parents the ultimate gift? Me.

Yes, my questions were all about me. Questions my parents apparently didn’t have the answers to. I didn’t even know what time of day I was born. I never cared about those genealogy exercises in school because I didn’t have any blood relatives. I didn’t worry about my health since my father’s heart problems and my mom’s cancer weren’t inheritable, because I was adopted. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters. No one understood how I felt. Alone. No one looked like me. I cried when my aunt said I looked like I should be her daughter since I was short and fat like her, not tall like my mom. Why did she feel it was necessary to point out my weight in the same sentence that she reminded me that I was adopted? I was different. I didn’t belong.

I felt inadequate when I’d go to the doctor since I couldn’t provide the medical history they requested. Me, me, me. When I learned my birthmother hadn’t died in childbirth like I was told, I was more determined than ever to find this woman. To find out who she was, what she looked like, and why she gave me up. Since I learned she hadn’t died, I needed to know a reason. And I wanted to know why they lied to me.

Once I found out who my birthmother was, and I must say it took some amazing of detective work on my part, the focus was no longer just about me. It became about my birth mother. My first mother. Who was she? And why didn’t she, or couldn’t she, keep me?

After finding my adoption papers after both of my adoptive parents passed away, armed with only a last name, I wrote and mailed out letters. I included a picture of me and a short bio. I received a response from a woman, Elaine, who was the family historian. Yes, my birth family was so cool they have a historian. She and I set out to find out who I was. Where I came from. And why.

It took years. Twenty-four years for the two of us to piece together the puzzle to the point where we were certain who my birth mother was. Unfortunately, this woman had passed away about the same time I started looking for her.

This family historian, Laney, as I now called her, and cuz, as she called me, was so excited about the book I wrote about finding my birthmother. She told all her friends and family about my story. After one of her friends read my book, Call Me Ella, they posted this status on Laney’s Facebook page: “I loved the book,” she said to my cuz. “It’s about you!” I smiled. Yes, my new cuz Laney is the true hero of my book. Thank you for your help, your encouragement and your love! Without your help I would never have learned how I came to be!

Adoption is not just about the adoptee. It’s about the whole family. It’s about the adoptive family. It’s also about the birth family. When a child is put up for adoption, there are so many people involved. Potential siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins. The sad part is most of the time, the majority of people who are affected by adoption don’t even know an adoption took place. They have no idea there is a person in this world who is feeling alone. Different. Perhaps unwanted. No matter how much they might be loved by their adoptive family, there is still the underlying truth that at some point, they were separated from their blood. What can we do to help? The first step is honesty. Everyone deserves a story. Their own birth story. My adoption might have been the right option. Perhaps the only option. But growing up believing a woman had died who hadn’t? That’s the part that hurts the most. I learned about the lies after my adoptive parents, after my birth mother had passed away. It’s sad. There are so many things I may never know. So many unanswered questions.

January 1, 2017 is the day that I am expecting to be able to request my original New Jersey birth certificate for the first time. I wonder what it will say. Will I learn anything that I haven’t figured out already? If nothing else, perhaps I will learn what time of day I was born. That would be nice.

What do you hope to find when you finally get to see your original birth certificate?

Call Me Ella - An Adoption Reunion Memoir

Call Me Ella – An Adoption Reunion Memoir

New Jersey Original Birth Certificates to be Unsealed!

I just received a “personal” email from Gov. Christie about unsealing adoptees’ original birth certificates. I’ll share it with you.

Office of the Governor

Office of Constituent Relations

Post Office Box 001

Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0001

 

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE ELECTRONIC RESPONSE 

April 30, 2014 

Dear Ms. Kaufman: 

Thank you for writing to share your support for Senate Bill No. 873 (S873), which would permit adoptees and certain others to obtain an adoptee’s original birth certificate and other related information.  I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.  

I agree that New Jersey should take a new, open approach to adoption records that would eliminate the requirement of obtaining a court order to access birth records while respecting and protecting the interests of adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents.  Thus, have recommended additional safeguards to balance the needs of adoptees seeking critical records of their identity with the expectations of birth parents in years past who may wish to remain private. These recommendations would allow birth parents to select a preference for contact: direct contact, contact through a confidential intermediary, or access to medical records only with continued privacy.  

Adoptees would be able to obtain an original birth certificate without involvement from the courts beginning in 2017. For adoptions finalized before the effective date of this bill, birth records will remain confidential through the end of 2016.  During that time, birth parents may choose to file a preference for contact with the State Registrar.  For adoptions finalized after August 1, 2015, long-form birth certificates will be available without redaction, and birth parents are permitted to submit an information statement electing their preferred method of personal contact.  Providing these transition periods will permit for appropriate educational campaigns on new open adoptions and avoid altering the settled expectations of parents and children without notice.   

have returned S873 to the Legislature with these suggested changes and look forward to their swift approval of the amended bill.  Again, thank you for writing to share your views on this legislation. 

Sincerely, 

 

Chris Christie

Governor

I can’t wait to finally see my own birth certificate! Not one that was created over a year after I was born.  Even though I’ve already figured out who my bio parents are, I’m dying to see what is on my actual birth certificate. I realize, false information might be there because knowledge of my birth could potentially have destroyed two families.

Who else is excited about getting their original birth certificate? What do you think you will find? What do you hope to find? Medical information? Family? Answers to questions like “who am I?”

Call Me Ella - An Adoption Reunion Memoir

Call Me Ella – An Adoption Reunion Memoir

Why are There So Many Adoption Secrets?

As most adoptees, I wanted to know how I came to be. “We chose you,” did not answer any of my questions. I wanted a story. My birth story. Hell, I never even knew what time of day I was born so I could do an astrological chart. Why did my adoptive parents keep the story of my birth a secret? Why are there so many secrets associated with adoption?

Times have changed. Mila Kunis is pregnant with Ashton Kutcher’s baby. They are not married. Olivia Wilde is pregnant with Jason Sudeikis’ baby. Not married. Jessica Simpson, Snookie, and the famous Kardashians had children without ever getting married. Savannah Guthrie announced at her wedding that she was pregnant. Women have always gotten pregnant with or without benefit of marriage. However, in the old days, shotgun weddings were common. Not so much today.

In the olden days, and, unfortunately, for many families today, getting pregnant without being married was considered a sin. It confirmed sex took place. And that was bad. Of course, the only difference between girls and unmarried women who get pregnant and those who don’t, are those who don’t are better at using birth control. So why is there such secrecy in adoption? Why are there so many birthmothers searching for the babies they gave up and why are so many adoptees searching for their birth parents? Why has the system made it so difficult to find each other? To find an answer, we need to understand why babies are put up for adoption. Why are so many girls coerced into relinquishing a child. Is it shame? Greed? Love? I’m trying to understand how a child can be taken from its mother against her will. Here are some possible scenarios.

I get it. A sixteen-year-old girl gets pregnant. She doesn’t want anyone to know. She’s embarrassed. Maybe she was fooling around with a boy. Any boy. Maybe it was a one night stand. Maybe they were at a party. Maybe she had too much to drink. Maybe it was her boyfriend. She’s afraid he won’t like her anymore if he finds out she’s pregnant. Maybe he is planning on going to college, and if he figures out that she’s going to have a baby, he’ll want to do the right thing and stay home and get a job. But that would ruin his life. He’d never get a chance to become that doctor, lawyer, president that he could have been if he didn’t have to cut his schooling short to stay home and help raise a child. Maybe she puts her baby up for adoption to protect him. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. She tries to move on with her life. Can she?

Or, this sixteen-year-old girl can’t tell her mom. Her mom goes to church each week. Her mom goes to confession, attends pot-luck dinners. She sells her cupcakes at the church fundraisers. What would her mom say if she knew her daughter got knocked-up? Her mom would be embarrassed.

Okay, this sixteen-year-old girl, when she can no longer hide her growing belly under her oversized sweatshirts, even in the summer, finally gets the nerve to tell her mom the secret she’s been hiding, gets whisked away to her aunt’s house in Iowa to have the baby in secret, so no one will know and ruin her reputation. I mean, ruin her mother’s reputation. Her family’s reputation. This girl doesn’t want to give away her baby. She is coerced into doing it so she won’t bring shame on the family.

What world is this? This might have been reality thirty, forty, fifty years ago. But today? Now that sixteen-year-old girl is a mom, maybe a grandmother. No one could possibly blame her for anything she could have done as a child. As a teen. She desperately wants to find the baby she gave up for adoption. But she can’t. It’s a secret. That birth certificate, with her name on it, and possibly the father’s name on it, has been sealed for many years. She doesn’t know who adopted her baby. And she doesn’t know where to start looking. She’s hoping, praying that someday, the child she was forced to give up, is looking for her. She posts to Facebook every day, using the same last name she had when she put the baby up for adoption, hoping to be found. Praying for a reunion. Maybe this child was lucky enough to have adoptive parents who will show her her adoption papers. Will help her find the birth mother who let her go. Maybe not because she wanted to, but because she felt she had no other choice. She couldn’t bring shame to her family.

Or, there was another sixteen-year-old girl who got pregnant. She too couldn’t tell her mom fearing her mom might want to make her have an abortion, or might make her have the baby and give it away. She keeps the pregnancy hidden. Too long. By the time her mom finds out, it’s too late for choices. She has to keep the baby. Her baby. She grows to love her baby. Doesn’t want to give it up even though that would bring shame to the family. What does she do? Her mom takes the choice away from her. Her mom decides to raise the baby as her own. The sixteen-year-old girl becomes a “sister.” How can she ever tell anyone later? Besides, who’s going to ask? The baby does look like a family member.

Another sixteen-year-old girl. She finds out she’s pregnant and can’t tell her mom because she was adopted. That meant her mom couldn’t get pregnant. She couldn’t imagine how her mom would possibly react knowing that, more than anything, her mom wanted to have a child, and couldn’t. She can’t tell her mom she got knocked-up when her mom tried for years to get pregnant. She secretly gets an abortion, a choice easier than confronting her mom.

Another sixteen-year-old girl. She finds out she’s pregnant and can’t tell her mom because her mom’s new husband is the father. Rape. The girl runs away. If the police find her they will just try to bring her back home. No. That house is no longer her home. She keeps the baby, but refuses to tell her who the father is. Anyone would understand why this should be a secret. She just tells her child, she doesn’t know who the father is.

An eighteen-year-old girl finds out she’s pregnant. She talks to her mom. She tells her mom she wants to have this baby. The mom goes off the deep end. They just spent $25,000 on her first year of college. This is no time to have a baby, the mom insists. Don’t be a fool. You have plenty of time to have a baby. Now’s the time for you to get your degree. Finish your education. Then, when you have graduated, are married, settled down, then you can start thinking about a baby. Don’t ruin your life. This college freshman, no longer having the courage to ask for her mom’s help, gives in. She gives the baby up for adoption. For a piece of paper. She never stops thinking about that baby. Missing her. Asking herself, was this degree, this piece of paper, worth it? Her answer is always the same. No. She wants to find her baby. Or at least know that her baby is safe. Healthy. Happy. She starts looking. Even after she has more children, each one reminds her of the one she can’t hold in her arms.

A forty-year-old woman finds out she is pregnant. Miracle? Maybe. Surprise? Definitely. Unfortunately, this woman is married. And her husband has been away for months. Many months. She doesn’t know when or if he is coming back. But he’s the father of her other children. They are a family. Should this fling break up her home? She gets the news. Her husband is returning home. Can they try to work things out? He’ll be better. He promises. She tries her best to hide her pregnancy from her children. When the baby is born, she puts the baby up for adoption. Who gets the baby? The baby-daddy. Now, we’ve got the birthmom keeping her pregnancy hidden from her husband, who is returning from God-knows-where. And we’ve got the baby being raised (adopted) by the wife of the man who cheated on her. Obviously, this adoptive mom can’t tell the baby how she came to be since that would be admitting that her husband cheated on her. It would mean divulging a secret that has been buried down deep. All the while, the adoptive mom sees the “other woman” in her baby’s face each and every day. The adoptive daughter truly understands the Cinderella story. She lives it every day.

And this is just the start. Shame. Shame. Shame. Secrets destroy families.

Call Me Ella - An Adoption Memoir

Click for sample or to purchase book.

Original Birth Certificates for New Jersey Adoptees

The headline in NJ.com read: Bill opening birth records for adoptees approved by NJ Assembly panel.

The main story in NJCARE read:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Adoption Hearing was heard before the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee. It was voted out of committee 4-0. You can listen to the hearing by going to the home page of the NJ Legislature and click on Archived Hearings.  Ask your Assemblyperson to support A1259 which will give adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates.

Are we, adoptees born in New Jersey, finally getting closer to getting our original birth certificates? My birth certificate, the “official certified copy” of my birth certificate, is dated one year after my birth. It lists my adoptive parents’ names as if they had given birth to me. Yes they raised me. Yes, they were my family. My mom and dad. But they were not my birth parents. They were not responsible for bringing me into the world. Isn’t it illegal to falsify documents? Doesn’t the state realize that they are depriving me the right to know who I am? Where I came from?

In 2011, Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the adoptee birth certificate bill, insisting anonymity for mothers. He said the records should be released but insisted that women who gave their kids up to adoption should have their anonymity preserved. What will happen this time? Will he veto the bill again?

Hasn’t he seen the movie Philomena? How many birthmothers would give anything to know the child they relinquished, many of whom where relinquished against their will, is healthy? Happy? Alive? Gov. Christie claimed birthmothers want anonymity. Maybe some do. From what I’ve read, most want to learn what happened to their child. Their flesh and blood.

I admit, I am not a birthmother. So I can’t speak for birthmothers. But I can speak as an adoptee. When I began my search twenty-something years ago, I wrote letters. Who did I write to? I lucked out, if I can use the term “luck.” Right before my mom passed away, she told me where she kept her important papers. In that box I found my adoption papers. This was the first time I learned what my birthmother’s last name was. Armed with that information, I wrote letters to people with my birth name. I finally hit pay dirt when my letter was passed on to a woman who was considered the “family historian.” (I thought it was so cool that my birth family had a “historian.”)Each letter I wrote included verbiage such as, “I don’t want to intrude on anyone’s life, I just want to know who I am.” Eventually, and this took many years, the historian and I fit together the pieces. We figured out who my birthmother had been. A woman who had passed away the year after my mom passed away.

I’m worried. Is Gov. Christie going to insist on protecting the anonymity of a woman who died twenty-five years ago? Whose husband has passed away and most of the children she raised? What if he insists that we get permission from the birthmother? Will this be a catch-22? She can’t give permission because she is dead. She can’t deny permission because she is dead.

I can’t begin to explain the feeling I’m anticipating the day I’m finally able to get my original birth certificate. To hold it in my hands. To see my name as it was written the day I was born. To finally feel whole. I’m anxious. I’m excited. I hope this bill passes before it’s too late. Before I’m dead.

I’d love to hear from other adoptees about how you will feel when you finally get your OBC. What are you expecting? And from birthmothers. Have you been looking? Are you hoping to be found?

20140103-121319.jpg

Click to get sample or purchase book.

An Adoptee Asks, Where Did I Come From?

Mom never understood why I asked about my birth. Why should she? Most people spend little time thinking about the circumstances of their birth. They take it for granted. But when you’re adopted, you’re constantly reminded. From the first time I was asked, “What was life like in the orphanage?” to my third grade teacher introducing us to the idea of genetics, I thought about how I came to be. Our assignment, to make a family tree and put a star by everyone on the tree who had our eye color, seemed like a waste of time for me. My parents just picked me up at the hospital, I thought. I don’t have anyone’s eyes.

As I grew older, each time I went to a new doctor, they’d ask for my medical history. My answer, “I don’t have one, I’m adopted,” ended that line of questioning. For me, it didn’t matter that my father died of heart failure. That my mother succumbed to cancer. They don’t care if anyone in my family has had diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease. I have no medical history. I’m always starting with a fresh slate.

Mom never understood why I asked about my birth. Why should she? Most people spend little time thinking about the circumstances of their birth. They take it for granted. But when you’re adopted, you’re constantly reminded. From the first time I was asked, “What was life like in the orphanage?” to my third grade teacher introducing us to the idea of genetics, I thought about how I came to be. Our assignment, to make a family tree and put a star by everyone on the tree who had our eye color, seemed like a waste of time for me. My parents just picked me up at the hospital, I thought. I don’t have anyone’s eyes.

As I grew older, each time I went to a new doctor, they’d ask for my medical history. My answer, “I don’t have one, I’m adopted,” ended that line of questioning. For me, it didn’t matter that my father died of heart failure. That my mother succumbed to cancer. They don’t care if anyone in my family has had diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease. I have no medical history. I’m always starting with a fresh slate.

As a child I couldn’t put into words why I was curious about the events that occurred on those days, months, before Mom and Dad mailed out the engraved birth announcements proclaiming: baby girl, 6 pounds.

All I knew about being adopted was my parents weren’t involved in my actual conception and birth. But what about the rest of the story? Where were they when they got the call? Did they pick me up from the hospital? What hospital? Did they want a girl? Were they disappointed I wasn’t a boy? Did they meet my birth mother before she died? Was she pretty? Did a social worker hand me to them? Were they excited? Everyone has a story, don’t they? There’s nothing wrong with wanting my own story.  “You were adopted. We picked you.” That’s not enough information.

Looking back now, I can see where I went wrong. I wasn’t specific enough in my questioning. Instead of asking Mom the general, open ended, question, “Do you know anything about my birth?” I should have sat both my parents down, shone a light in their eyes and said, “What happened on the night of August 30? And please, do not leave out any of the details.”

In the beginning, I guess I just wanted to know if I had actually spent time at an orphanage. So the answer, “We brought you home from the hospital”, was enough. As I got older, I wondered if my parents had tried to start a family for years, planning and praying for a child, saddened to learn they were infertile. It upset me how whenever I’d ask Mom about my birth, she never used the words “love” or “longing” in her: “You were adopted. We picked you,” answer. I wanted to find out if my dad would have had better answers for me but I knew not to bother him. Mom was the one who made decisions, answered questions. Dad, always tired, or busy, was to be left alone. I understood that.

I’m sure my questions must have seemed insensitive to Mom’s feelings. How could I have been so ungrateful for everything she’d done for me? I should have said, “I love you and I’m so glad you are my mother,” before adding, “but I just want to know a little more about the woman who gave me up and why you adopted me. Please help me fill in the blanks.” How should I, as a ten year old, have explained to the woman who cooked my dinner, washed my clothes and schlepped me to piano lessons, why I wanted to know something about another woman who was able to get pregnant when she was not? Having unanswered questions didn’t get easier as I got older. Why couldn’t I have just let it alone?

No, I had the right to ask. All children ask, Why is the sky is blue? Why shouldn’t I touch a hot stove? And definitely, Where did I come from? Always feeling I was missing some important information, I wouldn’t let go.

This is an excerpt from my memoir, Call Me Ella, available on Amazon.

To My Birth Mother – Thank You

You loved me once
I believe it’s true
From the bottom of my heart
No words will do.

Ripped from your flesh
A moment too soon
You provided my lifeline
You gave me the moon.

And stars and planets
And the earth below my feet
You could have let go sooner
Admitted defeat.

I’ll love you forever
Knowing you were the one
Without your courage
There’d be no sun.

There’d be no universe
In which I would live
I don’t understand why you let go of me
But the greatest gift did you give.

The two I called parents
Who raised me with care
Owe you all their blessings
Deny, they wouldn’t dare.

I’m glad that I found you
Although it’s too late
To thank you in person
Would not be our fate.

I look to your son
Since you’ve passed away
I love my new brother
Yesterday, tomorrow, and today.

Aside

My two adult step children visited this past weekend when they were in town for a family wedding. We had just finished a late dinner. After clearing the dishes from the table, it was gift time. I returned to my … Continue reading

Adopted in New Jersey

Having been adopted in New Jersey, I was never able to obtain my original birth certificate. Growing up I begged my adoptive mother over and over for any possible information she might have about my birth mother until one day, shooting her foot through the kitchen wall she screamed, “Don’t ever ask me that again.” I guess that was the end of the story. For years I would go on believing I must have been the product of rape, incest or my birth mother just wanted to get rid of me. I never fantasized about being the daughter of famous celebrities who were unable to raise me fearing an illegitimate birth might ruin their careers. This was a few (?) years ago. At least I thought this was the end of the story until my mother was on her death bed.  Literally.

Mom put much effort into apologizing to me during those weeks I sat at her bedside trying to comfort her after we realized the end to her two year battle with cancer was near. “I know I was a bitch you,” came as a surprise to me.  I smiled, figuring it was probably the morphine talking, allowing her the freedom to let go of her pride for once in her life. “You were a lovable bitch”, I responded, with a wink and a smile, while my heart was breaking inside. Why couldn’t she have apologized years ago?  Why do they always wait until their deathbed?  It’s like the parents who know their children are struggling financially, but refuse them monetary help when they need it saving it instead for “the inheritance.”  By the time the will is read, the family is bitter and torn apart.

We both laughed.  For the first time in years, maybe ever, we talked.  Opened up.  In this dreary hospital room, with its green walls, threadbare divider curtains, IV drip, heartbeat monitor, this same hospital where my son was born, for the first time in my memory my Mom wasn’t judgmental.  Telling me she was proud of me I could only think, why did she wait until she was dying?  No one knew the pain I felt growing up.  I couldn’t tell her how she had hurt me. Not now. She was dying. I let her talk.

A week before she died she told me about a “lock box” that was hidden in the back of the top shelf in her bedroom closet. “There are important papers in there.” She said. Then she gave me the secret code. “Your daddy’s birthday”.

For the first time I was nervous being alone in her house, my childhood home.  Before this trip my only concerns involved the safety of my children as I had left both of them with their alcoholic father, trusting in God to watch over the three of them while I visited my dying mother, and how much longer my mother had to live, praying at this point that her pain would end soon.  As I prepared myself to open “the box, the secret hidden box,” I felt my heart pounding in my throat.

Balancing on a chair pulled up to the bedroom closet, reaching past the stacks of hat boxes, the silk scarves and leather gloves, my hand touched the metal of a small box, like a buried treasure.  I pulled the box down from the closet, placed it on her quilted bedspread and stared at it as I got comfortable in my usual position, legs tucked beneath me.  Memories started flooding into my head like the waters crushing back together after Charlton Heston parted the Red Sea. Like it was yesterday I pictured my Koko, surrounded by her litter of eight poodles, resting on the blood stained blanket right there, in front of this same mirrored closet door.

I looked at the box. After taking a deep breath I rotated the first cylinder to “6”.  The second was already in the correct position.  After easing the third cylinder into place I could feel the lid release and slowly open.  Although I had no idea what was in this treasure chest, I knew it contained something important.  I rifled through lots of papers.  Mostly insurance docs.  Itemized lists assigning values to the jewelry, furs, monogrammed silverware and the China my father shipped over from Hungary during the war.  “My inheritance”.

My parents weren’t wealthy by any means, but they liked their trinkets.

As I worked my way through the documents I came to a sudden halt.  My heart stopped.  “Adoption Papers”.  Oh my God. It listed my birth mother’s last name.  My eyes burned as hot tears flowed down my cheeks into my mouth. I could hardly read the documents my eyes were so filled. After removing my fogged over contact lenses, I was able to examine the hand typed court documents drafted so many years ago.  While I studied the pages, one memory came to mind.

“Don’t ever ask me that again”.  Was she telling me where this box was so I’d find the adoption papers and open a dialog?  Did she want me to ask her about this now?  Was she ready to talk?  She had apologized for being so mean to me all my life. She realized she had been unfair.  But was she ready to talk?  Is this why she told me about the box?

I returned to the hospital the next morning expecting her to ask me about the box. Did you find the box, do you have any questions?  I’m ready now to answer anything.  But no. She never mentioned the lock box and I didn’t have the heart, or guts, to bring it up at this time. She was dying. I wasn’t going to do or say anything that would upset her now. She had to be the one to broach the subject.  I waited. Nothing.

No matter how many disappointments my mother had in her life, she could never bring herself to talk to me about her greatest disappointment of all – that she could not give birth. She said nothing and I said nothing.

She died the following week. Her secret intact.

(This is an excerpt from my new memoir about my twenty-four year search to find out who this mysterious birth mother was. Along the way, I learned who my birth father was as well.)