Tag Archives: New Jersey

To the Brother I Just Found, and Lost

I spent twenty-four years looking for my birth family. Growing up I was told my birthmother died in childbirth. A year after my mom passed away, I learned my birthmother hadn’t died. She actually handed me to my father in the hospital. That’s crazy, I thought. She didn’t die? She handed me to my father? My adoptive father? Why?

I searched. And searched. In the beginning there was no Internet. As the Internet grew, I found more hints. One day, through an online search and with the help of a woman I met through my old-fashioned mail campaign, I hit pay dirt. I found the name of a woman who could have been my birth mother. Long story short, it turned out she was. And I looked just like her.

The sad part, she had already passed away. About the time I found her name, I also learned that her daughter had passed away as well. However, she had a son who was still alive. I was so excited.

I contacted my bio brother, fully expecting him to question me. To ask why I think he’s my brother. To ask if there’s something I want from him. He didn’t ask. He never questioned me. He never asked how I found him. He just said, “Wow – I have a sister.” Immediately, he told me he loved me.

We didn’t live close to each other, so I only met him in person a few times. However, we texted almost every day. For years. “Hi Sis,” he’d say. Always ending our conversation with “hugs.”

My brother, my new brother, didn’t have money. He had talent. He was a professional, record-holding bowler. He was a famous bowler! Ron (Stromie) Stromfeld even set a world record with 52 consecutive series of 600 or better! And he set an ABC record with 156 200-games in a season!

The second time I met him, Stromie gave me all his press clippings that he had saved over the years. Wow, I couldn’t believe how many 300 scores! Unbelievable!

After an injury, Stromie was no longer able to bowl. He lost almost everything. Everything except his friends. Stromie had friends. Stromie was loved.

After I learned my brother was in the hospital, I needed to do something. Since I did not live close to Ohio, I couldn’t be in the hospital with him. But he had great friends, Nancy and Sharon, who were there for him, sitting by his side, day by day, comforting him, telling him he was loved. These women were his angels.

When the condition up-date calls stopped coming, I didn’t know what happened. I called the hospital. He was no longer there. They transferred him. I called the new hospital. You know that feeling you get when you know someone isn’t telling you something? “I’ll transfer you to Chaplain Steve,” the woman said. My heart dropped.

I knew what Chaplain Steve was going to tell me. We talked for what seemed like hours. I wouldn’t hang up, wanting to know everything. You see, I was Stromie’s closest blood relative. Legally, because of adoption, I didn’t have a leg to stand on. But they didn’t need to know that. I believe people are put in our lives for a reason, a season, or forever. I found my purpose. At that moment I realized I was there to make sure my brother gets moved to New Jersey. To make sure it was known that there was a family plot waiting for him, next to his parents and his sister.

My brother, though he had no worldly possessions, didn’t realize how truly rich he was. While on the phone with Stromie’s brother-in-law, I learned that his friends, his bowling buddies, were taking up a collection, raising money to pay for their friend’s funeral.

The last text I shared with my brother went as follows:

You are loved…

Oh yes?

Yes, dear brother. You are loved.

Rest in peace dear brother.

Thank you to brother-in-law Warren who is working tirelessly to make this funeral happen. To make sure Ron Stromfeld rests in peace.

Obituary:

 Stromfeld Ron Stromfeld, Central Ohio – USBC Hall of Famer, died January 7, 2016 at Riverside Hospital. Celebration of life at Little Bear Clubhouse, January 16, 1-5 p.m. Memorial contributions toward his final expenses (Strikes for Stromie) may be sent in care of the Central Ohio – USBC, 643 S Hamilton Rd, Columbus 43213. 

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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

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?

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Click to get sample or purchase book.

An Adoptee Asks, Who Do I Look Like?

I always knew I was adopted. Therefore, I never compared my looks to my parents. My mom had thick, curly hair. I didn’t. My dad had a receding hairline. Since I was a girl, still am, I never compared myself to him. I would look at other families. I would look at the boy and see if he resembled his dad. Lots of times he resembled both his mom and his dad. I thought that was interesting. How someone could look like two very different people. I also found it interesting how a girl, a very pretty girl, could look like her dad. But they do. Genetics is funny that way.

I read that people who live together for a long time, such as married couples, begin to resemble each other. Since they tend to laugh at the same things, share the same experiences, they start forming similar smile lines and frown lines on their faces. Mom and I rarely agreed on anything. Perhaps that’s why I never looked at all like her.

Since I was told my birth mother had died in childbirth, I never looked through the crowds, hoping to spot a woman who looked like me, only older. But I was often told that I looked just like so-and-so. Some friend of theirs, or someone they had just seen in a store. At first, when I would hear comments like that, I just ignored them. Everyone has a doppelganger. We see celebrity look-alikes all the time. When I moved to Ohio, my doppelgangers seem to take on a new meaning. Strangers weren’t just saying, “You look just like…,” they were being more specific. They thought they knew me.

One day I decided to stop in 84 Lumber, a local hardware store. I asked the clerk where I could find a particular product. His response, “You’re in here every week. You know where it is,” surprised me. He didn’t say I looked just like someone. He thought I was someone else. Could I have a twin? I seriously wondered if there was another person out there who not only looked like me, but could actually have been my twin. Maybe we were separated at birth. I was sent to one family and my twin was sent to another family.

A few weeks later, after giving a presentation to a group of eighty Weight Watchers members, I was approached by a woman. A very angry woman. She seemed furious that I didn’t recognize her. I had never seen her before in my life. Was she talking about the same woman who seemed to be a regular at 84 Lumber? Now I was seriously wondering if I had a twin. And if that twin lived in Ohio. Coincidences happen all the time. That would surely make a great story on the talk shows if I found a twin, or triplet, and we were separated at birth.

I started searching my birthdate online. Who knows? Maybe a famous person has their bio listed, with their birthday. I found a match! Yes! A lesser known actor, who appears in many movies, had my exact birthday. Day, month and year. I looked him up. Yes, I know. Since this is a man, people would hardly confuse us for the same person. However it intrigued me. I read his bio. Nothing in it mentioned adoption. I stared at his photo, wondering if there was any resemblance. I imagined there was, even though he was listed as being born in New York when I’m from New Jersey. I knew this was silly. Many people have the same birthday. But I think of that whenever I see him on TV.

We obsess about the unknown. I wish I had been given more information about my birthmother when I was growing up. I didn’t learn the real story until twenty-four years after my parents passed away. And you know what I never expected to find? I did have a relative in Ohio. My bio brother lived only two hours away from me for twenty years and I never found him until I moved to Maryland. It is a small world.

Never give up. Never stop searching.

Call Me Ella explains my search and my unexpected findings.

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Call Me Ella – An Adoption Memoir

ellacoverlatestversion

More than just one woman’s search for information about the biological mother she believed had died in childbirth, this book, available now on Kindle, explores the mind and feelings of an adopted child. Call Me Ella is a heartwarming and uplifting story about a young girl who considered her adoptive parents her “real parents,” yet wanted to know more. She wanted to know her roots. Her heritage. With a burning desire to have someone who “looked like her,” she couldn’t wait to marry and have children of her own. She had no idea that her twenty-four year search, which did not begin until after both of her parents had passed away, would involve Sopranos-like tales of organized crime, gambling, and infidelity.

When her friend gushed over how much her son’s graduation picture looked like her dad’s portrait, Joanie smiled. Her friend did not know she was adopted. Then she took another look at the two photos, sitting side by side on her mantel, almost identical. Could her adoptive father have been her birth father? Now, a year after Joanie’s mom had passed away, she set out to discover the truth behind her adoption.

Joanie grew up thinking she killed her mother. As a child, when her adoptive mom answered her question, “Where did I come from?” by saying her birth mother died in childbirth, she believed in her heart she killed the woman who gave her life. She kept asking her mom the same question, hoping to get a different answer. Maybe she’d learn her birth mother had been ill, that it wasn’t her fault she died. When Joanie finally got old enough to figure out it took two people, a man and a woman, to have a child, she asked a new question: “What happened to my birth father? Did he die too?” That’s when her mom shot her foot through the kitchen wall screaming, “Don’t ever ask me that again.” It took her years to realize why that question hit a nerve.

In New Jersey, when a baby is adopted, their original birth certificate is sealed, making it seem as if the child did not exist before the adoption. Joanie never even knew her birth mother’s last name until she discovered her adoption papers a week before her mom passed away. Unfortunately, when her mom died with her secrets intact, she thought she’d never learn about her ethnic background or medical history. She wasn’t ready to give up. She needed to know more. She needed to know the big secret that kept her mom from answering her questions.  With determination and the unexpected help from a self-proclaimed “romantic” stranger, she set out to find her roots.

Call Me Ella is a memoir of love, family, loss and perseverance. It shows how we can work to achieve our happy endings.

Cover Design by Amy Kaufman

Preview

Angelina Jolie had Mastectomy to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie announced to the world that she had a double mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting breast cancer. She says she hopes her story will inspire other women fighting the life-threatening disease.

Jolie wrote in the New York Times on Tuesday the operation had made it easier for her to reassure her six children that she will not die young from cancer, like her own mother did at 56.

“Like her own mother did.”

Jolie, for whom money is no object, chose to pay the $3,000 to be tested to see if she carried the faulty gene which would put her at a higher risk for both breast and ovarian cancer.

When she tested positive, Jolie said her doctors had estimated she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. “Once I knew this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much as I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy,” she said.

As an adoptee, when I go to my doctor and I’m questioned about my family medical history, all I can answer is, “I’m adopted. I don’t know.” For millions of adoptees like me with no medical information, we are at a loss. We don’t know if we are at risk for breast cancer. We don’t know if we should spend $3,000 to see if we carry the faulty gene. We don’t know if we are at risk for heart disease, or diabetes. We just don’t know.

When will adoptees finally be able to get access to their family history, their medical backgrounds, and other vital life-saving information? When will all adoptees be able to have access to their original birth certificates which most likely hold clues to information that could save their lives and the lives of future generations? When will the Federal Government step up to the plate and unseal the birth certificates of all adoptees rather than leave that determination to individual states? I was born in New Jersey. Governor Christie vetoed a ruling that would have allowed adoptees to get their birth certificates saying changes were needed “to avoid any unwanted breaches of privacy, and the potential chilling effect on adoptions.”

What chilling effects? From reading many letters from birth mothers, they want to know that the child they gave birth to is healthy and happy. Many women who gave birth before adoptions were legal also fought to pass the bill saying the adoption agencies never promised confidentiality. If Governor Christie won’t unseal my birth certificate my only other hope is to wait for the Federal Government to unseal my birth certificate.

But I’m tired of waiting. Everyone involved in my adoption has passed away. Will I have to wait until I’m buried to obtain my original birth certificate?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Unsealing Original Birth Certificates

Sometimes I wish I was running for president and, by law, had to produce my original birth certificate. Because now, I can’t. My records are sealed. The date stamped on the New Jersey birth certificate I have is thirteen months after my date of birth. I wonder what happened during that time. And what about the nine months before my birth. Don’t I have a right to know about my own birth? It’s my story.

It breaks my heart to see so many faces of adoptees and birth moms posting their birth dates on Facebook, like families searching for survivors after 9/11 or a devastating hurricane, hoping to find some family member who will recognize them. Who will know their story. Know who they are. Where they came from. Will want to meet them. Hug them. Tell them they were loved. They weren’t a mistake. They were a blessing. Maybe for another family, but a blessing non-the-less.

Wanting to know about our origins does not diminish our love for our adoptive family. The family who raised us. But no one should be denied the opportunity to know everything about themselves.

Hereditary illnesses. Genetic defects. Cancer. Heart attacks. Diabetes. Conditions passed on from one generation to the next. Those unwanted gifts from blood relatives. The questions on every medical questionnaire at every doctor’s office. I don’t know why there isn’t a place to check: adopted, history doesn’t apply.

Sealed records are not fair to the millions of adoptees searching for any information about their past or for the birth moms who want to find the children who’s birthdays they’ve remembered in silence every year. What can we do? I’m not sure. I’d personally like to take this to the Supreme Court. Realistically, I can’t do that alone.

Write to me. Comment. Tell me your feelings. Why you want to know about your origins. Why you would like to have your original birth certificate unsealed. Maybe together we can make a difference.

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.)