Since beginning our adoption journey, I'm amazed at how many people I know or meet who are touched in some way by adoption. By and large, they've also been wonderfully open about their experiences and willing to share them with Jennifer and me. These stories show up in the most unlikely places.
On Friday, I called our insurance provider to discuss our life insurance. In doing so, I mentioned to the agent on the other end of the line (I'll call her "Rita") that we needed some new information as a result of our planned adoption.
"Really? I'm adopted," she said.
"No kidding," I responded, both interested and rather surprised that a complete stranger would volunteer that information.
What followed was a fascinating 15 minute conversation about her experiences and views.
As it turned out, Rita, who was born in 1951, didn't find out she was adopted until she was 40. "It was a different time," she explained. "Records were closed. My birth mother was very young and her parents didn't think she should marry my birth father, so I was put up for adoption."
As she grew older, she started having questions. "It seemed odd -- all of my cousins were like 5'8 or 5'9 and I'm barely 5'2. I mean, where did that come from? When I asked, someone told me my great-grandmother was very short so I guess it made sense, sort of. Eventually, one of my older cousins said that she knew I had some questions and she knew some stuff but couldn't tell me. You can't say stuff like that and then leave it hanging but when I asked, she wouldn't tell me anything."
Approaching her parents was fruitless as Rita's mother brushed aside her inquiries. Eventually, her mother passed away. "I think if I'd had more time, I would have approached my father about it and with mom gone, maybe he would have told me."
But Rita never had the chance. Her father passed away 31 days after her mother. A short time later, buoyed by an evening with her husband and a few bottles of Spanish wine, Rita called her cousin and demanded to know what the cousin knew.
"You were adopted," she was told. "And your birth mother was one of my best friends when I was young."
Understandably, Rita was floored but also fascinated. Knowing nothing and not asking for details, she wrote a letter to her unknown birth mother and asked her cousin to consider passing it along. Some time later, as Rita did laundry, the phone rang. Her husband answered and then came down, phone in hand. It's a woman, he told her, but he didn't know who she was or recognize the name.
It was Rita's birth mother. In the end, she did marry Rita's birth father and they stayed together, raising 5 other children, Rita's previously unknown brothers and sisters, and she was ecstatic to have learned how to reach her eldest daughter.
"It's amazing," Rita told me. "They want me to be a part of everything that goes on in their lives. It's a bit overwhelming though. They have like 50 people over for Thanksgiving and it's always been just me, my husband and our kids."
Then she volunteered another piece of information.
"My husband is also adopted. So was my brother-in-law."
"Are you serious?" I asked in surprise.
"Yes but they knew from the start that they were adopted and for them, they didn't really care. They were never really curious. I think because they were told up front they didn't feel the need to search. Maybe it's a guy thing. Women seem to be more maternal. Maybe it's a health thing. We want to know the details."
I found the comment about guys and curiosity amusing. Knowing someone whose birth father left when he was two, I've seen that lack of curiosity. It may not be true across the entire spectrum of men who were adopted but it's certainly true for my friend who, like Rita's husband and brother-in-law, knew the facts from the very start. On the other hand, we have friend with two adopted daughters and while one has some interest in her birth mother (her "tummy mommy"), the other doesn't see the point in finding out more. However, the fact that they were adopted has never been hidden from them.
It's something that Jennifer and I believe very strongly -- this isn't a secret and we will provide information when and as appropriate. Our Plus One deserves the truth, not secrets and deception. Letting Plus One know about the adoption will not diminish anyway that we are her parents but it will add to the tapestry of her life and her experiences.
"I agree and really believe that kids should know," Rita replied when I mentioned our philosophy. "It doesn't make you any less the child's dad and mom. Anyone can have a baby but it takes parents to raise a child."
And then she added one last comment. "Just remember, Chris...a birth mother gives breath to the child, the parents give that child a life."
And with that, we resumed our discussion about how to make sure Plus One would be provided for in her life if anything were to happen to her parents.