For many of America’s 1.5 million adopted children, the cliché that says “you don’t know where you are going until you know where you have been” brings more questions than answers. Until last week, that was true for me as well.
A quarter century ago, a young California woman faithfully placed her child up for adoption. She knew of the adoptive family and they knew of her, but moments after that child was born, the adoption didn’t go through. At that same instant, a family thousands of miles away got a call that forever changed their lives as they were told they had a daughter. That daughter is me.
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to travel 2,689 miles in search of my earliest beginnings.
Even after reaching Ontario, California, I was still uncertain if I was truly prepared for this. Could I face my biological mother? Did I want to? What was I hoping to hear, find, and discover? What would I say? And would I get the chance to meet the biological siblings I always dreamed of, a brother and sisters with shared DNA, yet whom until recently I didn’t know existed.
As time passed, I realized there were no easy questions, nor was it likely I’d find answers to truly quiet the curiosity, fantasies, and questions that had been part of my life since my father told me at an early age that he and my mother had chosen me, even though they hadn’t given birth to me.
As I walked into the hotel lobby to meet my biological mother for the first time, I was so nervous I don’t even think I was breathing. However, as soon as we sat down and began to talk, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I always knew that she made the right decision, a decision that I am thankful for every day of my life. I knew this was not comfortable for her either. I have always understood that letting me go was not easy, yet I have always understood that at that moment in her life 25 years earlier, it was the decision she unselfishly had to make.
We talked together for some time, but it was mostly me answering questions she nervously asked – not the deep conversation I had sometimes imagined. She shared about her life and asked about mine. The need for answers was quickly surrendered to the opportunity simply to be together for those moments – to see and be seen.
The next night, I met my sisters and brother. We spoke about our lives and searched for similarities, things that would solidify our bond. They all seemed so excited, like they had dreamed of this day just as long as I had. We agreed that we were in a unique situation, that we all had different concerns, emotions and hopes for the future, but the fact that we were able to find a middle ground where we could build a relationship would be amazing.
I returned to South Florida with a sense of peace and comfort I’d not known for many years. In the quiet of my mind, I again reviewed so many years of questions that had now been answered. I thought of my parents, grateful for their choice to accept, raise and love me as their daughter. I thought of my biological mother and siblings, with empathy for the journey of each of their lives. And I thought of the millions of other adopted children throughout the world, wondering if they had similar questions, and if they’d ever have the same opportunity.
Rachel Schindler is a finance and operations manager for the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation in Weston, Florida, one of the nation’s oldest and leading relationship skills training organizations. She credits the skills she learned at PAIRS for helping her understand, navigate and express emotions in ways that encouraged and supported her journey. More at www.pairs.com.