“My Gutsy Story” by Paige Strickland

Ever since I could remember, I knew I was adopted.  I absolutely hated it and felt ashamed, weird and different.  Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, there weren’t any other blended or “other lifestyle” families where I lived, and being an adopted kid was stigmatizing and awkward. My adoption was considered a closed and permanent matter by the court anyway, so most of the time, I tried to forget about that part of myself and just live like regular-born people did, (whatever that was), even if it meant I had to lie to friends and acquaintances.

As hard as I tried to forget about it, I couldn’t, and that was frustrating and agonizing to not really be like other kids.  My adoption was a success in that I had a great family and plenty of advantages, but I never felt normal.

I knew nothing about “The Lady Who Had Me”, as I thought of her, nor any information about her circumstances other than the fact that she was young, poor and couldn’t keep me.  I never felt anger toward her or my birth father, but I did feel anger because I didn’t have a typical start in life, like my peers and my brother, who was my adoptive parents’ natural child. At the time, “The Lady Who Had Me” was brave and faithful because she went through with her pregnancy and then made the choice to relinquish her parental rights to Hamilton County Welfare with the hope that I would have a better life than the one she could provide for me. It doesn’t get much gutsier than that.

In 1987 when I was 26 years old, after watching a local TV talk show, I learned that my adoption record in Ohio was actually open, thanks to House Bill 84.  I was one of the lucky few that could obtain personal information about my secret identity if I wanted to.  After living in denial of being adopted for 26 years and mad because I couldn’t be like other people without having to fake it, I made the decision to send away to Columbus for my unamended birth certificate, which I imagined to be locked away in the bottom part of a top-secret file cabinet in a smoke and coffee-smelling office, where hurried social workers scurried about answering phones and filling out forms.

For all those years, I’d been living securely in my own adoption closet because I was embarrassed about being labeled as “different”, with no way of altering that. All of a sudden, I had a chance to change and have a real heritage and a real identity. Would I even like what I found? I was willing to take that risk.

Once I had those precious birth documents in hand, I spent many months lurking in local libraries and courthouses. In a large, three-ring binder I collected a paper trail of data about my birth parents and my half-siblings. Every time I found a new tid-bit of information, I wanted to learn more. My birth mother came from the south and had worked as a waitress. I pictured her to be something like the character, “Flo” from the TV comedy show, “Alice” in a diner restaurant uniform, a bee hive hair do and a note pad in her hand for taking orders saying, “What’ll it be honey?” I pictured my birth father to be a tough-talking, football-loving, all-American factory worker on some assembly line with car parts rolling by. I quickly went from thinking, “Adopted? Who? Me?” and “Why me?”” to “I want to know all about them” and “I would do ANYTHING to meet them”. It was an intense bargaining phase.

That bargaining stage motivated me to keep working thoroughly and methodically as I took notes and copied forms found on microfiches and in old criss-cross directories. (pre computers). It drove me to make phone calls to complete strangers and assert myself, and it inspired me to even join an adoption support group and network with people like myself.

I was unhappy to learn that my birth mother had passed away in 1976.  I would never have had the chance to meet her. However, the sad stage didn’t last for very long because her ex-husband, (not my father), told me about her two other daughters and where I might find them. I was also closing in on making contact with my birth father, who still lived locally. During the whole search process doors constantly shut, but others opened wider than I ever imagined possible.

Between 1987 and 1988, I found and met my birth father, some of my birth siblings, cousins and an aunt. Everyone welcomed me and was delighted and amazed at how persistent I was in finding my missing family members. I finally felt accomplished and complete, and I definitely love what and whom I found!

It would have been easy to do nothing. I could have avoided the fear of disappointment or the disapproval of my adoptive parents, to whom I was tremendously loyal, but I refused to stay silent and closeted forever. I could have played it safe and avoided the risk of potential rejection from my birth relatives. I could have kept myself sequestered safely and predictably from unknown waters, but instead, I dove off the proverbial high board and submerged myself in research involving the current whereabouts of my biological people. My adoptive parents accepted what I did, and my birth-family members are grateful that I found everyone. I will never regret having the courage to find and contact them and also work through my personal issues about being an adopted person.

Paige Strickland

Paige Strickland Bio: 

Paige A. Strickland is a Spanish teacher / tutor who has written a memoir about growing up in the 1960s and 70s as an adopted kid who found her birth family in 1987-88.  The story addresses the grief and loss issues most adoptees face throughout their lives, intertwined with the struggle for both social and self-acceptance. Paige has been married 28 years with two daughters, an almost son-in-law and 5 + cats. In her spare time she enjoys pursuing her writing interests and teaching Zumba Fitness™ classes. Paige Strickland is in the process of publishing her book, Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity. 

You can visit Paige’s website, join her on Twitter, Facebook, as well as LinkedIn

Sonia Marsh Says:

I love your persistence and positive attitude in attempting to find your relatives and the way it felt like a research project you’re going to solve. I also like when you mention, “During the whole search process doors constantly shut, but others opened wider than I ever imagined possible.” A very encouraging and positive ending to your hard work and determination to find your birth roots.

***

Sonia Marsh is on her virtual blog tour this month.

You can check out all the interviews here, and today I’m so happy to be a guest on Bob Lowry’s:Satisfying Retirement blog.

Do you have a “My Gutsy Story” you’d like to share?

To submit your own, “My Gutsy Story” you can find all the information, and our sponsors on the “My Gutsy Story” contest page. (VIDEO) Submission guidelines here.

The vote for your favorite of September, “My Gutsy Story” submissions starts on September 27, and ends on October 10th. The winner will be announced on October 11th.

 

Comments (31)

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  1. Sonia Marsh says:

    Paige,

    I love the positive outcome of your search for your birth family and look forward to reading your book when it’s published. You should connect with Laura Dennis who wrote “Adopted Reality” and submitted her story. http://soniamarsh.com/2012/08/my-gutsy-story-by-laura-dennis.html

  2. Enjoyed reading yourgutsy story — even though I was not adopted as a child — I can understand longing to know your heritage — and I am happy you found what you were looking for. I can sympathize with you on your feeling of NOT BELONGING and FEELING DIFFERENT from others though. I have been there and still there.

    I have nothing but the best wishes and happiness for you!

    Now, how do you vote? I cannot figure it out — or do they wait till the end of the month to allow you to vote?

    • Paige Strickland says:

      Thanks Marisa Melissa, Voting starts on Sept 27th, so maybe there will be a vote button added by then. P.

  3. What a lovely, gutsy story. Paige, I am sorry that your birth mother died before you could make contact with her, but am so happy that you found the extended family that you did. One of my sister-in-laws is adopted and she, too, searched and found some members of her biological family after she grew up. I think it gave her a sense of peace, somehow, and filled in some missing gaps in her life. Thanks for sharing with us.
    Sylvia
    Sylvia Morice recently posted..Success: The Award’s Name Is ‘Seven Things About Me’!My Profile

  4. I have siblings who were adopted and happily found their birth mother. I’m so glad they were able to have many of their questions answered.
    Teresa Cleveland Wendel recently posted..Lake Chelan Legends–Part 3 of 3My Profile

    • Paige Strickland says:

      Thanks for reading, Teresa! Did your siblings finding their birth family make you feel awkward? I ask because a few members of my adopted family have felt this way from time to time. P.

  5. Joyce says:

    I love reading you gutsy story..I think it gave her a sense of peace..You have a positive outcome and I like it..
    Joyce recently posted..halitosisMy Profile

  6. Laura Dennis says:

    Paige,

    Yes, it is Gutsy to initiate such a search! Congratulations. As a fellow “adoptee in reunion,” I can emphasize with worrying what both my birth family and my adoptive family might think in searching and reuniting.

    Your image of your birth record locked deep in some secret file cabinet is a similar one I conjured as a child! It is so amazing the similarities we can find from telling our adoption stories.

    In a way similiar to you, I felt a whole in my identity was filled in my reunion. I was finally able to understand myself.

    Sonia – thanks for hosting Paige, and yes, it’s true – she and I do have a lot in common.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Laura
    Laura Dennis recently posted..My Adoptee Family Tree is Actually an OrchardMy Profile

    • Paige Strickland says:

      Thank you, Laura! Haha! I always say I don’t have just a family tree now…It’s a Jungle! LOL P.

  7. Paige, what an amazing story of persistence and courage! I admire your gutsy attitude in continuing to dig for your roots and your birth family. My stepdaughter found her birth mother a few years ago, and although it wasn’t as exciting and fulfilling as your story, I think she found great satisfaction in knowing who her “real” mom is. I look forward to the day we can read the entire story.

    Sonia, once again you’ve brought to your readers an exceptional writer with a story to tell. Kudos to you for maintaining the momentum of our “story circle.”
    Sherrey Meyer recently posted..A Letter to MamaMy Profile

  8. Kelly Nelson says:

    I love you sister and am so thankful that you found us!!! I will NEVER forget the day we got the letter from you looking for our sister Tammy. Reading that letter I knew it had to be you. you see, I had found out about you when I was about 12 yrs old. Tammy and I had talked several times about wanting to find “our missing sister”, we just didn’t know where to start or what to do. So that day, when I was 14 and a freshman in High School, reading that letter gave me the wobbliest knees I’ve ever had. I remember the call to Tammy, reading this letter from a stranger looking for her, and we just knew! 3 Hours later Tammy called me back and I will never forget her words” Kelly, it’s our sister!” Then you called me! I love you Paige!

  9. Tammy Asbjornsen says:

    One of the greatest days in my life was when I got that call from our little sister’s step-mom, saying that she had a letter from some women looking for me! I remember that moment and the next few hours afterwards most vividly!

    I am so grateful that you had the guts and perseverance to search for us! It truly is an amazing story and hopefully it will inspire others to keep searching and never give up!

  10. Megan S. says:

    I love it!

  11. Linda Hoye says:

    I enjoyed your gutsy story Paige. It does take guts to initiate a search to find one’s birth parents–I know. Like you, my birth mom had died before I was able to meet her. It takes guts to deal with the fact that you’ll never have the opportunity to meet her face-to-face too. Great story!

  12. Surprised you have any time for anything
    else except the wedding1

    See you soon!

    MAZEL TOV! Nan and family

    • Paige Strickland says:

      Thanks Nan! looking forward t the big weekend…Sometimes being busy is when the best writing happens! BTW…I saw Mr. West the other day.

  13. Paige,
    What a courageous journey and it paid off! It’s a heart warming story and I am happy to vote for it!

  14. Sally McDonald says:

    Congratulations for the payoff on your perseverance, patience and bravery, Paige.

  15. Paige Strickland says:

    Thanks, Sally!