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 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.
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.