The subject no one wants to talk about.
by Sherrie Eldridge
I always knew I was adopted. My parents broke the news when I was just old enough to understand: “We chose you out of all the babies in the world to be ours.”
Though my adoptive parents tried to make me feel special, unanswered questions about my adoption kept surfacing within me. When I was a young girl, people always asked about my nationality because I looked so different from the rest of the family. “I don’t know,” I would say. “I was adopted.”
My late teens were especially turbulent. Conflicts with my adoptive mother were common fare. I often wondered if my birth mother would be as difficult to get along with. Little did I know that my hostility toward my adoptive mother was unresolved grief from losing my birth mother.
I married and soon started my own family. Throughout my pregnancies, thoughts about my birth mother pressed in upon me. What kind of woman was she? Why did she give me up? How could a woman carry a baby for nine months and then not think about that child for the rest of her life? I wanted to find her and let her know I was happy.
When I was 27, I turned my life over to Jesus Christ. But it wasn’t until two or three years later, as I grew closer to God, that I connected the issue of my adoption with God’s sovereignty. I read in Psalm 139 that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and that “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (v. 16, NIV). God had chosen my adoptive parents for me. He really was in control!
I still thought about my birth mother and wondered if she ever thought about me.
The search begins
Many years later, after my adoptive parents died, I decided to search for her. Before my adoptive mother died, she told me my birth mother’s name and place of residence at the time of my birth. I hired a professional to aid in my search, and within two days we found her current name and address. I felt numb with unbelief!
The adoption worker paved the way for the first contact by making the initial call.
“Tell her I’m married and have two grown daughters,” I said. “Ask her what my nationality is, who my father is, and her medical history. Tell her, ‘Thank you for giving me life.'”
When the adoption worker called back, I eagerly asked, “Was it good or bad?”
“Both,” she said. “Your mother wants you to know she is a woman you can he proud of, but she doesn’t want to talk about your father because you were conceived in rape.”
I was stunned. I felt like I had fallen flat on my chest and had the wind knocked out of me. I had never considered rape as a possible reason my birth mother gave me up for adoption. My heart sunk.
In spite of her past pain, my birth mother wanted to talk with me.
Our conversation lasted into the wee hours of the night. We agreed to exchange photos and began thinking about a possible reunion. For the remainder of that night, I lay sleepless in bed, pondering the turn of events. A missing part of my life was now in place. I felt complete in a strange sort of way.
That week we exchanged photos. When she received mine, she was like a new mother tenderly admiring her baby. “When I look at your sweet face, I just know that you’re mine,” she said.
A ‘moment of birth’
Within two weeks, my husband and I were on a plane bound for my birth mother’s hometown. As the plane lifted from the runway, emotion engulfed me. I always believed God loved me, but on this day His personal touch was unmistakable. That He would reunite me with my birth mother was beyond my wildest dreams.
When I saw her run to me with open arms, it was a moment like none other. Some adoptees refer to it as the moment of birth. I vacillated between laughter and tears. The resemblance between us was remarkable. We pointed out physical similarities and laughed nervously as we rode to the hotel.
The first ten days were spent socializing with friends and attending luncheons hosted in our honor.
But as the reunion progressed, tension mounted and our budding relationship became increasingly strained. “This may be a joyful time for you,” she said, “but it brings a lot of pain to the surface for me.”
Am I so bad that I would cause her pain? I kept asking myself.
At that time, I knew nothing of the horrendous pain a birth mother experiences both at relinquishment and reunion. I was dealing with my own pain and unresolved grief.
It seemed strange that my birth mother wasn’t inquisitive about my past life, but I kept reassuring myself that when everyone else was gone, we would have some one-on-one time together. That would be our long-awaited time as mother and daughter. This was my fantasy.
The greatest fear
Three days into the visit, my husband left on a business trip and everyone else went on with their lives. As I saw my husband’s plane depart, I felt like running after it. My gut sensed her growing hostility, but my heart didn’t want to believe it. I was all alone, facing my greatest fear: rejection by my birth mother.
“I can’t understand why you are so afraid of rejection from me,” she said later that evening. My chin quivered as I reassured myself that tomorrow I would be going home. At that moment, tomorrow seemed an eternity away.
The fourth day of the reunion, I gave my birth mother an album I had prepared for her with photos of me from just after birth until the present time. She quickly thumbed through it, set it down, and said, “You sure were cute.”
I believe at that time she came face to face with the reality of her loss. For 47 years she had known nothing about me, whether I was a boy or girl. But now here I was — a real human being.
The next day when she drove me to the airport, I asked my birth mother if she would like me to take the photo album. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she said, “Yes — you don’t know how hard it is to give up a baby! I have thought of you every day of my life.”
I couldn’t believe my ears!
“That is wonderful news to me!” I said. “I thought you had forgotten about me.”
“Now you’re happy that I’m sad,” she snapped.
Why did she interpret my words this way? I asked myself. I meant no harm. I was simply telling her that I was glad to be so valuable to her.
We remained quiet the rest of the trip.
When we arrived at the airport, I gathered my belongings and slipped a small gift on the front seat for her to open after I left — an angel with a sentimental verse about mothers.
When it was time to board the plane, I told her I loved her. “I love you too,” she responded, her beautiful green eyes welling with tears.
Two days after returning, I called her to thank her for the visit. No, it hadn’t been a perfect visit, but at least it was a start.
As soon as I heard her tone of voice, I had a sick feeling that something was dreadfully wrong. Without prompting, she began naming all the things she believed I had done wrong. Granted, I was not without fault, but I was working through my own pain as well. By the end of the conversation, she announced that she wanted no more contact.
The search ends
As she was making her verbal assault, the words of Isaiah 49:15, 16 came to mind: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I [God] will never forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (NIV).
“And by the way,” she added, “the gift you left was cruel. You are just trying to make me feel guilty.”
I ran to my husband, sobbing. I felt robbed, misunderstood, and shamed.
What once seemed like a fairy tale reunion slipped through my hands like Jell-O through a sieve. My fantasies were just within reach, but then disappeared.
And so my 47-year search ended not in the arms of my birth mother, as I had expected, but at the feet of my Savior. For this, I will always be grateful.
Taken from Jewel Among Jewels Adoption News, Winter 1999. Used by permission.
About the Author
Sherrie Eldridge is president and founder of Jewel Among Jewels Adoption Network, Inc., which publishes a free quarterly newsletter for those touched by adoption and support group materials for adults who were adopted as children. For more information, call (317) 849-5651 or contact via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.