Every day Leslie’s birth mother called the orphanage where she was left for adoption. So when Leslie located her birth mother 30 years ago, then tried again to connect with her six years ago, it was shocking that the woman wanted no contact with her. Leslie’s birth mother left her with no clues about her birth father’s identity, but DNA helped her settle the mystery. It turned out that the closure Leslie need came from meeting her birth father, whom she simply calls Dad.
Leslie: 00:03 She’s had a lot of time to make all the choices and I’m now in control and so I will be calling my siblings unless she would like to do that and I think it would be better coming from her, so I’m giving her one week and then I’m calling them.
Voices: 00:23 Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
Damon: 00:34 This is who am I really? A podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. I’m Damon Davis, and on today’s show is Leslie. I spoke with her from her home in Spokane, Washington. Leslie tells the story of locating her birth mother nearly 30 years ago. Then trying to connect with her again more recently it was baffling to everyone involved why the woman was so distant, especially given that Leslie knew about how thoughtful the woman had been when she was born. Unfortunately, their reunion left, Leslie feeling empty, especially because she walked away with no clues as to her birth father’s identity. Luckily DNA testing opened new doors to discovering her paternal connections, allowing her to finally feel the wholeness she sought in reunion. This is Leslie’s journey. Leslie spent seven months in an orphanage in spokane after her birth. Listen to the story her adopted mother tells about her early life.
Leslie: 01:39 I was born in Spokane, Washington. My birth mother was from Montana and she was an unwed mother and she had me and then I was put into basically, which at the time in ’69, it was like an orphanage and I was in there for seven months prior to my adoption and so my birth mother used to call every single day to see if I had been adopted. So when my parents adopted me, my mom told me that she felt very sorry for me because they were really understaffed so they didn’t hold, you know, all the babies and so when they would feed me they would just prop the bottle with a pillow. And so she said, you were kind of a little nervous purvis when we first got you. Um like, you would make my hands bleed, holding your bottle because it was like your only security and you, um, have, you weren’t doing things at seven months old that normal babies were like holding up their head and that kind of thing.
Leslie: 02:40 So she said I just loved the up and down and you just kinda started blossoming right in front of our eyes. So she gets me and I have two other siblings that were naturally born to my parents. And so then we adopted my brother who’s younger than me. And then my mom had one more child by natural born. So two of us of the five are adopted and my mom always made it seem like, you know, I was super lucky because they got to pick me and they got stuck with their other, she would say cute little things like that that would, you know, try to make me feel better about being adopted.
Damon: 03:16 Leslie had adoption in common with a few of her peers growing up. But it was the non-adoptees, who found out she was adopted, that made things really weird.
Leslie: 03:25 Most people would, when they found out that I was adopted, they’d say, Oh, I’m so sorry.
Damon: 03:30 Really?
Leslie: 03:30 And I was like, why are you sorry?
Damon: 03:35 How did that make you feel when you heard that from them?
Leslie: 03:38 Well, I mean at the time I was just like, well that’s, you know, I’m not sorry, at least I’ve got a family that loves me and you know, that I’m a part of. So, people’s comments never really impacted me too much. But internally I always had a very strong yearning to find my birth mother. I didn’t give much thought to the birth father for whatever reason, but I just.. And my Mom said, when you’re 18 we’ll do it we’re going to do it. And so..
Damon: 04:09 So you had expressed it enough that she was comfortable with your idea to do so when you came of age?
Leslie: 04:17 Yes, and my family was always, all of them, very supportive of that and my mom would be like, oh, I can’t wait till she meets you and sees what a great person you turned out to be.
Damon: 04:26 When Leslie turned 18, the search began and her first impediment was her sealed adoption file. She wrote a letter to Catholic family services to try to get more information, but they were not permitted to release any details. Eventually, Leslie tracked down a third party advocate who worked for the Washington adoptee rights movement or WARM. For a $400 fee WARM, represented Leslie in court, citing medical reasons for her records to be unsealed. Nothing could be disclosed to her directly, but at least someone acting on her behalf had her records. Within a couple of weeks, the representative located Leslie’s birth mother in Maryland. Leslie wrote her introductory letter only including her own non identifying information.
Leslie: 05:14 and of course, that letter took me like a couple of weeks to write, because you know, I was so ecstatic that I was going to have an opportunity. I said, I’m not looking for anything. I just would like to have some medical background and if you’re open to it, I would love to have a relationship with you, but you know, and our contact can be a secret if you haven’t told anybody. I mean, I didn’t really know her situation and she wrote back to the lady, the intermediary lady and said, returned my pictures and said, don’t contact me further, I want nothing to do with this person, and she said, I have my own needs to satisfy. She, that was kind of a dead end because once my file was open and, the lady that did the search said, you know, maybe come to this support group that we have a big hospital here for adoptees, birth moms, and so I went one time, but it was really, really hard for me because everybody had really happy stories and she said, I’ve been doing these searches for 30 years and this is a first mother that has said no.
Damon: 06:20 Oh Man. So what did you think when you got that back from. I mean, that must’ve been a tough call for you to hear from the intermediary.
Leslie: 06:26 Oh, it was horrible. I mean, it was devastating. It was one of the lowest points in my life. I was just so distraught about it and I kept thinking, you know, why? And I had some choice words for her, like, oh my gosh, how could you do this to another human being? And My mom who raised me would say, you know, she called the hospital or the orphanage every single day for seven months. So we were just assuming that she would want to meet. But she didn’t.
Damon: 06:55 Wow. You’re right. That’s totally misleading.
Leslie: 06:59 Totally misleading. Yeah.
Damon: 07:00 Fast forward 20 years, and Leslie and her husband are out on a leisurely walk. Her husband asked,
Leslie: 07:07 so what’s your bucket list? And I’m like, I want to find my birth family. It’s just like a big hole in my stomach and I just, there’s nothing I can do to fill it.
Damon: 07:15 The couple hired a private investigator who found her birth mother again. He learned that Leslie’s maternal grandmother had passed away and her birth mother had signed the death certificate, which told the detective the woman’s name
Leslie: 07:29 when we found it. My husband and I just got on the computer and started doing a lot of research and I found out that she had three kids. So I’m like, well, she asked me not to contact her ever again. So I’ll contact my siblings.
Damon: 07:43 Leslie’s siblings were also in Maryland. Her next closest sibling is six years younger than herself and the others are all within a few years of her own birth. Leslie’s nearly 50. So calculating their ages, she felt comfortable that she was reaching out to adults who likely had established lives of their own.
Leslie: 08:03 So I got ahold of my middle brother and I, actually, my husband did because I was shaking and my voice is cracking. I was just so emotional about it and she’s like, you know, are, confirmed who he was. Is your mother’s name Biz, are you guys Irish Catholics, are you blah blah bah. And he confirmed all that and my husband goes, well, I just, I have some information for you, you know, I’m not selling anything but you know, you have another sister. And he was like, what? And he’s like, yeah, she’s sitting right here. Would you like to talk to her? And so I’m six feet tall. The first thing I said is, are you tall? And he said, yeah, I’m 6’5 and my brother is 6’4. So, um, anyways, we talked into the night, you know, we’re instant messaging through the night.
Damon: 08:48 Oh my gosh. That must’ve been so crazy for you to sit there and listen to your husband talk to this guy who’s your brother?
Leslie: 08:55 Exactly. I mean, and of course he has an east coast accent. So I’m thinking, how can we be related you sound completely different than me.
Damon: 09:04 What did he say? How did he, what did he say?
Leslie: 09:08 He’s, he’s like, wow. So how did you find that? You know, he kinda just wanted that backstory. And, and I told him, I said, here’s the deal, you know. Your mom, I found her, you know, 22 years ago, but she didn’t want anything to do with me and he was just so shocked. Like, why would she do that? Like, that’s not the mom that raised me, like, what the hell? And uh, so he and I kind of processed that for awhile and he’s just like, I’m so sorry about that and I’m really glad of Clifford now swapping pictures over the internet and things like that that he’s like, please don’t tell my other siblings, yet because I want to talk to my mom. And I was like, okay.
Damon: 09:50 Leslie’s middle brother drove to their mother’s home with a gang of questions on his mind. He told the story of his recent experience with a woman contacting him, saying she was related to the family.
Leslie: 10:01 and I just want to know, mom, if you had had a baby and gave it up for adoption. And she said I did, but I don’t want you to have anything to do with her. He goes, well, I kinda like her and I’m going to have something to do with her. And um, she wants to. And she’s like, don’t tell your brother, don’t tell them. So he came back and called me and said, yeah, she doesn’t still want to meet you and she doesn’t want my siblings to know. And I said, well, you know what Scott, you can tell her that she’s had a lot of time to make all the choices and I’m now in control. And so I will be calling my siblings unless she would like to do that. And I think it would be better coming from her. So I’m giving her one week and then I’m calling them and she did it. She told them.
Damon: 10:47 that’s amazing, really, really strong and powerful statement for you to make. She’s had a lot of time to deal with this and now I’m in control,
Leslie: 11:00 right? Because adoptees don’t have any rights.
Damon: 11:04 Leslie located her siblings in July, so she got to communicate with all of them that summer. She asked a ton of questions and got to know them all, building rapport with everyone. In October, she was flying to Maryland, excited to meet them all. The trio forced their mother to go along to meet her own long lost daughter.
Leslie: 11:25 I flew out to Maryland. I’m like, I got to meet you guys, I can’t wait. And they did make her come to my sister’s house to meet me and to answer some questions and she was with her husband who I have identified to be part of the problem. He’s very intimidated by the whole situation, even though it was before him. So she did come and meet me and she’s like, well, what is it that you need to know? I said, well, I had heard that you called the orphanage every day. Is that true? And she said, yes it is, and I go, and I guess I’m wondering, did you ever think about me on my birthday? And she goes, no, I’m sorry I didn’t. She goes, you know, I was drunk. It was a one night stand, you were an accident and I never wanted to have this conversation. And I said, well, okay. And then she’s like, well, tell me about you and I go, why? You don’t really care. So I, you know, I gave her a reader’s digest version of my life. But um, and I said, listen, I’m looking for my birth father now, could you please give me his name? I don’t remember.
Damon: 12:31 You must’ve been hella awkward to stand there and have all of them together, whom you quote unquote, are sort of friendly with and have them see their mother behave in the way that she did, which is contrary to how they have said she is. I mean, that must have just been a really challenging dynamic to stand and witness.
Leslie: 12:52 It was extremely difficult. My husband actually had to get up out of the room because he said I was about to punch her husband, but I was physically shaking, I couldn’t stop it. I was, you know, I have waited my whole entire life to sit across from this woman and when she left, my sister is like, she’s lying, I mean, I think she knows who your dad is, but maybe she couldn’t say it in front of her husband or maybe, all of them felt like, you know, I can tell that she’s not being honest with you. It was a really uncomfortable and she would look at me, you know, she was staring at me like, wow, you have long fingers like my mother and her husband kind of hit her on her arm and he goes, she doesn’t look anything like your mother.
Damon: 13:38 Really?
Leslie: 13:39 No. He was just really having a hard time. So now I’ve had no other contact with her.
Damon: 13:45 I want to know more about, you know, your brother said, wow, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe that’s not the mother that I know. I can’t believe she did that. And then you gave. You were face to face with her. Did you, did you take anything from his apology? Did it, like, hearing it from him, knowing that she wasn’t, for all intents and purposes, a bad person. Did it make you feel better at all and then I’m assuming it probably got squashed if it did when you met her, but like tell me about that dynamic of hearing his surprise and apology for her actions and how you juxtapose that against how she acted in person.
Leslie: 14:27 It totally did provide a level of closure for me because now I had, well somebody who is also her child, who knows a whole different side of her that can kind of think that all the way through like wow, we never knew and all this time I’ve had a sister and why did you wait so long? And, and so it was nice to have somebody not reject you and actually accept you and want to have a relationship with you. And he’s tried really, really hard to get his mother to um, you know, come around and potentially want to get to know me. But it’s an interesting thing because I’m past that now. I actually wouldn’t want to have a relationship with her because she’s a bitter person and I have great relationships with her children, my siblings, and that brings me a lot of joy.
Damon: 15:25 Of course family dynamics aren’t as cut and dry as picking sides and deciding whom you want to be family with, there’s history there. I wanted to know more about some of the family dynamics in Leslie’s reunion.
Leslie: 15:38 My sister is very close with her mother and that has been a difficult relationship for her to have with me because she is torn. She’s really happy she has a sister and she wants to get to know me, but it feels like a betrayal to her mother.
Damon: 15:54 I was going to ask about their reaction to how she behaved and if I may, is he their father?
Leslie: 16:02 Yes. and the interesting thing, I was still in the orphanage when she met and married him and my sister says, I just, yeah, I don’t understand why they didn’t come back and get you. Because she goes, I get the whole, you know, I, I can’t provide for her, I’m a single mom, But once she married, why didn’t she come back and get you? And so that’s what my sisters take on it is.
Damon: 16:27 we speculated a little bit more about what might have happened long ago. It sounded like the quick marriage to her husband after Leslie’s birth could have been one of the wedges that was driven between her mother’s choices to return to the orphanage, to reunite with Leslie or to move on with her life. Leslie said her birth mother’s husband never knew that she had a child, citing that she’s a devout Catholic and had her secret gotten out that could have been really traumatic. Her birth mother left her with no clue as to her birth father’s identity, so she had to piece it together on her own. In the interim, Leslie has maintained relationships with her siblings, but as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s been tough in some areas. While the whole experience, meeting her birth mother was a disappointment in terms of making a connection, she found it within herself to say thank you for the life she’s lead.
Leslie: 17:23 And I just said I thank you ,That must’ve been a really hard decision. And I know It was difficult, I’m sure, but thank you because I had a great life and I got a college education and I was loved and it didn’t take away that. It’s just something about being taken away from your people that haunts some people and I was one of those people.
Damon: 17:46 Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. But how amazing that you were able to make a connection to your siblings. That’s, and that they’re welcoming too because people feel a loyalty to their parents that they’re not able to separate themselves from. And they very well could have just said, look, this is not my thing. I’m going over here with them and you’re out in the cold. So that’s cool.
Leslie: 18:09 It’s so cool. And I, I love them dearly and it’s really been a wonderful journey with them. My oldest brother, well he’s the oldest of those three children. I’m the oldest, obviously, he has had kind of a tumultuous relationship with his parents and my presence has made that a bigger wedge, which never was my intention because I did not want to disturb or disrupt their family, but he just, he’s like, I don’t understand why you won’t talk to her without dad present, because when I was still there and he’s like, mom, you need to meet with her get coffee with her tomorrow. She came all this way and don’t bring dad. And she said No. So he was like, why won’t you do this? I mean, why are you being so awful? And so they really, their relationship is strained. Um, and I feel bad about that, but he has said endlessly our relationship was strained prior, this was just the straw for me. So, you know, that’s unfortunate. I never wanted that to happen.
Damon: 19:14 Yeah, it’s a funny thing. As I hear you talk about it, I feel like people’s character ultimately shows itself regardless. And you were a very stark reason why her personality and her ultimate some of her character flaws are going to show themselves. But I think that it probably would have happened anyway and it probably had happened too, because your younger brother was already in a contentious relationship with her right?
Leslie: 19:42 That’s what I’m going to choose to believe anyways, but I’m pretty sure that’s good days
Damon: 19:46 in order to remove all doubt about their relation to one another. Leslie paid for herself and her brother to submit DNA samples for testing. The results confirmed, they are half siblings. Of course, knowing they had different fathers. The results also helped her to eliminate anyone who matched with her brother as possible leads on her paternal family tree. One day, Leslie got a new close cousin match who was the key to learning more.
Leslie: 20:14 my husband, because he’s my little investigator. He calls her and says, okay listen, I need to know if you have any male cousins that are in this age that served in Vietnam War that Blah Blah Blah. And she’s like, yeah, I do. And she says, and what the situation that you’re telling me, I know exactly which one it is. And uh, but you know, we weren’t sure. So she said the one that I’m thinking it is, has two beautiful daughters and uh, so I contacted one because they’re here locally, they’re barely 35 minutes from me, so we called her and I was really excited to talk to her and I met her the next day and brought her DNA kit.
Damon: 20:58 Wow. That must have been crazy.
Leslie: 20:59 So she came back, oh my gosh, it was so wild. And the moment she walked in, she, we look a lot alike. I was like, holy cow. I knew right away that she was my sister, but I had to, you know, make sure. And uh, so anyways, through all of that, then I got to meet my dad.
Damon: 21:18 How did that situation unfold?
Leslie: 21:21 Well, so she called and she said, Dad, I’m sitting here with this lady and she looks just like me and I think she’s your daughter. And um, and he’s like, I, it shocked him because he didn’t have any idea. And uh, so he’s like, well, what do you want me to do? And she goes, well, I’m going to do a DNA test. So he wanted to wait for confirmation before he really, which was agonizing for me because I had to wait quite a while and then he was leaving in January of last year to go to Arizona for three months and of course the DNA comes back while he’s gone and I’m like, I’ve waited all this time I’m not gonna just sit around and wait for him to come back in three months. So my husband and I flew down to Arizona to meet him.
Damon: 22:08 Are you serious? That’s crazy!
Leslie: 22:12 I know especially when he lives 35 minutes from me.
Damon: 22:16 Many times when the DNA results come back, we, the adoptees are the ones to call our relatives to introduce ourselves. It can be a heart pounding, phone call filled with anticipation for how we will be received and how the conversation is going to go. When Leslie’s DNA results with her half sister confirmed their relation, Leslie’s birth father called her.
Leslie: 22:43 We had a really long conversation. He was excited that I played basketball and golf and so we talked for a long time and it was just surreal to me because it’s like, here’s this perfect stranger, that all of a sudden I’m thrown into his life and he’s thrown into mine and you know, with the history of my mother, I was very cautious because I was expecting him to not be so open about it. But when I flew down to see him, we both started crying. I mean, it was just amazing and he just would stare at me like, wow. And he can’t remember my mom either. He said, Leslie, I was in Vietnam and I got off the ship and I bought a motorcycle and I just partied. I just, you know, I did what a 20 year old guy is going to do. So he’s wild. I said, Oh, you probably have more kids out there, dad.
Damon: 23:35 You just called him dad. How was that for you when you first did it.
Leslie: 23:43 We actually had a conversation about it. So I lost my father that raised me about nine years ago and so I said, what do you want me to call you? And he thought about it and he goes, Dad, I’m like, okay. So his last name is Patty, so sometimes I call him daddy or Patty or something like that, but I do call him dad and I see him. We golf together probably a couple times a week and he calls me if not everyday, every other day, because my husband’s like, how do you feel? How do you feel? And I’m like, and that is where the closure came for me. I absolutely feel I feel whole for the first time in my life. So finding him was I don’t know, the key.
Damon: 24:34 That’s so fascinating. You’re not the first person I’ve heard say that too, that they didn’t even think about their biological father and in finding him, they found the closure that they ultimately needed, the wholeness. It’s really fascinating. Leslie’s birth father admitted that before she arrived for their first visit, he barely slept. He was trying to piece it all back together from his life, decades ago.
Leslie: 24:59 he ended up having heart palpitations and you had to go in the hospital. And he said, you stressed me out! He wasn’t sleeping and he’s just. He goes, I’m just trying to remember, I’m trying to piece it together and all this time I didn’t know. And he goes, but you’re probably better off that I didn’t raise you, so you turned out great and we just have the best relationship.
Damon: 25:19 Remember how her birth mother’s husband behaved when she emerged? He was unwelcoming to Leslie and supported or even encouraged her birth mother not having a relationship with her own daughter. Well, Leslie’s birth father had been married and had a child in his first marriage and he was on his second marriage where he also had a child. Scarred by her prior experience with her birth mother, she was pleasantly surprised by how she was received by her birth father’s wife. Still, one of her half siblings on that side has been tough to connect with.
Leslie: 25:53 My step mom’s name, I guess I call her and she is so amazingly wonderful and accepting. Like she said, I just have another kid, like she just didn’t bat an eye and has been amazing. Now their daughter who’s my sister is having a difficult time with it because she was always kind of the little, um, you know, that’s the special one because they’re married, it’s their baby. They’ve all had other families outside of, but this is theirs and then I come along and I’m like the new shiny car. So yeah, there’s been some dynamics. She doesn’t really have anything to do with me. And in fact told my father that he needed to make a choice.
Damon: 26:35 Oh no,
Leslie: 26:37 isn’t that crazy? And he’s like, I’m not going to make a choice, honey. I love you both so you need to get over it.
Damon: 26:43 Wow. That’s good of him.
Damon: 26:46 Leslie’s adopted mother lives right there in Spokane and she’s so happy for the closure her daughter is getting. Her whole family knew how important this search was for her and they’ve all been supportive.
Leslie: 26:58 I had him over and my mother over at Christmas time and when my dad walked in, my mom ran up to him and she said, thank you so much for making her. And he said, thank you so much for raising her. And it made me start crying.
Leslie: 27:15 Even when I say that, it makes me tear up.
Damon: 27:18 misty over here, like, oh, I got something in my eye. Wow. That’s unbelievable. That’s really cool. How about your, um, how about your siblings? You have both an adopted sibling and siblings who are biological to your parents. How has the reaction been amongst your siblings?
Leslie: 27:36 They, I mean, unless they aren’t being honest with me. I mean they’ve all been really happy for me. Like Leslie, that’s great because I know how much you wanted this and in the whole process it has really cemented the fact that they are my family. I mean, I went through all the crap and the, you know, growing up with that, those people and I come back to them all and said the one, one piece of this journey for me is that it really cemented my relationship with you and I’m so thankful that I had you in my life. So it’s been good.
New Speaker: 28:10 Wow. That’s really cool. Well he must be.
New Speaker: 28:13 Yeah so it’s really neat that you’re doing this whole thing. I think it’s great.
Damon: 28:18 Thank you very much. I really, really enjoy hearing everyone’s journey even, you know, unfortunately there are some really tragic situations out there and um, but I think it’s really important that we talk openly about all of them because it’s really, really easy to put, you know, on the local news or in the top headlines, this amazing reunification. But the simple fact is, you know, they’re not all like that and, and even the ones that are amazing have moments of doubt and moments of mistrust and moments of deception and moments of, you know, all kinds of negative things before the big amazing piece happens. And I think that those details are incredibly important to share. So thank you.
Leslie: 29:03 I agree. You are welcome
Damon: 29:03 and thank you for sharing your story. Wow. I’m so glad that you were able to bond with your biological father. That’s hugely important and you know, I’m glad that your bond with him allowed you to get the closure with birth parents that you weren’t able to get with your birth mother. And I think you’re right to just let it go.
Leslie: 29:23 There’s really nothing I can do about it. And there’s really not that burning desire anymore because I have my siblings and I have, you know, her, some of her cousins and things that are a part of my life. So that’s fine.
Damon: 29:37 Wow. Leslie, thank you so much for sharing your story. I appreciate your time.
Leslie: 29:41 You’re welcome. Absolutely. And thanks so much for letting me share it.
Damon: 29:45 Of course. Take care. All the best to you.
Leslie: 29:47 All right, you too. Bye. Bye.
Damon: 29:48 Bye. Hey, it’s me. Leslie’s journey is exemplary of the unexpected emotional roller coaster we’re on when we attempt reunion. Sometimes the people you want to connect with the most slam the door in your face. Other times the person you thought about the least, ends up being the warmest connection you could have ever hoped for. I just want to share two more quick stories from Leslie’s families adoption journeys. Her husband has also helped locate his own aunt’s son, given up for adoption years ago. She, however, wants no contact with the man, so Leslie’s husband connects him with other parts of the family. A similar situation to Leslie’s with her birth mother.
Damon: 30:36 Her journey has also inspired her adopted brother to start searching for his own birth relatives and Leslie and her husband assisted him in finding his half brother who lives in Seattle. Leslie’s brother and his newfound brother made a trip to see their birth mother together. He’s currently searching for his birth father. Leslie said her husband jokes that he loves reunion work so much, he might quit his job to do it full time. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in Leslie’s journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn who am I really? If you would like to share your adoption journey and your attempt to connect with your biological family, please visit whoamIreallypodcast.com/share. You can choose to share your whole story, maintain some privacy about parts of your story or share completely anonymously. You can find the show at facebook.com/WAIreally or follow me on twitter at WAIReally, and please, if you like the show, you can subscribe to who am I really on apple podcasts, Google play, stitcher, tune in radio or wherever you get your podcasts and while you’re there it would mean so much to me if you took a moment to share a rating or leave a comment, those ratings can help others find the podcast too.