059 – I’m Heather 1

Vonni learned from the neighbor’s child that she was adopted, but she was too young to know what it really meant. In her teen years, the yearning to understand her adoption led her on a journey an hour away to the adoption agency for her non-identifying information. It contained a horrible terrible story, that seemed to be questionable according to the social worker who documented her adoption. In the years that followed, Vonni continued to drive a long way to search the yearbook archives for her birth mother, only to be linked with her birth father first. When she found him he wasn’t interested in knowing Vonni, until his fond memories of her birth mother kicked in and they figured out she was a different daughter than he thought. He identified Vonni’s biological mother, and within months Vonni had met both parents.

 

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Vonnie:                        00:05                I was, I was having such a great relationship with my dad, my bio dad that I, and I told him too. I said, you know, I found her and I said, I don’t even know if I’m going to call her because after meeting him it was enough. I didn’t feel like I needed her anymore.

Damon:                        00:29                Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? 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 Vonnie. She called me from Lincoln, Nebraska, where she shared her story of life and adoption as a teenager. Vonnie ventured in our, from her home to the adoption agency that placed her to try to understand more about herself in her non identifying information. She learned a terrible story that seemed to be questionable according to the social worker in the years that followed, she continued to drive a long way to search the yearbook archives for her birth mother. When she found her birth father, he wasn’t interested in knowing her until his fond memories of her birth mother kicked in. He identified the woman and within months Vonnie had met them both. This is Vonnie’s journey.

Damon:                        01:34                Vonnie and her younger brother were both adopted, but they’re not biological to one another, so she grew up fairly comfortable with the notion of adoption. Interestingly, she found out that she was adopted by accident when she was four years old, but she didn’t quite know what it meant.

Vonnie:                        01:50                My little neighbor friend next door who was six, we moved into the neighborhood about a year before my parents built the house and we were playing one day and he said, “you’re adopted”. And I was like, no, I didn’t know what it meant. And I was just like, okay. And then I didn’t think anything of it and a couple of hours later he came back over and crying and he said, “I’m sorry, I said you were adopted.” So he must have gone home and told his mom, you know what he said, and she said, you can’t say that or whatever. She said. And he came back and apologized and I just remember thinking that’s okay. Still not knowing what it meant.

Damon:                        02:37                Vonnie has a vague memory of her mother reading a children’s book about how special adoptees are, but it wasn’t until Vonnie was a teenager that her ankle and self-awareness shook things up. She started thinking about her biological family and whom she might have looked like among them as she developed her own opinions and began to express herself. She also started butting heads with her adopted Vonnie was coming into her own as her thoughts expanded about who she was as a person.

Damon:                        03:05                What did you think about. What did you imagine as you thought about your this other family? As you thought about yourself as an adoptee, what kinds of things did you think of?

Vonnie:                        03:13                Well, I knew certain things because my parents got non identifying information about my birth mother and my mom couldn’t remember everything by the time I was asking, but she told me a few things and that there was no father listed or no information about the father. And My mother was 16 and that was all she knew. And so I imagined that the 16 year old girl was like, whew, thank God I got rid of this, I don’t have to deal with this baby. And probably went on to have this crazy life and was probably a waitress living in a trailer. That’s what I imagined because she was so young and you know, I never thought, oh, she’s a rich, you know, princess somewhere. I, I just thought not very positive things about her because I knew that she knew I had been adopted obviously, and where I had come from and that if she ever wanted to contact me, she would know where I was and she never did. So I had bad feelings about her.

Damon:                        04:24                When she turned 17, Vonnie went to the adoption agency for herself traveling an hour away from her home to obtain the sum of her non identifying information. It gave physical descriptions of both of her biological parents. Her mother is five foot two and blonde while her father is tall with dark hair according to the records. Vonnie identified with her father’s traits the most.

Vonnie:                        04:48                Then I spend this whole thing in my head. Like I’m just like him, I’m just like my father, whoever he is and I’ll never know who he is. So just not looking like anybody in the family is really, it’s really hard and people that look like their family members don’t appreciate that I don’t think.

Damon:                        05:08                Yeah, I could see that. And tell me a little bit about your opinion of your father. It sounds like you kind of identified with him, but I didn’t necessarily hear the negative.,

Vonnie:                        05:19                My birth father, what did you think of him? Well, he was um, in my mind he was just a tall, dark mystery man and I really never spent any time thinking about him except wondering what he looked like. And that’s interesting that you point that out because I never thought about that. I never thought about what’s he doing or where is he until actually about maybe like 10 years ago. It just hit me that he was probably in Vietnam and that he, he could be dead and I’ll never know. And that’s really the only thoughts I ever had about him. It was mostly about her

Damon:                        05:59                when she described the differences between her adopted parents and herself. Vonnie spoke vocationally. Her mother was a teacher and her father had been in the military and manage the glass factory in her youth. Her parents made sure she got dance art and music lessons and Vonnie was always good at them all. Currently she works as an artist and while her parents appreciated her talents and interests, they didn’t share her passions,

Vonnie:                        06:25                but I remember when I was like nine, we went to a South Pacific, the musical, and it just took my breath away. Could not believe it. That’s just the greatest thing I’d ever seen in my life. At intermission, we left because my dad was done. I was devastated. I could not believe we were leaving.

Damon:                        06:45                Vonnie, majored in theater in college and went on to work in theaters and art galleries. She was the opposite of her brother who was an eagle scout, an athlete and was the all around good guy opposing her position as the troublemaker. Vonnie said her desire to search had been festering before she took that hour long trip to the agency at 17 years old. Obviously the agency could only share a little bit about her birth mother, but they did reveal something interesting.

Vonnie:                        07:13                And then they also told me that she had a common name and that there was another girl in her class with the same first and last name is she had. So then I started years of going through yearbooks in that city, trying to find two girls with the same name that had blonde hair next to each other and you know, just whatever research I could do. This is before the Internet. And. And how did you get? Not every day, you know, everyone’s not. I had to go to Omaha where she was from and go to the. I can’t even remember the name of it, but it’s like a sort of a records and archives. Yeah, right. Oh, that’s interesting. And I will look through. I looked through microfiche and because I also knew that she got married when she was 17 and obviously it wasn’t to my father. And so then I went looking through archives of 1967, 68 marriages looking for… Because the other thing I knew about her was that what they said was that she had an unusual middle name. So I was looking for a common name, you know, with a strange middle name and a common last name getting married and I mean this could have gone on forever.

Damon:                        08:29                The archives where Vonnie searched rere an hour from her home. So you can imagine the commitment it took to embark on such a search through old yearbooks and microfiche. Vonnie also asked the agency to do a search in 1991 when she had her first son. She knew medical information was a good reason to continue the journey. They were required to find the woman and get her permission to release the medical information before any information to Vonnie.

Vonnie:                        08:57                Well, what they did, I found out later was they sent a letter to the address that she lived at when she was 16. Of course she didn’t still live there, you know, she didn’t, they didn’t get a response. And that was what I got for my hundred bucks and the next time I tried it had gone up to 200 and I think actually I might have paid them two times and of course they could never come up with anything. The agency is in the same town where she lived, but you know, they just absolutely couldn’t find her. And I got so disgusted probably in about 2000 2005 probably, I was just like, I’m not giving you guys any more money. You’re not helping

Damon:                        09:39                as it’s sometimes the case in an adoption agency. The person tasked with the search and reunion services is asked to do so in addition to their other duties. It’s not a full time dedicated position. Most often the person is faced with a large workload, but not much time with which to investigate any one case. It’s a shame in Vonnie’s case because the person they were looking for was probably uniquely identifiable by her middle name. Exasperated by the lack of responsiveness from the adoption agency. She shared her experience with her childhood best friend and fellow adoptee. The woman worked at a biotech company on the west coast and had heard about the new DNA sequencing being offered by 23andMe, so she suggested Vonnie submitted DNA sample. Of course, back then the database of potential matches was so slim. It took months for Vonnie to even get a third cousin match, let alone find a birth parent. She contacted that person who wanted to be helpful, but her cousin couldn’t identify anyone in the family who might have had a child and then gotten married.

Damon:                        10:44                So 23 and me didn’t prove to be helpful.

Vonnie:                        10:47                No, but the interesting thing that it told me, which I loved, was that it told me I was 48 percent Irish, which I also. That always bothered me not knowing what I was because I have dark hair. I Tan really easily. Um, I’m tall and I could. I thought, am I Italian? Am I American Indian? Am I… I never thought I was Irish because you don’t think I’m dark hair and I’m really excited. Right, right. And that, that was a great day.

Damon:                        11:20                Oh my gosh. Yeah. Yeah. There’s something really satisfying about actually definitively knowing what your culture is.

Vonnie:                        11:29                Totally.

Damon:                        11:30                You can guess for days, right? You could, you could make it, you can come up with any combination of people and places you want, but when someone actually says these are the percentages, percentages of what you are, and these are the places in the world you’re from, it’s incredibly gratifying.

Vonnie:                        11:46                Wonderful.

Damon:                        11:47                She hadn’t given up hope. Vonnie found the DNA detective facebook group where she learned tips, tricks for searching in the community conversation. Someone mentioned jed match as another resource for more DNA matching. After you upload your 23andme test results. She uploaded her DNA file and was matched with another cousin named Martin who Vonnie says changed her life. Martin was way into the genealogy thing. So he really jumpstarted the detective work on her behalf.

Vonnie:                        12:19                And he found a guy who, he sent me a picture and he’s like, this is one of your relatives, but um, and it could be the father. And I was like, what my father did my father come into this. So I’ll look this match. And the one on 23. And me too. It was from my father’s side and I didn’t know, I always assumed it was my mother. She was the one I was looking for. Right. So we found a cousin of mine and my father’s didn’t know that at the time, but Martin said, here’s this family, here’s what happened in their family, their cousins of mine, this guy could be your father. So I’m a huge dork. And I tracked the guy down by finding them on facebook and I called him. Oh my gosh.

Damon:                        13:14                Really?

Vonnie:                        13:15                Oh, it was horrible. I’m so stupid. I called him and instead of being cool, I said, okay, are you my father or is it your brother?

Vonnie:                        13:24                That’s what I said when he answered the phone or you just complete Weirdo and he think he said, it’s not me. And I said, oh, sorry. I told him the story and he said, oh no, you know, he, he had gotten to boys town when his parents both died. It’s very sad story and he said, I didn’t get out much. You know, I went to boys town and it wasn’t me, but if I can help you, you know, let me know if you have any questions you can call me anytime. And so he was really nice too, but

Damon:                        14:03                I cannot believe you just blurted it like that.

New Speaker:               14:06                What a jerk, I know~

Vonnie:                        14:09                Oh my gosh.

Vonnie:                        14:11                And the first thing I told myself when I was calling was okay, if his wife answers the phone, I’m hanging up. But she answered the phone and I didn’t hang up. I asked for him. No, I think it’s true. I didn’t think it through.

Damon:                        14:27                The only plan you made was if she answers the phone, I’m hanging up. Everything else is completely unscripted. Wow.

Vonnie:                        14:34                And then didn’t even follow my own rule.

Damon:                        14:37                Martin continued his search, moving his focus to ancestry.com where he was locating more cousins. Vonnie submitted a sample to ancestry DNA which opened many more paternal links but not a single maternal link. One of the new matches was an uncle and of course Martin knew that family too. Martin talked Vonnie through the branches of the family pointing out that one of the brothers was 35 years old back in 1966 when Vonnie was born. But another was only 20, she set out to find phone numbers for the members of that family. She found the oldest brother who lived in California and told him she was looking for his brother Tom, the one who would have been 20 years old when she was conceived. Vonnie told the man that she thought Tom might be her birth father.

Vonnie:                        15:24                And he said, oh yeah, he would. Yeah, he would love to hear from you. And gave me his phone number.

Damon:                        15:31                so he didn’t seem surprised by this?

Vonnie:                        15:34                No. And here’s why. So when we were talking, he asked, or when we were done talking, he didn’t hang up the phone and I could hear it. He thought he had hung up and he hadn’t. And I could hear him talking to his wife and I’m sitting there just hanging on every word. Oh my God. I’m hearing this private conversation. And he said to his wife, you’ll never guess who that was. That was tom’s daughter from high school. And she’s like, Oh, is that right? And He. And he said, yeah. And she’s got three kids. And I told her some stuff. And then he figured out about the phone you hung up. So Tom had a daughter in high school. Okay. That, that was me.

Damon:                        16:15                Wow.

Vonnie:                        16:17                So we wasn’t really 20 then. So eventually I called Tom and I said, hi, I’m your daughter. And he and his response was, and we’d joke about this all the time now, but he said, look, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but that was a long time ago when I really don’t want to get involved in that. And I said, okay, fine. I just want to know who my mother is. Can you tell me? And he said, yeah, she was my girlfriend. I, I, uh, we were together for five years. I was crazy about her. And I said, oh, that’s good. Because in my adoption paperwork it says that my mother was raped. I forgot to tell you that earlier she had put in her in her paperwork that the guy was telling dark she was raped. And that’s why she didn’t know anything about him.

Damon:                        17:14                So list his name at all?

Vonnie:                        17:17                No, no, I should’ve told you that way at the beginning. And, and one of the caseworkers that I talked to said that it said in my file, although it said it was raped, she was raped. The person that was doing her intake had the feeling that that wasn’t the truth. And she put that in my file to my mother was lying to, you know, so she wouldn’t get in trouble. So I talked to Tom and he said, well, yeah, this is her name. Told me my mother’s name. And I said, so all I know about her is that she has blonde hair and green eyes. And he said, no, she has brown hair and Brown eyes. So my first thought was, oh my God, the agency got it wrong. And the more we talked, the more we figured out that he has another daughter. He got kicked out of high school when he was 18 because he got his girlfriend pregnant. And that’s my older sister,

Damon:                        18:18                Are you kidding me!?

Vonnie:                        18:21                And we had to talk for a long time to figure this out because I said, you know, in the, I was born in 66. And he said, well, I was 20 in 1966 and I’m like, well you were out of high school then when you said yes, so you couldn’t be my daughter. And I said okay, and I wasn’t going to push it and it wasn’t going to bother him. And I told him, I don’t want anything from you. We don’t have to be friends, we never have to talk again. I just wanted the information. And he said, okay, well good luck. Thanks. Bye. And two days later he called me back and he said, I just remembered there was another girl and she was blonde and she had green eyes and this was her name, different names. And he said, I didn’t even think about it. They were only together for, they dated for like five months. And then he went to Vietnam, which I was true and didn’t know she was pregnant and apparently didn’t know I existed. So I’m the other daughter.

Damon:                        19:39                So Tom was kicked out of his high school for getting his longtime girlfriend pregnant when he was 18. Then right before his deployment to Vietnam, the theory was that he got Vonnie’s mother pregnant during a short fling, but tom wasn’t sure those were the facts, so he cautiously doubted his paternity. He and Vonnie had a few more conversations to try to sort things out and they kind of liked talking to each other. One day she said,

Vonnie:                        20:05                …well, you know, if you’re not my father, at least you’re, you can be my uncle, you can be my beloved uncle. And he said, well, I’m not your father. And I said, okay, even though you just told me who my mother was described or you just go with that, then you know,

Damon:                        20:21                (Laughs) You believe what you want to believe

Vonnie:                        20:22                that’s right.

Damon:                        20:23                So Tom took a DNA test. Vonnie feels like even though he was outwardly denying paternity, he probably wanted to be her father because they just got along so well right before thanksgiving, 2017, Tom’s DNA results were returned

Vonnie:                        20:39                and the results came in and I called him just crying and said I got the. Because it popped up on my ancestry, this code name, whatever his name is, your father, and I just called him crying and he just said, what do you think about that? What I like. It’s just like, yeah, it’s pretty great. So then he came to visit me with his wife on Mother’s Day for whatever reason they came to, he lives in California and they flew out to Nebraska to meet me and spend a few days and then he surprised me again on my birthday in August. He showed up at my house with presents and balloons and champagne and cake and

Damon:                        21:26                oh my gosh, that’s amazing.

Vonnie:                        21:28                I know. I’m just the light of his life. It’s just awesome.

Damon:                        21:32                It was really thoughtful of him to call back for Tom to stop and think, wait, I know this is and to… cuz he could have ran the other direction. And for him to call back and actually say, I think I have some clues and to continue down that path with you, even though you didn’t know you existed. That’s really thoughtful.

Vonnie:                        21:55                You know? You’re right. I never thought about that. I mean he. He totally could have just let it go and I never would have had contact with him. I used to and I told him and he actually told me later, he said the main reason why he kept thinking about it and came back to me was that I said to him, I don’t need anything. I don’t want anything from you. I’m not… I’m successful. I’m happy, I have a good life. I’m just wanting information. And he said, when I said that it put him at ease, you know,

Damon:                        22:26                you didn’t have some ulterior motive, some ultimate goal that you were trying to get to. That does put people at ease.

Vonnie:                        22:32                Right.

Damon:                        22:33                Let me help you. You reached out to me. If I know something, I’ll let you know. Right. That’s incredible. He showed up with champagne and balloons.

Vonnie:                        22:44                It’s a girl and stuff like that.

Damon:                        22:49                Tom revealed Vonnie’s birth, mother’s name Vonnie found her on facebook, examined her friend’s list to determine which people were family and located. One of her daughters, she tracked down the older daughter’s phone number, but she was scared to make the call. Vonnie took a few days. Then she dialed the number,

Vonnie:                        23:07                I called her and she was in Colorado and I just said, I don’t know how much you know about your family or your mom before you were born. And she said, well, I know she had a daughter before I was born, before my brother was born. And I said, well, that was me. And then we just started crying and she was like, we’ve been looking for you. We’ve been looking for you for. I’ve been looking for you for 20 years. And so she said, we’ve all been looking for you, and

Damon:                        23:40                So she told her children that’s not, that doesn’t happen all the time. Wow.

Vonnie:                        23:47                I said, well, I don’t know if I want to get involved or talk to her because like I said before I had these bad feelings about her, you know, she wanted to get rid of me and she did and she was glad and my sister said, oh no, it’s heartbreaking to her and it’s been terrible for her.

Damon:                        24:09                And I was like, okay,

New Speaker:               24:11                Wow, your feeling was exactly wrong.

New Speaker:               24:13                Right.

New Speaker:               24:13                But it’s interesting to me to hear you say that though, because you told your sister, your younger sister on your maternal side that you didn’t, you weren’t sure if you want to get involved, but you’ve tracked them. Yeah. So you kind of did.

Vonnie:                        24:29                But you know what? I had so much. I was, I was having such a great relationship with my dad, my bio dad that I. and I told him too. I said, you know, I found her and I said, I don’t even know if I’m going to call her because after meeting him it was enough. I didn’t feel like I needed her anymore. I knew who she was. I didn’t have to have a relationship with her and I had him and that was okay and I could have left it at that, but of course I got too curious and I had to….

Damon:                        25:03                Yeah. The curiosity to go, and I find this is an interesting theme that I think happens with some adoptees is that in the cases where their initial reunion with a family member is so positive, there’s a fear of falling off the cliff. That it can’t go any better than this. It has to go down from here, but because I had that feeling too, and I think that people begin to steel themselves against what the possibilities are for this anticipation of, of going down the other side. You’ve reached the peak, you know, you’ve, you’ve, you’ve submitted the mountain and now there’s nowhere to go but down.

Vonnie:                        25:47                Exactly. That’s really fascinating. When he first said to me, you know, I don’t want to get involved. That was a long time ago. I really don’t remember feeling devastated. I was just like, well, you know, I never thought about you that much. Anyway. That’s fine. I just want to know who my mother is and you know, I didn’t feel horrible. It wasn’t a happy feeling. It wasn’t good, but I wasn’t going to cry.

Damon:                        26:13                She’s feeling like speaking with her birth mother first might not be her best move. Vonnie suggested maybe she should speak with the woman’s husband first. Her sister gave me his cell phone, but Vonnie was freaked out, so it took a few more days before she called him. I asked why Vonnie wanted to speak with her husband first

Vonnie:                        26:32                because I was afraid of her. I was afraid of… She was too big. She was a legend in my mind, you know, I had built up, even though I had a negative image of her, she was the pinnacle of, she was a superstar. She was like, your biggest idol if you’re going to meet whoever that is. And I was scared and I wanted to kind of know what she was like before, which I think I also asked my sister about, you know, what her personality was like and I, I just wanted to ease into it and I wanted to know what he thought she would do if I appeared.

Damon:                        27:21                You want some background, some understanding of what you were getting ready to get into,

Vonnie:                        27:26                right? Yeah. And he said, Oh, you have to call her. You have to talk to her. You have to talk to her right now. I’m going to give her the phone. And I said, no, no. He said, no, please. You just have to talk to her. And then I just remember thinking *gulp*, okay. And he gave her the phone and I heard her say, who is it to him? And he said, it’s for you here. And she said hello. And I said, hi. She said Hi. And I said, it’s your daughter. And she. And she said what? And I said, it’s your daughter. And I started to cry. And she said, oh my little doll baby. That’s what she calls me. You’re my tiny little doll baby. Oh my God. You know, whatever, all this stuff that you do on your first call. So she still calls me that doll baby because you know, she was a kid when she had me and she just thought I was a little dolly.

Damon:                        28:25                And the last thing that she saw or knew of as an infant, that’s the last imprinted memory that she would have of you. It’s impossible to imagine you grown up.

Vonnie:                        28:35                Exactly. And she said, I held you and you grabbed my pinkie and she said, I didn’t wash that finger for days after you were born because that’s where you had grabbed onto me. And it was very sad. The whole story of her having to give me up and she thought she was going to be able to keep me and she still thought up until the end that they were going to change their mind and let her bring me home and it was. It was a bad thing in her life.

Damon:                        29:07                Vonnie’s mother tells the story that when she was 16, she was head over heels for Tom. He was tall with dark, piercing eyes after he left for Vietnam. Vonnies mother got a physical examination at her school where she learned she was pregnant. She sent letters to tom and Vietnam, but the war was chaos, misery and terror, and so the men drank a lot to manage it all. Vonnie’s birth mother was afraid he would get in trouble for being so much older than she was, so she lied about how she had gotten pregnant. His memories are hazy from those days, so Tom doesn’t recall the letters, but he easily conceded that whatever her version of the story is must be the truth.

Vonnie:                        29:50                The reason why she never named him and said that she was raped was because he was 20 and she was 16. She was afraid he would get in trouble, which I, she told me later is why she lied about it.

Damon:                        30:06                Wow.

Vonnie:                        30:06                That’s pretty smart for a 16 year old too, I think. Oh, I want to say he was and is still absolutely mortified that she was that young. And he said I would have never even looked at her if I woulda known that’s how young she was. He said she never. She absolutely did not look like a 16 year old kid. So anyway, just for the record.

Damon:                        30:32                Yeah, no, that’s important and he sounds like an honorable sort of really nice guy.

Vonnie:                        30:38                Yeah, he is very nice. So then she made up the story to her mother and she had a uh, was raised just by her mother. Um, her parents were divorced, which was really strange in the sixties.

Vonnie:                        30:50                So she went to the salvation army home for unwed mothers and she said that was the swanky place where the rich kids went. And she said, if you are poor, you stayed home being pregnant. But she said it was like, it was like living in a dorm, all the girls were pregnant and she told me about the really super cute maternity clothes. Her mother would buy for her and there was all very positive and the doctor she had was an African American young doctor and she said he was the greatest doctor in the world. He stayed with her the whole time and so kind and so wonderful. Then she got to hold me and then the nuns came and took me away and she was broken hearted and you know, went home and just was messed up for a while and I think, and she didn’t really, I don’t know if she said this or I’m just thinking it, but she needed a replacement and went and got pregnant again and then married that guy. And then that is the father of my brother and my second sister, my first sister, Heather, and she named me heather, Heather May. And um, when my sister was born she named her heather. So that was another thing that heather told me when I was on the phone with her. She said Heather one, oh my gosh,

Damon:                        32:27                Vonnie found her birth father in November 2017. She had her first call with her birth mother in December. During the course of her reunion, Vonnie got to see pictures of her birth father to whom she bears some resemblance. She traveled to her birth, Mother’s home to meet her in person.

Vonnie:                        32:44                Oh, the shock of seeing my own face in front of me. With blonde hair. Oh my God. I mean, you know how that feels. It’s just, that’s me in another form. I could not believe that. I just had to stare at her. Couldn’t believe it

Damon:                        33:02                because it was your face, but blonde and your dark haired. Right. So it’s like looking at yourself with a wig on.

Vonnie:                        33:08                It was my, it was so amazing.

Damon:                        33:11                So where did you go to meet her and how did it happen?

Vonnie:                        33:13                I went to her house and my husband went with me and just went to her front door and just hugged and went in the house and she said, now you have to sit next to me. She said, you’re too big for me to hold on my lap. But you have to sit next to me and then she made me hold onto her pinky, like when I was born she said this is the way we were sitting. So here’s my pinky

Damon:                        33:41                That is hysterical. Very last moment she had with you. That’s incredible.

Vonnie:                        33:48                Exactly. Yeah. She said this. This is what we were doing the last time I saw you.

Damon:                        33:54                Wow. She picked up right where you left off.

Vonnie:                        33:59                So we see each other about once a month or so. But you know, the interesting thing is she has never asked me about my family or my past or anything. She just wants to go forward. My dad asked me all about, you know, my childhood and what I was like growing up and my mother has asked me nothing.

Damon:                        34:19                Hm. That’s really interesting. Why do you think that is?

Vonnie:                        34:23                It’s so weird. I have no idea. Well, I do. I think it’s because it’s all a negative sad time for her and she does not want to talk about it. Yeah. She missed all those years and she doesn’t want to talk to about it..

Damon:                        34:38                Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.

Damon:                        34:41                Remember Vonnie had another sister on her father’s side. I asked if she ever connected with her paternal half. Sister. Vonnie told me Tom actually met her years ago and from that experience he wants nothing to do with her

Vonnie:                        34:54                and I want to find her and he’s like, don’t you dare. You said you were my only daughter,

Damon:                        34:59                but you know how that is for a curious adoptee. Even when we’re told not to search, we still want to know the facts. When I asked Vonnie about locating the woman, she said she just wants to see her face. She won’t try to contact her Vonnie’s experience meeting her birth parents has been enough and she doesn’t feel like she needs to find more people. Switching gears, I asked how her adopted parents were handling the reunion experience.

Vonnie:                        35:23                Well, surprisingly my dad is the one who was like, oh, that’s great. You know, and as I’ve gotten older, our relationship is much better. Obviously, you know, we just want you to be happy. We’re glad. Found what you needed. But my mom, who is the nicest person you will ever meet in your life and it never displays jealousy or animosity is really sad about it. She wasn’t, she was okay when I found my father, but she has trouble with my mother and they, I mean they’ve never met or talked, but I don’t bring it up. It’s hurtful to her. She’s sad about it. She doesn’t say things to me like this hurts my feelings, but she gets emotional and I can tell what hurts her and we just don’t. I don’t bring it up. You can tell to go. Right. And like the first year after I found her, um, it was Christmas and we were at their house and my mom started crying when we left and she said, I just hope she knows, you know, what your life was like and that you had a good life and everything that we did for you. And I said, of course. And you know, at that time I thought, okay, I can’t talk about this with my mom anymore. So I stopped.

Damon:                        36:43                So you may not talk directly about the reunion with her, but how do you reassure her about your relationship with her?

Vonnie:                        36:52                I’ve told my mom, you know, your, my mom, you’ll, you, you were my only mom. You’ll always be my mom and you’re the best mom. And I said, Janet, who’s my bio mom is more like a new friend. She’s not ever going to be my mother and I don’t want you to think that. And I’ve also said just, um, occasionally I’ll say things like, you know, I’m so glad if I would’ve stayed with Janet, I wouldn’t have had half of the opportunities I’ve had. I maybe wouldn’t have gone to college. Um, I maybe, you know, I certainly wouldn’t have had all of the things I, they provided me when I was a kid because she just wouldn’t have been able to do it. And Yeah, I’m so lucky that I got this family. I’m so glad, you know, I tell them things like that and just to reassure them and they know that and I think not bringing it up very often helps. And it Kinda makes me sad because I’m so excited about it, I want to share it with my parents, but it was really… my mom had two miscarriages that we’re both tubal pregnancies and, and almost died the second time. And so it was super traumatic and sad for them not to be able to have kids. And this is all bringing that up for them too. Memories, you know. So I understand.

Damon:                        38:23                Vonnie says another amazing component of her journey has been the warm loving reception she’s received by both of her birth parents, spouses. Often spouses don’t want their significant other to get involved with children prior relationships. But that’s not the case for Vonnie.

Vonnie:                        38:39                So we’re all happy now. And it’s the best possible scenario that ever could have been.

Damon:                        38:46                That’s really great. I’m so happy for you. Very lucky. I would be interested to know how’s Heather two doing with your return?

Vonnie:                        38:55                Well, she was, she’s very, we’re facebook friends and we text once in a while and she’s very loving to me, but I kind of had a little insight actually last week. She and my mother are butting heads and have for a long time and my mother doesn’t understand Heather’s anger toward her and Heather texted me and said that she wanted me to call so we can talk about some things and my mother said she wants to tell you a bunch of terrible stuff about me and how terrible her life was. And uh, so there’s drama between the two of them and I think she’s jealous. I mean, I would be, you know, she doesn’t get along with her mother that great, but here I come and you know, I’m the center of the universe and everybody’s happy.

Damon:                        39:49                Right. yeah, that’s a hard position to be in.

Vonnie:                        39:53                I’m not positive. Yeah. I don’t know exactly how she feels.

Damon:                        39:58                Yeah. And it’s going back to what you said about you and your biological mother. What’s her name again?

Vonnie:                        40:06                Janet,

Damon:                        40:06                Janet, you and Janet being friends. That really is in many cases what it amounts to an adoptee comes back, we had an entire life away from this person. The’re an adult. They know who they are most times and all. You can really be his friends, like she said, I can’t put you on my lap. So you do get to be like really awesome best friends and it’s got to be hard for those who have grown up with that same person and then yelled at and been punished or grounded and uh, I mean, I’m sure there were some awesome things to then on the vacations and everything else, but when you’ve lived a full life with another person and then you see this other person come in and they get to be this rock star who didn’t have to deal with stuff, it’s gonna be hard for them.

Vonnie:                        40:55                Yeah.

Damon:                        40:56                Before we got off the phone, Vonnie remembered something cute about her parents’ relationship and about her birth, mother’s actions after her birth that have made her feel much better about things in general.

Vonnie:                        41:07                When I talked to my dad and he remembered my mom, he said she was the cutest thing and he just remembers that she was absolutely beautiful. And so I just forgot to say that, that they both were just like, you know, they both thought each other was just amazing. And he always wondered why she was, why somebody who is so gorgeous with wanting to be with him and he’s handsome, but you know,

Damon:                        41:34                How did that make you feel because you’ve now heard from both of them that they were basically. Yeah,

Vonnie:                        41:39                yes. Can you imagine thinking that she was raped and you know, growing up with that. And I’m a product of a violence except maybe this one case worker doesn’t believe the story. We don’t know. And then hearing, oh no, we had a great time. We were crazy about each other.

Damon:                        41:58                That’s awesome. So it’s nice. It’s stuck in your mind. Do you read this, this rape piece in your own information and it just completely tanked your thinking on who she was. She turned out well

Vonnie:                        42:14                because of course, you know, why would you want to keep that terrible baby? And she did tell me also that she tried lots of different ways to find me. She went back to the salvation army and they said, um, I don’t even know if she knew that I was adopted from Lutheran family social services, I don’t think. I think after the third, that was it, and she said she went back more than the ones to say, I just want to know where is she? And they said she’s fine, don’t worry about it. Just leave it alone. And she was told so she did try and that made me feel better too and I told her, I just thought that you were happy to be washing your hands on me and she said never, never, never.

Damon:                        42:58                Wow.

Vonnie:                        42:59                So that changed my life too . Yeah.

Damon:                        43:03                That’s amazing. Well Vonnie Avanti. Thank you so much for spending time with me today. It was really cool.

Vonnie:                        43:08                You’re welcome. Thank you.

Damon:                        43:10                I’m glad that it turned out as positively as it did and I hope things work out with your sister and all of your siblings adopted in otherwise, so

Vonnie:                        43:20                thank you. Good talking about it and I’m glad you had a happy story to.

Damon:                        43:24                Thank you so much. Take care. All the best to you.

Vonnie:                        43:28                you too, Bye. Bye.

Damon:                        43:31                Hey, it’s me. Vonnie told me that her own adopted brother doesn’t want to hear anything about her reunion. He doesn’t want to find his family because he’s fearful of rejection. That’s his choice. We all have to respect one another’s decision about our own journeys. Vonnie and I chatted a bit about the impact of finding biological parents after I told her my own reunion story.

Damon:                        43:54                We agreed it can be intrusive to have another set of parents in your life, whether your reunification is a positive or negative experience, no matter how grounded you are and your personality or how volatile you feel, there’s no question that reunion is hugely disruptive. It’s a big deal, so prepare yourself for a life changing event. Thankfully, Vonnie’s has been happy with her birth parents. I hope her adopted mother will come around to understanding that she hasn’t been replaced. Vonnie has simply reestablished and important connection that’s always been there. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in Vonnie’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. Who am I really podcast.com/share. You can also find the show at facebook.com/WAIReally really, or follow me on twitter @WAIReally, and please, if you like the show, I hope you’ll 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, take a moment to rate the show. Those ratings can help others to find the podcast too.

1 Comment

  1. Lynne on 06/19/2018 at 6:27 PM

    I really enjoy listening to these adoption stories

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