Dana received her original birth certificate and when her husband looked up her birth mother’s name they found her obituary. It took her two years to find an address for her surviving aunt and a year to find the courage to write to her. Her Aunt gave Dana a name for the man who could be her birth father, but he was also deceased. Luckily DNA testing told a different story.
Dana: 00:03 She never knew about me. She thought that she was an only child for her her entire life. So finding out that she has an older sister that came as kind of like shocks or she. So she just told me she knows she needs, she needs time sheets, she needs space and I get that. You know, it’s like, I can’t imagine going thinking that you’re an only child for like most… for your entire life. Minifying boom. You have an older sister.
Damon: 00:35 Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
Damon: 00:47 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 Dana. She called me from Ohio A state we know has opened adoption records. Dana shares her story of growing up with two younger siblings, biological to her parents, but feeling equally loved by her parents. She tells the heartbreaking story of learning that she would never meet her biological mother and the near miss of a second heartbreak with her suspected biological father. Luckily, Dana was able to recover from some misinformation to learn her father’s identity. This is Dana’s journey. Dana grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. Originally, her mother didn’t think she could have children, but after Dana’s adoption, their family did expand naturally.
Dana: 01:43 My adoptive, I’m like, um, a series of miscarriages and she was told that she, she would never have a child see a child of her own to full term. So she put it in an application through the Catholic charities and they called her like on her birthday and they told her that we have this little girl here, she’s French and Serbian, we know that your husband is, would you like to come look at her? Or my parents were like, really excited. They go, of course. Yeah, we weren’t gonna come take a look at her. So they went in to the orphanage. Um, I think it was a saint John’s Children’s home in Cleveland, Ohio. And they, they took a look at me and my mom said there was kind of like love at first sight and they took me home, my mom’s birthday. So, um, every year on her birthday we celebrated like um a cake for her and then cake for me because it was, there was our, our Gotcha Day and I love it. It was never kept a secret from me. It was never hidden. My mom actually did go on to have like, um, another, uh, a baby to full term that’s my sister and also like a son of full term of adoptive brother and sister. And it was, it was pretty cool because when, um, when my mom was pregnant with my sister, they actually came up for like, um, adoption for like a second time because she wanted a sibling for me. And the social worker called her and my mom goes, I’m willing, you know, I can’t do this now I’m pregnant. And she goes, well, you know, since, I know you had such a hard time. Like I’m keeping baby to full term. We’re gonna do is. I’m going to put your, file your case down at the bottom of the file. I want you to call me when that baby’s born. And my mom did and my social worker actually came out to see me and my sister and my sister was born, so it was really, really sweet that she, that she did that and everything, you know,
Damon: 03:43 That is really sweet, wow that is so incredibly thoughtful. Boy. She’s the right person for that kind of job.
Dana: 03:48 Exactly.
Damon: 03:50 Dana’s sister is three years younger than her and her brother is 11 years younger. She acknowledges that there was a significant age gap between herself and her brother, but they were all treated equally. You may have heard Dana say that her family was told she was French and Serbian. When people ask her about her heritage, she refers to her adopted mother’s Polish heritage and tells people that she’s legally Polish. I was curious about what differences Dana may have noticed between herself and her family members. Her sister was an athlete, but Dana lacks the hand eye coordination her sister has and while it’s not typically thought of as a family tree, she thinks she probably picked up her interest in Saifai from her adopted father because they used to watch star trek together.
Dana: 04:36 That my parents have always been like amazing and supportive. So even when it came, when even when I first talked about going after and looking for like my, um, my biological parents, they have, they’ve just been wonderful and amazing. That’s really great. As far as physical appearance, everybody told me growing up like they couldn’t believe that I was adopted because they look so much like, like my, like my adoptive mom, my and my sister. So it’s like, you know, it’s like I never saw any difference.
Damon: 05:06 It sounded to me like Dana was pretty comfortable in her home where everyone was loved and treated equally. So I wondered why she ever bothered to look for her biological family. She told me that three years ago when the state of Ohio opened adoption records for those born in the 1970s. She couldn’t fight the inner curiosity she’s always had.
Dana: 05:26 Even though I was always accepted, was always treated equally and loving everything. I always had the questions like, I wondered like if I looked like my birth mom, I wondered what she was like, I wonder why exactly she gave me up for adoption. So it’s like even though he always have those questions in the back of your head when you’re adoptee, even growing up like you know, in a wonderful environment, you always wonder. So when I heard that they were releasing the original birth certificates, the first person they contacted was my adopted mom and I and I go, this is something I really wanted to do because it’s like I’ve always wondered, I’ve always been curious and she’s told me that they know this is something that you want to, you want to do. Go for it. She goes, if I was in your shoes, I would always like, I would have gone for it too, because it’s like, oh, I’ve always been curious too and She also told me that she felt like if they did a good enough job of raising me that it’s like I would never want to leave them or abandon them. I just laughed. I go, mom, it’s never, you know, you’re my peer and you’ve loved me. You raised me. It’s like, why would they even think that?
Damon: 06:36 So for $20, Dana sent in her notarized adoption records paperwork. Seven months later, her original birth certificate arrived in the mail. It only had her birth mother’s name on it. The birth father’s name wasn’t there. So Dana’s husband supporting his wife’s desire for information joined the search.
Dana: 06:55 My husband has been amazing and supportive too. He actually went on online like the day that we got a hit seek my son so it could come scout meeting, but he went on the day that we got and he found her. We found out some information on her. Unfortunately, the first thing that we found when we googled her name was, um, we found her obituary, so she had passed away, um, about like, like two years prior to making my original birth certificate. We found out later that she passed away from als and I often find that that’s something that runs in the family.
Damon: 07:35 Wow. That must been so sad to. You just missed her by two years.
Dana: 07:41 Two Years. I know there was there was just devastating, so there’s a part of me that’s like, like mad that the State of Ohio you know, it’s like, why couldn’t she like cut the red tape and get it done quicker so that way maybe I could have met her.
Damon: 07:54 You probably remember the acronym als from the viral sensation ice bucket challenge, promoting awareness of the affliction, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, but more importantly, als is a rare but deadly nervous system disease that weakens the muscles and impacts Physical function, it’s full name is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Dana learned that her mother lived in Colorado, was married, and had another daughter. Dana’s sister. The obituary revealed that her family had an aunt and uncle who passed away. Her maternal grandparents were deceased, but there was one living aunt about 13 years younger than her mother, who was still alive, but making contact with that aunt meant she was reaching out to someone who may or may not know that she exists.
Dana: 08:43 And then it took me about like a year before I finally had the courage to write a letter to her I didn’t know how to begin. It’s like, how do I reach out or what do I say? So, um, what I did was I sent her, we also found that a high school picture from my, from my mom from her senior year of high school, and I sent her a picture of that. I sent her a picture of myself and there’s no denying that I’m her daughter. I mean we looked that much like in the pictures. It was almost like a looking, like in a mirror when I saw that. So it’s like I sent that along to her and she called me about a week after I got the, after she got the letter and she goes, yet Dana. And I’m your aunt, your mind, your mind. Niece.
Damon: 09:25 In the letter, Dana told her aunt whose middle name is Marie, that her birth mother named her Marie when she was born. A unique fact that legitimize her identity against any skepticism. I asked Dana if her aunt knew of her existence. Her aunt admitted that even with more than a decade of an age gap between them, she had her suspicions
Dana: 09:47 when she saw her and everything. She knows like certain things like, you know, like the, like the growing, the growing belly. And she said that there were just like little, like little things that she knows when, when they would get together and then all of a sudden you know, she wasn’t pregnant anymore and the baby was gone. So, you know, she never asked, but she, she, she suspected
Damon: 10:13 connecting with a relative can be really fulfilling, but you’re forced to formulate a picture of the person you didn’t get to meet through the words of others. I asked Dana what she learned about her mother, her aunt,
Dana: 10:25 she told me that my birth mother was very, very smart. Um, she was actually a college student and very, very smart. But like, um, she also told me that my birth mom didn’t exactly make the best decisions when it came to men when it came to guys, she said that she was like kind of quiet, a little bit shy, but like, very, very, very sweet, very loving. She said that the way that she was raised her, her, her sister would have never ever thought about like um“ having an abortion with me and everything. She wasn’t only the family was, was brought up tonight. I told her it’s like the one thing that they wish I could have told her. Thank you, Like you gave me so many opportunities you brought into this world. Thank you. So
Damon: 11:21 yeah, that’s right. And that’s a sad thing not to be able to at least write to someone or look them in the face and tell them. Dana’s aunt was pretty sure she knew Dana’s birth, father’s identity. She used her ancestry.com account to investigate the man’s name.
Dana: 11:37 I searched the name that she gave me and what I found out, the name that she gave me, the Meelo had passed away. So that was hard. That was heartbreaking. To say that.
Damon: 11:55 Yikes. She wasn’t able to find out much about Meelo except that he migrated to the United States from Serbia in the 19 seventies. Dana tracked down the man’s brother who had some information to share and some skepticism about their familial connection.
Dana: 12:10 We met up and he gave me the um, the family tree that he printed up for me and he keeps…. I showed them like my, um, my ancestral eating, anything and he kept, he kept telling him, telling his wife, it’s like, well, something doesn’t add up. I’m not sure if Mila was actually her, her birth father, not. So his wife goes, um, or you have to let her know because what if there’s a man out there who’s wondering what happened to his daughter? So he called me and he goes, I don’t think you’re Aunt Jill’s , like necessarily like the best source of information when it comes to your birth father. So he goes, don’t take this wrong way, but it’s like, I just don’t want you thinking that you know, that your birth father passed away. And that’s the end of it. So I’m over here like, okay, how do I take this? What do I do next? Right. So I decided to go onto my ancestry DNA matches because I haven’t checked them out a while. And I actually found a parent child match. Right on top.
Damon: 13:16 Wow. Tell me about the moment when you saw that.
Dana: 13:21 I was in shock. I’m over here like, okay. First I find out that that Meelo isn’t my birth father. And then I see this. Um the guy, his name is Jay, and then we find out that yes, he is my biological father, but like seeing that it’s like, you know, it was a rollercoaster of emotions going from thinking that my birth father passed away to know that he’s still alive,
Damon: 13:47 shocked by the news, energized to make contact with the man, but unsure how to approach this incredible situation. Dana contacted her uncle Steve for advice. He senseddher nervousness and uncertainty about how to proceed and offered to contact her birth father for her. After Steve made the call, he texted Dana to say,
Dana: 14:08 I just wanted to let you know I talked to Jay and yes he is your birth father. He’s going to call you, but first he wants to call some family members and he wants to tell his four sons about your. So I found out that I have four half brothers
Damon: 14:25 Dang. Wow. That was really cool of him to call him.
Dana: 14:29 Yeah, it was just wonderful. I will ever forever be grateful to them for they. That he did that.
Damon: 14:36 Absolutely. Jay followed up with a text that said the same thing. He wanted to be in touch with her, but he needed to share the news with his family. A day or so later, Jay finally called Dana works in early childhood development, so she’s constantly around toddlers. She says that working around children, she is frequently exposed to their sicknesses. So unfortunately on the day Jay called, she had laryngitis.
Dana: 15:01 I tried my best to talk to him and then I listened. I listened to everything they told me about a birth mom. So.
Damon: 15:09 So tell me about the call. What did he say? What kinds of things did he convey to you?
Dana: 15:14 Well, he told me that my birth mom and him worked together. They worked, they worked in different departments, but they work in the same office office building that he, he kind of had like a little bit of a crush on her like, like go along. Like, um, he thought that she was just like this older woman and finally got the nerve up. He drove a motorcycle at the time. So one day he just went up to her and he goes, wanna go for a ride on my motorcycle. So this was the first date. He also told me that, like, um they dated for three months. They fought like crazy, but it was just like this intense relationship.
Damon: 15:59 Jay would spend the night at her place and they will go into the office together. The next morning rumors flew about whether they were a couple or not, and the pair just looked at one another and laughed. Then Dana’s mother broke up with Jay. They ran into one another on the street. Several months later
Dana: 16:17 she was very, very visibly pregnant with him and she told him, don’t worry about it. It’s not yours. So she pretty much said to Jay that, I wasn’t his daughter.
Damon: 16:27 Wow. Yeah. Oh Man. That’s wow. I wonder what made her do that. I guess because she broke up with him. She didn’t want to feel tied to him. Still
Dana: 16:40 tied to him. That’s what my birth dad thinks too. We text each other back and forth that I miss like I wish that that’s another question for. I wish I could ask her why did you tell him that? We can only speculate, you know?
Damon: 16:57 Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. What’s done is done so. So how was your conversation with him? How did you feel?
Dana: 17:04 It was amazing. Like just like wonderful. He’s just like this very loving, caring, caring guy. I think he definitely respects that My adoptive parents are my parents, so you just told me to call him to call him Jay. He goes, you don’t have to call me Dad. Just call me Jay. So that’s why I do.
Damon: 17:26 When we talked, Dana and Jay had not met. He lives in Minnesota and since she’s in Ohio they’ve contemplated meeting somewhere in between their homes like Chicago. I asked her how their relationship has been from a distance so far.
Dana: 17:41 TherRelationship is just wonderful and amazing. I call or text him every time a question pops into my head and he’ll text me right back. He put me into contact with all four of my half brothers and they have just been wonderful. They’ve been, they’ve always wanted a sister. All four of them. Exactly. My, um, my half brother, I’m like, I’m friends with all four of them on facebook now and he message me when they might have others Jeremy and he goes, so how’s my favorite sister? I’m over here like, I mean, you’re only sister.
Damon: 18:25 She’s friends with her brothers on facebook and Dana’s aunt says she can see the resemblance between them. Dana’s picked up on some similarities in their interests from liking the same foods to an appreciation for classic rock. She learned that Jay and one of his sons, Dana’s brother both played trumpet when they were younger and so does Dana Son. One of her brothers is getting married in Florida and the other brothers are thinking about driving down for the event. Dana can’t make it, but she told the trio that if they drove through Ohio, she’d love to have them stay with her and her family for a night. Going back to her birth mother. I asked Dana if she had plans to pay her respects one day. Let me ask you, going back to your mom, do you or do you have plans to visit her grave or, or anything along those lines?
Dana: 19:17 I wish I could, but she was cremated and the one person who knows what happened to her ashes is my half sister and my relation ship with her hasn’t been as welcoming as has been with my half brothers. Um, she never knew about me. She thought that she was an only child for, for her entire life. So finding out that she has an older sister that came as kind of like shock to her. She. So she just told me like, you know, she needs time, she needs space and I get that, you know, it’s like, I can’t even imagine going thinking your’e an only child for most, for your entire life and then finding boom You have an older sister.
Damon: 20:03 Yeah. Yeah. I would imagine. I mean, it’s challenging regardless when you find out that you’ve got a, any sibling that you didn’t know about, but to find out, you know, that you’ve gone from not being an only anymore to having an older that is a lot to swallow. How are you sort of managing the relationship? Do you just sort of text her periodically to say hi and try to, you know, keeping contact and just show that you’re a nice person or are you just giving her complete space to try to figure out where she wants to go?
Dana: 20:34 I’ll text her on occasion. One of the things that I decided to do once wer realized ALS runs on her side of the family on my biological mom’s side of the family is, was I decided to have genetic done because for my sake and for the sake of my son, it’s like I want to know if I ever gene. So I messaged her and I go, I told her that would keep in contact with her and everything and I still understand. I want to give, uh, your, your, your space and everything. But I just wanted to let you know and I’ll let you know how the, how the testing goes, and she goes, she goes, thank you for understanding. Thank you for forgiving me my space and yeah, good luck with the testing and definitely let me know. So, so it’s like, I’ll do it, like little things like that, but it’s like I’m not gonna inundate her with questions yet. When she’s ready to talk to me, she will, you know.
Damon: 21:22 That’s exactly right. You’re taking the right approach. I think you got to give her the time and space to consume the whole thing and really let it sit comfortably with her. Um, and hopefully one day she’ll, she’ll reach out and try to make some deeper contact with you. Dana hadn’t done the genetic test yet. When we spoke for insurance to approve the test, she has to meet with a psychologist, then a neurologist, then hopefully she’ll be approved for testing. I asked her how she felt when she first found out about the prevalence of als in her genes
Dana: 21:56 when I first found out about it and realize that it’s something that happens in gent regeneration. So we found that there was elf. So, um, when, when we first realized that my husband was the one that kind of encouraged me to get tested, you know, for the, because there’s a 25 percent chance I guess I could have the gene 50 percent chance that I could like that my son could you have, if I have it for his sake, for my sake, it’s like I want to know. I need to know.
Damon: 22:27 Yeah, that’s great when you are able to finally figure out some of the things that you are genetically predisposed to so that you can at least have awareness if not take preventative action, so as to lead a higher quality of life for life. You know what I mean? So that’s really great that you have that information is as you know, sort of potentially scary as it might be. I’m glad that you’re proactively seeking out some additional knowledge about what it means for you and your family. That’s great.
Dana: 22:59 I met with a genetic counselor from the Cleveland Clinic and she told me that like, um, even if I don’t have the gene, they can use the data in case my son wants to get tested some day. Like he cannot get tested legally until he turns 18 because they won’t do it. I’m an adult onset disease until, after, until after he’s turned 18. But it’s like if he decides he wants to do it some day, they can use that information to look for the, for the gene in him . So either way it’s like this will be a good thing.
Damon: 23:32 Dana’s adoptive parents told her that if a search was something she felt she needed to do, she should go for it. But sometimes what people say and what’s in their heart are incongruous. Fortunately, Dana’s adoptive parents continue to be supportive.
Dana: 23:48 Oh, they’ve been wonderful. They have been just like, like, like awesome. My mom was teasing me like a little bit and she goes up. Your four brothers, you’re still surrounded by boys aren’t you Dana? Then we’re all like yea I have all all little boys in my classroom. I live with my husband, my son and my brother in law. So it’s like, yeah, yeah, yeah. I guess I am surrounded by boys. Both of them have just been awesome. And my uncle Steve, um, my parents were in town for, for Eastern and my uncle Steve really wanted to meet them. So he came over, he came over for, for dessert. We were just talking and he told my parents that I’m, boy, you’ve done a wonderful, wonderful job with, with Dana. She’s pretty awesome. And I go, it’s like, yeah, it wasn’t that awesome when I was a teenager, but thanks.
Damon: 24:45 That’s pretty funny. Wow. I’m glad, Dana, that everything has gone so well for you. I mean, I’m really sorry that you weren’t able to come face to face with your biological mother, but it sounds like you’ve got some answers and you know, you’ve learned both who she is and finally figured out who your biological father is and it sounds like almost everybody is doing just fine with the news of your reemergence. That’s good. Awesome. That’s great.
Dana: 25:11 And to think that I was so nervous and scared about sending out the first contact letter, but it’s like I’m glad that I did. If I wouldn’t have sent that out I wouldn’t have came in contact with all these and wonderful, amazing people, so all these he’s wonderful, amazing families.
Dana: 25:29 Wow. That’s so cool. Dana. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate you telling me your story. It’s good to talk to you. Take care. All the best. Bye. Bye.
Damon: 25:44 Hey, it’s me reflecting on Dana’s journey. I was glad to hear that she felt comfortable with her upbringing and her adoptive family. It’s not always easy to get along with your family even when you’re biologically related, so it was good to hear that Dana felt loved as equally as the other children. It was sad to hear that she just missed possibly meeting her birth mother by only two years when Ohio’s adoption records were finally opened, but I couldn’t help thinking that it might have been really tough if Dana had met her mother in the final stages of als or if Ohio never opened their adoption records and she had to travel a long arduous road to even discover her mother’s identity and I can only imagine the initial heartbreak of learning that her suspected biological father was also deceased only to learn that he was the wrong man and that Jay was alive and wanted to meet her.
Damon: 26:38 I followed up with Dana to see how things were going. Here’s a piece of her email. I met Jay and his wife for the first time in person in August when he decided to take a road trip to his son’s wedding in key west. He’s amazing and awesome and there’s a part of me that is a little angry with my biological mother for how she treated him, but I know in my heart that it all worked out for the best. Oh, and we’re booking a trip to visit my half brother and his husband for Christmas at their home in key west, so this will be the best Christmas ever. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in Dana’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?
Damon: 27:25 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 choose to share your whole story, maintain some privacy about parts of your journey, 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 support me at patrion.com/waiReally, you can subscribe to who am I really on apple podcasts, Google play or wherever you get your podcasts and while you’re there it would mean so much to me. If you would take a moment to share a rating or leave a comment, those ratings can help others to find the podcast too.