Damon: 00:00 I want to start by thanking all of you for listening to the show. I wasn’t sure this would turn into anything meaningful when I first brainstormed, Who Am I Really? But your comments on episodes, ratings on apple podcasts, personal notes and contributions on Patreon have meant so much to me. I’m not even kidding when I tell you that the feedback is the fuel that helps me continue this passion project and labor of love. I’ve been humbled by the number of people who have reached out to share their adoption journey and I thank all of my guests for their bravery in opening their inner thoughts and deepest emotions for others to hear. You’re helping other adoptees to feel like they are validated about whatever mental state they’re in or have been in and that they’re not alone on this particular journey through life. You’re helping everyone who listens to understand the adoptee perspective from your own words because you’ve lived these experiences. You’re sharing has taught me empathy for other people, not just adoptees, but everyone. We all go through something in our lives and hearing adoption and reunion stories has opened my eyes to just how much we all endure, how resilient we can be in the face of adversity and how we handle our happiness, anger and seek or grant forgiveness. I’m so thankful to my guests for trusting me with helping to share their journeys and now it’s my turn.
Voices: 01:25 Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
Damon: 01:36 This is Who Am I Really? A podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. You probably know by now that I’ve written a book to share my story, just like so many of our crib mates who have documented their own stories. It’s called Who Am I Really an adoptee memoir. If you haven’t seen it already, you should head over to facebook.com/WAIReally to see a video of my son Seth and me when we opened the box of books when it arrived. It was super cute to watch Seth get emotional as he held the book in his hand for the first time. It’s been a long time coming and I’m really proud of it. A few people have asked me about my writing process, so I’ve told them one of the first things you have to do is you just have to start writing, but my editor gave me some great advice, which I also shared.
Damon: 02:29 She recommended that I note the things that I wanted people to get out of my book. The reason I was writing it, she pointed out that that exercise would help me focus the writing to make sure those core elements were clearly articulated. But when I started writing, I realized that when I tell my adoption story, it usually focuses on the incredible reunions I experienced with my biological parents Ann and Bill. But my story is about more than myself and reunion and it began many years before I was born. I decided I wanted to learn more about my biological mother, what she was like as a young woman, what events led to her pregnancy with me and the decision to place me for adoption. I wanted to understand more about the personalities of my adoptive parents as young people, learn about when they fell in love and got married and what transpired for them leading to my adoption. I interviewed my adoptive parents, relatives and friends, and I interviewed my natural parents, relatives and friends to document the history behind my birth and adoption. This book tells pieces of their stories as well as my own. It explores my decision to search for my birth mother while losing my adoptive mother to mental illness. Then the book comes full circle after I met my biological parents who were both genealogists, with me sharing our history with Seth, the youngest branch on our family tree. So I hope you don’t mind if I take a few minutes to read the prologue and first chapter to you and just like I lead into every other show. This is my journey.
Damon: 04:04 Who Am I Really? By Damon L. Davis, read by Damon L. Davis. Prologue: The adoption of a child is a very complicated process to fully comprehend unless you’ve lived through one, you probably don’t fully understand. The adoption process is said to be a triad of participants, birth parents adoptees and adopted parents, but I believe adoption is a combination of far more, every person, adoptee or otherwise is molded by their immediate and extended family, their broader community and its belief systems and myriad other factors too numerous to name. On my podcast, Who Am I Really? WWW.WhoAmIReallypodcast.com I’ve spoken to dozens of adoptees about their experiences in adoption and their attempts to reunite with their biological family members. On the show, I have learned there are countless complicating factors in every person’s life and adoption as a life’s journey takes on many forms.
Damon: 05:05 My podcast guests have talked about the ways their adoptive parents tried to make sure they felt comfortable with their adoption. Some parents buy books on the subject to read with their children explaining that they are loved and attempting to make them feel special for being chosen for adoption. Often adopted children do feel comforted that they were special enough to be chosen, but sometimes they wonder why they weren’t special enough to be kept and raised by their own parents. Guests have shared stories of transracial adoptions in which parents of one race adopted child from another race. I’ve heard tales of people adopted into certain global cultures or religions who feel very little connection to that upbringing, always sensing that they were someone else deep inside. Others feel a different kind of disconnect from their adoptive family like being an artistic, free-spirited, creative person in a family of rule following straight arrows.
Damon: 05:58 Some people have said they felt extroverted in an introverted family or they just saw the world differently than their adoptive parents and siblings. Sometimes the differences are physical, like skin tone or height and weight, but one of the worst scenarios for adoptees is having unsupportive or even abusive adoptive parents who overtly or intentionally reminded the adoptee that they were the biological child of someone else. Searching for our relatives is an adventure unto itself. I’ve heard amazing tales of people’s searches for their family back in the pre internet days. Those stories are amazing to me as adoptees recount the true detective work they had to do. They share tales of numerous appeals to the court system to release their documents. Diligent, even desperate searches through library archives for clues or tracking down phone numbers for people they hope are the family members they’re seeking. Today, technology allows a new generation of adoptees to connect more quickly and locate clues more easily than ever before.
Damon: 07:00 Reunion registries allow people to broadcast their search to anyone who will listen online. Vast networks of quote, Search Angels, close quote, are volunteering to aid a person’s investigation because they know how important it is for some adoptees to reconnect with family members. Social networks, like Facebook, make it easy to search for people yourself on lunch breaks and after hours, allowing adoptees to peek into the personality or even see a photo of someone they have a connection to. Even more incredibly, the proliferation of commercialized DNA testing companies like ancestry DNA and 23andme are giving adoptees scientific proof of their biological connection to distant relatives or directly to their birth parents. Finally, the reunion itself can be a harrowing experience. Some people are welcomed by one or both parents who’ve remembered that person’s life ever since their child was sent off into the world. Others are summarily rejected by parents who feel that they dealt with that chapter of their life years ago and are appalled, even offended that the adoptee would step forward and reopen that chapter, they’ve moved on. Still, others embark on the journey to find their birth parents only to learn that they’re deceased. Some adoptees have a strong feeling their parent is already gone even before they learn the facts. Others learn their parents passed away very recently making the pain at the end of their search more acute because they just barely missed meeting their loved one. Of course, sometimes there are new sibling relationships to navigate as well. Some adoptees learned their biological parents stayed together after their adoption and they have full blood siblings. Sometimes a person has half siblings, some of whom are eager to meet them and others who want nothing to do with them. There are components of the adoption journey that I haven’t even touched on here. Social Workers, foster families, biological relatives and other influencers are huge parts of the adoption constellation. Of course, every birth parent also has their own full story to tell about why and how an adoption plan was made for their child.
Damon: 09:12 Furthermore, adoptees also have to navigate the feelings of their adopted parents about their desire to search, making sure they know they’re not being replaced. The search is purely a quest for answers. That nag and curiosity is often the catalyst for an adoptees search for their first family. If you’re not adopted, try to imagine for yourself that you’ve been told you’re directly related to other parents and siblings whom you don’t know. It’s almost inevitable that you would develop a curiosity about who those people could be. We’re curious about birth parents, personalities and physical traits and which pieces of ourselves we inherited from them. Adoptees are hungry for information about their medical history and the mysteries contained within. For any person battling a hereditary chronic illness or caring for a loved one who is, you understand the dire importance of having as much information as possible, like family health history.
Damon: 10:09 I’ve shared these scenarios to introduce the adoption experience at the highest level and to help anyone who is not directly impacted by adoption to empathize with adoptees. I’ve lived two of the three sides of the triad. I’m an adoptee and an adoptive parents, so I know the triumphs and struggles of adoption all too well. I hope that after learning my story, adoptees will feel inspiration for the possibilities of their own reunions, even in the face of adversity. Reading my journey, I want adoptive parents to understand some of the love, gratitude and consideration an adoptee might have for them as their parents. I hope they will appreciate hearing the inner thoughts an adoptee might have when considering reunion with birth parents. My hope is that birth parents will also understand some of the thoughts and emotions that an adoptee contemplates and experiences when we consider reunion with you and what we feel in the aftermath of learning facts about our adoption or our natural family.
Damon: 11:10 I’ve been so lucky to research the lives of my biological parents and adopted parents during the years before my adoption. It put the path of my life, culminating in our reunions into perspective. I wanna thank Veronica’s sister, Bonnie Akins, Willie’s lifelong friend, Wayman Gwyn, my biological cousins, Maryanne Doosan and Marla Owens, Anne’s lifelong friend, Shelly Kaia, Ann’s graduate school friend Sharon Holly and Christine Owens Boon for their recollections of the past. I also want to thank my family and friends for supporting me throughout my journey to this point in my life. I love you all more than you know. As I write this, Who Am I Really? Is approaching 100 adoptees who have shared their journeys on the show. I’ve been humbled by the trust others have placed in me to help share their personal stories. Now it’s my turn. This is for Seth and for everyone who follows him.
Damon: 12:10 Chapter one: Michael. Within seconds of my first breath on October 14th, 1972, the birthing staff at Baltimore’s Union Memorial Hospital whisked me away from my mother. Under normal circumstances, a newborn infant is placed on his mother’s bare chest to begin the intimate skin on skin bonding that unites a mother with her child outside of her womb. There would be no bonding between me and my mother that day. I was extracted from her body through a vertical Caesarean section, c-section incision on her lower abdomen. We were separated immediately, following the staff’s execution plan for infants entering adoption. For the rest of her life, the young mother would bear the physical and mental scars from the birth of a child she had carried for nine months, never met and might never see again. I had no voice in the adoption planning, no choice in the matter, even if I wanted to stay with her, I couldn’t say so. Ann Sullivan left the hospital to recover from her c-section surgery.
Damon: 13:12 I stayed in the facility for a few days before transitioning to a foster home for several months and then to my adopted family. The plans for my life and my birth mother’s life respectively were unknown. The only certainty was that we would not go forth together. A few months prior to my birth in June of 1972, a young newlywed couple from the Midwest, Willy and Veronica Davis had just moved to Maryland and they were ready to start a family. Struggling with infertility, they decided to adopt a baby. The adoption referral service they called in Baltimore, Maryland ultimately connected them to Baltimore city social services. Their caseworker Carolyn scheduled an appointment for the couple to meet at her office in the city for their first interview. In the meeting, she asked him background questions about why they wanted to adopt. She described the adoption process in Maryland and gave them personal questionnaires to be completed at home and returned to her later.
Damon: 14:11 The preliminary paperwork included budget forms and medical forms which their respective physicians had to complete. In September, 1972, Carolyn met with a young couple again, this time she went to see them at their small apartment in Columbia, Maryland. She asked more questions about their feelings for one another, their respective families and of course how they felt about adopting a child. They must have given satisfactory answers showing they were worthy of parenthood because the couple was approved for adoption in November. In early January, 1973, Carolyn called Veronica at work with the good news. She and her husband had been matched with an infant. The baby boy they’d wished they could have had together, had been delivered by a young mother in Baltimore back in October. She had made an adoption plan and Willy and Veronica were given the chance to have a son. In the days after the call, the couple drove to the adoption agency to hear pieces of my history and see a photograph of me.
Damon: 15:11 They knew immediately from the photo they wanted to make a family with me. On February 26th, 1973, the couple returned to the adoption agency to meet me for the first time. We spent about one hour together that day. The very next day, February 27th Willy and Veronica, Mom and dad took me home to our apartment at 5470 Harper’s farm road, Columbia, Maryland. They became my loving parents. It’s common in infant adoptions for the adoptive parents to change the birth name their son or daughter was given to a new name. That practice helps for better or for worse to deidentify the child from their prior life and attempts to bond the child to their new parents through a new identity. Some children destined for adoption are never given a birth name, so the name they grow up with as an adoptee is the only identity they’ve ever had. When Ann gave birth to me and for the first five months of my life, my name was Michael.
Damon: 16:10 When I was adopted, my parents named me Damon and that is who I am. I’ve always known I was an adoptee from as young as I can remember. Mom and dad were open and transparent with me about the meaning of adoption. When I was a little boy, my mother gave me a laminated piece of paper with a short story about adoption on it that comforted me about how our family was formed. It read something like this, one day an elementary school class was talking about families. The teacher asked the children about each of their families and one child answered that they were adopted. Another child asked what adopted meant and the adopted child said, it means I was born in my mother’s heart, not in her belly. I liked that story. It was comforting for me to imagine the universal symbol of love, a heart shape, and that my parents thought of me as a child of their love.
Damon: 17:04 I kept that small piece of paper in my desk drawer at home for many years. Mom also kept the baby book with a few notes about my adoption that I could read anytime I liked, but I rarely felt the need to review those notes. She had already told me the story of my adoption and I was comfortable with the little bit. I knew I was born in Baltimore, my mother was a librarian and my father was a police officer. Those details were good enough for me for a long time. The subject of adoption rarely arose in our home. It may have been that my parents and I looked enough alike that we passed easily as a biological family. My mom is a fair skinned African American woman. Dad had darker skin of the same descent and my skin tone is brown in between theirs. So in relative terms, I look like I could be their biological son.
Damon: 17:54 To me, they were very few differences between us. My parents and I even have the same astrological sign. We’re all libras with birthdays in the middle of October. We’re family, they’ve showered me with affection and support throughout my life, and I’m their only child and they’re my parents. Growing up, occasionally mom would talk to me about my future and she would inquire about my aspirations when I got older. She would casually insert into those chats that if I ever wanted to talk about my adoption, we could. She also suggested that if I ever wanted to search for my birth mother when I was older, she would help me, but for many years I never wanted to search. Her open support helped me feel comfortable with who I was. I think open honesty with an adoptee from the beginning is the correct path for any family to grow together. In time however, I received reminders that there was another family out there that I was biologically related to. In the adoption community, Adoptees refer to the awakening that you’re biologically related to other parents as, quote, coming out of the fog, close quote, or facing the reality of what adoption actually means. It took me several years to launch a search for them. Before I did, I had to think deeply about what I was getting myself into and who my journey might affect. I had to prepare myself for every possibility simultaneously recognizing that I could try to imagine hundreds of scenarios and still never be prepared for reality. I wrote this book to share my adoption journey as fully as possible. It’s about more than my adoption and attempts at reunion. I wrote this to share the full story of myself and some of the people and places that I hold dear. I’ve tried to introduce you to my birth parents, my adoptive parents, my children, and a few of the friends and family who’ve been with me on this incredible journey. They’re all integral to understanding who I am and how I got to this point in my life. Every one’s adoption story is very different. This is my journey.
Damon: 20:04 Thanks for listening. If you’re interested, you can find Who Am I Really? An adoptee memoir on amazon.com and like I always say, I hope you’ll find something in my story 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? I’m taking the summer off now, but I’ll be recording some new shows that will air in the fall. Until then, I’ll put a few episodes on repeat for you. I wish you all the best.