Growing up Joi tried to convince herself that being adopted didn’t bother her because she had such a great family. But in reality, great parents did not erase the fact that she didn’t know her birth parents. She laments that never saw anyone who looked like her, and of course, she could never answer a doctor’s questions about her health history.
After connecting with a close cousin on AncestryDNA, they began a search through the family tree to locate her birth mother. After the state of New Jersey opened adoptee birth records, the cousins learned exactly who Joi was related to, and that their search had been off track. After receiving her original birth certificate (OBC), she was able to connect with her birth mother and her birth father in a story of joyous reunion befitting a woman named Joi.
Since her interview originally aired in August 2017 Joi has published her adoptee memoir, “Finding Joi: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Love”
Will there be a response to the letter? The fear of, okay, now I’ll put all this out there and let’s say it gets to her and she chooses not to respond. How will I know if she got the letter? Is she even interested in reconnecting with me and then what if I got to this point and I have a name, I have an address. I have even a church that she attends and what if she doesn’t want to see me? How am I going to deal with that?
Who am I? Who am I? 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 you’ll meet Joi. She grew up comforted by the adoption mantra that she was not expected, she was chosen. While adoption was an open topic in her home, Joi admits she hadn’t reached a point of speaking freely about her own adoption publicly until she was in reunion. Her reunion story has some unexpected twists and turns as the DNA match she thought she had found turned out to be completely different from her expectation and another DNA match turned into a dead end. In the end, Joi’s name lived up to its meaning, which her birth mother cleverly testified to in church for their very first meeting. Here’s Joi’s journey.
Joi’s adoption was an openly accepted fact in her life, even though people sometimes commented that she didn’t quite look like her family.
I don’t remember how it happened or, but I’ve, I’ve always known, I know that I had a baby book and in the front of the baby book it had my pictures when I, I guess first came to them and at the bottom of the first page, it was a little card. It had a baby on the outside and when you flipped it over, it gave my birth date and it said on the outside I wasn’t expected, I was selected. And I just remember that being a part of the conversation forever as it related to us talking about adoption. You know, the story of your mother wasn’t able to care for you and she wanted you to have a good family. And that’s how they kinda got me. And then from there, you know, it’s, it’s just always been a part of who I am. I won’t say that it’s always been a part of the conversations that we’ve had at home, but it’s not been something that was hidden from me. Um, I’ve always known that piece.
And you were comfortable with it because you always knew.
I think I was, I think it was those little moments when somebody would say that, you know, that I didn’t look like my father or I didn’t act like some of my cousins. It was those times, you know, that kind of stuck out as moments when it came to the forefront where it normally wasn’t an issue.
Right. And you could think to yourself, well, I could tell you why, but..
Right. And, but, and, and that’s the hard part of it too. Because now as I look at where I am now, I can openly say that’s because I’m adopted. But that’s something that I would never have said.
Yeah. As a child trying to figure out your own identity.
Yeah. But then I was reading an article the other day and the lady was talking about how it speaks to our truth, you know, the fact that we are adopted. So to be able to say that now so openly and freely, it is a relief. It does make me feel like, you know, I’m not hiding part of myself anymore.
And it’s a, I think to a degree, somewhat of relief for the people around you too. Because I think they can sense it. The reason that they’ve said, well you don’t look like your cousins or you don’t act like your father or whatever the thing is is because they’ve picked up on something too. So to have that conversation be something you can have just right out in the open now is, is a, is a freeing feeling, I think for me.
Yeah, I agree. I agree. And I think even for my daughters, it’s been funny as they talk to their friends and have been sharing our journey and sharing pictures and things of that nature, some friends are like, yeah, I never thought your mother looked like her father. Well that’s because, and by the way, let me show you a picture of what her father, her birth father looks like. So we are able to laugh about it now and, and joke about it, but you know, and those were the little things that some people just wouldn’t say. You have people who are a little bit more bold where they will. Well that can’t be your child. You know, I’m going, wow.
Yeah. Really? You just said that straight out like that, huh?
Right, right. And I think that was the tough part in my teenage years where people, and they would do it jokingly.
But when I knew for a fact that yes, this wasn’t my actual birth father, that kinda hurt in that way. And then, you know, I didn’t know how it made him feel, uh, because it was kind of like a sideways compliment in a way too. Oh, that can’t be your, your daughter. Oh, well she must look like her mother. You know, I’m going. Wow. Okay.
When you describe you, it sounds like you guys do look fairly different. Tell me about how, how you look versus how he looks. How, why is it so stark?
I just think we just don’t look alike, but I think the part that has helped is that his brother, my uncle has two girls and the girls and I favor.
In her teens, those comments began to rub her the wrong way. I asked Joi,what was the catalyst for her search? Like so many adoptees, Joi said she always wanted to know more, but she says more than once, there were times when people could swear they saw her somewhere else in places that she hadn’t been.
I would say it’s the Joi sightings. People would always say, Oh, I thought I saw you, or do you work part time in this place? Or do you work part time in that plaza? Oh, I thought I saw you in a restaurant the other day and I’ll say, no, that’s not me. So whether that happened in college, when I went to school in Trenton or whether it happened close to home or you know, different places that, things like that would happen. I said, okay, so there are some people out here that look like me.
You know, I wonder do I have a sister? Because it would be people that were close to my age then a couple of events that I did, um, some kids would stop and stare and I work in education. So I knew that these kids went to the neighboring school district and I mean they’re just kinda gathering, looking, standing over across the room and it makes me freeze cause I’m going, okay, who do they think I am? Because I know that I don’t know. And then it’s not until like I’ll either walk closer or I’ll walk in a different direction. And then you can see them have that look like, Oh that’s not her.
That is so fascinating.
But for them to stand there and stare and look for such a long period of time, just kind of waiting for me to move or see what I’m going to do or see if I’m going to approach them. Those were the awkward moments that, um, made me, you know, say I need to find out who’s, who is out there, who is, who may be this close that’s related to me. That’s unbelievable. And then in high school there was the other incident where there was an art exhibit in our school library and all these people, and a couple of the security guards kept coming over to me saying, Oh, have you been upstairs? We saw a picture of you. And I said, no, I’m not any, you know, in any pictures or anything. But they knew that I modeled. So they said, yeah, it’s a, it’s a kind of an African print. I said, no, I haven’t done anything with an African print or any tigers or anything of that nature. So that made me a little afraid to even go to this art exhibit. But once I went, um, after hearing a number of classmates and the guards saying, you need to go up there and look at that picture. To see a picture that really looks like you, that even I couldn’t, you know, normally somebody to say such and such looks like you, look at them and go no, you can pinpoint everything about them that doesn’t look like you. But to actually look at a picture. And I knew that that wasn’t me.
That’s fascinating. You couldn’t argue with that.
But it looks so much like me that I, I couldn’t argue with it. And then having my own kids too.
Tell me about having your own kids. What did that do for you?
That made me want to know more. I mean I’ve always had the situations where every time you go to the doctor is always a, Well, could you tell us a little bit about your medical history? What does this, this, this and I’m looking at them like I will, I wrote, not applicable or unknown up there, but you still want to ask me the question. So, um, I think it was that piece and then getting ready to become a parent for the first time and they’re asking me as it related to my child, which now it seemed a lot more important, um, to be able to know just in case anything was to happen because I had no information. The information that I had received years ago just said that my mother’s health was good and my father’s health was good.
Joy went into her pregnancy feeling okay about how things could turn out, but not completely comfortable with her portion of the heredity she was passing onto her child. They had her husband’s family medical history and things looked good. But that was only one half of the equation. Later, while taking her daughter to college, a commercial for 23 and Me DNA testing appeared on the hotel television. She had considered Ancestry DNA before. But this advertisement appealed to Joi in a different way.
They talked a lot in the commercial about the medical information that you could get from there using their system. And I had never heard anybody who had done ancestry talk about that. So that was the first thing that I did. I sent in my saliva for the DNA test for 23 and Me.
At first Joi was only getting hits for distant cousins. So she was disappointed in the process, but then something big happened.
So I wait a few more months and um, I got a hit for a first or a second cousin.
Wow. What did that feel like?
That was crazy because you know that a first or a second cousin that’s, you know, one person removed from who could be your parent. And then I’m wondering who is this person, where is this person? And then what do I say? Because I know adoption and family secrets and I know that plays a big part in whether or not different family members even knew that I existed. Uh, and one of the things that I did learn from my non identifying information, you know, which was years earlier, was that her parents didn’t know that she was pregnant and it was unknown whether other family members knew about the pregnancy.
So Joi was one step closer to some answers, but she was so unsure about taking the first steps to reach out to make first contact for fear of rejection. Joi already admitted that she always wanted to search. So I wondered if she always carried a fear of rejection.
The fear is always there, you know, and I think the media in movies really doesn’t help because there’s not too many positive stories of um, reunions and reconnection. And it always seems like the adoptee is going after somebody for something. So, you know, I always wondered.
Oh, the adoptee is seeking another person out of need and therefore the story doesn’t necessarily unfold in a way that’s so positive that makes you want to search yourself.
Yes. Even the language that people use tracking down, you know, we’re searching. Um, but tracking down sounds so harsh as if, you know, like we’re on a hunt.
Yeah, you’re right. The language is important. I hadn’t really thought about that phrase, but you’re absolutely right.
And that’s a common phrase that’s used.
So you’ve got a connection on 23 and Me. Did you reach out?
I did. I sent a message just very general, just kind of asking if they were familiar with the area that I was born and if they were, you know, doing a lot of work as it related to tracing their family history and responses that I got back were yes, you know, I’m very much interested in family history and that’s been part of my journey while I’m using 23 and Me and a few other comments and we uh, went back and forth for about two or three emails and I mentioned that I was adopted. I gave a little bit of information in terms of where I was adopted from, what the year was. And after that I say it was like crickets. I didn’t hear a peep, not even a, I can’t help you message or I’m not interested in sharing anything else. Just nothing else.
Yeah. It was similar to the rejection that you were fearing in the first place, right?
It definitely was. Yeah. It definitely was.
Silence from this first cousin connection on 23 and Me left Joi mystified. She says that person never resurfaced after their initial connection. During their brief interaction, Joi had maintained secrecy about her search, not sharing it with family nor friends. I asked why she was on this important search all alone.
You worry about people’s feelings. Um, I worry about…everybody has an opinion on you know, why they think you’re searching. You know, some people also have your best interests in mind that they don’t want you to get hurt. I find that, you know, oftentimes you’re explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing and I just didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to hear anybody would have not told you so.
It’s a personal journey, a personal search. You really don’t want other people’s opinions to be honest with you. Like, I kind of need to do this for me and I’m going to do it whether you think it’s right or wrong. And a lot of it is, I need to know this, whatever that truth might be. So I could see how you would want to traverse this territory. A solo.
At work one day, Joi was listening to the story of a colleague who had used Ancestry DNA to connect with many of her own distant family members tracing back a long way in that woman’s heritage. The colleague didn’t know Joi’s story, so she was listening intently about the number of people this person found. Also, Joi was pretty confident about her African American heritage, but on 23 and Me, she had only connected with distant Caucasian relatives. Joi decided to give Ancestry DNA a try and it worked. She got more matches and they were much closer in their relationship to Joi. She wanted to open the door to invite these people to connect with her, but the first round of rejection left her timid. She marveled with fascination as the leaves on her family tree began to reveal themselves on her computer screen.
It was fascinating and even more fascinating. Before I even reached out to those three that were closer on the family lines, I started looking at the family trees that they had posted. I mean, extensive information. You’re talking about thousands of people that they had connected on a tree going back to slavery. And I’m like, wow. So this person is definitely into family history. So maybe for them it won’t be as much of a shock to their system that somebody who they don’t know about is reaching out to them. And from there that’s when I decided to send the email. So one of the ones that was listed as first to second cousin and um, she responded back, was very excited to talk to me, you know, I can’t wait to talk to you. I have so much history. We can figure out to put these pieces together. And then I’m going, Whoa, Whoa. You know, slow down. So it was completely opposite. And now I’m kind of shocked that this is how excited she was. It may have been a month before I even called because I’m going, okay, I know she’s open, but what do I say? How do we begin this conversation?
You’ve got the complete opposite reaction and now it’s you who have pulled back to a degree. Fascinating.
Yes, yes. So eventually I get up the nerve, we set up a time, um, to call. We set up the date and I called her and when I tell you, high spirit energy, welcoming, fun loving, was willing to tell me anything that I wanted to know. But remember at this point I don’t have a name, I don’t have a clue how we’re related, but we automatically said, okay for both of us, this is through my birth mother.
Joy’s cousin is going through the family tree searching for women that could be the approximate age of Joy’s mother and had a sibling like her mother did. It’s obviously a sensitive subject searching for the biological mother of a child from their family and the search would take some time to piece together but Joi and her cousin just could not find a match for who this biological mother could be. So Joi expanded her connections to third and fourth cousins on Ancestry DNA, but she didn’t hold out much hope for those people to hold the answers that she was looking for.
But I felt like the answers still lie with the top three on the account. The two first cousins and you know that the one that was listed at the second or third cousin, so I didn’t really feel the need to go to anybody else. I felt that the cousin that I found, we were going to be able to figure this out one way or another and she was like a little detective with her interest in genealogy and now her curiosity was peaked and before I knew it she was introduced to me via Facebook to a number of family members and they’d share on it, I did. We weren’t quite sure how we were related, but we knew based on DNA that she and I had a high percentage in common and that we were definitely really related and I mean you get the welcoming messages, which was really nice. You begin to see people’s pictures who you do favor. That was interesting to watch.
Joi’s cousin began sending her pictures of family members and even invited her down to Virginia for a family cookout. Coincidentally, that house was only a few miles from Joi’s adopted father’s family’s home where her grandmother was raised. Small world. Joi couldn’t attend the cookout, but they stayed in touch. By November, she learned New Jersey was implementing an important opportunity for Joi’s search. For years, the state had been working on a process to allow adoptees to apply for access to their original birth certificate. Both of Joi’s parents, independent of one another, gave her the same newspaper article announcing the legislative change. The New Jersey adoptee legislation had been in the works for a long time and it was her chance to get some additional information about herself.
My father had given me an article earlier in the summer that said that about October, November you could begin to apply. So I read the article and I applied for my original birth certificate. I don’t think I told them that I applied. I think that just applied. I think my thought was because he already had given me the article and I knew he read the article. He knew that I was interested, so I’m just going to go ahead and do it. After that, that was the point where I had told them both that I had applied.
Yeah, I was just getting ready to ask that. I mean they’ve both been sounds like pretty openly supportive. I was wondering at one point did you start to include them in the fact that you were actively beginning to search.
After the rejection from the relative on 23 and Me, I took his name and popped it in Facebook and sure enough I found them in Facebook and we were just looking at the resemblance of him and some of his family members and me. So from there is what I began to tell them about what I had done and what I was planning to do.
So how are you feeling leading up to January? There’s a momentous change in the law that is on the horizon. It’s literally within reach. How, what were you feeling as you went up to this January date?
You know, I, I didn’t want to think about it too much because I, I knew it was huge and my fear was that she redacted her information. So what they wanted originally was that if you redacted your information, you were still required to give your medical history or some information so that the adoptee could work from. In reality, yes, you want your medical records, but I want a name. I want something to work from.
Yeah. Identifiable information. Something real.
Identifiable. You’re right.
After the turn of the year on January 8th Joy’s cousin from Ancestry DNA reached out to her to wish her a happy new year and ask if the results from Joi’s application had been returned.
Then it dawned on me, okay wait, she’s right. It is beginning of the second week in January, should I have gotten something? So I run downstairs because my parents had just given me the article in December. So I said, let me look and see what these articles say. And then it mentioned that on January 9th there was going to be a celebration in Trenton where they were acknowledging the changes in legislation and then there was also going to be a dinner and a reception. So I’m going, okay, this thing is tomorrow, how? Where can I get information? So I went onto the NJcare website and it’s the coalition for adoption reform and education. It’s a group that has been lobbying for adoptees for years to change the legislation. I emailed and within an hour the woman responded to said, sure, you’re welcome to come.
Joi didn’t know what to expect at that celebration, but she knew she had to be there. When she arrived, the small room was packed. There were press cameras in the back of the room facing adoptees and adoption advocates seated at the front of the room who had fought for the legislative change.
So I’m, again, I’m still don’t have a clue what this celebration at the state department house is all about. But I said that, you know, you have to be there to find out what’s going on. So let me just go and find out what’s going on. You know, I don’t want to hear it second hand, I want to be there in the room to hear what they’re going to talk about in terms of this legislation being official.
And so how was it? What happened?
I get there and you know, this group of people standing at the front of the room, a whole lot of cameras in the back of the room. I’m going, wow. And so then I went back and kind of stood in the doorway. They had a couple of adoptees sharing their story and then uh, Pam who happens to be the one of the lead advocates for NJ care ended up speaking. And as they just started talking about some of the things that they had done to advocate for the changes in the law and then to hear other adoptees talking about the impact of what this was going to be on their lives. I think I stood in the door and cried majority of the time that I was there. And then to see the two adoptees who were the main speakers, they had a man and a woman, they received an envelope. And so the reporters asked them if they wanted to open the envelope in front of everyone. And I think one person did, the other person said they weren’t gonna wait until they got home. And you know, because again, you don’t know whether it is going to be information on there or you don’t know if it’s going to be redacted. One of them shared what they found and the other one said that they were going to wait.
That’s pretty brave to go in front of the press in the local New Jersey area and open your OBC, you know, this is something that we as adoptees have anticipated seeing for years and now you’re in front of these folks and you know, just imagine if it had been redacted and had in any way been a disappointment that would be, you know, that wouldn’t be the headline that they would have wanted.
Right. And I think that was, um, one of the concerns for some of the people who are standing around who are also adoptees. And, uh, I think they did ask the one person who opened their birth certificate, uh, if there was a name and they said yes. And then from there we went over to our reception and I had the opportunity for the first time in my life to be seated at a table with adoptees and then to hear people tell their stories and ask questions and to be able to talk so freely about being adopted and some of the things that they felt over the years, I was just amazed. I said, okay, so there are people who can talk about this who don’t feel a sense of shame, who I guess had been talking about it long enough where they’re not emotional. You know, all this is still fresh for me. So even as a guest speaker was talking, I’m crying as they were talking about what they had done over a period of 30, 34 years, the advocacy, the things that they were up against, fighting to get this law changed. I’m crying because you have all these people who have been working on our behalf. I didn’t have a clue that people were actually using their money to fight for this law. I was just amazed.
And here you began your search. So you were an immediate beneficiary of these efforts that you didn’t even know existed.
Exactly. And when they open the mic up to the floor, I wanted to say thank you, but I was too emotional and I couldn’t, I wanted to, I thought it was so important to let them know how thankful people like me are that they did all this work on our behalf. And to add to that, looking around the room, I want to say there might’ve been maybe 60 people in the room, but there were four people of color and one happened to be the guest speaker. But to see that, you know, minorities weren’t even represented in the room.
Yeah, that’s fascinating.
So that made me feel another sense of responsibility. So how is this information going to get to my community?
A few weeks after Joi is at home alone and she decides to go out to her mailbox to retrieve the mail. There she found a thick envelope and she knew this had to be her original birth certificate, but the envelope sudden appearance and its thickness made Joi nervous.
And it’s a huge kind of thick envelope. So I’m walking into the house just kind of looking at this envelope, feeling it, and I went and sat down on the couch and just, I actually started crying because my first thought was if it’s a thick envelope, then that means she redacted her information and this is just going to be my medical history and that’s probably why this is so thick. And it took me, I’d say about half the day, I kept going back to the envelope. I still hadn’t opened it and I would look at it, pick it up, and then I said, no, maybe I should do this later. And then eventually I came back and opened the envelope and started pulling out the papers and realize it wasn’t a redaction, that her name was there and that I forgot that I ordered two copies of my birth certificate. So that is why the envelope was so thick. So between the two copies, there was a cover page and then it gave me some information about support groups. So I’m sitting there on one side laughing on the other side crying because I’m like, oh, I did this to myself.
You tortured yourself all day in anticipation of not getting what you want. And you actually got two copies of what you ordered.
Yes. What I asked for. Joi, that’s what you get. And as I’m looking at this, you know, I see a name and then I just sat there for a while. Just looking at the paper. One thing I did learn at the reception that I didn’t know is that as an adoptee when you’re born, you’re given a name. I had no idea that you got a birth name from your birth mother. So not only was I opening the envelope, looking for my birth mother’s name, I knew that I was going to see what my name was when I was actually born. So then I see that on the paperwork.
What did you think you, you looked at your own name, the name that you knew before you were Joi. What did you think?
Well, I looked at the name going, well, I don’t even think I’d match up with that first name, but okay. It was just weird because I never, I never knew that.
This is a part of your life from a time that you can’t even remember.
Remember it. Right.
Joi was overwhelmed with the wealth of information her OBC was giving her. She held that information tight to her chest for a day. Then she shared her original name with her mother and her daughters. Next, Joi went straight to Facebook. The social media platform had served her well after her connection on 23 and Me. But now she actually had her biological mother’s name to search with.
And up pops a picture. I just kind of look at the picture and she looks like my mother and I’m going, wow, she looks like my mother. And I just kinda stare at this picture for awhile. And then I’m looking at the name and I also send the name to the cousin that I met on Ancestry. And so once we’re going through and then she realizes, okay, this is not anybody on my birth, on my family tree. So you and I must be related by your birth father.
Oh, so that’s the revelation moment with her. You knew it was going to come to light.
Interesting. But not in the way you thought. You thought you were going to find your relation, but what you got is a confirmation that you’re related. But on the other side.
Other side, which is something we had never discussed, we just automatically thought that we were, we were related by my birth mother, never even thought about birth father and that possibility. So then she’s going, okay, so what are you going to do so that we can get some more information. And so we’re poking around Google and looking things up and find a couple of different addresses for her. And she said, well, you should write a letter. I’m going, what am I going to say in the letter? But then I said, okay, she’s on Facebook, so let me just send the message via messenger. So I waited a couple of days and then I posted a message and I use my birth name in the message. I’m just trying to reach out to you if this name means anything to you, you know, I’d like to talk to you.
And then I just kind of wait and I think about a week went by and I didn’t hear anything. And then my cousin called me back and said okay so if that didn’t work you got to try something else. You have to write the letter, here’s a couple of addresses you can try. And the addresses that she gave me, one was her church address cause she was, she’s a preacher and the other was what we thought will be a home address. So I said okay I’ll write the letter. And that took a, I want to say about a week and my cousin called again to check up and see if I had done it. Cause at this point she’s anxious to find out who my birth father is so she can put the pieces of this puzzle together.
And it took you a week to write the letter. Why did it take you so long?
I didn’t, I didn’t know what to say. And I think you’re wondering, I’m still wondering. Okay. So how much do I put in this letter? I don’t know. Will there be a response to the letter, the fear of, okay, now I’ll put all this out there and let’s say it gets to her and she chooses not to respond. How will I know if she got the letter? Is she even interested in reconnecting with me? And then what if I got to this point and I have a name I haven’t addressed. I have even a church that she attends and what if she doesn’t want to see me? How am I going to deal with that? Yeah. So that was weighing in the back of my mind in terms of trying to put together this letter. But at one point it just got to, what’s the worst that could happen at this point I just, I have to go for it.
I have to just toss it out there and see if she takes, and if not, then I have to deal with that. So I send a letter and I send the one to the church marked confidential. And I sent the original, um, to what we thought was the house and said, you know, if this name means anything to you and this date means anything to you, please refer back to a Facebook messenger where I sent you a message and if, if you are interested in connecting, if not, that’s okay. And next thing I know, January 29th, I was getting a message on Facebook messenger and it was her.
Joi’s mother wanted to confirm her identity. She asked Joi about what month she was born in, the location of her birth, making every attempt to verify her identity. But Joi wanted to definitively prove to her mother that it was really her. She took a photo of her non identifying information, sent a photo of her driver’s license and then…
I said, wait a minute, I just got my birth certificate. How about I send that? It has her name on it. And then I couldn’t find a birth certificate. And by that point I said, okay, now she don’t think this is me then I don’t even know what else to do and it seems like after she read the non identifying information, she’s, she sent back my birth father’s name and so I’m going, wow.
Didn’t anticipate that.
Not at all. Not at all.
Joi’s birth mom gave her some information about what state her birth father was in, what occupation he held. And Joi went straight to her cousin with the information. Her cousin was ecstatic. Her birth father was someone her cousin from Ancestry DNA thought very highly of. Her cousin wanted Joi to call the man, but Joi didn’t know how her biological parents had left things between them after her birth.
I said, how about you break the ice? You said this is your close cousin. You break the ice and we’ll figure it out from there. Right now I’m thinking about, okay, I found my birth mother. So now you’re telling me I found my birth mother and my birth father and she’s going, you know what, I’m just going to call him and tell him. The next thing I know she’s calling me back. She sounded kind of sad and then I’m going, okay now. So Laura, what was his response? She said, I told him, you know who your birth mom was and what the situation was, and she said, she said he was to say the least in shock, she said, but if he did say that he knew you existed, she said, but I think it’ll be a few days before you hear from him. She says, so just give him some time. I said, no, you know, no problem. I get it. You know. Me, I’ve been waiting for this information for years. So I’ve had time to kind of prepare. For anybody else who, who we’re just reaching out to this kind of new to them.
Joi was prepared to wait as long as it took to be in touch with her biological father. If it took days or weeks, she would try to be patient and allow him some space to process the news. But it didn’t take very long at all.
Within 45 minutes, he’s calling my phone. She told me before she got off the phone, she said, well, he’s in the Maryland area so you can look for this area code. And now the phone is ringing with that area code. So I said, I guess I just need to go ahead and answer the phone and we get on the phone and we’re just talking. I tell him a little bit about myself, but then as I spoke to him and while I’m talking to him, she’s messaging me and we’re going back and forth and it was, it was just, it was crazy. It’s like, is this really happening?
Yeah. So what did you learn from them about the situation that ended up with you getting adopted?
I didn’t ask.
I didn’t ask on my non identifying information. It tells me that both of them were in school, so I knew they were both in college. To me that was enough information until they are ready to talk about it. And to this day I still haven’t asked that question. That’s all I needed at the moment. When it comes, when the time comes and they’re ready to go into whatever happens, I’m fine with that.
So I asked Joi, where are things now with her biological family? At the time of our interview in June, her discovery of her family was very new. As of January, she had been communicating with her birth mother via Facebook messenger and they had made a plan to meet for the first time in a very special way.
The second week in February, I went to my birth mother’s church. She said she felt as a pastor, as a preacher, that she wanted to give her testimony before her church and that will be the place where we would meet. And I thought that was great because you know, we’re Christians in my family, she’s, she’s a preacher. I could see that there was some things based on our faith that would definitely connect us and connect the families. So I thought that that would be the perfect place to meet her. So I take my immediate family and a friend of ours and we go to the church. We say what kind of seated off to the side and she’s off. Um, on the other side with her sister and some of the other preachers, it wasn’t her Sunday to preach, but she just kept saying she was going to give her testimony.
Well, going through the church service and eventually she gets up and gives her testimony and she starts talking about some of the challenges in her life at that time. She’s talking about having given up a child and how she was now finding Joi. And she used a series of statements that use the word joy, a joy as an happiness if you didn’t know she was talking about me, but for my family that’s there, why, you know, she’s an excellent speaker. I’m like, wow. The way she phrased things and put things together, I said, okay. So that’s where I get that from. Oh. But prior to that, and before she spoke, she sang a solo and my mother leaned into me. She said, that’s where you get your voice. And I’m going, Oh wow. That’s so I couldn’t even look at her as she sang.
I just close my eyes and was just taking it in. It was powerful. And then during the testimony, after she’s gone through these series of phrases that use the word joy as an happiness, then she says that now I’d like to introduce you to my Joi. At this point people are just looking like, what is really going on here? And then she introduces me and I go up and it was just nothing but hugs and tears. And then she introduces my parents and they come up, she introduces my daughters and they come up. And by that point there was no further sermon. People who were.. There was an African drumming group. They just kind of stopped drumming and some of them are crying. And at this point I can’t tell what else is going on because I’m just crying my eyes out, caught up in the emotion of it all.
Caught up in the emotion. Wow.
And then as I’m looking, once I finally got a chance to be close to her and after hugging her and, and just kinda looking at her and then her and my mother are standing next to each other, they look so much alike. Same height and same, you know, salt and pepper hair. And we just go, Oh wow, this is crazy. It was just an amazing moment.
While we were at the church service, my father heard her voice. He said, you know, that means we have to sing together. So I mentioned it to my birth mother and the fourth Sunday in February, now this is just two weeks later, we decided to bring more of our family members together, but that we were going to combine families and sing. It was, it was beautiful.
Yeah. It sounds really, really incredible. I mean, that’s just a really spectacular way for your whole reunion with her to unfold. It’s really amazing.
It was. It was. And I, you know, and I found myself and my daughters even said they found myself just kind of staring at her, um, watching her mannerisms and her movement. And one of the books that I read, um, prior to our first meeting mentioned how you have to be prepared for people just staring at you and how you have to be prepared for even your birth parents touching you. Cause this, you know, it was still a shock for them that they’re there. So I was glad that I had read those portions of the book that kinda got me prepared for that because its you turn in a moment and then you realize, okay, yeah, so they are staring at me, but let me just keep doing what I’m doing.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I had that same thing. You know, when I reunited with my biological mother, we went out to lunch and I don’t remember a single thing we said, cause all I remember is my thoughts inside my head. I’m looking at her going, Oh my gosh, I look exactly like you. And I had never had that experience before. So I literally, I didn’t take in anything else that when we said, because I was in my own head staring at her.
Next, Joi introduced her adoptive father to her biological father by phone so they could get comfortable with one another before meeting for the first time. In the second week in March, her birth father brought his wife to Joi’s adopted father’s house. The cousin Joi met on Ancestor DNA was also there, arriving first to capture the moment when Joi met her father.
One of the things that I wanted to happen, um, I wanted them to talk, you know, here I am bringing my birth father into my father’s house. I just felt it was important for them to have some sort of conversation just to find comfort. I mean you can talk to people and get a certain feeling. And I wanted my father to get the same feeling that I got in the conversations that I talked to my, that I’ve had had with my birth father, cause he doesn’t know who’s coming in his house. So he comes and the way the house is built, he was coming from the door and I’m coming from the kitchen. So other people in the family could see him and other people in the family could see me. But he and I couldn’t see each other until we kind of met at the corner.
And I just remember, you know, I’m looking kind of straight ahead thinking, you know, maybe he’s not that tall either. But then I find that I have to tilt my head up because he’s taller than I am. Um, and then I just look over at my mother and say, okay, this is where I get my height from. And she starts laughing and you know, people are taking pictures. And then while I’m introducing him to his grandchildren and his great grandchild, um, it was, it was a powerful, another powerful moment.
Did the daughter who was not able to be there when you met your biological mother at church, was she able to make it to meet your father?
Oh yes. Yeah. And then she also made it a, when we were at the church the second time when we actually sang, so we were all there.
Finally, Joi was singing in a local community performance. So she decided to invite everybody to that performance, her birth mother and her birth father who hadn’t seen one another in years. Joi was concerned about how things would unfold between them.
Yup. And then a couple of weeks after that I sang in a performance, a musical review, and I invited everybody. I’m not sure how this is going to go again as at this point I still don’t know what their situation was.
So I did tell the other that I did invite the other and you know, I’m not sure whether you want to bump into each other. It is a pretty big theater. And so then that began to worry me. Okay, I don’t know their story. Is this going to be an issue? Through through my counselor and a support group and you know Pam, who’s now my friend through New Jersey care, I’m sharing you know what my challenges are, what my worries are and they’re going, well Joi, you know, you can’t worry about everybody else. That was an adult issue then. You can just let them know that the other is going to be there and kind of let them figure that piece out. You’re going to have enough to worry about cause you, you have to perform that night.
That’s right. And hopefully by this time, you know, many years have passed. You hope that folks can be adult enough to let something that transpired in the past be water under the bridge.
Right. You hope that, but I don’t, you know, I think the water is a little thicker when it comes to a child.
Yeah, it’s true. It’s true. It’s true. I mean, you’re right not to take this situation too lightly. Right.
Right, right. So they came to see me perform and they were all there. We took some pictures, not group pictures, but we took some individual pictures here and there. But from what I understood, everything was cordial and everybody had a good time.
Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. This has been really amazing, and I love the fact that you were able to get a moment to sing with your biological mother and your entire family, and then to sing and perform for them. You know, there’s so much…
Yeah, it was a special moment.
What song does for us to be able to be expressive yourself in front of everybody must’ve been just incredibly magical for you.
It was. It was.
Well, congratulations on your reunion and you so much for talking with me today. I appreciate it so much.
Okay, thank you, Damon.
Hey, it’s me. I can’t help but chuckle that a person named joy would have such a happy reunion with her first family. This is all very new for them, but it seems like things are going well so far. I’ve loved that Joi was so insistent upon being in the room when the state legislature changed the laws that would allow her to connect with her people. After the show, Joi emailed me to share additional thoughts. Her email read: I am very well aware that how this happened and how quickly all of this has happened is not the norm. As the law unfolds with 3,400+ of the 300,000 adoptees in New Jersey now in receipt of their birth information, I have heard some horrible stories and wonderful stories. I would never want anyone to think I am saying to do your search because your outcome would be like mine. Through my support group, I know, no adopt these story is the same. But I do know the receipt of my birth certificate brought me a sense of peace. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in Joi’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 story of locating and connecting to your biological family visit, whoamireallypodcast.com/share. You can also find the show on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @waireally.