Stephanie grew up in a very wealthy family in South Carolina and you’ll hear discuss the family’s fortune, but pause before you pass judgment on how easy life must have been. Her story is filled with manipulative behavior, malicious intentions, and a foundation created from lies. You’ll also hear Stephanie’s intelligence and tenacity to get her through the tough times as she learned the truth about her adopted family’s feelings towards her, the story of how she arrived in her aunt’s care, and the tough road to connect with her sister.
Read Full TranscriptDamon: 00:04 I’m going to say at the time I really didn’t want to meet her. My life was pretty torn up as it was, but the reason I said yes is I thought, what if this is the only chance I have? What if? What if this is it? There’s no more chances.
Damon: 00:36 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 Stephanie. She called me from Charleston, South Carolina. Stephanie grew up in a very wealthy family and you’ll hear her talk about the family’s fortune, the pause before you pass judgement on how easy life must have been. Her story is filled with manipulative behavior, malicious intentions, and a foundation created from lies. But you’ll also hear Stephanie’s intelligence and tenacity to get through the tough times as she learned the truth about her adopted families, feelings towards her, the story of how she arrived in her aunt’s care and the tough road to connect with her sister. This is Stephanie’s journey. Stephanie was born in upstate South Carolina in her adopted family. She was the oldest child and all of her siblings, except for her half brother are adopted. Adoption was part of their lives with adoption children’s books around that were red from time to time, but it wasn’t an open topic of discussion. In fact, quite the opposite.
Stephanie: 01:48 My parents did not like talking about my adoption and it wasn’t that they ever told me you’re not allowed to ask any questions, but when I would start speaking about it, the only way I’ve known to describe it is it is like this thunderstorm suddenly came over my mother’s head and just the entire mood just changed. And I knew I was treading on thin ice. I was told the same kind of background stories as a kid. I was told by my aunt, my father’s sister, that um The way I came into the family is she had a friend who worked for social services and she went by one day to have lunch with her and there was this little child, this toddler sitting in a chair. And, um, she just said she thought I was so beautiful and her friends that I just have to finish up here before we go. I’m trying to find a home for this child, a temporary home. And um, my aunt said that she just immediately said, oh, well I’ll take her home with me. And that’s how I ended up with her.
Stephanie: 03:27 Uh, well, the way it happened, I’m not sure that she wouldn’t have adopted me. Um, had she not already been involved in my life, my mother had she not already been involved in my life. Um, before she got her to start drops. So they were trying to have children and my mother had two ectopic pregnancies that nearly killed her. And so they looked into adoption. And the way she always told it was the doctor asked about bonding with a child that wasn’t naturally hers and she said she laughed him off and said, I have no problem bonding with animals that aren’t even of my species. So that won’t be an issue. Yeah. Which as a kid I just took, like I just took it for what it was, you know, that’s my mom. But being an adult, thinking about that, it’s, it’s odd.
Damon: 04:34 So Stephanie started to calculate in her mind her place with her mother. She figured out that her mother wasn’t just desperate for any baby because she told Stephanie flat out that she had rejected some children in need. So it made Stephanie feel like she was not on solid footing within the family. Later, Stephanie found out that her mother’s parents didn’t believe in adoption and that if a woman couldn’t have children, naturally that was God’s message, that you are not intended to have children. I assumed that meant her mother had gone against her parents’ religious beliefs. She said, that’s not the case at all.
Damon: 05:15 But I keyed in on something Stephanie said earlier that her mother would not have adopted her if Stephanie wasn’t already in her life and that Stephanie was living with her aunt. So you were saying that basically they didn’t adopt some of the other children because they were drug babies and she really would not have adopted. You had not already been in your life. You were living with your aunt. So what is your relationship to your mother then
Damon: 06:08 So what was life like then for you as a child? They feed you. It sounds like you were living under a cloud of deception that you didn’t even realize was there. Did you detect other things that sort of made you feel like your adoption was in any way fake or taboo or anything like that?
Stephanie: 06:27 I definitely did. I don’t necessarily have specific examples, but my mom even said when I finally knew more about it as a teenager and I was just like flabbergasted. Just completely appalled that I also knew that I had to be very reserved because I wasn’t, my feelings weren’t acceptable and so I was, I was trying to let her know just how, how upset and um unsure this made me feel when I finally learned more things and she just said, oh, come on Steph. You always knew you were always the one asking questions. You always knew there was something up and just shut down the conversation. That was the last time she talked about that.
Damon: 07:09 That was about 16 years ago when Stephanie was a teenager. I wondered how the adopted siblings dealt with their mother’s refusal to discuss adoption, but Stephanie says they never talked about it amongst one another, but one time her older brother was visiting and casually raised something that stuck with her.
Damon: 07:31 Stephanie said she used to ask her mother about adoption in front of her siblings intentionally to have backup on the topic by trying to surround herself with others who were also impacted by her parents answers.
Stephanie: 07:43 I do know that one time I asked the question and my sister was old enough to um, follow up. I know my mom didn’t like that, so my mom told me the usual story and then my sister pipes up, I think from the backseat. We were driving and asked her what she knows about her and she says, I know that your birth mother was 18 and your biological grandfather was some type of engineer and then a, that leads the way for my youngest sibling, my brother to ask something about him. And um, that’s when I found out that I always knew he was premature, but he asked what they knew and my mom said, well, we don’t really know much. She intended to keep you and you were born premature and she couldn’t afford the medical care. Even as a kid. Of course I didn’t say anything, but even as a kid I just remember my heart clenched. And uh, I didn’t know we were wealthy. My parents were very, um, they didn’t talk about money and it took awhile. I was pretty naive. It took a while for me to realize that you were a well off. I just thought, well, everybody has three homes and that kind of thing. But I knew that we were well off enough that we could help someone like that. And so I remember my heart clenching and I thought that’s just how sad, like I wonder why they couldn’t have just helped her until he was better.
Damon: 09:11 Stephanie’s parents, didn’t know much about her siblings, families and how they were placed for adoption and they tried to make it appear that they were equally ignorant of Stephanie circumstances. I asked Stephanie about her brother’s comment that if he were her, he’d want to find his birth mother. She revealed that he made the suggestion before she knew anything was amiss. In the truth of her story, I was on a path to ask her about what made her want to search for her birth family.
Damon: 09:47 Stephanie was 18, a senior in high school and she had been covertly speaking with her high school’s guidance counselor. There had been an altercation with her father who struggles with alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and some other things. Stephanie says she reported that his station in life made it easier for him to cover his struggles.
Stephanie: 10:08 So my mother knew about some of them, but didn’t think much of it. I had asked her not to leave me alone with him. Um, and she didn’t follow my request. So, um, there was an altercation. I ended up getting the school guidance counselor who I had been speaking to for a couple of months without them knowing. I went on my 18th birthday because the school guidance counselor, I met with us a couple times a year. And every time set until you’re 18, anything you say to me, it goes back to your parents. So I went in on my 18th birthday. So with that altercation I had left the home for a couple of weeks and then I come back for the holidays which were dismal. And um, after my parents had met with a guidance counselor. And
Stephanie: 11:04 No, I, I went to the beach house which was about 30 minutes away from our regular home. And uh, then I stayed with some friends and I always called my parents. Even my dad though, he was furious with me because I was tearing down his life. He, he always said, well, she always lets us know where she is, you know, she always lets us know she’s okay because I do have this loyalty to them and they are my family. And uh, anyway, my mother left. Um, I don’t know why she thought that was a good idea, but she went out of town to New England to look at boarding schools with my brother. And um, during that time my father kicked me out of the house for good and I again stayed with some friends until my aunt asked me to come live with her and I did much to my parents’ dismay. Um, so at that point I was not living with them, but um, it was a very, very, very dark time. I was just just… Crying for hours every day. It was a really bad time.
Damon: 12:13 Her parents were irritated that Stephanie had been rescued. They felt like her behavior deserved punishment. She should be made to fend for herself and they were inflicting tough love on her to teach her to support herself. They want it to be her only option and for her to come running back to them.
Damon: 12:35 I told Stephanie I didn’t get the impression she was a bad kid and she said her aunt used to say the same thing. In fact, her aunt believed that if they really felt she had issues, her parents would be doing everything they could to help her not tear her down and speak ill of her. Stephanie said her mother’s main issue with her was that her moral values were too high because she had issues with her father. That’s a mother speaking to a daughter about the father. She’s not comfortable being alone with. Then this happened
Stephanie: 13:08 One day she sat me down in the bedroom and this is in between leaving the first time after that really bad altercation and then her going out of town and my father kicking me out. She sat me down in the bedroom and she said, this stays between us, but if you recant everything that you have ever said about your father and you go to everyone and say you’re lying and you have a mental illness, I will send you to France for the summer after you graduate high school and every single break you have during college, I will make sure that you go someplace you want to be and you don’t have to come home.
Damon: 14:05 in her family. Stephanie was always the one who followed the rules. She was seen as the goody two shoes, so she was singled out as the easiest one to run over and she was the scapegoat. Stephanie understood her place in the order of siblings recognizing that if it came down to her or them, she would not be the favorite. And her father actually said, so
Stephanie: 14:26 my dad did tell me several times during childhood and he said it almost as though it was nice. I remember at the time feeling relief and so thankful that he just said it because my mom would always deny it, but we were up at the farm house and um, I don’t know why I went upstairs, but I went up to my parents’ bedroom and he was there. I was probably looking at my mom, but um, I have no idea how it came up, but he staring out the window and I was on the stairs and somehow it came up and he said, yeah, you’re the least favorite. Your mom’s favorite is Jamie. And Mine is Sarah Louise and I don’t know why you haven’t done anything about it. Maybe it’s because they were babies, but you’re not the favorite.
Stephanie: 15:22 And the thing that’s strange just to me is that when he said it, it felt like such a good kindness. Like I was relieved. I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t paranoid like I did not appreciate it later. He said it at Christmas to family that my sister was his favorite and my brother was my mom’s favorite and I was sitting right there
Damon: 15:49 So, it sounded like Stephanie was very wise to hold off on talking to her guidance counselor until she was 18, but she was forced to wait in her junior year of high school. She repeatedly asked her mother to go to counseling. Her mother and aloof woman with a chilly demeanor towards Stephanie, summoned her to the downstairs parlor after dinner one evening. It’s a very formal room with 14 foot ceilings to marble fireplaces and antique furniture. Stephanie is sitting on the Silk Sofa.
Damon: 16:23 She comes in and her velvet rope and sits down across from me and she’s not a very emotional person, so she just very firmly and flatly said, I will take you to counseling, but you should know before we go, I’m going to tell them your birth mother is schizophrenia and I’m going to meet with them before you get to meet with them and I’m going to tell them your schizophrenia. So if you want to go to counseling, just know that I’m going to tell them you’re schizophrenic.
Stephanie: 16:57 Yeah. So it wasn’t really an option. It was sure you can go, but this is what’s going to happen. And I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know if it would be on a permanent record. I didn’t know like, well is she telling the truth is my birth mother’s schizophrenia and schizophrenia, schizophrenia, you know, I had no idea and so it scared me and so I just thought I’ll, I’ll just wait five months and I’ll go talk to the guidance counselor and see what can happen. So then it’s my 18th birthday, I just walk in, I think I threw this guidance counselor for a loop, like she is used to, you know, these ritzy people coming in and saying my kid needs extra time on tests and stuff like that. She didn’t like, it was a very cushy job. So I just waltzed in and sat down and I started crying and I just. So telling her all about my childhood and saying I have two siblings left in the house and I’m worried what’s going to happen to them when I leave for college and I no longer around is a buffer and it just all comes out.
Damon: 18:00 The guidance counselor tries to talk Stephanie Down, but it was a very volatile situation at 18 years old, technically, she didn’t have to stay in the home because she was no longer considered a child, but the counselor also recognize that that counseling was not an option through her family, so she let Stephanie come in and vent. When the big altercation happened with her father, Stephanie called her guidance counselor from outside the house in the family car. The counselor instructed Stephanie not to go back inside and told her to get to a safe place while the counselor had a cushy job that didn’t actually require much heavy lifting. She was someone that Stephanie felt she could trust. The counselor spoke with her parents before Stephanie was allowed to move back into their home. She initiated the Department of social services case too, but the counselors who showed up to her parents humongous house, only handed her father pamphlets about anger management and addiction, which he threw in the trash. There was no mandate for counseling. Basically nothing had changed. Her parents were threatening to sue her for defamation of character and the whole situation was crushing her. At that point, Stephanie was living with her aunt
Stephanie: 19:15 …And I go to school for a normal day, as normal as it can be, under the circumstances, uh, circumstances. And I’m in ap English and my principal shows up at the door and he pulls me out and, uh, he says, uh, there’s a woman here named Tammy. And at that point I did know her name if I had been out of my parents’ home. And, um, I found out and I look at him and I say, that’s my birth mother. And he goes, well, do you want to meet her? And um, I was 18 and the school is very well aware of the issues with my family. So they did not call my family. It was purely up to me and it was like the first time that anything had been just up to me and I’m going to say at the time I really didn’t want to meet her. My life was pretty torn up as it was, but the reason I said yes is I thought, what if this is the only chance I have? What if, what if this is it? There’s no more chances. So in a snap decision. I said yes, but I said I don’t want to meet her alone. I want you to be there with me. And so he said we can do it in the office. And we both walked back to the administration room and he was telling the receptionist, I think something, but my birth mother saw me out of the corner of her eye and she just whipped around and she had two other people with her and she grabbed me and pulled me outside. I wish he pulled me out to the front of the school, but I really didn’t know what I was doing and she pulled me out to the green. So like all my classmates are out there, the entire school and it’s not just the high school, it’s middle school. If the elementary school, everybody’s out there, just, it’s a great time. So, and um, she just starts talking a mile a minute and the principal follows us out there and everybody can see me and I just remember that like all eyes being on me and uh, she’s clearly not stable. She’s very odd. I can tell it the dynamic between her and her husband is off and um, the dynamic is weird with my birth sister who’s there and she gives them permission to hug me, but it’s a very awkward hug and she starts talking about she’s bought me homeschooling books so that I can come move with her. She’s out of state and finished the school year with her because she knows I’m not living with my family that she can take me today. Like we can go, we can leave now and I can graduate in her house and her state through homeschooling. And uh, I’m just like, I’m just utterly lost. Like I want to drop into a puddle on the ground. And just disappear.
Damon: 21:58 Stephanie has no recollection of how things ended and she has no idea how she made it through the rest of the school day. She left to pickup, her aunt from work because she was borrowing the car which needed gas
Stephanie: 22:11 and we stopped at the gas station and she says, I have something to tell you and I’m just waiting for it. I’m just waiting. She goes, your birth mother is in town. She’s brought the family last night she was stalking your family and outside your home and she just pauses and looks for a reaction and…I Learned from my mother. I was just very cool and calm and collected and I just flatly responded. Oh, I know. She came to school today, got out of the car and started pumping gas.
Stephanie: 22:54 Yeah. One of the best moments of my life just finally know something that no one else now. And they like think they’re revealing this big secret. I’m like, oh no, this is already blown up. Y’All have no idea.
Damon: 23:09 Her birth mother, Tammy had been walking up and down the sidewalk, outside the family house in the rain. Her parents called a private investigator to try to learn more about her and watch out for her return, scared that she was going to do something more than pace their sidewalk since she had traveled from another state to make an appearance at their home. Stephanie admits that her mother was fairly tenacious to pursue her at school, but recall that Stephanie said she already knew the woman’s name before she was pulled out of ap English. Well,
Stephanie: 23:41 I’m pretty tenacious. Um, so my, my parents sat me down when I was a teenager. We went up, they asked me to have a meeting in the library and we went up there and they were sitting in these big leather chairs and I went and sat on the Ottoman. I just said, well, stuff, we have something to tell you. And I said, okay. And I was nervous as hell. And my mom says, you know, you’ve always wondered about your adoption. And I’m like, yeah. And she says, well, your father is your biological great uncle and your cousin, Tammy that you’ve never met is your birth mother and your aunt Sandra is your biological grandmother. And your grandparents are your biological great grandparents.
Stephanie: 25:28 I was in the fmaily They told me all of this and the conversation took less than five minutes and um, I didn’t know at the time but they called my aunt after and I think my aunt said how’d she take it. And my mom said, oh fine, like she went back to her room, it’s fine. And um, it was not fine. I just like, I’ve been trained, I’m, I can’t say anything. Like what, what am I, I can’t, you know, turn the table over and say what the hell? People like, are you kidding me? I knew there was no recourse for me, so I just silently took it and I went to my room.
Damon: 26:02 Stephanie always wished she had baby pictures of herself, but throughout school when people had infant photos to share for class projects, she could never contribute. With that new information, Stephanie realized her initial thought that her baby pictures had been lost by social services during her adoption was a story she made up herself. The baby pictures she never saw had deceptively been withheld from her. Stephanie asked to see her baby pictures, but her mother never followed through with the request. She learned later that her mother had immediately called her aunt, whom we now know is her biological grandmother to tell her to cut Stephanie’s birth mother out of all of her baby pictures, but realize that’s her own daughter. She would be cutting out of those photos and Stephanie knows about her generational connection to her grandmother slash aunt, and that deeper connection made her aunt a threat to her mother. Her mother put some distance between Stephanie’s aunt in themselves, but they still went to her home occasionally.
Stephanie: 27:20 yeah. Yeah. And I stole them and I took my second to my house and I used to just stare at them. So I look at them like every day alone in my room and it may only be for a few minutes. It may be for an hour, but I would just stare at them. I’d put my pictures next to her pictures and I didn’t know anything about it, but there was another baby in the photos and I wonder. And I make up stories and I asked myself questions and try and figure out who is that other baby, uh, why haven’t I heard about them? Who can I talk to about it, et cetera. But then one day I get home from school and I go to my dresser and I opened it up and the pictures are gone. No one said anything. I have no idea what happened to them and I’m waiting like I’m sweating bullets waiting for my mom to just rake me over the coals, but nothing ever happens. So then I find out like 10 years later in my twenties, I’m talking to my aunt and I’m like, the pictures disappeared. I have no idea what happened to them, and she was like, oh, your nanny found them and she took them because she didn’t want you to get in trouble and she gave them back to me.
Damon: 28:55 all throughout her life. Whenever she went to her aunt’s house, her grandmother’s home, she had seen the faces of family members framed and hung on the wall. The story was that most of those were distant relatives that the family didn’t see very often, but when she stole the pictures of herself and her birth mother, the woman’s face was familiar because Stephanie had seen her on the family picture wall at the end of her senior year. Her parents attended her high school graduation
Stephanie: 29:22 They came to my high school graduation. My Dad sat in the front row and just stared daggers at me the entire time and while they were there, they told people I was schizophrenia, uh, and never came to say hi to me. So they came to the graduation, but they never said hi. They never congratulated me. They didn’t take me out to eat afterwards or anything
Damon: 29:41 In their community, If you were a black sheep in your family, you didn’t just lose the family as Stephanie had you were cut off from relatives and friends of the family to her mother was controlling everyone’s opinions of her shadowing her world and excommunicating her wants her mother was out of her life. Stephanie’s aunt, her grandmother told her the truth about many things like her birth, father’s identity. And how she ended up living with her grandmother in the first place.
Stephanie: 30:11 So the real story is, um, I was born to my birth mother and, uh, she lived about three hours away from my aunt and my aunt tried to take help, take care of us. And then my sister came along, we lived without running water and electricity and my aunt said, you know, they’d have to bundle us up at night and I’ll sleep on the floor in the living room to try and keep warm. Okay. Body Heat. And so it was really, really difficult. My aunt eventually got my birth mother to move us down to where we live now. And um, everything just disintegrated from my birth mother. There were violent fights between her and her husband, which affected me. And I later found out about. And um, you know, there wasn’t enough food, uh, clearly, you know, utilities were an issue. She was an alcoholic. She just, she was very, very unstable. She has always suffered with eating disorders to the point of being hospitalized and almost dying several times. Um, and she had been in and out of mental hospitals. And hadn’t been able to get a clear diagnosis and treatment. So the real story is I came into my aunt’s care because she was driving with her husband and so all my birth mother on the street and uh, went up to her to see if she could help her see what was wrong. She was clearly drunk. She was a very violent. She beat my aunt a punched her in the face, you know. And um, my aunt’s can’t, can’t get my birth mother really to talk to her. It’s clear she’s not going to be to help my birth mother. So she just starts screaming at her, where is your baby? Where is your baby? And at, by that point she, um, my birth mother and her husband had split and how they agreed to split things was very parent trap. Like you take one kid and I’ll take one kid. So he leaves with my sister and lives out of the van for, I think it’s nine months, but my aunt couldn’t find him, didn’t know where he was. And his family was unsure of where he was. So they’re gone. It’s just me and my birth mother and she won’t tell my aunt where I am, so they go by her home and uh, my aunt goes in and it’s all dark except the TV’s on and there’s no air conditioning and it’s a hot southern summer and she sees me strapped into my car seat, just sweat dripping off my face and I’m, I’m sat in front of the TV and she gets me and she takes me to the police station. There obviously a DSS case is started, you know, child protective services and um, I’m given into protective custody with her into kinship care. So that’s how I really came to be with her
Stephanie: 33:41 Well, she didn’t actually come clean about that. How it happened is all my life at least once or twice a month I had this bad dream and it was a bad dream, not like a nightmare or monsters are chasing me, but it just gave me this incredible uncomfortable, like dark pit in your soul feeling. And I’d wake up every single time. And in the dream I was looking around the room that I couldn’t see very well from about. And I was. My eye line was about one and a half to two feet tall and I couldn’t see very well and there were no lights on except for a flickering light and all I could see was the sofa outline and I’d wake up from it, you know, sometimes in a cold sweat, just kind of like a panicky feeling. And I told her I was living with her at the time and I told her, you know, she woke me up and so cheerful in the morning and I’m just not. So I was in a grumpy mood and she was getting on me about it. And I was just like, look, you know, I didn’t sleep well. I had a bad dream and she asked me about it and I told her and she said, that’s how I found you, and um, she told me the story and it just, it fit, and I’ve literally never had the dream again since that night
Damon: 34:58 She said that dream in all of its ambiguity with the flickering light and the weird line of sight from just two feet off the ground are completely explained as a memory from her childhood. A child that age would not know that the flickering light she was seeing was a television, nor that her field of vision in the dark with the sheep have a couch in front of her were real images seared into her brain. Stephanie feels like that’s her first memory and it’s affected her deeply for many years. Her aunt said she doesn’t know specifically how Stephanie was treated while she was in her parents care, but she does know that she was lucky to encounter her daughter on the street that day and to find her own granddaughter and rescue her. After high school. Stephanie wanted to take a gap. Stephanie wanted to take a gap year to clear her mind. She thought she might volunteer, be an AU pair or go to the peace corps, just get away, but her aunt was insistent that she go to college. Her parents paid for school, but they nitpicked over what they will pay for along the way, refusing to shell out full price for books from the university store and they refused to pay for piano accompaniment for her, a necessity for Stephanie success as a voice major. Stephanie says she did terribly that first year and she knew going to school in that state of mind was a mistake, but she went to school with the knowledge of her birth father’s identity and the fact that the other infant in her baby photos with her birth mother was her sister. Stephanie went online searching for her birth father, learning about adoption registries, trying to gain access to her original birth certificate and discovering the community of search angels.
Stephanie: 36:40 I didn’t go through proper channels or anything. I just had some good samaritan. Search Angel take pity on me and they said, you know, well, I’m a surgeon. I’m retiring. I don’t do this much anymore, but give me the information, I’ll see what I can do and within days she had information, she did not find him, but she found his family and I must have been a lot braver them or just out of my mind because I just pick up the phone and called. I just started calling and it was, I guess it was just this feeling of the worst they can say is no at right now. I don’t know. The worst they can say is now I’ve already lost my whole family and that’s what I was searching for is I don’t have the family I grew up with right now. Um, and I missed my siblings terribly. I still do it the worst part of it, but know maybe maybe I can have a different family. Maybe I can have something it won’t ever replace it, but maybe I can have something.
Damon: 37:41 She starts calling phone numbers and she got to some cousins completely opposite of the opulent surrounding Stephanie was raised in. These were salt of the earth, regular folks from the country. They were really happy to hear from her, even though they weren’t very close to her birth father. They gave Stephanie her birth father’s information. Stephanie wishes she had been more careful keeping her cousins information because they were so welcoming to her
Stephanie: 38:06 and they said, no matter what he says, Darwin, you always have a family with us and I’ve just, I’ve never forgotten that, that they were just so nice to me. And so his phone number was unlisted and they could have so easily just, you know, no, we don’t want to get involved. Oh, it might upset him or something and they just want it all like that were just so welcoming.
Stephanie: 38:39 I did. I called him and I said, do you remember a person by the name Tammy? And he says like, he knows what’s coming. And I say, well, I think I’m your daughter and he just of kind of pauses. He takes it better probably than I would have if I got that phone call. And, um, he just pauses. He’s very calm about it and it was just like, okay, so what do you want to know?
Damon: 39:11 Stephanie asked all of the basic questions like, what’s his eichler and how tall is he? She quickly learned that it five feet two inches tall. She missed out on his genetic contribution because he’s six feet tall. When he heard how short she was, he laughed a bit. He shared that he has blue eyes like herself.
Stephanie: 39:30 I found out that he was a musician that played guitar and sang and you know, I was a singer and that felt really, really good because my mom always hated that I was musical. She just really, really hated it and I always planned to go to conservatory and uh, with everything that happened with my family, they refused to send me to a conservatory. So I ended up going to a state school. But, uh, it just, it felt really good to have those things confirmed. Then I said I didn’t want to meet him until we had a paternity test.
Damon: 40:02 Back then Twenty three and me and ancestry DNA weren’t the prevalent research tools they are today, so stephanie had to do the paternity test the old fashioned way. Her aunt who wasn’t very well off had some savings bonds that she cashed in for the $415 fee to do the paternity test.
Stephanie: 40:20 I had a friend drive me to paternity tests near the college. Then he drove two hours down to the same fraternity place and was tested and I had told him I didn’t want to meet him until after the results were in, but he called and said, hey, I’m here. I know you said that you didn’t want to meet, but can I… Can I just see you? And he said, I’ve got my family with me, my wife and daughter. And so I had a friend who was dating somebody and neither of us had cars, but he had a car. He was older and I said, girl, you need to flirt like you haven’t ever flirted before because he needs to drive me to see my birth father. And she did. And so this guy who had no idea what he was getting into, drove me and my friends to meet my birth father and we did and he hugged me and introduced me to his wife and daughter and the next week we got the results and the paternity place called me and obviously they’ve met both of us and they gave me the results and it sounded like the woman who was reading the results to me was going to cry with me because I start crying and I’m like, oh my God, really? And she gets excited and teary too. And then, um, I wanted to wait. I wanted to wait so bad and to see if he would call me because I knew that they had told him and I could only wait like 15 minutes. We’ll screw it. I’m calling him. So I called him and he was happy and teary and yeah, we got the results and all this type of stuff. So I went up to stay with him for a night.
Damon: 42:04 Her birth father lived right in the area where Stephanie was born. And it was exactly the opposite of her experience growing up. Her birth father lived in a single wide trailer with a built out porch down a dirt road. He told Stephanie he was a little worried about her if she would go stay with him and his family if she didn’t even know them.
Stephanie: 42:24 I headed home. I was like, well, before we agreed to do paternity testing, me and my aunt drove, I guess it was about five hours. We drove five hours there and back just to drive by your house a couple times. And I had already seen your daughter. She was outside riding her bike when I drove by. And so my aunt knew where I was. I knew where I was going, but I didn’t want to tell you that because it stalkerish.
Damon: 43:01 Stephanie had seen her younger half sister in the yard and things were going well and reunion so far. So she began to ask her birth father about the other infant in her baby pictures. Actually, her aunt, her grandmother knew where her sister was. She was still in high school living with the family that raised her, but she was never formally adopted. Her sister had the exact opposite situation from Stephanie, who’s maternal great uncle, raised her in Stephanie sister’s case, her paternal great aunt, raised her. Initiating contact. Stephanie wrote her sister a letter. Then they began speaking by phone. Stephanie remembers me and during about campus talking to her sister on her cell phone in the court yard at night because her dorm room had no privacy.
Stephanie: 43:50 It was good conversation. We have very different backgrounds just like me and my birth father, just the way we were raised, but it was a good conversation. But then all of a sudden it stopped. And um, the letter writing and everything. And I got a note saying, don’t contact me. I think that you are in cahoots with our birth mother. I want nothing to do with her. I think she’s really writing these letters and it’s not you. Um, and it was just very kind of paranoid. My aunt and I actually drove up after that because I thought, well, if I could just see her in person, maybe she’ll realize like I’m not that bad. And we went to her house and she refused to see me, but she has the person who raised her, who she calls mom. She’s very fragile, kind of like my mom. My sister says she always told her the truth and never tried to skew her mind. But um, I feel like maybe she, you know, that’s the person she trusted the most with her mom and I feel like maybe she wasn’t happy with me coming into her life.
Damon: 45:00 Their relationship shattered too for over 10 years. Then in 2016, Stephanie’s tenacity kicked in again. She located her sister online. Within minutes she got all of her information, including her married name and the fact that she had three children. She reached out to her sister’s father, the man, her birth mother, married while she was pregnant with Stephanie.
Stephanie: 45:24 He was just like, oh my gosh, honey. I’ve waited for this for so long. I’ve looked at your pictures on facebook and I just never get brave enough to reach out. I’m sitting here crying. I’m so glad you’re here for you. dada dada dada. Wow. And Yeah, and I speak to him for like three months and I talked to him about my sister. I tell them, you know what? I tried. I’m really scared to reach out again. I don’t know why, but she thinks that I’m involved with our birth mother who made her life hell when she was a kid and part of that is because she did not have the benefit of an official adoption, so she was not as protected as I was. Eventually he gets her to reach out to me and she friended me on facebook and it’s all very superficial for awhile and then we have those like adoptee your union conversations that go for like hours into the night. My husband is sitting there going like, are y’all ever going to stop talking like, it’s 3:00 AM? Where are you going to sleep? You know, you got to get up tomorrow. And I’m like, I know, I know, I know. I just a little bit
Stephanie: 46:30 Yeah. So she and I are still talking and uh, we spent last Thanksgiving together. Her family and kids came down and stayed with me, which was a whole different kind of craziness. Um, there’s still awkwardness because we do have very different backgrounds and I try and tread lightly so that I don’t want to offend or anything, but I think sometimes it’s hard for her to understand my world and need to understand hers and so we just have some different priorities and I wish that wasn’t there and sometimes she mentions like, I wonder what was wrong with me that they chose to adopt you but didn’t adopt me and I wonder what it would have been like if I had been adopted by the wealthy people and I wonder what it would have been like if I was adopted with you. But then she’ll say things, um, but all the money in the world isn’t worth what you’ve been through it. And I’ll be like, that’s damn straight.
Damon: 47:27 I was going to ask you if you shared that with, because that’s a really important point. I’m sure you would a very much loved to have been together, but for you to endure what you did at the high costs that it, you know, was isn’t it seems like worth the money at all.
Damon: 47:45 Stephanie said she was really nervous to meet her sister the first time, so they met at the zoo. She wanted to meet her nieces and nephews and she wanted a distraction around them. That was fun for the kids. Stephanie said neither one of them looked like their birth mother, but they kind of resemble one another. They both have the blue eyes, fair skin and are, shall we say, vertically challenged in the same way.
Stephanie: 48:08 The most important thing as we were sitting on a bench at the zoo and I was at the end of the day and the kids were going in the kangaroo romp area and we were just sitting there talking and she just all of a sudden reaches out and grabs my hand like I think like something’s wrong. And she’s like, Oh my God, I’m like, what? And she goes, we have the same hands and so you like sit there like putting them next to each other and all and I’m analyzing them and everything and it’s true. And growing up my hands were always made fun of by my mom no last, like it was like they’re still the same size as they were when you made that five year old ceramic plaster thing in kindergarten. And like she’s not wrong. Like I have really small hands and small and chubby and everything and I always hated them and ever since then I haven’t because it’s, it’s a part of her. So that was really important. It was a, it was a big moment for me.
Damon: 49:02 That’s a bond. Wow. Yeah. So fascinating. So how are you doing now? You’ve been through a lot and I recognize that a lot. A lot of it was a long time ago and that you’ve, you’ve had some positivity come out. Her father is receptive to you, your own father was receptive to you and she’s been receptive in the years since the initial rejection. But how are you doing?
Stephanie: 49:29 I’m still lost to be honest. And um, I still reach out to my family birthdays and holidays and things. And last Christmas my husband went with me. They’ve never met my husband. I invited them to the wedding. My college graduation they didnt’tcome. My brother was going to walk me down the aisle and my dad told him you’ll be cut out of the will if you do. So he didn’t come to my wedding either. But, um, last Christmas my husband walked with me to the door and I always leave something, but this time I saw the lights were on and I rang the doorbell and a childhood friend all grown up comes to to the door and her mom and my mom are best friends and I have homemade cookies that I’ve made for them in these really nice tins. And um, I ask, you know, to see my mom, like I don’t need to come in, but like, can she come to the door?
Damon: 50:30 And she goes back inside and comes back and says, everybody’s just sitting down to dinner so she can’t come. And I was like, it’ll just take a minute. And she goes back and comes back even angrier with me. And it’s like, well, what do you want me to do? Like, no, she’s sitting down to dinner, I’ll take the cookies. They take the cookies. And I heard from my brother later, like they made fun of me and threw them in the trash. And uh, a family friend from Austria was staying with them for a few months and she reached out to me later the next day and said, I’m so sorry and Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah. And so I asked to see her and she’s in her thirties, like, oh, while you’re in town, can I see you? And she says, I have to ask your mom’s permission. And she never, she never made arrangements to see to see me. But that just shows like the control my mother exerts this woman, you know, they’re wealthier than my parents, like her father is an Austrian journalists and everything. So there’s no tie to money or anything like that. But she even still feels like she needs to ask my mother’s permission as an adult to speak to me as an adult. Yeah. And she and I grew up like cousins kind of, um, just because the families were so close and we spent holidays together and whatnot. So there is a lot of grief and it catches me at odd moments, but there’s a lot of grief.
Damon: 51:56 Stephanie talked more about how she’s doing today and where she is in working on adopting children herself. She’s working hard to keep a sibling pair together, partially because she knows how important that can be from her own experience.
Stephanie: 52:10 Thinking back on my childhood, I can see grief or losing my sister that really affected me. Um, her name starts with an L and a as a child. I didn’t know why, but all of all of my dolls, L used to name names except for one, my birth name started with an M and I had one doll that I named a version of my name. And then all the rest were L names. Yeah. And I, there’s this picture of me with my adopted sister at a party and I’m three or four years old maybe, and it’s this very artsy black and white picture. And my sister’s face is just lit up. I think she’s holding a balloon or something and there’s all kinds of kids stuff going on and I am gripping her arm with two hands. I looked like a wide idea and headlights and I remember that like I remember being at the party and I remember being terrified of losing her and I don’t know what had happened to me previously or whatnot, but I remember my parents thinking it was very odd and knowing that people thought it was odd, but like I couldn’t let go of her. I couldn’t let go of her and I was a very gentle child. But the one time my parents got called on me for fighting, we were up at the homestead resort in Virginia and they had this kid’s club. My parents got called that they had to come pick me up because I had been fighting and I ran that for it. There was this other child there who said she’s not your sister and she was trying to play pretend and it was not okay with me. And she was like, she’s not your sister, she’s my child, Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah. I’m her mama. She’s not your sister. And I lost it on her. Like I shoved her into the wall. She went over at table. Like it was just like bullshit. That is my sister and I’m having none of this and my parents got called and we were never put in the kids club again and I remember that like I was not a fighter, but I just lost it.
Damon: 54:08 Yeah. Yeah. You felt that you felt the loss of your sibling from so many years ago. That is incredible. Yeah. Wow. Gosh, I would love to say I hope that your family comes around one day, but it sounds like your mother has a grip on the entire community and tentacles out to everybody y’all know, to make sure that your exile continues. And I’m sorry for that.
Stephanie: 54:35 It does and I still hope that it doesn’t. I had a therapist asked me one time like, why do you still send cards? Like, I sent flowers for my sister’s birthday and what do you still do that? Why do you still reach out? And I said, because I don’t want to have any regrets and I know they may not love me, but I can’t help but love them.
Damon: 55:05 It’s they’re your family for better or for worse, and it sounds like a lot of it was for worse, but it sounds like you’re also in a really, Huh. At least a better place having gotten out from under their thumb, but I know that it’s lonely out there by yourself and I hope that changes.
Damon: 55:29 Yeah. Well, I thank you so much, Stephanie, for sharing your story and I hope that other adoptees will take something away from this because you’ve shown some real strength honestly, and the fact that you’re trying to keep those two together. I hope that, uh, I hope you can, you know, find it within yourself to love them as hard as you wish that you were loved when you were younger too.
Damon: 56:17 Hey, it’s me. Stephanie’s experience was just surreal as so many adoption are, and she was telling the heartbreaking tale of her grandmother, her aunt, finding her strapped into her car seat, sweating in a home with no utilities in the southern heat, my heart was breaking for the infant she used to be. I later thought of the staunch opponent of adoption who speak in extremes when they say that a child should be kept with their mother at all costs. I know they don’t mean to the detriment of the infant as would have been the case for Stephanie, but hers is a prime example of how we have to choose our words very carefully and not speak in extremes when it comes to our desire to keep children with their birth mothers and infants should never be coerced or bought from its mother, but when the child is in danger and the mother is not accessing or engaging with interventions offered to her, another home must be found.
Damon: 57:13 That part of Stephanie’s journey also underscored for me another point. So many adoptees and researchers have highlighted as a detriment of adoption. The scarring that it can leave on a child. The fact that Stephanie was having recurring dreams as a teenager that replayed her experiences as an infant strapped into that hot car seat shows that a child’s mind does have traumatic memories burned into it at an early age. Stephanie also told me that the blueprint of her adoption is generational as she’s currently working to adopt and unite children in her biological family. Let’s just say another terrible situation has introduced new cases of children in need of another home because parental rights were terminated. The siblings in Stephanie’s biological family were separated in foster care, but Stephanie is working hard to fight to keep the siblings together. I told her I thought it was very admirable that she’s fighting against the separation like that of herself and her sister.
Damon: 58:11 I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in Stephanie’s journey. that Inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn who am I really? If you would like to share your adoption journey and your attempt to connect with your biological family, please visit whoamIreallypodcast.com/share. You can choose to share your whole story, maintain some privacy about parts of your story, or share completely anonymously. You can find the show at facebook.com/Woai. Really, or follow me on twitter at WAIReally and please, if you liked the show, you can subscribe to who am I really on apple podcasts, Google play, stitcher, tune in radio or wherever you get your podcasts and while you’re there, take a moment to share a rating or leave a comment. Those ratings can help others find the podcast too.