Brenda was born in California, grew up on the east coast and lives in Texas. She’s the child of a military family that has lived all over. When a school project required her to ask her adoptive mother about her family tree at eight years old, she was shown her non-identifying information for the first time. While the offer was open to review her information anytime, Brenda felt like the topic of her adoption was stressful for her mother, so she never asked. After the birth of her first son, Brenda sought her birth parents, definitively identifying her birth father first. He was emotionally ready to welcome her in. Finding her birth mother, she saw the mirror image of her self. Unfortunately, the woman was so traumatized following her pregnancy and the adoption process, she wasn’t as open to Brenda’s return. But the door isn’t completely closed.
Brenda: She just started crying and she just said, you know it, It took so long to forget and such a short time to bring it all back
Brenda: What did you think in that moment.
Brenda: Well, I mean I understand. I understand. She had to forget about me to move on. She had to because she just couldn’t live there and beat herself up for the rest of her life.
Intro voices: Who am I? Who am I?..Who am I? Who am I?… Who Am I? Who am I?
Damon: 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 today you’re going to hear from Brenda who called me from Texas. Brenda was raised as an only child in a military family and her parents always gave her what she needed to have a healthy, happy upbringing. After a school project, she was shown her non-identifying information and her curiosity about her birth mother opened up and her imagination kicked in, but it was her biological father whom she definitively identified first and who was mentally ready to receive her unscarred by the burdens, her biological mother bore after Brenda’s birth. This is Brenda’s journey.
Damon: Brenda was born in California and grew up an only child of a military couple. They moved around a lot, living in different parts of the United States and overseas. At one point her parents intended to adopt a boy, but her father’s military orders transferred him. Before that adoption was completed.
Brenda: I was the only one in the family that was adopted, you know, in the entire, either one of their families. So I didn’t really have anybody to talk to about it. They were always very open about it even though they were a little nervous about talking about that kind of thing. They’re just kinda little uptight about a lot of things. And um, so they had, I remember as a kid, I mean I’ve always known I was adopted and as a kid my mother would give me this little book to read about how special I was because I was adopted. I was selected, I was chosen and um, you know, that was kind of how it was approached. And uh, you know, most of the family, the extended family didn’t really treat me any differently than anybody else. We didn’t because again, with the military life, we didn’t live near anybody in the family either. My parents, they lived, their parents lived in different places and in the United States and we’d go visit occasionally about once a year, but that was about it and so it was just kind of the three of us growing up.
Brenda: Brenda says she looks different from her family, but over the years people have said she looks like her father, which always made her laugh and oddly Brenda and her mother’s voice is sound almost identical. A bizarre coincidence for Brenda who worked in broadcasting. She speaks reverently of her mother and honestly about her father.
Brenda: I’ve always gotten along great with her. I mean she really, she was a stay at home mom and even though, you know, we certainly weren’t wealthy by any stretch. I mean we always had kind of what we needed and you know, I was very fortunate, you know, Christmas time and that they would make sure that I got some things that I really wanted, but they didn’t want me to be spoiled because of being an only child. So my mother and I have always been very, very close, I mean very close. My Dad and I had a little bit of a stormy relationship. We just butted heads a lot and I think we just approach things differently, we think differently and we’re both pretty stubborn and so that’s been difficult. That was always difficult growing up. I mean once I got past about five or so things kind of changed with our relationship, you know, we’ve had a lot of difficult times know where we wouldn’t speak with each other and you know, even the living in the same house and we just wouldn’t speak with each other for like a month.
Brenda: Yeah. Which is really bizarre and you know, you don’t know any different at the time, but getting out of that, I realized that’s not the way that most families are, you know, it was, it was stressful. That part was really stressful and you know, I don’t know. I think deep down I always wanted to make sure that I didn’t cause too many problems because this is totally unreasonable and irrational, but I think in the back of my mind was always, well they could send me back, you know, they could, they could have me go back to foster care or the orphanage or wherever, you know, and you know, so I think it was always kind of one of those things like I don’t want to get too far out of line.
Damon: So Brenda’s parents try to make her feel comfortable with her adoption, with the books and the messages that she was special because she was chosen, but adoption wasn’t a comfortable topic and she could sense the tension. So she basically never raised the issue. Of course that made it tough as a kid when she had to complete one of those dreaded family tree projects. But it was that project that opened Pandora’s metal box for her.
Brenda: I think I was in elementary school and I came home with homework one day and you were supposed to trace your family tree. And I remember I went up to my teacher privately, you know, in elementary school and I said, Hey, I’m adopted. And she said, well then just do your parents. And it was like, okay, so yeah, and you know, so it’s like, well that’s not.
Brenda: Yeah, yeah. So it was really awkward and I still remember going home and I talked to my mother and I said, hey, you know, this is the assignment. And she brought out this metal box that I’d never seen before and open it up and inside where my adoption papers and it did have one type written sheet of non ID information. And in that it gave. And I saw for the first time my background in terms of my ethnic background and I found out that my mother was an immigrant to the United States. And uh, I had no idea.
Damon: I was glad Brenda came around to her biological mother being an immigrant because she alluded to looking different from her parents. She says her mother is tall and thin, fair skinned with reddish brown hair. Her father is shorter and she just doesn’t look like them.
Brenda: I have almost black eyes, you know, I have dark hair and all that. And so I just didn’t look like that.
Damon: What did you think you ethnicity might be?
Brenda: Well, I just didn’t know back then. I didn’t know. I mean, you know, you’re a kid, you don’t really, unless that’s part of your culture. I mean, you know, I was in an urban area at that time and so, you know, it was like, well people are, you know, African American or they’re Puerto Rican or their native America, you will really, really neat mix of different types of people. And so, you know, we had somebody from Portugal and and so those kinds of things. But I didn’t think about myself being like that and to find out that, you know, my mother had come to the United States from another country was like wow. And it was even a country I really didn’t know too much about.
Damon: Seeing the physical description of her biological parents and other non identifying information was really interesting because it painted a picture of traits about her biological mother, like athleticism and being good at crafts. She also learned that
Brenda: when she had me, she was a junior in high school and that when she came to the United States, she didn’t speak the language in. So even though she was older, you know, they didn’t do bilingual education back then, so she had to go back to elementary school, you know, and sit is a big kid with little kids to learn the language and it was kind of humiliating for her.
Damon: Brenda, read about her birth parents, family structures on both sides. She learned their birth years and that her biological father was in the armed forces.
Brenda: So then your imagination starts really taking off as a kid and you know, Gosh, who could my parents be? And that’s, that’s where it gets kind of interesting because you know, you start looking for familiarity in the face of strangers and you look at people and think do… do they look like me? Could that be my family? You know, and you just don’t know. And that’s the hard part.
Damon: Yeah, that’s right. So who did you think they could be?
Brenda: Oh, you know, when you’re a kid, I mean I used to think, oh my dad’s going to be Johnny Carson.
Brenda: you know, and my mom is probably like, Cher.
Damon: It’s not uncommon for adoptees to imagine that their parents are famous people. It’s no spoiler for me to tell you Brenda’s parents were not in Hollywood. So, Brenda has seen this paper with the identified information at about eight years old. Her mother said she could look at the papers anytime she wanted to, but she didn’t want to make her mother nervous or stress her out, so she never brought it up again. Over the years, people sometimes asked Brenda if she wanted to search for her birth family and she always said no, but then marriage and the birth of her son changed everything. I asked her how she felt when her boy was born.
Brenda: When I first had him, the first thing I thought of was when they put him in my arms, I said, wow, this is the first time I’ve ever seen so better. That looks like me. And it was so cool because I looked and I’m like, wow, he’s got my eyes and Wow. It was the most wonderful thing in my life, and then I thought, you know, people who aren’t adopted, they’re so privileged. I mean, they have that every day. They know where they got their nose, they know where they got their eyes and I had none of that and I was just done with it. I was like, I need to know this and you know, as old as you are, you know, when you have to go to a new doctor, there’s always that dreaded family medical history. And I got to really resent it because every time I’d go in and, you know, I would just have to put a line through it, not known and there would always be some, you know, young office staffer, or nurse or something. They come in and go, oh, you didn’t fill the sand. I’ve been a, you know, and I’d say, well I’m adopted and it’s like, you know, 30, 40 years old and I’m having to tell some 20 year old that I’m adopted, you know. And plus I want to know what my, my medical history is. I want to know what I have to worry about or what I need to get screened. I don’t want to either go, hey, I don’t know, so I’m not going to do anything or assume that everything is in my family. I just didn’t want to do that.
Brenda: Yeah, that’s right. I hadn’t really thought about that.
Damon: You know, people often express that they want to know what things to watch out for, but I would imagine that there is a component of the population who has the like a hypochondria of I probably got everything right and I’m sure it’s very worrisome not to know what your potential risks are.
Brenda: Well, I mean for me it wasn’t even like a contract situation, but it was, you know, kind of like, well do I need to be screened for everything because I don’t know. I don’t know if I have breast cancer in my family. I don’t know if I have this or that and you know, you kind of have to make a decision because as you get older, certain the certain milestones and they go, hey, if you have the senior family, you need to start getting checked. Do you do it or do you just go nah? That’s probably, it’s probably not there or I don’t want to know
Brenda: it’s true. You just don’t know what to be tested for and a person certainly doesn’t want to submit to every test under the sun. We want to know what we’re at risk for in our family’s history to know what tests we should have done and at what age to do so. By this time Brenda was working part time and she had access to a computer back then, so she found a few adoption search groups online. One piece of advice was to write to the state of California where she was adopted and she did.
Brenda: It took about a month turnaround time, but I got a letter from a social worker from the state and she basically gave me the same information that I had before. But then I’d also read and I requested that if they have any photos or anything else that would belong to me, if I could get that. And she sent to me for pictures. They were old black and white pictures of me when I was in foster care as a baby. And because, you know, I, I didn’t have anything from early on and that was the first thing I’d ever seen and it was like, wow. And then my, I started to ask my folks a little bit if they had any more information, so they made copies of everything that they had to give to me and they had said, well, if you ever want to search will help you. But it still was that stress I could tell there. So I just kind of did it on my own and I found a name that had been blocked out but I could still see what it was. And that was the report from the foster care and kind of like what I had been fed and all of that. And the thing I will tell you that was remarkable to me because of, you know, read a little bit, you know, about primal screams and all of this. But one thing that was described was that when I went, you know, kind of right after the hospital, they took me into foster care and they said that I cried almost nonstop for a week. And then I stopped and I, um, you know, I’ve read since then that, you know, babies cry because they want their mother and they finally figure out their mothers never going to come. And it was like, wow, that was, that was big.
Damon: It was hard to read that description of herself back then. And Brenda admitted it’s still hard today to think of herself as an infant crying out for her mother for a week. But the name that was partially revealed on the social workers, copy of her papers was a solid clue. She connected with a private investigator in California, paid her a nominal fee for what she could afford at the time. And in return, Brenda received her birth, mother’s surname, her birth father’s two initials and surname, and learned that she wasn’t given a name. She was simply baby girl and a last name. The father’s last name is very common. And the mother’s last name just wasn’t returning any results. As Brenda searched, life continued. And Brenda had another baby herself. In the summer of 2016, she submitted her sample to ancestry DNA, which immediately returned multiple first cousin matches.
Brenda: It was crazy. So I looked at that and the last name was the same as the last name I had been given for my birth father. So. Wow. Yeah. So, and I, at that point, I didn’t want anybody to help me. I had to figure this out. Myself and there were about two nights in the summer and I happened to be off and I pretty much spent the whole night figuring this out and I had like sticky notes with people’s names because I had to go back to like great grandparents and then trace where everybody went after that and who could have been the right age at the right place to be my birth father. And, and as you know, an ancestry, they don’t list living people. But what I was able to do was I finally got to find a grave and I found the sister had died of my birth father and it listed him as a possible relative. So I did some research on him. Sure enough, he had been in the military. He would’ve been born in the year that, um, that was listed on my non id information. And, but the thing is that it throw me off years ago, I’d actually came across his name years at 20 years ago, but the searcher that had helped me, the private investigator had given me the wrong initials and the wrong county.
Damon: Is that right? Just off by a little bit.
Brenda: Yup. Just off that a little bit because I’d actually, I remembered seeing his name years ago. Once I had that, I’ve, I went to classmates.com, went to the old because I knew they were in high school, so I went to this city where they were, but he was from and I looked up the high school there and sure enough I found his picture and then I thought, well if they were high school sweethearts, she probably went to the same one. And I found her. Really? And it was about 3:30 in the morning. I looked at that and I found him the face of my father as a teenager. And I looked upon the face of my mother for the first time.
Damon: What was that like for you?
Brenda: I got a cold chill. I mean it was because I look a lot like her and interestingly now I look a lot like him, but I don’t think I did as much in high school, but her, I look at, I mean I looked at her and then just like, there she is and I just got this cold chill, and kind of started shaking. It was just, it was just the most bizarre thing
Damon: with her biological mother’s full name. Brenda was able to find a port of entry pass online with the woman’s name on it. It showed the date. Her birth mother entered the country, the name of the ship she arrived on and what port she entered the United States through. It listed the family members who came with her, including her parents and younger brothers. Brenda continued to search for more information online where she found the woman’s married name and both parents facebook pages for the first time she saw the adult faces of both people. Seeing his picture. Brenda didn’t see much of herself,
Brenda: ….but when I looked at her profile picture, it was like, oh my God, that’s me. I just knew it.
Damon: Brenda was completely blown away and emotional to finally see an adult resembling herself and it took her a few days to gather her composure.
Brenda: It took me a couple of days and I finally decided to call because I was more sure of my birth father. So I had a little script, you know, and everything and I called him and also he’s interested in genealogy and I’d found him. He would help people with genealogy too, which was really cool.. And so I called him, he had an answering machine. I was like, ah. So it’s like, I finally got my myself psyched up, but I’ve got to call this guy out of the blue, you know, I’m not going to do a letter, I’m just going to call and do it. And then he didn’t answer. So I left a message and I just said, hey, you know, I’m wondering if you could help me with some genealogy and I, because I think we may be related. That’s all I said. And so I did an appointment and when I came out of the appointment he called and so I was away from my notes, you know, I didn’t have anything with me. And so we were talking and I just kind of said, um, you know, he said, well, I don’t have all my materials but I’ll help you in any way I can. And I said, well, here’s the deal. I said, you know, I just did an ancestry DNA test and um, I think we’re related on, you know, your Dad’s side. And he was like, Oh really? And I said, yeah. And I said, and I think we’re related on your mother’s side as well. And he caught it just stopped. And I said, let me explain myself. Um, I was born, I gave him a birthday and I said I was born in California and given up for adoption. And I was totally prepared for him to say, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Goodbye. Don’t, don’t contact me again. And instead he said, well, that’s really interesting. He said, you know, my girlfriend at the time, we were in high school, he said, um, she was pregnant and I believe that she would have been due to have a baby right about that. So I believe you’re my daughter. Wow. Yeah.
Damon: That’s pretty receptive for this out of the blue call. That’s awesome.
Brenda: No, no kiddin, I mean, I was shocked. We took he and he said, what do you want to know? And I said, well, you know, everything you know. And so he proceeded to tell me about his life, but, um, but he said, well, you probably want to know about medical history, right? I said yeh, absolutely. So, okay. You said, I tell you what I’m going to, I’ll fill out a complete thing and if I can get your email address, I’ll email it to you. And sure enough, two hours later I get an email from him and it’s complete everything. Everything, even medication that he’s taking, you know, his parents, you know, what happened to them, how late, you know, how long they lived, you know, all of this stuff. Everything.
Damon: At the conclusion of the phone conversation, he confirmed the identity of her birth mother ever since that first conversation, Brenda and her birth father have been in close contact and her presence has answered questions for him too.
Brenda: No, I was just going to say, I mean, he has been the most awesome person I, I could have hoped for. I mean, he has been so supportive of me. He has two other children. Of course. I’m the oldest. He just, we, we text or talk everyday every single day. And his children, he couldn’t wait to tell people. I mean, he just couldn’t. He was like, I can’t wait. He’s so excited and his kids have been so gracious to me and even though we lived very far away, his kids told me that they’d never seen him so happy. And I guess he said he never knew what happened to me because her parents kind of forced him to go away after all of this. And so he never knew what happened and he said, to be honest with you, I thought maybe she had had an abortion and he said, I felt guilty about that for the rest of my life.
Damon: Wow. That must have felt amazing.
Brenda: Yes, yes. Because I mean, he, he’s like, you know, she was the love of my. I loved her, you know, she, you know, I, I plan to marry her, you know, and all. I just thought we would always be together. And then this happened and uh, and he’s happily married now and he’s been married for quite some time, but you know, it’s just those things. But the kid, yeah. The kids were like, I don’t know what happened, but they said we’ve just never seen him so happy.
Damon: Brenda told me she was kind of shocked by how open her birth father’s reception had been. When she returned, she had already steeled herself against rejection. But what she received was an open welcome into his family, listened to how their first meeting went.
Brenda: My son played football out in California and my dad lives in Oregon, but he made the trip down because I was going to visit my son and watch him play. He made the trip down from Oregon as did some other family members to come down and meet my son and meet me for the first time and he just, it was so neat because I know we both just grinned the entire time and he would just, he would just take my hand and hold it, you know, like you would like a child and just kinda grasp it and look at me and, and just and just granted me. And it was just like, wow, that is, it was just the most amazing thing.
Damon: Her birth father has visited her in Texas and the paternal side of the family is planning a family reunion for Brenda to meet everyone this summer. And she sounds really excited about it. I asked her why she contacted him first, even though she could clearly see a version of herself in her birth. Mother’s facebook picture. Brenda said the DNA confirmation of her relation to her father gave her firm ground to stand on, but she still wanted to make sure with her birth mother her birth. Father confirmed the woman’s identity as her birth mother. Brenda took a few days together, her courage again before making the first call to make contact. When she dialed the number, the woman’s husband answered the phone. Brenda wanted to be respectful of the possibilities that not everyone knew the whole story, so she identified herself as an old acquaintance who was looking to reconnect with the woman.
Brenda: So I had the DNA evidence even though I knew, I knew that was her. I wanted to make sure. So I actually, after I, after I confirmed it with him again, it took me a couple of days to kind of get my courage up and make another phone call. And so I called her and how did that go? I’m not exactly as well as with my biological dad and again, I want it to be very respectful because I didn’t know who, so I started off with my thing a little bit and I, you know, I, I said my birthday, I said, does that mean anything to you? And she just kind of laughed and said, no, not really. And uh, I said, well that’s my birthday. And then I explained that I was adopted and you know, where I was and all that kind of stuff. And she kind of started to act like she didn’t know what I was talking about and then I said, I’ve spoken with my father and then she said, oh, you know, and, and I just, and I could tell she was starting to kind of freak out a little bit. And so I said, look, if you wouldn’t mind, why don’t you take down my phone number? It’s a lot to process, you know, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, but you haven’t. So take some time, think about it and when you feel ready, please give me a call. So we left it at that and it was kind of coincidentally I went to go visit my parents, they live in another town, but I went to go spend the weekend with them and uh, in the very next day while I’m having dinner with them, she calls out and I can’t, I can’t leave because they don’t know. And so I had just let it go to voicemail and come to find out her husband knew and he was the one that was after her. You need to call her back. Have you called her back yet? You need to talk to her.
Brenda: Yes. Yes. He’s been, I mean, I haven’t met him yet, but he’s, he sounds like he’s very, a very good guy and very supportive. So anyway, finally we were able to talk a little bit but it, it wasn’t, it wasn’t as open. I mean, and, and part of it might be her culture as well. I don’t know anybody of her nationality. I’ve never been around anybody like that, so I don’t even know what the culture’s like and you know, and it’s very, it’s much more traumatic I think generally for the woman than it is for the guy, you know, it was difficult. It was very difficult with her.
Damon: They became facebook friends and Brenda would call periodically and her birth mother always welcomed her calls, but she was never one to initiate a call to Brenda, but when they did chat, her birth mother would share stories of her parents and grandparents. Brenda was feeling like she wanted to meet the woman, so she started looking into flights to the Pacific northwest where she lived. One day she called to say that she had found a good price on airfare and wondered if her birth mother would be up for a visit. And her mother said, sure. Her response wasn’t overly effusive, but her receptivity to meeting Brenda was more than she expected.
Brenda: So I booked a hotel and all that kind of stuff. And then a few days later before I left she said, hey, you know, why don’t you just stay here, stay at my house. And I was like, ah, you know, I, I kind of put a thing on facebook and I said, hey, what do you guys think about this? And everybody was like, no, do not stay with her. Not the first time. Stay in a hotel, you know, that’s better. It gives you more room to process. A couple of people said, oh yeah, you do it, totally worth it. Do it. So I made my way there, finally made it. She kind of lives in a rural area. I’m beautiful and all that. And I finally find my way to her house and I drove up in my rental car and there she is standing on the porch waiting for me and uh, and it was just so cool and I walk up to her and give her the hug that I had dreamed of giving my mother since as long as I could remember. And that was awesome. But I didn’t get the hug back that I had hoped for.
Brenda: So, you know, so anyway, by that time she said, Hey, are you hungry? And all that, and she fixed the most marvelous food for me. And she said her husband was gone on a trip that he wanted to give us time to just spend together. So it was just the two of us at her house in a very serene, quiet area. And um, it was, it was a difficult visit. I mean, it was really cool. The first night my mother fixed me dinner and I’m, I’m in my bed at her house, you know, how I mean, is that not what like every adopted kid dreams of, you know, and
Damon: Right, going home
Brenda: yeah, going home and to be taken care of by your mother. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you know. But it was, it was difficult. She’s, again, it might be a cultural thing. She’s, she’s very scarred by the experience.
Brenda: And she explained to me, you know, just little bits and pieces, you know, we’d just be talking about something else and then all of a sudden something will just pop out really. Like what? Well, it would be like a. After I became pregnant, my mother turned into the Gestapo and she never treated me the same after that. Real. And she. Yes, she said I shamed the family name and you know, various other names that she was called by her mother and evidently for the rest of her mother’s life, which was, you know, a long life, never, never treated her well. Wow. And uh, I mean she wasn’t abusive to her but just wasn’t loving to her very much,
Damon: Yeh, that’s enough to be almost abusive, honestly.
Brenda: Absolutely. And then she told me no, the now all of a sudden, like she would say something about like the maternity home that she had to go to and she said they worked dislike dogs. We had to scrub on our hands and knees on the floor and scrub it to keep it clean. And we had to make things to, to sell in their bizarre so we could, you know, earn our keep and, and how horrible it was
Brenda: and to be away from her family. They just dropped her off, you know, and she was, I’ve never been away from my family before. And um, yeah, it’ll be just, just things like that. And then, you know, just, you know, she doesn’t have good feelings toward my biological father. And I tried to explain to her, because I don’t know that she ever knew that her mother was the one that had contacted him and said, you know, don’t contact her again or we will prosecute you.
Brenda: And they were 16 when they found out that she was pregnant. He turned 17 about three months before her and they were trying to say, well, it could be statutory rape, you know, and he didn’t know he was a young guy and he freaked out. He’s like, he didn’t know what to do and you know, he’s like, I loved her. And so he joined the military thinking number one, I’ll get away from the situation but I’ll have a job and so I can come back and we could get married. And
Damon: Oh, So he actually had honorable intentions. That’s.
Brenda: Oh, he wanted to get married. Oh absolutely. And he said, I even went to the military attorney and said, hey, how can I get custody of this child?
Brenda: Yeah. And they said, are you kidding me? Nobody, you know, court in America is going to give a 17 year old single male custody of a baby. It’s just not gonna happen, so he’s kind of also had that guilt too. He’s like, I should have fought harder. I should have figured out something to do to keep you.
Damon: Brenda says she has acknowledged to both of her parents that they were very young. It was a very different era in our country and where she in their shoes back then, she probably would have done the same thing given the pressure they were under. She also shared with them that things turned out fine and she’s trying to help them understand she’s not angry at all. She’s tried to help everyone move forward, but her biological father just won’t forgive himself.
Brenda: You know, everything is fine. You know, I’ve been able to. I work hard, you know, I’ve got some, some good characteristics that did. I learned from my adoptive parents. They were good to me, you know, so, you know, I mean, it, it, it came out. I mean, it wasn’t as if I would be with you. Of course, you know, but I’m okay and you know, we can just go forward, but he just won’t, you know, I keep telling him, I’m not angry with you. I’m angry with anybody, you know, it was society at the time and that’s just the way that it was and it would have been hard for you guys, you know. And what about her? She, she just says, you know, well, she just tries to kind of say, well, I just didn’t have a choice and I think she feels bad about it. But um, she developed some significant health problems right after the pregnancy. She’s got awful ulcers, I mean awful ulcers and some other things and I think it really was detrimental to her health. And, and at one point I was there and uh, she just started crying and she just said, you know, it, it took so long to forget and such a short time to bring it all back
Damon: Hmph. What did you think in that moment?
Brenda: Well, I mean, I understand, I understand. She had to forget about me to move on. She had to because she just couldn’t live there and beat herself up for the rest of her life, so that’s why she didn’t remember my birthday, which was very painful when I found that out because I always imagined on my birthday every year at least she would be thinking of me and then come to find out she’d forgotten what my birthday was. At least that’s what she told me.
Damon: Did you feel guilty at all for her pain after your reemergence?
Brenda: You know, I can’t say guilty because… I have purposely. I’ve talked with my birth father about some of the issues that come up being an adoptee. I’ve been very frank with him with her. I did not because she had to make it all about her on this trip and, and that sounds awful and I don’t mean it to be awful, but I mean she really, she just had a lot on her plate. I Think she just never dealt with, you know, being a young girl and put in that situation at that time and having the scarlet letter on her. And so she just kind of, her way to work through it was, let’s not ever talk about it again and we’ll move forward. But by doing that, she’s, you know, that’s all just back there and it’s never been dealt with. So I can’t see that. I mean, I feel bad that, that it brought it all up, but I don’t necessarily feel guilty because at some point, you know, I’m the, I’m, (sigh) I’m the one that didn’t have anything to do with this. And um, you know, being the child and stuff and, you know, I need to meet them. I need to be with them and see what they’re like. And that’s the selfish part. And I think I’m justified in that.
Damon: Yeah, I would say you are, it’d be different if this was a three-way deal in which you had, you know, a say in the decision, but in fact you didn’t. And now you’re an adult. And we as adults and individuals have rights in one of those most basic rights is understanding your own identity as a person on this earth. And if that comes from two people whom you’ve never met before, I think you’re absolutely entitled to try to learn more about who they are as it applies to yourself.
Brenda: Right. Right. And that’s kind of the way that I took it now. I was very respectful. I didn’t bring in any issues that I may have had in this, um, or anything like that. I did tell her that, you know, I, I said I’ve always tried to live my life in an honorable way that would. I’m trying to think basically that would justify the awful things that you had to go through. I did tell her that. And you know, I sort of, I’ve always tried to do my best and try to help people as best I could because I knew that even though I didn’t know you, you made a huge sacrifice for my life and I just want to be worthy of that sacrifice.
Damon: Wow. You were really thoughtful in that process. This is really amazing.
Brenda: Well, I don’t, I, I mean I just felt like that she, she needed some of that.
Damon: Her birth mother said that the rest of the family was never to know of Brenda’s existence, which was discouraging news for her, but her birth mother did have to reveal everything to her own daughter who was very close with their mother when they met during that trip. Brenda genuinely liked her half sister and they got along during the few hours they were together. Her sister seemed to accept that in a situation like this. It is what it is. While they were talking,
Brenda: I said, well, I thought maybe she might want to know that I was doing okay, and she just said, well, I think she always assumed you were doing okay.
Damon: Brenda’s visit to her birth. Mother’s home was a few days in duration long enough for both women to break down and have a good cry.
Brenda: She had her husband get down a whole bunch of photo albums. She said, I thought you might want to look at these, and so through the course of my visit I would get one and there was one evening. I just. I started looking at them. She does sewing and stuff like that, so she was kind of doing some stuff like that just to wind down and I was looking at these and there were some pictures in there that it was like, my God, that is me. I mean it just looked like me.
Damon: It was a relative, or her.
Brenda: Well, yeah, her, the way she stood and her, just her facial structure and everything. I was like, I have a picture almost identical to this from when I was that age and that was, that was so cool. And then she, they have a lot of old, old pictures of family and she would say, well I notice this about you. And she goes, that comes from my grandfather and she would show me pictures and tell me stories of how they were. They fought the Nazis and the resistance and you know, just yeah, her grandparents and stuff and it was just like this is phenomenal. But then I would look through, she included some of her children when they were young and those were the ones that kind of got me because I’m not there, you know, here they are. And you’re a Disney world and here they are in London and here they are here in there and visiting with their grandparents and I’m not there.
Damon: All experiences that you would have had, had you been there? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Lost memories.
Brenda: Yeah. So that was, that was the day that I had my meltdown and I just had to go outside. Can I have my little thing? That was the day after she had hers and she just came out, well my back a little bit and she said, well I guess it’s your turn today. And she said, she just said, you know, I’m not an ogre, I’m not an ogre. And I said, well, of course not, you know, so. So that was it. And before we left I just said, well, you know, I, I hope I get to see you again. I hope I get to visit you again. And she just said, well, it’ll probably be awhile. I said, okay. So I don’t know that I ever will see her again. I don’t know, I probably won’t stay with her again because it was a little awkward. I probably wouldn’t work event that to people. But it was also kind of cool.
Damon: Their first visit was heavy. Brenda was received by her biological mother and the fact that she welcomed her into her home was a positive sign, but her mother had been through so much raw heartaches since they parted. The reunion was a lot to process all at once. I asked Brenda what it was like when she left her birth, Mother’s home.
Brenda: It was kind of weird because I was getting mixed messages because she was like, oh, come in the summer and you can do this and this with the grandkids and you can do blah, blah, blah. She would say that kind of stuff. Every so often. Um, we’ll, we’ll take you over here. Yeah, we’ll do that. And it was cool. She would say that. And then as we parted, that’s when I said about, you know, hey, I’d like to visit you again. And that’s when she said, well, you know, it’s going to be… It’s gonna be awhile. And it was like, wow. Because the night before we had sat and talked and really had a nice talk and she said, you know, I’m really glad you came. And I was like whoa this is, this is awesome. But then the next day it was kind of like totally different. So I. It took me a while. I’m usually one to send a thank you note right away and it, it took me quite a while to send a thank you note. I just had. It wasn’t that I wasn’t thankful for what she did or ungrateful. That wasn’t it, but it’s just the process of it. I just had to process so much of what happened and I’m still processing it. It’s, it’s just, it’s no small thing to realize that your biological mother doesn’t love you. That’s no small thing. And It’s not..d. I’m not saying that negatively toward her because I just think she can allow herself to.
Damon: Yeah, that’s right.
Brenda: So because she said, she just told me, and this is kind of what brought it home and she goes, well maybe someday we can be friends.
Damon: Would you be okay with that?
Brenda: Well, I think eventually, I mean, I, I’m ready to be friends now. I mean, I, you know, I liked her, I mean it is difficult as a person as she is. I mean she’d probably say the same thing about me or she is difficult, but I, I would, I would like to be friends. I’d like to do more than that, but I don’t think she can allow me to.
Damon: Yeah. And she in many ways was forbidden from having these emotions way back when this whole started. Right. So that’s, that’s, you know, you’ve said she’s got mental scar, she’s got physical scars from the things that transpired thereafter and she has born those for the entirety of her life. It’s a huge thing for her to unpack, to get to a place of accepting you. So yeah, they offer a friendship. It may very well be all you get and, and I hope that it does happen, you know what I mean?
Brenda: Yeah. I mean me too. I, you know, I thought we had some inroads and stuff, but it’s just, you know, it, you know, again, you know, being an adult you can rationalize things but you still harken back to that kid that you were in the dreams that you had and how, you know, you were going to be welcomed back. And fortunately I’ve had that with my dad’s family even though the problem is we’re so far away, but they’ve all been very warm and accepting and, and very kind to me and you know, so I’m very, very thankful for that. And you know, the sad part is my, my half brother on my mother’s side, she said, Houston never know. And you know, my uncles who live in another country, you know, they’re to never know, you know, nobody else’s effort to know. And you know, it’s not fun being the dirty little secret.
Damon: It occurred to me while we were talking that the half sister might tell her brother that Brenda had found their mother. When I asked if there was a possibility that her birth mother’s secret will be revealed. Brenda said no, her half sister was very loyal to their mother. I then asked Brenda how she introduced her adoptive parents to her search and reunion and how things have been for them.
Brenda: Um, that’s very simple to answer. I have not told them,
Damon: hmm, what’s stopping, you?
Brenda: because they’re older now. They’re not in the best of health. Um, I mean they’re very cognizant and I talked to my mother every day. I mean every day on the phone. And I love to talk to her. I didn’t, you know, and this is another typical thing. I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t want them to ever feel like that they weren’t enough for me and that somehow, you know, I didn’t want them to feel that well, now that I found my quote unquote real parents that I was going to dump them over the wayside. So, you know, I’ve discussed, I’ve discussed it some with a couple of family members that I like cousins that no. And all of them have said no, don’t, don’t tell. I mean everybody I’ve talked to, everyone said no because if it could really hurt them. And, and I know there’s, you know, in the adoption community that there’s a divide on that, but I’m unfortunately one of those that kind of had that little, a little bit of guilt on there and concerning them, I just don’t want to hurt them.
Brenda: Yeah, In any way.
Damon: I understand now. And it’s different too. I think if you’ve said that they are elderly, like I totally understand. I get it.
Brenda: Yeah. Yeah. I mean if they were 20 years younger I would absolutely. I would tell them and as a matter of fact, that has been one point of contention with my biological father is he’s upset with me for not telling them he wants me to tell. I mean he respects that I don’t, but he’s like, I want to call and talk to them and thank them for the great job that they did, you know, and for taking you, I really want, you know, and he’s like, I really want to talk to them and he’s so curious about them and, and he gets a little upset with me about that. But I just, I said, look, it’s not that I’m keeping the secret. It’s that I don’t want to hurt them, that’s why I’m not telling them
Damon: Brenda admits she could be selling her parents short and they possibly could be okay with everything, but she knows them better than anyone and she’s going with her gut that she’s making the right decision based on her experiences. We also talked about her decision from the perspective of being an only child, which I am. Also. We agreed that it can be challenging when you’re an only child seeking reunion and sharing it with your adoptive parents. We feel like we’re all they have and if they feel slighted by the reunion in any way, the whole thing falls on us. After I shared my own adoption reunification journey with Brenda, including the fact that both of my parents were genealogist, she asked if I thought adoptees are more interested in genealogy than the general population. I speculated that we adopt these probably are because we’re not just learning more about the stories and history that we’ve heard in our family for years. We’re learning new stories about family and history that we’ve never known before.
Brenda: Yeah, I mean, I just. I just love it and I’m a researcher, I’m mean, I’m a college professor, so I’m, I’m a researcher anyway, and I love history and you know I did like my adoptive parents trees along time ago and so this just has, you know, a lot, like you were saying, it’s a lot more meaningful to go back and go, wow, you know, this is, these are my people, this is how I arrived here, where I am right this second. And that’s fascinating. And, and I did love that was something I really love that my mother did is just out of the blue she’d say, you know, hey, um, do you do such and such, you know, and I’d go, yeah. And she goes, that’s from me, you know, just a little, just little things you don’t like. The first night I was there, you know, she was like, um, now do you get up? Do you like to get up early in the morning or in? I said, well, not really much of a more of a late night person. She goes, me too. We both were like, we wish we were early morning people, but we’re not
Damon: Brenda. You sound like you’re in a good place. I mean even, you know, despite your mom sort of not necessarily being quite as effusive as you would have liked the fact that you got a really nice reunion with your biological father and uh, and she’s know open and talking to you. Those are two great things, regardless of their degree of variability. I’m glad that they were both open.
Brenda: No, I mean, like I, like I’ve always said is, is, I mean I’m a person of faith and I really feel blessed, um, that, that I have, you know, that number one, they were both alive because it’s so much, you know, you hear so many that they’ve passed or they just passed two weeks ago or you know, there’s, there’s just a cruel twist of fate. So I’m very blessed, number one, that they’re both alive, that they both would talk to me at all and acknowledge me and um, you know, so the rest of it is kind of gravy. I think, you know, we have to just realize that, hey, you know what I mean, we all have dreams for kids, you know, I’m going to grow up, be an astronaut. Well, that didn’t quite happen, you know, but at the same time I have a nice life and you know, that’s, that’s all you can ask for it. I think that’s true with these reunions is you take it for what you can and be happy with what you have and um, you know, and then move forward from there.
Damon: I agree. All right. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Brenda. I really appreciate your time.
Brenda: Hey, no problem. Thanks for having me on.
Damon: Of course. Take care of all the best. Have a great evening.
Brenda: Okay, you too. Bye.
Damon: Hey, it’s me reflecting on Brenda’s connection to her biological father. It’s funny how for some of our birth parents, they seem to be living a happy, fulfilling life before reunion, but when a child they’ve always wondered about reappears after many years, it’s as if a half balloon flower finally opens all the way. It must have really filled her heart for her paternal half siblings say they’ve never seen their dad this happy. It just goes to show that for some biological parents, they always wondered what ever happened to us the same way we’ve wondered whom they could be from Brenda’s experience. She wouldn’t recommend staying with a birth parent for the first meeting and reunion opinions vary on that from adoptee to adoptee.
Like she said, it can be kind of cool, but recognize you’re diving into the deep end where the you can swim or not. If you choose that path for your reunification, you’re in their home with their norms and no true escape. If you need to clear your mind and gather yourself, there can be so much going on in your mind during that first meeting. That getting away allows you a moment to simply ask yourself was that real and to try to process it all. Anyway, I was glad to hear that Brenda’s birth mother remained friends with her online and it hasn’t completely closed the door to seeing Brenda again. I hope it happens sooner rather than later. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in Brenda’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?
I hope you found something that resonated with you during this season of the who am I really podcast. I’m going to take the summer off to be with my son Seth during Camp Dad. I’m going to work on my book and prepare for the next season of the show. I’ve already recorded many of the interviews you’ll hear in the fall, but if you’d like to share your adoption journey and your attempt to connect with your biological family, please visit who am I really podcast.com/share. You can choose to share your whole story, maintain some privacy about parts of your story, or share completely anonymously. You can find the show at facebook.com/waireally, or follow me on twitter @WAIReally, and please, if you liked this show, you can subscribe to who am I really on apple podcasts? Google play, stitcher, tune in 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 to find the podcast too.
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