Cindy knew she was adopted, but she believed the men in her life where of biological relation – she thought she was adopted within the family. She lived decades with what she calls a lie. DNA testing revealed that her biological father was someone else entirely, and her search for her birthmother hasn’t returned any details about where the woman might be. She has developed two amazing relationships with a sister and cousin, but her 11 half siblings want nothing to do with her.
Cindy: 00:02 I think that, even though I, I’m one that needs to know the truth, I can deal with things in time if I know the truth. Lying to me is like the worst thing you can do. So it took me a while to process that I had been lied to my entire life. Um, and that was a big low for me.
Voices: 00:27 Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
Damon: 00:38 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 meet Cindy. She called from upstate New York, but she grew up in central New Jersey. Cindy knew she was adopted, but she believed the men in her life were of biological relation. She thought she was adopted within the family. She lived the decades with what she calls a lie. DNA revealed that her biological father was someone else entirely and her search for her birth mother hasn’t returned any details about where the woman might be. She has developed two amazing relationships, but her 10 half siblings want nothing to do with her. This is Cindy’s journey. Cindy was born in West Virginia where she was adopted at the age of three. Her parents were deemed unfit and she was removed from their home for child neglect. Cindy was adopted by her father’s brother.
Cindy: 01:36 All my life I believed I stayed within my birth, at least my birth father’s family. And so I was adopted at three. I was raised in New Jersey and stayed there until I went to college.
Damon: 01:50 Gotcha. So you, you called him Dad. So at three years old, transitioned out of poor care in West Virginia to your quote unquote Father’s care in New Jersey.
Cindy: 02:04 Right. So I was adopted by my aunt and uncle.
Damon: 02:06 Gotcha. But you didn’t know that
Cindy: 02:08 I, well, I did at five. Um, New Jersey laws require that a child be told they’re adopted before they enter kindergarten.
Damon: 02:17 Oh, that’s really interesting. I’ve never heard of a law that requires that knowledge be given to a child before. That’s fascinating. Have you heard of other states say that?
Cindy: 02:26 I have not. Um, and I don’t know if it’s still the case, but back then they were required to let me know that I was adopted and they gave me the full story so I knew I was being raised by my aunt and uncle and I knew that my birth father was now my uncle. As crazy as that sounds,
Damon: 02:44 Cindy said she doesn’t really remember a big dramatic transplantation when she was three. She had a good relationship with her uncle. Now, her dad,
Cindy: 02:52 my adopted mother, I think resented me, thinks she felt forced that she had to take me, but my adopted father welcomed me with open arms and I never felt anything but like he was my father
Damon: 03:09 despite one parent being resentful while the other was supportive, Cindy feels like her childhood was pretty typical. She was rebellious toward her stepmother and she used to hear a lot of that classic threat,
Cindy: 03:20 wait till your father gets home and how much trouble you’re going to be in. I think she got pleasure out of that actually, which is kind of weird.
Damon: 03:28 Cindy feels like the woman loved her the best that she could given the circumstances and in the face of some undiagnosed mental health issues. But her dad was great when Cindy was 13. Her parents adopted two siblings, brother and sister. They were 11 and seven years old.
Cindy: 03:45 And that was very difficult. I resented them bringing people into this family at that point.
Damon: 03:52 Yeah, I’ll bet. So you were the only up until you were 13?
Cindy: 03:56 Yes.
Damon: 03:57 Gotcha. And then they brought in an 11 and a seven year old.
Cindy: 04:00 Correct.
Damon: 04:01 And how did things change for you?
Cindy: 04:03 I obviously went from being the only and very spoiled to having to share. Um, and I think the hard thing for myself, and I’m not making excuses, was they were already like people. Um, it wasn’t like a baby coming into the house and you learn to grow with that. So they were already, you know, little people and had their own issues and their own things. And I recall, I kind of resented that, I guess.
Damon: 04:32 Yeah, it can be a very different dynamic. It’s not like having a baby that you can sort of watch grow, you know, sort of mold with the nurture part of the equation. Yeah. And at 13 that would be challenging.
Cindy: 04:45 Yeah, I didn’t like it much.
Damon: 04:48 Did you get along with them at all? What was your interaction? Cause they’re siblings so they know they’re related to each other and as you said, they’re young people so they know they’re not related to you. How did you all get along?
Cindy: 05:00 Okay. I, I definitely never developed a brother, sister relationship with them. I was, you know, I was a young teenager and interested in myself and really didn’t develop a relationship with them other than what I had to, but certainly not a brother, sister, sister, sister, relationship at all.
Damon: 05:22 Something else happened when Cindy was a teenager. That was significant, but it just didn’t register for her at the time.
Cindy: 05:28 I can remember asking my adopted father, we were sitting in the living room and the reason this will be important is because of where it takes me now. But I remember saying, Oh, when I get married, who’s going to walk me down the aisle, you or my actual birth father. And I remember him getting very angry and saying he is not your birth father, Ben is your birth father and that will be significant as we move forward. As I have, you know, as I am older and I’m having children, I want to know, you know, and I remembered him saying this about the Ben but I kind of put it out of my mind. It was, you know, he was angry. I thought he was upset cause I asked
Damon: 06:14 and was ben a familiar name to you at all or was it just totally out of the blue?
Cindy: 06:19 Never heard of it totally out of the blue, I’ve never heard of it. Didn’t know anything about that name.
Damon: 06:26 And you’re only 13 so you don’t know enough to say who the hell is that?
Cindy: 06:30 right. And never was it talked about again, that name never was mentioned again
Damon: 06:36 when Cindy was 18 her adopted father passed away. In the aftermath, her adopted mother moved to Texas, took the other children with her and Cindy went off to college in Massachusetts. Her siblings only had a few years with their dad before he got sick and died. When I asked about the bond between Cindy’s mom, her aunt, and the other children, she said it was about the same. Her Dad had wanted more children and her mom was just forced into mothering them. Although the resentment toward them didn’t seem as strong. Cindy graduated college, got married and started having children. With her first the doctors questions about her own mother’s prenatal care and whether she had medical conditions that Cindy could have inherited or passed onto her kids were triggers for Cindy. With every child, the doctors are asking her questions that she can’t answer, so it turned into a burning desire to know who this biological mother was.
Cindy: 07:31 That was always very tough for me. Now my, who I believed was my biological father. When I would ask him questions of my birth mother, it would be, I don’t know. Supposedly he didn’t remember her last, her maiden name, and I’m like, you were married to her for a few years. How could you, you know? But it was like, it was kind of like that entire family, like just wiped her off the map. Like there was no pictures, no nothing about her. I knew absolutely nothing.
Damon: 08:04 In 2014, Cindy’s husband bought her a 23 and me DNA testing kit for her birthday.
Cindy: 08:10 As excited as I was, I let it sit for three years,
Damon: 08:15 one day at work. When Cindy was 58 years old, the secretaries who knew she was adopted, encouraged her to submit her sample. They cajoled her to bring the test kit into work and they would help her.
Cindy: 08:27 That’s when life really turned for me. So I took the 23 and me and it came back with interesting information in that I had some relatives that didn’t make sense to me and as we started calling and talking, the only way it made sense was that I had a different father, a biological father. So we did ancestry. So we then did ancestry and that’s when it all kind of came together that Ben is my birth father.
Damon: 09:14 Wow. How did you feel when you discovered that? This name from your past that you had not really registered was suddenly back in your face again?
Cindy: 09:23 You know, I don’t really know. I was, I’ve run the gamut of every possible emotion. I think it didn’t surprise me. Let me put it to you this way. It didn’t surprise me to find out that who I thought was my birth family wasn’t because remember all my life, I kind of wondered, none of the story made sense. How could you not know her name? There’s not a picture of my birth mother. Like everything was so secretive. Like there was probably more to the story. So I wasn’t shocked at all. And I got to tell you, I looked nothing like anybody in my birth father’s family. So I’m going to tell you truthfully, I don’t think I was shocked. Maybe a little hurt, but not shocked.
Damon: 10:05 It was there in the back of your mind. What do you do next?
Cindy: 10:10 yeah. Well, I come to the realization that my life has changed in that I now realize I have eleven half siblings from him. I think he thought his mission was to populate the East Coast. Not really sure, but um, but he, he’s deceased so I don’t really have any option to talk to him.
Damon: 10:35 Ben was gone, but he left plenty of children and relatives behind whom Cindy could try to connect with. During that time she was reaching out to others. Cindy got a message through 23 and me from a woman who said she thought she might be another half sister, they talked, but they couldn’t find a correlation between the two of them. They couldn’t find any family name in common. And when they mentioned dates and places that are significant for each of them, none of them matched up. Nothing was connecting them
Cindy: 11:02 until again, the women at work are very good at this and they found that she also was fathered by Ben and unfortunately for her, she’s now in her mid fifties always thought that her mom and dad were her mom and dad never knew her mother…..yes
Damon: 11:26 Oh No.
Cindy: 11:28 Yes. But, well, I will tell you is that her and I actually communicated, felt an instant bond and I can’t describe it to you or how or why. We talked and then we literally met this summer for the very first time and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced. Her and I are sisters beyond a shadow of a doubt. And we’ve, we’ve just, we’ve done so many things together now. We talk all the time. It’s absolutely amazing. But it did kind of, I don’t know what the word is, but it was very difficult for both of us, you know, to process. But it’s been amazing.
Damon: 12:16 That’s really incredible. You should see the smile on my face. I’m so happy for you guys to have found the bond. It’s really unreal. But I could see how, you know, this is a rainbow after a storm too, you know, this is something.
Cindy: 12:33 And the other siblings did not accept us. Um, we’ve talked to them. They, they were angry. They want nothing to do with us. They feel like we were, um, a reminder of their father not being a perfect person or the person that they want to believe he was. So we have no connection with any of them.
Damon: 13:01 You know, I can’t help thinking I’m going to venture a guess that they are not of the same mother. Is that true?
Cindy: 13:12 There are, there’s quite a few mothers now. There’s four by one, two by another and several by different ones.
Damon: 13:23 I find that fascinating because, you know what I’m saying? It’s a weird thing where I feel like they’re saying we’re part of the original club of siblings who didn’t share mothers. Right. But there’s no more room in our club for other kids of other mothers. And it seems so weird to me because you are all kin by virtue of being in the same situation.
Cindy: 13:49 Okay. Well that’s how I feel. But what I will say is I think there’s some resentment in that I was afforded a life that they’ve never been afforded. Um, many of them were stuck in the back hills of West Virginia. Um, and I think that I got, I was afforded a life that allowed me to have the finer things in life from my father who was, who was very successful. I went to college. I think there’s probably some types of resentment there. And I will say that my sister that I just met, she’s in the same boat as I. Um, we were afforded things in life and had a life that most of them did not. You know?
Damon: 14:41 So there’s an otherness there that’s more than just, we’re the original group of siblings. It’s also, you’re not one of us because you’re not from here. You’re not, you’ve not been limited in your life in the ways that we have.
Cindy: 14:56 Correct.
Damon: 14:56 Cindy says that Ben’s niece, her cousin Neva has been wonderful, welcoming them into the family, sharing history and relations that no one else was willing to open up about. As soon as Cindy met her sister, Norma and cousin, Neva, she got a breakthrough on ancestry that led her to her birth mother’s brother, her uncle. He lives in Colorado and she’s spoken to him by phone.
Cindy: 15:19 You know, he felt terrible. He never knew about me. Um, why didn’t he know he, and you know, what did I know about his sister, my mother and I said, I don’t, I’ve been looking and you know, we’ve, we’ve stayed in touch ever since and we’re hoping to connect uh, this spring or early summer and actually meet.
Damon: 15:43 Oh, that’ll be really nice. Let me ask you, he asked you what you knew about her, but what did he tell you about her
Cindy: 15:52 all he knew they had a very terrible life as children. Their mother, my grandmother was an alcoholic. Not really much into mothering, which kind of explains to me why my mother would have not maybe been the best kind of mother. Uh, he left at 18 and joined the military. So he like me, was able to escape some of the crazy and kind of was able to put his life together where she never did.
Damon: 16:24 I see. And so they would have lost touch when he went to the military?
Cindy: 16:28 They did. And they kind of, they touched base afterwards a little bit cause he knew of her second marriage and he knew of her having this other child, um, who we believe is named Cammie Jean born in 1964 but we don’t know anything more than that.
Damon: 16:47 Cindy’s uncle admitted that he hadn’t been in touch with his sister since the 60s.
Cindy: 16:53 We’re as close as we can get. Nobody knows what’s happened to her. They’ve not had any word from her since 1969 and we were able to get it at, opened up as a cold case with the police. And there’s been no activity on her social security card either. So my best guess would be that she’s no longer here. I don’t know that for a fact, but she also had a child after me, so I have a half sister who I think may be out there, but I don’t know where or who yet.
Damon: 17:28 God, that’s unbelievable.
Cindy: 17:30 It is a crazy story. I will tell you.
Damon: 17:32 Yeah. Yeah, it, it’s really surreal. Um,
Cindy: 17:37 it is very surreal. Um, and it, it’s had some highs and lows that I just can’t even describe. Um, they’ve been very great highs, but there’s been some very low lows
Damon: 17:51 I can imagine. What were some of the lows for you?
Cindy: 17:53 I think to, even though I, I’m one that needs to know the truth, I can deal with things in time if I know the truth. Lying to me is like the worst thing you can do. So it took me a while to process that I had been lied to my entire life. Um, and that was a big low for me. Um, some of the siblings not wanting to even talk to me or even hear my story was a low because I, like you said earlier, I feel like we’re kind of in the same boat. Um, so for them to reject me was a little, it was a little tough. Um, and the journey to find my birth mother and, and nobody having any contact with this woman since 1969 just is hard for me to comprehend.
Damon: 18:45 Yeah, kind of boggles the mind that there’s no record of her departure from this earth of her incarceration, you know, that you’ve located so far. There’s just no, she just vanished.
Cindy: 18:58 There’s nothing. But the thing that concerns me the most is what happened to my sister. Where might she be? Did she also fall prey to whatever happened to my mother or did she get adopted and her name is completely changed and she’s out there somewhere that that one’s a bit hard to swallow.
Damon: 19:19 Cindy was left wondering what could have happened to her younger sibling. We agreed that this is one of the challenges of adoption and attempts at reunion. You want to know answers, but sometimes you’re left to guess what happened to people you’ve never met. Along those lines, Cindy expressed her anger about adoptees lack of rights to learn our truths.
Cindy: 19:39 I think for me, one of the other big lows, and maybe it’s a anger more than a low, is that as an adoptee we don’t have any rights to know who we were. Um, you know, my, my original birth certificate has been replaced by my adopted birth certificate. So when I was younger and wanted to find my birth mother thinking I knew my birth father but wanted to find her information, it wasn’t available. And in New Jersey, adoption records are sealed and you can only get them unsealed with a court order. And I have no grounds for one. But now that I know,
Damon: 20:19 why do you say you have no grounds for one?
Cindy: 20:22 Because in New Jersey, it’s not life or death. It has to be life or death. And I don’t, I’m not in a life or death situation. And now that I know things about like my birth father’s family, I know that the men have heart disease in that family and I have four sons. So for me that’s huge to know, to be able to pass on to them. And I also learned that my birth father’s family, many of them have carried the cystic fibrosis gene. Again what if I didn’t know it? Like I just think it’s so unfair when you know you don’t know things about who you are that could be life altering.
Damon: 21:04 Cindy has no information about her biological mother’s whereabouts. And her paternal siblings don’t want anything to do with her. Save one amazing sister. I asked how Cindy’s doing now in the face of it all,
Cindy: 21:15 that hurts it. You know, I, I every day, every few days go on to ancestry and hope that somebody new will come in. You know, my sister would be younger so maybe she’ll do her ancestry, I hope and we’ll connect, you know, I’ll all of a sudden find her or somebody from that side of the family will say, oh, well I heard this or some news will come through. So it, I, I guess it hurts, you know, not to have that. The one thing in life I wanted, my birth mother, and I’m not able to get that, hurts.
Damon: 21:56 I hear you. Well, I’m really glad that you made a positive connection with your sister. You know, I often try to think of these situations from a perspective of also sort of what could have happened and in yours I can’t help thinking that there’s a element of toxicity with the family in western Virginia, West Virginia, that actually could have been a further negative. That if their initial reaction was a flat rejection, imagine if they had brought you in and started to at least seem to welcome you and then turned around and either used you or sort of mentally abused you or whatever the other things were that were sort of a, an extended pain that was ongoing and interacting with them. I mean, if, I hate to say it, like thinking of a silver lining, but sometimes it’s almost best not to be in touch with people, but I can understand why it’s very hard and hurtful too.
Cindy: 23:00 I, I think I agree with you 100% . For me, I think I’m better because I don’t have them in my life. And I hate to say that because I’m sure it could be hurtful, but I don’t, I don’t want nor need any of that. So, um, it’s not who I am and it’s not who I would ever hope I would ever be. If someone else were to come forward, I hope I would be very different. But the fact that they’re not, you know, that’s something they have to deal with and that’s fine. I’ve gone all these years without them and I’ll go on without them. To have made the connection with my sister, well my half sister, But I hate to put that half in there because you’re sisters or you’re not. Um,
Damon: 23:48 well you say it as an identifier. It helps people to understand, but it’s, yeah, you clearly see her as your sister and I’m sure she will. Yeah,
Cindy: 23:57 absolutely. And I have to tell you my birthday in November, she, um, she lives in Virginia and she got on a train and we were in Philadelphia for my youngest son’s Lacrosse event and she came on the train to Philadelphia and spent my birthday weekend with us in Philadelphia. And I’ve never ever, ever had that before. And it was absolutely amazing.
Damon: 24:23 Oh my God. That’s so cool. So cool. I’m glad. That’s really neat that she was able to come do that. That’s the best. Well, Cindy, thanks so much for sharing your story. And I know it’s been an emotional roller coaster, but it sounds like those two relatives that you’ve got a strong connection to, right there are going to be all you need for awhile and I hope that you guys will cherish your relationships and really try to stay close.
Cindy: 24:46 I think we will, we, we talk and text, you know, probably two or three times a week or more and it’s, it’s amazing and it, it’s so exciting and I can’t, they have not met. So my sister and my cousin have not met yet, so that’s our next thing to get them to meet. Um, which will be fun cause I’ll get to be a part of that. And then this summer getting to meet my uncle from my mother’s side for me is just, you know, to have a hug from someone that that’s connected to my mother I think is gonna mean everything in the world.
Damon: 25:21 Wow. That’s so awesome. You got a big year ahead, Cindy. I wish you all the best. Okay,
Cindy: 25:27 thank you.
Damon: 25:27 Take care. I’ll talk to you later. Thanks for the call.
Cindy: 25:30 Thank you. Bye Bye.
Damon: 25:35 Hey, it’s me. Cindy spent her whole life thinking she was paternally related to the men in her life only to learn that a man named Ben whom she could never meet was her birth father. She had a unique experience in that she wasn’t a late discovery adoptee. She knew she was adopted. She had been allowed to believe a narrative that wasn’t true. It has to be tough to live with so few details about her birth mother who’s been absent from the family since 1969 and to wonder where her younger sister ended up and if she’s okay. Thankfully the connection she did make are healthy ones. Cindy told me that one of her sons is getting married in June and she’s super happy that Norma and Neva will be with her on this special day.
Damon: 26:17 Cindy will also meet her birth mother’s brother, the man in Colorado in August. In an email after our interview, Cindy said this, I guess every story is not a happy reunion, but if you are willing to learn everything and expect nothing, you won’t be completely devastated to know, Norma and I are innocent victims and not welcomed or wanted hurts, but we have each other now and it’s amazing. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in Cindy’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? Next week is going to be my final show for the season. I’m going to do something special and turn it around and open up about myself. I hope you’ll tune in. Oh, and one more thing. I just wanted to let you know that my own adoption memoir, Who Am I Really? Is now available on amazon.com I hope you’ll add my story to your reading list.
Damon: 27:15 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 journey or share completely anonymously. You can find the show at facebook.com/WAIReally, or follow me on Twitter at WAIReally and please, if you like the show, you can support me at patrion.com/WAIReally, you can subscribe to Who Am I Really? On apple podcasts, Google play or wherever you get your podcasts and while you’re there it would mean so much to me. If you would take a moment to share a rating or leave a comment, those ratings can help others to find the podcast too.
Cindy: 28:12 I kind of resented that, I guess.
Damon: 28:14 Yeah, it can be a very different dynamic. That’s an interesting thing that I experienced personally where my own adoptees were nine each when they came, so the girl came first when she was nine, two years later her own brother came when he was nine and she was 11 so, you know, they’ve already, as you’ve said, had their own life experiences, their own challenges, their ups and downs, and they’re very cognizant of this transplantation of their life into yet another place. So you’re, it’s not like having a baby that you can sort of watch, grow, you know, sort of mold with the nurture part of the equation. Yeah. And at 13 that would be challenging.
Speaker 5: 28:58 Yeah. I didn’t like it much.