156 – Sibling Strangers

I’m Damon Davis. And today you’re going to meet Jennifer who called me from standards, Ville, Virginia. Growing up in New York, she had a very different childhood experience in her family than her sister who was biological to their parents. Their mother suffered with substance abuse and deep down.

Probably knew she wasn’t as good a mother to Jennifer as she could’ve been in reunion. She realized that secrets of the past were hard to overcome because they were ladened with stigma from her birth mother’s pregnancy experience.

Her paternal reunion was a surreal phone experience that you have to hear Jennifer tell to believe. Thankfully her aunt and younger sister made up for the shocking phone conversation she had with him. This is jennifer’s journey


Season Open Cold Cut


Show Open


Probably knew she wasn't as good a mother to Jennifer as she could've been in reunion. She realized that secrets of the past were hard to overcome because they were ladened with stigma from her birth mother's pregnancy experience.

Her [:



Her adopted parents weren't able to conceive. And they were told that adopting a child might be a good option to create a family. Then after two years and 10 months, Jennifer's adoptive mother found herself pregnant with Jennifer's younger sister, Susan. They grew up on long island, New York, living close to the water and enjoying a lot of sailing.

in the Navy and her mom was [:[:

So it was kind of funny. I found his one before I ever found mine. Um, so I figured if I could find someone's, maybe I could find my own.


I think when my mom was told she was pregnant, I think she was absolutely in shock because she had believed, you know, that she couldn't conceive. And so they went ahead and adopted the baby. and then when my sister came along, I have the distinct feeling of, well, now I have the baby and I wanted, what the heck am I going to do with this one?

ior decisions. I don't know. [:r the who's going to pay the [:

Let me, let me treat you. You've done everything for us for forever. And my mom kind of went through the ceiling of the restaurant and started shouting. "Why do you always embarrass us? And why are you always making us look bad?" And just that moment to capture how our relationship was my whole life, that, that pretty much summed it up.

[:[:rough adoption by, you know, [:

And, , I think she didn't understand me a great deal of the time. I'm a super creative person. I, I write, I act, I draw, I do voiceover work. I do a whole bunch of other stuff when I'm not, you know, doing my regular day job. And she, she was like, a mystical animal for her. She didn't really know why I was the way I was or where any of that came from.

And I think while I may have [:[:

And it's, it's funny to hear sort of how a person expresses the disconnect between themself and their adopted parent in this case, your mother, you know, she's, it sounds like she had her own struggles as you've indicated with alcoholism, et cetera. And so there was probably some mental challenges there for her anyway.

time in their life. And then [:

, but, , I am curious like how, for lack of better words, good of a parent. Was she before your sister came along and then did she like step up her game when your sister came? You know what I mean? I don't know if you could ever say that or be able to tell, but, ,

[:you know, not a rambunctious [:

I wasn't allowed to play with her. I wasn't allowed to play with her toys. If she had friends over, I wasn't allowed to play with them. , she was always kind of looking at me sideways, you know, like, what are you going to do now? Or, you know, I have to watch you. And so I kind of grew up feeling like, , I can't make a move.

I can't do anything because it's not going to be right. Or, acceptable plus in the afternoons and evenings, when she would be drinking. Never really knew who we were coming home to. When we were getting off the school bus. Is it going to be friendly, pleasant, sober mom with a snack, or is it going to be, I've been drinking this afternoon, taking a nap on the couch, mom.

e they're really nice people [:[:were vilified preemptively, [:

It's kind of crazy.


Jennifer said her adoption story had some odd twists and turns to it. When she was born, the adoption agency called her new parents to say their baby was ready to be picked up. About a month later, the couple was ready to Trek into New York city to bring their baby girl home. When the agency called again to say,

All adoption appointments had been canceled.

ate in the month of November,:[:use it's kind of water under [:

Brownie father daughter square dance. He would say, well, then you're, you're going to come with us and I'll be your dad for a night. So, I mean, he's just a very generous, loving person.


You're right. It is water under the bridge and what's it gonna do, right. You know, you're gonna make him feel badly about years that maybe he feels decent about. And the truth is, you know, if he knew his wife was an alcoholic and you know, he may have had a decent sense of what was going on too.


You can't just send one person into treatment and wait for them to come home all shiny and new while you keep being who you are, everybody has to change and grow from that. , and it, he didn't do it and she didn't go, it was, it kind of came off the table, but, um, they, they stayed together forever. They were married, um, 65 years.

And that's a, that's a really long time to be with somebody who has, , an addiction really hard, but they stuck together and you know, I have to give them a lot of credit.


It was eye-opening to see the task of searching for a biological relative could happen so quickly. Jennifer's search for her birth family took her 20 years. She said her parents were very open with her about her adoption,. But she also learned at an early age to tread cautiously around the subject, searching for the right time to broach the topic.

Her mother told Jennifer that her mom had been a ballerina and her father was a dancer as well. But somehow the ballerina's story didn't fit with Jennifer believed. Then her mother would deflect the conversation with comments like you're here now. Let's talk about that later. When she was much older, Jennifer returned home from college for spring break.

d snooped through it before. [:[:

The next page was my birth record with my weight and my height and how long it took to deliver me and a first name and last name. And I was blown away. but I felt, I shouldn't know this. I I'm, I, this is a really bad thing I'm doing. I shouldn't know this. My mom would kill me if she knew I were in her drawer.

asked her, , you know, I, I [:

So the next time I was home alone, I went looking for them and sure enough, they were gone. And about 20 minutes later, I found them in the bedroom in a different location and I read them and it was exactly. What I remembered and all the details were there and the facts and things. I, it was like, wow, I really did have a birth.

I really was begun at some point. , and my first name was Susan, which was so bizarre to me because my younger sister that came after I was adopted, they named her Susan.

Really? Yeah. Oh, wow.

ving. It gave an address and.[:

I, uh, I knew I couldn't take the paper since my mom had known enough to re hide them. So I put them back in their new hiding location and I, and I left them there for a couple of years. And now I'm in my mid twenties and I asked her again, you know, I'm, I'm not going to leave you. I mean, I had to do so much reassuring with her, you know, I'm not going to do anything bad and I'm not going to just call them up or show up.

And cause that would have been, you know, a big, a big no-no in my mom's book. And she said, oh, I threw those out.

[:[:So [:

I have a birthday present for you and come now, or, or you're not getting it. And I didn't know what it was, but I, you know, I never said no to her. And I certainly didn't want to misbehave even as a young adult. And so I drove over, it was about 10 minute drive and she met me in the front hallway of the house with that stack of.

Folded papers and slapped them into my chest and said, here's your pedigree. You can go now.


And, and I think now in retrospect, lying to protect herself and, and a whole bunch of other things. And, and she said, here you, you can go and you can go find out that I'm a horrible mother, but you probably know that anyway. So just go and just get out of the house. And I don't want to see you for a long time.

And, , I, I didn't know how to reply to that because on one hand I was over the moon that she gave me the papers. Right. And on the other hand, I could see how much it hurt her, just so much to do that and to admit whatever it was. She was admitting by giving them to me at all. And I went home and I treasured them.


But on some level you were like, oh

[:[:r something you already knew [:[:doptable baby to come in and [:

I'll be right back. And do you know how tempting it was to stand at the edge of the other side of the desk and just want to reach over the pencil over onto the bladder and open the file. But she literally came back into the office like 20 seconds later. So she only did just have to go right down the hallway.

I didn't do it, but I certainly imagined doing it. And she read the file to me and said, there really isn't any more than in here that I can share with you at all. You know, I'll, I'll see if I can rewrite another letter of non identifying information. And I said, no, I, I have everything that you could possibly give me.

Spence champion was inviting [:In the late:ad never known details about [:[:

And somebody had to deliver me and put me in a bassinet and weigh me and then take care of me. It was like for my whole life up until that point, I had not existed until I was a part of someone's family. And that was closer to 13 months. So, and I know many, many adoptees don't have a picture of themselves as an infant.

el myself as a baby in those [:

And then I, you know, and then I was over here and then they did that. And so it's really kind of a roadmap of this whole first year where I actually existed when I didn't really know I did before. And it was very grounding. It was really grounding.

When Jennifer received the stack of records, she told her husband all about it. He liked that they had information to go on. So they took a road trip to Scarsdale, New York, where the trail of clues began. They went to the public library,

s, veterans were looking for [:own daughter in the spring of:[:[:

you walk up to


You must feel so awful about yourself.


I have had a name like my birth mother. , and that was, that was a really incredible insight to know that they, you know, here we are, 20, 30 years later, they're still hurting and they're still kind of walking around, um, with their hearts on their sleeves. Kind of wondering what happened. , that was a dead end, but it was, , an amazing couple of weeks of, of, um, conversational thread with these women that, that were at the time, my birth mother's age.

And, uh, I was very honored to be able to communicate with them.

what they were going to do. [:

Jennifer continued her studies taking her three-year-old daughter to her school lectures sitting her under the table to patiently wait for class to be over. Later that year, Jennifer received an email invitation from a woman who wanted to help her with her search.

The woman had seen Jennifer's name in some of the adoption search boards, but Jennifer wasn't interested. The investigator wanted $1,000 to complete the search. But that was way too much to pay. And Jennifer felt she had so much information and she was too close to getting her answers that it didn't make sense to hand the trove over to someone else to take credit for crossing the finish line for her


But I haven't found any obituaries and I haven't found, you know, any ex-husbands or anything like that. So how about I give you the information I have and you see how much you'll charge. And she actually wrote back like a real email and she said, send me everything you've got and I'll take a look at it.

day. And that was February of:genealogical research for my [:

Are you this person? And my birth mother was very confused and rattled because, and of course we didn't know this at the time she had had a friend in her youth named Pamela who died in the terrible accident. So here's this woman calling her saying, hi, I'm Pamela blah-blah-blah. So once they got that straightened out, she did say, yes, you know, yes, I am the person that you say I am and you know, what, what can I do for you?

So she said, you know, can my friend and I'm helping find family. Can I kind of give her your contact information? And she said, yes. So, that night when I got home and I put my child to bed, I called her,

how was it leading up to that?

Uh, it was a little bit like leading up to this call.


I love the movies. I have a wonderful imagination, you know, that every, every configuration of outcome went through my mind except for one. And that was being welcomed. So the phone rang and she answered the phone and the minute I heard her voice, every hair on my body stood straight up and it was like, she sounds like me on the phone and it just hit me so hard in the middle of my chest.

hat she wants to talk to me. [:

And I told her, and she said, where were you born? And I told her, are you tall? Yes, Do you have red hair? Yes. Are you creative? Yes. And then there was the longest pause and she says, are you my daughter? And I said, I seem to think so. Yes. And she said, well, I probably think you are. I'm so glad you called. And we talked for an hour and a half.

otes from that conversation. [:

And I had spoken to those birth mothers that lived in the same maternity house and they had nothing. And I looked all over the message boards for where people search and, you know, pray and hope for any connection. Then I found nothing and my gut told me she did not look. I didn't feel that she had died.

I just firmly felt that she had not looked. And I was right.

[:in my head. I'm so glad you [:[:th,:[:


And she visited you the entire time. It sounds like you were in the hospitals that.

[:[:[:one. , She told me that she [:

And so I did. And I think that takes a lot of courage to say that, especially as a 20 year old college student with no support from anybody.

[:[:my daughter is three months [:

And I can't even imagine how gut-wrenching that was, I can't for any birth mother, for anybody who has to make that decision.

[:[:e said, oh my gosh, I have a [:

So she was really taken with the fact that. Had this grandchild for a few years and only learned about it now, which is pretty cool. ,

[:rnal siblings were not among [:



You know, sort of more unconditional had we grown up together and you just accept, like, this is just who we are. , and it's no nobody's fault, really. Like it's hard for folks. If you haven't grown up with them, your entire life for them to just be like, throw the door wide open and be like, come on in and everything.

You know what I mean? Like, it's so very tough for people to do. And, but I, but I hear what you're saying, that it must've been really challenging to know that you had siblings that might or might not end up knowing about you and that, you know, you could end up being a secret, but, but that she wanted to know you herself, you know, splitting her life and that's, that's tough.

the decision as to which new [:[:

They think they think I'm a great mom and I am a great mom and I just don't want them to think that I'm a bad person or a bad mom, because I gave you a way and.

the conception happened and [:

And I think that that stuck because she didn't want to pass that element of judgment onto her children or risk them turning around and judging her, or the way that more than likely she had been judged when she was

[:er on the phone. In August of:[:

And you know, what do you say? And then I don't remember why she might've handed me something to carry for her, but I touched her skin and I thought, oh, I know that skin it's the most buttery, delicious, creamy, familiar, loving skin. And I never, I don't remember touching her skin, but for some reason it just sent like this little bzzzt of electricity into my body.

be said for that connection. [:

Youngest brother. And or he called her and said, you know, Hey, we've been trying to get y'all weekend. We're where have you been? And, um, and she told him and he said, that's pretty blank. Cool. What else are you hiding? So it was a great answer. Great reactions. Um, I'm thinking it was, I think it was great. It was like a new gee what, what the heck, mom?

tells me, that was the best [:

Had a really hard time with it. And, uh, and it's been that way, you know, ever since I, I was in communication with them, I had visited them in Massachusetts a few times. I spent a mother's day with them the first time Bailey and I, my daughter, and I went up together and, it was amazing. And it was heartbreaking because when I was with them, I kept thinking I could have grown up with you and I don't, we didn't have any Christmases together.

. And, and even though we're [:

And I know it had nothing to do with me per se, and everything to do with, with someone being able to mother or provide adequately. But there is something I can help inside that always asks, "What's so wrong about you. Why weren't you kept, there must be something bad or wrong or unlovable or unlikable about you.

And I feel that, and I felt that very distinctly when I was around my other siblings.

[:[:ou know, do the obligatory , [:

, I was invited to two weddings, , and one wedding at the rehearsal dinner. I was sat all the way at the very end of the table. not near really , any next of kin family members. I think I was sitting next to somebody's girlfriend or fiance and the second one. , I was told it was a casual wedding on the beach, and I didn't want to ask for too much information and I didn't want to come across as needy.

ned out it was, uh, way more [:

And then when I had to go and find my seat assignment, it turned out that I had been seated with, uh, um, the people from the office. And I don't mean the sitcom, like the obligatory co-worker friend table. And I, I didn't know who knew who I was. I didn't know how to introduce myself. I wasn't introduced to anybody.

And I mean, it wasn't about me. It was about my sister's wedding, of course. But my kid had a great time, both of those weekends, because she was with her aunts and her uncle and her new grandma and she had cousins and she had a great time. And I, I was like, I don't, I don't know who I am here. I don't know how to behave.

thought they sat me with the [:ho she was and who didn't. In:

She just wasn't sure if it had been a good idea to come out from being a secret. She couldn't tell if the family really wanted to know her or if they were just being kind


And I know that you love me, but I think, I think we've gone as far as we're going to go, because you don't know what to do with me. And I don't know how to be with you. And I think I make people uncomfortable and I don't want to. And, um, I, I think it's better if we just, if we just stop here,

what did you feel like after you press send on that one?


And, , my daughter's now 23. , and part of me, part of me thinks that I think if you're a secret, there's always something kind of negative and bad attached to that. And maybe. Mysterious and not, not a good way. And it was just past my 40th birthday when I remet my birth mother.

round them, I feel like, you [:[:

I can't the phrase sibling strangers keeps coming to mind for me.



[:ephews grow up on Instagram. [:

Jennifer told me she loved to be part of their world, but she's trying to be okay with watching from afar and sending them good vibes. But it's still confusing with her birth mother


since my adoptive mom is no longer with us. There is a part of me that thinks, you know, that little kid, baby part of you, that's like, are you ready to take me back now? Which is completely silly and unrealistic, but there is a part that's like, so my other mother has gone and she didn't do a great job, but I turned out pretty.

hat you would like me to not [:

And she said, you need to speak from your heart. And there's nothing that I... Don't censor yourself. And I was, I was really thrilled with that answer. Um, I may asked her, you know, that the people that you're related to on social media, you're your cousins and things do they know about me and they do.

the email that I sent her in:at you would do such a thing [:[:

In her first phone call with her birth mother, the man's full name was revealed. Her birth mother told her the man was likely to be found out west somewhere. Apparently he had been kicked out of Harvard university for stealing science hardware from the lab, beakers, Bunsen, burners, and other items. The kinds of stuff a person would use to manufacture drugs


That's totally my biological father. , I called him. , right before my 41st birthday. So the year that I reunited with my birth mother, I called him in California and I left a message, not realizing that it was his office phone. And a couple of days later, he called me back and it happened to be my birthday.

And I have never met a bigger, more pompous horse's ass. in my life was, it was this bizarre phone conversation. So I, I, there's a message on my answering machine, you know, like the, the kind that blinks and you play the tape and, um, he's, I'm just, I'm just returning your call and this is, you know, so-and-so and you can reach me at this number.

So I call [:

And I thought, oh my God, he's an idiot.

And she had told me that he was not a very nice person and I didn't realize what I was in for. So I said, well, I don't, I don't know that I want to know anything. And he says, well, you must be calling for a reason. You know, don't call people after 40 years for no reason. And I said, well, , I, I guess I just wanted to meet you or know you a little bit.

but this is just kind of how [:

We're all really good looking people and we're all very well-educated. And most of us have been around the world a few times and we all do very well with money and none of us had ever died of cancer except for one aunt. And she also liked to play poker and she smoked. So yes, she died of cancer, but, , you know, we don't tolerate idiots and we don't do this and we don't do that, but I can't believe that he started out with world terribly good looking and we've all been to college and, and he was, you know, I don't really know what else you'd like to know.

, and then, , He didn't tell [:

He didn't tell me that I had two half brothers and the very younger half sister, um, or that he was what I would call a serial, , monogamous, you know, lots of created three different families with three different women. , and he, he said, well, if you don't want anything, I guess, you know, I guess we're, I guess we're done.

And I said, well, I, I do have a daughter who would, you know, by rights be your, your granddaughter would, would you like to see a picture of us? Well, if it would make you feel better, you can send it. And I said, okay. So I, I emailed it after we got off. I said well. Thanks. Thanks for , you know, thanks for speaking with me.

ck about five minutes later. [:[:

It's like he was preparing himself to be a jerk

[:s woman, , ironically enough [:

And I would love to get to know you. And she, and I write back and forth very infrequently, but you know, like two or three times a year, she makes sure to send me a birthday card every year. Um, really, really nice. And she told me things about him. She remembers him gloating and bragging that he knocked up some girl.

to be a gay man and lure gay [:

and I was floored. .




And him being in a horse's ass. Well, that's kinda on him like that has nothing to do with you. You didn't turn him into a horse's ass. That's his own damn fault. Right?


It was so weird.

[:[:And I believe you. [:

That is amazing.

It is amazing. So we're like 20 something years apart.

And she has two little tiny, small children who are cuter and cuter and, , we'll message. And I have her phone number and we haven't spoken much on the phone, but we do message back and forth. And I, I love her to pieces and I have never met her in person, but I would love to meet her because, um, our dad raised her as a single father and I think he did a very, very good job.

But there are some things, [:

So perfectly without ever meeting any of us. I, I can't, I can't believe how you did that. That's perfect. Oh, that's


And, you know, I hope that she will hear your words one day and understand sort of this perspective that you've had in coming back to that part of the family. , I'm so, so glad that your aunt and, you know, your, a little sister were able to connect with you and, you know, as for dad. He is who he is, but it sounds like you've got two amazing other people out of the relationship with that part of the family.

So congratulations to you on that as

[:[:[:Hey, it's me. [:

When she finally connected with her birth mother, she learned her birth was a secret and it seems like something, no one else wanted to do the work to get past, except for Jennifer. I really empathized with her birth mother having been one of the quote, friendless and fallen girls. It must've been hard to have her past come back to life with all of the stigma and bias that was attached to her pregnancy from years ago. I liked that her birth mother told Jennifer that she had to speak from her heart when she came on this show.

That support exemplifies a lot of empathy for Jennifer's lived experiences and how she feels about the way things have unfolded. Ask for her paternal connections. I just loved hearing that Jennifer is connected to her aunt and younger sister. Sometimes the blessing of reunion, doesn't come from the paternal connections.

The real gifts can be [:

Who am I really. Did I mess that up? Nope. I did that for Jennifer. Inside joke. Take care of y'all.

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