Growing up in Leah’s home everyone was comfortable with adoption. Her adopted mom is an adoptee, and her two siblings are adoptees, though they are biologically related to one another. The kids were made to feel special because her parents chose them. But no matter how much love an adoptee receives, sometimes knowing that their origins are with another set of parents can fuel undeniable desires to try to learn more about themself. In Leah’s story, she was at a moment in her life when she wasn’t actively searching when her c0-worker’s luck online changed everything in an instant.
The post 004 – Lucky Online, Connecting When You’re Not Even Looking appeared first on Who Am I…Really? Podcast.
Leah: 00:01 So my search kind of stopped there for some time. It really stopped for probably 10 years or so before I was even really looking again, I kind of decided at that point, look what I have in my fantasy is all I need. I don’t necessarily want the truth. That truth may not be what I want to hear.
Damon: 00:35 This is “Who Am I Really” a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. Hey, it’s Damon and on today’s show I’m joined by Leah. Now we’ve all been online and found ourselves going down what seems like a rabbit hole content that’s automatically fed to us. But what if that rabbit hole led you straight to your family of origin? In Leah’s case, after years of searching on and off for her relatives, it turned out that she just needed a little bit of luck online. I’m so glad that Andrea was able to connect us.
Leah: 01:31 Yeah. Well I was adopted at six months of age. I was the first child they adopted, so I was the oldest. Let’s see, they adopted me in October of 1974, didn’t know much information about any of the birth details or birth family, but they adopted me then. And then eventually I think I was about five, my brother and my sister who were natural siblings. So I was the oldest of three of us.
Leah: 02:12 Yeah, it was actually always, I mean, I don’t remember a time not knowing I was adopted. My adopted mother was also adopted as a baby and so she was really open about it. She always had told us from day one, but she made it like a really special thing. Like it was a special gift to be an adopted kid because my parents got to pick me and so like they chose me out of and it made it, you know, it made it seem like a special thing. So it was never something that I felt like I was, you know, rejected or abandoned. I always was always presented as, it was just amazing gift that they got to choose who and they chose me and that made me special somehow. It was a great way to kind of fall in through that because mom was just great about it. She was real open. She was talking about all that. She was talking about her own experience and she would talk about wanting to know her history. So she was pretty understanding of all of the feelings that we would have as we kind of grew up.
Leah: 03:17 I don’t think she searched herself. I tell the story of her birth father showing up one day randomly and knocking on her door and they talked. They didn’t really ever develop any kind of relationship. Um, and I don’t know that they ever even had contact after that. I think she was told that her family was a heavy Italian family and that it was in their culture that the first born, they didn’t want a girl. They would want a boy. And so she had been given up because of that is, is my understanding of what she hold us. Um, so she didn’t have as much feeling in wanting to reconnect with that family.
Damon: 03:52 Oh, that’s really interesting. But you did. So tell me a little bit about growing up. When you first started to really feel like you were interested in locating somebody in your family of origin. What did it feel like and what were some of the triggers for that?
Leah: 04:06 Well, I think that probably came in my teens where I started really questioning, wanting to know where I came from, what was my family of origin like was I like them, was I like the family that raised me. How does all of that kind of work? You know, the whole nature versus nurture argument. I was questioning what parts of me were because I was raised where I was raised and what parts of me were for me, like the me that my genetics has provided. So I was, I started getting really curious. I also, I have very olive skin and different features that people would classify as ethnic, but we’re asking him aside, biracial, and we’re asking all these questions about, um, what my heritage was and I didn’t know those answers and I really was curious. I wanted to know like where, where do I come from?
Leah: 04:53 Where do I sit? And all that. So it was, it was mostly just a curiosity and it kind of developed as I was just trying to figure out who was at that time in your life and your teens and early twenties where you’re just trying to kind of figure out where in this world you fit and where did I come from, how am I this, you know? So it was really just curiosity more than anything and wanting, I really wanted to know about my heritage. I wanted to understand what that was. That was, that was my intrigue I guess.
Damon: 05:20 Yeah, that makes sense. If you feel like you possibly don’t necessarily look exactly like your adopted family, I could definitely see how that could be. One of the triggers in my own story, I was very fortunate that my mother is somewhat light-skinned, African-American in my adopted family. My dad is somewhat dark skinned and I’m right in the middle, so I kind of look like I’m the product of them, so I didn’t necessarily have that visual trigger like some other adoptees do who are cross culturally adopted. So you’re in your teenage years, you’re reaching young adulthood. I would imagine at some point you just said, let me see what I can find out. How did you go about that?
Leah: 05:57 I definitely in my early twenties kind of started looking as much as I could. By law in Ohio, the records up to a certain date were sealed and you were unable to access any information at all. So I really had very little to go on. Um, I had a piece of paper that my adopted mom had taken notes down when she got them, they were basically like scribbles of information, um, hard to read, not even complete sentences, just kind of scribbled pieces of information that, you know, my mom was a, a young mom and my grandfather was a principal of some school and a pastor and just little bits and pieces, but nothing, nothing that was real concrete. So I started searching. I actually, I was a teacher at a preschool and my, one of my coworker’s daughter had found her. And so she was telling me how she had connected with her daughter.
Leah: 06:48 And so I started trying to figure out, well, how can I get these pieces of information and where do I go? Started searching, uh, called, I think it was the Clark County children’s home, which is where I had been adopted out of, you know, they told me basically, look, your stuff is sealed. We can’t give you any information. I tried to get even just some identifying information. They were like, we don’t have anything. We can’t give you anything. So basically that’s where my search stopped. I did consider several times looking at possibly hiring a detective or someone to kind of do the research and see what they can find. But I never did that. And quite frankly, I think it was probably a little scared of what I might find. I had been brought up that adoption was okay and that, um, it was, I was special because I was adopted and so I had this, you know, kind of background of that.
Leah: 07:32 And I had these fantasy idea of what my birth parents looked like and who they were. And I was afraid I would get disappointed if I found out for sure who, who they were. And maybe they, I guess in my fantasy it was like, well, my mom, you know, the young mom, she was scared. She did what she thought was the right thing for me. It was unselfish thing to get me out, blah, blah, blah. But what if that wasn’t true? What if I found out that my mom really didn’t want me and she really didn’t want me to find her? And so my search kind of stopped there for some time. It really stopped for probably 10 years or so before I was even really looking again. I kind of decided at that point, look, you know what I have in my fantasy is all I need. I don’t, I don’t necessarily want the truth. That truth may not be what I want to hear.
Damon: 08:16 Yeah. After 10 years of thinking about it, you really have probably comforted yourself into realizing you have a great life and there might not be any reason to rock the boat. So then what happened after 10 years?
Leah: 08:28 I was coming upon my 40th birthday. And I think that’s a time in people’s lives where we start again hitting that who am I again, period in our life where we’re trying to really explore, you know, where we came from, why we’re here, where we’re going. And it was November of 2013 and I ordered a DNA test from family finder’s website, which was one of those ancestry websites. And I was mostly just to find out against an ethnic background. I also was curious about some medical things. My son, who was 8 at the time was having some medical problems and we were trying to get some answers on what was going on with him. So there were a couple of reasons where I started going, you know, Hmm, I really truly want to know something, whatever I can find. And I knew I couldn’t access my records. So I thought, well, I’ll try the DNA route. Never took the test. I got it in the mail. It went in a drawer and I, I just left it there and never sent it.
Leah: 09:23 I think so. I think if I’m being real with myself, it was probably a lot of fear of just do I really want to open this can of worms? Like is it really going to be what I’m wanting or is it going to be something that could be, you know, could hurt me and hurt my family. So I just kind of left it there and didn’t do anything with it and I actually really wasn’t actively searching the day I found my mom. I had not, I certainly was thinking a lot about it and I think maybe there was some spiritual realm of me that was searching somewhere for some answers, but I wasn’t doing anything physically to search.
Damon: 09:57 You didn’t have any active tactics, you were just kind of thinking about it still, but not necessarily actively involved in a search. Before you go on. I’d love to know where your adopted family is now with your desire to search, have you openly informed them that you’re kind of thinking about it and looking or is this still something that’s in the back of your mind that you haven’t necessarily shared, you know, 10 years ago, she handed you this scribbled note and I presume nothing came of it. Where was her mindset at the time? Over those 10 years? Did you talk about it much? Did you tell her after 10 years that you were thinking again?
Leah: 10:32 No, I think I have always been very protective of my adoptive family, so I didn’t, I didn’t tell them I even had questions, so we didn’t talk about it. I always, if it came up at all, I would say, Oh, I don’t need to find anything. You know, I have you guys, I have my parents, and so I don’t think they knew that I had those questions. I’m sure they knew I had questions about who I was or my identity, but I don’t think that I ever shared that I was doing any kinds of searching.
Leah: 11:06 I think we did talk throughout the years. You know, some about it. My sister especially I think really wanted to find out some information. I just was never really fully actively searching. You know, we would talk about curiosities and things like that, but we never, I never had really engaged myself in the act of search and so I, I didn’t talk much about it other than you know, to tell them yeah, you know, I can see wanting to know and they, my sister really wanted to know. She really wanted to search. She didn’t, hadn’t done any active searching either, but I think she was really wanting to find out where she had come from as well.
Leah: 11:50 Yeah, well it was a slow to anger in my office. I work at the prosecutor’s office as a victim advocate. My boss and I were in our office. We were having some downtime. Both of us were kind of scrolling around on Facebook at our separate computers and talking. My boss happened upon the posts of a young man looking for his birth parents. He originated from Springfield, Ohio too, and was also adopted out of Park County children’s homes. So it kind of sparked a discussion between us and she was like, Hey, you know, you were from Springfield too, look at this guy’s looking for his mom. And she hadn’t had, in fact, her and I together had searched online probably five or six years before to see if we could find out any information and had not found anything as usual. And so she was on the computer, saw that post.
Leah: 12:33 We started talking about it and she’s like, Oh, I’m just, I’m going to go look at the Park County children’s home site again. So she goes to that website and I’m really not thinking much about it because I know that, you know, my information is sealed at that point so that I can’t get any access from there and she’s clicking around and we’ve tried to recreate it. We have no idea how it happened. But this page popped up and it was a adoption search history page. It was a posting that had been posted in may of 2006 so eight years prior to that, it only said a few things. It said, surname Heath, um, and daughter born April 22nd, 1974 in Springfield, Ohio. I’m not aware that she’s even looking at anything. She turns to me and she’s like, Leah, I think I found something.
Leah: 13:18 And I’m like, uh what? You know, and I turned and she just covers up the computer with her hand and she’s like, do you really want to know this? And I’m like, What are you talking about? And she lift her hand and we see this post, you know, Heath, born April 22nd 74, I’m just like, screw that. You know, the shock of kind of like, what is this? I didn’t really think it was anything. I kind of immediately talked to myself out of, this is nothing, this is not it. You know, it’s just some weird coincidence or something. And she goes, no, no, no, no. Think about this like a daughter born this day, your day, in Springfield, Ohio. It’s a small city. Like how many daughters would have been born that day that were given up for adoption. It’s just like, this could really be it, and I’m just immediately like fact checking. Like I’m kind of intrigued, but I’m also like really scared like mmhmm, this isn’t a, this is nothing, this is nothing.
Leah: 14:02 So I kind of get to the point where I’m like, all right, this is the certainly intriguing if nothing else. And I, but I’m thinking, you know, this post was posted eight years ago and there’s the only thing it has, it’s like a little link where you can contact the poster. So I click on it and I’m like, even if it is anything, this information is eight years old. Like the email that is going to link to is probably an old email. It’s probably outdated. Like, this isn’t gonna go anywhere. I sent an email to that poster basically to say, look, I was born on this day. I’m in Springfield, Ohio. I want to talk to you. And I’m thinking, eh, if I hear back anything, it’s going to be days, weeks, months, if anything, you know, and I’m, and this email may be so outdated that it’s nothing.
Leah: 14:54 I was in shock. Yeah. I mean it was just really overwhelming and really I was excited, but I was terrified and I was in shock. You know, I just didn’t know where this was going. And every part of me was like protecting myself. Like, this isn’t real. This isn’t real like, don’t get your hopes up. Don’t get excited. This isn’t it. And even, you know, even if she is it, she may be this horrible person. Yeah. It was just, my brain was going all different places.
Leah: 15:21 Totally. So I was really, really trying to protect myself, but we start writing back and forth and um, she’s on Facebook and I’m looking at her picture and she’s looking at my Facebook page and looking at my picture and we’re like, Hmm, this is interesting. Like there’s definitely some resemblance. I don’t know, maybe, you know, it wasn’t anything that was like crazy, but it was like, well, this could be something. And then she goes, I want to send you a picture of when I was 21 you’re not gonna believe this. She’s like, Oh my God, you look just me. I’m like, eh, you know. So I started looking around trying to find this picture of her at 21 I can’t find it. And then she’s looking for it too. Finally she emails it and I pull up, this image on my computer and I’m looking at myself, dude.
Leah: 16:01 I was like, that’s me. That’s me. But, but it’s not me. There’s something like, I mean, I literally thought when I opened, she’s got a picture of you. How’d she get a picture of me? You know, that’s me, its me. That is my face on this picture as my, you know, so it’s like we knew, you know, we knew it was her, so that’s kind of where it started. And, and we, I think we spent like days upon months with just chatting back and forth, we instantly tried to start getting the records unsealed, cause I was still, you know, I was like, look, we gotta be cautious here. Like certainly seems like this is it, but still that, you know, really protective side of me was like, this isn’t it. This is, it was real skeptical. So even though I’m looking at a picture that looks like me, I’m still saying in my mind like, don’t do this. You get yourself excited. This isn’t it.
Leah: 16:52 No, not as much. She felt like as soon as she saw the picture, that was it for her. She knew and she had, she called her sisters and said, look at her, you know, look at this picture. And they were all like, yeah, this is it. This is her. But I was just, I think I was, I’m kind of a person that was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like, huh, I don’t know. I don’t wanna get my hopes up and then be devastated cause I knew I would be, I was so excited deep down that this was it. But then I knew if this wasn’t it, somehow like I was going to really be devastated.
Damon: 17:23 Yeah. I think we all take a lot of caution in something as heavy as this. This is not something that you can just redo easily. So of course this is a place to be as slow and methodical and cautious as possible so as to preserve your own sanity, let alone like you’ve said, that just the potential for a tremendous let down. If in fact this isn’t it, but this sounds like this is it. So what did you guys do next? You’ve reached out, you’re started to unlock the records or try to, what else did you do?
Leah: 17:51 I work for attorneys so I started talking with them and trying to figure out how we could expidite. Basically, we were told them it’s going to be a process and it could take months. And I was like, no, no, no, I need this answer., like yesterday. Like this is, you know, I need, and this woman needs to know like we’ve got our families involved. Like Sarah has a huge family, she has I think five siblings. So all the family is starting to get involved and everybody’s starting to get excited. And my kids, I was telling my kids, you know, this is, this is something, this might be something I really, I felt like we had to know right away. She had that same urgency of, it’s like we have to know the truth, we need to know. But the courts were telling us like, it’s going to take months.
Leah: 18:29 You know, we don’t know how this is what you got to do. And it was, it wasn’t complicated. It was a time issue. And we were just like, no, we need this. You know, so I got my lawyers that are friends of mine involved. And they kind of helped with figuring out what we needed to do. We got the paperwork and we then had to wait. It actually took a month to get paperwork back actually confirming that indeed was my mom. I mean we knew. So we started developing a relationship before we even got that paper back. But March 14 2014 we finally got the paperwork back that yes indeed, she is my mom.
Leah: 19:08 Well, she was raised in a very religious family. She describes it as a good childhood, good family, but very strict, very conservative. And she, of course, I was born in the 70s so she was coming out of the conservative pastor, family backgrounds. Um, you have freedom at 18 and she had just graduated high school. Her parents had moved I think to Arizona at that point. Then she was still in Franklin with her brother. She got pregnant. She describes it as like, she went into this like kind of, it’s a strange, really intense denial, I guess. She just basically convinced herself it wasn’t happening to her body. So her body’s starting to change and she’s just basically convinced herself she wasn’t pregnant, she didn’t gain a lot of weight, so no one knew. She only gained I think 10 pounds with me. Um, and so she wore baggier shirts and she covered it up and she basically pretended that I didn’t exist. She’s just like totally terrified I think as a young girl and overwhelmed and scared to tell anyone and really just pretended this isn’t happening to me. So she went around her life kind of on a day to day basis as she always did, and just sort of, you know, I didn’t exist in her mind. And then she, the night she went into labor with me, she said she woke up and had this feeling and urge and she got herself up and went and said to her brother, Hey, I think I’m having a baby. Can you take me to the hospital? He didn’t even know she was pregnant. So it’s kind of crazy.
Leah: 20:37 But he, he takes her to the hospital. She states that I was delivered very quickly. I was a very fast coming baby. So it went very quickly, she remembers little bits and pieces. She said that a psychiatrist actually told her years ago that during that time period they may have given her some type of meditation that would kind of make her foggy. So she doesn’t remember a lot of details that she said that she remembers the nurse coming in asking if she wanted to hold me and that she told the nurse no and that she knew that if she held me she wouldn’t be able to let me go. And she, she wanted to let me go. So she uh, she did not even get to see her baby hold her baby, nothing. She said she remembered leaving the hospital and she went back to work and just kind of pretended like nothing happened and nothing, you know, it never had happened. None of our family, her brother and her never talked about it. She never told anyone else for years about it, just kind of went back to her life and pretended it didn’t happen and then she describes kind of as the years progressing that she started having problems with it.
Damon: 21:37 Wow. That is just unbelievable. So now you’ve learned a lot of this history, some of this, I know how this goes. You learn some of it from the piece of paper that you get from the adoption agency and you learn some of it, from your biological mother, and it starts to get conflated, which things you knew from the paper and which things you learned from her. But I would love to hear now, how did you start to figure out like, I want to meet you. Where should we go? What should we do? What was that like?
Leah: 22:03 Pretty much from the time we met online, she said everything that an adopted child would want to hear from the birth parent. She did it all right. She says, you know, all of the things I probably yearned to hear as that child but didn’t get, she was honest about our history. She, you know, she explained she didn’t know who my father was. Um, she never hid anything. She was embarrassed and she was guilty. Um, and she was sorry and regretful and she was very loving and very open and wanted so much to have this relationship. So it was really easy for me to want to have that relationship back with her. She was so beautiful and loving in the way that she handled everything and so open and so honest and you know, said it as it was. And I respected that and I was like, yeah, I want to have a relationship with this person. And I saw a lot of me in this person. You know, I followed that sort of just a big heart. And she’s a very honest and open person. She doesn’t hide things. She says them as they are. And I respected that and I loved seeing that part of me in her. I was like, yeah, I wanna have this relationship. I want this to go somewhere.
Leah: 23:14 Yes. Um, well we decided that, um, she would come for my 40th birthday, she was in Arizona, so she’s clear across the country. And so we didn’t really know how it would all work, but we decided we had to meet this was my 40th birthday. That’s a huge birthdays, you know, for people. And this was, she was going to come and be with me the day, 40 years after she had given birth. And so we just kept talking and arranged things and she flew in that week. I remember waiting that night I was at home waiting, waiting for to her to come. I think her flights were delayed. My anxiety was like out the roof. I mean,
Leah: 23:51 And it was taking longer and longer for her to get here. And she was frustrated and I was frustrated because things were getting delayed and she wasn’t getting out of there, Oh, it was intense. But she, finally a car drives up in my driveway and it’s her and my, my aunt Sally’s is her older sister who she’s very close to and they got out of the car and I went out. We embraced and sobbed and laughed and cried. It was amazing.
Leah: 24:18 It was, it was, I remember like, I mean it was so like, it was amazing to hold my mother for the first time and to see her, you know? But it was also like, it was terrifying and it was awkward. And you know, none that neither of us knew. We’re both a little more shy. And so it was, it was hard for us to like know what to say or, you know, we had talked with nonstop for several months on chats and messaging, but it was like, here she is, what do I say now? You know, it was awkward. Amazing. It wasn’t like this comforting moment. It was kind of like, okay, now what? What do we do?
Damon: 24:52 Yeah, that’s 40 years that suddenly smashes together online and now you’re face to face with this person. And this isn’t just, you know, a small relationship. This is the whole reason you’re even here. So I can’t even imagine. I remember how intense it was for me. I can only imagine how it was for you too. So how are things now with you guys?
Leah: 25:13 It’s really good. Um, we talk regularly. We typically on chatter or messaging, it is a little harder because she’s clear across the country, but she’s come here about once a year and we’d see each other or she’s came to Ohio and once a year I’ve gone there. So we kind of see each other in person couple times a year. But we’re talking regularly, we’re chatting, we developed, definitely, I would say a pretty close relationship. And my aunt, her older sister who she’s really close with, lives in Versailles, which is about an hour from me. So my aunt and my cousin and I get together really very regularly for lunches and massages and you know, fun stuff like that. So.
Leah: 25:54 I do and that was one of the most exciting parts for me is Sarah has two daughters, Megan and Callie. Megan is 34 years old now and Callie’s 32 I started connecting immediately and it was amazing to see like how much we’re alike. Again, it’s sort of that nature versus nurture. Like, you know, the part in me, I see it, it’s crazy to see the connections that, and Callie and I instantly started talking. Right about the same time I started talking to Sarah, Callie and I started connecting immediately. Megan, um, has a son who is I believe now nine and he looks a lot like my kids. So that’s kind of fun. They have, my kids and him have some relationship. They’ve got to play together and hang out together and you know, they send cards and presents back and forth. And so it’s been really amazing.
Leah: 26:48 Yeah, Sarah wrote both my adopted parents letters immediately after meeting. Basically thanking them for what they had done, um, raising me. And they were really beautiful letters so that started that way. And then they have met through, we’ve had some birthday parties for the kids when Sarah’s been here. My parents had also been you know it’s awkward, you know, I want to be protective and sensitive to my adopted family and make sure they’re not getting hurt feelings. But I also like want to share my joy of my relationship with Sarah. It can be awkward, it can be strange at times. I think there’s been some times where my adopted family has felt threatened by that relationship and some of it I keep, you know, I kinda keep more private, you know, between me and Sarah as to not hurt them.
Damon: 27:34 Yeah, that makes sense. And that’s really thoughtful. It’s a challenging balance to be so excited for having discovered the person that brought you into the world. But similarly pay mindful respect to the people who have loved you since that moment and really brought you to that moment. It’s, it’s a hard balance, but you know, if you go about and thoughtfully as you have it can work out just fine. So I was going to ask you what looking back might you have done differently, what would you change?
Leah: 28:03 You know, I’ve thought about that quite a bit and I don’t know that I would change anything. I thought, you know what, I go find her and do my search more back then, but I feel like, and I’ve never been a real believer and like, you know, meant to be and fate and those types of things. I was never really a believer in that. And so the moment that that that page popped up on my coworkers computer, it was like, it was just, it was meant to be, but I feel like it was meant to be the way it was and that, you know, maybe if we had met earlier or in a different circumstance, it wouldn’t be the same connection that it is now. It provided me with a lot of healing and, and sort of this wholeness of my being that I didn’t have before. And I think that it was meant to be when it happened and the way it happened. Certainly I try to be sensitive and try to be thoughtful of the people that are affected by it, but I think it was to happen just the way it was supposed to.
Damon: 28:57 Yeah. Yeah, and spectacularly. I mean, the amazing luck of a pop up window that would lead you to your biological past is just unbelievable. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It was really amazing to hear it. Finally, I’ve been talking with you online for so long. I was really, really interested to hear the words come from your mouth, but thank you for sharing your emotions and your journey. This was just unbelievable.
Leah: 29:24 Oh, well thank you Damon. I really appreciate that you’re doing this. I think it’s fun. It’s a trip for all of us that are, you know, trying to find out those past history in the past keys to our, to our beings. So thank you so much.
Damon: 29:47 Hey, it’s me. What a crazy story Leah has. She was just randomly online one day with a coworker when an adoption registry they stumbled on accidentally led her straight to her biological mother. That’s just incredible. I know everyone isn’t nearly as lucky as this, but I hope you’re as happy as I am for Leah, that things turned out the way that they did and I hope you’ll find something in Leah’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? This episode was edited by Sarah Fernandez. If you would like to share your story of locating and connecting with your biological family visit, whoamireallypodcast.com/share.