Renee searched for her mother literally her whole life. But her search predated the internet so she frequented the library and scoured local high school year books. with hopes of finding someone she felt she was related to. When she located her biological mother she refused to share any information about Renee’s biological father and forbade Renee for searching for her biological brother. The more you tell a person not to do something, the more they want to do that very thing and Renee swore to definitely search for her brother. Ultimately DNA testing unraveled the mystery. She takes a lot of comfort in knowing that her father was a pretty cool guy and someone she would’ve admired. Even after a tumultuous childhood, and severed ties to her biological mother, Renée said she has no regrets about searching for her biological family and she would do it again.
I started running away from home when I was four and when they would find me, I would have my little suitcase, my little flower power suitcase, and they would say, where are you going? And I would say, I’m going to go sign my mother. So I started searching for my mother before I even knew what it meant.
Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
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 my guest on the show today is Renee. She was born in the 60s where her adoptive mother felt there were high expectations for what a family should look like and for her to be a mother. Renee shared that her upbringing wasn’t a warm family environment at all. In her house, all of the caregiving things that parents do for their children, she had to do for herself. She was abused by her father and that abusive behavior was passed down to their biological son. When Renee had reached her limit, she ran away from home to start a new life and to try to find her biological family. Renee’s journey begins in Houston, Texas.
She says her mother felt pressure to make her family meet societal norms, but she wasn’t a very good mother at all. And her adoptive father was abusive. Her childhood had no love, no friends. And the children basically raised themselves.
My adoptive parents tried to have a child of their own for about 10 years and they weren’t able to so they adopted my older brother who’s not related. And then three years later adopted me because you have to have the boy and the girl and the boy has to be older and girl, you know, um, my adoptive mother was extremely rigid and rule bound and she, I don’t think she actually wanted to be a mother, but society dictated that she had to be. So that was in order to appear successful, that’s what she needed to do.
what makes you say that you didn’t think she actually wanted to be a mother?
She was a horrible mother. I mean she, she just could not deal with the fact that there were people in that house who needed her care.
Wow. Can you give me an example of what you mean?
Well, we fed ourselves out of jars and cans and we ate cereal. We fed each other. No one cooked. We learned how to wash our own clothes before we started school. We had a step stool up to the washing machine because it was top loading at the time. And we learned how to wash our own clothes. We bathed ourselves, everything. We did everything ourselves. We didn’t really have a mother and she didn’t work. She was a stay at home person.
Oh. So there was no reason for her not to have the energy to be the nurturing mom.
Absolutely didn’t want to. She didn’t, she didn’t cuddle us. She didn’t hug us. She didn’t, there was no, I mean, we just didn’t, didn’t interact with her. She was just kind of just presence in the house that you didn’t really bother.
And how were you with your father then? Your adoptive father?
Well, he was a pedophile and an abuser and uh, my older brother, he beat half to death a couple of times a week. And me, he beat it up a couple of times, half to death a couple of times a week. And um, he abused me sexually. He didn’t abuse boys sexually. When I was 10, they finally did conceive and have a child of their own. He’s a pedophile as well. He’s a convicted pedophile as well.
Is that right? My gosh, I’m so sorry for how you grew up. That sounds incredibly horrible.
It was, I mean, I look back on it now and yes it is, but we didn’t know any different at the time. We didn’t really have friends because we were so ashamed. We didn’t want people to come to the house. My adopted mother didn’t clean either. If we wanted to have someone over the house, instinctually, we knew that we should clean the house up. I mean, we were on our own pretty much. We had a roof over our head and there was, you know, there were canned foods and, and lunch meat and cereal and things like that, um, in the house. It’s not like we were starving, it’s just that if we wanted it done, we had to do it ourself.
And what did that make you think about your adoption and your biological family? Like when did it start to hit you that this was just not..
Well, I was, I was, I was an adult before it even occurred to me. I think after I had a child myself, I was 21 when I had my son and mothering him started to realize just how messed up my childhood had been. I mean, I always knew just from watching other families that, um, when I had a baby, if I ever had a baby, because I, I definitely wasn’t committed to that. There would be cuddling and hugging and reading, you know, reading stories and, and all that kind of stuff. Um, you know, I, I made myself so promises that I would do some things very differently, but you don’t actually realize what all goes into parenting until you’re a parent. And that’s when I really started to see just how little she had done and she was also anorexic. She was, I mean there were just.. It was such a mess.
Renee says her adoptive mother had a very traumatic childhood herself in war torn Czechoslovakia. Their family had fled the country after fighting erupted in the skies above her home. Together in a new country.,Renee’s adopted mother and her loving Czech grandmother were neighbors and her grandmother’s close proximity was her escape from the chaos.
My grandma and grandpa lived right behind us and they were like night and day from our family. And I spent a lot of time at their house because they lived directly behind us. There was a gate between the two yards and she was super affectionate and she would cook for me and she would watch TV with me sitting on her lap. She was just awesome and she saved my life. I mean, she made everything okay. So what I didn’t get from them, I did get from my grandparents.
Did you ever ask your grandmother why your mom was like that?
I couldn’t really, she didn’t speak enough English.
I see, I see. Did she ever know the beatings, the markings? Did she ever show concern?
Yes, she would come running. She would come running across the yard. This tiny little enormously fat lady. You know, come wobbling as fast as she could and scream at my adoptive father what sounded like threats. I did learn to speak some Czech just to communicate with her, but yeah, I, yeah, she was definitely, she did what she could.
Yeah. She sounds like she provided some respite and she sounds like the home that your mother would have grown up in with your grandmother which was not at all exemplary of the type of home that you grew up in. I wonder what the disconnect was for her.
I mean you have to understand, she grew up in Czechoslovakia during the war and they left Czechoslovakia ahead of Hitler. So who knows. It’s not a time she ever talks about. They had to leave their farm. There was an air battle above their farm and a couple of planes were shot down and there were body parts and pieces all over the grapevines. She wouldn’t eat gapes. So you know, she was a kid. She was born in 29 so, and like I said, you know, she was just following the script. She believed that this was the script that she had to follow in order to be a good person and in order to be a successful person and someone who could be admired in her community. So she did those things. Now the fact that she wasn’t cut out for those things, it never occurred to her, I don’t think.
You try to force yourself a round peg into the square hole that that society tells you you need to be.
well, and she was very narcissistic as well. So what she needed or wanted was really all that was important. So it’s not like she even questioned, should I be a mother? Well of course she should be a mother. She was awesome.
She held herself in high regard. So of course she was going to be.
Very high regard.
Renee said she was about 12 years old when she realized her situation was not okay. She left home at about 15 years old because she just couldn’t take it anymore. But Renee wasn’t an adult, so she had to lie about her age to get by. Back in the 1970s, you could easily pass for being 18, because there were no background checks using online databases like there are today. So she was able to find housing and eventually get married.
Then I would manage to find an apartment in a big house that was owned by this older woman. And, um, you know, I think she knew I was lying about my age, but I think she knew that there was some kind of trouble and she was very protective. And I lived there until I got married and, um, and I worked in a bar. I first started out cocktail waitressing and then I started bartending and I made good money. And then I got a bunch of jobs modeling, working at the Dallas Apparel Mart, modeling jeans for, uh, buyers, for department store buyers. And I was making really good money and doing really well. So when people find out that I left home at 15, they have these horrible visions and it wasn’t like that at all. Um, I finished school, I went to school every day and I worked every night and I graduated from high school and then I got married about 19. I got pregnant just a few months after I got married and we split up while I was pregnant. But, but that worked out for the best anyways.
Your son stayed with you?
Yes, I went back to Texas when I married and moved to Boston and when I, when we split, I moved back to Texas and the first thing my adoptive mother said was, boy, you’ll have to put the baby up for adoption now that you don’t have a husband. And I was like, yeah, that could happen.
By the time she reached adulthood, Renee had raised her son and she had a daughter in law that she loved. So I figured it was at that point in her life when things had settled and she began her search. But I was very wrong. She had literally always wanted to search. At one point when her search did launch in her adulthood, she got a false positive for a match with her biological mother.
I started running away from home when I was four and when they would find me, I would have my little suitcase, my little flower power suitcase, and they would say, where are you going? And I would say, I’m going to go find my mother. So I started searching for my mother before I even knew what it meant. I mean, they always told us we were adopted and they always told us, well, they always told me that my mother had been 15 and in a relationship with her high school boyfriend and that she had accidentally gotten pregnant. She was too young, um, blah, blah, blah, which all turned out to be bullshit. Absolute bullshit. I don’t know if they made up the lie or if the adoption did, but I always knew I would search. I mean I started going to the adoption agencies there in Houston when I was about, well after I moved out on my own, I was about 15 and of course they wouldn’t tell me anything, but I would just show up there about once every six months and basically yell at them to tell me the truth.
Really? And what did they say?
They never did. But when I turned 18 I started searching with the tools I had available which back in those days was not much.
Yeah. I was going to ask, you know, this is pre-internet days, so what, what kinds of tools did you use to do your search?
Well, I had a piece of paper with her name on it and I thought that was her name. And so I signed up with Alma and they actually matched me with the wrong person.
So for a short of period of time I thought I had found my natural mother and she thought she had found her daughter and then we realized that it was wrong.
How did you figure that out?
It just felt wrong. The story didn’t match. At the times didn’t quite match, but eventually we went back to Alma and said, we don’t think this is right. And they figured out that no it wasn’t. So then I was back on the trail and I would look like I would go to the library and I would look through yearbooks and I would try to find her face and I was always completely convinced that if I saw her face, I would know it. So tore through yearbooks from all over Houston and all over the surrounding areas looking for that name that I had found written on a piece of paper. They ended up not being her name at all. But I mean I really didn’t have much else to go on.
Yeah, and it was hard for you not to know that that wasn’t her name. I mean you’ve gotten piece of, you’ve got a piece of paper in your hand, it seems like it’s critical information. That was a lot of energy spent, unfortunately in the wrong direction. What happened next?
Well, finally I just had no luck at all for decades, but I still kept doing what I had always done. And then when the internet, when we were blessed with the internet, I started using that and you know, all of a sudden all of these registries popped up. And that was when I found out that I could go to the state of Texas and sign up with their registry. And I learned at that time, if I knew the name on my original birth certificate, I could have it, I could see it, they would give me a copy. And that’s the law in Texas. If you know that the parental names on your birth certificate, you can have a copy of it. And so as I searched, first I tried the name I had and that they said, Nope, sorry, try again. So every time we would find a possible in a yearbook or in any kind of record, I would send it in and it was 10 bucks a time and I finally did send the right one in, which was literally a decade later. They actually refunded all my $10.
Really? How much was it?
And it was like they didn’t have to and that was not the rule.
Sent me a note saying congratulations and they gave, sent me like a $380 check.
Wow. You had been gambling the whole time. Oh my gosh. That’s amazing.
Oh yeah, I was just like, this could be it. Let’s give it a shot.
That’s incredible. That’s amazing. I can’t believe they did that. Wow. Kudos to the people who refunded your money. That’s really, really amazing.
She’s actually a big sweetie and I think she just retired, but she, she was a big sweetie, but finally I was able to, I was never able to get my non ID info from the adoption agency. They were supposed to provide me with it, but they said my whole file had been lost. So I said, all right, well the state is certain to have those records, so I’ll petition the court. And I petitioned the court that finalized my adoption and they agreed to give me a redacted file.
Even with the redacted file from the court. Renee had enough information to figure out who her biological mother was. She had learned what town in Texas she had come from and learned that she was still alive. And ironically…
Oddly enough, we had seen each other a million times. She married a couple of years after she had me and moved to Houston. And the favorite, her favorite place to go to happy hour with her work friends was the place where I tended bars. So we saw each other a thousand times.
Oh, are you kidding me?
Oh no, not kidding.
Oh my gosh. That’s unbelievable. You are serving your mom drinks. Oh my gosh. And didn’t even know it.
And I worked there for about 10 years.
Oh my gosh.
That must have blown your mind when she said that.
Yeah, it did. And the place where she worked was about a block and a half away from my apartment and between the two was a really pretty little park. And I would go to that park and sit and sketch because I was always an artist and I was in college at the time. I was putting myself through school and she would go there at lunchtime to walk. So we would see each other in the park too. Um, but, and you know, all my life I had thought if I ever see her, I’ll know her. Nope.
No, that’s right. You’re looking at strangers faces and yearbooks and she’s been walking past you for a decade. Oh my gosh. That is surreal.
And sitting at my bar!
And sitting at your bar. Oh my God.
No, I never recognized. Now we don’t look a lot of like, I look like my father.
I look just like my dad.
Renee says her reunion with her biological mother was great for awhile, but their relationship developed problems. Renee wanted more answers than she was getting, and the answers she did get were not true. She wanted to know about her father and secretly learned that she had a brother, but her biological mother wouldn’t give her any information.
It was great for awhile.
Yeah, it was really wonderful for a while and she refused to be open about the fact that we had reunited, which of course always made me feel bad. We have this great relationship, but I still had to be a secret and you know, so used to my life being lies and secrets that I accepted it and I shouldn’t have. I should have stood up for myself and said, no, I’m really not willing to be your dirty little secret, but I wanted that relationship.
Yeah. How long did you maintain the secrecy?
Almost six years and then everything blew apart. I found out that I had asked her more than once. I’d say two or three times. Are you sure I don’t have any siblings? In other words, are you lying about me being the only child to give birth to, but more tactfully because she lied a lot. I mean, lied about so many things and lied to so many people, you know, she was lying to her husband the whole time and I would meet her husband, I would spend time at their house and, and I would be introduced as her good friend from California so she could lie without blinking an eye, you know what I mean? And so when someone is willing to lie like that, you tend not to believe what they say. And she introduced me to one of my cousins and, one of my first cousins, her sister’s daughter and her sister’s daughter told me that I had a brother.
Born a year later and give it away and I confronted her she told me never to contact her again.
She said never contact her again.
She said, you’re not allowed to look for him. You’re not allowed to search for him. I refused to talk to him. I don’t want to meet him. I don’t want to know about him. If you searched for him, I will never forgive you. And I said, well, he is my brother and I don’t care whether you want to know him or not. I want to know him, I will find him. You can do, you can do whatever you want. You know, it’s up to you whether or not you have a relationship with him. I will never try to pressure you to have a relationship with anybody you don’t want, but I’m going to find him. He’s my brother and that was the last time I talked to her. It doesn’t make me sad that I don’t talk to her anymore. I don’t miss her. I feel bad saying that, but it makes me sad that no one will tell me who my brother is. All this time, all my life I’ve been alone with no family. And all this time I had a brother.
Yeah, sibling out there that you could have leaned on
Or who knows what kind of relationship we would have had to, at least I could have tried. It makes me really angry and when I get angry I cry.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s highly emotional. I totally get it. And take your time. I’m wondering though, do you hold out hope that he’s also looking? He knows he’s adopted.
Yeah but so many guys don’t look.
You know, I had this experience, you know, I was able to locate my biological mother and my social worker, amazing woman who was very sweet. She said women tend to search earlier than men do and men tend to search after they’ve had kids. Yeah, that’s what she told me.
Well he was born in 62, surely he would have had kids a long ime ago.
Well it’s possible, but you know, guys are kind of slower to do things than women are in general anyway. So hold out hope. His curiosity might get the best of him.
I mean, I’m doing everything I can to find him. I’ve gone through every registry. I’ve contacted everyone who might fit. Um, I’ve tested my DNA and in all four labs I’ve, you know, I’m out there as much as I can be. I’ve paid to test three guys so far who we thought might be my brother, but nothing so far. He could be dead. I don’t know. I don’t know his birthday. I don’t know. I don’t even know where he was born. My cousin said she thought that my mother went to Dallas to have him because she didn’t want to go back to the same agency. She was too ashamed. But I don’t know who his father is. I don’t, I know nothing. I just know that she came home from relinquishing me and got pregnant within a month.
So I don’t know if she got pregnant with my father again.
Yeah, that’s a great question. I was just thinking the same thing.
She did this the same kind of thing with my father. When I asked her about my father, she said, um, I don’t remember anything about him and I wouldn’t tell you anything about him besides that. And so I DNA tested and I was able to identify him through DNA matching, but with first or second cousins. But he had passed away in 97.
Renee says that she feels close to her paternal family who are very welcoming and loving, and were thrilled to death to learn that she was in addition to their family. This open acceptance is a new thing in her life, but she’s learning to appreciate what it feels like to be loved by people outside of her immediate family.
It was unexpected and I actually have trouble dealing with it at times. I don’t know how to handle it. I work on it.
Yeah. You finally find a place where you can belong and now you know you’re, now that you’ve got it, it’s hard to figure out what to do with it, right?
That’s good. Take your time.
Because they’re really super like I have a half brother on that side. My half sister is, she doesn’t quite know what to do yet and so I’m just leaving her alone and giving her time. My half brother is, you know, bear hugs.
Oh that’s great.
And that is just as far for me as the, I don’t know how to deal with you. Yeah. I’m just like, Oh hi. No, don’t hug me. I don’t hug.
is that hard for you? Do you have trouble with intimate affection from other people like that?
You know, not with my super close family. Like with my husband, I’m really affectionate with my husband and my son. So affectionate with my son that he has peel me off of him sometimes. But yeah, beyond those two people. Yeah. I have a little bit of trouble.
Yeah, I can imagine. Well, your start was pretty rough in terms of what intimacy was.
I mean, there was never any affection when I was young. Never. And so it was just, I got really used to that not being, you know, a normal part of life. It’s not like I had to learn how to be affectionate with my son the minute he was born, I couldn’t, I couldn’t keep my hands off him.
He has never gone without affection. And he’s, um, he’s a really affectionate person, which is cool.
The abuse stopped there.
She said her older adoptive brother actively chose not to have children. He was afraid of the old adage that the abused become the abuser and he didn’t want to transfer his childhood trauma to his experience as a father. But in that same vein, her adopted parents, biological son, did grow up to be an abuser and a molester. According to Renee. I asked Renee what she wished had gone differently along her journey. She was honest in answering that It’s hard to speculate on how things might have gone differently in her life, but she’s clear in her feeling that she and her biological father were probably a lot alike.
You know, who knows if my natural mother would’ve been a good mother, who knows who she would have been had she not had to have children she didn’t want to have and give them away to strangers. That has to affect you and at that period of time when it was such a shameful, horrible thing and her family guilted her and shamed her, the men, the women didn’t. My grandmother, I guess was a really sweet woman. I found out from her and from family members that I did two months in foster care so that they could make sure I was adoptable. She came and saw me, she and my grandmother, her mother came and visited me three times, even though they told her not to before I was adopted. So there has to be some kind of bond there at the time and all through our reunion, she was very loving. I mean she lied about everything and it was maddening, but she was, with me, she was very loving. So I know that she had it in her and I know that she might have been a good mother. She might’ve been a horrible mother.
Yeah. It’s impossible to know.
There’s no way to know. And you know, she grew up in and lived in and until she finally got married and moved away, this tiny, horrible little backwards hillbilly town in East Texas and that’s where I would have grown up and Oh man. I mean I’m grateful to have grown up in Houston rather than there.
Yeah, you’d be a different person. Different life. Different set of experiences.
Yeah. And I have to say one thing, even though I’ll ever talk to my mom again and my maternal family, I don’t have any regrets. And I would go through everything I went through again to find them because I got so many questions, answers and I’m so much more grounded. My whole life, I kind of felt like I was walking two feet off the earth. Meeting my mother, I connected with the ground and my life has been really different since that day. And you know, even though it didn’t go the way I wanted it to go, I still got what I needed. And I think that’s something that other adoptees for searching really need to know that people always tell us, well you can’t have any expectations. Well we’re human beings and so we do. Just because those expectations don’t get met doesn’t mean you won’t get what you need.
Very well said.
And you know, my aunt, my father’s sister always tells me if Rick had known that he had a daughter, you would have never been adopted out. Never. You would have been in this family, you would have grown up in this family. And I think that’s a really sweet thing to say.
You’ve said it, she’s not speaking for him, but she knows him well enough to know what he would have felt. But on the flip side of that, so what you’re saying is that basically your biological mother, did she hide her pregnancy from him? Is that your impression?
Yeah, supposedly. She never told him. She told me she never told him. Who knows if that’s true or not. She lied about everything. But my aunt said there is no way. She told him and he said, go give that baby away. There’s no way. That did not happen.
She would know her brother well.
I know for sure that he was a really good father, a really involved, really loving dad to my half siblings and they can’t say enough wonderful things about him.
That’s amazing. Well there seems to be consensus. That’s great. That’s got to give you some solace.
And he was a really cool guy. I mean he was just like this amazing guy that I probably would have worshiped because he was a lot like me. He was a lot like the person I always was and that was never respected or or encouraged in my adoptive family. But probably would have been if I had grown up with my dad. He loved music and he loved dancing and all the things that were really devalued in my adoptive family. Why do you always have your music on? How can you stand listening to that? That’s just noise. How can you stand having that noise all the time.
Interesting, so you were a lot like him.
Yes, and I am a lot like my mother too. There is definitely, there are definitely things that I inherited from her, but more like my father, I think.
That’s a good place to hold on, but knowing what traits are passed on to you must be special. That’s good.
It is. It’s like I’m not weird. I’m not odd. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m exactly who I was made to be and always was.
That’s right. You just had a whole lot of hard experiences getting there I think. Well Renee, thank you so much for your time this morning. I apologize for waking you up, but I’m glad you were able to and your story is so fascinating in so many ways. I, I definitely hope that your sister is able to find her way to welcoming you.
I think she will, she just needs time. She actually just recently she’s actually started like liking comments on Facebook and stuff, which is new.
That’s great. When you find your brother one day. I hope you’ll find me and let me know.
Oh I will.
I’d like that. Okay. Take care. Bye bye.
Hey, it’s me. Renee’s journey started out very rough. Her home was a really hard place to be as the children left to care for themselves, but in the face of violence and sexual abuse, Renee was able to find her respite in her grandmother’s home just out over the back fence of her own yard. Even though the language barrier meant they couldn’t communicate well. A lot of times a grandmother knows how to give a little one all of the love they need. I was so fascinated to hear that Renee had been running away since she was four years old and finally executed her plan at 15. So smart of her to graduate high school while living independently and to find her way into steady income. But what an amazing coincidence that the very bar where Renee was bartender was the same bar that her biological mother frequented after work.
They went to the same park at lunchtime for relaxation too. Amazing how two people’s lives can seem to run on parallel tracks, but they don’t even know their relation to one another. I feel badly for Renee that she had missed the chance to meet her biological father. You can hear her adoration for whom she thinks he might have been and how well she hopes they would have gotten along. It’s heartwarming to know that his family is open and welcoming to her, and if you’re like me, you’re holding out hope that one day Renee will connect with her biological brother. I hope you’ll find something in Rene’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, whoamipodcastpodcast.com/share you can find a show on Facebook or you can follow me on Twitter at waireally.