What If The Day You Were Born Didn’t Exist?

I will start out by saying that each and every adoption story is different. Some have beautiful joyous outcomes, and others do not. This story that I share in brief below is my mother’s story. It highlights some of her feelings, and the feelings that I have felt while bearing witness to her life for 43 years. I know for those who have had hard adoptions stories, reading this might open up old wounds. I am so sorry for that. It would take a book for me to really share with you all that this story entails. But on my mother’s birthday today, here is a piece of her birth story, and much of what I wonder each year when I wake up on this day.

For as far back as I can remember, I have had questions about the day of my mother’s birth. I knew from the beginning that she had been adopted. I also knew that she had many questions about her birth and yearned to meet her biological family to better understand “where she came from.” She was born on a Leap Year, February 29th; but that wouldn’t come to light until many decades after her birth. My mom was born to an immigrant woman living in the projects of the Lower East Side in New York City. The woman had 5 children, and a long-term extramarital affair left her pregnant with a seventh child, whom she decided to give away. When she told this to her obstetrician, he told her that he had a family who was also a patient of his and dying for a healthy child. He said that they would be willing to pay for her unborn child. So that was how my mom became somewhat illicitly sold for $10,000 from a woman in a tough situation to a family yearning for a child.

My mom was adopted by a very kind older man in his 50s, and a woman named Ruth. Ruth had lost two children days after they were born, struggled with schizophrenia, and was relatively unfit to be a parent. Over the two decades to follow, my mom would move from New York to Florida (when her father retired), her mother would disappear after a horrific bout of schizophrenia, and their marriage would end in divorce. My mom would then eventually come under the care of a stepmother who disliked her strongly and made it obvious that she had no interest in parenting her. She showered her with verbal and sometimes physical abuse. Ruth, her adopted mother, resurfaced when my mom was in her 20s. Their relationship was rife with extreme ups and downs, as Ruth was medicated on-and-off (sometimes very unsuccessfully) until the end of her life.

I remember being 10, and it was my mother’s birthday. We drove from New Canaan to White Plains to visit my grandmother Ruth. It was February 27th, the day that my mom had believed to be her birthday her entire life. When my mom showed up, Ruth, deep in a schizophrenic spiral, refused to open her apartment door. She had full time nursing care at this point and demanded that the nurse not let my mother in. I listened to her yelling at my mother through the closed door. She said, “Go away. You know, Blanche, I never wanted you, and today isn’t even your real birthday. You were born on February 29th; but we wanted you to have a birthday that happened every year, so we just told you that you were born on February 27th.” My mom was crushed. We quietly walked away from the door, and it would be many months before we tried to contact her again. That double epiphany had been a punch to my mom’s gut. She had not only been born unto parents who didn’t want her, but she also had to wrestle with her birth “day” being stolen out from under her. She was actually born on a day that only existed once every 4 years. My mom was once again left to wonder where she belonged, where she came from, and what her place was in this world.

In the years that followed, we would talk often about my mom’s adoption and my mom’s constant curiosity about if there were people out there who looked like her or us. And then, nearly four decades after her birth, my mom would hire a private investigator to help her find her biological family. She would know their last name, that they lived in New York City, and that her “father” had been a hat maker. And from those tiny pieces of information the man would call 4 days later to tell my mother that he thought he had found her family, and that he believed her biological mother had also given up two boys after she had given up my mother. We would meet them and finally know whom we looked like. They would be shocked to find out their mother had given away children (she was under 5 feet tall and very overweight, making it nearly impossible to tell that she was pregnant), and we would be responsible for opening a chapter in their lives that left them hurt and bewildered. Clearly their mother had kept many secrets from them throughout her life. Sadly my mother’s biological mother had passed away just a few years before we found them, so many questions we all had would be left unanswered forever.

Last summer another piece of the puzzle was solved when one of my mother’s biological siblings (who she kept in touch with from time to time) called to say that another “brother” had been found. Through Ancestry.com, a young man found out he had a cousin living two states over. The father told his son that it was impossible because he was an only child. And when his son insisted he said, ” Well, I was adopted, so maybe this is someone from my birth story.” A reunion was planned, genetic tests were taken, and my mom and I drove to Long Island City last summer to meet the man to whom she was 100% a genetic match. They shared the same father and mother. The biological siblings my mother met in her 40s also decided to be tested, and all of them proved to have the same mother as my mom and this man, but different fathers. Bit by bit, the mystery continued to be solved.

And that brings us to today, February 29, 2020. These words are such a small piece of this very big story. The part I reflect on most often, in the quiet of my own bed when the darkness settles in, and the more important underpinning to the story is the emotions that this sequence of events has stirred up in all of us. It has been a hard journey for my mom. A journey that has left many cracks in her heart’s facade. One that has been wrought with tears, but redemption as well. The brother she met last year was adopted into a loving family, and had a wonderful childhood. My mom went on to marry (more than once) and have five children of her own. It has been far from perfect, but it has been a full life, life with love hidden in unexpected places. Friends and mentors have stepped into all of our lives when we looked to our lineage and couldn’t find the “family” we needed to light the way and teach us. So there is that. And so much more.

And here is my wish for you, if your story is not the story you wished it was. To anyone out there who feels misplaced, unloved, or unsure of where they belong in this bright big world, I’d like to remind you that “finding your place” is more than just knowing the date or location of when or where you came into this world and made your mark. And finding family is about more than knowing who birthed you. Family can be found in deep and meaningful chosen friendships. It can be found in the partner you choose, or the children you give birth to. Loneliness is in all of us, and it is only when we open our hearts, honestly share our stories, and seek love in meaningful places that it can be lifted from within us.

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  1. Christine Lai says:

    Lindley, what a beautiful story, and how beautifully told. Much love to you, your mother, and all her siblings. And to her mother as well.

  2. Lindley, thank you for sharing, so eloquently and genuinely. I am grateful for your friendship.

  3. WOW. Your mom’s resilience and open heart amaze me. Your deep love for her shines through. Gorgeous writing.

  4. Dear Lindley,
    Such a beautifully told, deeply touching revelation about your Mom’s life (and yours). The story is complex, heart breaking and uplifting all at once. Love to all

  5. i love you lee. just beautiful xxx

  6. cristina young says:

    Wow. Only getting a chance to read this now. Breathtaking, Lindley. Please write the full book!

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