In the fall of 1996, I cautiously wrote to my birthmother:
“Dear Sarah, I am writing because I have reason to believe that you are my birthmother. I was born on February 21, 1972 at the Elizabeth Lund Home and was adopted shortly thereafter. I am contacting you because I am interested in learning more about my family medical history. I am going to get married soon, and would like to know as much as I can. I am happy and doing well. I love my family and am not looking for another parent. I merely want information. Nothing more. I apologize if I have upset you by contacting you, but I would appreciate any information you are able to pass along. Thank you for your time.”
I signed the letter “Christina.” I had never used that name before and it seemed so alien to me as my hand forced the signature. Yet, when Sarah called me one month later asking for Christina, I answered “this is she” without hesitation. It turned out that I did have the wrong address, so the letter went to Sarah’s identical twin, Sophie, who was quite upset when she read it. She knew about the baby — me — and the adoption. Sophie passed the letter on to Sarah; Sarah, my birth mother, is the one who called. According to Sarah, hearing from me created some discomfort for the family who never let her forget that she had a baby with a black boy. But, Sarah assured me it was ok, and we proceeded to talk for an hour, first about medical history, then about her memory of what happened around my conception and birth.
As we spoke on the phone, I realized there was a lot I wanted to know, despite what I wrote in the letter. What was Sarah’s relationship like with my birthfather? Why did she give me up? Sarah’s first relationship did not last long. She described my birthfather as “cunning,” “crafty,” manipulative.” Once her parents found out she was pregnant, they planned to put the baby — me — up for adoption immediately after the birth. Even so, Sarah was able to spend a few moments with me after I was born and was the first person to name me. She told me she wasn’t sure what happened to my birthfather after I was born, but she thought he either spent some time in jail or went away to a school for problem teens. Strangely, based on the way she was talking to me, she could not imagine the child she gave birth to as someone other than what she was — white, Irish-English, Catholic.
Sarah and I ended our conversation promising to write each other. I gave her my address and told her my name was Nicole. She liked that name, too.
The first letter Sarah sent me was short, but it meant the world to me. It included a picture of her, and I felt like I was strangely seeing pieces of my face in someone else. In subsequent letters, Sarah broached the subject of meeting some day, but then reiterated that she could not meet me – not yet – and that her sons could not know about me. She had just divorced a man who was emotionally abusive and constantly reminded her of her mistake; he made her feel horrible about herself. She didn’t want to create more disruption in her sons’ lives. I completely understood, and honestly felt quite nervous at the prospect of meeting her and my half brothers. For me, the closeness yet distance of letter writing was comfortable.
Or so I thought. As I became more comfortable with the idea of communicating with my birthmother, she ironically became less comfortable with this communication. Suddenly, in her 4th letter, she wrote that I should never contact her again. One of her final thoughts in writing was, “Don’t make me regret not having an abortion.” I never wrote her after that.
Little did I know that this abrupt end would lead to a new beginning. The 4 letters and 1 phone conversation with my birthmother opened the door to finding my birthfather. She gave me the most important piece of information not contained in any records available to me. His name was Jack Green.