For those of you who AREN’T adopted, do me a favor.
If you live with your parents, or if you’re in the vicinity of one or both of them, take a look at them as soon as you can. A good, hard look. Take note of their features: your dad’s prominent, aquiline nose, your mother’s frail wrists, or the fiery red tendrils sprouting from one of their heads (if applicable, of course). Maybe you notice that you inherited your height from your dad’s side, as can be visibly seen in your exceptionally tall father and uncles. Or, perhaps you notice that the curve of your mom’s upper lip matches yours perfectly. You’ve probably never noticed these things before, and even if you did, you’ve probably never had an inner dialogue about them. You came from your parents, you carry their DNA, and your phenotype is the physical expression of that DNA. Ergo, you resemble them.
*reader looks at me puzzled, wondering why I’m asking them to create such a mundane scenario in their head*
Okay, I suppose that this exercise is just one example that represents the curiosity – and strange preoccupations – exclusive to adoptees.
Y’see, I’ve known that I was adopted since I had the most remote level of cognition. Since I was also adopted right at birth, it was never really a question in my mind that my “adopted” parents were, quite simply, my parents. Yet as I grew up, I began to wonder, as most adoptees probably do, about my genetic origins. And so, after 26-and-some-change years of being a practicing human, I ventured to Minneapolis with my mother to meet my birthmother in person for the first time. Well, since my birth, of course.
Before I go on, though, I should probably back up a bit and explain (to the best of my knowledge) how we got here exactly. Shall we?
Adventures in Adoption
The year was 1989, though shortly before Taylor Swift was born, I imagine. My parents were hard-working Southern California yuppies in their early/mid-thirties looking to adopt a daughter. So, they hired an uber-experienced adoption lawyer, David Keane Leavitt, to assist them.
(Insert would-be picture of parents posing with classic ’80s hair. Oh, if only I could find the one picture I’m thinking of. Pure gold.)
Now, bear in mind that the adoption process can take months or years from start to finish. Between submitting an application, getting in touch with a lawyer/agency, finding a birthmother/birthparents, conducting interviews, and eventually finding a perfect match, it’s a rough trade for the impatient. However, my birth mom and birth parents were miraculously connected within a matter of weeks. Even better, all parties involved knew immediately: this was gonna be it.
My parents helped my birth mom out throughout her pregnancy. A Minnesota native, she had just moved to the Los Angeles area for a teaching job, so it was convenient enough for my parents to periodically commute from San Diego to check in. When I was born, I was immediately placed in the care of my parents. They have a 22-minute long video of my mom holding a newborn me (yes, that’s all that’s happening in the video, lol @ new parent things), perhaps just to prove to themselves that, holy crap, they really, truly had me!
After a six-month “probationary” period (yep, that’s actually what it’s called), my parents were able to officially call me theirs and raise me as an O’Bryan.
The Most Normal Thing About Me
I hear stories about kids not being told that they’re adopted until they’re 13, 16, or even fully grown, which typically prompts a “LOL WUT?!?!” response from me. As I stated earlier, I’ve known that I was adopted since the beginning of my memory log. I suppose that’s why it was never really a big deal for me. (Note: if this is how you choose to do it with your adopted kids, I have nothing against that – it’s just so different from the way that I grew up!)
My birth mom would dutifully send me a letter every year on my birthday, as she still does today. However, my parents and I had a firm understanding that I was not to read her letters or look into my “adoption paraphernalia chest” (a Barney-colored chest containing effects from my adoption ranging from my birth certificate to adoption questionnaires to my parents’ rather bare legal pad containing name options for me. Spoiler alert: there were only two legitimate ones – Betsy and Haley) until I was 18. This was a perfectly fine arrangement for me.
And yet, although being adopted had never bothered me, per se, it eventually became difficult to let go of my growing curiosity – especially as I got closer to adult age, when I could moderate my contact with my birth mom independently. And because Young Haley wasn’t exactly known for following the rules, I may have pulled a look-my-birth-mom’s-info-up-on-the-internet-and-email-her-out-of-the-blue at age 17, several months shy before the big 1-8. Whoops.
Pandora’s (or rather, Haley’s) Box is Opened
Though my birth mom and I were only able to communicate a little before my parents pumped the breaks and told me to follow the original protocol, it felt like no time passed before my 18th birthday arrived and I was free to communicate with my birth mom as I pleased. We exchanged letters and e-mails a few times a year. We eventually added each other on Facebook. We learned quite a bit about each others’ lives. Although it was different than the situation I grew up with, it eventually became the “new normal”.
But eventually, it became clear to me that my relationship with my birth mom wouldn’t be complete without the ultimate milestone: a meeting. I tiptoed around the idea in college, but even with my incredibly supportive parents insisting that they would accompany me on a trip to meet her, it never felt like the right time. Or, more accurately, I felt very caught up in my own college world – friends, boyfriends, school clubs, and, most niggling of all, picking a major that wouldn’t send me into the pits of financial despair (aka, convincing myself that my lifelong dream of being an artist and writer was unfeasible due to my need for survival). After college, my focus then became finding a way back onto the very path I worked so hard to convince myself I didn’t want to be on. It was only after I found my most recent job that I felt stable enough to go, “Let’s do this.”
And so, in October of 2015, I came to my mother, eager to see what her response would be:
“Do you want to come with me to meet my birth mom?”
“I always told you I would do this for you. Let’s make it happen.”
A Tale of Twin Cities
The trip got booked the very same day I brought it up; such is the outcome when dealing with people who are as fastidious about planning as my mom and I. But strangely enough, it barely felt like a real thing that was actually happening. That is, until about a week before I left. It was then that things went from zero-to-sixty fast – real fast.
I wavered between wanting to stay in my room for days at a time and reaching out to everyone with even remote hearing capabilities for advice. I stress-ate one day, then barely ate the next. I showed my newish relationship partner a whole new level of drama beyond the one he was well aware of (I don’t hold much back). I cried on the phone with my mom, then would go to dinner with my dad and be fine. It was happening. Holy crap, it was really happening.
The nerves in my body undulated with anticipation and downright fear as I stepped on the plane the morning of Thursday, March 31st. I was contained in a lucid dream bubble, halfway detached from reality. Every action I completed, from taking my shoes off in the airport security line to ordering a drink on the airplane, felt mechanical and artificial. It had been a while since I truly felt that way, so I knew that I was experiencing quite an emotional response if I was in this type of fugue.
My mom and I arrived on Thursday evening and spent the next 24 hours enjoying Minneapolis. Even while eating at incredible restaurants and visiting the highly-anticipated Walker Museum, I couldn’t get my mind right. My mind was abuzz.
What if things are totally different in person? What if someone says something and it becomes awkward? What if she hates me? I probably didn’t turn out anything like she expected. What if I do something stupid? What if someone cries? Do I have to cry? HOW DO I DO THIS?!?
These tidbits scratch the surface, but you get the idea.
We were meeting at 6:00 pm on Friday. But this was no April Fool’s joke: this was happening.
My Mom and I arrived at the Nicollet Island Inn Restaurant – an elegant dining space with a lovely view of the Mississippi River – a touch early, as we do. We sat down, with me facing the river and away from the doorway. I placed my napkin on my lap. I ordered a water, my voice quavering a bit. I had to be ready.
My mom and I made naturally-flowing small talk about the day to keep ourselves in a casual mindset. It wasn’t ten minutes before my mom’s face lit up. It was my birth mom. She had walked in.
My birth mom was beautiful, vibrant, and incredibly fashionable when she presented herself to me – much like my own mom. I gave her a warm hug and she sat down, holding my mom’s hand and letting her know how nice it was to see her after 26 years.
All of a sudden, it was as if the nervousness and painful anticipation were absent. It was no longer a waiting game. This wasn’t something to fear. The meeting had happened and it had felt as natural as seeing an old friend. There were no hysterics, no tears, and there was no awkwardness. Just people connecting.
Our dinner lasted more than four hours. At the end of it, we (of course) took a picture, which I will happily provide here:
It had finally happened, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.
The next day, my mom and I went to lunch with my birth mom, her husband and kids, and my birth mom’s sister and her husband and daughter. After that, my mom took some “me time” and I continued on with the group for a day of museum-touring, delicious food-eating, and, of course, Snapchat face-swapping. We eventually made our way over to my birth mom’s parents’ house. As insane as it seems to meet your “birth family” for the first time, it really felt so normal.
I know that readers, both adoptees and non-adoptees, are probably a bit shocked by my virtual nonchalance here. Don’t get me wrong, it was a trip (pun intended). Like I mentioned in the beginning of this post, even being in the same room as people who shared my genetic material was an out-of-this-world experience for me, as I had never, ever experienced that before. But I truly felt comfortable, and this leads me to believe that I made an excellent choice in meeting everyone even more.
The Aftermath and Future with my Birth Mom
I returned home early on Sunday, April 3rd. While I did not come back an entirely new woman, I definitely came back knowing so much more. Not simply about my family – though they were a joy to learn about – but about myself as well. I learned how to handle something big like that (there’s room for improvement). I learned that I do best when I am simply myself. I learned that I can feel incredibly close to people who are genuinely interested in the things I do and who I am. I cannot repeat this enough: I am so happy I went on this trip.
As for what the future holds, I imagine my birth mom and I will keep a similar level of contact that we’ve been having these past few years – several e-mails and letters a year – and maybe add in a phone call here and there. Moreover, I absolutely plan to see her again. Having individuals who add to my life – and to whose lives I can add – is the greatest experience of this lifetime.
Are you an adoptee? Have you met your birthparent(s)? If not, are you thinking about it? Whether you’re an adoptee or just a curious reader, feel free to leave me a comment below with your thoughts or questions!
Author’s note: I realized after I had written this that I had neglected to mention anything about my birth dad in the post. No, I was not asexually reproduced from my birth mom (lol), it’s just that my birth dad decided from the get-go that he did not want to be involved in my life post-adoption. This is TOTALLY fine, because I feel so thankful and overjoyed to have the family I have, including the new relationship I have with my birth mom. I do not have any intention to communicate with my birth dad or meet him unless he reaches out to me first, and I am honestly completely okay with that.