Child adoption stories are like winding Texas Hill Country roads. To enjoy them fully, you have to start at the beginning.
So, first things first.
If you missed reading from the beginning of this series, you are encouraged — nay, exhorted — to go back and start from the beginning. If you start here, I’ll look like a crappy writer, and you’ll go away very confused.
Neither of us wants that.
So if you’re in a rush, slow down. Skip work if you must. (Don’t tell your boss I told you to.)
Some names and identifying details have been changed
to protect anonymity.
I was able to locate an address that was connected to her name, though online information is often dated. Still, I sat on that information for a couple weeks. I knew how to contact her with a letter, but I didn’t know if I should contact her at all. Or, if I should, how would I write it in order to respect her privacy? Perhaps a husband or other family member, not knowing about me, would open the letter and this would cause a huge rift on her end. I spoke with a trusted friend, then prayed for three days, then decided that even if I never heard back from her, knowing she existed would be enough. The calm in knowing I could take a proactive step to reach her was enough. Nothing more was needed.
From that place of calm and peace I wrote to her, knowing that anything in return would be icing on the cake. There was a certain undeniable selfishness in my decision to write, of course, because anyone would be a little curious about meeting one’s birth mother, but the disruption on the other end would be completely unknowable.
After addressing her as Mrs. ___ (her married name, which I learned from the newspaper article), I wrote “My name is Howard Freeman, and the following information is confidential, so I hope you are in a place where you can have privacy.” I wanted her to be able to react privately to the contents. I outlined how I had first connected with my biological father, who offered to vouch for me if she had doubts about my intentions. With Bob’s permission, I included his phone and email.
Then I wrote, “If you are indeed my biological mother, I want to say first how grateful I am to you, how much I have always wanted to meet you, and how much I admire what you did in 1962-1963 to bring me into the world. You have been a ‘hero’ of mine, and that’s no exaggeration.” If she were to read this letter and not be able to or not want to meet, I wanted her to know that what she did was the “right” thing for me. I figured that she must have made peace with her decision in order to move on with her life, but if there was any remaining doubt, I wanted to dispel it. I was later to learn how shameful it was for an unmarried girl (she was 18) in the early ‘60s and from her social circle to go through what she did. I was her “secret,” which her immediate family never spoke about again.
After some brief family history and current family details, I gave her my contact information including my email address and opened the door for her to be in touch.
I concluded my letter with, “If you are not the right person, I want to sincerely apologize for what must come across as a bizarre intrusion. I am truly sorry.” Again, I wanted to protect her privacy if someone else read the letter. You never know someone’s situation. “Please know that I respect your decision either way, and if you are my biological mother and this is my only contact with you, please know that I have had nothing but love for you — always have, always will.”
I signed it “With deep affection, Howard Freeman.” I had wanted to say, “Love, Howard,” but that seemed miles away from where we were in a relationship that was both real yet unrealized. I put a stamp on the letter, wrote “Private and Confidential” in the lower left corner, and mailed it. When the letter left my fingertips on December 11, 2019 — an act within my control — I knew that the next step was out of my control. She’d get the letter or she wouldn’t. She’d read it or she wouldn’t. She’d respond or she wouldn’t. While these outcomes were out of my control, it was a different feeling than what I experienced as a child having no control whatever. These now were intentional moves. Surrendering to the unknown consequences of a well-considered action is different than the self-imposed powerlessness of obsession. I felt strangely peaceful.
I counted the days it must have taken for my letter to arrive on her end. I allowed for a few days for her to react, perhaps some more time for her to consider or discuss with family, and then on December 18, a Wednesday shortly after Noon, I was checking my personal email and saw a message that had the subject header “Life” and which had this first sentence: “Dear Howard, Yes, I am your birth mother.”
The feeling upon reading, “Yes, I am your birth mother” can be described only with words we reserve for music we hear that transports us, or a sunset that makes us pause with awe and wonder, or seeing one’s first-born child come into the world, especially looking into the eyes of my first son in 1999, since he was the only blood relative I’d ever met. Reading those opening words was sublime, ineffable. Yet, strangely, they were also normal. They made sense. They grounded me while also freeing me. Yet as extraordinary as those words were, they’d be eclipsed soon by meeting her.
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