I wrote the following essay for a newspaper, and it was to be published in serial fashion starting in late December 2020. The terms of publication were changed at the last minute, however, and I decided to put this on my blog instead, so that I could tell the story my way.
It’s long (5000 words) — as far as internet content goes — so I am publishing it on successive days in nine parts.
I would encourage you to share this with anyone who is adopted, an adoptive parent or a birth parent. I have had a very blessed life and positive adoption story. I hope and pray you and anyone you know will be encouraged by it.
P.S. My birth mother and wife have read this and approved its content. (In other words, I’ve covered the bases.)
Names and specific details have been changed to protect anonymity.
Most of us know how our lives began.
How our parents met, how they fell in love, where they got married. When we came into the world; that ubiquitous pink-and-blue-striped hospital blanket that seemed to swaddle each of us.
But what if you’re adopted? Wouldn’t you feel a bit of a gap in self-knowledge, a gap in the seamless transition between your mother being pregnant with you and your first days at home? It’s a bit like falling asleep and waking up in a different country. Everyone tells you you’re a citizen of this new place, but there is a gnawing sense that there’s a country you’ve always known but never visited.
I had the God-given good fortune to visit that foreign “country,” having searched for my birth mother for more than fifty years.
In the context of COVID-19 and Election 2020, many of us struggle to stay connected and avoid heated arguments, fights, even irreconcilably broken relationships. Having connected with my birth father and my birth mother separately in late 2019, my story is one of connection, broken relationships, fear and heroism.
When she became pregnant, my birth mother – whom I’ll refer to simply as my “mother” and the woman who raised me as my “mom” – moved from the West Coast to New York City, where I was born and raised. She signed the relinquishment papers when I was five days old. To “relinquish” comes from the Latin meaning “to leave.” This is a stinging reality for adoptees, one that can’t be fully reconciled, only accepted. In the best of cases, though, this break between mother and child can be shaped into something more beautiful than if there had been no break at all. Not prepared at the time to raise me, she allowed others to do so for her and my benefit. In a very real sense, she gave me life not once, but twice.
When I was three weeks old, I was adopted by a wonderful couple who each came from upper middle-class families and who grew up in the Depression. I was to be the oldest of 12 cousins on Dad’s side and second youngest of nine cousins on Mom’s. My full name is Howard Frank Freeman IV, and at a large family reunion a few years ago, I met all my paternal second cousins. We all share a common great-grandfather, Howard Frank Freeman (I), a country doctor in Wilson, North Carolina. I am truly blessed with a large extended family through Mom and Dad and, I know now, two fairly large birth families.
Mom and Dad are both deceased, and my mother is 19 years younger than Mom would be today. Mom had suffered a series of miscarriages before adopting me in 1963, and even after then she had another miscarriage before giving birth to my brother in 1965. Today he lives in Brooklyn with his wonderful family.
I learned of my adoption when I was five years old, precociously curious about anatomy.
Mom sat me down for “the talk.” Dad must have been at work.
I still remember that moment as I sat on a kitchen stool. She calmly explained to me how sex worked and also that I had been adopted. I recall that my response was neutral, as if the next thing she said was that fish sticks were for dinner. I loved fish sticks, so that seemed a more pressing matter to focus on. Mom also gave me one of the two pieces of information that ultimately led me to finding my mother: she told me my full name at birth. I still don’t know how she knew it, but she did. It is also too late for me to know whether Mom knew my mother’s name and chose not to tell me, but it’s better that I don’t know the answer. It would bring only resentment.
Between knowing my name at birth and, much later, benefitting from the wonder of genetic testing, I was able to come to know the two people responsible for me.
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