Category Archives: Adoption

Issues, stories, and searching for biological parents

Searching for Eileen part II

My second-cousin Chris told me that I just needed to call the adoption secretary at the family court, and that would start me on my way to getting my original birth certificate. This was interesting. I knew I had a birth certificate with my adopted name, but there was a birth certificate with my original name? The document was the key to everything it seemed, because it also had my mother’s name and birthplace.

I would have thought that the records would be with the court in Boston, where I was born, but they’re kept in the family court that is closest to the adoptive family. In my case this was the Family and Probate Court in Canton Massachusetts. Each court has a person who handles adoption records, and in my case the woman in Canton was extremely sympathetic and helpful. She explained that I just needed to write a short letter asking the court for the records, along with a reason for the request. So I wrote the letter citing family health information as the reason for wanting the records, and within a week a bulky envelope arrived at my PO box. I quickly walked to my car and sealed myself inside.

My hands trembled a bit as I crudely tore open the envelope. Inside was my mother’s name, something I had long wondered about. Her name may be the key to finding her, but it could also give me a hint at my ethnic heritage. This is kind of a guessing game with adopted children, maybe even more so once we have children of our own. My kids always ask me, “What are we? Are we German, or Irish, or Polish or what”. The document in the envelope might hold a clue.

There was a heavy official looking paper that looked just like my other birth certificate. My stomach roiled when I saw my mother’s name. I felt like a kid from Nebraska on his first whale-watching trip and was thankful that I was sitting down. Her surname was immediately recognizable as Irish, so a big question was answered right there.  The weirdest part though, was that I had a new name.

That infant that held so tightly onto the edge of the mattress was never “William”, he was “Michael”. Did the sisters at the Catholic Charities know me as Michael, or did they even know my name? In some ways this was good. It distanced me from that dark and scary time. I messily plopped the envelope and it’s contents down on the passenger seat and started the car. I didn’t want anyone to see me crying.

Now that I had my mother’s name and the city of her birth it should be a breeze to find her. Or so I thought. I searched Google and got a lot of people over in Ireland and lot’s of dead-ends. Facebook had nothing, even though most married women there use their maiden names too. Classmates.com? Nope, nothing current and nothing from a search of high-school yearbooks in her hometown or even the state where she was born. I tried Peoplesearch and a number of other sites and still came up empty. It seemed like she was trying not to be found. Maybe I would have to hire a detective? It would probably be expensive. So I just put my search on hold for a while and game myself time to process everything.

Processing things was sometimes a bummer. I wondered if my bio-mom had just given a fake name to the hospital when she delivered, it certainly seemed possible. The feelings of abandonment that sometimes come from being given away at birth were amplified when I considered that she may have changed her name or otherwise tried to stay hidden from me.

Then came Ancestry.com. My wife saw a piece on some news show about a guy who was stolen at birth and how he used Ancestry.com to find out some of his heritage. So I signed up for an account and started searching all of the public records for my mother’s name. There were tons of records about people who may have been family members back in my bio-mom’s hometown, but only one record with her entire name on it. Hundreds of old street directories from all over the country have been scanned and now reside somewhere on the internet. I was able to look at an image of the Boston street directory from 1966. There was my mother’s name, and address, and even her occupation and workplace! This was amazing news for me. It confirmed that there actually was a person living in Boston at the time of my birth and that the name on the birth certificate was probably real. It also gave life to a whole narrative of how I came into this world.

In 1966 my mother lived in Boston’s Back Bay and worked as a secretary for a law firm. This firm was just a little partnership back in the 60’s but it still exists today. My wife suggested that bio-mom might have had an affair with one of the partners in the firm, who was a married man. After she became pregnant, she may have tried to hide out for a while (with the assistance of her lover) and even kept her condition from her family. I don’t know how available abortions were back in 1966, but my bio-mom was obviously Catholic and so adoption would have been the only option for her. With help from a lawyer, she may have changed her name and tried to have other records erased, or maybe I’m just paranoid. However, it may be that even to this day my existence is a great big secret to a lot of people, and if they’re still alive, my bio-parents are probably hoping it will stay that way. Ooops, so sorry, while you were waiting they invented the internet!

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Searching for Eileen

Are you ready for a serious and intensely personal post? There’s mystery and intrigue and probably a little secret romance too, so I promise not to bore you. Why now? Well, it’s my birthday today and so I might as well tell the fragmented and shadowy story of my entrance into this world, adoption, and–47 years later–the search for my biological mother.

Boston City Hospital, 1966. I imagine it was a cold and typically dismal November day when a young woman, hugely pregnant, walked or was carried into the hospital and off to a delivery room. She had already arranged to have her baby put up for adoption with the Catholic Charities, and I can’t imagine what she might have been feeling at that moment. Fear? Is there any woman about to give birth who isn’t afraid? Shame? She was an unwed mother who was giving her child away, was she ashamed? Surely she felt the baby she had carried for nine months would be better taken care of with a nice married couple, or why would she give it up for adoption? These are questions that only she can answer, but it’s fun to imagine some of the images to fill in the narrative.

The messy details of my birth were no doubt carried out by the practiced nurses at the hospital, presided over by a one W. Perkins MD. He signed my original birth certificate four days later. It contained my mother’s name and place of birth, and the name she gave me. I don’t know if it was a routine birth or if there were any complications, but at the time I was apparently a healthy baby boy. At some point the Catholic Charities, who handled many adoptions in those days but have since ceased doing them, took me away to a place that in my childhood dreams was a big dark foreboding building right out of a horror movie.

I spent the first six months of my life here, and although there are no real memories from this time there is some kind of echo deep in my unconscious. It’s not a pleasant or warm echo, because there is a greyness there, images of strange green oxygen tanks and cribs and shadowy figures looming about. I became deeply attached to my mattress, and the smooth hard label underneath the worn sheets. I would rub them with my feet, or clutch onto the edges of the mattress. The dark figures would come and go, sometimes soothing me, sometimes mechanically performing some routine function of infant care. The mattress was always there, and so I clung to it like it was my mother.

The unsettling memories from this very early period in my childhood would shape my life and future in ways I could never have imagined. They are memories turned into dreams  turned into memories, and I held onto them for better or for worse.

Flash forward forty six years. The mother I have always known, my adoptive mother, has died. She never took very good care of herself. Although she ate well and exercised, she was a heavy drinker and even heavier smoker. I had taken her to the hospital four times in the past year-and-a-half and the doctor’s kept telling her, “you will die if you keep smoking”. She defiantly kept smoking. After the funeral we all gathered at a beautiful local restaurant and consoled each other and talked about my mother. A second cousin of mine, also adopted, approached me and offered his condolences. He told me the story of how he had located his biological parents, how easy it was, and how he now had a great relationship with his bio-mom. It was then that I seriously started the search for my biological mother, even though it had been a lingering and chronic nagging curiosity all my life.

My brother, two cousins, and two second-cousins and I were all adopted through the Catholic Charities. We always were told the truth and I respected my parents for that. But as anyone who was adopted early in life must know, there are those unanswered questions that you can try to push away but always come back up again. How can anyone not know their past? Their true ethnic heritage? The story of their birth?

There’s more to the my tale, and I’m afraid I’ll have to post part II next time. Until then, any readers who may have been adopted out there? What are your thoughts on finding your biological parents?

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