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Finding Family

By Suzanne Perryman


“My feeling of wanting, and separateness—that I was different from the family that raised me—and the connection of sameness I craved, led me to search for my birthparents.”


On the day I was born she must have said something final to me, some sort of goodbye, or wish or promise. Did she place me on her chest where the comforting sound of her heartbeat would have soothed me? And after wiping away her tears, with the slightest touch of her finger did she trace the outline of my face, the way I did with my first baby? Did she try to memorize the color of my eyes?

My birth mother didn’t honor that first goodbye. It was written in the adoption file I received at the start of my search, that she came again and again to visit me in the Catholic charities orphanage. I don’t know if she touched me, or held me when she visited the orphanage, but I know that for nine months after my birth she was unable to finalize our goodbye.

I was adopted at the age of one by a family I will always call my own. They taught me what it meant to be adopted, and that I was chosen. We share the same coloring and similar ethnic backgrounds, and we are all above average in height. We look enough alike that strangers don’t notice our underlying differences.

When I was a child, I searched new and unfamiliar faces for my own specific sameness. The shape of my face, the line of my nose, the color of my eyes, knowing that somewhere there must exist someone that looked like me.

I felt unsettled, not knowing anything about my birth parents or where I came from, and if I would ever see someone that looked like me—until I gave birth to my first child. My feeling of wanting, and separateness—that I was different from the family that raised me—and the connection of sameness I craved, led me to search for my birthparents.

*   *   *

I was 25 the first time I spoke to my birth mother.

Holding the phone tight against my ear, I paced back and forth, bare feet on cool white tile. Waiting, holding my breath, counting each ring, counting each tile, waiting for her to answer—until finally, a brisk hello.

I closed my eyes and released the rush of my rehearsed words. “Hi, I am looking for Pamela.”

“This is she,” came the quick reply. I began with my birth date, then my name and ended with…”I believe you may be my birth mother.”

I was in Arizona and she was in New York City, and even with her city street noises filling in the background, it was as if she were across the room from me.

I could hear confirmation in the soft sound of her tears. When she spoke, her words scattered around her steady cries.

“Were you okay? Are you okay?” She wanted to know.

Unprepared for her concern, I searched for an answer that would succinctly explain my twenty-five years. “Yes,” I told her. And then she told me she too, had been waiting many years—hoping to learn something. All of this I understood.

Our conversation found it’s own emotional rhythm. There were peaks of joy, even laughter scattered with crashes of sadness and more guilt, and from it flowed a subtle trickle of unspoken hope.

Finally, we ran out of our words. I hung up the phone and moved out onto the patio. With the warmth of the summer desert heat, her guilt and grief was heavy all around me, as I started to find the answers to fill in the empty spaces in my life.

Not long after our first phone conversation, Pamela sent a letter and with it her photograph. In detail, she wrote of the garden she had spent the summer shaping and there were pictures of the flowers too. But it was the details of her face that consumed me.

And when we finally met, I could see the same color brown—deep and dark in her eyes. My reddish brown colored hair matched hers that fell in loose curls. There was a familiar roundness to her cheek as she lightly brushed hers against mine. My own heart shaped lips kissed me goodbye. She was soft and kind, and was gentle in ways.

When we parted, she gave me a heavy brown book, it’s glossy well-worn pages filled with paintings by Renoir. She explained hesitantly that she had received this book more than 25 years before. I could see the way she cherished it as she placed it in my hands. Inside my birthfather had written a note: “In the interest of love” and she continued to lead me to him.

I was 30 years old when I met my biological father. First there was a letter, then a phone call, and then a plan to meet at his home.

That spring day, as I turned to face his house, I saw a line of dark windows; I knew he was looking out. I was curious and interested but didn’t know what else. I was there.

Before I could reach the front door, he opened it. “Daughter,” he called out in his gruff voice, and welcomed me inside. Somewhere in the words we strung together, his voice softened and the words filled the space between us.

The hours passed until it was time to say goodbye. That’s when my eyes found the photograph; it stood out from the gallery wall of artistic, crisp black and white photos. Faded and coffee colored with age, the photo was of a woman, and although her hair was different, she looked like me. I stared at the photo of my birth father’s mother and turned to face him again. The Pacific Ocean filled the window behind him.

All I could see was endless blue water, and at first I thought the calm that had come over me, was the ocean, yet when I closed my eyes, the calm was still there, and then I knew I had found what I had been looking for.

Suzanne Perryman is a writer, reader, wife and mother. She writes at Huffington Post Parents, Blogher and celebrates the simple every day one story at a time at Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

To read more Brain, Child essays on adoption, purchase our adoption-themed bundle.


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