Qualified Entry: Non-Fiction Category
By: Susan Beckman
You’re special, we got to choose you—words I hear repeatedly throughout my childhood. I don’t remember a time when I did not know I am adopted. My parents are my parents. I never know another mother or father. My adoptive parents tell me the only information they were given from the social worker: My birth mother was 17, my birth father 18 and they both had very high IQs. I am satisfied with this information until . . .
My grade-school classmates ask, “Do you know who your real mother is? Have you ever tried to find your real mother?”
I know who my real mother is; she is home doing laundry, cleaning house, cooking dinner,
and always there when I need her. Yet, in my heart, I know the real mother they are talking about. I never had any questions until people started questioning me. Now the insecurity begins.
I look in the mirror every morning. Who do I look like? What nationality am I? Where did I get my big nose? The questions are endless, as all adoptees experience. I never feel complete—emptiness fills my soul. I don’t have a feeling of true connection to anybody.
I don’t have the courage to approach my adoptive parents with questions. They silently communicate their opinions that the subject of my adoption should never be discussed. This boundary forces me to keep any questions buried and locked up inside my heart.
At age 16, I start searching for my birth mother. My parents are upset when they find out I am searching. I am sad and disappointed in myself. I try the best I can to explain how I feel. I do not want to replace them. They are my parents. They refuse to see my viewpoint.
What have I done? How can I be so cruel and insensitive to their feelings? Am I so unappreciative that all I care about are my feelings and desires to search and find some link to my past?
Right then, I decide to abandon the idea of searching until I am older. I console myself with the future plan when I eventually leave home, I will be able to start my search once again. My adoptive parents will never know.
As an adoptee, I never truly feel complete. I feel there is an empty, unfilled void
somewhere deep inside. I am not a whole person. Something is missing. There must be something wrong with me. How dare I reject my adoptive parents by thinking about anyone else, other than the family who has raised me. The more I try to untangle why I am feeling this way, the more confused I become.
At age 18, I am married. Every once in a while I try talking to my husband about starting my search, but he seems to exhibit almost the same attitude as my parents. He does not understand. Nobody understands! And sometimes even I don’t understand. I cannot grasp an understanding of why I have such a fixation in finding my birth mother. I am desperately and utterly distraught with my obsession.
My husband knows where he came from, what time he was born, how much he weighed, and what nationality he is. If he has any questions about his background, he can go to his parents, question them, tell them about his feelings of roots and heredity, and nobody will question his motives, nor will there be something wrong with him!
Who am I, Susan Marie, supposed to go to when I have the same questions? Who am I supposed to go to when I long to see someone who might look like me? Who am I supposed to go to when doctors ask about my medical background? I don’t know. Lord, I’m emotionally exhausted with questions. Why can’t You perform a miracle so there can be an end to my confusion and identity crisis?
I have always wanted children. I become infatuated with the idea of becoming pregnant. I
realize I am reaching out to grasp any concrete form of existence, to feel a connectedness to something—anything—anyone.
At age 20, we are expecting our first child. As usual with previous doctors, my OB doctor asks, “What is your mother’s past medical history? How was her pregnancy? Were there any complications with your birth?” Once again, I can only sadly reply, “I don’t know.”
After the birth of our beautiful daughter, the doctor states, “Well, despite all the problems with your kidneys during the pregnancy, the baby is healthy.”
This brings questions to my mind: What is hidden in my family’s medical background? Did my birth mother have problems when she was pregnant with me? What is her medical background? Were there any complications with my birth?
I don’t know.
I hold our daughter. I feel so close to her. There is an unexplainable bond. I realize she is the first blood relative to whom I feel connected—then the shocking realization she is the ONLY blood relative I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
I once again start feeling the nudge to search for my birth mother. But I cram and stuff those feelings down, deep inside.
At age 22, I am pregnant with our second child. I have a different OB doctor this time, but he also asks the same questions: “What is your mother’s past medical history? How was her
pregnancy? Were there any complications with your birth?” Again . . .
I DON’T KNOW!
The doctor tells me to step into his office. “Take a seat,” he says. He closes the door. “You know, I can find your birth mother for you, if you want me to.”
My mind starts racing. I stare out the window. The clouds are gray. The day is gloomy. I watch snowflakes falling from the sky. My heart starts pounding. I don’t want to hurt my parents. I want to find my birth mother. I don’t know what to do. My head is spinning. My stomach turns. I feel dizzy.
“No, that won’t be necessary. I’m not interested.”
I feel like I’m living in a nightmare. I leave the office. I’m driving home in a snow storm. I replay the conversation in my mind.
WAIT! What did I say to him? No, I’m not interested? Why did I tell him no? Why did I refuse his offer to help? Why is there so much confusion in my mind?
At age 22, our second daughter is born. I again get the gut-wrenching urge to start searching for my birth mother.
On my 24th birthday I know deep down in my heart that now is the time I must start and finish my search. Indiscreetly, I get bits and pieces of information from my adoptive mother. I learn my adoptive parents kept my original first and middle name, Susan Marie. They did not receive any papers with my original last name.
I begin writing letters. “Could you please tell me if you have any records for a baby girl, Susan Marie, born July 18, 1954, in Jackson, Michigan, to a 17-year-old girl.”
Slowly, one by one, responses arrive in my mailbox. Every response negatively affirms, “We do not have any record of a Susan Marie born on that date.”
Forever imprinted in my mind is Tuesday, October 31, 1978—three months since I had wholeheartedly started searching. I come home from work. My husband is standing in the living room. He says, “Would it make you happy to know where you were born?”
“Greg, I know where I was born; in Jackson, Michigan.”
“No,” he says, “I mean, if you really know WHERE you were born.”
I am now becoming upset. I feel a nauseating knot in the pit of my stomach.
He pulls out an envelope from behind his back and hands it to me. It is from an unwed mother’s home in the town where I was born. Here we go again. I am on the roller coaster of feelings: seeing a response—feeling hopeful—reading a negative response—crashing to the well-known feeling of depression—feelings I had come to know only too well through the years. I automatically assume it is another negative response.
I open the letter and read:
“It has taken awhile to respond to your letter, as this entailed searching through old records with very limited information. There was a Susan Marie born in what was then the maternity ward of this agency on July 18, 1954. This infant was then released for adoption by her mother. Based on the information you gave us, my guess is that this is a record of your birth, but obviously I cannot vouch for this without more information. There is little information in the record, other than a pregnancy record. I hope this information is helpful to you.”
Absolutely nobody could have told me these were not my records. There is no doubt in my mind that my search is near the end.
Without hesitating, I run to the phone and dial the phone number at the top of the letterhead. Obviously, I’m not thinking clearly. It is already 7:00 p.m. If I had any clear sense about me, I would have realized no one would be in the office that time of night. But I was on such a high, hopeful feeling that the possibility never crosses my mind.
But guess what? Someone answers. In shock, I ask for the director. Oh, my God—she is there! I tell her who I am, stating I want to meet with her the following day.
She says, “You know, I can’t tell you any information.”
“I’m aware of that, but I still want to meet with you tomorrow.”
The remainder of the evening passes in a dreamlike, foggy haze. I read the letter over and over and over and over. I fall asleep clutching the letter in my hand. I FINALLY have something in writing, black and white, with MY name and birth date. There truly is evidence I was born SOMEWHERE.
The next day I drive 60 miles to the unwed mother’s home. In slow motion, I drive down the street, looking at every building, every tree, every house and finally the building where I was born! I have an eerie feeling, but then it is strangely comforting to be walking across the same yard, down the same sidewalk, up the same stairs and through the same door, into the same building, and through the same hallways where my birth mother had walked 24 years earlier. I can’t help but commit to memory every inch of the building, savoring the moment, trying to envision it through my mother’s eyes.
The director is my angel. She informs me she had actually been there when I was born. She takes me on a tour of the entire building. She explains every room. The home is no longer used as a place to deliver babies. The mothers are now taken to the local hospital. She shows me what had been the delivery room where I was born. We wander through the area which had been the nursery. We stroll through the large living room, with a fireplace, where the girls meet with friends and relatives on visiting days. We linger in the back yard, with picnic tables, where they eat on sunny days.
We arrive at her private office. She closes the door and we both sit down. She sits at her desk across from me and opens a folder of papers. On top of these papers are a few smaller papers stapled to the pile. She removes the first top staple and lays the smaller papers aside. My first instinct is to grab the file and run. But this lady has been nice to me so far, I don’t doubt she will continue to assist me in my search.
She continually repeats, “I’m not able to tell you any identifying information.”
I ask questions previously written down in my notebook. She answers what she can. I am surprised to even find out my birth mother’s weight, blood pressure, dates of admission and discharge, in addition to my time of birth, my weight at birth, and even what time the placenta was delivered.
“Where was my mother from?” I ask, not expecting a straightforward answer.
She answers my question with a question, “What county were you adopted in?”
“Monroe County,” I say, which is 50 miles from where I was born.
I always assumed my birth mother lived in the town where I was born. All these years I never thought she is from the town where I grew up.
As she looks through the stapled pile of papers, she holds the stack upright in front of me,
flipping over each page. I sit across from her with the top page dangling in front of me. I quickly scan the page and read my mother’s name across the top, Kaye Pollock.
I freeze. I have a name—I have a name—I finally have a name!
I know she did this intentionally. I knew she wouldn’t let me down. And she did not go back on her word, either; she did not tell me any information. I had seen it for myself.
I know for certain I can now obtain my original birth certificate, because at long-last I have my original last name. I can’t wait to get out of here. I look at my watch and have barely enough time to drive the 45 miles to the Vital Statistics office in the state capitol before they close.
I usually am able to find my way around anywhere. I have a keen sense of direction. I have never been to either one of these towns before, and despite my disoriented mental state of mind, I drive to the exact place where I need to be. I believe this is another divine intervention from my God.
I walk in, fill out the application for my original birth certificate, take it to the desk, and am told it will be mailed to me in four to six weeks. Oh, my God. NOOOOOOOO! How in the world can I wait that long?
I feel like the whole universe has collapsed around me. I force myself to find the power and strength to survive day to day. Every day when I get home from work, I barely get the car door closed and run to the mailbox.
Exactly two weeks after I applied for my original birth certificate, I receive it. My mother’s name is listed as Aleda Fay Pollock. I have been going on the wrong first name; in fact, the wrong name altogether. Kaye is not even part of her name. It is Fay.
I assume she is married by now and does not have the surname Pollock any longer. I know I need to find one of her brothers, if she had any, because his last name would still be Pollock. I make several trips to the library. I diligently and meticulously search the death indexes. I find many Pollocks. I read every obituary, word for word, being exceptionally attentive to the listed survivors, hoping to find Aleda’s name.
Sitting in the library one Saturday morning, I find an obituary for a six-year-old boy, Daniel Pollock. My mother’s name is listed as one of six survivors. In addition, I find my grandfather’s name. A few days later, I discover my grandfather’s place of death and call the courthouse.
Something unusual and uncommon occurs. Over the phone, I am given information directly off the death certificate. The informant listed is my grandfather’s son, a chiropractor, whom I then realize is my uncle. I am also given his address, which is two states away. I call Information and get his phone number.
“I’m working on a family tree and I need to find Aleda. Do you know how to get in touch with her?”
He says, “I’m only a half-brother. I haven’t kept in touch with her. But my other sister would know where Aleda is.”
I try contacting my aunt by phone. I call every five minutes, and time after time, there is no answer. Finally, at 5:30 p.m., a female answers.
I can’t tell her the truth, so I fabricate a story. “I’m working for an attorney’s office and probating a will. We need to locate your sister, Aleda.”
“I’m not going to tell you where she is until you tell me who you are.”
“I’m with an attorney’s office and she is listed in a will. We need to locate Aleda.”
She adamantly says, “I’m not going to tell you anything. Tell me who you are.”
“Aleda is listed in a will and we need to find her.”
“Why isn’t my name in the will? Why is it only Aleda?”
I waver—it is now or never. “Does the date July 18, 1954, mean anything to you?”
She hesitates, “Nobody in the family was born on that date.”
“Did Aleda ever have a baby and give it up for adoption?”
“Oh, my God, no. Aleda would never do that. One of my other sisters might have done something like that, but never Aleda.”
After a lengthy pause, I blurt out, “I’m the baby she gave up for adoption.”
Complete silence on the other end of the phone line. She starts crying, “Oh, my God you’re my niece.” I also start crying.
We discuss what I look like and what my mother looks like, what kind of smile I have, my height and my mother’s height.
“She lives in California. She has six children and is married to Bill Coverdale.”
I’m writing down whatever she tells me.
“I’m still not going to tell you where she is. I’ll contact her and tell her you called. I’ll get back to you in a couple weeks. We’re leaving town tomorrow for deer hunting. I’ll call you when we get back.”
Deer hunting? This is more important than putting me in contact with my birth mother? A couple of weeks?
I don’t have a choice. My new-found aunt is the solitary link I have to my mother. I’ll just have to wait for her to call me back. But the thought still crosses my mind, how am I going to survive the next couple weeks waiting for that phone call?
The next morning is Saturday. The phone rings—my heart drops—a friend calls to see how I’m holding up. We talk a short time and hang up. A few minutes later, the phone rings—my heart drops again. I say to my husband, “Am I going to have this feeling every time the phone rings for the next two weeks?” I answer the phone a second time. I stand in disbelief when I hear my aunt’s voice.
“I contacted your mother last night and told her about you. But I’m still not going to tell you where she is. I need to meet with you first.”
“I would be glad to meet with you.”
“When?” she says.
“As soon as I can take a shower and get in the car.”
My hands are shaking. I can’t write down the directions. I hand the phone to my husband.
The one-hour drive is endless. This seems like the longest drive in my life.
We pull in my aunt’s driveway. She comes out the front door onto her porch. I get out of the car. She knows instantly I am the right person. She sees I look like my mother. Later in the day she says they thought my phone call was someone trying to play a joke on them. This is the reason she wanted to see me in person.
We hug and cry. Sit down and talk. Look at pictures. I see for the first time in my life a picture of my birth mother. Then we make the long-awaited-for telephone call. My mother and I can only cry on the phone. We can’t seem to compose ourselves enough to say one word which makes sense. I don’t know how long we’ve been talking. I don’t want to hang up. The receiver in my hand is my only link to what I have been looking for over the past 24 years, and I cannot let it go, now that I have found it.
My mother flies to Michigan one week later. I go with my aunt and uncle to the airport. When my birth mother steps off the plane, she can only lean against the doorway. I know she is about to faint, but I stand frozen, unable to help. I’m also frozen and not able to do anything but stand and stare at her. We finally reach each other, and cannot let go. We hug and cry. Every few seconds we pull away and look into the other’s face to finally see the resemblance in flesh and blood. Yes, we are related.
The next two weeks fly by as we get to know each other. My husband, children, and I make plans to fly to California to meet my birth mother’s husband, and my six half-brothers and sisters. They will be able to meet the sister they always knew about, but didn’t know where she was. We communicate often and relationships grow stronger through the years.
I am satisfied for many years in not searching for my birth father. But every so often, I start to wonder about him, too. The first time my mother and I met, the first words out of her mouth were, “You look more like him than you do me.” Although I think I look quite a bit like my mother, I want to see what my father looks like. But again, I do not want to hurt anyone, so I don’t ask questions. I know her experience in losing me through adoption had been extremely traumatic for her, and I know she does not want to talk about him.
However, there comes a day when I again feel in my heart that now is the time to find him.
The search begins again—with one exception. My mother blocked his name out of her mind, and his name is not on my birth certificate or any record. She did remember one thing—he paid for the medical bills.
I begin the search for my birth father with a physical description: short, with dark hair, dark eyes, and a big nose. I try carefully and respectfully to bring up the subject with my birth mother. She finally admits she has let bygones be bygones, and thinking about him does not upset her as much as it used to. I start asking her for names of her teenage friends during the time she became pregnant with me.
With countless calls to Information, gathering phone numbers, and spending 18 hours a day, five days in a row, I know the telephone conversations by heart. I first identify myself, refresh their memory about who my mother is, and then, “Do you remember a boy in town who was short, with dark hair, dark eyes, and a big nose?”
Phone call after phone call leads to dead-ends. I narrow down the list to one name. I look at the clock. It is too late to make the last phone call and decide to wait until tomorrow.
I sleep restlessly, in and out of nightmares. My heart is torn apart. I feel frustrated and defeated. I will never find my birth father. I don’t have a name. I don’t even have his initials. Nobody knows him. It all feels hopeless. I feel isolated. I am physically drained, mentally worn out and miserably discouraged. I do not feel complete. I convince myself I will never know anything about the other half of me.
The sun rises Sunday morning. I don’t have the same enthusiasm as when I first started this search. I am depressed. I half-heartedly dial the last phone number on my list. This woman had been a friend of my mother’s when they were teenagers.
“I vaguely remember your mother, but I don’t really remember her being pregnant at all. It’s been so long ago, there’s nothing I can do to help you. I’m sorry.”
I experience the same feeling from 13 years earlier when on the phone with my aunt for the first time. I can’t hang up. This is my last chance. “Do you remember any of her boyfriends who were short, with dark hair and dark eyes?”
“Well, the only person that would fit that description is Thurlo Wilkinson.”
I quickly write down the name. I reluctantly call Information in Dundee, Michigan, a small town where my mother had lived. To my surprise, there is a listing for him.
I dial the number. A man answers the phone. I verify he is Thurlo Wilkinson. He admits he “kind of” remembered my mother, but he did not remember her being pregnant. He doesn’t offer much information. I continue asking questions, and it seems like he is hesitant in answering. I know this is the last name and phone number on my list. I cannot hang up.
I realize I have nothing to lose. I give the physical description of my birth father. He remains silent.
I say, “My grandfather found my birth father and made him pay for the medical bills”.
He says, “It wasn’t the grandfather.”
I stop. Time stands still. How would he know it wasn’t the grandfather? The only way for him to know this would be if he is the person I am looking for.
I ask, “Are you the one who paid the medical bills?”
“Are you the one who paid the medical bills?”
He finally admits, “Yep, I’m the one.”
Over the next year-and-a-half, my birth father and I occasionally talk and send each other a few letters. He is a quiet person. I always struggle to think of something to say to him. My high school reunion is approaching, which is close to where he lives. If nothing else develops of our relationship, I at least want to see him in person one time. I reluctantly ask if we can meet. He agrees.
The reunion with my birth father is more emotional than I expected. One look at him, and I realize why my mother made the statement, “You look more like him than you do me.”
We spend several hours together, talking and sharing our experiences in life. The next day I locate his six children, my half-brothers and sisters. I reunite with three of them. None of them
had ever known about me. And most unusual is the fact I have a half-brother who is four months younger than me! Again, I start another new relationship with another extended family.
I thank God and give Him all the glory, praise and credit for opening the doors along the way of my search. I know under my own power, I could have never orchestrated any type of plan to find my birth family.
God continues opening doors 41 years after my birth. I am content with the end result of my searches, but God reveals He is going to allow something more miraculous to occur.
In October 1995, I have the opportunity to meet Jett Williams (birth daughter of Hank Williams, Sr.). She tells her story, and the frustration and obstacles involved with her adoption. Jett is the inspiration I need to take the final step in having my “original” birth certificate “amended.”
My birth father’s name was never on my original birth certificate. After a long process of paperwork, applications, letters, affidavits, notarized forms, and red tape, it is the summer of 1998 when I finally receive my “amended/original” birth certificate bearing my birth father’s name.
Never in my lifetime will I be able to express the joy and gratification I experience when I see, in black and white, for the first time, my birth father’s name on my birth certificate, connected to me.
One of the last things he said to me was, “I would be honored to have my name on your birth certificate, because I’m proud to be your father.” Thank God the signatures needed from him were obtained before his death.
My birth father passed away in 1997 before my final certificate is certified and issued. Sadly, he never had the opportunity to see his name on my birth certificate.
I not only needed to accomplish this “fight and challenge with the system” for my own benefit, but also in memory of my birth father.
I now wholeheartedly feel the last open chapter of my life is shut. I don’t need to return to the past, seeking answers that aren’t there. I can look forward now and get on with my life. No more questions. No more doubts. No more emptiness. I feel complete. I know where I came from. I can look in the mirror and never question who I look like. I now give doctors my complete medical background.
The question of WHY? is answered. This one-word question haunts every adoptee. But you know what? Once you find out the answers, the reason WHY doesn’t seem all that important anymore. What is important is to feel complete and whole as a person. I finally have roots and heredity. The days of discouragement and defeat seem like another lifetime. In fact, it was another lifetime . . .
It was before God helped me find ME!