When Reality Takes a Left Turn, and It Just Did

Thank goodness that for the past few years I have lived life loosely, and with my belief system, I consider “reality” a fluid concept ….. because, otherwise, I would really have had a reaction to being thrown an unexpected genetic curveball on New Year’s Day night.

July 1981, at my surprise 21st birthday party where many of many favorite relatives came “over the hill” for the celebration

A few months ago, I asked my mom if she would be comfortable if I started another search for my birth parents.  The first one I did was in the late-80s (see below). This time, she was and is completely supportive. I think it’s tied to the inner work I’ve done which shifted our relationship. She and I have always been VERY similar. My dad said we were clones of each other, and that’s why we were always in so much conflict.  For the past few years that hasn’t been true.  I LOVE and value the relationship we now have while I value the experience of our past interactions together.

~ please note that when I refer to “mom” and “dad”, I am referring to the only people
I have thought about in that way, 
my parents who raised me ~

When I was “home” with mom in September, she brought up wanting to pay for the genetic testing for me. Ancestry.com was an obvious choice, given it has the largest number of records. Nonetheless, I kept being guided to do 23andMe, even though it might not have been the most logical choice. Boy, did it pay off to follow my intuition in doing both.

My parents at my wedding in December 1995, I think they were just grateful that I was finally getting married at age 35 … LOL

One thing I have shared with mom a few times is that I no longer feel a pull for myself to find out about my birth family; even though I find genetics fascinating. Yet, for the last year and a half, or so, I have been feeling a pull that some relative, most likely a sibling, wanted to connect. I even mentioned that recently it had been feeling as if this person may not even know about my existence but there was an energetic pull to connect.

Before I returned to Northern Florida in October, I suggested to mom we wait for the holidays, as the prices were sure to be better, and I prefer to make smart financial decisions like that, even when it’s not my money directly.  Thanksgiving came with the expected promotions, and I signed up for both DNA services.

The Latest Search for my Birth Parents

I returned both tests within a day of receiving them, as I wanted to make sure to beat the expected holiday rush.

On New Year’s Day night, I was checking when Ancestry.com had started processing my test as they had estimated it would be 2 to 4 weeks for results. Even though I was exhausted and ready to go to sleep, on a “whim”, I checked my 23andMe DNA result status to see if they estimated when the results were due. To my surprise, even though I hadn’t received a notification that the results were in, there they were. Initially, I only noticed the health-related results and thought that perhaps the results came out in phases, just as some blood work is processed faster than others. Welllllllllllllllllllll, upon further investigation, there were my full DNA results with family matches as well. As an aside, I got the notice 4 days later that my results were in.

If you haven’t seen these types of results, they are shown in order of the closest relationship to the most distant. It indicates a name, if available (otherwise initials or nickname), and a percentage of DNA match.

What I discovered is that I have a “full” brother; that means we share the same mother AND the same father.

Ummm, well, that was unexpected. I was completely expecting to find out that I had at least one half-sibling, if not more, which would be reasonable given I was adopted.

The match is 46.2%. That makes it VERY clear that it’s a full brother. What’s so interesting about this, beyond the obvious, is that both mom and I had recently had separate intuitions that, “Oh my gosh, what if I had a (biological) brother.”  I loved that this was exciting to mom as she (understandably) spent many years grieving the loss of my (adoptive) brother who died in an accident in 1992, at the age of 27.

Click to open the PDF to see the 23andMe Ethnic Analysis

I also had some interesting ethnic diversity results. Most people who see me, see the blonde hair and assume I’m Scandinavian. As it turns out, based on both sets of results I have very little Scandinavian blood.  The ethnic makeup also seems to be much different between the 23andMe results as well as the Ancestry.com results.  Ancestry.com has an interesting article on how results can be so different, and even from what one might know or expect.  It’s a great reminder that as much as we think we understand the human body, there is even more we don’t.

Click here to view the PDF of my Ancestry.com Ethnic Analysis

It feels a bit like … eenie meenie minie mo … in terms of what is my “exact” biological makeup. On one service, I am more French/German than I am Irish/Scottish/British; then the other, it’s the reverse. Some of this is tied to how the different services classify ethnic breakdowns. A LOT of the seeming confusing results are tied to the historical fact that there are not firm geographical borders. With invasions and wars, many parts of Europe switched hands, such as the Alsace-Lorraine area between France and Germany.

My Adoption Process and the Impact on Me

Christmas 1960 at 6 months old, with my older sister

In 1960, at the age of 2 months old, I was adopted by my parents.  Dad was in the Navy and stationed at Millington, Tennessee right next to Memphis.

Mom was Canadian by birth; she became a U.S. citizen and converted to Catholicism to marry my dad. They met when she had moved from Vancouver to Seattle, and Dad was stationed in Puget Sound. mom grew up in Saskatchewan until she was 11 or so.  Dad was born in Taft, California and grew up in Linden, California  My parents married in 1951 and on Christmas Day 1952, my older sister Marilyn was born in Monterey Bay. During dad’s continued service with the United States Navy, they traveled to various locations including Hawaii and Kansas, amongst other stations.  They had considered adopting for some time as mom became biologically incapable of having more children; you’ll read later that wasn’t quite accurate. Yet with Dad in the Navy and with them moving a lot, it could make it tough to adopt as generally, they want people to stay in one place at least for the first year.

Click this to see a PDF of a note Dad typed for me sharing the story starting with Boxing Day

On Boxing Day (which is a Canadian custom) 1959, they brought toys to the local Catholic orphanage, Saint Peter’s Orphanage in Memphis. It was then that my family started having discussions about adopting from Saint Peter’s Orphanage. They found a blonde boy they were interested in and were informed that there was actually a process for placing a child. LOL, imagine that.

Their social worker was Lutie Young, who mom still speaks fondly of today. In September, they were contacted about a blonde girl baby who had become available and they felt was an excellent match.  In Tennessee, during that timeframe, children could not be adopted from an agency until they were at least 6 weeks old. This was to ensure that the child was healthy. I don’t know what the rules for private adoptions were at the time.

As the story goes, my parents were enchanted and wanted to take the blonde girl baby home right away. They (kind of) joked if they could sweep her away that day as the rules were they had to go home and “think it over”.  The next day they returned, scooped the little blonde baby up …. and took me home.

I always knew I was adopted and had other friends when I was very young who were also adopted. So, no biggie. Or, so it seemed.

In California, I believe I was 2 or 3 years old here

I often joke that I’m not sure that if my parents knew what they were in for they may not have adopted me, as I was and have been a “handful” with my accelerated learning curve (i.e., I was running at 9 months old) … let alone with the issues that come with raising an adopted child which little was known about at the time.  In terms of the running at age 9 months (yes, running), I had been born completely pigeon-toed. Even when I had one of those braces which were put on shoes and the child wore round-the-clock, I was running. I would grab the edge of my crib, swing my body over the side of it, and off I went.  I also refused to either suck my thumb or use a pacifier. I would spit it out across the room.  Yet, I still ended up really needing braces which I wore for years, and am now in again.

During the early-60s, adoptive parents were told to tell their child that they were “special”, they were picked because “we couldn’t have a child of our own”, etc. What was realized, in the adoptive field, sometime later is that telling adoptive children this made them feel even more separate and different. The experts began to realize that that put undue pressure on the child to “perform” to a certain level and furthered the deep-seated unconscious feelings of inadequacy that is common with children who are adopted.

None of this is logical or rational, as remember these feelings are being created from in utero and at birth. Babies are concerned with survival.  When separated too soon (even when a mother or child has a health issue which requires separation at the hospital), there’s a seed of inadequacy which is rooted. Somewhere is often an unconscious sense of, “if I wasn’t good enough for my parents or mother or family to keep, what if I don’t perform properly to be kept?”

I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy; this is about 4 years old or so, me with a lizard

In my case, there was an added factor in that 4 years after my adoption, my parents had a miracle “son”. I think I referred to him as the “Crown Prince” or “Prince” in my head, even at that age. One big element is that it created an unconscious exponential impact on the unconscious sense that I better be “good” or “useful” or I might get returned.

Apparently, it’s very common for adoptive children to be under-achievers, there are attachment issues to various degrees, and many other issues impacting one’s ability to truly connect. I was fascinated just a couple of years ago when a counselor/coach I started working with stated that my capacity to perform “normally” (whatever that truly is) in life was “remarkable” (her words) given I was adopted and with the added element of my parents having a natural born child following my adoption.

I’ve read extensively on this topic and spoken with knowledgeable people as well as written a paper for a psychology class I took in my twenties. I’ve also done extensive internal work, to the degree that starting in 2015 I really am not triggered in the ways I have spent my life being triggered, and is common for adoptees of my era.

That said, finding out I have a full brother is quite intriguing and could be a rejection or validation trigger if I don’t hear from him. Yet, that is likely not to affect me as it might others who have not found the inner peace I have.  To me, the ONLY reason he should contact me is if his gut tells him to, and he is comfortable doing so.

The “Story” Behind my Adoption

Click this to read the PDF of the one-pager from Saint Peter’s Orphanage

My parents were provided with a one-pager of highlights of my background typed on Saint Peter’s Orphanage letterhead. The child on the “letterhead” is merely a generic image of a child, not me.

The “story” about why I was put up for adoption was never put to paper, and that part I didn’t hear about until I was about 17 years old.  As it goes, my birth father was an attorney who worked in the law office of my maternal grandfather, who was also an attorney.  Given since I was young people suggested I become an attorney based on my reasoning and argumentive skills, this seemed to make sense.

From how it reads on the one-pager from Saint Peter’s Orphanage, it seems my birth mother was going to college and was a legal stenographer, or she was alternating the two.

Apparently, my birth father was 28 years old and married, just not to my birth mother who was 22 years old. My mother was 5’6″ tall, 119 pounds with strawberry blonde hair and brown eyes. She was of French and English extraction and described as a very pretty young woman. My father was 5’9″ tall, 160 pounds, with dark hair, blue eyes, and olive skin which I inherited from him.

(from l to r) Tow head me, cousin Jim, my brother Jerry, cousin Joe

The reason I was put up for adoption in 1960 is obvious. So unlike many stories, my adoption wasn’t about my mother being too young, or not being financially and/or physically able to care for me.

My mother was at the related Catholic institution, a “home for unwed mothers”. I believe it used to be almost just around the corner. I was given up for adoption immediately upon birth.

Besides the biographical information provided on the one-pager, that is all we knew until the last 1980s when I started my first search.

My First Search for my Birth Parents

At Bistro 110, one of my fav restaurants when I lived in Chicago

In the 1980s, I was working for a top ten advertising agency in Chicago, following receiving my undergraduate degree from Santa Clara University in June 1982.

There’s someone I had a hot torrid “thing” with for a bit who also worked at the ad agency but had first seen me on a plane between Chicago and New York, where I traveled weekly for about 4 years as my client was there. After the 3rd time of seeing me on a plane, he ended up seeing me in the hallway and was blown away.  After things ended romantically between us, we were still working together.

One day he said to me, “I’m wondering if your fear of abandonment is related to your adoption.” If I recall, he even mentioned this in the hall at work. I had NO clue what “fear of abandonment” he was talking about; I was that unaware.

About 7 or so months later, could have been longer, one day … seemingly out of the blue, the big lightbulb went off and I finally realized what he meant. It was then that I started researching the impact of being adopted on children during my era. Given I had spent 2 years doing research for the ad agency, mostly on one of the top brands in the world AND with a passion for research, I dove into this with my usual fervor. I’d like to remind the younger audience that this was BEFORE computers …. word processors had just been brought in to the agency for the use by the “secretaries”.  I actually loved going to the library at our company as well as using the public library.

I then started to explore the concept of doing a search. I don’t recall where I started. I think I first contacted Saint Peter’s Orphanage. Somehow I got referred to the state of Tennessee. They had changed the law in the early 1980s, and it was possible to get ones “identifying information” such as an original birth certificate.

Click to view the PDF of non-identifying information received by the state

The process was to write the state, regardless of where the adoption occurred in the state and through which agency. If you requested your full record with “identifying information”, the state would first send you the “non-identifying information”.  They would also send a letter to the last-known address of the parent(s) indicating that a child was asking for contact. If the person responded, the state abided by that. If the person didn’t respond, then the state would release “identifying information”.

From that, I received my alleged original birth certificate. It indicates that my original name was “Mary Carmelita Bennett” and my birth mother’s name was “Patricia Jeanne Bennett”.  Apparently, children put up for adoption were given the names of saints. In my case, someone was obviously picking up that I was quite a different child and gifted me with the more fun middle name.

I contacted the hospital where I was born and received my birth-related records. I had always felt like some part of me was missing, beyond the aforementioned issues related to being adopted. Sometimes I wondered if perhaps I was a twin. Assuming the hospital records are accurate, I was a normal baby, normal single birth.

There were some differences in the non-identifying information as well. The one-pager from Saint Peter’s stated my birth mother had one older sister who was 24; she was 22. In the non-identifying information, it states that there was a 24-year-old sister and a 5-year-old sister. That always seemed odd to me, although not so in today’s environment. I wondered if perhaps the 5-year-old “sister” was really a child by one of the two daughters.

There was also some significant health information that wasn’t conveyed, although back then it was likely not known that “intestinal cancer” skews heavily genetic.  I’m sure today that information would be conveyed, in all cases.  This has been relevant to me as I have had 3 separate acute diverticulitis cases, starting in my mid-30s.  That can be a precursor to colon (intestinal) cancer.

Also on my original birth certificate, it indicates the state where the mother was born; this is standard for all birth certificates. Surprise, as it appeared my birth mother was born in California. I’ve often chuckled over that one as it meant that my birth mother may have gone all the way across the country to have her “illegitimate” child, to have said child at the age of 7 months move within a few hours of where she was likely from.

Apparently, dad had to hold me above his head holding my legs to get this picture, I was so active

I contacted an Adoption Specialist who started a search in the state of California for birth certificates, marriage certificates, and death certificates as well as other documents. Again, I’d like to remind the younger readers that this was BEFORE computers, so everything was done by mail and phone. As it turns out and this has been confirmed numerous times, if my birth mother was 22 years old when I was born in July 1960, and she was born in California AND her name really is “Patricia Jeanne (or J) Bennett”, there is ONLY ONE PERSOn who could be my birth mother. Gayle, the Adoption Specialist, was able to find marriage and driver’s license records indicating that Patricia now lives in Reno.

Some months later, I decided to contact that person. We talked for about 15 minutes; she stated she was not my birth mother. We talked about a bunch of things including why I was wanting to search.  Patricia had friends and a cousin who was adopted and apparently they showed little to no interest in searching. As I recall, I believe they were males, and this is not uncommon.  The phone conversation ended abruptly when someone else came in the room, and we had started to talk about why someone may want to hide their name. I had said something about perhaps feeling “ashamed” and all of a sudden, the call was over. I always felt that was odd.

I wrote this Patricia Jeanne Bennett a letter which I sat on for months. I included pictures in case I looked like someone she knew, who perhaps used her name. Understandably, when I even suggested that option to her, she was taken aback.  I included a photo of me and my current boyfriend as I wanted to come across as “stable” which is even more important in today’s environment. This was 1989 and 1990.  I also included copies of the one-pager from Saint Peter’s as well as what I had received from the state.

My stuffed animals all had “their” place in bed <3 <3

Months after my letter, Patricia returned a two-page, typed letter, with small margins. She explained the reaction her three daughters had; the oldest reminding her that she was her “miracle” baby as apparently she wasn’t able to have children initially.  She explained why her middle name was now spelled, “Jeanne” when she had been born “Jean”.  While taking French during high school, she thought the former spelling was more “continental”.  She did explain she had a sister who was 2 years older and one who had been 6 years older but had died in the 1950s. She also shared that her father’s business was not as an attorney.

What I always found interesting about Patricia’s response is that it was very similar in tone to how I communicate, and how I write. She wrote an awfully long letter for someone who wasn’t related to me. Again, something I’d do. What she could have done is just really focus on the physical facts, and say something like, “I’m sorry I’m not your birth mother. I am 5’3″ and have brown hair.” That would have closed the door on any questions I had on her being truthful at the time.

Since the time we last communicated (1990), I always had a lingering doubt along the lines of, “Methinks thee doest protesth too much”.  Yet, if she was my birth mother and wasn’t in an emotional place to claim me, I didn’t feel it was my choice to force anything on her. So it has been.

Occasionally over the years, I thought of searching again or recontacting her. One friend who put a son up for adoption when she was 17 or so had suggested that I just keep in touch every time I move. I haven’t moved much, and I’m pretty easy to find on the internet, so I just let it lay. I figured if she was inclined to contact me, for whatever reason, she’d find me.

Now, This Search and the Implications

As I stated earlier, it’s been the last 1 1/2 years that I’ve been feeling this pull to “connect”. I knew it wasn’t from me as the internal work I’ve done since 2014 has brought me to a place of inner peace around the unconscious issues associated with adoption.  So if I connected with my birth mother, great. If not, equally great.  As I started to pay attention to this inner pull, my intuition was telling me that it was some relative, likely a sibling, who wanted to connect. I began to feel that that person may not know about me, but there’s something energetic between those who are connected genetically. Or there is in my case.

Plus, with the prevalence of DNA testing options AND the commercials, not just in the holiday time, it makes it an easy option. There are a couple of things I’ve wondered about from a physical standpoint. In 1990, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease which is how I left the ad agency. I’ve often wondered if others in my family also have some auto-immune illness, as the researchers are beginning to identify more genetic links. Over the past 7 years, I’ve experienced an increase in my gut instincts, in my intuition … and I’ve wondered if this is a family trait, as it often is.  Then, as I age, I’ve wondered if there’s any family history of health issues such as breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, Dementia, etc.

I also have a quite unique way of thinking and processing information. For those who are into this type of scale, I generally test out as an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs scale.  These types are generally less than 2% of the population, and women are even less likely to be this type; only about 0.8% of women are INTJs.  I have occasionally tested out as an INFJ which are less than 1% of the population. LOL, and while finding links for this page, for the first time ever I just tested as an INTP-A which makes all the sense in the world, and is less than 3% of the population. Lengthy as this may seem, I share it as I’ve always been fascinated to see if anyone biologically related to me thinks in the same way.

In terms of comparing physical family traits, one must look at this photo of me before I was 17 years old when I had a deviated septum, and in the process had the bump in my nose removed and a small chin implant

So here I am with scientific evidence that I have a full brother which seems to be completely inconsistent with the “story” my parents were told about my history.  Of course, as one person said, it wouldn’t be unusual for the nuns to lie for the greater good. Having a child come from a well-to-do home and family of attorneys is so much better than someone who came from a messed-up young woman.

I really am not sure what is true, and what isn’t. Is that really my birth mother’s name? Was she really born in California? Was she really 22 years old?  Are the physical characteristics of both of my birth parents correct?  Did my birth mother really have only one sister who was 2 years older? Or, did she have a sister 2 years older and one was only five years old? Did she even have any sisters?  Did my birth father have an older sister? Did he have brothers? Did my birth mother have brothers? Was my birth father really an attorney, and my maternal birth father an attorney? Was my birth mother college educated? Was her mother?

While fuzzy, this also shows the nose I was born with 🙂

What’s been most fascinating and fun is my mom’s reaction to finding out I have a full brother. Like me, she keeps wondering if it’s accurate, was there a mistake.  NO, there wasn’t. I finally sent her a screenshot of the top results so she could have something in black and white to refer to. I can relate as I return to the 23andMe website, and keep looking at the result, expecting perhaps that I have read it wrong. Nope. Mostly I am surprised because of the “story” that we’ve all believed all these years.

I’m a REALLY excellent researcher and logistics specialist. I can’t find a way that everything we’ve supposedly known including my original birth certificate can be true AND I can have a full brother.

In the meantime, I’ve connected with various relatives from a possible 1st cousin to 4th to 6th cousins. My ethnicity results were somewhat surprising as most people would think I’m Scandinavian from my physical appearance, and I have very little of that in my DNA results. One distant cousin has identified that we’re likely related through a distant grandfather who is Scandinavian, except that I have something like 1% of that.

LOL, one more of my nose and profile pre-surgery at age 17

Mom is all excited to meet any of my biological relatives, and if you knew my mom, this isn’t necessarily usual for her. Hence, it’s fun to experience and observe.

I tend to think in schematics.  Right now, it feels as if I’m working on a big puzzle, which I like doing … I’m holding the puzzle piece of me … and just don’t know where to put it. Plus, even since as a young child I’ve enjoyed the topic of genetics. YES, I did mention genetics when young, just not in those terms. So I’m having fun connecting with all of these other welcoming relatives and I don’t know where I fit.  That in and of itself is fun to me, as it’s yet another opportunity for more inner work.  I’m in the midst of organizing my home office which has sliding mirror doors on the closet. I decided today that I’m going to take my multiple colors dry erase markers and start a generic family tree on the doors.  When I can, I’ll fill in names.  Eventually, I’ll probably end up creating a dynamic physical family tree, like a puzzle, and change out pieces as relationships are confirmed. It might help fill in some blanks, filling in what I can.

There is one person who is a 1st to a 2nd cousin who is waiting for my story here to see what she might know. It potentially means she may hold the key.  It may also mean that the reality of what she’s known about her extended family members is different than she and others may have known.

Me in July 2016 in California with mom and Emmett who I had just brought for her

To me, it’s all a great example of how we create our identity based on the “stories” around us, and what happens when we begin to shift and/or something shifts in what we thought was “reality”.  I am ever-so-grateful that I’ve done lots of inner work that has resulted in me being generally quite fluid when things shift around me.  What I need to remember is that not everyone has this skill or experience. As I contact people I may be blowing up their sense of identity, their reality. There may be situations that they never thought they’d be facing, and possibly aren’t interested in facing.

That’s where the concept of trust comes in for me. It’s all good, it’s all unfolding perfectly, and whatever happens or doesn’t, just is.

A note: While this is publicly available on my personal website, the only people I am directly sharing these links with are those relatives I have connected with via my DNA results as well as my mom and husband. They are all welcome to share it with other family members.  A few close friends have also received this link directly. <3 <3

Some Thoughts and Experiences Related to Being Adopted

~ Coming when I make the time to type up

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