I was determined to get for my son the parts of his story I’d wished for as an adopted child.
I was adopted in 1972 in a closed adoption. While I would search for and eventually find my biological mother forty years later, I grew up knowing nothing of why I was placed for adoption, my biological family, or my medical history. I wanted my son to grow up differently.
On New Year’s Day 2014, we got The Call. A woman in Northern California — I’ll call her D — had given birth the night before and chosen us from a stack of Dear Birth Mom letters. How quickly could we get there? Boarding our Southwest flight, a blue paisley Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bag pressed to my chest, I was determined to get for my son the parts of his story I’d wished for as an adopted child:
An Explanation Of Why He Was Placed For Adoption
Growing up, I created a story to explain why I was put up for adoption and who my biological parents were. I imagined her to be a cheerleader, a high school sophomore, with shoulder-length auburn hair. He was a handsome football player, a senior, and they had “done it” it in the back of his car. I imagined them as nice and good people who were simply too young to be parents.
Seven hours after getting The Call, my husband Pete and I sat in front of D’s attorney. He was going over a stack of documents we needed to review and sign before going to the hospital to meet our baby. One of the forms — the AD 67 — gave the adoptive family and child information about the biological parents. As I flipped through the AD 67, which had been filled out by my son’s birth mom, I was in awe of the information he would own. D had handwritten answers to questions and prompts such as: Why did you place this child for adoption? How do you feel about being contacted by the adoptee when he is older? Describe your personality. Describe your talents, hobbies, and goals in life.
It was a letter from a mother to her son.
He would always know why he was placed for adoption and who his birth mom was, as a person, in her own words.
His Medical History
Before finding my birth mom, whenever I was asked for my family medical history, I responded, “Adopted N/A.” Did cancer run in my family? Heart disease? Who knew? A few years ago, I had shooting pains in my right breast and I convinced myself it was cancer. I was scared. After making an appointment for a mammogram, I sent my birth mom an email. Has anyone in our family ever had breast cancer? She replied within seconds. No. It was a soothing balm to finally have my medical history.
My son’s AD 67 included pages of his medical history. He would know what type of cancer his biological grandfather had died from, what allergies he might have, the likelihood of a non-threatening heart murmur common on his mother’s side. I held my new son’s medical history in my hand, understanding more than most what a gift we’d been given.
His Original Birth Certificate
People are always surprised to learn that most adoptees have never seen their original birth certificate. In some states, the original, which lists our biological mother’s (and sometimes father’s) name is kept in a sealed file and obtainable only by a court order, extreme fees, and/or birth parent consent. Our second birth certificate, which lists our adoptive mother and father as our parents, is required for everything from enrolling in kindergarten to applying for a marriage license. The second certificate is a perfectly legal, state-produced forgery. Of course, as adoptive parents, we need to be listed as our child’s mother and father on their birth certificate, but adoptees need access to their original birth certificate, too.
In the hospital, an older woman with a thick Middle-European accent and a laptop on a rolling-cart asked for our son’s name, and Pete and I eagerly declared, “Henry!” The name was typed into his original birth certificate, just above his birth mother’s name. Several months later, we received his second birth certificate, on which Pete and I were named as his parents. We keep both of them side-by-side in the black metal box where we keep “important stuff.” One confirms his birth mom as his mother and the other names me. Both are true, and they both belong to him.
Pictures of His Birth Parent(s)
Growing up a brown-eyed, red-haired, freckled child in a family of blue-eyed, non-freckleds, I always wondered, do I look like anyone? I had no photos of my birth mom but imagined her as an amber-toned 1970s senior portrait – straight middle part, Partridge Family collar.
When we were saying goodbye to D in the hospital, I was determined to get photos of her for Henry. We had an open adoption, but what if she disappeared? We were together in that moment.
“Can I take your picture?” I asked.
“I look awful,” she answered, running a hand through her long, dirty-blonde hair.
“You look beautiful,” I said.
We took photos of Henry and D, her gazing down at him lovingly. We took pictures of D and I side by side, Henry in her arms. A team. The final photo was of Pete and me, with ecstatic grins on our face, and Henry, a football, snapped into the car seat between us.
Contact Information For His Biological Family
My closed adoption meant that learning who my biological family was would require legal petitioning, the means to hire an attorney, appearances in court, and the use of an intermediary. It was overwhelming to a twenty-six-year-old — the age I was when I first called the Washington State Department of Social Services, a toe-dip into the ocean of my curiosity. I found my birth mom eighteen years after that first phone call, and our reunion has been overwhelmingly positive.
I wanted Henry’s path to his birth family to be a clear one. While we’re not in contact with them right now, we have each other’s addresses, phone numbers, and Facebook pages. When the day comes that he wants to meet his birth mother again, she’s just a phone call away, and I’ll help him make the call.
Denise Massar is a mom, wife, and writer living in Southern California. She’s currently working on a memoir about her experience as an adoptee and adoptive mom, her miscarriage, the longing for a child, the grittiness and beauty of domestic adoption, the expectant moms she met as she searched for a baby, a marriage in trouble, a marriage strengthened, sex, drugs, and motherhood. You can read the first two chapters of her book, "Matched," at denisemassar.org