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Meeting My Brother’s Birth Mom

Meeting My Brother’s Birth Mom

Halley Dean
Baby in your heart. Moopsi/Shutterstock

Mom was crying before we even got out of the car. She told me she was scared. “What do you say to someone who has given you such a tremendous gift?” She worried that his birth mother would feel let down, that our family wouldn’t live up to her expectations.

I saw my brother for the first time in the middle of our kitchen.  He was four days old. It was summer, 1987, just a few weeks away from my sixth birthday. I had been greatly anticipating his arrival.

It started earlier that spring. My sister and I, dressed in our Sunday best, smiling in our parents’ laps for photos taken with a camera my dad had recently learned to use the auto timer for. Later, there was a home visit from a social worker, my sister and I back into those matching dresses and bows. Mom got her money’s worth from our Easter dresses that spring.

It took five years of trying for Mom and Dad to conceive me, so everyone was shocked when a mere five months after my arrival, Mom was pregnant again. Health issues shortly after my sister’s birth meant there would be no more biological children. But as time marched on, the gnawing voice that our family was incomplete grew louder.

Upon meeting my brother, I instantly fell in love. He was tiny, but chunky at the same time, with dimples that seemed to take up his whole face. From the beginning, my sister and I felt protective and maternal toward him.  In addition to our mom, the poor kid got stuck with two mini-mamas from birth.

The only time I bristled is when friends would ask if I knew anything about his “real mom.”  I didn’t like that anyone might think of us as “less than,” especially since all of the things that make up family were happening in abundance in our household.

Throughout my childhood, well-meaning strangers and acquaintances who had obviously seen too many made-for-TV movies asked in hushed tones if he knew he was adopted. His adoption had never been a secret. There was no big reveal, no “TA-DA” moment. We talked about it from day one. It was just part of who he was and how our family was made. I’ve often heard parents of both biological and adopted children say that they have to stop and think to remember which is which. In my experience, that is true.  The only time I bristled was when friends would ask if I knew anything about my brother’s “real mom.”  I didn’t like that anyone might think of us as “less than,” especially since all of the things that make up a family were happening in abundance in our household. DNA does not a family make, and I remember being very passionate in that belief from the time I was quite small.

In the fall of 2003, I welcomed my first son, and I was surprised that one of the first people I thought of was my brother’s birth mother.

I never thought to ask about my brother’s birth family, and my parents didn’t volunteer any information until years later. When he was about nine, they shared with us the city he was born in, a few hours away from where we lived. They took him to see the city, and took pictures in front of the hospital where he was born. I never asked him what he thought about the experience. I was 15 at the time, and not terribly interested in anything that didn’t have to do with me.

It started out, as many things do these days, on Facebook. My brother and his birth mom connected.

As is often the case, becoming a parent changed my outlook on nearly everything. In the fall of 2003, I welcomed my first son, and I was surprised that one of the first people I thought of was my brother’s birth mother.  Becoming a parent is too overwhelming a feeling to put into words. I was shocked at the depth of my love for a person I had known for such a short time.  He was born late at night, after a very long day, and once everything had settled down and we were back in our hospital room, his dad fell asleep, contorted into one of those hospital chairs for fathers, and it was just my boy and me.  As I studied his fingers and toes for what seemed like the millionth time, I thought of her. I had known my son only a few hours at that point, but I knew I would die for him, and the thought of being separated from him, for even a few minutes, brought me to tears. I have always regarded adoption as incredibly loving and selfless, but in that moment, my brother’s birth mother was nothing short of a lion hearted hero in my book. I realized what an incredible sacrifice it was for her to make an adoption plan for him.  The depth and breadth of her love for my brother was no different than the love I felt for my son. What she did for him, putting his needs before her own, is the very definition of motherhood.

Adoption today is entirely different than it was in 1987.  Now, it’s much more open, and birth families often have contact with the child. In the 80’s, it wasn’t that way. My brother’s birth mother had to have known that making an adoption plan for him meant she would likely never be a figure in his life. I was gutted by this realization, and I marveled at the courage and strength it took for her to do what she did.

Several years ago, in helping my parents update their wills, I was able to learn more about her. I learned her name and that she and my mom had occasionally exchanged letters and pictures over the years. It was important to my mother that I be aware of all the information she had about my brother’s birth mother, in case the day came that my brother wanted it and she was no longer around.

As luck would have it, that day did come while we were all still here to be a part of it. My brother moved back to our hometown in 2017, after more than a decade of living in another part of the country, and he chose at that time to reach out to his birth family. I prepared myself to feel cautious about it, maybe even jealous, but to my surprise, those feelings didn’t come.

It started out, as many things do these days, on Facebook. My brother and his birth mom connected, and he learned that he had other siblings — two brothers and a sister. His sister has the same name as I do, and we joke now that the only thing better than having one sister named Halley is having two.

The day we met began with no fanfare at all. Much like the fact of the adoption itself, there was no big build up and reveal. My mom asked if I wanted to go to lunch. There’s a place with great BLT’s not far from my office, and I’m always up for a lunch date. “Your dad and brother and coming too,” she said. “And your brother’s birth mom.”

It should have felt like a watershed moment in my life, but it didn’t. I can’t explain why. It just felt like lunch. My brother had already met his birth mom in person, and I was under the impression that my parents had too. But in that moment, I realized that my mom had not. This would be the first meeting for the two mothers.

Driving to the restaurant, my mom was silent. I asked her if she wanted me to hold her hand. My mom is an intense person. She does everything in her life with tremendous passion. She feeds everyone who walks through her door. She never misses any of her grandchildren’s sporting events or school programs. And while that isn’t unusual for grandparents, my mother prints off the entire roster, laminates it, and clips it to her shirt, so she can cheer for every child by name. She donates to every charity, takes care of not only her own family, but her children’s friends, their families, and all of her grandchildren’s friends, too. She can’t feel any emotion without crying. Happiness means tears for her just as much as sadness does.

My dad, the other half of her twin spirit, is much more reserved and steady. He took a career aptitude test in college that told him he should either be in banking or mortuary services. He picked banking, but I think he missed his calling. He always knows what to say in high pressure and emotional situations.  He’s always calm. I understood at that point why he’d been chosen to arrive at the restaurant before us.

Sitting across from her at lunch, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much my brother looks like her.  Their faces are nearly identical, and beyond that, their vocal cadences and the way they move their hands when they talk are eerily similar.

Mom was crying before we even got out of the car.  She told me she was scared.  “What do you say to someone who has given you such a tremendous gift?” She worried that his birth mother would feel let down, that our family wouldn’t live up to her expectations.

When we walked through the door, I could see them at the table.  If there was any trepidation in my heart, it fell away the moment she turned around and smiled.  She and my mom stood at the table and hugged for a long time. I cried too, smiling at my brother, looking at him through blurry eyes. The moment of watching the two moms hug was deeply profound to me, and something I will remember all of my days. There was so much grace in the moment. They didn’t need to say anything to each other. Everything was understood. I was in awe of these two women who are mothers to the same man.

Sitting across from her at lunch, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much my brother looks like her.  Their faces are nearly identical, and beyond that, their vocal cadences and the way they move their hands when they talk are eerily similar.  She and I bonded over our shared love of books and obscure British television shows. She told us about her family and her other children with great affection. Despite being handed some bum deals by life, she is friendly, funny, and kind.  A wise and gentle voice of reason.  That day at lunch, emotions were running so high, but she made us all feel at ease.  She and my mom definitely have the same care-taking quality.

Adoption is bittersweet, but also extraordinary.  I believe the greatest commonality for women comes from talking about their children.  It doesn’t matter the race, religion, or socioeconomic status.  All women feel the same love and have the same hopes and dreams for their kids.  It has been so humbling for me to watch our two families expand over the common love of my little brother. Even more so, I have been moved to watch these two women, both his mother, the same but in such different ways.  As more and more families in this country blend, and fewer of us are related to those we love via DNA, it’s been a beautiful reminder that family, like our capacity to love each other, never gets smaller, only bigger.

View Comments (2)
  • Halley, this is so beautiful. I do not know if you know this or not, but I adopted my two girls when they were ages 10 and 12. There were so many times when people would ask about their “real mom”. It really bugged me. I just wanted to say, what am I, fake news? Lol. This is an awesome story, but I would not expect anything different from you. Thank you for sharing.

  • Halley, this is a beautiful story. I do not know if you knew it or not, but I adopted my two girls at ages 10 and 12. There were a lot of people that would ask us about the girls’ “real mom” and it would drive me crazy. I would always be like, what am I, a fake person? Again, this is an awesome story, but I would not expect anything different, coming from you. Thanks for sharing this. You are amazing. Alisa Pastorious

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