Editors Note: This Christmas memory was shared with us willingly but the author of this story has asked that we keep her name confidential. Thus, the names in the story below have been changed.
I was adopted 51 years ago.
It was my fortunate lot to be given to a family who loved me. My parents, who could not bear children, were thrilled when they adopted me. I wanted for nothing. I have known nothing but love all the days of my life.
When I learned at about age 7 that I was adopted it created a hole in me I did not understand. My mother chose to tell me and I am not sure why she did. Later she explained it was just something she felt she needed to do. I know she was afraid I would eventually find out about it and I think she feared for how I would take it.
As a parent, I do not know how I would handle it. But for me then as a child I was filled with nothing but questions. Those questions became more pronounced as I grew, especially during my teen and young adult years. Then they became a full blown crisis when I learned I was expecting my first child.
There were times when I pressed my parents for information. The truth of the matter was they did not really know much about my birth parents. They could not answer my questions and they could not tell me the story of what brought me into the world.
Believe it or not, the Christmas story every year was something difficult for me to hear. Jesus was an adopted child but he knew all about how he came into the world, unusual as that was. My story was unusual too but I did not know it. That nagged at me.
I wanted to know so much who my birth mother was, what happened to her and why she gave me up. I wanted to know who my birth father was and why he could not raise me.
I went to college, married and started a family of my own. The questions were always there. I can recall fearing for what to say to my unborn child about his unknown grandparents. There was no history to share. It pained me greatly to know that my questions would extend to another generation, and to every generation thereafter.
My parents were always kind to me and so very sympathetic. My mother once cried when she saw how much this whole thing hurt me. I know it was never their intent for me to feel this way and I feel bad knowing now that I hurt them through my questions. They did all they could to raise me with love.
What they did not understand was that my questions, my hurt, and my need to know were something I did not hold them responsible for and that I did not expect them to do anything about. I just needed to know.
It took me a long time to come to that. When my first was born I talked about it a little with my Mom. Then again when my second and third children were born. But with each passing year, and the changes that came in our lives, I put the whole thing off. Over time, that hole got bigger and my questions became deeper.
When my father passed away suddenly I was crushed with so many conflicting emotions. Although I understood him as my adopted father perhaps in my grief of being fatherless due to death the sting of being fatherless due to adoption seemed to become a source of greater sadness to me. It was then I decided that my real wanting to know was a need to know.
My Mom understood that, too. For Christmas that year she gave me a DNA test and said simply, “It’s time we find out.”
I am not going to lie. I had researched the whole DNA test thing. From the many groups and websites online I learned that while some DNA testing results in good experiences a great many tests either lead to more dead ends, more questions and more pain or worse. Some families get upset when one given up for adoption surfaces suddenly later in life.
Those uncertainties made my inner crisis with this all the worse. What if they didn’t want to see me? What if I’m the result of something horrible, like incest or murder or rape? What if they reject me?
For as awful as those questions are I still needed to know.
So I took the test and went on that unknown journey of discovering, if I could, the story of my birth parents — and the story of me.
When the results came back I was uncertain what to feel about the “ethnicity estimates” the testing company provided. According to their results, I was a certain percentage of Western European ancestry mixed with Russian and German roots. What did that mean? I later came to understand that those estimates are really quite meaningless.
The secret to DNA testing is comparing the fundamental genetic make-up of yourself to the database of millions of others who have also taken a DNA test. If you are lucky, a “match” could lead to finding lost family.
It took months. But eventually I did make a match through a woman who turned out to be a distant cousin. I connected with her and she connected me with another cousin who had taken a DNA test. It was through her DNA results that I eventually met my father.
Through family connections my father was persuaded to take a DNA test. But he knew why the request was made and he was forthcoming, for the first time in his life, in telling his children (and my new half siblings) part of his history that they did not know.
Still he took the test. He took the test because he needed to resolve a 51-year old question in his mind: me.
At first letters were exchanged between my cousin and me. Then phone calls were made between my cousin and my father. Finally, it was nearly arranged. We would meet — at Christmas.
I did not know the exact time. In my mind, we had not yet settled those details. So when it happened I was not expecting it at all.
Christmas Eve, 2017 I met my father and learned my story. From 426 miles away he came, wearing a Santa hat, to stand on my doorstep and ring my doorbell. Alone. He came without telling anyone he was coming. In his unique way of lookng at things he wanted to do this by himself.
When I opened the door and saw him in the hat I felt a rush of strange familiarity. He was a complete stranger to me — but then again, he was not. I knew who he was before he said a word. I opened the door and I just knew.
“Hello, Shelby. It’s me — Dad. I am your father. It’s nice to meet you.”
With that hugs were exchanged and tears flowed — from both of us. If a life can change in an instant mine was in that moment.
My mother was at my home for Christmas so she was there when this happened. Dad’s greeting to my mother surprised her. He embraced her and the tears just fell down his cheeks. “Thank you, thank you”, he sobbed.
My Mom was quite surprised, uncertain of how to react. We only began to understand once he told us the story.
My father and my birth mother were high school sweethearts. She bacame pregnant with me in the spring time of their high school year and they married as soon as graduation was over. They did it against the wishes of both their families but they did it because they knew I was coming. Four weeks before my mother was due there was a terrible accident that left her brain dead — but I was successfully delivered.
Under duress, grieving his loss, and confused at it all, my father was pressured into giving me up for adoption by his family and by the social workers at the hospital.
He then entered the military, leaving home and family for six years before returning home to find a new life. He married and with his wife raised four children.
Dad explained a lot of things to me that day. He answered most of my questions right away. In fact, it seemed he could not wait to tell me everything. He seemed to be urgent in nearly everything he shared.
Over New Year’s weekend the next week I was able to meet my siblings and much of my new extended family. It was a wonderful experience.
I curious to learn in the months that later passed that my Dad was something of a mystery to the family. He served in Vietnam and his sister, my aunt Trudy, told me he came home from that experience a totally changed person. Trudy also told me that she knew about me and wanted to talk to my father about me in later years but never did. She said she knew some day it would all work out.
She was right. It did. But just in the nick of time.
Dad did not tell me he was terminally ill. In fact, just like he had with me, he did not tell anyone about his illness. He was there, full of life and energy and love, and then he was gone. Just like that.
I found myself once again mourning at the casket of my father. Again.
This time the feelings were not shrouded in mystery. There were no more questions in my mind. The one sole regret of it all was the lack of time we really had together. But there was little I could do about that.
The little time we had was a gift to me. It was a sweet gift, one of the greatest Christmases I am sure I can ever have.