Wendy, from Massachussetts, was adopted through Louise Wise, an agency with a notorious reputation. Separately, the tragic murder of Lisa Steinberg triggered her adoptive mother to give Wendy open permission to find her birth mother to let her know she’s ok. On her search, Wendy found her birth father first, but connecting with her birth mother is where she’s found similar interests and a relationship that continues to grow as she introduces her birth mother to her family. This is Wendy’s journey.
You know I called my adopted mom and said, you know, this is what happened. So she's been, you know, she has been part of the process the whole way along. And um very supportive, which I think is huge to have that kind of permission from your adopted parents and that, you know, comfort them being comfortable with the process has really been helpful to me.
Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I
Who am I, this is who am I really a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. I'm Damon Davis and on today's show, you're going to meet Wendy. She called me from Massachusetts. Wendy was adopted through an agency with a notorious reputation separately. A tragic headline triggered her adoptive mother to give Wendy open permission to find her birth mother, to let her know she's okay on the search. Wendy found her birth father first, but connecting with her birth mother is where she found similar interests and a relationship that continues to grow. This is Wendy's journey. Wendy was born in July of 1968 in New York city adopted a few weeks later through the Louise wise agency. If the name of that agency sounds familiar, it's the one that was at the center of controversy in the documentary film, three identical strangers, the story Chronicles, identical triplets, who were separated at birth and intentionally placed for adoption into three different homes with different socioeconomic makeups. The men were studied throughout their childhoods. Then they found one another completely by accident. As young adults focusing on Wendy, her parents had been married six years before they adopted her through private adoption. Two years later, they adopted her sister through an attorney in California, then a year and a half after her parents unexpectedly had a biological son. That's three children in three and a half years in their home in Northern New Jersey. Wendy said when she arrived, her parents sent out announcements that had both her birth and adoption dates on them.
You know, I felt very loved. It was a very positive family experience, very accepted by everyone in the family. Although the family was very small. So my mother, my adopted mother is still alive. She's 80 years old. My adopted father died when I was about 28 years old. So it's been quite a while. And um, in the community, my parents were, um, never hid the fact that my sister and I were adopted. Although, you know, it wasn't like a frequent topic of conversation. And I didn't, you know, I told people if asked, I don't think I really went around, announcing it to friends. You know, even through my search and reunion process, people who know, who have found out, some people have said to me, well, I never knew you were adopted.
Wendy felt she could pass as her parents' child. In some ways they had similar eye and hair color different from her sister who kind of stood out more from them. I was curious about how the siblings got along with one another. They were three siblings of completely different biological makeup. Wendy said her sister was competitive with her and these days their relationship is strained. But with her brother, Wendy has a good relationship despite their age difference.
If you spent time with the three of us, you could observe certain, um, you know, values that we have and things about us that really are all very similar and probably came from our upbringing. And then you did observe some really stark differences amongst us.
Wendy's father died of cancer. After a three year illness, she had just started her second career in nursing and was a new mother. Her own daughter was only 10 months old when her dad passed. I asked her about that time in their lives.
He was probably one of my greatest supporters in life and we were very close. So he was, uh, uh, his loss was massive to me. And, um, you know, still to this day, I really, uh, have, you know, some degree of grief over it. So he was, um, a stellar father, even in my non identifying information. It's so interesting. Cause he, when I received that he shined through in personality as somebody who, you know, knew nothing about babies, but immediately took to me. And he was very active and involved father. Um, so yeah, that was a really tough loss.
Growing up. Wendy said, she always wondered and wanted to know about her biological family, but she was hesitant to ask questions of her parents because she didn't want to hurt her parents' feelings,
Even sometimes having, you know, some crazy thoughts about if I ask, they're going to ask me to leave.
Wendy's parents did share some things about her adoption with her, but she still held off on pursuing more information. She fantasized about who her birth parents might be and living close to and visiting New York city frequently. She wondered if she was passing her birth mother on the street and neither of them were the wiser in the fall of 1987. Wendy had started college and she was home for Thanksgiving right before her return home a tragedy hit the news and adopted girl named Elisa Steinberg was beaten to death at the hands of her adopted parents. It was big news. Wendy's mom sat her two daughters down to discuss the tragedy and what she felt. It meant to them.
My sister and I down at the kitchen table. I can vividly remember this talking about that event with us and basically said, you know, each of you needs to find your biological mother. She needs to know you're alive. You know, we raised you well you're okay. And, um, you know, that was a moment of like so much permission that I, I felt from that point on, I really had kind of permission to move forward, but, um, you know, my adopted mom while she's always been a big supporter of, um, my search, I think, you know, she's never known really how to search. So she's always told me, Oh, so, and so did this or so, and so did that. Why don't you try this? But you know, for me, the, the permission part was big. So, you know, even on that was 1987, I didn't really move on it much. I mean, I was in college, I was busy studying, hanging out with my friends, you know, developing kind of my life. And I didn't really know what to do
As with so many other adoptees, the birth of Wendy's first child and the gravity of bringing another person into the world who was the first blood relation she had ever had sparked feelings within her. She said, she knew for many years that the number on her birth certificate matched something in the New York birth index. She also felt like she had other search options
Years ago, really through reading a not autobiographical book that I could go to the New York public library and try to match up my number and find out what my birth name was, um, which I never actually did because I felt very overwhelmed at that thought. Again, you know, I was working, I was a young mom. I thought, how am I going to go to the New York public library and go through all these records, discover, figure this out. And you know, again, we might get to this later, had I even found my birth name at that point. It wouldn't have been helpful to me because the last name was not that accurate last name. My not only identifying information indicated that my birth mother used an alias of comes to understand that maybe that was provided by her parents as a way for her to be, um, not identified. But, um, you know, I knew I could do that. And then like basically slowly over the years, as I started making different types of attempts
In 2004, Wendy learned about the New York state adoption registry and she thought she could register. But she was told that since she was born in New York, but formally adopted in New Jersey, she didn't qualify for the registry. In 2009, Wendy received her non identifying information. Louise wise had closed and the records were being kept by Spence Chapen. She learned that she could register with the international soundex reunion registry, but nothing came of that. Either. Wendy always wondered what her ancestral composition was and her children had been prodding her to take a DNA test in November of 2017, Wendy submitted DNA samples to ancestry DNA and 23 and me, she got tons of matches and try to make contact openly sharing that she's an adoptee on a search. Wendy said the responses she got in return. Weren't very helpful. Honestly, she turned to the online group search squad where two search angels engaged with her. Wendy said she wished she had started her DNA journey much sooner than 2017.
One of them communicated with one of my DNA contacts very, very quickly identified my biological father and that was through ancestry. So, you know, part of the desire to have done this sooner is, um, you know, that the person, the one person who was a second cousin to my biological father who made that connection for me, um, she had tested many years earlier. So theoretically it could have known who he was, um, a long time ago. In fact, my biological mother was, um, found, uh, months later as a result of 23 and me that one probably would not have been solved any sooner because, um, it took time for a young 20 year old woman to test and come up as a fairly close connection to me in order to solve that puzzle.
The search squad search angel got as far as figuring out whom she believed Wendy's maternal grandfather was, but the trail of clues went cold on him after high school. It seems like he had vanished, either changed his name or left the country. It turned out he had changed his name. So the search for Wendy's maternal biological roots was cold until another woman who shared her birth mother's maiden name also submitted a DNA sample. Once that link was made online, Wendy's team had more information to work with with that person's identifiable last name, Wendy could search obituaries and other information to assemble her family tree
Both my biological parents are alive, which at my age was not my expectation that I would necessarily, you know, living people. Um, so, you know, part of, part of wishing I tested sooner was, you know, maybe some of these connections could have been made earlier. It was very interesting to find out what my ancestral composition was. Um, my non-identifying information said that I was born of, um, two Jewish parents, which is not true. And I was, yeah, I was surprised to learn that. Um, I had about half Eastern European Jewish ancestry through my biological mother and my biological father was Polish, Italian, um, Catholic man. And so never in my life, did I believe I was kind of this Italian Baltic ancestry. That's part of me, you know, naively very naively, I guess I've always sort of gone with the story and the non identifying information and believed it to be true. And much of it is not true.
You know, it's a funny thing, and this is the challenge that I think a lot of adoptees faces, you know, your brain requires the spaces to be filled, right? And if somebody gives you a story, you're going to hold onto it in the absence of some more factual information. And so I find that a lot of times I hear adoptees say, you know, perhaps ignorantly, I believed this when in fact if you've got no and nothing else to go on, of course, you're going to believe that that's all you've got. You know what I mean? Right. So the order of discovery was Wendy's biological father was discovered first she matched DNA with his second cousin whom she had actually communicated with before the search angel had. But the search angel asked some more directed questions of that cousin, which brought out evidence that pointed to only one man in the small family who was the right age to be Wendy's birth father. Wendy says that her search taught her that we sometimes need a village of supporters to help us along the way. She found a lot of clues on her own, but the expeditious uncovering of her birth father's identity by the search angel showed that she did need assistance. I asked Wendy if she reached out to her birth father,
I did, I re I've actually reached out to him several times when I found him, I wrote, um, what I would call a lovely letter, um, which I sent certified to him at this point. I didn't know who my biological mother was. And, um, I had his email address. So I, I sent it both certified and by email and I never received any sort of a response. Um, once they learned from my biological mother was they actually sent him another letter saying, you know, I've identified who she is. Um, and again, I've never received a response. I did try calling once and I got a machine then left a very awkward message ever received your response and about a year and a half or so passed. And I decided, you know, I'm going to give this one final try. Um, and again, I wrote another very beautiful letter, you know, I've included DNA information, linking him to me.
I enclosed photograph of myself, um, you know, each time. Um, and that last letter I sent the end of this past October, and I've never received any sort of a response. I do know that he's alive. He did. I mean, it has been the first time I sent the certified letter, I couldn't really make out the signature on the return receipt and I thought, wow, did he get it the second time I sent it, um, restricted delivery and I could make out the name as being his name. So I believe, you know, he has gotten the information and has chosen to not respond.
Will you keep trying?
Uh, no, I don't think so. I think I've tried enough. Um, you know, I've been very kind and gentle in what I've written and, um, you know, he obviously is disinterested or has a fear or, you know, I have no idea. So I think I'll just let it rest. What I really would have appreciated the most from him besides just some acknowledgement, you know, in my letter, I said it actually in my last letter, I sent a self addressed stamped envelope and said, could you just send this back to me, even with nothing in it, just so that I know you got this information, you know...