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117 – Born In June Raised In April
Episode 11718th April 2020 • Who Am I Really? • Damon L. Davis
00:00:00 01:05:58

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April called me from New York, New York, but her story originated in New England. She is a transracial adoptee whose search took her to a quintessential New England town and the connection to her birth mother’s former home which put April and the woman on the phone that night. But the pain of April’s conception was too much, so the pair never connected. Now April holds out hope that one day she’ll know the man with whom she shares DNA. Until then she maintains a strong foundation in her own identity. This is April’s journey. 

Transcripts

April (:

Everybody has good and bad in them. Some people behave criminally, right? Some people really do bad things. They go to jail for those things, right? Like holding goodness in ourselves, even when, in spite of we've got, you know, maybe a genetic connection to someone who has done that, things like that. We have to work our way through that, or else as individuals attached to that person, we're like, we won't make it.

Damon (:

Who am I? 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 the show today is April. She called me from New York, New York, but her story originated in new England. April is a transracial adoptee who search took her to a quintessential new England town and the connection to her birth. Mother's former home, which put April and the woman on the phone that night. But the pain of April's conception was too much. So the pair never connected. Now April holds out hope that one day she'll know the man with whom she shares DNA until then she maintains a strong foundation in her own identity. This is April's journey.

Damon (:

April Grew up in westerly, Rhode Island. Honestly, I get all of my new England geography mixed up. So I had to look up Rhode Island on the map for a refresher it's East of Connecticut and South of Massachusetts. And westerly is in the very Southwest corner of the state, right on the water. She referred to westerly as a small town in a small state. It's a beach community. Like what you think of when you imagine a new England waterfront town April told me it was a mostly Caucasian community with pockets of people of color, but she didn't have a connection to those communities. When she was a child. I asked April to explain what adoption was like for her as a kid,

April (:

You know, adoption was sort of everything and nothing, right? Everything to me as the adopted person who is of a different race than the family that was raising me. And that was the majority of the community was a different race than me. They were white and I'm not. So that was sort of everything. And then nothing in a way, because you know, my parents, the way in which they operated around adoption and well-intended right, was that I was, I was just their kid. And you know, I think you hear a lot of adoptive parents say they either, they treated me just like their other children. And I think the problem with that is that I wasn't like their other children, right. So that there were things that I needed that went unnoticed. And I say this all in the spirit of, of a great love and respect for my parents and, and a place now where we can talk about some of this stuff more openly.

April (:

And that doesn't mean that I don't love them. It just means that these are things that I've pointed out for myself throughout my journey to be better, you know, in myself and in relationship to them and in the world and more settled. So adoption was everything and nothing, and created some, some challenges that, you know, are just now in some more adult years of being able to deconstruct and, and work through. But, but as a kid, it was just, I don't know, I was, I was a little Island on my own, like, like trying to figure it out.

Damon (:

April said her family were some hardworking new England folks. She grew up on a farm where she learned the value of hard work.

April (:

It was a very much a self serving farm. We did not. You know, wasn't a business for us. This is more about having our own food. So there's a lot of labor involved in my childhood in terms of being outdoors and indoors and working. And my parents were always working like early risers, like taking care of the farm, like taking care of their job and taking care of us. So the spirit in which I was raised was very much like do your work, you know, education was sorta like a thing. Not really like, I mean, like we all had to go to school, but my parents were not like, you will go to college, you will, you know, be successful. My parents were like, be a good person. You know do well you know, love be, you know be honest kind of things that can be earnest and, and, and really just work hard. So my upbringing was, was quintessentially new England in that, in that regard

Damon (:

April's, parents' love story started when they were kids in the local four H youth development program, they went to the same church and attended the same schools.

April (:

They went to the same high school. They were high school sweethearts. And I just heard my mom recently tell the story of a junior prom and that she said she was not going to the prom unless she received an engagement ring. And sure enough, when they walked into the prom, everybody knew that they were engaged cause they showed up. So she had warned everyone, if we don't go, that means we're not engaged, but if we do come, that means we're engaged. So it was very sweet and they were married for several years. And at that time being high school sweethearts getting married right out of high school, you started having kids right away. And for them, that didn't happen. It didn't happen for several years. And what that did was created a very interesting part in which they, and a part of their lives, which I think really was like unexpected and certainly emotional for them.

April (:

You know, I wasn't there and I'm not projecting an experience on, I think what I can piece together is that it was a really difficult time to not have kids in that time and then be a little bit different from their peers are all having kids. Right? So, so there's something in that, right? There's something in that that they're experienced with not being able to have kids wanting them and something that wasn't discussed a lot. And we don't really talk about it today, but it's sort of, I could tell that that was a tough time for them.

Damon (:

But as is often the case April's parents were able to have children. April has two older brothers and a sister all about four years apart in age, but April's parents wanted a fourth child. And her impression was they wanted a girl, a balanced family, two boys and two girls.

April (:

But when they decided to adopt me in particular, part of that was with like a girl and their thought process was, it doesn't matter what race, you know, we, we welcome everyone. We don't see color kind of thing. Right? So their, their idea around this was very much pure and intentions, very well and beautiful, but like, I think it was, you know, there's a lot more thought that needed to go into that decision. They were not encouraged to think of that other than, you know, that here's a child even said, they even said that you would take a medically fragile child if that was the case. And there was maybe a sense that I might've been medically fragile or hard to place, but there was no real, I didn't really have any medical issues. The only issue really was that I was a different race and that was sort of brushed over by the agency. And then of course, quite frankly, by my parents, they just didn't, they didn't really address any of that stuff.

Damon (:

So what does that mean then for you as a child growing up in an all white family, you're a child of color in what I've heard is a very predominantly white community. What did that mean for you growing up in that scenario?

April (:

Well, it's complicated, right? There's so many layers to it. It's like the good news is that I survived it, right. I mean, let's just be clear like this, this transracially adopted person journey is one that a lot of people just don't understand. And now we have some research and we have some anecdotal evidence and we have some voices coming, you know, into, into sharper view and notice and we're hearing, but , like, it's just, it's difficult. And so I'm still here. So that's, that's the good news, but you know, there's because I, you know, I sort of, I laugh nervously or I, I laugh and I say that because it's like, some of us aren't still here and some of us have taken our own lives and it was too an experience to bear, not just not being with your family of origin and being separated and the trauma related to that.

April (:

But then being moved into this, this new place where you don't look like anyone else and you don't, you know, you don't see yourself. And there's some real dangerous things that happen now. I mean, like I, family is also pretty freaking amazing, right? So they, they did so many things to allow me in some ways, absent of race, which is kind of actually hard to even wrap my head around, like absent of like being culturally aware and competent and like putting those things as priority and infusing them into me. Like I do know self-love and I, and I only, I really, the only way I know it is because of how they raised me. Can I put my finger on what they did to make that happen? I can't, but I will tell you that I survived being transracially adopted ironically, in spite of, and because of the way they loved me, if that makes any sense and deconstruct that a little bit more you know, my family adopted me and they kept doing white things, right? Like they kept doing what they knew to do. They kept listening to John Denver, they kept listening to, they kept watching. Hee Haw you know, they kept, 'em using prowl shampoo in the shower. Right. And that was all good for them, but it didn't actually didn't work for me. That wasn't what I needed.

Damon (:

I gave some examples of the things that she needed as a young woman of color. She would have loved to have seen some books by black authors, like Tony Morrison on the bookshelf, seeing a mix of Hee Haw and soul train on TV. But we agreed. That's a tall order to ask a family to reach outside of its cultural norms, to teach a child how to be who they are in their own culture. April's parents raised her with the way they grew up in the culture they knew, and they did the best they could. April says she's done some of the deep personal work to understand herself and where she belongs, but she recognizes her experiences as a transracial adoptee and have opened her eyes to broader concepts of how we interact with one another.

April (:

Well, it just so happens that through this experience of transracial adoption, by no choice of my own, like I've, I've learned and seen some of these things that are more could, should quite frankly, be more broadly applied to the world in order to then level off some of what has been inflicted and constructed around us through race construct, you know class gender, you know, like, so I'm not suggesting that these experiments of transracial adoption and adoption more broadly are part of, what's gonna make the world a better in some ways, that's it. It's not that's, we, that's not, we should have to shoulder at the same time. I can't not see some of the layers in which this experience has brought to me and my family and not recognize some of the more broadly universal human things that need to be addressed. Like urgently,

Damon (:

April was raised in a family with a lot of love, but obviously she recognized early on that she was different from them. In many ways. She said there was never a time when her parents had a discussion with her about being adopted. She was just always aware with a solid understanding that she had other parents out there.

April (:

I also got the fact that they were, my birth mother was white. Therefore my birth father was black. Like I always just concretely got that. There was never a time when let's say you hear these stories of grade school kids talking about adoption. And, you know, you'll hear a kid say, well, you know that, you know, your, your parents are black and you're not, or whatever, or you're white and they're not, you know, there's like this moment where a kid will go, Oh my God, like, there's a moment. And people we tell this and go like, that was the moment I realized that, like, what was happening here? Like, I didn't walk into any matrix, which is, this is what my parents, I hold up in a, in an amazing way. And I don't think that they'll, they'll be able to tell you how they did it either, which was, I never walked into a scenario where I felt like, I didn't know, at least the basics of my truth.

April (:

Right. Like, I didn't know who they weren't even aware they were, but I knew that they existed. And I knew that I wasn't with them. And I knew that in my, in my mind, based on what I was told, I can only extrapolate from that is they weren't bad people. Right. Like I just, there was something that I, I didn't ever feel like I was at a a basic deficit, you know, like, did I have details? No. Right. And that will come later. Right. Like as I start to scrutinize this a little bit more and think like, okay, so all of that, but then, and what, what, what are the details? Right. So I have to say that early on, I was very, very grounded in this fact that yes, it was adopted. Yes. There were parents that were somewhere else that weren't parenting me.

April (:

Yes. I was white in some biracial. Yes. My parents were raising me, aren't in my family. So there was some real concrete things. I don't know when and how that happened, but they, I think they did a fabulous job of the basics. Now, when it came to the details, that's where it got, it got confusing. Right. It was like, what can we, so like, w where are they? And like, what do they look like? And, you know, detail, like, why don't we have this gap in my teeth? And you know, why am I good at certain things? And not like, I think that curiosity, curiosity started to happen, you know, in grammar school, into middle school, you know, there, there was, there was like this, like an unraveling of like, okay, I have this concrete information and what, what can I do with it? Or, or how can I get

Damon (:

In grade school reading provided an interesting path for herself. Explorations, April identified with the hidden backstory of Disney princesses with fantasy and lore in their own stories as being similar to her story as an adoptee later books like Judy bloom solidified concepts of identity and sparked more curiosity in her mind, she described her desire to search as an energy that built up over time. And she just kind of always felt like she would take action to search in her early twenties. She asked her parents more pointed questions about whether they had paperwork about her adoption. Of course, those questions were rather pointed because April had already snooped in the file drawers in the basement and seen a few documents briefly. So she kind of knew what she was asking for.

April (:

And of course they were like, yeah, like, I think it's in the basement. You like, do you want to look? And I'm like, okay, sure. Great, good idea. So then, you know, there was some paperwork, right. And it was fascinating. And actually, I was like, Oh my gosh, you know, who knew? These are like my, my receipts. You know what I mean? Like their, their receipts, like there's, there's like actual, it was actually things that came with me that are like on paper,

Damon (:

But she started researching more information about how to search at the time in Rhode Island, no adopted person could get their non identifying information unknown to April Rhode Island's laws for adoptee records were less important than she had anticipated because she would later find out she was born in Massachusetts. Her records were split in two places. April ended up receiving non identifying information from Rhode Island and almost the exact same information from her adoption agency. The parallels between the two sources of information boosted April's confidence that what she was reading were accurate facts. April started attending a search and reunion group in Manhattan, where she had moved. She recruited the assistance of volunteer search angels and wrote to various sources of information like the records department of the hospital, where she was born to get more information while the reunion group didn't work out for April, she did follow their advice to send a benign records request to the hospital where she was born. And sure enough, it worked check out how the records request unfolded for April.

April (:

Sure enough. I got my whole medical file with and Helen's information as well, which is like people, some people heard that and they were like, Oh my gosh. Like, so then I had her name, her mother's name, my maternal grandmother's name. I had my siblings names. I had the years of birth. Like, I mean, they support, like I had everything basically from that, that medical file.

Damon (:

How did you do that? You said you didn't come at, from the approach of, of speaking through, speaking about adoption. You did it a different way.

April (:

Yeah, no. Yeah, I did. So I, so, so I got all my non-identifying information that was easy to get. I didn't have a name. And then I went down this road of like, Oh, I didn't have a name of my birth mother, but I did find out that my name at birth was different than my name that I was given. So I find out, found out that my name at birth was June Elizabeth and that my parents just didn't, my parents didn't know that either, by the way, they just liked the name April Elizabeth and I'm born in October. So that's why everything I do is born in June recent April. Right. Because it just is like the truth, right. Of like my name's and then everything else just sort of wraps up into that dramatically. So given that I knew my name at birth, and I knew my date of birth, I wrote just like a very benign records request.

April (:

My name at birth was June Elizabeth. My, my maternal, my mother's name was Helen I'm. I'm I'm seeking my medical records. That's it? I just signed it, dated. It sent it. And like about a month later, I got a huge file from, and it's from the minute that she checks into the hospital about a couple of weeks before that I, before I'm born to her, leaving, going to a apparently going to a boarding home, like a home for women in nearby. And then coming back to the hospital, having me, she leaves, she leaving the hospital and me staying. I'm gonna have everything, everything I have every day.

Damon (:

That's incredible. Wow. That's really unbelievable.

April (:

Yeah. Then it was completely sort of a, like a, you know, people are like, yeah, I'm probably not gonna get anything, but I was like, I'm going to dry. And then boom. And then it got it. And that was like, that's just the everything opened up. At that point. I had, I had everything I needed really to find her. Ultimately

Damon (:

April had a whole collection of great information to find her mother of experience Helen. But what she lacked was an address. The hospital paperwork detailed the interim place where Helen was going to stay locally in Massachusetts, but it didn't have a home address for her in Rhode Island. The search angel April was working with, provided her with a possible address there.

April (:

And then one day like completely, really unplanned. I said to one of my girlfriends, I was happened to be in Rhode Island. It was, it was Friday the 13th actually. And I said, let's take it.

Damon (:

It was 2003. This girlfriend of April's had been supportive throughout her search. So she was down when April said less role on the drive. Her girlfriend asked what the plan was, but April didn't have one on the way to idyllic Newport, Rhode Island. They hastily, pieced together a cover story that they were students working on a research project or something truthfully, they were just winging it.

April (:

So we knock on the door. This woman's older woman comes to the doors, very sweet. Hello. How can I help you? And I'm like, Oh, hi, we're doing a project for school or for college or something. I don't know how we, like we weren't in college anymore. But we were just like, maybe we felt, we looked like we were in college. Or we're doing like some family research or whatever. We're wondering about someone who maybe lived here before and her name was Helen. And she's like, Oh, come, you know, come on in. I got it. I know she lived here before, but I didn't know her. So I walk in the door and I'm like something overwhelming happened when I walked in the door. Like, I like, my body felt something like happen. And I was like, okay, I can't tell I can't lie.

April (:

And my friend looks at me like, Oh, you're not, Oh, you're not, you're not doing this right now. Like we, we had, we had a deal that we were just going to keep it light, like, and I was like, no, no, no. So I was like, I can't lie. Like, I'm actually, I'm adopted. And I think my birth mother Helen May have lived here and she's like, Oh come in and sit down. And like this, this is where it gets bananas. She's like well, this is really amazing. My husband and I are adoptive parents of two biracial children. And we, you know, believe in openness and adoption and we are all open records and we want our kids to search. They haven't yet. And you know, we will do absolutely anything we can do to help you. I was like, wait, what?

Damon (:

Keep in mind, this is a small town. So since Helen lived in this woman's home before members of the community knew Helen, as a matter of fact, the brother-in-law of the woman who answered the door, knew Helen to the husband and wife called his brother with the incredible news that Helen's daughter was at their house and asked him to come over.

April (:

Of course it was also became like this thing, like I'm never going to believe this, right? Like just like turning Newport on its head really in less than 12 hours. Right? Like, so this person comes over who knew Helen and is like, looking at me, studying me like, Oh my gosh. Like, and I, and I later find out that this gentleman is one of the, like the most world renowned facial sculptors and has a photographic memory. And, and basically said, as he was looking at me, Oh my gosh, like, you're totally her kid. And by the way, you, like, you looked like your half siblings in this great detail. I was like, Oh my gosh, like, no one's ever told me. I looked like anybody before. So there were all these, like, things that were happening that were like really out of a movie that I was like, Oh, Oh, wow, like that's a gift. And also, I can't believe this.

Damon (:

The facial sculptor didn't know where Helen was at that time, but he made suggestions for others. April should contact to track her down. He dropped the name, Pat a Helen was very friendly with in her younger days. And they had raised their kids together. He also suggested contacting a physician in town. Helen used to be close with. And a man who ran part of the fisherman's Wharf April's first call was to Helen's old friend, Pat. And she said,

April (:

Pat's is going to sound crazy. You know, you might have known my mother, Helen, like I'm adopted I'm trying to find her. She was like, wait, what year is this? Like, Oh my God. So she's deconstructing in her brain. Like she know her best friend was pregnant. The irony yet again is that Pat herself was a birth mother and was searching for the sensory relinquish. Okay. And did it know that Helen had it? They shared that and they didn't know. Pat was a, was a you know a first mother birth mother, a mother of origin in high school, she had her child and then relinquished her child, Helen. My, my mother of origin did that when she was 33. Right. And had three children already that she was parenting. So they're very different timelines for them, but same experience and neither shared it with the, with the other.

April (:

Wow. So Pat in sorts of her kid and in service of this bigger idea that we all deserve tend to be reconnect April. I will do anything to help you and had her daughter sort of, because her daughter Pat's daughter who was parented by Pat knew my siblings and knew Helen and went to visit them after they moved from Newport to Hawaii. So Rachel Pat's daughter had a lot of information, pictures, and basically a telephone number that she had had that didn't hadn't, she hadn't used in years and she hadn't really stayed in touch over the years. But she said, if, if you want it, take this phone number, I don't know if it's for Helen or for someone else in the family, but sent me pictures. Basically her mother was like, Rachel, tell her everything, you know? And Rachel was like, we don't even know this person, mom. Pat's like tell her everything. We know she's family to us. She's important to us. She's on a mission that we're on because they were also trying to find their sibling and then son. And so they told me, they gave me everything and I had a phone number, you know? Wow. Yeah. And then I called it,

Damon (:

Tell me about the call. That must have been nerve wracking. I mean, you're already having crazy,

April (:

Right. I'm having a day, like what is happening? And I like the way this search unfolded for me was like, I, I really not even knowing, like it just somehow was very measured in it. I was, I always was like, don't rush this April. Like take your time. There were years that went by, you know, in 2001, I got my non-identifying information in 2003. Like I started like looking again to get, you know, the, I started with the search angel. I, I wrote to get my birth records. Like I did this over many years. Right? Like I didn't, it never felt to me that this should go fast. And I envisioned writing a letter first. I never mentioned calling. So when I have this phone number and it was Friday the 13th and all these things happen, I find this family who's experienced adoption who was so loving and kind and warm and welcoming, and like created this container of safety for me. I had this next layer of, of a friend who knew Helen, who created this container of love and safety for me through her experience and sharing and understanding me and see me, right? Like how could I have get, be so fortunate

Damon (:

April and her friend left the kind woman's house and stopped at a restaurant for lunch. April, usually doesn't drink bloody Mary's. But guess what? She drank at lunch that day, that crazy day called for some unusual and uncharacteristic cravings to be satisfied, drive him back to westerly Rhode Island. The women were tripping

April (:

The whole time. We were just like, what the hell just happened

Damon (:

With a potentially very important phone number in hand, the women pulled their car over to the side of the road. April's friend talked her through what a phone call to this phone number in Hawaii could be like April felt unsettled about calling to make the first contact. Instead of writing an introductory letter, her desire was to give Helen the respect of easing into their reunion by reading that kind of letter, not being ambushed as it were by a random call completely out of the blue, she felt conflicted, but she gathered herself

April (:

After a couple of deep breaths. I like I called and sure enough, the person who answered the phone, which is what Rachel had said might happen. This could be for your half sister and her husband who, by the way, our law, our law enforcement professionals. And probably won't give you any information. Cause they're like, you sort of add asses and they're not going to like, do much like to help you probably because not that they're not people that good people, it's just like, they're protective, right. This is what they do. They're not just Willy nilly. So I was like, all right, so sure enough who answered the phone was? My, my, I think was, and I never confirmed this, but I I'm almost positive that it was my, my half sister's husband who answered the phone. And I said, hello, my name is April.

April (:

I'm calling from Newport. Or I'm calling from Rhode Island. I think I said I'm and I'm looking for Helen. And he said, Oh, all right. Do you have her number? And I was like, no. And he was like, all right, it's eight Oh eight, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I was like, Oh, I'm like, Hey, thanks. It's like, okay, wait. Okay. That was easy. Right. Gosh. Right. So, all right. So I have her number now. And then my friend's like, all right, like we're doing this. And I was like, okay, like we're doing this. So, and I just recently found, I didn't know I had this, I just recently found the notes that I took, that I scribbled. It must've been, I don't know how soon after this call, I scribbled them, but I'm so glad I did because it all became a little bit of a blur.

April (:

And so I called and she picked up the phone and I said, Hey, Helen, my name is April. I'm calling from Rhode Island. I recently got my birth records. And your name was listed as my birth mother silence. Right. I told her, you know, I said, I don't have much time to talk, cause know, get back in the back of my mind. I'm like racking up the cell phone tower charges, and like enough of time to talk, like, here's my practical, like new England, like conservatively, fiscally minded. Like don't spend a lot of money even on this moment, like, but like, so I was like, I don't have that much time to talk, but I just wanted you to know that I'm happy and well, and I, and I, I kept saying I'm happy. And like, I had a great family. I was sort of like in her silence, I was like filling the airspace of like I have like two brothers and a sister and my parents, I grew up on a farm.

April (:

Like I was kinda like just giving her the headlines. Right. And I had a great family. And you know, I've lived in New York. I was sort of filling in the blanks and, and she's like huh. Huh. you know, and then when she was able to speak she, she was like she said, I would hear all of these awful stories of adoption and I worried that something terrible had happened to you and I'm so relieved. And then of course I kept apologizing when I called her because I know I could tell in her voice that this was like, so like hard for her. And I didn't cry on the call at all, which my friend, actually, after I got off the phone, she was like, how did you not cry? I'm like, I don't know.

April (:

And then the other thing that she said was only you and I know about us, it was a really hard time for me. And I just simply said back to her. I know. And I told her I loved her and then if it was okay with her, that I would like to send her a letter and some pictures and that I hope that she would send me back some pictures too. And she sort of giggled and like nervously laughed. Like it almost as if, to like, why would you want pictures of me kind of thing. It was really sort of self deprecating and really sweet and also very telling. And she said she would love pictures of me and never promised to send me anything back. But you know, she said, we said goodbye. And of course she, she been transplanted to Hawaii. Soon after I was born, she moved, she did my siblings all the way to Hawaii and that's where she remained until her death. And then she just said Aloha. And we hung up the phone.

Damon (:

Wow. Oh my gosh. I don't know how you didn't cry either. You just made me cry as I was sitting here thinking about this moment. I mean, it's so heavy that to be received in a moment of surprise and she had no clue you were coming. She basically said, I've been, I've been wondering about you the whole time. That's really unbelievable. April admitted that navigating this whole situation, trying to keep herself together, carrying the weight of the conversation she had finally had with Helen and registering the emotions of others was a lot of emotional labor. She said that another big part of that emotional weight was the surprise that overtook her adopted parents. When she got home that night and shared what had happened that day.

April (:

They were, I think just as stunned as in some ways as Helen was in terms of the emotion that they've felt. I mean, my dad never really even talked to me about it. I think he just went into his base. My mom, she was happy for me, but like there was also an undercurrent of, of emotion and pain and enjoying all complexity with that, like that we still, we still have, you know, our difficulties in navigating. Right? Like but even when it comes to Helen and that experience with me, like that was such a gift and also like the tone in her voice and how she spoke and her nervous laughter and her fear that I heard and the voice as she, you know, I immediately went into caretaker mode for her like, wow, like this is this, this is like really difficult and I have to care for her. Right. I actually knew, I actually pretty much knew after that phone conversation that I was never going to beat her. Like I knew, I knew I wasn't. Yeah. I knew I wasn't going to meet her. I knew I it's just something inside of me knew even though I probably, you know, I just knew I know X something and I never said that out loud. I never articulated that to anybody. I always felt I always was hopeful and I've always was always like, like trying, but I knew I wasn't going to meet her

Damon (:

Just days after their first phone call. April sent Helen a letter two weeks later, April received Helen's response when she described it, April said it wasn't an unkind letter. It was simply transactional. Just kind of asking, what do you want in return? April explained that she loved to meet Helen, meet her siblings and to learn about her birth father. She said that's when things began to unravel Helen wrote a short response that got straight to the point.

April (:

I don't know who your sperm donor was. I was raped hearing from you. Our family has no genetic health history. I'm hearing from you has made me very depressed. So, you know, no, no genetic health history. So like, like we're perfectly healthy family, but like, okay. So there's just like a real closing off of, you know, a sexually violent, you know, act in which, you know, led to my conception. You know, all these things we're starting to layer in as like, okay, like I'm not gonna know this person. And and that's exactly what happened. I mean, she stopped writing. I, you know, would do a couple of more rounds of writing to her. Like, are you, you know, check the box? Like, would you like me to not be in touch with you any longer? And she checked the box and like with a big accident, like, no, I don't want you to be in touch.

April (:

And you know, certain other things happened after that in terms of me trying to find siblings in reaching out and I did reach out and find a sibling. And they said that I reached out I actually reached out through a third party and didn't really call them directly. But she called me and was basically very angry and said you know, stay away from my family. And you know, no one's to know about you. And it was, it was pretty awful. And that was the last time I talked to her, I talked to her twice at the first time was, was what you heard at the second time was that was the last time of like, just say, stay away from my family kind of thing. I found some other folks that were connected to her that were really loving and kind and awesome.

April (:

Pat wrote her a letter. This gentleman, John, who was described as my birth father wrote her a letter who was not my birth father, by the way, he's white, she's white. So that was the part of the birth narrative that wasn't true. And he was lovely and amazing and wrote her a letter on my behalf of beautiful letter. That, that was like, you're missing out. If you don't know this, even being Pat wrote her a letter, like I, I never told you something, Helen, I'm a birth mother to you. You need to know April's she needs to know you will be very healing for you. Those letters went on answered. I'm a biological cousin, half biological cousin on her side. Did find me and reach out to me through the, the person who was with my supposed father. And we met, he talked to her at one point and said, Hey, I met April.

April (:

I know her. And she said, I don't care what you do. I'm this is not for me. I will never meet her. And she died soon after that. And on her way to the next life told her caregivers that she had another daughter and those caregivers told my half siblings, my half siblings and found be. So I have now been in reunion with my maternal side, Helen side of half siblings, cousins. And it's been amazing and also heartbreaking, right. Because I don't get her, but I get parts of her through them, which is a joy, but it's also like, you know, not, you know, it's not enough, but it's, it's, I'll take it

Damon (:

Sometimes. That's what we have to do and we'll take what we can get. But if you think about it, that must have been a dramatic roller coaster ride. The whimsy of an unscripted trip to Newport to the former home of her birth mother turned April into the talk of the town and connected her with important people in Helen's life and got her on the phone with Helen that evening, Helen was receptive to hearing that April was okay, but had no interest in reuniting closing all doors and rejecting April. I asked her how she coped with such a challenging array of conflicting emotions.

April (:

Well, I'll tell you what I didn't do. Thankfully. I didn't turn to drugs or alcohol. I did not. I did not go down the path of like, self-medication thank God. I mean, I, because like, I guess that could have really easily happened and I really have to say that out loud because it's like, it's, it could have easily gone that way. Right? Like it just could have, because it was so emotionally like gut wrenching. Right. So my family, right? Like as much as my family didn't understand this and wasn't like really in tune with the depth of the emotion of it, my mom just created this, like, as she does just like this very practical, loving thing. And, and, you know, she did something else which is really super complicated, which was, she started to really dislike Helen. Right. So all throughout life, it was this like Helen was this beautiful human being who, who made an adoption plan, which then benefited my family.

April (:

So when in their eyes and my mom's eyes, she was just like, she, she had to be good and amazing. And that's, that's a, for another podcast, right? I'm not here to deconstruct that idea, but, but, but, but I always felt that that while complicated clearly, and it wouldn't even have the language of this throughout my early years. But like, like my, my birth mother was complicated. I, I sort of inherently knew this. It's like not an uncomplicated thing that adoption is rooted in. Right. Or the people around it. But like, she wasn't bad. And I never, like, she was a bad person, but when Helen rejected me, like she did, my mother went into this, like, how dare she? And like, you're amazing. Like how could, how could this person who birth to you? Not want to know you. Like, she was so mad and I'm like, I needed her to be mad, but I described as like the ex boyfriend that you might get back together with.

April (:

Right. You don't want to tell your family too many of the bad things that he does because you might want to marry this guy. Right. And if he asks you, you might say yes. So if even with all that junk, if she had said April Helen, she had said, April, come to Hawaii to see me. I would have been on the next plane. Yeah. And that's really hard for someone like my mom who loves me so much. It is so bewildered and angry for someone who rejected me. Like she did, that's what I needed her to do. Like, I needed her to be like protective of me in that way. But like, damn like that was also my birth mother. And if she had made a space for me to go meet her, I was going so complicated.

Damon (:

Yeah. That's a super complicated position to be in. You know, I can't help thinking about my own children and you know, I love them. And if you don't like, like to it super plain, if you don't like my kids, like we're not gonna get along. Right. You know what I'm saying? So I'm going to be defensive and there's no, there's no two ways about protective and protective. That's right. And so, you know, props to your mom for being right there on your side, because that proves that she's been there all along and she will continue to be there. Right. And that's, you're right. She needed to sort of do that, but I can also understand your perspective of wanting her to, or wanting there to be this space of getting that invitation to come. And like let's meet once or let's meet halfway or whatever the thing is so that you could actually go and do that.

Damon (:

I mean, it really is a tug of war of emotions for you to be in, in two mothers hearts. Right. And in different ways. I mean, that's just, that sounds really, really tough. Helen died in about 2014. April said the significant dates on the calendar, like Helen's death date or Helen's birthday, which is ironically in April, just kind of sneak up on her. She said, when those dates get close, it's kind of like, she can feel it in her body. She feels off kind of foggy. I asked her if it was tough to have her own name and Helen's birth month both be April.

April (:

Yeah. Oh gosh. I mean, you know, like there's the obvious things that are like, you know, that we attach ourselves to like our birthdays and mother's day father's day anniversaries, things like that. But you know, a birth parents birthday is this is something that I've now been helping adoptive parents understand is that you need to Mark that on your calendar, ladies and gentlemen, and you need to honor it and celebrate it. And guess what, if you don't know the date, make it up together with your kid and say, honey, I don't know the date that your parents were born and I've tried to find out, but I don't know. And we don't know them. So that's unfortunate, but let's pick a day that we're going to honor them because without them there's no youth. And like that is like, so like profoundly important and somewhat simple and yet, so emotionally difficult because when we start to do stuff like that, then we start to deconstruct this like the real experiences of adoption for all of us. And we start to restart to do it. And at the higher level of engagement, which is what these complicated family experiences and identity experiences need and deserve urgently.

Damon (:

So April found herself in an interesting position regarding learning more about her father of origin. If she didn't want to face her mother of origins, attacker, she could avoid search and stop everything with finding Helen and her siblings. But in the modern era, one DNA test could open a whole new chapter. I asked April if she did anything to search for her birth father,

April (:

I have, I mean, I've always wanted to know all parts. And that means my father of origin and who he is and what he looks like. And you know, I always believed what Helen told me, right? Like the people that I told about that in which she shared a lot of people more, more than, more than not say, we don't really believe that. Do you? And I'm like, wait, what? Like, you mean she would be lying about being raped? Like, is that okay? So let me just, let me just break this down in two ways. One, if it's the truth, it's awful. Right. it doesn't mean that my identity changes as a, as a grown woman, knowing that that is how I was conceived in no way, shape or form changed my identity at all. Like, like I just had a strong constitution that said what the circumstances I'm here.

April (:

I have a beautiful soul. I'm a good person. Like, I'm not perfect. But I also like if, if, if my conception came about because of rape, that doesn't change who I am. So I knew that inherently second part is like, and that has to do with how I was raised. And again, like whatever my parents did to make a strong individual like through their nurture. Right. Second thing is if it is a lie or if it's not, it's worse, in my opinion, that has more of an impact on my identity than the act itself. Right. If in fact, my mother of origin would lie to me and tell me that I like that. I almost, I can't that I can't process like that. I have a hard time processing. So I always believed her. I always believed her and I like it, but I always believed her.

April (:

Right. Cause the truth of her not telling the truth was actually harder to, for me to process emotionally, if that makes sense. Right. cause that would just be mean-spirited like, that would just be mean-spirited and really speak to then be also having to understand her pain in a way that I, I don't know that I was equipped to understand. Right. okay. So something bad happened. I get it. Even if it wasn't rape something bad happened between the two of them, right. Let's just be clear varying degrees of that. Right. I still want to know that person, whatever I learned in life or whatever, like however I've learned it is that people can be good people that do bad things. People can be rehabilitated after doing bad things. And quite frankly, the way in which we need to hold that most closest to our humanity is when our parents, the people who create a physically have some of those things that are, that are more obvious than others.

April (:

Like everybody has good and bad in them. Some people behave criminally, right? Some people really do bad things. They go to jail for those things. Right? Like holding goodness in ourselves, even when, in spite of we've got, you know, maybe a genetic connection to someone who has done that, things like that. We ha we have to work our way through that. Or else as individuals attached to that person, we're like, we won't make it right. We just won't make it. It'll be too much. So like, I've like in some ways, very intentionally not, I can't tell you exactly what I did, but like I know there was an attention and how I moved through life, knowing that to, to get to a place where yes, I still want to know this person. It doesn't mean we'll have a relationship. It doesn't mean that he's, you know, still that person, I don't know, but I'm, I'm willing.

April (:

I want to know that person. And I, and I have not found him. I thought I knew who he was. It was a very crazy undertaking. A Newport. There was a guy like right around the corner from her that looks like me. That isn't is black is kind of like who knew her and is, is, is not the guy. Like if, if, if D if DNA sites and ancestry has anything to say about it he is not connected to me in that way, but I thought I had found him. And now I am mining the DNA sites and getting some hits with third cousins, but it's like, it's really been difficult to pinpoint. April is holding out hope that you'll find her father of origin. One day she's piecing

Damon (:

The puzzle together. As time goes by. Chances are, you may have known April's voice already. She's yet another inspiring person in the adoptee community. When I launched the, who am I really podcast, I scanned the podcast universe for other adoptive voices. Of course I found Haley Radke, his wonderful podcast adopt these on, but it was on her show that I heard about April's podcast born in June, raised in April April's work goes much deeper than her podcast. I asked her to talk about her work in the adoption community.

April (:

Yeah. Thanks. No, thanks for asking that work is, is, is so inspiring, fascinating, hard everything. So when I did the search and it, it, it really unfolded the way it did. And I had a lot of energy, a lot of emotional energy. I was like, what do I do? What do I do? And then we were, were growing, growing up in the family. I grew up in it's like, you didn't sit and cry about things very long. You were allowed to sit and cry for a minute, but then it was like, come on, chop, chop let's go. So it was like, what do I do? And I needed to do something. And that's when the adaptment program was really conceived, which was adopted adults, mentoring youth in foster care. And that was just really about kind of like a self serving.

April (:

Like I didn't have this, I didn't have anybody to talk to. Let's go to the place where I feel like the most need is, which was, this felt like foster care. It was the greatest need. And so I, I had gathered up some folks that were adopted, like me as grownups. And we started this mentoring program and it's still around today. We very proudly in our 16th year and a small, you know, small, like maximum of 10 matches in a cohort I really ate at, you know, six to eight really works well because we're all really, we go really deep and it's a program I'd like to, you know, replicate in other States. And it's just, it's, it's got a, really a beautiful but beautiful flow to it. I love it. And, you know, the adopted adults create this little cohort of support.

April (:

And then we, we, we work with the young people. We all become this, like this, this, this family in a way, right. Of, of support. And it's beautiful. That then started me like that was during my corporate time, I was still doing corporate work and doing that. And I was like, wow, I'm going to this foster care agency. This is why I came through a foster care agency. Like I was in foster care for several months. But I don't know how it works. So I got very curious about the system and about adoption and how it's transacted in the process. And I was blown away by how the Nan is, did it is in terms of like, like how many kids are in foster care, what the, you know, the need for foster parents and adoptive parents. And in the private system, I was, I became very much interested in the process and what was happening today.

April (:

So then I started to do some volunteer work and I started to do some speaking. I did a lot of speaking about transracial adoption what my white parents didn't know and why it turned out. Okay. Anyway, like really about what, like what, what, what that experience was like and what parents need to do today. And then I started to do more advocacy work and the night ran at Institute for adoption of foster care research for several years and left corporate. And, and now that that organization is dissolved and all the work is still out there. It's it's available and out there, the research, but my work has now shifted to being more of a a service provider for professionals and parents in terms of, of how to engage in, upgrade how they're raising their kids and how we're helping parents.

April (:

So a lot of work that I do is in coaching and speaking and workshop facilitation around the calendar, right. I deconstruct the calendar. I, I really help people really systematically and structurally kind of take on some of the hardest stuff and then give them real concrete things I could do. Like, you know, put your, put your, your child's family of origins, birthdays on the calendar, figure out how to honor that and celebrate that things like that and preparing for mother's day and father's day and birthdays. So, you know, there's a whole curriculum that I'm developing actually around that. And some distance learning and some coaching. And I consult, I consult with the federal government on a few things that are related to preparing adoptive parents. I help them create a podcast. I do a lot of writing and and work related to that work.

April (:

And then I'm also doing my own personal writing. And the podcast is really like, kind of where it all centers it's like, where I can have these conversations. It's all, you know, born in June, raised in April the headline or the messages, what adoption can teach the world. And that is just like, about not like about like, you know, we all have to teach the world something as adopted persons know that just like there are lessons that we've all learned that actually I think are good for the greater humanity to be listening to. And so we, you know, it's funny cobbled together over life of, you know, my personal experience and my professional experiences all kind of rolled up in one little package that feels inspiring and amazing, and also like, Oh my gosh, what am I doing? Like, do I, can I really do this? Like, this is a lot. But so far so good.

Damon (:

Oh my gosh, it's so amazing. Wow. I just, you know, I've seen the pieces of the body of work that you're involved in, but to hear you describe it is incredibly inspirational. And I'm really glad that you took your own personal experience as well as your professional exposures and have turned it into an enterprise of helping people understand who they are, how we relate and how adoption sort of makes it all tied together for specific people. I think that's really amazing.

April (:

Wow. Well, I mean, we're all in this together and for you to have these conversations with us, I mean, I think, you know, the way in which you allow us to share that search and that, that identity, that like, it's, it's breathtaking quite frankly, and you do such a beautiful job and narrating and making that space safe and appropriate. And man, I just hope everybody listens. And there were just what we really are all in it together. And, and I give us all just a big, like high five hug, like cheers. We need each other and it's amazing to have it.

Damon (:

Yeah, it's true. It's funny how it, thank you for that. It's funny how it feels like we are siblings of some kind,

April (:

You know, I say something all the time I call, I say, I call it, you know, people say the extent that the constellation of adoption, like the triad, I'm like, I call it the extended family of adoption. That's what this was. That's what this is to me. It's an extended family of adoption and yes, absolutely. And, and the other thing that's so critically important that like, I'm, I've just now coming to clarity with this. And that is, you know, this idea of like, it's very native American, it's very culturally indigenous, right. People's thought process, which is all children are our children, right. We all have something to give to children and children have something to give to us. And what that hadn't said inspired me to actually think about, which is how I've always held this. And it flies in the face of some of the more like, you know, some, some of the harder edged adopted persons.

April (:

And I don't say that in a derogatory way. I'm just saying that that's just, that's where there's room for all of us. And we need those harder edges. That's just not who I am. Right. I am now like the way that I, the spirit in which I want to do my work is all parents are my parents. So when I think about how much respect and love and accountability, I placed on my parents who raised me and on the parents, the one parent I still don't know. And the one that I did know for a short time, even just in, in her voice, in her words, on a page, like I want to hold them. I want to hold them and love them and respect and honor them, even when they weren't perfect for me. Because if I can do that, any parent that comes into my space who's scared or, or, or, or, or confused, or like tired or, or hurt which they all are because if anybody had a childhood, right. We all come through this as grownups, whether we're parents or not, and have things I need to hold them in the same way that I want people to hold all children, I need to hold all parents. Right. Because like, they deserve that. I have to hold them, love them as if they're my parents so that they can be better at their job.

Damon (:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We have to unite in the ways that will uplift us all. And I love that you have to put it into frame of all parents are my parents. Right. Cause it speaks to even more broadly and we could go down just a crazy path of this. But I mean, quite literally, just the respect that you give a generation above you and below you, right. Is, you know, the, the, you speak to the adage that it takes a village to raise a child and things like that. Like you, it's not until you get to be an adult that you realize what the adults in your life have done for you. Right. And it's, it's in that space that you can sort of look around you and go, wow. These people who are my adult support network are similar probably to the adult support network that my parents had. And it was, you know, the other parents in the neighborhood who were watching my house when I wasn't away in my kid was home as a latchkey kid. It's the teachers who were emailing me or calling me and saying, Hey, look, I just want you to be aware of this thing that happened. It's the, it's the, you know, whoever in your church, it's whoever who was just on the street and was like, Hey man, Hey,

April (:

Yeah, don't watch it. What's he doing?

Damon (:

Right. And so there's all these guard rails around us. And quite literally the adults are in our spaces are very poignantly similar to our parents in that they are providing that the rules structure that allows us to grow up and be responsible and then carry it forward. So I like that you've acknowledged that that's really cool.

April (:

Yeah. It's time to really get back to that. Right. Like, you know, because we've, we've been so individualistic in our, like, this country is so much a part of that. Like me, me, mine, my family, my mom has ownership over stuff and I'm like, like just doesn't work. Right. It just doesn't work as a collective idea. Like it, and we're not built that way. So it's like, we do, I think getting back to that is like part of like, the work is like, how do we get back to that? Like, it's okay to say to a kid that you see, that's not really doing right to say, Hey, Hey kid, like, I see you. I love you. Like knock it off. Yeah. Right. And without a parent going, like, did you talk to my kid that way? You know, like, I like it. There's so many layers to it, but you know, I somehow, or another through this journey of adoption and it's like put so much into sharp focus on like, like our, our collective humanity and the needs that we have. So hopefully we know like that we, we can collect. We can, we can all be contributing to doing that work. Look forward.

Damon (:

I agree. I love it. Thank you so much for the work that you do. Thank you April for taking time to share your story. This has been really fascinating. I learned something from every single person. I used to go into each interview and think, Oh, I know where this is going. And I, I just, I stopped doing that very, very quickly because every single journey is vastly different and yours is the same. So thank you for, for being out there, helping others. And thank you for sharing your story here. I appreciate it.

April (:

Yeah. I appreciate you. Thank you. This is great. I, you know what a joy and yeah, just I have a lot of respect for, for you and what you do, and thank you. Thank you.

Damon (:

I'll talk to you later. April. Take care all the best. Thanks.

April (:

Okay. Bye bye.

Damon (:

Hey, it's me. April shared a fascinating story of finally locating her birth mother with the help of the woman who lived in Helen's old house. She went from what felt like the inertia of good luck, finding people who knew her mother of origin to calling Helen and sensing almost immediately that they would never meet. Then April learns that her conception was the product of a violent act. That's one of the things that adoptees are most fearful of that our emergence will bring back a painful past for people in our original family. But I loved how she expressed that she remained grounded in her own identity. Despite being the product of a rape conception. Doesn't define who you are as a person. We do that for ourselves. She also said something else very important. She would still like to know her birth father because the person he was back then might not be who he is today.

Damon (:

I wish April the best of luck in finding her paternal connections. One day, if you'd like to learn more about April's work, you can check her out@aprildinwoodie.com. That's a P R I L D I N w O O D I e.com. You can also check out April's podcast, born in June, raised in April. What adoption can teach the world wherever you get your podcasts. I'm Damon Davis. And I hope you'll find something in April's journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn who am I really, if you would like to share your adoption journey and your attempt to connect with your biological family, please visit whoamIreallypodcast.com/share. You can follow the show at facebook.com/waireally, or follow on Twitter at waireally. If the show is meaningful to you, you can support me with a contribution to keep it going on. Patrion.Com/waireally

Damon (:

Please subscribe to who am I really on Apple podcasts, Google play, or wherever you get your podcasts. It would mean so much to me. If you took a moment to leave a five star rating there, those ratings can help others to find the podcast, too. And if you're interested, you can check out the story of my adoption journey. Who am I really and adopt the memoir on amazon.com on Kindle or as an audio book on audible. I hope you'll add my story to your reading list.