Recalling her early family life, Ann said she felt like her parents were sucked into feeling like they had to have a family, and while they were focused on creating a better world in their professional lives, that didn’t necessarily translate to their home life. She always had the feeling her parents cared more about appearances than about who their children were in their uniqueness. Ann sought out her birth mother, but found her maternal grandmother instead. The woman’s receptivity to Ann’s return seemed to be a good sign but ended with secondary rejection. There has only been one cousin who has accepted Ann into her life, and that’s because she’s distanced herself from the family too.
Read Full TranscriptAnn: 00:04 If that was her, if that was your upbringing, and then all of a sudden union happens in Georgetown poor thing. she gets shuttled off to a home for unwed mother that I’ve also researched and it just looks almost slave like, so yeah, I have a whole lot more empathy and compassion and I really feel for the fact that she had such a societal burden to bear,
Damon: 00:35 who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I in mind?
Damon: 00:47 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 is Ann she lives in West Virginia. Recalling her early family life. She said she felt like her parents were sucked into feeling like they had to have a family and while they were focused on creating a better world in their professional lives that didn’t necessarily translate into their home life. Ann sought out her birth mother, but found her maternal grandmother instead. The woman’s receptivity to Ann’s return seem to be a good sign, but ended with secondary rejection. There has only been one cousin who has accepted Ann into her life and that’s because she’s distanced herself from the family too. This is Ann’s journey
Damon: 01:39 Ann said she learned she was adopted when she was four years old. Her friend Jenny was at her house when Ann’s mother decided to tell her that she was adopted, but Jenny was not. Ann’s mom neglected to clearly explain that Ann was not born from her own womb, so Ann thought that her mother was saying the reverse was true. She thought Jenny was not born from her mother’s womb. Ann and her sister, also an adoptee who is a year and a half younger than herself, discovered what it meant together. Their family moved overseas to Brazil where they got a reality check on the course openness with which people inquired about their adoptions.
Ann: 02:17 The expatriate community was much smaller and sort of more in your face and when we told people we were adopted, it was always met with “who is your real family, who’s your real mother?” And so after a couple of years of dodging that and feeling kind of inferior about our adoption, we made a pact, my sister and I, that we just wouldn’t tell anybody anymore that we were adopted because we didn’t like we didn’t like the questions
Damon: 02:46 Ann describes her family as socially committed and one that presented great educational experiences and provided for them financially and intellectually in every way, but they could have been better about providing emotional support and said she feels like when she and her sister were adopted in the 1950s, societal norms dictated that a couple should have children and be a family, but she’s not sure they want it to be parents. They were very concerned about making the world a better place through their work in the foreign service and social work. But that didn’t necessarily translate into making a strong family. When I asked Ann what she meant by that, she be called a story from when she was 16 and her sister was 15 and her sister had gotten pregnant.
Ann: 03:30 And the first reaction from my mother was, who have you told? And my father’s first reaction was how often does this sort of thing happen and who knows?` So it was um, it was, it was about the exterior,
Damon: 03:52 it was about the perception in the community, not about the welfare of your sister.
Ann: 03:57 Exactly. Right. So I ended up being the one that cared for her during her decision making.
Damon: 04:03 So what was it like then for you to sort of see them witnessed their daughter be pregnant, not really provide any emotional support and be completely about what the community was like, like what is your, how did you feel about your parents at that time? Do you recall?
New Speaker: 04:19 Well, I felt then and frequently through my upbringing that they cared more about what, what people thought rather than who we were. I don’t think that they were prepared as people to really understand and cherish who, who we were in our specialness or differentness
Damon: 04:37 I got you. And how were you guys special and different?
Ann: 04:41 Well, my younger sister is no longer alive. She succumbed to drug abuse very early on and really never kicked it. But how was she special? She was get an amazing sense of humor and amazing ability to sort of see, um, before anybody else. Did
Damon: 05:06 If I may, did her drug abuse come from the time after her pregnancy or do you, do you get the impression that she was already down that path?
Ann: 05:15 I think ninth grade for her was a, was a, was a very important turning into a very dark future.
Damon: 05:24 And was that the time that she was pregnant?
Ann: 05:27 Yeah.
Damon: 05:28 Yeah. How were you then? If you were the caregiver and your sister is on a path towards abuse, what was your sort of social situation and your level of responsibility? Tell me about you as a kid.
Ann: 05:44 Well, Until That same year I was kind of considered the bad kid because I was the one who acted out the one who, as my father said, I ran away from home as soon as I learned to walk, I was the one who I was the one who was always getting lost, but at that point that year we switched and I became the, the good student and she became the bad student. And I became, um, sort of, in my opinion, the truth teller a, but it was not accepted. So when I found the drugs, um, for example, one time in her room and I shared them with my parents, I was the one who was reprimanded for snooping and she was the one who got off with an excuse about diabetic friends.
Damon: 06:31 wow, really. So they enabled her, from early
Ann: 06:34 Yeah. Yeah.
Damon: 06:36 Fast forwarding to adulthood and set. Her sister moved in with their mother, but it was clear her sister was taking advantage of their mother and documented the depletion of her mother’s bank account. And there were strangers coming to the front door. One of them wielding a gun. Annf Was forced to take over guardianship of their mother and kicked her sister out.
Ann: 06:57 At one point when this was happening, my sister basically, whatever happened to unconditional love? So I think, for her supporting her behavior was all about test of love because she never really felt the love she needed.
Damon: 07:15 Sometimes that happens, people push and push to try to find the boundary for where their loved ones won’t love them anymore. At least love as they’ve defined it, given what she had been through with her sister and her own adoption Ann decided at 18 years old to dedicate her life to reproductive rights, family planning, and had a multi decade career in public health
Damon: 07:38 and was that a direct result of her pregnancy?
Ann: 07:42 Well I think its a result of that and I think it also goes back to my adoption. My birth mother had no choice and I’ve always thought it was interesting when people say, well, I wouldn’t have been born, and I’m like, does that really matter? In the big scheme of things, it’s really the option is if you want to have a child or not. So I think that my adoption really has shaped my whole professional and personal outlook.
Damon: 08:11 That’s an interesting piece there. I was taught, there’s a woman whom I interviewed previously named Rebecca and I’ve spoken with her a couple of times online and I was… I was mistakenly making, making points about the choice between adoption and abortion and she pointed out to me that those are not the same thing. Right? That they should not be compared or talked about in the same sentence because one is choosing life over termination of the child. That’s one choice. And then the next choice after you’ve decided not to terminate the child is am I going to keep this child or will this child be placed into adoption, right? So there are two completely disavow, separate decision trees. And I was really glad you pointed that out because I hadn’t thought about it that way before. Um, but I think it’s an important distinction for people to make so that they don’t unnecessarily sort of lump those two humongous decisions into one big decision.
Ann: 09:15 Yeah, I agree.
Damon: 09:17 So for lack of better words and turned into the quote unquote good kid at the same time that her sister took on the opposing role. Ann Said she was also struggling at that time. And for reasons she didn’t understand, she turned her and energy into performing well in school. She turned around from being a c student to being an A student in the course of one semester a minute ago Ann said her father told her that she’s been running away since she learned to walk. I asked her why he would say that
Ann: 09:49 Well I always, since I can remember, had a best friend who had a loving family and my my best girlfriends and boyfriends and then later my husband former husband now, but has an amazing family and so I think I always gravitated toward families that were emotionally expressive and honest and loving and fun, and that wasn’t mine
Damon: 10:21 discussing Ann’s she said she’s always known. A little bit of her story. Her adoption was private. Her parents had met her birth mother and her adopted mother had given an a tiny bit of information about her birth mother and her circumstances. One fact she knew was that her parents paid for her birth mother’s passage from the home for unwed mothers back to her hometown in Pennsylvania in her early twenties and was driving through her birth mother’s town. So she pulled over to a phone booth, opened the phone book, and tore out every page that had a variation of the spelling of her birth, mother’s last name. She carried those pages around for years until 1981 when she decided she was going to try to make contact.
Ann: 11:06 There’s 200 names with three or four different spellings`. And I just looked at one, picked it and called it and. Got It.
Damon: 11:16 Are you kidding? Nailed it first time?
Ann: 11:19 Yep. And I wasn’t prepared for that. So what came out of my mouth was not planned and I… The woman picks up the phone and I say, I’m looking for this, this person, she’s probably around 48 and you know anybody, she’s a friend of my mothers is what came out of my mouth without a lot of planning. And the woman said, well my daughter is named for that, but she’s only 47. And I’m like, oh my holy cow, I got it. Well, we talked for about 10 minutes and then we hung up and then I called back about a week later and I said, I know, you know, I exist because you had to pick your daughter up at the train when I was after I was born, I am, I am that person. And so my birth grandmother and I, and she said I had a feeling it was you.
Ann: 12:07 It was very, very moving. So for the next 45 minutes my birth grandmother and I chatted and got to know each other and she was just very welcoming and said, does your hair, hold a curl, you know, you or your teeth weak or your nails. Talked about physical things like that. And it was just really a valuable to me. So she says, all I have, I keep, I have 17 grandkids, I guess now I have 18. So it was, it was a lovely call. And I said I would like to meet my birth mother. And she said, well, let me call her and uh, let me see what she says. Call me back at such and such a day at a time. And so I did, um, and she said my birth mother, who now lives in Kentucky and was married and had three children, had visited her priest, discussed this request of mine, and it had been decided between the priest and my birth mother, that the, that she did not want to meet
Damon: 13:08 Ann said she could tell that her biological grandmother was disappointed that her daughter didn’t want to meet her, but she understood why she supported and protected her own daughter. Ann Tried to let it all go and she broke contact with her maternal grandmother. But knowing someone you’re related to is out there but they don’t want to meet you, is very challenging to just forget. She said, a decade later she was flying through her birth, mother’s town in Kentucky and she went to the phone book again, tore out the pages for her mother’s married name and carried those pages around. Y`ears later and is traveling through Chicago. When the urge hit her to really make something happen. When she disembarked the plane, she rented a car and drove to Kentucky
Ann: 13:53 without a map. I found myself in this town in Kentucky, in front of a Catholic church. I thought, I wonder if there’s information here. So I went into the Catholic church and said I’d like to speak to the priest. I’m not religious so I don’t do the sort of thing normally, and the priest came out and I said, I’m looking for this person any chance you know her, and he said he waited a minute and he said, as a matter of fact, her three children went to school here, so I thought wow once again I kind of nailed it with no with complete intuition. So he talked to me for awhile and talked to me about what she was like and I said, by any chance, do you have any yearbook? He says, no, I don’t keep your books. He said, but I do have a couple. Let me go see. So he goes to the bookshelf and pulled out two yearbooks and lo and behold, those two yearbooks had pictures of all three of my half siblings. So I asked for photocopy. I took photocopies of those. I guess it’s sort of shocking from a distance. until very recently I knew their names and that they existed in that they probably didn’t know about me.
Damon: 15:10 Going back just a little bit. You already know that Ann’s sister passed away, but her mother has also since passed on and her father died in 2017. She also retired recently, so with the extra time and energy, she really dug into her search and got DNA tests with 23 and me and ancestry DNA where she quickly found first cousins. She turned the search to facebook where she found her half siblings and their cousins
Ann: 15:39 and I messaged them and nobody answered me back, so it started to become clear to me that they were purposely not answering me
Damon: 15:51 and decided to go the official route to contact the post adoption counselor in Virginia where she was born. The counselor was really supportive and helpful pledging to do what she could, but
Ann: 16:04 she didn’t have the married name. I said, well, this is a married name, your address, and in fact he said, I’m not going to charge you for this because you’ve done all the work, but I will. I’ll do the contactt.
Damon: 16:16 The counselor reached out returning to an with this.
Ann: 16:20 Your birth mother says, stop trying to contact her. Stop trying to contact her family, get on with your own life, essentially cease and desist. That was heartbreaking and so that weekend was a rough weekend.
Damon: 16:39 What did you do?
Ann: 16:41 well, I just want to load it. I decided to give myself a weekend to wallow and just lean into the sadness.
Damon: 16:50 What did you think to yourself?
Ann: 16:55 How many times can you get rejected (laughs) it just keeps happening.
Damon: 16:59 on the Tuesday after her weekend of wallowing and logs into ancestry where she has a connection request from a first cousin, she called the post adoption counselor to ask what the heck to do ans relatives had ignored her and her birth mother explicitly asked her to stay away and Ann wanted to respect that, but this person was reaching out to her so she decided to respond
Ann: 17:23 and we talked. It was amazing. We’ve talked for an hour and a half that first night and she said essentially that the family, she was not close to the family and so she was very comfortable, um, having a communication with me and not feeling like we were breaking any kind of any kind of promises
Damon: 17:44 Ann said she and her cousin were in contact every few days after their initial phone call and she’s in enthralled with the new relationship, getting to know one another. They discovered they liked the same books and shows they’re both avid scrabble players and it’s just been cool to find things in common that could be genetic and says after all of the rejection, having someone in the family reach out to her has put her on cloud nine. But I couldn’t help wondering why this one cousin was the only person to break from the family and reach out?
Damon: 18:16 It’s interesting that the family has turned their back to you. Has she given you any indication as to why she’s not close with the family? And do you feel… I’m just wondering if it’s similar or that there’s a similarity between why she’s not close with them and why they might be rejecting you. Like I just feel like there’s something there.
Ann: 18:35 There is something there and I hope to get deeper into it when we meet, but my initial sense is that she had cancer. She’s recovered the goodness and apparently none of them were helpful to her during that time. She felt abandoned
Damon: 18:52 now when Anne’s parents met her birth mother, when she was born, the woman said absolutely nothing about her birth father. There was no information in the files about him and her maternal grandmother didn’t know anything about who he might be either randomly one day on Ancestry Dna, a match pops up and this person and Ann have a lot of centimorgans in common and messaged the woman to see if she was interested in learning more about how they were related and the woman agreed.
Ann: 19:21 We found out that she’s only two years younger than I. That with this level of genetic overlap. She was my sister on my father’s side. And she had put a tree, a pbulic tree that then gave his name. I was like, holy cow, now I have a name, uh, full name. And so I did the, you know, what we all do, the obituary searches and the find a grave searches and whatnot. And I was able to very quickly put together a pretty large family tree on my father’s side and discovered that in fact there was a, a wife and four children before I was conceived. And I’m also found a divorce decree for that first marriage that, and that was signed three months after I was born. So, you know, you can make up all sorts of stories on that one. And then my half sister I found, um, was born after me. So clearly he was a busy man. She was very open for about a moment. And then, um, when I asked her a bunch of granted, you know, the, the manual on how to do these reunions or whatever is not written. So I did it wrong. I ask 500 questions in the first email and she never answered back. So I then realized I goofed and said I’m sorry for the firehose of questions, I just had a starved` person at a banquet and I’m sorry, and so I never heard back from her
Damon: 21:10 wishing she could have it all to do over again and turn to facebook to see if she could learn more about her paternal side. Unfortunately her birth father is deceased, so she could only learn more about her paternal siblings. There were four children, so and decided to contact one of them.
Ann: 21:28 She basically said, I have no reason to know you. I said well of course you don’t, you don’t know me. (laughs) , so I said if you’re willing I’d like to have some health information. I’m happy to give you health information and pretty much that’s it. So she, She did and she was, very thorough. And, and prep adoptees who are always promoting the fact that we have no health information. Now. I realized that probably in some cases of blessing now I realize there’s all these things that I gotta worry about and I was just blissfully ignorant and fine before that. She also has decided to not communicate with me. So I have two rejections on the father’s side. Father’s dead. I can’t reach out to him once I had his name, I found his brother, his obituary, and then I found his and the… Again, one of the other little fun coincidence is that the two brothers were musicians and Washington dc and all the bar that I had been in early seventies,
Damon: 22:38 Really, is that right?
Ann: 22:38 Yeah.
Damon: 22:39 Thinking back on this news that her birth father was a bar owner and a talented musician who was probably charming and handsome and began to feel sorry for her birth mother, a devout Catholic bookkeeper who may have found herself in his bar one night. At least. That’s the narrative and created in her mind, but it’s interesting when we adopt these finally get a little bit of information about our birth. Parents were better able to empathize with their circumstances preceding our conception. Ann and I agreed. It’s a powerful moment when that empathy hits you.
Ann: 23:14 Yeah. Another really powerful moment was when I went to the yearbook and found her senior yearbook from a Catholic school in Pennsylvania, and I have to just say that was a really eye opening and frankly spooky a yearbook, with all these very hard looking, very admonishing looking nuns with their habits and they’re black and white photos and there was one photo with the bride of Christ, a young woman in bride’s outfits, a bridal gown, and was very somber Catholic, heavy scene and there she is, my birth mother, so you know if that was her, if that was her upbringing and then all of a sudden these union happens in Georgetown poor thing I think she gets shuttled off to a home for unwed mothers mothers that I’ve also researched and it just looks almost slave like I have a whole lot more empathy and compassion and I really feel sorry for her. The fact that she had such a societal burden to bear
Damon: 24:25 at the time of our interview I was reading and the girls who went away, the impact of reading women’s stories, put me in a place of even deeper empathy for every birth mother. Not just my own. I wondered if Ann my guest felt like expressing her empathy to her birth mother and I asked how she was doing these days, given the outcome of her search.
Ann: 24:49 I doubt I’ll ever meet my birth mother now, but if I were to, I would just say I am so sorry for the society that you found yourself in and it’s just been horribly lonely and heartbreaking
Damon: 25:01 would you ever write her a letter to just say that even though she’s asked you not to be, just to express your sorrow for her situation and how you came into the world?
Ann: 25:11 I’m afraid to because I don’t want to blow her cover her husband’s alive and they lived together and I wouldn’t want to affect that.
Damon: 25:23 I undrestand.Wow. So how are you doing? You’ve, you’ve had a lot of rejections. I mean you’ve had some good connections, but few. How are you doing?
Ann: 25:33 Um, I think I’m pretty highly self aware. So I work, I work hard at making sure that I make good decisions and I’m, I’m happy I have two amazing children from, from whenever, early on I was absolutely committed to making sure I had children and that I was going to do a good job at it, and so I’m very proud. The thing I’m most proud of in my life that I have two amazing adult daughters who are happy and healthy and funny and a joy to me and many others. So I, I, I was very conscious as I was raising them of making sure that they knew they were wanted and amazing individuals and appreciated for whatever differences they had. And so trying to undo my own upbringing
Damon: 26:31 undo your own suffering by being the most amazing parent you possibly could.
Ann: 26:37 Yeah. Modesty aside,
Damon: 26:42 As our conversation wound down, I realized I hadn’t asked Anna about her feelings when she found her birth father’s obituary online.
Ann: 26:49 It was a mixture of emotions. Um, one was, wow, this is a closed chapter. I’ll never be able to open it, but it was another feeling was, okay, this is real. This person existed. Now, I don’t know. It’s totally over the, the ability to meet him. But um, but that’s proof that there he was coincidentally or whatever this weekend when I was going to the festival, I stopped, now I know where everybody grew up and whatnot, so I stopped through the town that he grew up in, went to his old school and found a picture of him in the old school where he was a champion boxer and I found a little trophy in the, in the little glass case there in the school that had his name on it in 1942. So yeah, he existed. And um, and then I went to the local grave and took a bunch of pictures of the family name and um, I’m gonna, I’m gonna Upload those into find a grave so that others can have access to the system. The ones that I’ve found,
Damon: 28:00 that’s pretty cool
Ann: 28:01 So I’m starting to give back.
Damon: 28:02 That’s cool. And that’s good that you’re in a position to sort of offer pieces that you’ve found for others to see regardless of how you’ve been treated and the results that you’ve found. You know, you can still be a contributor to your own children’s history and their children’s right?
New Speaker: 28:19 Yeah,
New Speaker: 28:21 well Ann thank you so much for sharing your story. I know this has been really difficult, but you know, I’m hopeful that the meeting in New England is going to be really cool. It sounds like it’s been a fulfilling relationship already and hope that it will continue to be that because you’ve done so much to find these people and, and to not be able to make any connections is really hard, so to at least get one that is going to be really fulfilling is going to be really amazing. So I wish you guys the best of luck in your meeting.
Ann: 28:50 Thank you very much and thank you again for, for all you’re doing for the adoptees.
Damon: 28:55 Oh, it’s my pleasure. It really is. Take care all the best. Thank you so much for calling today. Thank you. All right. Bye. Bye.
Damon: 29:05 Hey, it’s me. I always find it hard to hear that an entire family has turned their back on an adoptee at the decree of one person. We’re not ogres who live in the hills, who should be avoided at all costs. We’re people with feelings and we just want to have a connection to the bloodlines we’ve never known regardless of the family’s history. Of course, on the other side of the coin, it always warms my heart when I hear that someone has made a special connection to another person who’s willing to know them and and found that with her cousin Beth. I checked back with him to see how her meeting with Beth went in September she replied with this. My first cousin, Beth and I met in Maine for a few days in September. We got along well and for whatever reasons, genetic chemistry or luck, I felt connected to her.
Damon: 29:56 We got to know each other over walks along the oceans, meals, watching jeopardy and playing scrabble a game we both love. She actually posted a picture of us on facebook saying she was with her cousin Ann and sorry it took so long to connect. We will see if other family members track her on facebook. This story is far from over. Regardless. I have a feeling Beth and I will remain in touch over the long term. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in a journey that inspires you, validate 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 who am I really podcast.com/share. You can choose to share your whole story, maintain some privacy about parts of your journey, or share completely anonymously. You can find the show at facebook.com/WAIReally, or follow me on twitter @WAIReally, and please, if you like the show, you can support me at patrion.com/WAIReally you can subscribe to who am I really on apple podcasts, Google play or wherever you get your podcasts and while you’re there it would mean so much to me. If you would take a moment to share a rating or leave a comment, those ratings can help others to find the podcast too.