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207 - My Feet Came To The Ground
Episode 2073rd June 2023 • Who Am I Really? • Damon L. Davis
00:00:00 00:50:30

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Shelby, who lives near Seattle, Washington, grew up loved in adoption, but also in a home broken apart By domestic abuse. When the existence of her sisters was revealed, Shelby felt an urge to find her birth family, but she pushed it way down for many years.

In reunion, Shelby found her nuclear family still together. She's had to overcome the sorrows of lost time as she and both of her families push forward with love, making the most of the moments they have ahead together.

This is Shelby's journey

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[00:00:00] Damon: Hey, it's Damon. I just want to warn you that this episode has descriptions of domestic violence. If you or someone, you know, is experiencing domestic violence. Please call the national domestic violence hotline at 807 9 9 7 2 3 3.

Again, 807 9 9 7 2 3 3.

Cold Cut Intro


You know what happened, what about me?

Show Intro


In reunion, Shelby found her nuclear family still together. So she's had to overcome the sorrows of lost time As she, and both of her families push forward with love, making the most of the moments they have ahead together. This is shelby's journey



Adoption always had a positive spin on it and it was kind of part of Shelby's identity. Shelby grew up with one unrelated adopted brother five years younger than herself. She said their grandparents were a huge part of their lives, which meant there were a lot of aunties and uncles around to.

Shelby told me that growing up.

She could tell there were physical differences between herself and her family members.


[00:02:19] Damon: That's pretty funny. Yeah. It's interesting how those differences present themselves. was it kind of a constant reminder to you that you were adopted?


And I at the same time wondered like, what do my biological parents look like? Like, where am I coming from?


[00:02:57] Shelbey: I did. Yeah. And I, you know, I don't know that I [00:03:00] would've been able to, Articulate that, like growing up.

but now in hindsight I can see that just, we're just very different. They're very open. Maybe a little bit sometimes on like the louder side extroverted. And I am not that way. I'm, I am very kind of more reserved and quiet and like my, I'm just very like, calm I guess. And so I just thought that that.

Was just who I am. And then, you know, in meeting my biological family, I found that they are exactly like that.


[00:03:40] Shelbey: Yeah. So I grew up with um, that structure until I was about 12 and then, it did change between pages of like 10 or 12.

g. And, he had a, pretty bad [:

oh my gosh. So yeah. So at 12 that was like a really big kind of change for us. And, and from that point moving forward, it was very much just my mom and my grandparents that were like the biggest you know, parent figures in my life.


[00:04:30] Shelbey: Yes, I remember it very clearly. So we were living across the street from my grandparents at the time, and we were actually staying with them. So even though we were, our home was across the street, we had been living with them because, My dad was, he was just acting very erratically in his drug use and we were fearful of what he might do.

f. I mean, like, he was just [:

And then my father was in the house and he, I was not there when the act actually took place. I just saw the immediate aftermath of it. So I just remember lots of chaos and like calling 9 1 1. And I remember seeing my mom come. Out of the house. Across the street. So like, I watched her walk out of our house and then across to the neighbors and she was holding her her face and there was just blood everywhere.

And she went over there so that my brother and I wouldn't see, and the ambulance came and the fire truck came and they treated her over there, but she was taken to the hospital.


[00:05:59] Shelbey: Yeah. [00:06:00] Thank you. It was, it was really a lot. I thought she was gonna die, so that was like really scary for me as a 12 year old child.


After that near death experience, Shelby, her brother and their mom moved in with her grandparents. Shelby's mother healed and went right back to work feverishly, trying to hustle to support their family alone. Shelby's mother worked so much that she missed some of the kids' morning routines or didn't come home until late at night.

Her grandparents provided a lot of support to their mother in raising Shelby and her brother. They were struggling financially, but their family rallied around them during that hard, sad, confusing time. Shelby said it was hard to live through that time in her life. She could remember nights of domestic violence before her adopted father's arrest, where the man was choking her mother. And as a child shall be tried to pull him off of her mother.

nces We're life altering. Uh,[:

Shelby never visited her father when he was incarcerated but she does remember one instance of seeing the man in court


And I, I remember sitting there and You know, just being so excited cuz it sounds crazy, but like, he was still my dad, so like, I was excited to see him. which sounds so crazy, right? Like they, you know, they do these horrible things and then you're like, well that's still my dad.

I still love him. Like, I still, I still miss him in my life, so. Right. I remember being excited to see him and then I remember that he didn't even really turn around. And like, look at us.


That doesn't, it doesn't matter sort of where he is. You Yeah. Are 12 and that's your dad. And for him to be there one minute and gone the next is really tough. It's, yeah. And so I, I can imagine that it was, exciting, somehow fulfilling to at least be able to lay eyes on him. Mm-hmm. Even if, mm-hmm.

In the context of that laying eyes on him was in the criminal justice system. It's crazy. Yeah.

In her community, Shelby didn't know anyone else who was adopted, which she remembers feeling weird about being the only one. She had one auntie that was adopted, but Shelby didn't make any adoptive friends until she was older. Her best friend to this day is also an adoptee and experience. They very much bond over.

Fast forward to:

That day Shelby's cousin went home And shared what Shelby's adoptive father said with her.


Like I didn't, I didn't always express an interest in meeting my biological mother or father, but I had always asked her like, if I had siblings and I was always told no, or that they didn't know. And so to hear this information coming from someone other than my mom, I was just like totally blown away and heartbroken.


[00:10:12] Shelbey: So it's like I understand her perspective, like her job as my mother and her job is to keep my heart safe. But Ooh, it was really hard. Really, really hard to process.


Like they can be almost like figments of our imagination. But you've gotten sort of a verbal confirmation that there are people out there that you were connected to. What did you do next?


And I [00:11:00] took her out to dinner and I brought it up to her and I was very emotional And You know, I just said, you know, dad ended up telling Sarah this, is it true. She confirmed that it was true. But she said that she didn't know any, you know, other details as far as like who they are or have any more information to give me.

and I was honestly even at that point, like afraid of hurting my mom and being curious about these things. Mm-hmm. So as much as I wanted to know, and as much as. I was in so much pain. I also didn't wanna hurt her. So after she told me that, and she kind of, you know, told me that she didn't really know anything else I just buried it.

Really, I just buried it as deep as I could. Really.


[00:11:46] Shelbey: You know, I don't know, in hindsight, like I, I look back and I think, man, I could have found them sooner. Like if I would've just pushed a little bit, if I would've asked more questions. But I think, I think it was bringing, [00:12:00] I think it was just super painful.

Mm-hmm. And I was afraid of the pain. Yeah. And I believed that she didn't have any other information. So I didn't push it and my grandmother shared like little bits and pieces with me over the years that she knew, but still it wasn't enough. I don't know, like you say, it's a figment of our imagination.

It really felt like this. distant thing to me that I was like, eh, it's not, it's not real. Like that can't be true. I don't know. I just, I wasn't ready to fully accept that that was Who I was, that I had sisters.


Shelby [00:13:00] only wanted to know about her genetic heritage. She wanted to see where she comes from on the world map to be able to give her daughter answers. She never had when she was growing up. A few years after doing her 23 and me test. And after a second child was born. Shelby learned that with the click of a button, users could learn more about Who they were genetically related to. It was a huge turning point for Shelby.


And it was springtime. I just couldn't picture it so clearly. Like I just remember holding her and thinking, how could, how could somebody go through this amazing, incredible experience and then leave the hospital without their child?


And that was a big shift for me, and I just kind of remember thinking like, I need to know more because.

mom, you know, she did leave [:

And then I had my son in 2017. And so really at that point was when I internally started to like question and become a lot more curious. And then Covid happened and all the extra time to like sit around and think. And so I said, you know what? I was just sitting on my back patio one day and I just decided.

which was somebody going by [:

Mm, mm-hmm. So I sent them a, a brief message just saying, you know, here's my name. I was born April 28th, 1985. Do you happen to know anything about my birth parents? It says you could be an aunt. It says you could be an uncle to me. And so I sent that message and then Waited on pins and needles for response.

And I didn't get a response right away. It was several weeks later, and then finally

the person JT wrote me back and said, you know, hi, I'd like to help have you. And she said, have you reached out to anybody who uses that to be your biological mother? And I wrote and I was like thinking instantly, like, oh my gosh.

my first time ever reaching [:

Like, I don't know, , was I a secret? Did nobody know about this? Or I just figured they were kind of connecting some dots and trying to figure out how to move forward. Mm-hmm. And then I, so then I got a message a month later from one of my sisters, so not. I'm not either of the two people I originally connected with, but I got a message from my sister Catherine, and it was a big, long message and she basically just laid out , hi, yes, you know, we've been waiting for this day like we are your sisters.

like excited about this and [:

[00:17:09] Damon: Wow. So how are you feeling though, in receiving this connection to them? Finally, like you're, you're finally talking to somebody who is giving you some reciprocal sort of information. You're reaching out before, but they're not reaching back. Now you're reaching out and they're, someone's actually saying something.


I could just tell like our, [00:18:00] our personalities were so similar even through messaging. Mm-hmm. So I was excited but overwhelmed. Like I felt like I could have probably cried and thrown up at the same time. It was very overwhelming.


[00:18:31] Shelbey: It was mind blowing. Like they grew up in the same area that I did and went to school in the same school district that I went to school in.

ere born between the years of:

Wow. So like my grandparents, where I spent so much time, and then they also spent a lot of time with their grandparents growing up. we're five blocks away from each other. Mm, mm-hmm.


[00:19:15] Shelbey: it, it was wild. And we, we just kept kind of like sharing bits and pieces and realizing like how similar our stories were, how similar our upbringings were.

Like, you know, my, mom worked in grocery and my biological mom worked in grocery and both of our dads worked in drywall and there was just so much in common that for before we had spoken to our moms about it. We thought, oh my gosh, maybe there's something we don't know here. Like maybe they knew each other, you know, we thought there's no chance.

We just thought for sure, like they had to have been family friends or something. because how could, how could everything be so similar and there not be some kind of other connection? Mm-hmm.


So did you find any additional sort of connections? Tell me a little bit about [00:20:00] your, your reunion.

Did you eventually meet your sister or who did you meet first?


Mm-hmm. So she kind of was like the communicator between me and everybody else. And then like slowly over time I started to build relationships with the others. But because we were all so close and I learned. Different things about like where everybody worked and, and that we were all in this, you know, kind of in this same community.

There was a little bit of a sense of urgency around like us meeting cuz it, I thought, oh my gosh, now I know what these people look like. Now I know. the area they live in. Like I can't just run into them randomly at the grocery store. Yeah. Right. I'm, I need to, you know, we need to make this happen.

e month after we had started [:

[00:21:16] Damon: Wow. Are you serious?

Yes. That's crazy. How did dad get you when you found that out?


You know what happened, what about me? And you know, I later learned that during the time that I was born, they were separated and even, I think they were actually divorced at one time. [00:22:00] And then they got remarried. And well, what I know about it is that they weren't sure if I was biologically his or not.

Mm-hmm. And. , he was not very supportive of my biological mom at that time. And, and she was struggling. I mean, she was, she had her first child at 17 and then lasted 22 or 23. So all of those babies in that short amount of time, and from what I understand, I think family just stepped in and was like, you're, you're not making it.

Like, you know, you can't, there was no food. She was struggling big time, and so I think family stepped in and said like, this is. Your only option. And and she went with that. But yeah, it was like, it was super hard to hear that this, like, and I know it's different now, but from the outside looking in, it was like, wait, this family is all intact except for me.



[00:23:01] Shelbey: So after I met them I didn't, but I definitely felt. For a long time, well, even after I first met them, I definitely felt for a long time left out. not necessarily like an outsider, but definitely a feeling of like, why was I left out? Why was I the, the piece that didn't make it?

Mm-hmm. So that was really hard to process and kind of come to terms with,


Outside of Tacoma, Washington, Shelby met her whole family. First she met her biological parents together. About a half hour later, Shelby's three older sisters. Full blood siblings to herself joined the family reunion. Shelby, the [00:24:00] youngest of the family met everyone in her immediate biological family on the same day.


So we were like, first we need to tell our moms that this is happening and then we can meet.


[00:24:41] Shelbey: Right? Yeah, I think so. My sisters had told me that at one of the times when they were separated, she said that they were like 10 years old.

child up for adoption. Yeah. [:

Like, what? Like they, they always were like, well, okay. And that they never brought it to my mom. They, their biological mom, cuz they were afraid of hurting her. So they just never brought it up. Wow. Yeah. That must have been really, so we had always wondered, and I had always wondered, but yeah, we never, neither one of us ever like really got the answers until, until this, you know, this meeting.

And so my sister Catherine told my biological mom and dad like, Hey, you know, we. You had a baby all this time ago and , she found us and we're, you know, she's wonderful and we're meeting her and we're getting to know her. And also that I was biologically both my dad and moms. Because I think there was question at that time that maybe I wasn't.



[00:26:05] Shelbey: Yeah. And it confirmed it for my sisters too, cuz I, when I told them I had connected with that uncle that was my dad's brother, so they knew like before I knew, they knew like, oh my gosh, she really is like mom and dad's daughter.

Mm-hmm. Like she connected on both sides in 23andme. so I think that my biological mom, Pam, I think she wanted to meet me first before I met my sisters. And so that's why we set it up that way. And I was kind of just, you know, I was honestly like in shock. I was a rollercoaster of emotions and you know, Catherine was kinda leading and asking me like, how do I wanna go about this and what am I most comfortable with?

day, and you'll meet mom and [:

Hmm. And so driving there and like leading up to it, it was, oh my gosh, so many emotions, so many nerves. I felt like I couldn't even really sit down in the seat in the car. Like I just felt like, I was like, like, what's about to happen? Like, oh my gosh. The scariest thing, but that I was ready for it. So whatever it was gonna bring, I was like, you know, I gotta do this.

I had such a restlessness and an unsettled feeling in my soul for so long that even though I knew that this big thing was gonna be really hard, I knew it was necessary for me to be able to heal and move forward in my life. So that's kind of what was pushing me. I'm like, I can't put this off any longer.

Like I need this.


What was that feeling of needing it?


I only had guesses at it. And as I, you know, as I went through college and things and you know, people would ask, like we would do projects on like, what's your heritage and where do you come from? And all these things. And I'm like, I don't know. I don't know any of this information. And so I think there was tons of things over time that.

people out there to love me [:

[00:29:04] Damon: I like that there more people out there, there to love me.


Because once I found it, you know, I did feel that like my feet came to the ground. Like I knew that these are the people that I was connected to.


[00:29:49] Shelbey: So we went to a public place on the waterfront in z Tacoma. We, we were gonna meet at Ellis, which is like a restaurant but they have like a farmer's market set up down there. So we were going to meet outside of it [00:30:00] and, you know, chit chat and then go grab some lunch. So I we parked and I was walking up with my husband and Yeah.

Oh my gosh. I just, it's just surreal. Like, I just remember seeing them and I remember thinking like, that's them, like I kind of remember being shocked, like, This may sound awful, but I remember being shocked at like, they look so normal. Like, I thought they look so normal. Like all of these fears and all these things I had in my head about what they, what they were or what they might be.

I'm like, they look just like normal people, you know? Mm-hmm. And then in that thought was like a little bit of hurt too, cuz I'm just, I'm still wondering to myself like, why did this even happen? Mm-hmm. And so yeah, I, I met them, I hugged my mom, she gave me a kiss on the cheek. We both cried. And same with my dad.

f nervously stood around and [:

But I just kept telling her, I was like, don't cry, don't cry, because I didn't wanna cry. So I was trying to like, hold back into tears and I was just trying to keep it light and more positive I guess. Yeah. So then after, after we had kind of hung out for a little bit then, and we took some pictures and then my sisters came and it was, and then we, we all just, you know, hugged each other and cried and went and sat around and had lunch together and just kind of worked our way through it.


As she's standing there looking at you, realizing she doesn't know what the real lead is playing in your mind is because there's been a lifetime of history that has passed. Right. Between you, I mean, just I, I hope you've given her an opportunity to sort of express that regret that she has. I know that it was probably tough in the moment, but I suspect she probably needs to really tell you.

Have you had the chance to chat about that?


And she tells me all the time how much regret she has over her decision. And She says to me that she can't imagine what head space she was in when she made that decision. I think she kind of thinks, and from her perspective, like it was a blur. Like she was so overwhelmed, had three babies, another one on the way family stepped in.

I kind of get the impression that maybe she didn't have a lot of control over the situation, that she was kind of being like pushed into it. And. She has expressed, you know, that she, she thought she was doing what was best for me, but she didn't consider what that would do to like the daughter, you know, her other daughters and like us missing out on that relationship together.



[00:33:56] Shelbey: he's been very like, Teary, you know, very [00:34:00] emotional. Every time I see him or every time we get to, we all get together. But he's not so, so big with the words. So it's I guess I haven't really had that, like we haven't really spoken about necessarily the adoption.

It's been more of like, you know, I love you. I'm glad you're here now, but. We haven't had like, those deeper conversations like I have had with my biological mom.


Right. Like Right. It was a, that was a man up. Sort of generation, you know? Right. Pick yourself up, squash your emotions, and let's press forward and be a man. And that was kind of the de definition. So for you to even say that he's teary-eyed about it, that's a massive expression of his emotions over the thing.

And and [:

[00:35:10] Shelbey: Yeah. And I, I kind of feel like I, I understand and get that like, I think everybody has their capacity to like open up and, and share and like, you know, be vulnerable.

And even though he hasn't, said those words to me, like, I know that the feelings are there, I can just feel it in the spaces that we shared together. And I think it's just. You know, it's hard for me, but it's hard for it. This whole thing has been really hard for everybody.

And so I've tried to really allow everybody to kind of go through it and process it as they, as they need to.


She said she and her sisters formed a very strong bond very quickly. And they talk to one another almost every day.


And they've been just so incredibly supportive. Like there's never been a, a moment where they like judged or questioned my character or you know, I don't know. Just like there was never a moment where I felt like they didn't want me to be a part of their life. I was welcomed with open arms and I think that that is a big part of.

to feel like I have answers [:

Some days outta nowhere, I'll just be so emotional and, and like it'll just kind of sneak up on me. So yeah, I am just, like I said, just kind of riding the waves, reaching out to them and and to my biological mom too when I'm having those tough days, and just knowing that they understand and that they're kind of having those feelings too.

it's been really nice to have that support. Mm-hmm. And also like for me being a, I'm a mom and I have like a five and a seven year old. Mm-hmm. So, That has been another tricky part of me processing this, is that I don't, I don't have the time, especially initially when it first happened, like I didn't have the time to just sit around and cry and, and kind of really get, get those emotions out and work through it, because I had to still show up for my kids every day.

t, you know, my job as a mom [:

Right. You know, she's going through something right now and I ask her, you know, how you doing? You okay? And she says, yeah, you know, I'm all right. I, yeah, one foot in front of the other. And that's what it sounds like you're saying is like life has to go on for a variety of reasons. And you right. The mom, you know, the caregiver, the sort of coordinator have to keep pressing on, but I would imagine there are times when you're driving in the car by yourself and you stop and think about it and it just floods over you, right?

then Monday night I got home [:

And I hadn't looked in it. And I, I started to open it and go through the pictures and. that moment was when it really hit me hard. Just kind of looking at, well, two pieces really hit me hard. I was looking at picture after picture of the three, my three sisters with my mom. Yeah. And I was thinking like, I'm supposed to be in this picture.

Yeah. And then also there were so many pictures with like familiar settings to me. Oh. Like Mexican restaurants. I had been to. And different like places around that I grew up going to. Oh yeah. So it was like, oh my gosh. Like our lives wouldn't, I mean, we always think like, what would it have been like to see how many times our paths actually crossed.

Yeah. Because they had to have


[00:40:10] Shelbey: have just passed before


[00:40:14] Shelbey: We were also close in age too, that like, there would be pictures where like they would be wearing things that I had, like I had that sweatshirt.

Mm-hmm. I had, you know, and so it was just so wild and that's when it really hit me. And I ended up taking the next day off of work because I mean, the tears just would not stop coming.


[00:40:34] Shelbey: that's, that was my big, like I was hyperventilating, kind of a crying. And that was when a lot of it came out.

And then the rest has just slowly come out over time. I mean, I don't think there's a single time that I've gotten together with my sisters and my mom that we haven't cried. that's just gonna be, part of this process, I think. Mm-hmm.


And so you, you are only two years out from your reunion with a family that in theory you could have stayed in and been a nuclear part of and mm-hmm. To be going through all of this is really tough to reflect on. What could have been. But you know, it sounds like if nothing else, the love you're getting is kind of also helping you to get through.

Is that right?


So yeah, it is still really emotional. It's like I will be fine for a long time. And then last [00:42:00] night as I was preparing to speak with you, I was go, you know, kind of going back through like old messages to remind myself of like exactly how this unfolded and, and I said, and I cried again cuz I'm just like, oh my gosh.

It just brings it all back up again.


This is the story of your life. Right. Yeah. This wasn't in moment in time. This is the culmination of all of the moments that have led to right now. So, yeah, it's gonna be emotional for a long time. there, there's been a couple different phases so far, you know, already where it's like the excitement right, of initially meeting and how exciting that is and, and emotional.


Yeah. But, Then, you know, the dust settles a little bit and you realize like, we're all moms and we're all, we, we all have our own lives too. And so I feel like this past, I don't know, six months or so, I've really just been kind of processing , the idea that we won't ever catch up on that last time together.

Mm-hmm. Like, it's just, it's not possible. Yeah. And so how do we just. You know, accept that and, and make the most of the time that we do have together. Yeah,


Do land in this place of, well, I guess we're making memories out of the time we have today. You know? Yeah. May I ask you, how has your adoptive mom been in this reunion with your biological family?


And I think honestly, that if I had been a lot younger, she may have been, but

when I told her I was in tears and I just said, you know, I've, I've reached out and now you know, I've gotten some information back and we're gonna meet.

And I thought she would be distraught about it, but she wasn't. She, she cried a little bit, but she was mostly just super excited for me. To have this piece that I felt like I was missing.

That's awesome. [:

Yeah, she's been really, really wonderful. And you know, even her and Pam have met my biological mom and my adopted mom have met and we've, you know, we did, they did like a birthday party for me last year where they were both there and I mean, they get along really well.

It's. They only live like maybe five blocks away from each other.


[00:45:23] Shelbey: Oh my God. Yeah. It's insane.


[00:45:35] Shelbey: has been amazing. Thank you for allowing me to do so.

And thank you for all the work that you're doing because I felt so alone and. In my feelings throughout this process and to, so to have like a podcast to go listen to where I, where I didn't feel that way and I knew that other people were also going through the same thing really. Has been helpful for me, so thank you for all that you're doing.



I was just telling this story recently to someone else. I was saying, you know, as adoptees, unless you can actually see it when we go out, you know, with a transracial adoption where the parents are of one sort of race or nationality and the child is of a different one, and you can obviously see that perhaps that child is adopted.

hey were still together and, [:

Is going to be helpful to someone else to hear this too. So thank you for being here for this. I really appreciate it. Yeah,


[00:47:15] Damon: My pleasure, Shelby, it has been wonderful to chat with you. I'm so glad that you stepped forward to share, and I do wish you guys all the best in your continued reunion, okay?



[00:47:26] Damon: care. All the best. Bye-bye. Bye.



I'm always entertained by the story of someone who [00:48:00] has taken a DNA test, but doesn't realize the power of familial connectivity. The online DNA platform has. When Shelby finally spoke with her sister, Catherine, it opened the door to reunion with her entire biological family all at once. All of her sisters and her birth mother and father back together again.

You heard Shelby say how challenging it is to review pictures And memories of her family's life together without her. It's so tempting in reunion to wonder rewind. Race back to the past moments and try to catch up on lost time. But unfortunately in adoption, the time is gone. The best we can do is make the very best of the moments we have ahead of us.

o search or motivates you to [:

If you would like to share the story of your adoption and your attempt to connect with your biological family, please visit who am I? Really? You can follow me on Instagram at Damon L Davis and follow the podcast at w AI. Really, if you like to show, please take a moment to leave a five star review in your podcast app or wherever you get your podcasts, your ratings really do help others to find the podcast too.

And if you're interested, you can check out my story in my memoir, who am I really available on Amazon Kindle and audible. And I hope you'll add my story to your reading list.



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