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153 - Emotional Unraveling
Episode 15312th June 2021 • Who Am I Really? • Damon L. Davis
00:00:00 00:52:17

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Sari, a self-proclaimed nomad, called me from New Mexico. When she was a girl the school science project on heredity ignited her desire to learn her truth. After decades of searching for her birth parents, she found her birth father first, or so she thought. When Sari confronted her birth mother about the man, she was stonewalled and lied to. Sari learned that her birth mother wasn't the woman she'd hoped she would be to her either.

Ultimately, Sari decided she'd keep the relationship with her "birth father", because for the first time as an adoptee the choice was up to her who she got to call family. This is Sari's  


153 - Emotional Unraveling


Damon: [00:00:00] Hey, it's Damon. I'm taking a moment to give, thanks to Shad and Shari for this week's Patreon support. I'm often strategizing new projects in thinking through new ways to bring content to the community. And donations like Shari's and Shad's are going to make this stuff possible.

If you'd like to support the show and my work, take a moment to go to AI, really To express your support for sharing adoption stories for others in the community to hear and heal from That's P a T R E O AI really. thank you so much. Oh and one more If you've been listening to who am I really? For a while you may remember episode 40. I mattered throughout the years with Jennifer, my guest. Well, she recently launched her own adoptee focused podcast. Once upon a time in Adopteeland

Jennifer Dyan Ghoston: [:

Host of the podcast, who am I really, he played a major role in helping me to launch my podcast in March of this year. If you find value in at least one episode of once upon a time and adapt the land, please share the podcast with someone today. Also take the time to like, and subscribe so others can find it wherever they listen to podcasts for free.

Damon: [:

Cold Open

Sari: he went through, he showed me all kinds of photo albums and told me stories about him growing up. And he was very open, very revealing, very.

Just, you know, emotionally generous. Whereas my birth mother was emotionally repressed, so it was a completely different feeling and vibe. And I, I just loved being with all those people. They were like, my people was like, I found my people

Episode Summary


OpenBefore we started, Sari told me about her nomadic lifestyle with her husband, with whom she lets her creative juices flow in all kinds of interesting ways. We talked about her real estate endeavors. A creative home. They made out of two old truck trailers [00:03:00] and driving all through Europe and more. We definitely could have talked for a while about a whole assortment of things, unrelated to adoption, but those things weren't what brought us together. Sari was born in Los Angeles and lived in orange county. Back then her father's job as an airline pilot, got the family transferred To Northern New Jersey. They lived in a house with a big yard in a beautiful suburban neighborhood with a lake. That was absolutely amazing For a little girl growing up. While the family lived in New Jersey, they adopted Sari's younger sister. Sari told me she can remember more about adopting her new cat back then than she can recall about bringing home her sister but the story of her newly adopted sister is definitely more relevant

Sari: [:

And my mom was sick with the flu and my dad was on a flight and she said, I can't, we can't take that baby because [00:04:00] of these conditions. And the person on the phone said, well, this baby will be better with you under those conditions than where she is. So of course my mom said, okay, well, come get her. And, when we went the next day as a family to go pick up my sister, my mom said she was holding this little baby.

And she was watching me and I was standing next to my mom. And she said, I could see your wheels in your head, turning, turning, trying to figure out what was happening. Cause I had no warning at all that this was happening. And she said, it clicked, you figured it out. This little baby was. Going to be your sister and she was going home and she said, you changed and you never went back to yourself again.

ting. Cause I don't remember [:

Damon: [00:05:05] That's really interesting.

Was she at all able to articulate the change in you? It might've been tough to speak to, but did she describe it at all?

Sari: [:

Damon: [00:05:30] That's really interesting. I can't help wondering if part of it. Well, you said it was pretty subtle. Like there was no buildup to it. I could see how, you know, if an infant is coming into the home after mom has carried it for nine months, you talk about it a lot. You're going to be a great big sister and this and that and the other.

u're about to do and make it [:

And now you're sharing it and there's a new infant and yeah, I could see how that was traumatic. .

Sari: [:

That perfect life you just had is over with now. You have to share everything for a three-year-old it's a three-year-old adopted child. I think that's very traumatic.

Damon: [:

They met and got married in their thirties. Sari's parents traveled a lot, including trips to Germany, where Sari had an aunt who was an army nurse station to there. Her parents visited orphanages there in

Sari: [:

And they wanted him so badly. They loved him. They would go back and visit him. And they were not allowed to adopt him because they wouldn't allow German babies to leave Germany and go to America. And so they, they didn't have a, you know, the heartache of infertility or anything like that. They were very okay with adoption and having other children, not their own to raise as, uh, as their family.

were handsome and pretty and [:

And so they were a little bit older for parents, but yeah, they just put, they put everything. And to me, they, they, you know, for my education and my, they sent me to Montessori school. They sent us to private Catholic school and everything that they could do to give us the very best opportunity in life.

They did. We had every lesson. That you could ever think of. And when we found something that we love, so I loved piano and I loved ballet. And so that's what I did for years. Anything we wanted to learn, we learned and they were, they really wanted to us to be independent women and, , self-sufficient and they that's how they raised us.

And they accomplish that. Cause we're both that

Damon: [:

There's these two amazing parents, you know what I mean? Like they, they sound like they truly were amazing people, but they also sound like they lived up to. The parents on the cover of the brochure

like the sales pitch. Yeah.

Sari: [:

They went through the whole protocol and then they got rejected because my father wasn't Catholic and my mother was, and my mom went to the main office to talk to the president of the, of the agency. [00:10:00] And she said, I just lit into him. And said, how dare you be the judge of Who my husband can be a father of, or that he can be a father.

I can't be a father because he's the perfect man to be the father to any child. And why would you deprive a child of having that? This man as their father and, , not very long later, they got an acceptance letter and then not very long later I was born and then got the call to come and get it.

Damon: [:

That's really

Sari: [:

Damon: [00:10:34] That's amazing. Wow, that's really cool.

Sari told me a story about when she was seven years old and her little brain thought that because she was adopted and her sister was adopted and her best friend back in New Jersey was adopted that everyone was adopted. When they moved to California, her new best friend was a little girl that lived across the street from Sari's family. They were close enough that when the best friend's mom got pregnant.

Sari [:

Sari: [:

And I got such a big impression on me, but then that was the first time I thought, oh, Not everybody goes to get their sister at the, you know, in my little girl mind, it was like, we went to the kennel. Like we went to go get the cat, which I remembered, but I don't remember going to get my sister, but I thought of it as going to the kennel to get a cat.

You don't do that. When you go get your sister, you go, your mom goes to the hospital. So it was very interesting.

Damon: [:

Well, we, no, we didn't. We don't, we try really hard, but we are so very, very different. And, , I also. I also think that my, [00:12:00] uh, you know, that emotion that got trapped when that trauma from when she came home and she was, she was traumatized when she came home.

I, all I remember from about her when we were growing up is that she cried a lot. And, , , we went from this calm, quiet house to kind of chaotic, and that was not good for me. So I think that that just carried forward and my mom didn't really do much to help bond us. , and we're really very, very different from me.


Sari: [:

And we're no different.


She couldn't do the project because she was adopted. Her teacher and the school community new Sari parents. Well, because they were involved with the school while she was there. The science teacher didn't believe Sari was adopted and accused her of lying to get out of doing the work. Lying to get out of homework was not the kind of kid Sari was and the whole thing ignited a strong urge within her to learn more about where she came from and who her birth parents and I, I started articulating it right away with my mom and dad immediately cause I told them. And then, , we started talking about it and my mom was not always really comfortable with it, but my dad was, and my sister wasn't comfortable with it [00:14:00] either, but over the years my mom would come.

Sari: [:

And my mom came into this room and I was probably 13 or 14 years old and she came in and she said, I've been thinking, I just remembered that in your adoption paperwork, it said that your birth father was an architect and I'd never heard anything like that from her or them at all. Like, Something about my birth family.


And so to hear that, and then later she would say, Hey, just remember either your birth grandmother, your, one of them was a pianist. And I played the piano, you know, things like that. And then a friend of ours was Irish and she said, he said, I think Sari's black, Irish. I think she's Irish. And so they, they said, you know, I think you're right.

land because I was Irish. So [:

irth. From that point back in:

Damon: [00:16:25] She called it old fashioned Nancy drew pounding the pavement, searching. It took her 17 years until she was in her late thirties to make a connection. But she said it's fine that it took her that long because she doesn't think she could have handled it all at a younger age.

rly part of her search in the:

sari tried to get her birth certificate with her adopted name. Sari, but that amended birth certificate didn't seem to exist.

created. Sari sent away to [:

I asked her what it was like to see that comprehensive set of information. About herself and her birth parents from so many years before

Sari: [:

I had her age, I had her address. I had my birth father's name, his age, their nationalities, their religion, their occupations. I had my original time of birth. I had all of those things that, that I had never had. And it was, it was amazing.

Damon: [:

It's a piece of history about yourself that you didn't even realize like, oh gosh, I'd never actually knew that these things were missing facts for me, you know,

Sari: [:

And so when I saw that, I thought, oh, I wonder if I'm a night owl because I was born at 11 o'clock. It's like my magic hour, you know, that's when all the juices start. And it was just very interesting to me.

Damon: [:

All of the calls were dead ends. Sari took time off from her search for several years.

She had gotten pregnant. She was working And she was just busy with life. When the urge hit her again, Sari made a road trip down to San Diego, right to the address for her birth mother's home. That was on her birth certificate.

No one with that family [:

In 1996, one of Sari's friends had a computer and he offered to look up Sari's birth fathers, semi-unique name. Searching the entire country. . Her friend with the computer, brought her 20 names from guys all across the country with her birth father's name. They decided to search by the man's first name middle initial and last name and the search returned only one .

Sari: [:

And these are all the things that , that I know, and you need to [00:20:00] get out of him without asking leading questions. But I don't want you to know, I don't want to know when you're doing it. So he did, he did that for me. About three months later, he says, I'm going to come over and we'll watch a movie.

I said, okay. And he knocks on the door, you know, that night. And he's got the biggest smile on his face. And he said, it's him. And I said, what? Cause now I've kind of forgotten. And he said, That's your father, your it's him. He's calling, he's waiting for you to call him right now. And I'm like, oh my God, I can't call him right now.

day. And that was labor day,:

She refused. And then when he was, , sent away , on a mission and [00:21:00] he was in the, in the Marines. And when he came back, he, he found her and she had already remarried and had another baby. And she wouldn't talk to him about me and what happened to me. So he didn't know .

If I was a boy, a girl where he lived, who raised me, he knew nothing about me. So he had always. Wanted to know. And so he was elated and his first wife who who's the mother of his children, she even wrote me a letter welcomed me into her family and was excited. I was going to be her children's sibling.

And, and they're wonderful. All of them were wonderful. , and still are,

Damon: [:

Sari: [:

, but [00:22:00] I found her and, uh, we found, we made a phone call, initial phone call while we were down in San Diego looking, and by the time we drove home, which is a two hour drive, , And there was a voicemail on my voicemail, the old fashioned voicemail machine. And it was my birth mother. And she said, well, you surprise me now.

It's my turn to surprise you. And she giggled and it's my giggle. And I listened to that. I crumbled onto the floor in a puddle. I was laughing and crying with my hand up on the repeat button, playing it for again. Cause I was listening to my birth mother's voice and it wasn't that different than mine.

And um, and then I think just a few months later, my daughter and I flew to the east coast and we met both of them separately. They lived in two different states on a big trip to go meet them. That's

Damon: [:

Sari: [00:22:59] Yeah, [00:23:00] I found him first. And then after I found him, he gave me more information and I guess I really just wanted to find him. I really, all this time, I did not fantasize about my birth mother. I only fantasize about my siblings and my birth father, the architect. He's not an architect, but I was really, really focused on him. Um, and so after I found him, I thought, okay, now I'll find her , and , so I found her .

Damon: [:

That is disappointing. Wow. Did she warm up later?

Sari: [:

That's true. He has a lot of emotions, but I think that she's traumatized and she doesn't know how to break through. I think there's a lot of fear. , I don't know. I can't speak for her, but, , she's, she's nice.

you anything about herself. [:

Damon: [00:25:01] Wow. So she picks you up at the airport, is that right? You and your daughter.

So did she, you have her granddaughter with you? Did you notice, how, how was she with your, with your

Sari: [:

We were there for four days. She took us down to Williamsburg, which is like a four-hour drive we spent the night we had was really nice. It wasn't that it was uncomfortable or it wasn't nice. It was just so different. It was different than I expected. , but we had a really nice time. And, , also, , Right, right before that, a couple of days before going my stomach turned into a hard ball.

d up with, , chronic fatigue [:

And, and so I was uncomfortable physically for part of that trip. , and we had four days with her and then my daughter and I rented a car and we drove to South Carolina. We met my birth father and it was the complete and utter opposite in every way possible. When I met. Yeah. What do you mean? Tell me throve to the end of the road, he met me, came out and hugged, us, and was so excited, drove us back to his house.

dinner. I was telling family [:

Just, you know, emotionally generous. Whereas my birth mother was emotionally repressed, so it was a completely different feeling and vibe. And I, I just loved being with all those people. They were like, my people was like, I found my people

Damon: [:

Sari: [00:27:34] Well, one thing I want to add to that though is when my birth father dropped us off at the airport, um, we said our goodbyes and my daughter and I walked into the airport. And as soon as the door closed behind me, I started to cry and I did not stop crying until we got to Denver.

ied. I had a headache, I was [:

As disappointed as I was with that, I was overjoyed to have found this first father who was everything I would have wanted. And his, his daughter, my half sister was so wonderful and we kind of looked like, he thought we looked like twins. , and so, you know, I was so happy, but with my birth mother, I thought, well, I, you know, I just, I'm not the kind of person to give up, so [00:29:00] I'm just gonna keep going along.

And my daughter went really liked her. , and so we maintained a relationship.

Damon: [:

Even though she didn't have much in common with her birth mother Sari maintained the relationship because her daughter loved the woman and Sari was really enjoying her new brother.

For 20 years, Sari and her birth mother had good times together. Their relationship was superficial distant. They had vague interactions and nothing deep or genuine made a connection, but they had good times When they visited with one

Sari: [:

So I thought, I wonder [00:30:00] what she's hiding and it turns out she was hiding some things

about 20 years later, my husband and I were having an anniversary and was having a sale.

We thought let's do our DNA for fun. And so we did and we sent it in and my daughter had already done her DNA with ancestry and my birth mother had already done her DNA. With ancestry, like the first year they had it years ago. And, one point I had asked my birth father would use mind submitting some DNA.

, you know, I thought just in case something happened to him and I have no paternal link, you know, I could have a, half-brother do his DNA, but I thought I just asked my birth father. He said, sure, I'd be happy to. So he did, and I did it through 23 and me for him. And he gave me the rights to his DNA was absolutely not interested in it at all.

So I had his DNA [:

And , I wouldn't have thought I would have been so upturned by it, but I was,

Damon: [:

Sari: [00:31:48] And then I called my birth mother and she said, I've never known anybody by that name. He's not your father. Your birth father is your birth father.

's no, no, but no other way. [:

I tracked him through his whole life as much as I could. , he had a three-part interview, uh, in his business and it was online. So I was able to watch like an hour and a half of him being interviewed, which was really helpful. Cause he , gave a lot of information about him and his life in that interview.

, there's no way it could be [:

So, , I spoke to him twice. He remembers her, he told me the whole story and she maintained and still maintains that she doesn't remember him. It's been three years since that has had almost four years since that's happened..

That was the first surprise. There's another surprise. But go ahead. If you have a question about that, you should ask

Damon: [:

Sari: [00:33:33] Well, so when I was a little girl growing up in the Catholic school, every around Passover, we would have a Seder meal with our, of the local rabbi would come and I fell in love with Judaism and I wanted to be Jewish in the worst way.

in Europe, mostly. And , the [:

Outlandish and gregarious and so much fun. I built the family tree. I discovered that his mother who died during childbirth, when he, she was giving birth to him, he never knew her, but she was Jewish. Her father was Jewish from a prominent Jewish family in Bohemia. And I was thrilled about that. I was thrilled to be part of that and it was thought I must have known, uh, so all of these things then his children who I really like one of the brothers, there's three of them.

One of the brothers says, I just tell everybody, you're just the petite, feminine version of myself. And we do, we look so much alike. It's just crazy. The other brother, him and I don't look alike, but we think a lot alike and we have common interests and we could talk for days and days and days without stopping.

And, you [:

Damon: [00:35:24] Yeah. I can imagine. I mean, you've, I didn't defied with a culture and a religion at a young age and then come to find out, oh my gosh, that's always been part of me. This is amazing. And then DNA says, no. Yeah. And you had to reset everything. That's. Yeah.

Sari: [:

I never knew anybody that name though. I think I knew somebody that, with that name when I was in high school, but different person. Oh [00:36:00] no. You know, she would always change her story. And then at one point that summer that I was doing all that research and trying to figure everything out, she would, she wouldn't answer my phone calls.

And finally she said, you know, I'm always afraid of, I'm afraid to answer the phone because I don't know what you're going to discover. And I thought, oh my gosh, what other secrets do you have?

Damon: [:

Sari: [00:36:24] Oh, yes. Because then a sister shows up on 23andme. Cause then I have to do my, I have to do DNA with everybody to make sure that my DNA with my birth certificate father really isn't matching, you know, so I do DNA with everybody. And then a few months later, On 23 and me, you have a half sister.

o and adopted at birth. And, [:

Damon: [00:37:11] So this was a maternal sister, half sister, not paternal as you assumed. Yeah. What, and she denied it.

Sari: [:

She calls her mom and I've never, I've always called her by her first name and I've never considered her family at all. So, uh, this, this half sister really needed somebody to be her birth mother and, and uh, so at least she, my, the birth mother came around.

Damon: [:

She denied it for the longest and sounds like still denies it. And then when a new fact came up after she said, I'm afraid, what else? You're going to learn. Something else comes up. And you've learned new information that. You had another sister out there. and, when you met her of this whole aloof feeling that you got, like, it doesn't sound like there's a whole lot left there for you.

Is that right?

Sari: [:

So I have no [00:39:00] intention of. Um, well, I thought, well, I'll, I'll try and I'll just see if we can be friends and, but she doesn't want to be friends on the phone. , I said, if we're going to be friends, then we need to be friends on the phone and not on social media and not texting. Just let, if you want to speak to me, call me, but she doesn't want to call me.

She said, it's , too confrontational. , I just wanna see your pictures on social media. So she's not allowed to do that. I told her you're not allowed to do that as my birth mother to peep in, on my life without having the courage to work through some of these things together.

Damon: [:

Sari: [00:39:50] That's the problem because it's impacted their relationship with each other and they were never very close, close. You know, my, my daughter and [00:40:00] my mom that raised me were really close. And in fact, they looked a lot alike. And in fact, I look sort of like my adoptive mom, but, um, my, but my mom, my birth mother and my daughter liked each other and they get along and they understand each other, but they don't have much in the way of communication now because of that.

And I've had no communication really to speak of with my half-brother her son. Um, which I'm very sad about because I adore him.

Damon: [:

Sari: [00:40:44] Well, I've never told him. And I struggled with that. I got . Counseling advice. And, but not by a number of people because I didn't, but let sleeping dogs lie, I, I went through such trauma over that, and he [00:41:00] knew about me for 18 years before I knew about him.

Oh, well, 14 years, if you count. When my mom told me he was an architect, um, and he wondered about me all this whole time. And I think that he would just be, he would be devastated. I told him about my older half sister that my birth mother had and he was horrified. He had no idea and he was upset.

He was horrified about that. Um, and I, I did that. I told them that because I wanted to test the waters. I wanted to see how he would react to that. And I decided, Nope, if he's taking it that badly, I am not going to tell him he's not my birth father, boy. They don't know once he's gone, I'll tell my half siblings or his children.

, because I don't want to keep any secrets, but I just don't want to hurt him.

Damon: [:

Sari: [00:42:05] That is yeah. Horrible position to bein. and I've seen him since then we just spent a few days with him in the summertime and it was, it was hard on some regards to not, and the other half, it's the, I thought, you know, I get to choose these things and I'm choosing him as my birth dad.

That's just how it is.

Damon: [:

Sari: [00:42:41] Yeah, it is cool.

Damon: [:

She found her birth mother spent tons of time with her didn't connect at all, but she did with her [00:43:00] brother and her own daughter really liked her maternal grandmother.

Through DNA testing. Sari found another sister whom she assumed was her paternal sister, but it turned out she was an older maternal sister that her birth mother never told her about. And wouldn't fess up to having placed for adoption.

That's a lot of emotional unraveling for one person to cope with. I wondered how Sari's doing these

Sari: [:

I had to forgive my birth mother for lying. And there's a lot of understanding, you know, you get a young girl and she wasn't even that young, she was in her mid twenties. You had a woman, young woman, who's made [00:44:00] some bad decisions and she doesn't know who the father is. And there's no hard feeling about that at all.

I mean, I was. In my mid twenties and got pregnant. So I'm not anyone to judge that kind of behavior at all, but you know, it's just the honesty issue. It's like, instead of being real and going, oh my Lord, I had no idea. I'm so sorry. What a huge mistake. I can't believe that happened. There was nothing, there was no kind of attitude like that.

It was just very confidently. No, that's not possible if he's not your father, this is what she said. If he's not your, if your birth father is not your birth father, I'm not your birth mother. She said that to me twice. And then finally I said, well, then I guess you're not my birth mother because,

Damon: [:

That's a really harsh one harsh thing to say. And you've got facts. And that comment is based on something you have hard facts on. So it seems just [00:45:00] so contrary to, to say something as stark as that, when you have the facts, I just, I'm struggling with words because it's just so inconceivable that someone could say something as harsh as that.

Yeah. Given what, you know.

Sari: [:

Damon: [00:45:15] Wow. Wow. Sari. This is unbelievable. I, you know, I, I, I saw what your story was like when you, when I read it. And I just, I can't believe that this is the twist that you live with. But I got to say, I love that you said I get to choose who my family is and that you're just embracing him, but it's still, it's gotta be tough.

And I really wish you all the best in trying to just. Maintain your happiness in the relationships that you do have with the siblings that you've got and, you know, with this man that just loves you. I think that's really amazing. And you're, you're really lucky for that.

Sari: [:

And I I'm so happy that I have that. And I would've, I would've missed out on a lot if I had, if she had just skipped over him and gone right to the person who really was my birth father. And I'm sure that he has an interesting family story also, um, ironically. I did speak to him twice and we did get to know each other, but we don't have a relationship with each other, but this is the weird thing.

tle, tiny little town in New [:

Damon: [00:47:00] crazy.

This is his biological birth father. This

Sari: [:

Damon: [00:47:19] That is bizarre. Wow. Sari. Well, thank you so much for taking time to share your story. This is really remarkable and, uh, and I'm glad to know you're doing okay.

Sari: [:

And I really appreciate it. All the effort that you've put into your podcast is just remarkable. And it's such a huge gift. And I really appreciate your work.

Damon: [:

So I'm glad you're now part of the, the crew that is helping others. So thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it. All right, Sari, take care all the best to you. Okay. Take care.

Sari: [:

Episode Close

Damon: [:

Sari thought her birth mother would be a woman she could connect with, but the secrets of the woman's life seemed to keep a massive barrier up that wouldn't [00:49:00] let Sari inside

The man from South Carolina, who she grew to love so much whose children she took as her own siblings and whose wife wrote a letter to welcome her into the family with her kids turned out not to be a blood relation at all.

Adoption reunion can be an unbelievable rollercoaster as we try to let people into our lives, try to make our way into theirs . And discover truths about our new relations and ourselves that we never knew about before. I really liked that Sari chose to keep the relationship with her birth father.

He sounds like a great guy with a great family and a big heart. Where better to be reunited than with someone who loves her. Like he does. I'm Damon Davis and I hope you'll find something In Sari'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