Serena told me she had a similar experience to what a lot of adoptees feel, even though she grew up with her birth mother. I’m always talking about empathizing with others, so I wanted to hear her story. Serena told me about her birth on a Native American reservation in Arizona then her mother moving away. She was adopted by her father when he married her mother, but Serena never knew her biological father. When her paternal family called to say her birth father was ill, she was too stunned to act quickly, so she only met his relatives at his chaotic funeral. Take a moment to listen to the parallels between what I’ll call Serena’s “adoption adjacent” experience and those of other adoptees.
Read Full TranscriptSerena: 00:02 I don’t think I recognized the severity of his sickness. I didn’t… At that age, you still think you’re invincible and I had never had anyone that was even close to me die. So to have, you know, these people who are part of my paternal family, but I’ve never, I’ve never known call me and sort of dropped this sort of bomb. I think I just kind of froze.
Voices: 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 Serena. She called me from Virginia shortly after I met her at the Maryland Pod-casters Association meetup. She told me she had a similar experience to what a lot of adoptees feel, even though she grew up with her birth mother. I’m always thinking about empathizing with others. So I wanted to hear her story. Serena told me about her birth on a native American reservation in Arizona. Then her mother moving away, she was adopted by her father when he married her mother, but Serena never knew her biological father. When her paternal family call to say her birth father was ill, she was too stunned to act quickly, so she only met his relatives at a chaotic funeral. Take a moment to listen to the parallels between what I’ll call Serena’s adoption adjacent experience and those of other adoptees. This is Serena’s as journey.
Damon: 01:49 Serena was born on the Navajo reservation in Fort Defiance, Arizona, but her mother was only 18 at the time living with a friend because her own mother and grandmother had moved to Colorado. Her mother wanted to stay behind to finish high school at Window Rock, another Navajo reservation. That’s when she
Serena: 02:09 met a boy, fell in love. Got Pregnant. She was… My mom is so freaking smart. She is God. She puts anything, anything at all I I’ll ever do to shame. She gave birth to me and then very shortly after flew across the country and came to the DC area and went to… And did her undergrad at Georgetown. I think something like two or three weeks after after giving birth because I was a little late. I was in the care of my grandmother for think my first two years out in Wyoming while my mom was sort of got her academic career started here and you, it’s a rough transition being from a reservation and living out west and you know, coming out here, it’s a, it’s a pretty big culture shock, you know, coming from a very small place where a lot of the people you see are, are like you or related to you or you know, you have a common culture to someplace like DC
Damon: 03:23 from other established herself in the DC area. Serena, when she was three years old, her birth father John moved to Alexandria, Virginia too and they made a go at being a young family together
Serena: 03:35 for whatever reason. That didn’t work out and eventually she met my father. so my father is The person who’s been my dad my entire life, he’s my Dad. He’s my father. I kind of use the term birth father for John Because I don’t have any anything else other than pictures and not even very many stories with him. I think, you know, this sort of thing is just for the people that lived through it. It’s so long ago that you don’t talk about it, but then at some point I kind of told my mom like, I, I’m missing a couple of gaps in my life.
Damon: 04:21 Just for the record. Is John Native American as well?
Serena: 04:24 Yes, So I am three quarters Navajo. He was full blooded and my mom is half.
New Speaker: 04:36 And may I ask, what is her other half?
Serena: 04:36 ha! Swedish.
Damon: 04:36 Serena told me that her grandmother was part of the native American boarding school system, which removed her from the reservation and sent her away to boarding school. When she finished school, the work placement program landed her a job as a secretary with NASA in southern California. That’s where she met. Serena’s maternal grandfather, a Swedish rocket scientist. I asked Serena to circle back to her early years back in Arizona with her grandmother while her own mom was in DC. She of course doesn’t have any memory of that time, but she did say
Serena: 05:08 my grandmother, and I’ve always had this intensely close bond. She helped raise me when was ittty bitty, and my mom, my grandmother, and my mom was the second oldest, so I still had three aunts and an uncle that were there when I was a baby, so I’ve just heard stories about how the girls would just take me and bathe me and dressed me up and put me in dresses and and bows and I was just like their little doll
Damon: 05:46 Serena said she used to go back and visit her aunts and uncles who weren’t too much older than herself. She went on to tell me about her dad. Steve. He and her mother were married for only a few divorcing when she was about eight years old. They had one daughter, Serena, sister Sarah.
Serena: 06:03 It’s so funny because I mean biology is just, it’s, it’s biology, you know? There’s no sentiment behind that.
Damon: 06:12 That’s very scientific.
Serena: 06:18 [Laughs] We’ve never, we’ve never referred to each other as this is my sister. No, she’s always just been my sister and we’ve always just been sisters and you tan skin, dark hair, dark eyes, and she’s got that very, very fair skin. Freckles, light, Brown hair can go blue eyes.
Damon: 06:42 Wow. Yeah. You guys sound like you’ve built, you look very different from one another.
Damon: 06:47 Serena said among her sisters, they may not look alike, but they share many of the same mannerisms. She lived in the DC area most of her life and with a 12 year gap between them, they had to work at a familial bond. You’re probably wondering if Serena grew up with her mother, then how is this an adoption story? Bear in mind. Adoption can take many forms. Hers was adoption by marriage. Serena talks about how she learned that Steve had adopted her as his daughter and how she felt different from her dad, like other adoptees sometimes feel with their families.
Serena: 07:21 So when Steve and and my mom got married, um, he actually adopted me. So on my birth certificate, there’s his name and I just, I have a weird memory of like being in kindergarten and like, you know, how they put the, put a little laminate thing and tape it down to your desk and that’s where you sit and that’s your name and you know, that whole jam. But I didn’t recognize my last name because I think it was still my birth father’s last name, but I just knew that wasn’t my last name.
Damon: 08:04 Oh, Interesting.
Serena: 08:06 Yeah, so I think that they. They started the adoption process probably sometime around then.
Damon: 08:14 So Serena was a kid who grew up with one last name, but suddenly in school, her name tag on her desk had a different name. Serena was about eight years old when her mother and Steve divorced. They were living in Virginia. He lived in Maryland and they would trade off visits with him. She said around 11 years old, the curiosity hit her about whom her biological father could be. So her mother tried to find her birth father, John, using an old address she had for his parents. Serena wrote him letters and he responded that he was remarried and had a son. And that was it for Serena. Her curiosity was satisfied. She established a connection and she didn’t need anything else at that moment. As a kid. What she says next is just one of the things that aligned Serina story with other adoption journeys.
Serena: 09:01 I feel like I, I definitely felt different after they got divorced and has always been my sister. My Dad has always been my dad, but they look very similar like you can see the similrity between Sarah and my dad and it was a little weird and awkward and you know, at this point like I’m about eight years old and so we’re just starting to kind of notice the differences between you and your peers and there were definitely times where I was starting to notice how I maybe looked like would like I was Sarah’s friend. Like, you wouldn’t look at us, at least way back then, I feel like way back then in the early nineties and think, Oh, that’s a dad