March 21, 2016

Broadening the Circle...

It's March! And it's been two years since I met my son.

Waiting to be Told was created as my way of sharing my story with family and friends. Very few people in my life knew I'd had a baby in 1978 -- and how that managed to stay a "family secret" for so long may be a subject for another writing! But the truth is, hardly anyone knew about it. Then Matt and I reconnected in March 2014, and there was no question - I no longer needed this to remain a secret. Back in 1978, an unplanned pregnancy was something people kept quiet. I've grown up since then. The fear of judgment and criticism is gone. I know myself, and this is part of who I am. And, as I started getting to know Matt, I wanted others in my life to know him, too!

Early in our relationship, my husband Bruce knew I'd had a son. My kids, Jenna and Mike, were young adults, but they didn't yet know the story, so of course I shared this with them first. But then, how to share it with the others in my life all at once? Creating a blog seemed the easiest way, so I started writing this blog in July 2014 and shared it privately. And that's how Waiting to be Told came to be.

From the beginning, I considered the possibility of eventually making this blog public. The question I've asked myself all along is, "Why would anyone be interested in this story, my story, especially someone I don't know?"

Clearly, I didn't make a decision quickly! There were lots of reasons for that...

First of all, this is our story - the story of Matt and I being reunited after many years. Other birth parents and birth children reunite, and each experience will be unique. Our journey through this has gone really well, but there are no guarantees...other people won't know how their reunion will unfold by reading about ours. They'll need to experience it themselves. 

Then there's the fact that, for a blog, there are long stretches between my posts. I haven't written as often as I'd hoped, and my last post was last September -- a year and a half after Matt and I connected -- and that's when I finally wrote about the day we met! I love to write - but I'm a real person with a regular job. I write when I can.

And, have you noticed? The web is not always a kind and friendly place. Did I really want to share our personal story of adoption and reunion and open it up to those who are quick to criticize and don't even know us?

To share our story in the public venue of the web is to broaden our circle beyond family and friends. And, after much consideration, my decision is "yes" - I'm making this blog public. Why? Because there are other women like me. There are women who experienced this before I did, during years when girls were often sent away to have their babies - for many, the baby was taken away, and the young mother was sent back home with the expectation that she'd forget the child and go on with life. There are women who experienced this around the same time as I did, maybe in a similar situation, or perhaps completely different. Certainly there are women who've lived this experience more recently; this society may not be as harsh and judgmental as it was years ago, and the experience of an unplanned pregnancy may be different now than it was in 1978, but it's still not an easy road. Maybe sharing this story will help someone who, like me, has been down this road, or someone who is living it now and isn't sure what to do next, and who just needs some encouragement. 

There are adoptees, like Matt, who wonder about their birth parents, and struggle with the question of trying to find them; who worry about whether finding their birth parents will upset their adoptive family; who worry about rejection, or who are reluctant because they just don't know what to expect. There are birth parents who struggle with these same things. There are adoptive parents who may struggle with their adopted child's desire to search for his or her roots...some parents may be fully supportive of such a search, while others may feel threatened by a son or daughter's desire to search. No doubt there are many loving adoptive parents who worry that their beloved child's search for a birth parent may bring disappointment or hurt. So much emotion is wrapped around the reunion of a birth parent and child, or even the decision of whether or not to try to find that person.

The only definite thing I can offer is this: Matt, my "long ago son," decided to search for me. Two years ago he found me, and what a startling and intense and exciting and joyful time it was! For me, the year of his birth was a tough year filled with fear, shame, isolation, loss and grief. Yet, I feel I've been blessed, and my life in the years since then has been full. In my everyday life, I didn't feel as though something was missing...and then Matt and I connected. He became part of my life. And I felt somehow more complete. 

So, today is the day: with this writing, my blog becomes public. I'll never pretend to have all the answers, and our story is unique to us, but you never know - maybe reading it will make a difference for someone else.

If you're among the friends and family who've been following this blog, thank you - you've been a great source of encouragement along the way! And if you're new to this blog, please start here: The Very Beginning.

September 13, 2015

Meeting Matt

On a sunny March afternoon, she left work early. She'd been looking forward to this day. As the dark-haired woman drove out of the parking lot, the thought of what lay just moments ahead was surreal. "In a few minutes I will meet him..."  Her thoughts were a blur as she drove to her destination, years of unspoken thoughts for which, at this moment, there were no words.

Heart pounding, she exited the freeway. A short distance further, she turned a corner and looked to where she was to meet him. Seeing no one, she parked her car and walked to the designated meeting spot, trying to slow her breathing, to calm her thoughts... At a bench, she stopped and looked around. No one was approaching. She sat down and, trying to focus, held her phone with trembling hands and began a text message to tell him she'd arrived...

"Hello." She looked up from her phone to the dark-haired young man standing in front of her, holding a bouquet of spring flowers. "These are for you," he said. She stood to meet the man she'd only seen once before...over 35 years earlier...the day after he was born. This was her son! 

So many years had passed since 1978. That year was full of uncertainty, and fear, and shame - and despite all that I still, at age 17, managed to make a decision I'd always believed to be the right decision: to give up my baby for adoption. And went on.

Life went on...what? How can a person bring a new life into the world, then move on and not look back? It's difficult to write these words, but yes, I did move on, as best I could. When you sign away your parental rights before a judge, words like "final" and "forever" are part of the legal document. When you leave the court room, it is done, there is no turning back. I was fully aware of this. Days after returning home from the hospital, I remember lying in bed crying, weeping... grieving, I'm certain, though I don't know that I could have explained it then. I remember I was grateful my parents were at work, not at home, so I didn't have to explain my sadness, or somehow try to justify it. I didn't expect them to be sympathetic or supportive in response to my sadness. And at the time, I didn't feel I could talk to anyone about it.

I also wondered what I would face as I got together with friends again, what questions people might have about my time away from school, and how I would answer... To my absolute amazement, no one asked. The story was that I'd been out because of trouble with my back. I don't know what they were thinking, but no one questioned. Maybe as kids that age we're just too into our own lives to focus on what's going on around us. They either believed the given reason for my absence, or thought whatever they wanted, but they didn't question.

So, that summer I spent time again with friends. At that time, I was still seeing the baby's father. We were, I guess, trying to see if the relationship might still work. I was getting ready for college in the fall; North Hennepin Community College wasn't far away, and I'd be living at home. I got a part time job at Sears. My life as a college student was about to begin.

I couldn't talk to anyone about what I'd just been through. If I was the person then that I am now, I'd have been stronger and more independent, and I would have chosen someone to confide in. Maybe I'd have sought counseling. There were friends I could have trusted, I know that now. But I wasn't who I am now. I was barely 18, and putting the truth out there was to risk being judged, and would have risked it getting back to my parents that this wasn't a "secret" anymore. I couldn't take those chances. I learned to repress the pain and stress of that year, and looked ahead.

My relationship with Matt's birth father finally ended about a year later. Over the following years, in other relationships, I did share my story of having a baby a few years before, not without anxiety. It wasn't easy. But I knew that if a casual relationship might turn into long term, this needed to be known from the start. So, I shared this story from my past with my future husband, Bruce, early on. 

As I re-read what I've written, I think how younger readers might question the seriousness, the secrecy, the intensity of all this. This was 1978,  and a very different time in our society compared to today. Babies born to unmarried parents were referred to as  "illegitimate" children. Unmarried pregnant girls were still often "sent away" to have their babies. I guess I was fortunate to remain at home, but I was very isolated. And, at any age, having a baby is a deeply profound experience. Having had a baby at that young age, in my circumstances, and believing I needed to keep the story totally to myself, resulted in much anxiety when I did finally choose to share about it. Yet, when considering a possible life partner, I knew this was so very important. When I made the decision to give up my baby for adoption, I also made the legal decision not to have the court record "sealed." My son would someday be an adult, and he then could legally obtain his original birth certificate. Since the court record was not sealed, he would receive the document that would identify by name who his parents were at his birth. I never wavered on that decision. I knew he could someday choose to contact me, and in sharing this with my future husband, the groundwork in my own family would be laid long before that.

Of course, many years went by. Those years, for me, were filled with marriage, career, children, and being primary caretaker for my mother, and later my aunt. In the back of my mind, I knew when I turned 36, my son would be 18. That was 1996. The years continued to pass, and my children, Jenna and Mike, were growing up. I didn't know whether Jenna and Mike's lives would ever be touched in any way by that of their half brother, and decided I'd wait until I felt the time was right to tell them about him. And so much had happened in my life since 1978 that the pregnancy and birth were a distant memory. I had no information about my birth son, no idea where he was, or who he had become. It almost seemed like it hadn't happened. And so, as Jenna and Mike were becoming adults, the time had not come for me to share this.

And then, that night in March of 2014, I received the private Facebook message from Matt. It was startling, and yet, somehow, not. It was exciting, yet surreal. During the week between the Monday he sent the message and the Monday that we met, several times I was suddenly struck by this new reality: I'd actually heard from the son I'd had so long ago. His name was Matt. This really was happening. 

The day after he first contacted me, we decided we would meet and agreed not to talk first on the phone, but that it would be more special to meet in person and actually see each other as we talked for the first time. We both live in the Twin Cities, so meeting in person was not going to be difficult. We settled on meeting for coffee the following Monday after work. 

We agreed to become Facebook friends, and a window opened immediately into each other's lives. I saw pictures of Matt's parents, and his grandfather. It was strange to think, "This is the family who adopted my son. This is his family." His college graduation, his wedding, his music... We talked online throughout the week, and I drifted between excitement and disbelief. Have you experienced this after a significant event in your life? You're focused on your work and daily routine, when a startling thought rushes to the front of your mind -- and suddenly the reality of a life changing event interrupts the normal, and you're struck that your reality has changed. There's about to be a new "normal" in your life. 

We shared bits and pieces about our lives, and it began to seem more real. I'd messaged him the Thursday before we met: "I'm at another desk waiting for a computer to finish some updates...and thinking how I'm really excited for Monday! I can't believe how easy it seems to be having all this online conversation with you so quickly, when just four days ago I didn't know I would even be hearing from you..." 

Within the first couple of days, I'd learned about Matt's years of musical training and his life in his 20's as a musician. He'd played several instruments, but his main instrument was piano/keyboard. I was amazed to learn of this unexpected parallel between Matt and Mike's passion for piano/keyboard and their range of musical talents. Other unexpected parallels surfaced between Matt and myself. He now works in IT; so do I. I went to North Hennepin Community College my first two years of college; Matt went to North Hennepin his first year. When I took graduate level classes in my late 20's, I'd gone to Metropolitan State University. After Matt's first year of college, he'd gone to Berklee College of Music, but ultimately returned to school to finish his degree at Metro State. Who would have ever guessed?!

The Monday we were to meet, I was thoroughly distracted during the hours before I was to leave work. We messaged that afternoon about the beautiful March day, and about work...and counted down the hours. I said, "...less than 4 hours and I will actually meet you...unbelievable!" Later, Matt wrote, "...struggling to even THINK about anything at work right now!" and I responded, "I know, so am I!...I'm up for bailing a little earlier and moving up our meeting time a bit, if you are... Talk about major distraction... :) "

We had slightly changed the plan, deciding to have dinner across from the coffee shop first. On my way to meet Matt, it truly felt like a scene from a movie: it was dramatic, it was intense. I felt like I was outside myself watching it happen to someone else. Surreal, indeed. I'd had no knowledge of Matt until one week before we met, and it hardly seemed possible I could really be meeting him. I looked up from my phone when he said hello; I stood to meet him, and we hugged each other...and hugged again. I remember saying, "We definitely look related..." And then we walked the short distance to the restaurant, and to begin our first real conversation. 

I wish I could share pieces of that first conversation, but to be honest, neither of us could clearly remember the details. There were so many things to talk about! And it was emotionally intense. We talked over dinner, and continued over coffee, and although it was intense, it felt at the same time so good and so right. You can't repeat a first meeting, and it was special, but the following times were more relaxed and enjoyable as we started getting to know each other.

Honestly, for the first several weeks, even months, I couldn't get over a feeling of awe that Matt had made the effort to find me. It struck me that at this point in his life it had become important to him to find out about where he'd come from, who he'd come from. And now, it's been a year and a half since that first meeting. We stepped into the unknown of getting to know each other and went on to begin a relationship that has grown. The first months included many new experiences for me: getting to know Matt's wife Lora, and sharing the story with Jenna and Mike, quickly followed by Crosby's birth a year ago July - yes - I have a grandson! I met Matt's parents for the first time a few months ago before Crosby's baptism, and I met more of Matt's family at Crosby's birthday party in July. I'm learning to be part of a new kind of family: I know who I am with Matt's family, and I know who I am with my family, Jenna and Lucas, Mike, and Bruce. But I have a new role, and it involves learning who I am with all of them together. We are all learning new roles in this process. So exciting! So many topics for future posts!

When I started writing this blog, I'd planned to write more frequently. There have been gaps in the time between my writing - life just gets in the way! - but I hope you'll stay with me as I continue this journey, my journey that began with Meeting Matt. No, I want to rephrase that...the journey that began when Matt and I were reunited.

March 25, 2015

In honor of...

How does time go so fast? I last wrote this blog six months ago. The next post, Meeting Matt, was to be written long before now, and was to be about our first meeting after he contacted me. Then life got busy...fall flew by...and then the holidays...and suddenly it's spring. The blink of an eye, and six months have passed. 

I have not retired my blog! The post Meeting Matt is still coming. I can't believe it, but a whole year has passed since that amazing day. As I've been working on writing about it, I've reminded myself: we waited nearly 36 years to meet each other, and as far as I'm concerned, it will never be too late to continue the story! But for today I'm sharing another important piece of my life.

It's now about 1:00 a.m. Yesterday, March 24th, was the anniversary of my mom's passing, and I wrote a post on my Facebook page to honor her memory. Writing it late in the day on my computer at work, nearly everyone had left, and it was quiet, and I was free to think about my mom, wiping my eyes as I wrote. And I decided I wanted to include it here as well.

So, stay with me - soon I will post Meeting Matt. I hope you join me for the continued story. But for now, a little about my mom...

~ ~ ~
March 24, 2015
Mae at age 25 ~ 1948

Three years ago today my mom, Mae, left this world. Just two weeks short of age 89, she was one "tough cookie" -- always as independent as possible despite her mobility limitations, she was beyond resilient, bouncing back many times from health challenges. Forever a "people person", she always had friends of all ages -- in more recent years, whether in a senior apartment, assisted living, or eventually nursing home, she always talked to people, asked questions and got to know them, whether an aide studying for nursing school, a staff person who just happened to be from South Dakota, or another resident who grew up "on the farm" like her -- she listened to their stories, told them some stories of her own, and gave unsolicited advice with a positive attitude and encouraging personality.

She used to say age was "just a number," and wasn't one to tell her age - until after she was 80! Between the way she acted and how she looked (hair color helps...) people always thought she was younger than her age. When Mike was very young, he once asked her how old she was. Her answer: "I'm not as young as I used to be, and not as old as I hope to be." Classic Mae!

I don't feel at all shortchanged after having my mom in my life for 51 years. However, I admit to a bit of melancholy today...

I wish my mom would have been here for Jenna's wedding, and could see her adult granddaughter now using her talents and skills and extraverted personality in a job she loves and in ministry for her church. I wish she could have been here to see Michael's passion for music lead him to Luther College to become an integral part of Luther Jazz, while her head for business would have nodded in approval at his choice to major in Economics.

And I wish my mom could have met Matt, the grandson she never knew. I believe at this stage in all of our lives, she would have welcomed him into her life, and would have been eager to hear his story -- about his life growing up, his musical experiences and eventual career path, his adoptive family and his wife, and her great-grandson. She was assertive, yes, and often outspoken -- but was also a loving, good hearted, generous person. Although I can never prove it, this is what my heart believes.

So, today: a bit of musing, a bit of melancholy, and overall a tribute to my mom, Mae, who had so much to do with who I am.

Love you, Mom.

September 15, 2014

March 3, 7:00 p.m.

Where did August go?! I created this blog in July and intended to write again much sooner than this. I've been eager to write this next post about a very important day in my life a few months back - the day when Matt first contacted me. But...busy month of August: in and out of town twice, a gathering at our house, back to college for Mike... and so it's September, and I'm finally writing about that Monday night in March.

It was March 3, almost 7pm and I was still at work. As I was getting ready to leave for home, I took a quick glance at my phone and saw I had a notification. With a closer look I realized it was a private Facebook message. Never one to wait until later to see who's sent a message, I read the beginning...

"Dear Sandy, My name is Matt..." the message began. I scanned: "...writing because I am doing some genealogy research....hoping you can help me." In the first split second, I thought This isn't from someone I know. Must be some sort of spam message. 

Curious, I scrolled through the message. "I was born on May 24, 1978, at 12:24 p.m., and I was adopted...." "I contacted Catholic Charities and asked them how to initiate a day in November I received my official birth certificate. For the first time in my life I learned that I was born at Unity Hospital in Fridley and I read my birth parents full names: Sandra JoLynn..."

My heart skipped a beat, and I quickly scanned further. "Sandy, I believe you are my birth mother."  Oh my Lord, this is not spam! 

I scrolled to the top of the message and started again from the beginning. I'm sure I was holding my breath. "First, I sincerely hope that this letter reaches you at an acceptable time and place....I want you to know that I completely respect your privacy and in no way wish to compromise that." 

He said he'd known he was adopted his entire life. When he was 18, his parents had helped him contact Catholic Charities and he received a bit of information about his birth parents, including a picture of each one with a handwritten first name on the back. 

He continued: "Many years have gone by since then but more recently I came to realize that I desired to know more. I wished to know where I came from and why I am who I am. At the very least, I wished to know my current family health history as I aged." So, Matt contacted Catholic Charities again and inquired about initiating a search. They advised that he first contact the Minnesota Department of Health to see if his birth certificate contained identifying information about his birth parents.

Allow me to interject that, since Matt contacted me, I've been avidly reading about adoption and reunion of birth parents and children, and I've been learning how much adoption has changed over the years. "Open" adoption has become a norm, and is now defined by whatever extent is desired and agreed upon between the birth parents and adoptive parents. In today's open adoption, the birth mother is the one, sometimes along with the birth father, who selects the adoptive parents for the child. 

It was not this way in 1978... at that time in Minnesota, the actual adoption records were left open or closed. Adopted children, upon reaching adulthood, could request their original birth certificate from the Department of Health: if the adoption records had remained "open," they would then obtain their original birth certificate with full names identifying the birth parents; if the adoption had been "closed," they could not obtain the birth certificate or any identifying information. I've heard that the latter was most often the case.

As overwhelming as the whole experience was when Matt was born, I had made the decision back in 1978, along with his birth father, to leave the adoption record open. So, last fall Matt contacted the Department of Health, and in November he received his official birth certificate. With my name on that piece of paper, it didn't take him long on the internet to find my married name, and from there he easily found my Facebook page. After reading and research, he first chose to try to contact me by phone, but ultimately contacted me by sending the private Facebook message on March 3rd.

Matthew... I re-read the name his parents had given him in 1978. What he wrote about them in his message assured me his life had turned out well: "I have amazing adoptive parents...They have instilled good values in me, taught me respect and to work hard...they provided for me in every way that a child would need. They have been fantastic." And t
here was respect and understanding throughout Matt's letter that put me at ease from the start. "I respect your privacy. I don't know if your family is aware of me or not...I do not want to disrupt your life, nor do I need anything." Yet, not knowing me or what to expect from me, he extended an invitation: "I would love to share more of my life with you if you are open to that. But again, you have my complete respect as to your wishes."

My thoughts were racing as I left work and walked to my car. As I drove home I thought, I have to respond! He had ended the message with his phone number. Should I call him? Or should I message him back? I tested my emotions, asking myself: Am I stunned? glad? scared? excited? By the time I got home, I knew three things for sure: (1) I couldn't tell anyone about this immediately - my brain needed some time to process; (2) I was anxious to respond - I'd message back to Matt on Facebook, and I would reply tonight; and (3) I was excited! After all this time, the son I'd never known had found me - he wanted to find me! And I wanted to know who he was!

So, late that evening I wrote back to Matt. "You have indeed found the right person...I appreciate and am touched by your concern for respect of my privacy - and I truly am excited to hear from you." I was awestruck simply by having heard from him, but I was coherent enough to realize the risk he'd taken in deciding to contact me. "You've taken the steps to reach out, not knowing what to expect for a response," I wrote. "Thank you for doing that. I look forward to getting to know you!" 

And so began an online conversation that went on throughout the week. We agreed the very next day that we wanted to meet in person, and settled on the following Monday. By Wednesday, we connected on Facebook, and Matt also shared some things about his life...he told me of his lifelong love for music, of starting piano lessons at age 6, and of his career as a musician in his 20's. He told me about his current work as an IT Director (IT! Who would have guessed?!). He told me his parents were supportive of his searching, and shared a bit about his older brother who was also adopted. I learned he'd known his wife, Lora, for several years and that they'd married in 2010 - and that they were expecting their first child! That would be baby Crosby, born July 4th. :)

I was amazed that first week by Matt's concern about contacting me, and by his understanding of the complexities that may occur in my life as a result. He said, "One of the scariest parts of reaching out in this is knowing that there is the potential that my action (reaching out) may cause some turmoil in your world. The part about respecting your privacy in particular also relates to your family...I don't know if they know about me. It's completely understandable if they don't, and I pass no judgement on your decision to tell them or not - but I am concerned about if they know about this or not and if you have support on your end through this." It's difficult to explain my reaction to Matt's words... Many years before, at times I'd worried over how I would handle it with my family when/if this time ever came. Then, so many years had passed, I didn't know that it would ever happen. And now - I was beginning to learn about this man who was my son, and I never could have anticipated how respectful and understanding he would be about this. As we chatted online that week, I thought again and again how I hadn't a clue all these years what his growing up had been like... it was clear to me now that he'd had a good, loving and supportive family; he had wonderful parents who had raised him well. What more could I ever have hoped for his life?

I assured Matt that Bruce had known about him before we were married, but I confirmed that Jenna and Mike did not. My thoughts on that, I felt, were complicated... "I didn't know when or if I would ever be in touch with you; I didn't want to confuse them when they were younger about something like this before they could understand it, especially not knowing whether it would ever directly touch their lives. And when they were older and you were well past 18, truthfully I was, yes, concerned about rocking the boat of my family - the potential 'turmoil in my world' that you mentioned...So, I chose to wait."

But there was no question: I knew right away that I would be telling Jenna and Mike about Matt. I would need to carefully consider when and how, but there was no "should I or shouldn't I" decision to be made. I already felt I was getting to know Matt, and that he was a wonderful person, and that he was going to become part of my life. Now that he was a "real" person to me, I couldn't keep him in a separate compartment and hold this back from the family I love. So, as challenging as it might be, I knew I'd find a way to tell Jenna and Mike that they had a half-brother they'd never known about.  

On Sunday night, we confirmed our plans online: we were meeting on Monday after work at a coffee shop, and we'd agreed to meet at a bench in the island of the parking lot before going inside. I told Matt I wasn't nervous about meeting him, just really excited. And I assured him he could ask me anything. He said he wasn't nervous either, and my heart was warmed by his last words of the evening: "I feel like we're just picking up where we left off a long time ago!"

After nearly 36 years.... tomorrow I will meet my son!

August 1, 2014


Today I head up to Ely, MN with Jill for our annual Women's Trip to the BWCA. It's just the two of us this year, which will be different, but we look forward to our long weekend on Spirit Island. Early in our 15 years of spending time there, it became a retreat, a home away from home for both of us. 

As much as I'm anxious to write about that first day Matt messaged me, it's going to have to wait until I'm back. So, I thought I'd at least share a picture or two of sweet baby Crosby before I head up to the Northwoods.

Crosby was born on July 4, 2014. That makes him nearly one month old as I write. I've met him once so far, two weeks ago today. I certainly hadn't held a baby in quite a while... how sweet that was!

~ Crosby ~

 Mama & baby :)
And I love this one...the proud dad with his new son...


Anyone who's traveled with me knows I'm usually up late getting ready to go the night before. No exception this time! Here ends the mini photo gallery. Now, before it gets any later, off to finish packing...

July 30, 2014

To answer that question...

I've been sharing this blog for a week now. One of the groups of people I've shared with included friends from our former church in Lake Elmo. I've played with the worship team there a couple of times this summer to help fill the summer music gaps, and we were just there last Sunday.

What fun to see these friends from my church who had just read my story! I was greeted with hugs and affirmation; my heart was warmed that people seemed to genuinely share in the joy I've felt since Matt found me.  

A question I heard more than once on Sunday was, "What does he look like? Does he look like you?" With photos as close as my phone, I was able to show them a picture or two of Matt and let them see for themselves. 

And then I thought perhaps a few more people have had the same question, so I'm including just one sneak preview here. The second time we got together I met Matt's wife Lora, and she took this picture that day...


I'll be writing another post soon... about the day Matt first contacted me, about our beginning to get to know each other... another photo or two, and of course at least one of grandbaby Crosby. :)

July 21, 2014

A Personal Letter to My Family and Friends

Dear Family and Friends,

I believe our lives all hold a story to be told. Certainly each of us has had significant experiences that have taught us about ourselves and have shaped us to become who we are.

I love my kids, Jenna and Mike, with my heart and soul. But that doesn’t mean I automatically knew how to be a parent! Bruce and I were rookies when it came to babies: neither of us had spent much time around young children. I was an only child, I’d never been a babysitter, and I didn’t know a thing about babies. As we pondered the idea of parenthood, we weren’t 100% certain we’d know how to be parents, and I wasn’t sure I believed the “maternal instinct” stuff people talk about.

But Jenna was born, and later Michael, and ~ amazing! ~ we learned to be parents. I wasn’t that young – 30 when Jenna was born, and 34 with Michael – but I had a lot to learn!

And I did. I learned how to figure out what a baby needs, and to put my child’s needs before my own. I learned what it’s like to care for someone else more than you care about yourself, what it’s like to hurt when your child is hurting. I learned to love as only a parent loves. Ever since Jenna and Mike were born, I’ve been astounded by how much they have enriched my life. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without them.

The story that I want to tell you, though, began several years before Jenna and Mike were born, and I believe it helped shape me into the mom I was to become.

In 1977-78, I was a senior in high school. I was in journalism and on the school newspaper staff, speech team and student council. I played the guitar and sang at church, and was involved in my church youth group. The piece that didn’t fit with the picture was this: I was pregnant. My parents, heaven help them – to say that they weren’t expecting this would be a serious understatement. Telling them about this was the absolute most gut-wrenching thing I’d ever had to do in my life. This “wasn’t supposed to happen” to their daughter, certainly not to “someone like me”. Days, weeks, months after the day I told my mom about this, I very intentionally tried not to think about that day… it was too painful.

If you knew me then, you may have known Mark, the baby’s father. Some of my relatives met him ~ he went with my parents and I to visit the Skaffs at least once, maybe twice. His family was going through a difficult time then, with his parents moving toward divorce and his sister going through drug rehab. And then there was the unplanned pregnancy.

To summarize the next several months: I was in school until February, then left to continue my schoolwork independently at home. The public story was that I was out of school for medical reasons, specifically, “back problems.” My parents were active and respected members of our Catholic church, and right or wrong, that no doubt made my news even more difficult for them to accept. Not to sound cliche, but I’m sure they felt that to admit the truth of what was going on with me would have been shameful to our family. So, I stayed at home. I didn’t go to school or church, I didn’t see my friends, and the truth of why I was out of school was kept quiet.

I considered all the options. Abortion was not one of them. But I could not fathom the idea of caring for a baby; I could not wrap my brain around the prospect of raising a child. I was 17. I was scared. I had grossly disappointed my parents. And so I made the decision to give up the baby for adoption.

I honestly don’t recall my parents pressuring me on the adoption decision, and actually, at first my mom assumed Mark and I should get married. I knew that wouldn't be the right choice, and I resisted that idea from the start. In spite of that, fuzzy memories of conversations with my mom back then cause me to believe that, if I had chosen to keep the baby, my parents would have somehow made it work no matter how difficult. But the decision was mine, and once I decided that adoption was the right choice, I didn’t turn back.

On May 24th, 1978, my child was born – a boy. My son. I’d had a C-section and was completely out of it from surgery all that day. The next day, a nurse brought the baby to my room so I could see him. I recall that the doctor who delivered him also came to my room, and while he was there, he condescendingly admonished that I should have learned from this and not allow it to happen again. I looked at him and said nothing; inside I thought, You don’t even know me. Whatever it is you think I am, that's not me, you have no idea!

The day after my son’s birth was the only time I saw him. Adoption arrangements were made through Catholic Charities, and he was in temporary foster care for a short time until he could be placed with his family. I left the hospital without him.

My high school graduation was in June, and I’d recovered physically enough by then to participate in the ceremony. I reconnected with my friends, and surprising to me, no one asked a lot of questions. People were left to their opinions of where I’d been and why, but no one pushed for information. There was a court hearing at which I signed legal papers to terminate my parental rights. And by mid-June, Catholic Charities wrote me to confirm that the baby had been placed with his parents, and sent me a brief bio of his family. And then I was to move on with my life.

And I did. It was too uncomfortable to talk about this with my parents, and too painful to consciously think about, so that summer became my time of transition. I recovered as best I could from all that had happened. I started working my first part time job, prepared for college in the fall, and moved into a new stage of my life.

The next several years were busy: college, friends, career, marriage… and then busier: babies, kids’ activities, school, scouts, church… my dad had died when I was 21, and beginning in my 20's I was caregiver/advocate for my mom, Mae, and later, aunt Mabel.

All the while, I knew that the son I had in 1978 could choose to look me up after he turned 18 in 1996. I honestly never questioned whether I'd made the right decision, never regretted choosing adoption -- I always believed it had been the right choice. But I had no context for his life: I didn't know where he was, or who he was, and the prospect of him becoming an adult and looking me up caused me stress for some years. When Jenna and Mike were very young, I had no idea how I’d handle it if I were contacted by the child I gave up years before. 1996 came and went. I had had many very busy years, and so much time had passed it almost didn't seem real anymore.

Then, on March 3rd of this year, I was getting ready to leave work at 7pm. I checked my phone before leaving and noticed a Facebook notification. I had received a private Facebook message - at first glance I thought it was spam from someone I didn’t know – but within seconds I realized who this message was from: the son I’d given up to be adopted had found me! Thirty six years later, in an instant, I learned he was a real person, living and working right here in the Twin Cities. With the support of his wife and his parents, he made the decision last fall to search for his birth parents. It didn't take all that long for him to find me.

His name is Matt. He’s lived in the Twin Cities most of his life. His parents still live here, too. Matt is 36 now, and he and his wife, Lora, just had their first child on July 4th – baby Crosby – yes, that makes him my grandson!

Before we met in person, Matt and I chatted online for a week and began to learn about each other. He first contacted me on a Monday, and a week later, on March 10, we met. There’s so much to talk about, so much catching up to do – 36 years’ worth! – and we continue to get together as we’re able. It’s been an adventure learning about each other’s lives and families, discovering how we’re similar and how we’re different. To me, it has seemed less like getting to know someone new, and much more like reconnecting with someone I knew well but hadn’t seen for a very long time. 

I’m finally able to be open about this with all of you. It was a time in my life that almost no one knew about, and about which only a few friends have very recently heard. It has been exhilarating -- the beginning of our birth mom/son relationship has gone so well – and it is cathartic and unbelievably freeing for me to be able to tell this story after so very long. When I began to write this, the thoughts and words just flew from my fingertips – and I’m a writer at heart – so…

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. This is a long letter. Maybe you now know all you care to know, and then some. But, after 36 years of holding all of this at arm’s length, I’m now free to tell this story and I’m going to keep writing. At the very least, I’ll be writing for myself, but my plan is to continue this as a private blog, and if you should happen to want to follow along, I welcome you.

Besides, it’s no longer just my story. It's now “our story” – and that doesn’t just include Sandy and Matt, birth mom and birth son. It includes my daughter Jenna and her husband Lucas, my son Michael, and my husband Bruce; Matt’s wife Lora, his parents Barbara and Jerry, the rest of his family, AND his brand new son. 

I am honored by Matt's desire to find me, and am blessed that he has become part of my life. Relationships can't be rushed or forced, but my hope is that, as our families get to know each other, in time we'll learn to genuinely embrace one another as family. 

And so, if you're interested, I invite you to join me on this journey. :)

Love to you all,