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!

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