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.

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