I didn't find that out until six years ago, when I obtained my original birth certificate. Before that, my first introduction to my biological mother was when I was 33 years old and had a 5-year-old daughter whose presence made me want to obtain something about my history. I found out that I could request non-identifying information about my birth parents. For a fee, a nonprofit adoption agency would tell me what I should have the right to know without anyone benefiting financially from my curiosity. My history was held for ransom for $125. It could have been money spent for absolutely nothing, but I was willing to take the chance. There was a disclaimer at the end of the form that recommended counseling to consider the implications of the information they would provide. That was ominous. I wondered what would be so life-shattering in non-identifying information that I would need to consult a therapist. Maybe the fairy tale I had created in my head as a child was more like a horror story.
April 24, 2002, I received a two-page letter that read like a script to a lifetime movie. There was sex, drama, scandal, and finally, a few answers on my beginnings. I was born at 38 weeks after my birth mother endured 7 hours and 14 minutes of labor. The image of Diahann Carrol I had held in my head as my birth mother gave way to an actual description of the woman who bore me, "she was a very tall, large-boned woman with a dark complexion." She was said to be "quiet, soft-spoken, intelligent and a little hesitant to be too open." I began to visualize her and figured if she was tall, I must have gotten my height from my dad. I was only 5'5, maybe, and to be described as "very tall" for a woman, I imagined her to be at least 5" 11. "She" was 23, recently divorced, and on public assistance when she was pregnant with me. I instantly judged her as too old to have put herself in that position, but I quickly got off my high horse and was mindful of my own life choices. I saw this woman as a person who, like me, may have been 23 but seemed to be emotionally stuck at a younger age.
She had three sons, 6, 5, and 3. While she was going through relinquishment counseling, her 16-month-old daughter died suddenly. I could understand if that would have contributed to her letting me go. I was looking for justification between lines. Four children by the age of 23 in 1969 for a young divorced mother had to be a substantial financial and emotional burden for someone still trying to recover from the loss of a child.
Buried at the end of the third paragraph was an explanation of why: "Your birth mother felt that you would be better off in an adoptive home. She felt that she was unable to provide an adequate social environment that would be suitable for a new baby and felt that it was in your best interest that she places you for adoption." That statement sounded like the same canned response I gave to the social worker when I was 17, preparing to relinquish my son. It's the answer you are supposed to provide that betrays what your heart feels. At least, that's how I interpreted her words and hoped it was true.
The letter went on to say, "she was as an excellent mother to her children and that she had a real awareness of their needs and was able to meet them." Those words got caught in my head as that tiny voice inside of me wondered why she couldn't be an excellent mother to ALL her children. What did "an adequate social environment" even mean? And why was it ok for my brothers but not me? I found out what that meant after I reunited with her.
My birth mother had been hopeful that she would marry my biological father, but she found out he was already married before disclosing her pregnancy to him. She never told him. At that point, I realized how seldom I fantasized about my birth father. He was always smooth, handsome Billy Dee Williams in Lady Sings the Blues or Mahogany when I did. In reality, he was college-educated, worked for the city, and was an adulterer. They gave no physical traits to humanize him. His description was flat and could have appeared on the info card of any sperm donor.
I read the two pages a few times, ensuring I didn't miss anything. My view of my birth father softened the more I read it. He didn't have a chance to deny me because he never knew I existed. My empathy grew for my birth mother. The way she loved someone who didn't love her back, someone who betrayed her. I identified in a way I wish I didn't with her story.