Family Ties


family tiesMy brother and I were adopted. Mama handled it beautifully for us because we just always knew. She said we were special because we were chosen, and it was kind of a non-issue for me as a child until it worked to my benefit for it to be an issue.

At the angsty time of adolescence and disappointment with my current family situation, I would romanticize about my life had I not been adopted. My “real parents” would have been perfect and not idiots like the parents I had. They were probably rich and would certainly have bought me a new car or that Benetton sweater I wanted (if you get that reference, you are old like me). Eventually, I would simmer down, and that thought would fade until the next time I was dissatisfied with whatever life was handing me.

Mama and Daddy were always very open and encouraging to me finding my biological family. My brother’s adoption was a little different; a private one, but mine was through an adoption agency. I connected with national registries, etc. hoping to find a match.

In my early twenties, Mama and I joined a local group that was having success finding birth families. Mama was always interested in meeting my biological mother and she said she’d love the opportunity to thank the woman who gave me birth. (Who wouldn’t? I’m pretty awesome!) That level of open-mindedness is foreign to me because I am very…how should I say…possessive of my kids. I didn’t really like anyone holding my kids when there were babies, not even my husband, their FATHER! Mama’s understanding of this whole adoption relationship is crazy for me. But, that was the kind of woman Mama was.

Mama and I put the adoption search on hold because of the untimely death of my brother. He died at his own hand at the young age of twenty-seven (I was twenty-four) and the details of where I came from seemed quite inconsequential at this horrible, tragic time. I was there to support my parents during the worst time of their lives by escalating my alcoholic drinking to a catastrophic level, which, by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, did not result in a death like my brother’s.

family ties

Giving birth and a new perspective

Fast forward to me, sober, happily married and with a newborn baby. The magnitude of what my birth mother went through became real for me. I fell in love with the baby inside of my tummy during my pregnancy. I imagined my biological mother, a young girl (who I knew was seventeen from information that Mama had at my adoption) going on, day by day, month by month with this child in her belly, growing, kicking, living, a part of her.

What it must have been like to have to give that child over to someone and never know another thing about it.

When my son was born, I practically jumped out of the bed and said, “Just give him here. I have him.” I cannot imagine the depth of loss she must have endured.

Mama and I talked about beginning the search again after my second son was born and we did. There was a program offered by the agency from which Mama adopted me. Contact was made with my birth mother via letters. As it turns out, she was very ill and receiving treatment in the hospital. At the instruction of the caseworker, we were to let the other know something about ourselves. I wanted her to know I was happy, safe, and had a beautiful life. She wanted me to know she was an artist. (Spoken like a true artist.)

family ties

Feeling cheated

The plan was for us to meet after she got a little better. Unfortunately, her condition was graver than it was thought to be and she passed on before we could meet and just like that, the search was over. Because everything was still confidential and no identifying information had been exchanged, the agency was legally bound not to disclose anything.

I felt cheated. How does it just stop? I was so close to having questions answered. I was going to finally know the name of the woman that gave birth to me. I was going to be able to search a face for resemblance…a similar nose, the same smile. I was going to find out my nationality.

(Side note: I was hoping for a while that I was Cuban because I knew I was born in Miami and saw a show about birth certificates being altered to make babies seem more adoptable in the late 60’s/early 70’s by not being Cuban, so I thought maybe someone changed my info to reflect Italian so I’d get better placement. Being Latina seemed pretty cool…I could be “Livin’ La Vida Loca!”)

About six months later, the adoption agency called to tell me my biological father contacted them and wanted to meet. I was so focused on the mother part. And, I was a Daddy’s girl. My Daddy would have moved Heaven and Earth to take care of me. To meet my biological father was an answer to a prayer I didn’t even know I had. (God is Good like that!)

We contacted each other via email first, and then by phone. He told me about my biological mother and their backstory. He told me her name, and he told me what I wanted to know. We arranged to meet a few months later. (My Daddy went to Heaven before I got married so his position as World’s Best Dad, documented by mugs and mini-plaques, was secure.)

I was able to contact my maternal uncle and there was something special in our conversations. A familiarity, a heart connection. He wanted to meet too. He told me about a maternal cousin who lived fairly close so I met her…my first connection to my roots, so to speak.

New relationships, new stories

We arrived in town and met my biological father. I didn’t see a physical similarity but as it turns out, we have freakishly similar personalities! We both have a bizarre sense of humor and a combination of hopeful, yet cynical world views. (Sorry, Pops but it’s true!)

family tiesWhen I met my uncle, I was smitten. He looks like me, he FEELS like me. There was something palpable between us. I practically sat in his lap. I just wanted to be close to him. He was so forthcoming and welcoming and loving. We have spoken about the ease of our relationship before, the dynamic between an uncle and a niece. There is no parental complication there, just a freedom, but a familial bond.

During the trip, we visited the home where my biological mother lived. My uncle showed me everything – where she created art and where she breathed. I smelled her clothes (Yes. I did that. I’m very smell-driven!) and took it all in as best I could, because it was so surreal and unlike I’d imagined, but just how it should have been.

He gave me pictures and art and some of her notebooks. He gave me some of her clothing. In his grief of the loss of his sister, he opened his arms and heart to me, when he didn’t have to. And still does. Anytime I have a question about anything, he answers, like “Where exactly are we from in Italy?” or “Do we have a history of being gorgeous or is it just me?”

So while I didn’t get to meet her, I met him. I am sure that that is exactly how the Lord wanted it, and exactly how me and Mama needed it. My Mama did speak on the phone with my uncle and Mama met my biological father and the mystery was solved, not how I thought, but just how it is.

And it is beautiful.


  1. Oh Dede, this is amazing tribute to all of your family. Being married to your brother Dondi may have not worked, but look what all God has given us from that. Kalee, his daughter, and Gabby and Legend, her children. And best of all, he gave us each other. We have been through the death of both of our parents, we overcame our common disease, and we have become the women God wanted us to be.

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