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Perfect Strangers (Cont'd)

            As I entered the world, I left everything that was familiar and was met with everything new and scary. I left the warmth of the womb for the cold dry air that greeted me upon arrival. As I breathed in my first breath, I could feel the cold air fill my little lungs. Along with the newness of the cold air, I was also greeted with very bright light that filled my new world. Terrified at my new surroundings, I let out a long and loud cry, hoping that I would be returned to the familiar smells and sounds that had made up my whole world for my entire short life until that point. Continuing to cry, I wanted to be returned to the safety of the one who’s warm embrace I needed to help comfort me in this new and strange world. But this was not to be.


            Instead, I was held by strangers who smelled sterile and offensive to my new developing senses. Unable to do much more than cry, I was brought to the nursery where there were many more new smells and more bright lights. There were also many more new sounds, the sounds of other babies crying out their own desperate cries to be returned to the worlds that they knew before being deposited here, alone in the solitary environment of their crib.


            And so it went for the first three months of my life, continuing to cry for the only one who I had known so well. The one who would never come back to comfort me and care for me. Instead, I was surrounded by strangers who would show up every so often to offer a bottle filled with formula and to change stinky and saturated diapers.  I was just one amongst many other babies who also continued to cry for their own familiar. Babies who needed to be fed and cleaned up after by these strangers who provided little in the way of comfort.


            Then came the day when I was taken from my crib and away from the noise of the other babies and the bright lights of the maternity hospital and delivered to another new and strange place with new strange smells in a quieter and less bright environment.  


            When I was brought into this brand-new environment, I was handed off again to perfect strangers. Afraid of yet another new place, I protested the only way that I knew how to protest at that age. Crying long and loud, I was truly inconsolable.  All I wanted was to go back to where I felt I belonged. Back to where I felt safe. 


            As time went on, I became used to my new surroundings and my new caretakers who I would come to call mom and dad. However, as time marched on, I did become aware of the differences between me and my parents.  Once I was in school, I quickly noticed that my schoolmates all physically resembled their parents. I, however, looked nothing like my parents or anyone in my extended family. So, when I asked my parents why I did not look anything like them, they finally had to sit me down and explain that I was adopted.


            They proceeded to tell me a story about how they couldn’t have a baby of their own. They said they really wanted a baby. So, they decided they would adopt a baby to raise as their own.  When they went to the hospital maternity ward, they saw a whole room full of babies in cribs, wrapped in either pink or blue blankets.  My mother told me that she really wanted a girl baby, so they went into the room with all of the babies in their cribs and started to look at all the girls wrapped in their cute little pink blankets. When they came to my crib, they saw me laying there, smiling broadly up at them with my warm brown eyes and beautiful red hair and they just knew that I was the one they were supposed to bring home.


            Left alone to ponder what this whole chosen baby story really meant, I remember wondering to myself if there really was a place like my mother described, a big room full of cribs with babies in pink or blue blankets. I wondered, if there were so many babies in that room, why didn’t my parents pick a baby that looked more like them?


            Of course, what I learned over time was that I wasn’t a chosen baby. I was just the next child available that needed to be adopted from a list of children who were available to be adopted that year. And because my parents had waited so long to get that phone call offering them an infant, they were not about to turn them down, no matter what gender the baby was or what the baby looked like.


            Another and more important thing that I was left to ponder was why didn’t my other mother take me home from the hospital with her when I was born?  What was wrong with me that my own mother didn’t want to keep me? This is a question that would haunt me my entire life. A question that I would ask myself often over the years, but would never find an answer to.


            Of course, many people over the years have tried to tell me that my other mother loved me a great deal. In fact, she loved me so much that she gave me away because she wanted me to have a better life than what she could provide for me herself.  I always wonder when people say things like this if they really think about what they are saying before they say it. Because what is heard is that someone loved you so much, they gave you away. So, if my own mother loved me so much that she gave me away, love becomes equated with being abandoned. If your own mother could give you away, then how are you supposed to trust that anyone else, including your adopted parents, when they tell you they love you. Do they love you enough to keep you and stand by you? Or will they turn their back on you sometime in the future, leaving you alone to face the world by yourself?


            Dealing with the issue of abandonment was only one of many issues that affected me as an adoptee.  Another big issue that caused a great deal of anxiety was feeling a total lack of knowing my own identity.  Growing up with people who I do not look like, sound like, or think like often led to feelings of not belonging to the family I was living with. The thought of always being on the outside looking in always persisted.  Living without someone to mirror with, without someone I could see myself reflected in, I would often find myself looking into a crowd of people, no matter where I went, always looking for that familiar face, the one who was my mirror, the one who looked like me.


            This passive quiet search has always existed within me, always quickly looking for the familiar in a crowd but never finding what I was looking for. It has also actively consumed my thoughts on many holidays and birthdays, where I often sat and looked in the mirror and silently wondered if I looked like her. I also wondered if she was thinking of me on those days as I sat and wondered about her.  I also wondered if I decided to look for her, would she want to be found or had she moved on with her life, leaving me in a past that she didn’t want to revisit.


            The little girl in me, who so desperately wanted to find a way back to what was once familiar, wanted nothing less than to search for and find the birth mother who handed her over to strangers so many years ago. The adult in me, however, understood the risks of searching and finding someone who does not want to be found; someone who would again reject both the little girl and the adult within me.  Erring on the side of caution, I denied my inner child the opportunity to fulfill her curiosity to find the missing pieces of her past, the missing pieces of her identity.


            But at some point, I could no longer quash my inner child, for I learned a painful lesson that life is too short to not live every minute to its fullest. To me, living life to its fullest meant that I wanted as few regrets in my life as possible and the biggest regret I could think of was not knowing my story of who I was and where I came from.


            At the age of thirty I finally began my search for my biological mother. I remember feeling excited and terrified at the same time as I started doing my research at the local library. Given my search began before the age of the home computer or the internet, I started with my birth name and non-identifying information that I received from the adoption agency that handled my adoption. I then immersed myself in the old local city directories and the old local newspapers on reels of microfiche at the library.  


            After an approximate four-month search, I was not able to find my birth mother, but I did find and meet my birth mother’s brother. While we chatted, he showed me a picture of my birth mother with her siblings. Staring at her picture, my inner child finally rejoiced at being able to finally see my reflection mirrored back in that picture. Staring at that picture, I had a hard time taking my eyes away from the first person that I had ever seen that looked like me. 


            A few weeks later, I was able to meet my birth mother in person for the very first time.  Our meeting did not begin like almost every adoption reunion story that you see on television. Sure, my inner child was over the moon to finally see in person the person she had been denied her whole life until that moment. But the adult saw her hesitation to be there. There were no hugs and tears of joy, but then again this was not a made for television production. Instead, there was trepidation and distance. An awkward distance both physically and emotionally.  And while we had an amicable first meeting, a realization came to me almost like an epiphany.  While I had been hoping to reunite with the familiar I had once known so intimately all those years ago, the fact was that thirty years had passed since that time. And while we had once been familiar, our lack of connection and shared experiences had caused us to become perfect strangers.

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