Never Say Never When Searching for Birth Family

By: - April 19, 2021

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This guest blog was written by Sherrie Eldridge. For more than two decades, Sherrie Eldridge, an adopted person herself, has offered her unique voice within the international adoption community as an established author, international speaker, and award-winning blogger. In 2010, she was named Indiana’s Angel in Adoption by the Honorable Dan Burton, Indiana’s Congressional Representative. Her best-selling work, ​Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew​ (Random House, 1999), has sold well over 200,000 copies. It is required reading by many U.S. adoption agencies and is used to prepare therapists for qualification as “adoption competent.” It has been translated into four foreign languages: French: ​Parents de Coeur: Comprendre l’enfant adopté, Albin Michel, Greek: ​Thymari, Japanese: ​ ​養子縁組:カバー-A​Akashi Shoten, and Brazilian: ​Globo S/A: Vinte Coisas Que Filhos Adotados Gostariam Que Seus Pais Adotivos.

I thought I’d never find them–the paternal side of my birth family, that is. Retha and Mike, my parents through adoption, shared what they knew. I still remember sitting with them at about age two on the couch made of tiny french green knots. Without a doubt, in the era of closed adoptions, they were miles ahead in openness. “Your birth father was an executive at GM and your birth mother was his secretary.” They planted the information in my brain, like a seed that would surface and bloom at the right time.

Like many adopted adults, I didn’t consider searching for my birth father until I’d found and experienced reunion with my birth mother. It wasn’t that my birth father wasn’t important, but that my search for the maternal side was all-consuming. From the moment I saw author and speaker, Lee Ezell, flash a huge ear-to-ear screen photo of her with her newly-found birth daughter, I was on a mission.

For those new to my story, I found Elizabeth, my birth mother, after years of searching. I’ll never forget standing at Retha and Mike’s graves, wondering what they’d think about the discovery. Then, hours later, the intermediary contacted Elizabeth, reporting that our voices sound alike, but that she didn’t want to speak because she claimed being raped prior to my conception. That was quite a gulp. But, within an hour, she contacted the intermediary and said she would like to speak together. 

Retha and Mike, Sherrie’s parents through adoption

Within weeks, my husband and I boarded a banana-shaped plane headed for Idaho. Definitely, the honeymoon stage of reunion had captured me. I shared with anyone who’d listen that I’d found my birth mother. Elizabeth rolled out the red carpet by securing a penthouse suite for us at a local B and B, complete with a dozen roses and a handwritten love letter. Two days later, she gifted me with a Paloma Picasso gold and diamond pin from Tiffanys, with the design of XOXO. Even though I was touched by the extravagance, I was out of my element, for I’m just a small-town girl.

Elizabeth, Sherrie’s birth mother, and Sherrie at reunion

Then, when my husband left mid-week on a business trip, I wanted to run after his plane and jump on, for I sensed an undercurrent in my relationship with Elizabeth. When one of her girlfriends threw a luncheon for us at their mansion home, I was eager to share synchronicities with her friends. Elizabeth remained silent beneath furrowed brows.

Leaving Idaho at the end of the week, I knew it wasn’t a perfect reunion, but at least it was a start. When I called to thank her after returning home, she verbally attacked me, like a ferocious animal. This is the pain almost every adoptee fears. Then, a verse came to mind:

“Can a mother forget about the baby she has borne and have no compassion …..though she may forget, I will never forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Your life is always before me.” (Isaiah 49: 15-16)

I know that Elizabeth wasn’t ready to meet me, for she’d not processed the loss of me, nor the assertion that she was raped. Like any of us who carry unhealed loss and pain, bitterness edged its way into her heart as a silent house guest. 

For two years, attempts at reconciliation were unsuccessful. It felt as if I were banging my head against a brick wall. Nothing changed no matter how loving I was. For example, when I told her that our daughter was expecting and that this would make her a great grandmother again, she replied, “Now, you’re trying to make me feel guilty.” Finally, I told her it was time to say goodbye, and she agreed. Even though there was no contact, I kept track of her. Letting go of one’s flesh-and-blood mother isn’t easy. Elizabeth died at age 80, a lonely woman with only a physician at her side. I would have been there if she’d only let me.

Elizabeth, Sherrie’s birth mother, and Retha, her mom through adoption.

Soon after saying goodbye, my first book was published: Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew (1999, Random House) and I was launched into public speaking. “The Grief Box” was one technique I used to illustrate how to process loss. One such loss on my list was “birth father unknown.” Using a gift book with charming forget-me-nots on the cover, I wrote a letter lauding his character and strengths. I hung on to the promise of Deuteronomy 29:29– “the secret things belong to the Lord.”  If God wanted me to find him, He surely could arrange it. 

Another decade is gone and my birth father’s shadow has emerged–in unforgettable, unexpected, and unusual ways. Who knows what prompted me to search for him during the last three years? Curiosity plus the prevalence of DNA testing and families being found and reunited. My DNA from Ancestry.com’s spit test revealed Robert Loessel as my father. This was a familiar name from the maternal side of the family. I remembered Sharon Loessel, my late birth cousin. This supposed father would be Sharon’s uncle. My husband and I were in disbelief. Could this really be my father? We called Ancestry.com and they said that sometimes they make mistakes. Say what? How could they make mistakes? I still don’t know the full answer to this and someday, when I have lots of time, I may revisit. 

However, within weeks, my friends located “another” Ancestry birth father through military records, marriage records, court records, and DNA matches. This person is the opposite of the birth father I once envisioned in the forget-me-not book. Needless to say, these dynamics could be shocking personally. Not because I haven’t heard sad stories, but because the evidence applies to my self-worth and sense of identity. If I were younger, I might conclude from the DNA findings that I’d follow my birth father’s footsteps into total brokenness. However, I know who I am and Whose I am.

Not only did I find another father, but also six siblings, who had no knowledge of my existence. The first time I contacted my brother through Facebook, I revealed the father’s military and court records.  Surely, these aspects about their father couldn’t be new to them, but they were. When a sister came to visit, she shared the family’s shock with the new information.

Thus, in the senior years of life, my story is still unfolding, and I’ve learned that fantasies of birth parents living in a faraway castle don’t measure up. Fantasies never do. Also, I’ve learned to never say never. Adoptees who believe that finding a lost loved one is impossible must believe that all things are possible with God. Am I happy that I have searched for my birth father later in life? You bet. I have three new siblings, whom I love and respect deeply. 

Three Points to Consider About Searching

1. Don’t assume the adoptee is prepared for reunion.

Even though a searching adoptee may feel prepared for reunion, even though she’s gone through years of counseling, she can never really be prepared for the onslaught of feelings that rush to the surface for both mother and child when they see one another. It’s like fireworks, so adoptees must be prepared further by knowing this possibility.

A practical step for an adoptee to prepare? Watch Anne, With an E series on Netflix. Anne graphically portrays how memories flood at reunion.

2. Adoptee rejection is common. 

When Elizabeth rejected me, I became full of self-blame– “It’s all my fault.” It really wasn’t my fault, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of responsibility for the debacle. Since Elizabeth claimed rape, she may have seen her rapist through my physical appearance. Assure adoptees that are rejected that they’re not alone. Offer them my book about this story–Twenty Life-Transforming Choices Adoptees Must Make 

3. Look for God on the search path.

Look at the details. One time, when searching for Elizabeth, I found out about the background of the physician who delivered me. He was an orphan himself and wept over the birth of every baby. I didn’t know this for years, but after finding his granddaughter, she shared this story of sacred tears.

Here is a list of Sherrie Eldridge’s books if you’d like to read more. You can check out her blog or her Amazon author page. She is also working on a manuscript for a new book!

Copyright, 2021. Sherrie Eldridge. Https://sherrieeldridgeadoption.blog

Also Found In: Beyond Adoption, Biological Family, Resources for Families, Talking About Adoption, Tapestry Blog

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