The Day My Whole Life—and Past—Changed
But this particular date in 2001, here I am, back at the very same agency where I was put up for adoption, waiting for Amy-the-social-worker to tell me what she's found. I'm not an unhappy adult adoptee longing for clues to my past, dipping my toes into the searchable waters in hopes that a magical current will carry me "home." I already have a home and parents who have always loved me well, and with abandon. Knowing I was adopted—that I could have had some other life with some other family in some other place—only made me love and appreciate my parents more.
Now happily married with two children of my own, a career in journalism that I love and too many blessings to count, I'm nonetheless anxious about a small list of health concerns, including joint pain in my knees and hips, that have been recurring for years. My misgivings peak every time a new specialist quizzes me about my parents' and grandparents' health. So does my frustration. Virtually every question they ask yields the same tired response: "I'm adopted. I don't know."
My November call to the agency to ask what I had to do to obtain a medical history had been rote. Per simple instructions, I sent in a notarized request, and in mid-January, Amy Burke called back with news. Apparently, my birth mother had lived under the agency's care for several months and, as a result, my records were more extensive than most. While information that could identify her or my birth father remained sealed, the agency was at liberty to share nonidentifying medical and personal details. But here's the catch: I would have to go get them in person.
Amy cautioned me to make the appointment for a time when I'd be unencumbered afterward. I work. I have two kids. I'm never unencumbered.
"People are sometimes distracted after these meetings," she explained, her voice brimming with concern.
Unfazed, I ignored her advice. What could she possibly tell me that would throw my whole day? But now, sitting in the lobby of this place where my life essentially began, I feel uneasy. Before long, I'm ushered into a small room with high ceilings, bare windows, linoleum floors and two mismatched chairs, left over from another era, facing each other. I've never been in an interrogation room, but something about this place makes me think of one.
Amy, on the other hand, is a pleasant surprise. Prim and professional, her face melts into a warm smile when she reaches out to shake my hand. The fact that, like me, she's African American and maybe just a few years my senior, helps.This process feels so alien; she is at least somewhat familiar.
She sits, I sit and, mercifully, she seems ready to forgo the formalities. "I just want to ask one more time if there's anything specific you were hoping to learn today or if you have any concerns or expectations I should be aware of before we start."
"Nope, I'm good," I say, attempting to seem relaxed. The worst possibilities—that my birth mother was raped or was a junkie or had abandoned me or all of the above—had already occurred to me long ago. In an attempt to reassure us both, I start talking. "I'm realistic. I don't expect much. I don't expect anything, really. I just...I'm ready," I say, consciously pressing my mouth shut.
She smiles politely. "I pulled together whatever I thought you might find of interest," she says, seeming oddly excited, as if she's about to give me a gift, or get one. "Of course, you'll get to take a copy of this report home with you. Feel free to stop me at any time."
Stop her? I almost gasp when she says it. How can I stop her when she has yet to begin? I lean forward in my seat.