Sunday, March 6, 2011

Not your average family reunion...

How I have struggled with putting this to paper. I’ve talked about this, thought about this, blogged in my head, but have stopped short of writing. Which baffles me a bit. Possibly because it’s too big and too emotional. I hesitated because of a fear of being misunderstood, seeming ungrateful, hurting those I love, or exposing myself a bit too much. I’ve struggled with how I’m even supposed to feel about this and how much I should share with others. There isn’t really a guide book. I never sought this out, at least not as an adult, but it found me nonetheless. Today I will come to the end of a long journey and the beginning of another. Today I will see this brave, selfless woman who chose. At age 19 she chose to give me life when it wasn’t convenient or easy, when it reminded her daily of a choice she regretted, when it was an overt label of her misstep in 1966-1967 when such things weren’t the norm.

How did I get here? Long story. I’ve known my whole life, due to the truly wonderful parents I received, that I was adopted, that I was chosen by God to be part of their family, and I was always wanted. Mom always said I wasn’t born to them but I was born for them. And I fully embrace that. I was a bit restless in my early college years and wanted to know more about my birth mother, but my very wise mom encouraged me to wait until I finished college, wait until I was settled, wait until I was a little more comfortable with myself and then make the decision about whether or not to seek further. Good choice. I waited, graduated, married the man of my dreams, and found truly who I was (and am) in the Lord. I didn’t have a hole to fill, didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything, blessed as I was. No desire to look further. This, again, is nothing I sought.

But try to understand, when you look around a family reunion and everyone looks alike, looks like they belong, you can point out every family trait, where the traits came from and who has them, there is a bit of hollowness. A bit of a question mark. I never lacked in love and I adore my wonderful family, every single one of them. But inside there were quiet back-of-my-mind questions: why do I look this way? Who do I look like? Do I share any of the same abilities? What am I passing on to my own kids biologically? These never dominated my thought or my life, but have been present most of my life. Hard to understand if you’ve never been there, if you can see your own eyes in the face of a parent, a sibling, a cousin. If you can look at family pictures from generations past and see who you resemble the most. People who aren’t adopted MUST feel this curiosity to an extent, though, because pretty much everyone I know likes to know their family history, even looking into distant ancestry, to know where they came from and who they are. Again, I was (and am) very content, not looking to fill in where anything is missing in my family life or identity. And then there is this.

Last spring when I became sick with what was first diagnosed as TIA (mini-strokes), then changed (praise God) to Migraine Aura, we found we needed more genetic background. So we had to ask Mom to make some phone calls. You see, my adoption was private. We were friends of family members of my birth mother, though that branch of the family was distant from our friends. So Mom, wonderful, concerned about my health Mom, made those difficult phone calls to some of my birth mom’s cousins, found out there was no medical history that related to my condition or would help with my diagnosis, and that was the end of it. Except my birth mother was concerned, got my parent’s phone number, and called them. Over last summer they spoke several times, Mom updating her on my condition and letting her know I was doing better. I didn’t know any part of this at the time.

Last fall my parents let me know they’d been in contact with her and that she was living in Carson City, 3 hours from my home. She’d been there my whole life. She had a son from a marriage after I was born (not my biological father) and had adopted a daughter of her own, was now a grandmother. I was kind of floored, and tried to understand that they hadn’t said anything sooner because they were working through some of their own feelings about this contact. Where exactly was this going? I could only see one end to this path, and, admittedly, it kinda freaked me out. I had just started back to work at school and had no emotional energy for thinking this through or taking any action, so I let it sit for a while. A couple of months later, more contact had been made and it was becoming clear what the end of this path might look like. She let my parents know she would be open to talking to me. Then I got her phone numbers. On a slip of my mom’s floral stationary. It hung on my fridge for over a month, I’d glance at as I went by and think to myself that I should call, but not take the time to do so. I was experiencing a full range of emotions about this whole experience, not knowing how this phone call would go and if I wanted to take another step. How does one even begin that phone conversation? Curiosity finally outweighed apprehension, and I made the call. We talked for more than an hour, and I was surprised by the ease and instant connection in the conversation. The first thing she told me was that she had loved me every day of my life. Wow.

After talking to her I was preoccupied for several days. I thought through the details of our conversation, the ease with which we conversed, and the stories of how she loved me. Did I expect any different, having carried two children of my own, loving them from the moment I knew I was pregnant? I was (and am) sure one of the reasons for our contact is so she could truly know that I never once (again, due to my awesome parents) felt that she abandoned me, but had grown up knowing she sacrificed for me to have a life she couldn’t give me herself. Since that first phone call we have exchanged many e-mails, found many similarities in our taste, talents, and personalities, and I feel as though I’m getting a glimpse of who she is. She loves Jesus. She’s a musician. She was an English major in college and hoped to be an English teacher. She is intelligent, well-read, and witty. We decided we should meet. After all these years I had a face and a name to whom I could attach my wonderings and my gratitude. As my 44th birthday neared, I reflected on all the years I had wondered, especially around my birthday, and thought of who this woman was. I wondered so much about whether she was loved and supported during her pregnancy, what she was feeling as it came time to deliver, and how hard it was on her to walk away from the hospital after I was picked up. You see, she never had a moment’s doubt that giving me to my family was the right thing to do. She never saw me once, but her cousin, who was with her during the labor and delivery, told her I was a girl and I had red hair. My bracelet at the hospital read “Baby Girl Pickett.” My first fashion accessory and it took me nearly 44 years to know what it said. But that’s okay.

So the date was set. March 6, 2011. This was on the horizon. I was excited, but have for the past several weeks, deliberately distanced myself from this emotionally. The enormity of God’s plan in this was overwhelming, and I could really only think about it in small pieces. He put all of this in motion long before I was born, and I feel I am, not so much getting “another mom,” because nothing and no one can replace the amazing parents who raised me and the years of love and understanding they have given me, but I am gaining a piece to my puzzle, a friend, a connection to who I am I didn’t really know was missing. He has a purpose and a plan for this, and has had this meeting in His day planner since before I was born.

Nearly three months after our initial phone conversation, we are in South Lake Tahoe. The hotel room is beautiful, we have enjoyed the snow, a lot of fun family time and laughter, and some wonderful meals, and I’ve continued my emotional distance. Except last night some cracks began to form in my wall and all the feeling started to come through. Before we went to sleep James asked me how I was feeling about today. I expressed to him some of what I have written here (all of which I have written since we arrived in Tahoe Friday night), and I can honestly say I expect nothing but good things from this morning. But I know my emotional distance from the situation is wearing down to nothing. As I tearfully asked James last night, how do I even begin to thank a person who gave me life?

So I’m up early this morning, hours before our meeting, knowing she is a short distance away, and wondering what this will be like. Wondering if I’ll be a sobbing mess in the corner of a Starbuck’s in South Lake Tahoe. Actually, counting on it. James will drive me over to the Starbuck’s in a couple of hours and then, a couple of hours later, come back with the kids so they can meet her, too. I will hug this relative stranger and look into the eyes, for the first time, this woman who carried me for 9 months and prayed for me all these years.

It is now hours later, I am home in my kitchen with rain pouring down outside. Words are a cheap to medium to express everything. It was such an enormous blessing for us both, and eventually James and the kids as well. We hugged and cried at first sight, talked (and cried intermittently) for a couple of hours, then James and the kids came to meet us for lunch. I saw pictures of her as a 20 year old and as a child, pictures of my biological half-brother (her son) who has red hair and blue eyes, and pictures of my biological father, whom I resemble more than I resemble her. She is exactly my height and a wonderful, kind person. She talked of her life, her triumphs, her pain, how blessed she is, and how she wanted the same for me. I heard of her parents (she was also adopted at birth and has a unique understanding of how I feel), how they loved and supported her through her pregnancy, and how they all thought of my as God’s child. Such joy. It was over too soon, we wanted to get out of the area before the snow started, and we talked of meeting again later in the spring. She hugged us all good-bye and my heart is so full.
What a gift that God gives us, that we never come to our end of the capacity to love more people, and there’s no such thing as having too many people who love us. Does it detract from those we love already, to love someone else? Certainly not. There is always room in our hearts for another. This is, as I said at the start of my writing, the end of a long journey and the beginning of another.