There is a proverb from Confucius that says “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, first dig two graves”. Clearly revenge isn’t the goal, but that proverb bounces around my head as I recall my search for my birth mother. I feel it’s really important to point out that you will be changed by your search. The proverb feels like both a warning of being careful how you proceed and also knowing that the search and the results will alter everyone’s life forever.
It isn’t an overstatement to say that I’ve been looking for my birth mother my entire life. I’ve always had the tendency to wander off . As a child it would both scare and anger my mother, to be clear though, I didn’t get lost, I didn’t stop to look at something and get left behind, I would deliberately leave. I couldn’t ever articulate what I was looking for or why I would do it, I just would just vanish and frequently introduce myself to strangers, or simply watch what they were doing in fascination. Store employees, construction workers, you name it. When I got older I started to examine what facial features I had and compare them to other people, using this method I came up with my guess for what features I might share with someone related to me. I can’t tell you why this mattered to me, but it did. Perhaps it’s because all of my siblings are Asian. This may explain why I’m lousy with names but I never forget a face. I’ve spent a lifetime looking into the faces of strangers hoping to find something familiar.
When I asked my birth mother why she opted to go to an attorney to handle the adoption rather than a charity or social service her answer was that an attorney handled it faster. I get the feeling she wanted it over and done with and wanted to move on with her life, I also suspect she was promised anonymity and given society’s view of unwed mothers in the 1960’s, I can’t really blame her. Because it was private and closed, until the state changed it’s laws giving me access to my unamended birth certificate it would have taken a court order to have access to my information. Court orders were few and far between, usually involving some kind of life or death situation, need to know wasn’t a compelling enough reason. In 1998 Oregon passed a ballot measure giving adoptees the right to their original unamended birth certificate, it was held up in court for a while, but my request was one of the first few waves to go out (or so the nice lady on the phone said). So I finally had a name, and an address.
I’m not sure I can really express how happy I was to have that single piece of paper. It was my holy grail, the thing I’d always wanted but never had, not just didn’t have but was told for nearly 30 years I couldn’t have! This of course brought the big question… now what?
I started a file, a simple text file on my computer, with what I knew and what I could extrapolate. Turning the “mother’s age at birth” into a possible year, then what year(s) she would have graduated high school and possibly where. Sadly this was during the infancy of the web meta-search and there was next to nothing involved with public records online. I made a road trip, I checked out the address on my birth certificate, I went to the high school serviced by that address, checked old yearbooks and charmed my way into a student list but came up empty handed. My life went on. I considered joining some of the reunion groups but never did. I considered an “assisted search” but found it cost-prohibitive, plus as strange as this may sound I felt like it was my search, it was important to me that I do it myself. I did put my information out there on a couple of free registration adoption forums, but it felt weird putting that much personal info out there online.
In the decade following, the technology has gotten better, more public records are becoming public and being put online, and a few other meta search engine and data crawlers were added to the mix. I would maybe a few times a month, when bored or when I felt compelled to, I’d throw some linked names or dates into a search field and sift through the results. Women marry, they change names, that tends to add some difficulty.
My ‘break’ came from being heavily drugged. I sprained my back and was off work for a few days and high as a kite on painkillers and muscle relaxants, I couldn’t bear to be lying down, and sitting wasn’t much better, so I was sort of sprawled and squirming on a heating pad across the couch. The drugs made TV really annoying so I was reduced to whatever entertainment the laptop offered. So, into a Google search engine I entered her name, filtered it by current age, then again by state. On about page 17 of who knows how many I came to one of those “pay $39 for background check, is your neighbor a pedophile?” sites, but it had a teaser. The teaser was aliases. My birth mother’s name along with ‘related to’ names, but 4 aliases for her name (shortened first name, first initial only, and what could possibly be her married name). I took note of it but then moved along. A few minutes later that niggling feeling like an inch needing to be scratched brought me back to that background search page. I copied the alias and tossed that into a search engine. What came out was quite a few public records and then… a Facebook page. The second I loaded the page and saw her picture I knew, it was like a punch to the solar plexus.I was looking at… me. That’s how my brain interpreted it in that second. Confusion, confusion because I didn’t remember when my hair looked like that or when that picture was taken, I didn’t remember it. It’s kind of funny now, but it was like some kind of explosion in my brain, I sat there staring at her for a long time. Analyzing each feature individually then again as a whole… then I did what I do best. I started compiling more data.
Finding your ‘long lost_________’ on Facebook seems so cliche, so ordinary. So human.