Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A First Father's Story: Search and Reunion

This is the second part of a three part story by Joe Sanchez who lost his daughter to adoption in 1964; the final segment will be posted tomorrow. Joe is pictured here with Charlotte, his daughter's mother.

THE SEARCH
About 19 years ago, I was diagnosed with a serious heart disorder. My condition was asymptomatic (and so it remains), but I was told that data showed a strong genetic link. This irregularity is known for causing sudden death among adolescents and I immediately thought of Margaret and any children that she may have. Of course, I hoped that once Margaret knew about her birth parents, she would immediately ask for identifying information (which Pennsylvania would have provided). In addition to the heart problem and several other health issues of importance, I did feel a certain sense of responsibility. What if Margaret and any family she may have needed help? What if she had searched for us and run into obstacles?

When I contacted the state of Pennsylvania requesting that my heart information and the health history of my family and Charlotte’s family be submitted to Margaret, I was told that my name appeared nowhere in its adoption records. In fact, there was no birth certificate which listed me as anyone’s father. The state had turned me into a non-person.

I did not give up. Over the following years, I experienced the roller-coaster ride that typifies many searches. I retained attorneys, bought search "instruments" and periodically pestered the state with requests for information. Glimmers of hope would be dashed by bureaucratic rejections; I would get discouraged and months would go by before I renewed my efforts. During all this time, Charlotte was not prepared to participate in the search since she had never told her second husband about Margaret. She thought his reaction would have been extremely negative and possibly put their marriage in jeopardy. I had no choice but to respect her concerns.

Fate intervened in three ways. By chance, I happened to see a notice in one of the online adoption groups. A female adoptee born in the Philadelphia area was searching for her birth parents. Although the dates did not match Margaret’s (October of 1964 instead of November of 1964), I wrote to her (Barbara) hoping she might have some information on the best way to work with the State of Pennsylvania. We became fast online friends and even met at each other’s homes. As an adoptee, Barbara gave me insights into how Margaret would react to a search. She was also an attorney and she confirmed that I had done everything I could do. My only remaining hope was that Margaret would launch a search and find us.

Secondly, Charlotte’s husband, who had been ill for several years, passed away. At that point, she informed me that she would be willing to participate in the search. Again I filed all of the medical information and again nothing happened. It took months to learn that (1) I had been interacting with the wrong county. Contrary to Charlotte’s specific request in 1964 (as corroborated in our letters from that time), the adoption had taken place in Delaware County which is where she lived and not in Philadelphia County, which is where she gave birth; (2) The reason my name appeared nowhere was that Margaret’s birth certificate showed Charlotte as the mother and the father as "unknown" (hardly the kind of information which would make an adoptee eager to find her birth parents). The decision to delete my name was made by someone in Charlotte’s family. It wasn’t until Pennsylvania told me about it that Charlotte learned why I had been excluded in 1964; and (3) Margaret had not initiated any search.

Thirdly, with Barbara’s help, we drafted a petition to the judge whose court had the authority to order that the medical information be forwarded to Margaret. He turned the case over to an excellent social worker who quickly found Margaret. She provided the information to our daughter and also told her that her birth parents were willing to be contacted.

THE REUNION
It took Margaret two months to decide that she wanted our names and e-mail addresses. As the mother of two teenagers, she had quickly acted on the cardiac information. She and the children were tested and no signs of any heart abnormality were found. It then took her another six weeks to finally contact us via e-mail.

Over the years multiple scenarios had run through my head: our daughter could have died; she could be disabled; perhaps she did not even know she had been adopted; she could be reluctant to hurt her parents by searching for us; or maybe she wanted nothing to do with her birth parents. I didn’t dwell on any of these possibilities since I had no idea what I would find.

As it turned out, Margaret had been raised by a wonderful mother (widowed when the baby was only two) and had enjoyed a happy childhood. Her mother passed away a few years ago. Margaret is a college graduate, married for nearly 20 years and the proud mother of the aforementioned two children.

After a month of exchanging very cordial e-mails, I suggested a meeting. Charlotte and I are about equidistant from Margaret’s home town and we spent a weekend there. We talked with her for hours, mostly relating the story of the pregnancy, the adoption and the search. Our letters from 1964 were an invaluable tool since they described our mindsets during the pregnancy.

Margaret was an attentive and interested listener; she asked no questions. Although she was always pleasant, polite and gracious, she showed very little emotion. Neither did we. Charlotte and I had gone over the letters on our own and we’re not the kind of people who display feelings in public. We might have if Margaret had reacted differently, but she was consistently poised.

Both in the e-mails and in person, Margaret repeated how grateful she was for what we had done for her. Before she was "found," Margaret had been asked to write 25 facts about herself and the first thing she mentioned was that she was adopted:
"I am adopted. This has never been a big issue with me, just a fact
about my life. There was never a time I didn’t know I was adopted. I’ve been asked if I ever wanted to meet my birth parents, but I haven’t really pursued it. The main thing I’d express was thanks and appreciation for giving me such an amazing mother and family."
We were so grateful that Margaret was not resentful (the stereotypical "How could you give me up?" scenario) that we accepted her comment without question. It is not so much an implied criticism of us as praise for her adoptive mother. Modesty aside, I think that Charlotte and I would probably have been very good parents under normal circumstances, but not in 1964. And after reading an autobiographical essay by Margaret’s adoptive mother, I concur with her assessment--she was indeed a terrific woman.

Tomorrow WHAT NOW?

3 comments :

  1. I'm so impressed by your desire and efforts to contact your daughter. I'm also very happy Margaret and her children show no signs of the heart abnormality.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That was not my experience of reunion at all. I didn't feel all those tidy emotions! I don't recongnize or relate to very much here.

    When I found my daughter I felt like I'd been let out of a dark room and could breathe again. I also felt very vulnerable and emotional.

    My daughter didn't say anything about me giving her up, I would have been ok if she had. I would still be ok if she did. If she was to say something angry to me that would be her right.

    Look forward to reading the third bit....

    ReplyDelete
  3. I totally agree with Kim.Kim

    Joy.Joy

    ReplyDelete

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