|Terri S. Vanech|
By Terri S. Vanech
The dutifully recorded D'Nealian cursive words in the baptismal registry at Christ Church in Tarrytown, NY, are among the most beautiful things I've ever seen: No. 34: Jennifer Elaine Clark.
Finding them marked a watershed moment in my adoption search and became the rallying cry for a whole new life perspective.
I am hard-wired to be wallflower. I've spent most of my life content to be on the outside looking in. Even now, three years after leaving the newsroom for the last time, I feel naked without a pad, pen and the constant companionship of words, phrases and punctuation marks to shield me.
Thanks to the support of longtime friends and new acquaintances, however, I'm finally learning to live out loud.
Here in midlife I'm trying new things -- a new career in communications and a wonderfully fulfilling vocation as an instructor at Jazzercise of Southwestern Connecticut. I've also returned to an old love, dusting off my clarinet and joining the Rye (NY) Town Community Band. But my biggest challenge yet has been to embrace a heart-wrenching journey of self-discovery delayed much too long.
I've been looking for my birth mother, searching for Jennifer Elaine Clark -- a name my adoptive mother remembers from the court papers my parents signed -- without luck. That changed recently.
A friend asked if I had baptismal information and it got me thinking: Westchester Family Services said my birth mother was Episcopalian and that she had baptized me. I was born in Yonkers. Plus, I had run across information about the Episcopalian-run St. Faith's Home for Unwed Mothers in Tarrytown.
After a long day of chasing dead ends in March, I plugged St. Faith's into Google and made note of the South Broadway address. I found Christ Church next door. Could it be so simple? Church secretary Grae Mathe readily agreed to look up baptismal records for Baby Girl Clark born Feb. 15, 1966, but cautioned me against getting my hopes up. She is rarely able to help the 20+ adoptees who call annually; most St. Faith's records were destroyed in the name of privacy, she said.
Imagine my surprise, then, when Mathe called back to tell me Jennifer Elaine Clark, daughter of Patricia Clark, had been baptized by the Rev. George F. Bratt, on Feb. 25, 1966, in the chapel at St. Faith's.
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I am Jennifer Elaine Clark.
Helping me put this mind-blowing information into perspective are two women who were at St. Faith's in early 1966. Karen and Sandy don't remember Patricia, but are generous about sharing their experiences and successful searches for their daughters.
They give me hope: If I can find two St. Faith's moms, I must be able to find one more. Christ Church sent me a letter certifying my baptism and I leapt at Mathe's invitation to see the register, arranging the visit to coincide with my Jazzercise certification workshop in May. It was an emotional coda to an exhausting two days.
The records show Bratt christened about six St. Faith's babies each month. We St. Faith's infants are listed among the baptisms of Christ Church parishioners, but stand out because our place of birth is simply "Yonkers" and only a mother's name is entered in the space for parents (except in one case, where no parent is listed).
I sat with that book a long time, paying homage to the lives so irrevocably shaped by adoption. Seeing all those names redoubled my resolve to find Patricia.
Driving home, I wondered if I am the Jennifer Elaine Clark she hoped I'd be.
I marveled, too, that 48 hours had brought such emotional extremes: the culmination of weeks of sweat equity and proof of my biggest adoption search milestone yet. It occurred to me that after 45 years of treating life as a spectator sport, here I was ... in Technicolor and, finally, in black and white.
Terri S. Vanech lives in Old Greenwich with her husband and their teenage daughter. Reach her at email@example.com. This essay originally published earlier in The Stamford Advocate.