She asked me several times during our initials correspondence if I had told my daughters about her. She was curious about them; perhaps her interest went beyond curiosity reflecting a natural desire to connect with those to whom she was related biologically.
It was not easy to tell my daughters about their sister -- in fact it was damn hard. Like telling others when you found out you were pregnant by a man whom you would not marry. All the shame, embarrassment had not dissipated in the 31 years since Rebecca's birth. I told my daughters them straight out --"there's a woman I've been talking to--she's your sister." Later I learned they thought I was going to tell them I was gay.
THE SECRET WEIGHS ON YOU
I had thought about telling my daughters over the years when I thought about searching but had decided against it-- no point, I thought, unless I actually found her. Very few members of my family knew about my first daughter. If I told my raised daughters about their half sister, they would undoubtedly mention it to my mother, siblings, cousins, and their father's--my husband's family. In retrospect, it would have been better if I had been open with everyone from the beginning. But that was not easy in the days when a big reason for adoption was secrecy.
And by not telling anyone, I also had to guard myself to the possibility that Rebecca might find me. In fact she began searching when she was 19. I really did not think through all the implications of keeping this secret. Perhaps there would be a stranger at the door, a phone call--that I would have to explain or begin a series of lies. Perhaps Rebecca would find out about my daughters and contact them directly. How would I explain that their mysterious caller was not a deranged stranger but their sister?
At the time I don't think I realized how heavily my secret weighed on me. I was often distracted for reasons I would not explain to others. "What are you thinking about, Mom?" "Oh, nothing," I'd answer. I would search my daughters faces looking for a resemblance to the baby I last saw when she was two days old. "Why are you staring at me?" I'm not," I'd answer.
Post-adoption counselors advise telling your children and family members once you embark on a search. Carol Schaefer wrote in her pioneering search-and-reunion book The Other Mother:
"[The counselors] advised me to think about telling [sons] Brett and Kip and the rest of my family that I was actively searching now for a child I had given up for adoption. Otherwise, the kids would wonder why I was so distracted and sometimes on edge. They might blame themselves. Also, I might get an important call that I would want them to be sure to relay. There was, as well, the chance that my son was searching for me."
Within a few days Carol told Brett, 12 and Kip, 9 about their older brother.
"Brett was old enough to grasp the full significance of what I was saying. Having full knowledge of and a keen seventh-grade interest in the birds and the bees, the implications were not lost on him....It was obvious from his expression that his first reaction was shock. And then he looked at me and said 'Mom, that must have been so awful for you.'
Other mothers tell me much the same thing--their children are excited to have an older sibling. Many told their children as early as they can, and the common reaction is to always want to meet him or her. Often the only negative reaction is from the oldest raised child who feels displaced. Or from a son raised with three sisters who learns there's an older brother and he's not the only boy. These reactions are often temporary, swept away by the excitement of having a new sibling.
"I looked over at Kip, whose eyes were wide, and watched as the news sank in. I knew as I saw the love and compassion on their faces that this was my finest, most thrilling and rewarding moment as a mother. Nothing would ever make me so proud as their spontaneous reaction just had. Their first question was, 'Do you think he could be John Elway?'"
Carol's new book
I WAITED--AND BIT THE BULLET
Since I waited until Rebecca found me, my daughters were grown ups by the time I told them. They weren't thrilled to learn about their half sister, but they accepted the news--and her. Their relationship is cordial, not close. They've enjoyed knowing Rebecca's two grown daughters who have come to visit several times. There was the initial shock, but letting my daughters know about Rebecca has not damaged my relationship with them.
Secrets are powerful. Secrets create enduring stress. Secrets can control where you live, who you marry, whether you have children. Secrets protect wrong-doers at the expense of their victims. Women who were sexually abused as children know this well. Members of the LGBT community know trying to hide their sexuality results in a life of quiet desperation. Truth is the only way to free yourself from secrecy's control. Many of us first mothers had little to no choice when we relinquished our children, but keeping our secret keeps us forever powerless.--jane.
Telling my family about my first child--and then going public
Should adoptees contact their siblings when first parents are reluctant?
Contacting siblings when a woman denies she is 'the' first mother
Keeping secrets in adoption can make you ill
Secrets in adoption: Dealing with betrayal of lies by omission
You are only as sick as the secrets you keep
Secrecy in reunion: How can I tell my adoptive parents? Or my other family?
Searching ...By Carol Schaefer
..." travels through many realms. If you are a reader who is uncomfortable with so-called New Age and feminist spirituality, I urge you to stick with reading her story. Carol's journey through her spiritual evolution -- and the amazing changes that her openness invited into her life -- could give you pause for thought, always (in this educator's/writer’s opinion) a good thing....You will be reminded time and again that losing a child to adoption is a slippery and never-ending battle for self-worth, despite social feedback and life changes that would likely anchor anyone who didn’t suffer that trauma."--from a reader at Amazon
The Other Mother
"In 1965, as a pregnant, unmarried 19-year-old member of an image-conscious, Catholic, southern family, Schaefer found herself unusually hemmed in. In this emotional memoir she describes the harsh conditions imposed on her--she was sent in secrecy to a home for unwed mothers where she gave birth and atoned for her "sin" by relinquishing her newborn son. Although Schaefer married and had two more children, her longing for reunion with her first child did not abate. On his 18th birthday, she began the arduous, frustrating process of making contact with her first born, named Jack, and his adoptive family in the Los Angeles area, finally arranging a successful meeting that involved the birth father as well. This wrenching account, covering a range of adoption issues, is a moving testament to the bonding power of motherhood."--Amazon