Finally Finding Family

Me. Very little, but me.

I was told a pretty story, growing up. It went like this…

I was given up for adoption at birth. My birth mother was 19, and already had a 3 year old boy. She was a navy brat, living with her parents. Her mother, my birth grandmother, was sick with vaguely described “women’s issues.” She was not willing to take in a second grandchild (me), and was the one insisting on putting me up for adoption.

My birth father was a gaping black hole. It is unclear if he was even aware my birth mother was pregnant when he disappeared, or he might have left when he found out. He was only described, cryptically, as “dark.” My mom thought maybe that meant Hispanic or Indian, given this was in Texas.

The agency said they tried to match babies with families of a similar appearance and heritage. They said my birth mother was mostly Irish and British, just as my adoptive mother was.

It didn’t turn out to be a good match in appearance. I was short, and dark of eye and hair, in a family of towering green and blue eyed Texans.

How much of the pretty story was true? I’ve heard from other adoptees that “the story” was often made up. The potential adoptive parents were told what they would want to hear, to clinch the deal. So it could be entirely false, or totally true, or somewhere in between.

Why does it matter now?
Because I have a DNA test being processed at 23andMe. It sat here for a while, before I sent it in, as I pondered what the possible outcomes could be.

This will sound idiotic, but when I ordered it, I wasn’t thinking at all about how I might find my birth family through it. I really got it to find out my heritage. It matters to me, where I come from, geographically. And I got it to look for answers to my multitude of health problems.

The testing kit came, and suddenly I realised it could open a whole can of worms, or even two cans, and I didn’t know if I wanted to do that.

See, as near as I can tell, no one is looking for me. I’ve been registered at online adoption registries since the birth of the internet. They’re easy to search, reach out, and make contact.

But no one has.
In 20 years.

It’s likely I have more than one half sibling out there, but they might not even know I exist.

How will they feel if I show up on a DNA test? I have no idea how it would feel, growing up in a family, and then to find, as an adult, that you have an unexpected sibling. Would you feel betrayed? Let down? Angry?

Both my daughters already have their results from 23andMe, and I’ve been poking around in them. They have different fathers, so, in looking at the “DNA relatives” they matched, if they both matched to the same person, it’s because that person is related to me.

And, wow, are there matches. A lot. Some are as close as 2nd cousins to my girls. And more matches keep turning up.

I have blood relatives, other than my girls.

I doubt you can understand what that statement feels like, unless you’ve been where I am right now. It’s not something I can put into words. I stopped thinking I’d find my biological family quite a few years ago.

I’m actually terrified.

What if they didn’t know of my existence? What if they don’t believe it (it happens, from what I hear)? What if they want nothing to do with me? What if they do? Will they be able to answer my questions, about the circumstances of my birth and adoption? Can they tell me my birth parents’ names? And in a soft whisper… Could I see pictures, of my biological mom and dad? Is that too much to ask?

All the possible outcomes are terrifying. There are forums on 23andMe where folks like me talk about this exact situation. It often turns out badly, with rejection. There are a few good outcomes.

But I have to try.

The Weight

I told my daughter, Rhiannon, the other night, as she calmed me down, after I freaked out when I found my girls have even more matches, this thing called adoption has been a huge weight I’ve carried around my whole life.

In elementary school one year, we learned about genes and heredity, and were assigned a big genealogy project, to research and chart our family tree on posterboard, with the most pictures and details possible.

I’m an Aspie – person with Asperger’s syndrome – although we didn’t know that then.

I did the only thing that seemed right. I raised my hand and asked what I was supposed to do. I explained I was adopted, and I didn’t know my family tree.

My teacher was momentarily befuddled. She told me to use my adoptive family. “But that’s not right. It’s not my genetics,” I argued.

You have to understand. Aspies have an “unusually strong” attachment to the truth and what we perceive is right, true, and honorable. Making a family tree, to be displayed, using my adoptive family, was a charade, a huge lie, so much that it was anathema.

I had to do it anyway. I remember a lot of tears. Of feeling like I was cheating, feeling guilty.

Holding my hand up and asking that question had repercussions throughout my schooling years. Someone figured out that only bastards are given up for adoption.
They never let me forget it. Even in high school, I remember the taunting.

There are other stories, but you get the idea. And there was a song that did a great deal of damage, too – it was worthy of its own blog post years ago: “Love Child”, “Bastard”, & Asperger’s

So, here I am, in my mid 50’s, and for my whole life I’ve known nothing of my biological family. I haven’t known where I come from, or who I am. It is such an odd, disconcerting, yet exciting, feeling, to know, in a week or so, that’s all going to change, when my results come in.

(And just like that, my phone went beep, to tell me there’s an email from 23andMe saying my reports are ready! I haven’t even finished editing this yet! Omg!)

Some adoptees don’t care about their birth family. I don’t know how much of that is because they “fit” into their adoptive family really well, like my (also adopted) brother did, tall and light eyed as our parents. Maybe it’s just personality.

No one has ever loved me as much as my mom did, who did everything she possibly could for me, up until the end. We didn’t become close, though, until I was an adult. I wasn’t lacking in love, growing up, but I just never felt that I belonged.

Like a lot of adoptees, there’s been this aching hole that’s been waiting to be filled. That’s as much about the countries my ancestors come from as anything.

Seeing my daughter’s list of cousins that had to have come from my side, that was a holy cow moment. I have family. Biological family. And there they are, a long list, with initials and a few names. It is both the lifting of the weight, of being without blood kin except for my daughters, and a new and great weight, not knowing how all these people will react.

Unless you are adopted, you cannot know how that feels, and I am failing at expressing it.

Figuring out who is who based on DNA tests can be very challenging, unless a very close relative (parent, sibling) has tested with the same company. Even then, they have to have opted in to finding DNA relatives. I can send messages, and hope to hear back.

It’s going to be interesting.
And exciting.
And terrifying.
And overwhelming.
And, hopefully, one day, fulfilling.
Hopefully.

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Finally, A Place To Call Home

Sometimes, the truth hurts. But better the truth, and understanding, than living in confusion & conflict, imposing your values on someone else. For those that this hurts, I’m truly sorry. You’ll just have to believe me that it was as hard for me to write, as it will be for you to read.

I’ve spent much of my life looking for a place to call home. There have been many houses & farms, but I always knew they were temporary, the best we could find at the time, or the best we could afford. But until I found my humble cabin the woods, in my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 years ago, there weren’t any that were really, truly, home.

I had started to think maybe I would never really understand what it was to love a place so much that it was your heart’s home, that maybe I’d always be a gypsy, staying a few years here, a few years there.  But I’ve lived here longer than I have ever lived anyplace else, and don’t ever want to leave.

I’ve finally set down roots.

Even when I was growing up, where we lived was just a house, though, of course, I would say things like, “Let’s go home,” but it wasn’t home, not in my heart.

I have some vague memories of the house I lived in from 7 to 16 – a large, suburban house, backing up onto a swampy patch of woods. I had everything I could seemingly want: loving parents, clothes, nice furniture, more toys than any kid needs…  but still, it wasn’t my home.

My home was the Woods behind the house.

My spirit-sister, Daphna, and I ran those woods, usually barefoot in all sorts of weather, lest our shoes show we’d been into the “forbidden zone” – the area around the creek we loved, or elsewhere in that muddy patch of forest. We’d stash our shoes under a bush, and take off.

We knew every inch, every corner, every tree. We tracked the raccoons and other critters that lived there. We learned about wild plants; built rafts that always seemed to sink; caught tadpoles; found beautiful stones.

We ran like the wind, or the deer, as only a child can run, with utter freedom and abandon, leaping from rock to rock, and walked fallen tree-bridges, in total confidence, without fear.

But we weren’t supposed to be there. We were under orders to only follow the path that led to the small park, to play on the equipment there. I distinctly remember my mother telling us that if we went to the area of the creek, we might get bitten by a snake, or a rabid raccoon. That didn’t stop us. We went anyway.

I remember very clearly, standing one day on the path that led back to the house, as it started to get dark, when we were due back. Looking up at the house up the hill, I saw not a home, but a box; a prison; confinement; misunderstanding.

I was a round peg being forced into a square hole, and I hated it.

I dreamed of running away, to live in the mountains. Several times a year, we would drive the hour out to the Skyline Drive, which runs atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, and there, that, was my heart’s desire: woods that stretched for miles; babbling creeks; great weathered rocks; the glory of the Fall leaves; the beauty of the Spring flowers; breathtaking sunsets.

I remember being in the back seat of the car, looking out the back window, tears running silently down my cheeks as we would drive back to our house in suburbia.

Without Daphna, and the Woods, I think I would have gone crazy, and when she moved away, when I was 12 (?), it absolutely devastated me. The Woods were totally forbidden to me now – without a friend to go with me, I wasn’t allowed back there.

You can blame it on the Asperger’s if you want. But it was – and is – much more than that. It’s feeling things other people don’t. Remembering lives that happened before this life.

It’s valuing things other people don’t, and not caring at all about what they do.

It’s wanting something totally different from the people around me.

It’s still that way, with a very few exceptions.

After a lifetime of being a gypsy, moving from house to house to house, I finally found my heart’s home, here in my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains. It is only a humble cabin in the Woods, small by many people’s standards, always disastrously messy & cluttered, and often actually quite dirty (in the real dirt sense of the word – my beloved dogs track it in, and without energy to clean…).

But it’s my home, finally, a place I’ve set my roots down, after so many years of searching. A place I’ve set my heart and spirit to rest. And I love it.

Living here isn’t easy, especially for a chronically ill person. The driveway is rough by anyone’s standards, nearly vertical, and impassable in heavy snow. The house is not well insulated, if it’s insulated at all. It was built to be a weekend retreat for suburbanites from DC, not a full time residence. The kitchen is smaller than most bathrooms, which makes cooking in there rather difficult. The paint is peeling, and the siding could use replacing, and the floors could stand to be sanded and re-stained.

But what makes it home is it’s location, in my beloved mountains; the 3 sliding glass doors that open onto the screened in porch and large deck with the breathtaking beauty of the mountains beyond; the open floor-plan & soaring ceilings; the way it sits back from the road, so we have  privacy; the screened in porch that I use for carving my beads, all year long, protected from all but the hardest rains and fiercest winds; the yard the dogs, so absolutely necessary to my life, have easy access to.

It’s the quiet seclusion, so necessary when the almost ever-present migraines strike; the silence, away from sirens, with little traffic, no noisy neighbors.

And even more, it’s the trees in all their Autumn glory; the radiant sunsets that light the whole sky; the deer than amble, unafraid, through the yard; the great weathered stones that are everywhere; the trilliums, lilys, and daffodils we discover in unexpected places;  the violets that blanket the “yard” in Spring; the raspberries that fill our bodies with their all natural goodness; the well water that cleanses and purifies us, and runs through my veins.

What we have here nourishes my soul, feeds my restless spirit.

I wouldn’t trade my home, this land, and these mountains, for all the money in the world, or a million dollar house, or what you may think is an “easier” way to live.

You may not understand, and you may not value what I do.

All I ask is that you accept that I do value this life, here on the Mountain. And that without it, I see little point in going on.

Unless you are as sick as I am, you cannot know what it’s like to live every day, so sick, so tired, in so much pain.

You cannot know how it sucks the soul out of you.

Autumn Sky

Here, I have the chance for the only joy I will ever again experience.

Here, I can turn my head, from my big bed, and look out into the trees, the sky, the sunsets.

Here, the moon shines on me as I sleep; the stars light the sky overhead in a way they never can in the city; the meteors streak through the night and can actually be seen.

Here, I can spend my few minutes out of bed each day watching the ever changing world around me; see the many wild things we share the world with: the spotted fawns, the graceful bucks,  the elusive fox, and thrill at the flight of a hawk high overhead.

Here, I can sit in my hanging chair, on my porch, and rock for as long as I want, totally absorbed in watching the incredible beauty of the world around me.

Here, finally, is the place I call home.

Winter Sunset

Wolfdreams: Message In A Bottle

Note: This post is about my spiritual path, part of the Wolfdreams category of my blog. It will likely not make much sense to many people. But it makes sense to me.

The message was short and cryptic: “Follow the Patterns to the Stillness within.”

I had been resting, which became meditating, which became journeying. It was the voice of my Guide, reminding me of things that happened long ago, and of an ability seldom used. I scrawled it down, lest I forget.

I had remembered…

I was quite young. I was setting the table for dinner, putting the silverware out by the plates. I picked each fork, knife, and spoon, out carefully: I had to get the right ones. It was not a question of there being different sets of silverware, and needing to get ones that matched. No, it was much deeper than that. I wanted to get the ones that belonged out that night, and to put them at the correct place on the table – picking out the one particular spoon that just felt right with the one particular fork and the one particular knife.

My mother thought I was confused about where the knives, forks & spoons went, but I wasn’t. There was just a feeling of rightness, of belonging, when I put certain ones together in certain places. My mother was impatient with my slowness, and took them from me, and set the table, while I tried to understand why she didn’t follow the flow of rightness I felt.

Much later in life, I still feel it, but not often, not as strongly. Usually, it’s when I’m being creative:

Stringing a necklace, beads arrayed around me. Sifting through a dish of near-identical beads to find the one particular bead whose energy just fits with the other beads I have strung, Trying out different combinations of beads to get them right. Not because of how they look together, but because of how they feel together.

I eventually started calling this Patterning. Arranging things so that they fit into an invisible Pattern, where the energy will flow more easily. Something which I could feel, sometimes, but not quite see.

We know now, through physics, that everything vibrates with a particular frequency. Even things that are virtually identical in appearance vibrate in their own particular way.

Is that what I feel and sense? I don’t know. All I know is that to feel it, the invisible pattern of rightness, I have to be at a very still & quiet place inside. Words cannot be flowing non-stop through my mind.

People spend their whole lives practicing meditation, or prayer, towards one goal: silencing the mind and stilling the soul in order to be open to the voice of the Sacred within.

Silencing the mind is the tough part. I remember the moment I started thinking in words, rather than experiencing life in the moment; allowing things to happen without spending time thinking through them from every angle; without the chatter of the noisy mind filling up my head. You know what I mean, I’m sure – the mind goes on and on, never ceasing with it’s chatter, about everything, every aspect of our lives. Words fill our heads constantly. We “talk to ourselves.”

What I felt as a child, in that moment when I realized the silence within was gone, replaced by words, was a deep sense of loss. I was very young, but I knew that something priceless had been irrevocably lost.

I’ve never known anyone else who remembered the moment they started thinking in words, although I haven’t asked too many people – the strange looks I got after the first couple of attempts were enough to persuade me that others didn’t experience life the way I do.

Maybe, it was an expression of the Asperger’s Syndrome I didn’t know I had until recently. Maybe, people with autism can see and feel things that other people can’t, but which are very real, nonetheless, and are interacting with those things. I know only my own experience. I know I was bewildered at the seemingly random way people did things, and I was acutely aware that other people didn’t feel the need to follow the patterns I saw. My mother says I used to stare at her a lot, as if I was trying to figure things out, and indeed, I was.

The message from my Guide, “Follow the Patterns to the Stillness within,” was like a message in a bottle washed up on the shore; a reminder of the past, and a pointer to the future. To let go of my thoughts more; to spend more time with a still mind; to follow the sense of rightness that comes with certain actions; in order to return to that place of peace, stillness, and quietness, so I can hear the voice of the Divine more easily.

In some ways, you could compare what I feel to the way a river flows. You can spend your life fighting the flow of the water, or you can give in, let go, and let the current take you where you are intended to be.

I think I’ve spent far too much time fighting the flow. Time to let go.