It’s My Birthday and I’ll Cry If I Want To

Today is my birthday, and I am feeling sad.

Canva - Boy Looking at Birthday Cake

Oh, it isn’t about my advancing age. After all, I always say you are as old as you feel, and most days I feel much younger than my years. I’m generally a happy, positive and thankful person; just not quite as much today.

My sadness is that this is my first birthday since I found my birth mom a few months ago.

Now, keep in mind that I hadn’t even looked for her prior to this past year; never really thought much about being adopted.

And actually, to be truthful, I wasn’t even looking for her when I did a 23andme test last year to try and learn something about my roots. I had been looking to find out if I had Irish or German heritage or otherwise. I hadn’t been thinking of or searching for my birth mom.

But I had found her. The 23andme results along with other information led me to my birth mom’s family tree on Ancestry.com. (you can read all about this in my previous blog post if interested)

And even though I didn’t want to meet her, or reunite permanently in any way, I wanted to reach out to her and just “touch bases” (LOL, that sounds so cheesy, but truly, I just wanted to get 100% confirmation she was in fact my birth mom, find out a bit about my medical history and let her know I was alive and well). I wanted her to know that my life had turned out great. That two loving parents had adopted me as an infant and were the world’s best parents a child could have ever had.

So I had written her.

Friends said to be careful. They know me to be an emotional sort, someone who cries while watching rescued animal videos and during television programs and the like. I can’t even make it through one episode of This Is Us without crying (how can anyone?). I also wear my emotions very visibly and deeply, I think it is the writer in me; I think you have to share how you are truly feeling to evoke an emotional response in others.

In any case I wrote her this letter:

Dear Suzanne,

I am writing you as I believe you to be my birth mother.

I am reaching out to you to let you know that I have had a wonderful life. I had the world’s best parents (both now deceased) and now have my own loving family (married 32 years and have two awesome adult sons).

I don’t want to upset you, disturb you or otherwise cause any concerns for you. I thought if we could connect I could answer questions for you, if you have any. And I thought you could answer questions for me. My primary questions are really just relating to ancestry info and health history information. I would also be interested in learning the name and any information about my birth father (for the same ancestry and health history reasons).

Why do I believe you to be my birth mother?

I had my family all do 23andme DNA profiles at Christmas. Being adopted has meant my sons didn’t really have a lot of info on their roots. My husband’s side of the family is also very small, so with no info on my side…it seemed like a fun thing to do, for them to get a bit of info on their ancestry. The results were interesting for them to learn. The results also pointed out that I had some cousins with the Diedrich name listed. I had known that Diedrich was my mom’s maiden name.

Recently I also dug into other sites such as Ancestry.com and pulled out my parents’ old file folder on my adoption. From there I had snippets of info, such as your full name, your age, a little of your family history and some other info relating to your father. It wasn’t hard to pull the info together and identify you were likely my birth mom.

My birth name was Theresa Gale Diedrich. I have a little background information on you, and know you met me prior to giving me up. That must have been difficult, but I understand the situation and harbor absolutely no ill will or negative feelings.

If you would like to reach out to me I’ll provide some contact information for you. It would be great, even if you don’t want to connect, to at least hear you received this. Again, I don’t want to create stress for you. Even sending this letter is not something I do lightly for that reason…but I just didn’t know another way to open up the possibility of dialogue with you.

Diane

I thought it was the perfect letter to meet my objective of “touching bases.”  I mailed it and waited…

Weeks went by.

I was fairly sure I had found the correct address (on the internet, scary what you can find there)…so I waited some more.

But no response.

I had provided every type of contact info. My email, cell phone, address, etc.

In any case, more time passed.

No response was challenging. Maddening actually.

Friends said to give it time. Not to take action.Canva - Woman Wearing Brown Shirt Inside Room

But I wrote a second letter (why don’t I ever listen to the advice of my friends!).

In this note I told her I would not write her again (and I truly meant it), but that I was disappointed in her lack of response. The whole “touching bases” was supposed to be a positive after all! My life had turned out well! Wasn’t that a positive for her to know?

I told her while I would try and respect her privacy that I was going to continue to find answers about my ancestry by connecting with people on 23andme, researching Ancestry.com or even Facebook. I told her that I didn’t understand her lack of response. I still wanted to know for sure she was my birth mom. I still wanted to learn who my birth dad was (to “touch base” with him, I suppose…). I wanted to learn about medical history, really more for the sake of my two sons.

I agonized over this letter just a bit (given her lack of response to the first one). Should I even send it? What was I hoping for?

Truthfully I wasn’t sure what I was hoping for at that point. In looking back I think I was secretly hoping to make a small connection with her. Not a “let’s meet annually” sort of thing, and not likely even meeting at all. But a connection, a brief exchange of information.  Confirmation she was my mom. Maybe my birth dad’s info. Something.

While I had originally been quite positive that I held no ill-will about her giving me up, I wondered if I did in some small way! Maybe I wanted something more from her, some emotional olive branch; acknowledgement that she was genuinely happy my life had turned out so well? Hmmmmm……

I thought long and hard on this, but was still fairly certain I harbored no deep resentments or ill-will regarding her long ago decision. None. I even sympathized with it.

No, any ill-will I might have been feeling at this point was from her lack of response to my initial letter. It seemed cruel and heartless. I tried to put myself in her place. Maybe it was a shameful place, or some type of trauma had been involved.  But now, so many decades later…a lifetime, really….and to have heard my life had turned out so well. It seemed wrong that she chose to be silent.

It would have been so simple for her just to respond with, “Have a great rest of your life. Thanks for touching base.”

I held on to my 2nd letter for several days. Along with her mailing address I had found her phone number on the internet as well. I toyed with the idea of just calling her, but I thought a phone call would be too aggressive. I felt like it really should be her decision whether she responded. I still held out hope that she would.

So in the end I mailed the second letter.Canva - Woman Sitting on Wooden Planks

But again, there was no response.

Time went by.

More time passed and I somewhat moved on.

It was fine. I had lived my entire life without worrying about my biological roots, after all. Plus I had learned a lot through 23andme. I had learned a lot about my biological family through Ancestry.com. I had learned a lot!

So what was the deal with me still pondering about my past?

Why did I still feel a response was so important?

I thought maybe my own parents being gone or my sons settling down (perhaps the side effects of an empty nest or aging?) were bubbling up these feelings…who knew…but I wondered if something may have triggered this need to learn more. Perhaps it was simply the DNA results, suddenly getting a “probable” mom identified?

Then, one day, I finally received a response.

It wasn’t really a response. It was more of a “Cease and Desist.”

It was from a lawyer.

Canva - Person Signing in Documentation Paper

While the particular words weren’t used, “Cease and desist” was my immediate reaction to the brief letter.

While I had done nothing wrong, I felt intimidated by its abruptness and tone.

And it was from a lawyer!

There were just four sentences.

The lawyer stated he had been engaged by my birth mom and was relaying her thoughts; it began with what I interpreted as general displeasure over my sudden appearance and unsolicited communication. One sentence had (incredibly) generic and pretty much useless medical info. One sentence said she would provide no info about the birth dad. And finally, please respect my privacy and buzz off.

Well, it didn’t REALLY say buzz off. After all it was written by a lawyer she had engaged. Engaged for the sole purpose of not connecting in any way, and of literally getting me to Cease and Desist.

I couldn’t believe it. During the initial few moments I alternated between being really upset and sad at being dissed in such a manner (pretty sure I cried), and then feeling completely intimidated.

Friends said not to respond.

But again, I chose not to listen.

So I responded to the lawyer, and reminded him – like I had said to my birth mom – it was supposed to be a good thing.

In the brief response I told him I was sad that my birth mom had responded through him and that, “I had no way to know of the depth of her apparent emotional concerns about my existence.”  (Yes I really wrote that…I was hurt after all) But I also wished her well and reiterated I was in fact, buzzing off.

So that was that.

I still can’t put my head (or heart) around why she would have responded the way she did. I’m sorry, but no amount of shame or whatever she was feeling should have trumped reaching out to me just once, especially if she was going to confirm she was my birth mom anyway.

So, that’s it. That’s the story. And that takes me to today. My birthday.

This morning I woke up and unbelievably…thought about my birth mom. I wondered if she remembered the date. Every year on my birthday…has she ever thought about me? Has she ever wanted to know what happened to me?

And now, is she glad to know my life turned out so well, that my adoptive parents were wonderful and kind?

And why do I even care? She is really no-one to me.

Yet it saddens me somehow; thus the need to write this piece. Writing is the only way for me to process my emotions and move on.

Now I feel better.

My chosen family, husband and sons are giving me lots of love.

My cell phone keeps letting me know a new birthday text has come in.

My life is full of love and wonderful blessings. Truly it is time to move on.

Time to go celebrate.

Canva - Lighted Candles on Cupcakes

Nature vs. Nurture – Who Am I?

I was adopted as an infant and even some 60 years later, never knew who my biological parents were. I never knew if heart disease, cancer or dementia ran in my family; or whether I was 50% Irish, German, British or what. I had never seen someone who looked like me, or even a little like me.

Canva - Baby in White Onesie

I had been adopted by two wonderful parents, so throughout my life I never really cared too much about “who” I was from a genetic sense. I truly didn’t think about it very much except when new doctors asked me the inevitable questions relating to, “What health issues run in your family?” I always just drew big lines through the pages of questions relating to medical history while shrugging my shoulders. I just didn’t know anything relating to my biological roots.

Recently, however, my world has changed.

I, along with my husband and adult sons, did 23andMe DNA tests. I had thought it would be interesting, especially for my sons (who have already started getting those questions about medical history from their docs).  While they had some ancestry insights on my husband’s side, my family history had of course been a blank slate.  I had hoped that the 23andMe tests would offer at least some helpful info on my side of things, and I was excited for us to get our results.

The test results finally came back and I suddenly had new-found insights into my heritage.

Canva - free DNA52.4% British and Irish; 22.8% French and German; and 2% Italian. Ah, perhaps an explanation for my pale complexion and why I get so easily sunburned!

My sons also received their own set of percentages that at least began to fill-in some info on their unique genetic blueprints.

But another revelation was also presented to me. I had DNA matches to several second and third cousins. Even more unexpectedly, I had DNA matches who had my birth mother’s maiden name listed in their profile as a family name in their ancestral tree. That meant something! I had found biological kin.

With the names of several newfound cousins in hand I began a free trial on Ancestry.com. Using the info I now had, along with the info from adoption paperwork, it wasn’t hard to identify my probable birth mom.  Remember I hadn’t had her first name initially.

While I hadn’t really ever thought much about my biological birth parents, having a possible identification of my birth mom seemed to open up an opportunity to learn more about “me.” So with growing excitement I decided I’d build my family tree on the site and see what I could uncover.

If you have never seen Ancestry.com the outcome you are looking for when building your family tree is a large number of linked boxes. Parents linked to their kids; grandparents and those before them, all linked to each other.  Linked means family. Generations of links mean a view into your ancestry in terms of people and potentially even relating to the health of your genes.

The first decision I had to make was what name to put in my box, “Diane Marie Doran” or “Theresa Gale Diedrich”; adopted name I’d had all my life, or my biological birth name I’d had for weeks.

The question seemed simple enough. “Who am I?”

Canva - free confused

I started with my biological birth name as I thought that made the most sense in finding all the linkages to my new found “biological family”.

Initially the box labeled with my birth name (a somewhat foreign name I had never used) sat there seemingly unconnected to anyone but the maiden name of a woman I didn’t even know. It was kind of a lonely feeling. But I kept trying to form other connections around me.

On Ancestry.com there is this concept of getting a leaf (a hint to moving forward on Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetbuilding your tree)…but no matter what I did or what I searched on, I just couldn’t get any clues. No leaf, no info.

My box just sat there with the one connection to my birth mom’s maiden name. At one point I even deleted my tiny two-box family tree completely, it just seemed so futile.

But the next day I started over with some snippets of info that I had found with some online searching (it is amazing what you can learn on the internet; almost scary, actually). I found an article on what I surmised was my biological grand-dad along with mention of his three children. With a little more sleuthing I was confidant that I had found my birth mom.

With the grand-dad’s name I found the correct Diedrich family tree (which thankfully was not set up as private so I could take more than a peek).

I got a leaf, and then another.

Soon it was raining leaves.grampa edwin and margaret

From there I quickly developed many generations of connected boxes (only on my biological mom’s side as I didn’t know my biological dad’s name as yet). I was amazed at the ability to pull up photos of biological relatives’ weddings, their high school yearbook photos, newspaper clippings, military paperwork, immigration documents and so much more. I felt like I was learning so much about my biological roots; when my family migrated from Germany and more. It was fascinating, especially the historical records one could pull up and see.

It was so fun that I wanted to add my “real” family to see all of their historical info as well. I was so excited to see the entire “me” unfolding in the myriad of interconnected boxes. I thought I’d add my husband, sons, adopted brother and my adoptive parents. I was eager to see some familiar names and start seeing those connections take shape as well.

But that is when I was told that I had to choose. I had to “set a preference” in my ancestral tree: Biological parents (and family) or adoptive; one or the other.

I tried to over-ride this default, adding my adopted brother as a sibling under my biological family tree; but then he showed up under my birth mother versus our adoptive mom! I tried to trick the app, but to no avail. I thought it wasn’t very kind of the app to make me have to choose.

Perhaps this requirement for me to choose, to set a preference, was just a design decision that some engineer thought made complete sense. Clearly that individual didn’t have to involve two sets of families to answer the question, “Who am I?”

Canva - Handpainted Watercolor Family Giving Gifts on ChristmasAll of this irritated me, confused me…and frankly, made me just a bit emotional. I had to decide. Which “representation” of me was more important? Which set of roots (DNA or a lifetime of living) was more important?

That’s when it really hit me.

I had thought the genetics of my ancestry was so important, but staring at the interconnected boxes of strangers made me feel like an outsider. Worse, staring at my adoptive family now made me feel just a bit like a traitor. Weren’t they my real family? But I started wondering…I wondered how my adopted relatives depicted me on their own family trees. Was I there in a connected box? Or perhaps I was a box floating out in the cosmos, with a dotted line saying, “adopted.” Now my brain really began to spin.

Should my family tree be the parents who chose me, loved me and cared for me? Should it be the cousins I have known over the course of my life?  By this time I had found many scans of documents and bits and pieces of my adoptive ancestors’ lives. Here were all the people I had actually known and cared about, many of who were no longer living, like grandparents, aunts and uncles. None of these people shared my DNA; they had just shared my life.  I looked at these boxes (with my preference set to adoptive family) with great fondness. I remembered these people. They were biologically linked to my parents, just not to me.

Then I clicked over to my biological tree. These boxes and linkages contained no real emotional ties; the people were foreign to me. The linkages might have appeared connected to me on the screen, but I felt no connection. I was fascinated by the linkage, but emotionally ill-at-ease. To some extent I felt like I was eavesdropping on another family, clicking on their photos and moments; trying desperately to feel some connection and sense of inclusiveness.

I know that the whole point of the site is biological kin. But at that moment I couldn’t think why I cared beyond the statistics of 52.4% British and Irish; 22.8% French and German; and 2% Italian. Except maybe to know more about health history…so is the benefit of my entire ancestral search really about how my biological family tree members have died?

I think about what is more important, the “who” I could have been versus the “who” that I am.

The adopted me is who I am, why I am not a fashionista, why I love gardening, my sense of ethics,  why kindness is paramount to me, and maybe even why I became a writer. My adoptive dad’s love for developing an amazing vocabulary, my adoptive mom’s insistent voice to be kind, open-minded and caring. That is all what made me, me.

I finally decided, after making a few notes on my biological roots for my children, that I will set my preference for the adopted me. That is really the “me” and the family I know. I feel it somehow honors my adoptive parents, who were the best parents in the world. And it leaves me in a comfortable familiar space, with comfortable familiar names, in comfortable familiar boxes.

The linkages may not be based on DNA, but the linkages are real. The linkages are based on a lifetime of shared moments and connections (still ongoing today).

And as for finding my birth mom?

Yes I found her. That’s another story for another time.

Let’s just say I couldn’t have had better parents than the ones who raised me.

Mom and Dad…missing you even more today and wish you could see your wonderful grandsons as the bright and loving young men they are.

That’s what true family is all about after all…who you have loved…who you have lost… who remains in your heart…and who you will always remember.

Too Many Flags on Memorial Day

I hate to admit it, but I hear voices.

Not everyday, just on one weekend a year, Memorial Day weekend. On that weekend, I go to the cemetery, visiting the graves of dead soldiers. I go with the local Boy Scout troop.

At the cemetery, the scouts plant American flags at each soldiers’ grave. One weekend of tribute to those who have given so much.

memorialday

The scene is haunting. Row after row of flags…so many flags…dead soldiers from Vietnam, from WWII, even from the Civil War…and more recently, from Afghanistan and Iraq. Hundreds and hundreds of flags. It would almost be beautiful – all of those flags, gently waving in the breeze – stretching out as far as one can see – except for what the flags represent. And in that breeze, in the cemetery, that’s when I hear the voices.

The voices tell of lives that ended too abruptly. Parents taken away from their children, families shattered. You can hear the pain above the quiet flapping of the flags. And you can hear the pain in the quiet movements of visiting family members, their faces still twisted in sadness regardless of how long ago their soldier died.

The younger scouts run excitedly to hammer in yet another flag. They understand the flags are all about honor, but they are too young to hear the voices, to really understand the pain, the sacrifice involved resulting in all of those graves. When we finish, and look out at the sea of flags before us…that’s when it really hits you, the enormous cost of war…or of peace, depending on your point of view.

Once, when we were finishing up placing the flags, an older woman walked up to me with tears in her eyes. She put her hand on mine and thanked us for honoring the dead soldiers. I assumed her husband, brother or son was among the graves; I thought about that young man, how he must have felt so many miles away from the family he loved. How he must have felt, in a terrible place, doing terrible things. I thought, too, about the woman. She might have been much younger then…full of expectations and dreams. I wondered what she might have been doing, that day she found out that her soldier had been killed.

And what about today?

Parents of soldiers stationed overseas wonder if their child will be the “one soldier” killed in the latest news report.

Today’s troops are the living soldiers. Today, they are the ones in terrible places doing terrible things. They are risking their lives, missing the births of their babies, and putting their futures on hold…sometimes indefinitely.

I wonder how today’s soldiers feel on Memorial Day. I wonder what voices the living soldiers hear on a day when the dead speak so loud.

If you’ve ever gone to the cemetery on Memorial Day weekend, and heard the pain, you would want today’s soldiers to instead hear the voices of your support. You’d want to raise up your voice…not to chant against or for the war…but to show our troops that you care about them. Those are the voices I want to hear this year, a unified American voice of support for our troops.

Send a letter of support to a soldier or a soldier’s family (Operation Gratitude is one site that I know of that publishes info on how to contact soldiers). Hang a yellow ribbon or the US flag. Remember the emotional response we all had after 911…let’s see some of that flowing to our military. Give blood. Pray. Attend a Memorial Day tribute. Thank a soldier or their family. And yes, it is ok to want peace…or question a politician’s decision…just don’t forget that our military are over in terrible places, having to do terrible things, because it is their duty…and perhaps not even their choice.

As Memorial Day weekend comes to a close each year, the scouts return to the cemetery and quietly pull up the flags, folding them away carefully for the following year.

More flags will have to be bought. They always need more each year. More graves….more voices in pain…

As we leave, and look out at the stretch of green – now absent of the patriotic tribute – the cemetery seems quite empty. Only the pain lingers on. I guess I will hear the voices again next year.

 

Editor’s note: This was written many years ago and featured in a few local newspapers, when my sons were still in scouting… but I recently decided I wanted to post it here on my personal blog

You might be interested in reading this older piece as well. https://obsoletedsoccermom.com/2013/11/13/a-voice-from-vietnam-remembering-veterans/

 

In a Divorce, Who Gets Custody of the Friends?

As I hit my late 40’s two things started to occur with great regularity. First, my busiest social activity became attending the funerals of friends’ parents. While sad events, for sure, they were also a wonderful opportunity to connect with those, “long-time friends that you just never seem to see much anymore”, you know…the college gang that still gets together once a year…maybe (in a good year)…but hey, a funeral makes such a gathering possible. Even out-of-towners come to town for a good funeral.

The second thing that started to happen was divorce.

unfriendBut unlike funerals, divorces are NOT a good bonding opportunity for long-time friends, just let me tell you. As the now unhappy couple splits…everything in their life is unhappily split, including friendships. And much like the question, “who gets the dog?” in a divorce,  another big question is which friends “go” with which spouse…who gets custody of the divorcing couple’s friends?

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Pot or Not?

                                                                             Legalize Pot or Not?

marijuana

At the risk of being classified by my kids as totally uncool and not with the times…yet again

I decided to come out of the closet and admit…that I did not vote to legalize pot in California in the last election. Surprised? Me TOO, actually! I’m pretty liberal and I also am a firm believer that people should take responsibility for their own actions and health. 

But with my kids still under 21, my little “momism warning antennae” went up, I guess…the idea of sending the message that “pot is ok” to young teens just seemed wrong…what do you think?

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