Western North Carolina Woman

can a child love more than one mother?
by elizabeth trezise

The conversation started like this:

“Hello. This is Kathy.”

“Hi. My name is Elizabeth and I’m calling from North Carolina. I’m doing some research on my family history. Is this Kathy Walker?”

“Yes, it is. I’ll be glad to help you if I can.”

“Well, I was born on January 10, 1970 in Elmira, New York. I think I’m your daughter.”

The silence on the other end of the phone was deafening. What felt like a million years was probably only 30 seconds.

I spoke quietly this time and very gently asked “Did you give birth to a baby girl?”
And after another very long pause and a big sigh, I heard her say “I’ve hoped and prayed that this day would come.”

The tears of relief and joy flooded us both and we celebrated for twenty minutes by firing questions at each other. “Who are you?” “Where do you live? “What do you do for a living?” “Who is your family?” And of course Kathy’s question of “How in the world did you find me?” We laughed, we cried, we giggled, we marveled at how we sound so much like each other.

That was five years ago in April. Twenty-nine years of separation had come to a close and a new journey to wholeness was about to begin.

Initial contact

When I tell people the story of my search and reunion with my biological family, invariably one of the first questions that people ask me is “How do your parents feel about this?”, as though I did something that could intentionally hurt or damage my relationship with my parents. The question is not intended to be hurtful or judgmental, yet in our society, there’s an undeniable subtle belief that the adoptive parents are “good” and that birth parents are “bad”. What kind of person would give up their child? And what amazing people who adopt a child!

I’m fortunate that my Mom has been incredibly supportive of my reunion with Kathy and the rest of my birth family. (My Dad died ten years ago but I feel his spiritual support of my reunion). In fact, the process of search and reunion has brought us closer. Mom always expected me to search for my birth family. She recalls: “You were a teenager when you first brought up the subject. I think I told you I’d be disappointed if you lacked the curiosity to at least search. Dad and I told you we’d do anything we could to help when you decided to search.”

When I first found Kathy, everything was very surreal. Nothing else mattered. Time stood still for me. I was filled with fear and joy. I felt legitimate and whole for the first time in my life. I relied heavily on my Mom for support during those first weeks and months of reunion.

Kathy recalls : “I was excited, nervous, thankful and relieved that my secret was finally out.” Like many birthmothers, she had shared the news of my birth and relinquishment with only a select few, so a big burden was released when the truth was revealed. I told her that I’d had a good life and understood that she made the decision to relinquish me out of love and concern for my best interests. I think it helped her to know that I wasn’t angry at her and I felt validated that she wanted to meet me.

First meeting

We chose to meet at a neutral place so that we both felt “safe”. Kathy says “I wondered how I would know it was you? But I didn’t have to worry – it was me walking through that door – and memories of how your father looked also – all rolled into one. I really shouldn’t have worried. There was no doubt as to who you were!”
The morning of the reunion, I was sick as a dog. My whole body tingled with excitement and nervousness. I barely remember the car ride there. We spent four hours alone together. It was as though our DNA was talking to each other, catching up on twenty-
nine years of genetic bonding. In my 15-page journal entry recounting the experience, I wrote: “I continue to replay in my head the first moment that I saw Kathy. She was sitting on a couch on the front veranda and as I walked through the door, she looked straight up at me. We both gasped for air but didn’t say anything as we embraced. To say that hugging her felt so good and so right would be a grave understatement. It’s impossible to understand what that touch – two people who are related by blood – feels like when it’s been missing from your whole life. There is nothing else in life that you can compare this experience with – it is a unique, precious event that only other adoptees who are reunited with their birthmothers will comprehend.”

The next day, I went to meet Kathy’s children – my two brothers and sister. My sister, Deena, recalls: “When we first met you, I couldn’t believe how much you resembled my mom. It was pretty awkward the first day. I remember talking to Brad and Chaz and asking them what they were going to say to you. I know that there was a lot that I wanted to say, but knew it probably wouldn’t come out. “I remember how quiet Deena was during our first few visits together. I worried that perhaps she didn’t like me or was threatened by me. I had unintentionally usurped her unique place as the only girl in the family and worried about how that felt to her.

I stayed with my adoptive Mom that weekend who ironically lives only an hour away from Kathy. She remembers: “I was not there for your reunion with Kathy, but you came home on cloud nine, unable to eat much and could talk of nothing else. You really wanted your half siblings to accept you. I was so pleased that everything went so smoothly for you.”

Outstanding moments

Adoption reunions are complex, emotionally charged and take a lot of time and energy. When distance separates, the times together are perhaps even more precious. For me, this enabled my relationships to build slowly and deliberately.

For my Mom, a time that particularly stands out is when I took my two mothers out to lunch. “When first Kathy and I met, we thanked each other for the gift of a child given and the gift of a child received. Love for and from a child can be shared so it has worked well that each of us has time alone with our daughter when she comes to Florida.” A few years ago, I came across a quote that stated “If a mother can love more than one child, why can’t a child love more than one mother?" I’m fortunate that my Mom and Kathy fully embrace that concept and understand that there’s enough love to go around for all of us!

Then there are my siblings! My sister, Deena, came to visit me last fall in Asheville. Says Deena: “I learned so much more about you by seeing where and how you live, where you hang out, and your interests and friends. It was fun getting to relate in a relaxed environment, instead of a scheduled get together like most of our visits are.”

She got to see my home office filled with inspirational collages and photographs and she got to see my varied bookshelf with books on feng shui, spirituality, alternative medicine and adoption. She got to meet my friends … we even played pool at a local bar. We drove on the Blue Ridge Parkway and I delighted in her oohs and aaahs at our gorgeous mountain scenery, a real treat for a Floridian! It was a wonderful time for sharing and connecting for both of us… our first time together without the rest of the family.

Hopes for the future

Five years into it, I realize that we’ve come a long way. Yet, there’s still so much to do! Having two separate families makes me feel stretched and pulled to spend quality time with each of them. I want to share the deeper parts of myself with Kathy and I want to know the deeper parts of her; I want to have time to be with my brothers and sisters and go to the beach or shopping. My dream is to integrate my birth family and adoptive family into one big family. I want to use our story of successful reunion to educate others about the power and healing of adoption reunion.

Elizabeth Trezise is a life and business coach and has a passion for issues related to adoption. She was a presenter at the 2004 American Adoption Congress conference in Kansas City americanadoptioncongress.org.She was reunited with her birthmother, birthfather and 11 brothers and sisters in 1999 and has had a very positive, loving, supportive relationship with the entire family.
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