After my dealings with Lenox Hill Hospital and one unscrupulous character, the world around me had grown infinitely bigger. My quest to sort out the earliest details of my own life had become tirelessly futile. The world was poised to stop me from accessing the information I had yearned to uncover. Face it; adoption is big business. The forces that be had a vested fiduciary responsibility to protect their business dealings. And those contracts came with a promise of life long anonymity.
I, on the other hand, had been pushed around about as far as I was going to let them push me around. A month after “A.B.” abruptly hung up the phone; I joined a group called the Adoption Connection. Susan Darke (the founder) was an extremely resourceful individual. I wrote a detailed letter to her that spelled out the entire process I had undertaken and after reviewing my file, we had a long conversation about the path I was on. She promised to help me in any way possible but as we spoke about the road that lay ahead, she made it abundantly clear that New York had the toughest laws in the country. She also told me that she had done very little to search or to assist anyone conducting a search in New York. And for that reason alone, she was skeptical as to how to proceed without the aid of a private investigator.
In a follow up conversation, she gave me some names of people to contact in New York who might be more beneficial as I moved forward. As I chased down those leads, I started attending seminars, workshops and monthly support groups that the Adoption Connection held on behalf of all members of the triad; adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents alike. It was at a monthly meeting in May of 1998 that I met a woman named “Grace.”
Grace had been on an unsuccessful search for her biological family in New York for about ten years. She had run into every dead end that I had encountered along the way but as I spoke to her about my dealings with the adoption agency, she gave me new insights that might be helpful to me. So I told her, in explicit detail, about each of the conversations I had had with the adoption agency social worker.
“You’re asking the questions the wrong way,” Grace said after detailing the questions I had asked. “Adoption social workers are not allowed to answer direct questions but the law is not as clear about how vague questions are to be interpreted.”
I was intrigued by her insights. So we agreed to meet for coffee one morning on my way to work so that she could help me edit the questions I had already asked. She deleted many of the questions that would never be answered and rewrote questions that she felt I should ask again.
I have to admit that I was nervous. I had not been in touch with the adoption agency since April of 1996 and I was sure that the spring of 1998 was going to be met with the same obstructionist attitude that I had faced two years earlier. But at Grace’s urging, I promised to place the phone call.
The next morning, I called the office and told them that I would be late. I waited until the adoption agency opened and I called them. I asked the receptionist to please connect me to the social worker who had been extremely unhelpful two years earlier and I waited as my call was transferred.
To my surprise, I was informed that the social worker that had been assigned to my case had resigned and left the agency. The Director of the department stated that a new social worker would be assigned to my case and that after the new social worker had reviewed the notes in my file, she would call me to discuss any issues or questions I may have had. I gave the Director all of my contact numbers, thanked her for her time and hung up the phone.
And then I waited.
Three and a half weeks later, Amy called. Amy was the new social worker who had been assigned to my case. She had called to let me know that she was not well versed with the details of my case file and that she needed another week to go over all of the information.
“So then why did you call me?” I quizzically inquired.
“Just to introduce myself and give you a number where you could reach me when and if you had questions.”
It was an odd five minute phone call but during the conversation, Amy came across as more human than the typical adoption agency social worker. I reluctantly agreed to let Amy spend the next week reviewing my information. What choice did I have? She had the docket filled with all of the information I was hoping to ascertain. I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. So I thanked her for her time and hung up the phone.
And then I waited.
I was in a small meeting with some of my site supervisors when the department receptionist buzzed my office, “Doug, there is a woman named Amy on the line for you. Are you available or shall I take a message?”
“I’m sorry guys, I have to take this call,” I said to my staff members. “Betsy, I’m available.” And a few seconds later my office phone rang as my heart rate started to intensify and my palms started to sweat.
I picked up the phone and nervously engaged Amy in jovial chatter about the weather, life in general and other pleasantries. After a minute of frivolous banter, Amy had a few questions for me before answering some of my own. Unlike the previous social worker, Amy was much more helpful and receptive to the vague questions I was asking.
Feeling good about the tone of our conversation, I decided to ask a couple of critically important questions, “I know you can’t tell me what month my birth mother was born in, Amy, but could you please tell me her zodiac sign?”
I heard some papers shuffle as she muttered something under her breath, “Your birth mother is a Cancer.”
I wrote the information down and proceeded to the next question, “Was she twenty-one on the day that I was born? Or had her twenty-second birthday occurred prior to my birth?”
More shuffled papers followed by her answer, “She was twenty-one on the day of your birth.”
Feeling a little bold, I bluntly asked, “You wouldn’t mind telling me her first name Amy, would you?”
“You know very well that I couldn’t tell you her first name, but it is a very common phenomenon for a birth mother to subconsciously incorporate her own name into the name of a child she is about to give up for adoption, if you catch my drift.”
“I think I do, Amy. Hold on a second,” I said as I covered the phone with the palm of my hand and asked the staff members in my office, “Does anyone have any ideas as to what the female equivalent of Jonathan Andrew is?”
Without skipping a beat, one of my staff members immediately said, “Jo Ann.”
“Jo Ann?” I asked nervously into the telephone.
“I think you have more than enough information at your finger tips to help you move forward with your search,” Amy said in a ‘read between the lines’ voice that I completely understood. “Do you have any other questions for me?”
“Not at this time,” I said as I thanked her again, hung up the phone and went back to my staff meeting.
An hour later, I called Stephanie and told her the news. I was on cloud nine but I had no idea how to use the information to my advantage. I had my birth mother’s first and last name but unfortunately for me, it was an extremely common name.
Stephanie and I talked about the new information I had learned for months. I returned to the monthly group hosted by Adoption Connections and ran through possible game plans with Grace and a few other members who were in the same boat. I spoke at length with Susan Darke and I networked with my contacts in the Adoption Underground. And each time I did, the world kept getting bigger, not smaller!
I spent the summer going through a thick file that I had amassed over the preceding two and a half years. And as I did, I made one quintessential discovery; I had nothing!
I was back at square one. I had a bunch of details and information but I had nothing of use. It was a fact sheet that pointed nowhere. There were no positive leads to develop. The information was useless. Every question I answered created five more questions that I couldn’t answer. My search wasn’t getting any easier. It was getting harder!
To be honest, I wanted to quit. So I stuffed all the information back into the filing cabinet and forgot about it.
A month later, I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. My heart was racing and I had goose bumps running up and down my arms. Inspiration had struck in the middle of a dream and I jumped out of bed, ran to the filing cabinet, pulled out my file, sat down at the dining room table and started working.
And as I reviewed each and every page of that file, I developed a detailed analysis of all of the pertinent information I had uncovered on my search. I started using a large piece of Oak Tag to write names, places, identifying and non-identifying information and theories I had about what to do next. I drew lines between facts that I could prove and dotted lines between the information I was sure of but couldn’t prove. I worked on my project throughout the wee hours of the morning and then I fell asleep for a couple of hours on the couch.
I woke up that Sunday, made a pot of coffee and continued working throughout the day. Stephanie wanted to know what I was doing but I couldn’t explain it to her. I had a new theory that I was working on, but I wanted to be sure I was right before I told her about it.
When I was done constructing my graph, I stepped back and stared at it for hours. Every place I had been, every fact that I had learned, every theory I had dreamed up and chased down was written on this large piece of Oak Tag in the center of my living room. And as I stared at it, I still had nothing!
What was I missing? It was frustrating. I felt like a detective working a thirty year old cold case. I knew the truth was out there! It had to be. More importantly, though, the answer was somewhere on the graph that was propped up a few feet in front of me, but where?! ….
Author’s Note — In case you have not read the previous articles in this series, click on the links below. The next installment should be out very, very soon!
Part II — The Underground; Twelve Years Later!
Part III — Christmas Eve, Twelve Years Later!
Part V — The Libraries, Twelve Years Later!