It had been a little more than a year since I had found my birth name and I was personally frustrated with myself at the progress I had made. Life changing events had consumed a lot of my free time, so my opportunities to continue my inquiry had been put on the back burner. I had gotten married, started a new job, moved to a new state and started a new life. Stephanie and I were newlyweds and we had a lot on our plate. So as my twenty-eighth birthday approached, my mind started to wander back to my search for my biological parents.
I hadn’t completely stopped looking for them. I had flirted around with some new search techniques during the course of the year. My neighbor, Will, was a computer programmer and he introduced me to the capabilities of the internet and how I might be able to find information more easily. The internet (in many respects) was still in its infancy twelve years ago. The abundance of information that is at our fingertips today didn’t exist on the web over a decade ago. And that lack of readily available information made it difficult for me to navigate my search through an ever changing cyberworld.
I had my birth name which gave me some clues as to who I was looking for and I now had a last name that allowed me to narrow the scope of my search. I had a birth location which became known as ground zero and the basic non-identifying information that the adoption agency had given to me when I started looking for my birth parents. And most of all, I had my creativity, my imagination, my ingenuity and an uncanny knack for asking questions in unique ways that allowed me to gain access to useful information. But even then, my quest for the truth seemed more like a constant lessen in futility because I ran into more roadblocks then I ever thought would have existed.
As I devoured articles in magazines and books about people who had conducted successful searches for their birth parents, I tried to incorporate their promising strategies into my plan of attack. Unfortunately, most of these plans involved hiring a professional investigator to help but with a lack of funding and an internal need to be able to complete the search all by myself, I avoided hiring a private investigator.
One of the tips, though, that constantly surfaced in all of these resources was the placement of a personal advertisement in the newspapers of the city where you were born, on and around your birthday. I was born in New York City, money was tight and ads in the New York Times, Daily News and the Post weren’t cheap so I had to think long and hard about the pros and cons of following this direction. It was going to be an expensive endeavor and as I resigned myself to scrapping the idea altogether, Stephanie implored me to go ahead and spend the money.
“What if your birth mother or birth father has been looking in the paper every year, waiting for your ad to be placed, and this year, you pass it up because it costs too much? Is it worth another year or two of not knowing just to save a few dollars?” Stephanie asked and she was right. So we sat down and started writing an economical ad based on the information we had at the time and placed a ten day ad in the New York Post and Daily News while we placed a one day ad in the New York Times.
And then we waited.
While we waited, I continued to scour every corner of the internet to try and find the answers to new leads that had developed. In one of those far reaching, hidden pockets of cyberspace, I ran into an individual who worked in the same city as me. After swapping a few emails, we decided to meet up for coffee one morning and she filled me in on some strategies that we could pursue that might help me further my search.
When I met up with her at the coffee shop, I shared the information I had collected and the current ideas I was working on when she asked me, “Have you written a letter using your birth name to the Hospital asking for your records?”
“I called, using my birth name, but they can’t release the information unless I have a notarized letter. I don’t know a notary alive who will sign off on me using my birth name.”
“Don’t worry about that, you write the letter and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“And what if we get caught? Then what do we do?”
“You worry too much. Meet me here in a couple of days and bring the letter.”
And I did. I met her back at the coffee shop two days later with a letter I had written and signed using my birth name. I handed the letter to her with a stamped, addressed envelope and I never saw the letter again. As far as I knew, she got the letter notarized and apparently mailed it off to the hospital.
And once again, we waited.
Three days later, the ad starting running in the Daily News and the Post, and our phone started ringing. We would let the calls go to voice mail and we checked them afterward. Some were crank calls from people who had nothing better to do, some were from private investigators offering their services and one call came from a woman named “Edwina.”
“Edwina” had been adopted herself and had conducted a successful search for her birth parents. She worked for an organization that allowed her to be in a position to check information and she was willing to help answer questions I might have or to verify facts for me as I continued my search for my biological parents. She gave me a number where I could reach her and told me that if I ever called and did not reach her directly, that I wasn’t to leave a message. I was to call back at a later date.
Over the next year, the adoption underground (as I referred to it) was my network for flushing out information that was available to me and making sure that I was on the right track. The greatest aspect of the underground was that each of my contacts had been adoptees who had run into the same issues that I was now encountering. They understood the frustration, they understood the stress and they knew the value of having a “network of friends” to assist in verifying information.
In time, my network extended well beyond my original two contacts. Some of the acquaintances I personally met with over the next few months, some I spoke with by telephone and others, I only communicated with via email and I have never met to this day. And as my search progressed, I also became a vital resource as a part of this network because I had developed my own links and effective methods for attaining information and as we all learned through our own personal journeys, we were in this together.
The search for the truth was important to all of us for different reasons and we all knew firsthand that there was a network of people in the world whose sole purpose was to block access to adoption records. We became a part of the adoption underground because as a group, we understood the extent that the government, the courts, hospitals and adoption agencies would go to in order to keep us from accessing our own birth records.
My advertisements in the local newspapers never led me to my birth parents but it introduced me to a network of anonymous friends that I am thankful to have met. As for my letter to the Hospital requesting my birth records, it got sent. In July of 1997, the Hospital sent me a large packet. Inside was a letter from the hospital that informed me that my birth records were enclosed but that the hospital staff had determined that the information enclosed was related to an adoption case. Therefore, I was not entitled to the entire record and all of the identifying information in the file had been blacked out.
I had in my hand, a copy of my birth records. I had a copy of my original footprint and a bunch of papers with big, bold blocked out information. I was staring at an official document that related directly to me and ironically, I wasn’t allowed to know what it said. And that made me more determined then ever to find the truth.
The hospital had won round one! But with the adoption network at my fingertips and my renewed energy to find the answers I was looking for, would they win round two? Only time would tell…
Author’s Note — Part I of this story can be found by clicking the following link:
Part III — Christmas Eve, Twelve Years Later!