How I found out I was adopted was both odd and dramatic. Odd because I found out in a hotel room while the plumbing at home was being fixed. Dramatic because, well, finding out the parents you’ve known for 14 years aren't really your biological parents is bound to be dramatic, isn't it?
Growing up, I had my suspicions. Although people told me I looked like my parents, I never saw the resemblance. I also didn't have any pictures of me as a newborn and I was an only child.
When I was in 2nd grade, we learned about baptism in religion class. I went to a Catholic school and religion was part of the curriculum. Our teacher gave us an assignment to bring our baptismal certificate and a baptismal photo to class. The next day, I was the only kid in class who showed up empty-handed.
I remember a brief look of panic on my Grandma's face when I asked her for them.
"I don’t know where they are," she said. "I’ll call your mom and ask her."
I was your typical Filipino child with overseas parents.
I grew up with my grandparents in a tiny provincial island in the Philippines, because my parents were working abroad in America. My grandfather passed away when I was four, so I was raised by my strict-but-caring grandmother and a string of maids. Summers were the months I looked forward to the most because it meant two things: my birthday and my parent's yearly visit.
When I was a little bit older, I had a dream. I’m the type of person who remembers her dreams. Even now, I still remember it. In my dream, I was at home, playing with my favorite doll house and Rapunzel Barbie. A woman entered wearing a blue dress with a mass of dark curly hair. I didn’t know her, but at the same time, she was familiar. She plopped down on the floor next to me and began to play with me. And then, she told me she was going to take me away because she was my real mother. I woke up confused for a few minutes, but eventually shrugged it off. I must have been watching too much of my grandmother's dramatic soap operas.
My father returned to the Philippines to help raise me when I turned 10.
My mother remained in New York, but tried her very best to visit twice a year rather than once. In sixth grade, again in religion class, we were taught that names were important. Our assignment was to find out what our names meant and ask our parents why they chose those names for us. That night, I asked my grandmother to call my mother long-distance so I could ask her why she gave me my name.
"Why did you choose my name?" I asked her, pencil poised on the page of my religion notebook, ready to take notes.
"Why did I choose your name?" she repeated.
"Yeah," I replied. "I looked up my name and it said woman of purity and simplicity. So why did you choose my name?"
She was silent for a moment before saying, "I don’t know. Let me call you back, okay?"
We said good-byes and hung up. I thought that was odd, but shrugged it off. It was no big deal.
An hour later, she calls back. I once again readied my pencil.
"Write this down," she said to me. "For a very long time, my mom could not get pregnant and have a baby. So, she prayed to Mary to be given a baby girl and that she would give her a name that meant ‘purity and simplicity,’ because Mary is a woman of purity and simplicity. And then, I was born.'"
At 12 years old, I knew she made that up.
She didn't even know what my name meant until I told her. Nonetheless, I wrote it down and read it out loud in class the next day. It sounded like a lie. Everyone else had cool stories, like my friend Mark, who was named after his mom’s favorite singer or my friend Marianne, who was named after her grandmothers Mary and Anne.
In the summer of 2006, a few weeks after my 14th birthday, the plumbing at our home went haywire, flooding part of the house. My mother was visiting at the time and I had an interview at the U.S. Embassy in a few weeks about my visa and joining my parents in New York. This was our third petition. We tried once when I was eight and again when I was 10. Third time’s the charm right?
My mother decided we should stay overnight at a hotel while the plumbing was being fixed. To my confusion, my grandmother and our maid decided to stay at home. My grandmother hugged me an extra few minutes before we left, as if I wasn’t coming back the next day. Odd, since my grandmother's not really the affectionate type. Nonetheless, a night at a fancy hotel was exciting.
"We have something to tell you," Mom said to me at the hotel that night.
I looked up from the TV. I was lying down on the bed and she was snuggled up next to me, my dad on my other side.
"We just want you to know that whatever we tell you, it doesn’t change the fact that we love you very, very much," my mom continued.
Is someone dying? was my first thought. I remained calm on the outside, though I could feel the panic rising in my chest.
"Your dad and I tried to have a baby for so long," she said. "But we couldn’t because there is something wrong with me. I can’t have a baby. But we wanted one for so long."
And for the first time ever, I heard the real story of how I was born.
A couple lived in a small town in a Philippine province. They were poor, but made enough to feed their five growing children. When their youngest was 14, they found out the woman was pregnant. Two of their children were in college and the rest were in high school. They couldn’t afford to raise another child.
They tried to think of various ways they could keep the child, but realized that the only way to give the child a good future was to give it to people who provide for her. So the man called up his younger brother who lived in New York. His brother and his wife had been married for several years, but could not bear children. They were delighted and the matter was arranged. His brother and his wife became my mother and father.
"From the moment we first saw you sitting in that old hospital bed in nothing but your underwear and eating rice, we knew you were ours," my mom said.
I didn’t have a baptismal certificate or pictures because my parents weren’t there for my baptism; my birth parents were. My older siblings, as I found out years later after getting in contact with them, adored me and almost didn’t want to give me away. One of my sisters told me they resented our birth parents for years before finally realizing that giving me away meant giving me my best chance at life.
When I was taken to the town I would come to know as "home" for the next 14 years, my new grandparents doted on me, their first official grandchild.
"I don’t want to hear the word ‘adopted’ in this house," my new grandfather said to everyone.
And for many years, I never felt like the odd one out. I grew up alongside cousins, whom I've come to see as brothers. I used to tell people that I looked like Mommy but had Daddy’s nose.
When we returned home to fixed plumbing the next day, I observed my grandmother. Now I knew why she acted out of character the day before. She thought finding out the truth meant things would change. But, honestly, nothing changed. She still scolded me for not finishing my vegetables, she still killed spiders I found in the bathroom, and she still told me to always be good. Nothing changed except a new appreciation for my family.
I’d be lying if I said that I was completely unaffected about the revelation, though.
I've had moments when I questioned who I really was and wished I never found out the truth. For a time, I ignored attempts by my birth siblings to contact me because I just wanted to feel normal.
I finally spoke to my birth parents for the first time in my sophomore year of college. My birth mother’s health was failing and she was afraid that she would die before she spoke to me. We talked by phone since I now live in New York and they're still back in the Philippines.
"Don’t ever think that I didn’t want you," she said to me. "But you have to understand, we wanted what was best for you."
"I know," I replied, trying not to cry. "I understand."
"Your mom and dad love you," she continued. "And that is all I ever hoped for."
It was a bittersweet good-bye. I haven’t spoken to her since, but that whole conversation allowed me to let go of my grudge and accept who I am. I’m adopted. I have two sets of family.
I never did find out who really named me and why they gave me that name. In a way, it no longer matters. Nothing’s changed because everything I need in a family is already there. Support. Togetherness. Love. I have two sets of families that I know will be with me until the very end.
Reprinted with permission from YourTango. Want more? Check out these related stories: