It Happened To Me: I Just Got My Nonidentifying Information About My Birth Parents

What I got was a two page letter, obviously written by an individual whose job it is to review sealed records and extract whatever information it is legal to provide.

Dec 12, 2013 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

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Last night's therapy selfie -- before I went home and checked the mail.

I knew I should have checked the mail before going to therapy last night.

It was just a feeling I had, though I wrote it off to general stress (I've been really super stressed lately, which is why I've not been around here much) and ridiculousness. I called and asked Ed if he had checked the mail -- but since he hadn't, I just kept driving to my appointment. It would have been absurd to ask him to head out to the mail box just in case when I wasn't really expecting anything.

People, always trust your instincts.

A few months back, I wrote to the proper department that handles these things, provided the necessary documentation of my identity, and asked for my nonidentifying information.

When you're adopted, there's two kinds of information -- identifying and nonidentifying. Florida is particularly stingy when it comes to identifying information; you essentially have to be dying of something only a blood relation can save you from in order to get a court order to unseal your records. But non identifying information contains most of the really interesting stuff anyway. That's where you find out your medical history and some of the circumstances of your adoption.

Two years ago, when I wrote about being adopted (holy crap, it's been two years), I said that I wasn't conflicted or tormented or anything by being adopted. I have always known and it's always been a positive thing. And that's still true. But when Ed and I started talking about possibly having kids (a discussion that is still up in the air), I did find myself more curious about some things. When it was just me, the blank and yawning gap that is my biological history wasn't a big deal at all. But when I considered having a kid, I realized I wanted some kind of knowledge to pass forward -- I wanted to be part of a continuum instead of a starting point.

It's hard to put this stuff into words, because I'm not sure any of it is logical. It's all vague emotion and I'm sorry if I can't get it to make any sense. It's 7 am and I'm getting ready for work and writing this and I'm still kind of completely not sure what's going on with my feelings.

Because last night I checked the mail when I got home from therapy and found a thick envelope from the Florida Department of Children and Families. Thick envelopes are always a good sign, right?

When I tried to imagine, over these past few months, what I was going to receive, I pictured a bloodless and standardized form, information in certain categories checked off or filled in. I didn't Google for examples because I knew it was possible I wouldn't get very much information at all. I am a master at managing my expectations -- and I try to keep them on the low and realistic side so I am rarely disappointed.

What I got was a two-page letter, obviously written by an individual whose job it is to review sealed records and extract whatever information it is legal to provide.

That sounds like a surreal sort of job, dealing in vague phrasing and too much intense information, doling out bits and pieces of people's identities to them, within the boundaries of rigidly restrictive law. I hope that person has someone to buy them a drink at the end of days like that (if they drink), someone who can sympathize with what it means to be privy to more information than you are allowed to pass on to the people who want and sometimes need it. That person is a professional secret keeper.

I opened all the rest of the mail first. I was trying to stave off disappointment. I expected to be told, as I was told in a letter a while back, that this process takes months and they had received my request but I had to wait longer. Instead, I was told nothing about some things I really wanted to know about -- and a lot of incredibly specific things that I didn't even expect.

Apparently my biological grandfather worked for an airline. I don't know what that means! Do you know how many different jobs people can do for an airline? It's that sort of thing that makes me laugh, that kind of relieved, near-hysterical laughter that can leave a person wheezing.

There's other stuff, in the same sort of intentionally unclear language, that sounds more dire.

And there are random details -- my biological mother had special interests in reading and painting.

I burst into tears when I finished reading it. I hate that phrase -- burst into tears. In part because I hate crying to begin with but also because crying is a thing that comes to me gradually. I can fight it off for a while but I know it's going to happen. It's never a surprise. This time, it's an accurate phrase. I didn't know I was going to cry. I didn't know it was going to be such a strange and uncomfortable experience that was also a huge relief.

I've also been communicating with the office of the lawyer who handled my adoption. I figured, hey, if the state was going to take months, maybe he could tell me something. Turns out, his office is even more reluctant than the state to share info -- but what struck me halfway through the process of talking to them was how angry I was. The idea that some rando law clerk could, in theory, pull my record for no reason and thumb through it when I couldn't even get a phone call returned in a timely fashion was suddenly and intensely enraging.

I'm still angry about that, in fact, even though I know the odds of someone just kind of wandering around and reviewing sealed records for funsies is pretty low. I'm angry that the system has come to this, where other people have more access to my origins than I will ever be allowed.

None of this changes anything, though. I'm still going to head out the door to work in just a few minutes. I'm still going to play Tiny Deathstar (I have 48 levels now). I'm still going to be really freaking hard to buy Christmas presents for. I just do all of these things with more knowledge than I had before. That's powerful and strange and it'll take a little while to absorb.

I apparently have half-siblings, which is strange because although I have a half-sister (she's pretty amazing) via my dad's second marriage, I've never had, like, siblings related by blood. It's weird, OK? I don't know why but maybe it's because they'd all be older than me. I've never been related to anyone in that way before.

And I feel so much concern for these people.

The other day, I got a message on Tumblr, asking if there was any chance I might be the asker's sister, who this person hadn't seen since they were split up when very young. I can say that I am not. But the timing of that question and this letter just further emphasize to me how screwed up the system is in a lot of ways, how it often creates more questions than it answers, with no hope and no recourse to solve mysteries that have been in storage for years.

I think adoption is -- or can be -- a very positive thing. My family is still my family. Nothing is going to change that. I don't regret that I was adopted and I don't feel like I belong any more or less than I did before.

But I don't quite know what comes next. I'm still processing what to DO with any of this. Quite possibly, I will do nothing. I'll take my biological information (my biological mother was Irish Protestant, who knew?) and I will know more than I did before. But I know myself. I'm paused on a stair, halfway down the staircase of information. I might look for more.

I just don't know. And, for today, that's good enough.