You Probably Need a Will, So Here's How to Have That Potentially Awkward Conversation with Your Family
Remember, if you die without a will, the state will determine who inherits
When I was young, my favorite bedtime story went like this:
“Once upon a time there was a king and a queen who wanted a baby more than anything. They were very sad that they didn’t have a baby so they went to a magical place called an adoption agency, where there was a little princess. The princess came home with the king and queen and they lived happily ever after. And do you know what? That little princess is you!”
I liked this story because it said I was a princess. I didn’t realize that it was different than any other person’s origin story. I didn’t realize that this was the way my parents were introducing me to the fact that I was adopted.
I appreciate that my parents were always very open with me about my adoption. They answered any questions and always celebrated "The Day We Met You" with a little toy.
As supportive as my parents were, when I was a teenager I began to fantasize about who my birthmother might be. I had typical teenage angst, which manifested itself in the belief that my birthmother would understand me when my parents couldn’t.
Since my adoption was closed, I only had a few details about her. I knew her extremely common name, the fact she was short like me and that she was talkative, also like me. An overactive imagination took over from there and created the perfect parent.
She wouldn’t be frustrated that I was so disorganized and she would appreciate the fact that I read books under my desk during math class. I dreamed of turning 18, when I would be an adult capable of seeking her out.
Shortly before my 18th birthday, an uncertain time in my life, I realized that I didn’t know if I would be OK if my birthmother wasn’t who I had imagined she would be. Or worse, if she didn’t want to meet me.
I put my search on hold indefinitely and concentrated my energy on college and a new relationship.
When you are adopted, your birth certificate is reissued with your new name and your adoptive parents' names. In a closed adoption, like mine, you aren’t provided with any identifying information about your biological parents. It can be hard to legally obtain any information if the state you were adopted in does not allow you to obtain your original birth certificate.
A couple of weeks after I turned 21, I received a letter from the Illinois government that I would be able to receive my original birth certificate by filling out a form.
I was in a better place at that time than I was at 18, and felt ready for answers, so I filled out the form and sent it back immediately.
Two months later, I received the original copy of my birth certificate. It felt surreal to see my name listed as something other than the name I had always known.
The "father" line was left blank on the birth certificate. I hadn't really been interested in finding him, and since the birth certificate didn't include his name, it was now out of the question.
The certificate did confirm my birthmother’s name and list her address at the time of my birth. By paying $2.99 to a slightly shady "Find-A-Person" website, I got her married name and all of her previous addresses. I found her Facebook profile in seconds.
As soon as I saw it pop up, I remembered seeing her years earlier while sifting through the Facebook profiles of the many women with her very common name.
She was the most likely candidate of the 20 I had looked at because of her age and location. I didn’t pursue it at the time, because I assumed that it was just wishful thinking on my part.
This time, while looking at her picture, I realized that we had the same cheekbones and smile. I sent her a message.
I kept it vague, because I didn’t want to out her to her to anyone else who might read the message and didn’t know about me. I let her know I was looking for someone I had met only once, on my date of birth. Was that her?
Then I just waited, every once in a while looking at her profile. I saw a video of her child playing one of my favorite songs at a talent show and a photo of them competing in the only sport I loved. I became impatient due to the lack of response.
Luckily, the adoption agency my parents had gone through offered services in Post Adoption Counseling. Yet another form was filled out in hopes of a response.
The phone call from the adoption agency came a couple months later, right after I had finished up a shift at Starbucks. I crouched in a corner of the back room, trying to absorb every word the counselor said.
She told me that the message I had sent had been the right one and that if I could just to wait a little longer, then we could talk about the next step. I breathed a sigh of relief, as the months of waiting had made me paranoid that I had gone about this all wrong.
I thanked her for the call and left work to head to my afternoon class, optimistic about the fact that there was a "next step."
As I was driving, I saw the counselor’s number pop up on my phone again. I knew I shouldn’t pick up the phone while driving, but I assumed there was something quick she had forgotten to tell me.
Instead, she let me know that just as we had finished talking minutes earlier, someone had brought her mail to her desk. There was a letter with my birthmother’s return address.
“I know this wasn’t the outcome you were hoping for,” she began.
There were other things she said, details about my birthmother’s personal issues, the fact she sent along some family medical history, but none of that mattered. My birthmother didn’t want me to contact her and she couldn’t even tell me directly.
I sobbed the whole drive home, pulling over once to catch my breath. When I got home, I e-mailed my professor to let her know I wouldn’t be coming in for my afternoon class because of a "family emergency."
As soon as I hit send, I felt guilty for even writing that. My family was the same as it had always been. I still had a mom, dad and brother. All I had lost was the fantasy of another family.
Waves of anger and rejection hit me. I called my mom at work and we cried because we have an unspoken pact that when one of us cries the other does, too. I cried until I felt empty.
My mom brought home food from my favorite restaurant that night and my family ate dinner in front of the TV because I didn’t want to talk yet. We watched kids' movies. My mom cried with me, my dad made jokes and my brother didn’t say much, but was supportive in his way.
At the time I was angry at myself for being so affected because I believed I was selfish to want more when I already had a loving family. Now I realize it’s natural to want to know where you came from, and I’m grateful my family understood.
Weeks later, I was able to look at the two-page medical history she had sent me. It told me a part of the story of her life and began to explain the choices she had made.
I should have been happy to have a more complete medical history, but instead I was sad her handwriting didn’t look like mine.
I don’t regret searching my birthmother out. It was a mystery that was looming over my life that is gone now. Every once in a while, I look at her Facebook profile, not because I’m angry or because I long for a relationship with her, but because we will always be connected. I truly hope she is happy.