These three essays were written shortly after we met our oldest son’s birth mother in 2008. I wrote the first one about our meeting with Bobbie Jo, the second was written by Bobbie Jo from her perspective, and I wrote the third one about my feelings about all of it.
My Son Has Three Sisters!
By Mia Hinkle
My son has three sisters! What a curious thought! I always knew he had a birth mother. After all, I am his adoptive mother. I remember the cold snowy December morning my husband and I picked him up at Wishard Hospital downtown Indianapolis. It was December 18, 1989. He was five days old. But sisters? And three of them? It’s hard to wrap my mother-brain around that. Walker has been my son for over 18 years now and for most of that time, he has been the eldest of two brothers. So the thought of him having sisters is wild! And three of them! Wow!
We received an inquiry today from his birth mother asking to meet him, and saying he had three sisters, ages 20, 16, and 14 who would also like to meet him. What do I think about this? How do I feel? Since my kids were babies, I have always boldly proclaimed that if they ever wished to search for their families of origin, I would help them however I could. I was sure that when the time came, I would be secure in the fabric of our family and certain that my sons would know without a doubt who their“real” parents are. Ah … so young – so certain. Today I am faced with real people asking for a real meeting. Wow!
Ultimately, I believe that this is my son’s information and his choice. Whether he wants to (a) meet his first family now, or (b) if he has no interest in ever meeting them, or (c) if he wants to wait to make a decision, I think birth parents and adoptive parents should honor that decision, whatever it is. While it is true that he IS eighteen, he is FAR from an adult. Is he too young? How can I keep this overture from him at this point in his life? I can not. It is his. How can he choose one of these options? What frame of reference does he have with which to even consider the choices? After all, I don’t think he has researched or read up on the effects of open or closed adoptions. I doubt if he has given it much thought beyond the magical thinking in which adopted children sometimes engage when they are having a sad day, i.e.: “My birth mother must be Reece Witherspoon and I just know she is coming back for me!”
What unspoken feelings does he have about his birth mother? Longing? Rejection? Curiosity? Resentment? Questions? Indifference? So how can we prepare him to think it through? How can we provide him with enough information to choose?
How can we tell him about the reunions that end up answering haunting questions,giving the child a sense of completion? Has he even considered that those questions might exist? On the contrary, how can we let him know about reunions that have turned out to be a can of worms, where birth mothers want more from the relationship than the adoptee is able or willing to give? How can we present all this in an unbiased fashion? How much will he pick up from us in drawing his conclusion? It’s a lot to think about.
Saturday –just three days later
We arrived at Starbucks early. We had decided that my husband and I should meet her first before presenting the prospect of a meeting to my son. My husband was skeptical. I was hopeful. So to get the real scoop, we had to meet. I told myself I wouldn’t cry, but alas. We had never seen one another but recognized each other by the look in our eyes. As we embraced, hot tears clouding our eyes and messing up our carefully applied mascara, I wondered if those around us realized the enormity of what they were witnessing as they casually sipped their morning blend. We exchanged photos. Three beautiful bi-racial teenage girls. One handsome bi-racial boy, nearly a man.
When she looked at his photos – mostly school pictures from junior high forward, she broke down again. I could hardly understand her words, and in retrospect I am not sure she was really talking to me. Perhaps it was more to herself. It sounded something like,“I have always second guessed my choice. For years I have wondered if I did the right thing. It hurt so bad. But now looking at these pictures, I know I could never have given him a life. Not with the mess my life was in then. I did the right thing. Just look at him!”
We spent the next few hours hanging onto one another every word. My husband and I did our best to condense 18 years of our son’s stories, traits, skills, aptitudes, family life, school life, church life, health, sports, and music into just one cup of coffee. His birth mother was frank as she shared with us her life over the last twenty years. How she had a baby girl with her high school sweetheart when she was only 17. How she had signed over guardianship to her mother because she was in no condition to provide for a newborn. How her first baby was raised by her grandparents and had never lived with her mom, although they have always enjoyed a close relationship. How she lived with her boyfriend and his mother after the baby was born. How she got really ill and went to the hospital in 1989 and that’s where she found out she was pregnant again. How she was heart-sick over the choices available to her, her life still mixed up. How she had spoken with adoption attorney Steven Kirsh about making an adoption plan and when she expressed her doubt, he had said, “You don’t have to place your baby. You can always move into a shelter. ” Though it sounded callus, he was right, she admitted. As messed up as things were at the time, she acknowledged she could never take a newborn to a homeless shelter. She broke up with her boyfriend (Walker’s birth father) and got involved with another man with whom she had two more daughters, now 16 and 14. He was murdered in August1995.
And then during the last few years, things had really turned around for her. She now loves her job as a legal secretary at the State Capitol and was married four years ago to a man who is good to her and good for her girls. Her oldest daughter was her maid-of-honor at the wedding. She told us how much it means for her oldest daughter to meet her full biological brother – our son. She said she had never intended to contact us, but that the new TV commercials for Kirsh & Kirsh with “that beautiful birth mother” had stirred up thoughts and emotions she thought were sound asleep in her heart. “I have never stopped thinking of him. I think of him everyday,” she said. We left Starbucks all in agreement that whatever our son decided about meeting his first family, we would all support. When we got home, we took Walker to lunch and laid it all out for him. He didn’t say much, but when he did speak he said, “I always knew I wanted to meet her. If she hadn’t called us, I had planned to search for her one day.”
Friday, Leap Day 2008 – 7 days later
Dinner at The Journey. What an appropriately named restaurant for this meeting at this time with these people. Table for five: my son, his birth mother, his older biological sister, and his adoptive parents. What an experience! Our son stood up as they approached the table. She was breathless. He was beaming. They hugged for a long time. The next two hours were a blur of comfortable conversation, hard questions, teary answers, and compliments all around. I observed virtually no resemblance between them. She says he looks exactly like his birth father; slightly built, neat in appearance, loved jewelry and the latest hairstyles, neat and clean, really a nice guy but a little care free. He has seen his first-born daughter only twice in her twenty years. He was exactly our son’s age when they were a couple. During the five years they were together in high school and after, they had two children together and he had a son with another girl. She said he was about 5’ 6” as an adult. Walker is already 5’ 9”. That was important to him. His older full biological sister was raised in a neighboring suburb by her grandparents, where she had all the opportunities of a two parent home and a suburban school. She graduated from high school in 2006. She calls her mother by her first name. She calls her grandparents mom and dad. She is a beautiful girl with a confident manner of communicating. She was very involved in high school where she participated in color-guard, show choir, musicals, and was voted Homecoming princess and Prom Queen in her senior year. She went to Ball State for one semester and is now going to Ivy Tech and living back at home. She was really chatty with her brother asking him about soccer, high school, music, and FaceBook, and Guitar Hero.
The conversation lulled. I asked him if there was anything he would like to ask his birth mother. He nodded and said, “What were your thoughts the last time you saw me?” She was blindsided. She tried to choke back tears as she began to recount the day he was born. She was living with her sister at the time, her five year relationship with his birth father on the rocks. She was 19 years old. She tried to explain just how torn she was about signing the papers when it came right down to it and had thought about changing her mind, but she knew she had to do the right thing. She said it was the hardest choice she ever has made in her life, but by far her most mature decision. On the third day after his birth, she signed the papers to relinquish her parental rights. The nurses brought him in so she could say good-bye. They pulled the curtain. She said it hurt so much and felt so final, she wasn’t sure she could stand it. He was so peaceful. She had never even heard him cry. The next time they pulled the curtain, he was lifted from her arms. That was the last time she saw him … until today.
By now she was sobbing, recalling it like it was just yesterday. “Wow,” she said, “I wasn’t expecting that.” She said the pain was eased a little as time passed, by the letter sand pictures and updates she got from us over the following years. She thanked us and told him what great parents he had to be so kind and open with her. While it still hurt, she was comforted by and grateful for those communications.
His second question was also well thought out. “What do you think it would it have been like if you had raised me?” She didn’t even hesitate. She and her daughter glanced at one another and raised their eyebrows at the same time. It would have been very different, they agreed. She explained that she had lived her own life, making poor choices about boyfriends and behaviors until she was about 27 years old, when she was forced to make some changes with two pre-school daughters depending on her. He would have been caught in the middle of all that. Her two younger daughters are a testament to how very different it might have been. They were raised by a single mom with little money or vocational training in bad neighborhoods and poor school systems. Had she raised him, she said, he wouldn’t have had opportunities to be involved in sports or school activities or lessons or extra help with school work or Sunday school or youth group. Just recently, since she was married four years ago, are her girls able to get involved in these kinds of things. Playing outside in a safe neighborhood wasn’t an option for her girls when they were little. Having the support of a father figure around the house was non-existent. She stressed that her younger daughters have some tougher issues to face today as a result of all these factors. He listened intently. She reiterated that it is clear to her now that she had made the right decision and that his parents – she nodded toward my husband and I – had done such a beautiful job raising him. “I never could have given you the life your parents gave you.” He smiled.
The conversation turned to hobbies, vocations, interests, likes, and dislikes. It turns out that she had always wanted to be an architect and that she loves to draw. My son loves to draw and is really good at it. He thought about getting an architectural degree until he figured out how much math is involved. They both laughed in agreement. It seems his birth father loved jewelry and the latest styles in hair and clothes. There sat my son with a big chunky glass diamond necklace around his neck hanging to his waist. His sister loves to sing and dance in live performances. My son has a great voice and likes to work up hip-hop dance steps and is usually the center of the circle at school dances. His sister is going to Ivy-Tech. My son plans to attend Ivy-Tech in the fall. And this we found amazing … they are both considering degrees in graphic design as it pertains to clothing. We took pictures of one another with cell phones and digital cameras. We hugged goodbye at the end of the evening and promised to be in touch. Our son was pleased with how the meeting turned out and so were we.
We learned a few things at The Journey that night. On the way home, we talked about how God doesn’t make mistakes, and about how uncanny it is that his genetic and environmental influences turned out to support and compliment each other.Genetically, our son comes from creative people who think outside the box and are not tied to conforming to the expectations of others. For instance, over the last twenty years his birth mother has had three long-term relationships with Black men, which is outside the norm for a Caucasian woman in Indiana. She made an adoption plan for her baby,which is definitely problem-solving outside the box (the vast majority of women faced with an unintended pregnancy choose abortion or to parent). Her parents raised her first daughter after raising four kids of their own; an example of grandparents thinking outside the box. Our son’s birth father loved to dress and look the part of someone outside mainstream America. His sister is artistic and loves to sing and dance. Walker’s birth mother loves to draw. So does our son. Then God brought our son to us and his environmental influences, in many ways, support his genetic heritage. My husband is a singer, creative enough to make a living at music ever since he was 13. He runs a music ministry on an offering basis which is definitely thinking outside the box. I love the creative process of writing and photography. And of course, my husband and I thought outside the box in terms of what our multi-racial family would look like.
What all of this means for our son remains to be seen. Just how his own journey will unfold is just over the horizon, still hidden from view. But we now know that he will probably be one who marches to his own drummer and thinks outside the box, and that with God’s hand of protection and direction, it will all turn out just right!
Through My Eyes… A Birth Mother’s Perspective
By Bobbie Jo Martin-Hughley
I wrote a letter February 18, 2008, to Attorney Steven Kirsh regarding the adoption of my son he handled 18 years ago. I was not really able to speculate the outcome and I half expected no results at all, but I asked if he could possibly arrange a meeting and / or written correspondence with my son and his family. To my surprise, my son’s adoptive mother called me just two days later. I was speechless and wanted to cry but I held my composure. I’m often at a loss for words. She asked if she could meet with me first. “Yes, certainly,” I said. We arranged a meeting at Starbucks for the following Saturday.
The rest of the week I was a nervous wreck. I wanted them to like me. I wanted them to know that I simply would like to meet my baby now grown up, and to possibly get to know him a little. Nothing more. Saturday came. I wondered what to wear. I even wondered if I should buy the coffee. I was so nervous, my husband prayed with me before I left the house. As I got closer to the coffee shop, I was so excited and anticipated I might be a bit emotional. After all, I thought, I am meeting the parents of the baby I gave up 18 years ago. I hoped that I would not say something silly. As I walked into Starbucks, they stood and greeted me with hugs and tears. They handed me an envelope of pictures they had gathered for me.
As I stared at first picture I was totally speechless and finally the only thing that came out of my mouth was a tearful, “I could never have raised him as you have.” The two people sitting in front of me were warm, patient, funny, and intelligent. I saw then the kind of love my baby had grown up with. I desperately wanted them to know that I would never want to interfere with that. After an hour or so of an emotional first meeting, I left totally filled with a sense of peace. But I still wondered if my son would in fact want to meet me and his sisters. A few days later – it seemed like forever – I received a phone call from his mom saying that he did in fact want to meet us. We agreed to meet for dinner at a restaurant called The Journey on Friday, February 29, at 5:30pm. I was elated with the news and could barely finish working the rest of the day. I arranged to get off work early so I could prepare for my meeting with him. I called my husband and everyone else I could think of to spread the wonderful news, then and only then was I able to finish my work.
As we approach the restaurant I begin to nearly hyperventilate. What will he think of me? Will he be disappointed? Will he be embarrassed? All these thoughts go through my head as we walk towards the entrance of the restaurant. I suck it up and go in. I search for them, and I see his mom walking towards us. My son is sitting next to his dad. Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! This is it! This is really it! I am really meeting my son! A lump swells in the back of my throat and I swallow hard. He stands up with a big smile on his face as I walk toward the table. I stand speechless with my hand to my mouth. No words can express that moment which is forever engraved in me. He spreads his arms and embraces me as I embrace him with tears of joy and pain. My pain finally has closure. I can heal now. I can move past all my wrongs and replace them with the comfort of knowing I made a good decision for real, for once in my life.
My daughter hit it off very well with her brother right away, which does not surprise meat all as she is very outgoing and self confident. The two of them made connections with their musical interests and abilities as well as their possible career choices. Although they look more alike in early pictures, they are clearly brother and sister possessing the very same genes as their birth mother and birth father. This moment blessed me richly.
The evening went very well. He was able to ask me two questions which evoked emotional answers. I was so happy to be answering these questions and I want to answer more. I felt at the end of the evening that there was more he wanted to ask but was not able to. As we parted we all hugged. Feeling anxious, I went home and after pacing for a few minutes with millions of thoughts running through my head, I went to my bedroom and cried. These were tears of joy, pain, old memories, years of wondering, and envy. I wanted, no I needed to talk, but my husband was at work and my younger girls just don’t understand the intensity of my feelings about this. So instead I internalized it and remained a quiet mess through the night.
Then a few weeks later on March 22, we again met for dinner, this time at my home, which as it turns out is just 20 minutes from where my son grew up. My husband and younger girls were happy to finally meet him – the girls had really wanted to meet him right away. My parents and my oldest daughter were there along with my son, his parents, and his 15 year old brother. It was a real houseful. All five kids between 15 and 20 sat at the kitchen table and talked and laughed and teased one another like old friends. We shared more photos and stories, and watched March Madness college basketball on TV. The evening was over too quickly. In hindsight, it felt more like a regular family gathering than the momentous occasion it really was.
A Carnival of Pain, Uncertainty, and Hope
By Mia Hinkle
I made a promise over 18 years ago. A promise to become mother to a child not of my genes, nor of my womb. A promise to love and support this child with everything in me…from warm baby blankets and formula, to safety and education, to building character and integrity in someone now on the verge of manhood. A promise to recognize and embrace the divergent forces of heredity and environment in my own home.
My promise was to do things that were “good” for my child. One of those “good things” was to provide an accurate and loving view of my son’s birth mother through open conversation and positive stories. And ultimately to one day provide an avenue for a meeting should he desire one.
Family life – indeed perhaps all of life – is best described as a carnival of pain and uncertainty and hope. Some of its magic and some of its tragic, as the songwriter sings. You see … for every ecstatic adoptive mother holding for the first time, a newborn baby suddenly hers, there is a birth mother reeling under a stabbing pain like none other. The circle of emotion is large. It is immense. And it is balanced.
The unbounded joy and hope the adoptive mother feels is precisely counterbalanced by the pain and despair lodged in the birth mother’s heart. And right in the middle is the newborn … a blank slate … a vessel of uncertainty. The birth mother is uncertain if she made the right choice; uncertain if she will ever see him again; uncertain if given a little time and a few breaks maybe she could make it as a parent after all; uncertain how people might judge her if they only knew — labeling her as an abandoner or as a hero, neither of which is even close.
And she hopes beyond hope that he will have the kind of life she dreams for him.The adoptive mother gazes into the baby’s eyes, uncertain what he will look like all grown-up; uncertain what his aptitudes will be; uncertain what his talents are; and uncertain how his adoptive status will affect him at ages 5, 11, 18, and 40. And yet, she is nearly blinded by the hope and promise she sees in his eyes.
And so the carnival begins. A wild spiral of pain and uncertainty and hope and joy. And before you know it, 18 years have passed and the pages fall open to a new chapter. My son’s two families recently met, and I know you are wondering how I feel about it all. Let me begin with how I DO NOT feel.
I do not feel threatened. It never occurred to me that my son would feel a new loyalty tohis birth mother, replacing his love for me. One well-meaning friend tried to comfort him with these words (incidentally I don’t think he was aware that he needed comforting). She said, “I remember the day your parents picked you up at the hospital.You must understand how freaked out your mom would be about this whole birth mother thing.” Insinuating that he was once mine and now he is hers and I am in misery over it. This could not be further from the truth.
I don’t feel territorial. After I gave my sister the news we had been contacted about possibly meeting my son’s birth mother, she told me had felt just yucky, hung up thephone, and cried. Fear of the unknown. Fear that our family dynamics might change. Fear that he would now somehow be “less ours.” My other sister said, “Oh my gosh! I totally forgot!” Insinuating, “I totally forgot … he wasn’t ours!” It took these precious words for me to realize that I no longer see him as a possession to be “ours” or“hers.”
I do not feel loss. In fact, I feel a greater connection with my son because I was able to bethere at this pivotal moment in his life. I do not feel defensive, like I have to post guards at my property line. When he was ababy, I did feel I had to keep our names and address from her. But not now. It even seems kind of silly now. I do not feel unsafe knowing that she has our identifying information.
So how DO I feel? I feel excited. I feel grateful. I feel connected.And I feel open.
Excited for the opportunity to get to know my son’s first family. Excited to learn more about his hard wiring and what makes him tick.
Grateful that she and her family are delightful people and that she is on the same page with me in terms of putting his wishes before hers or mine.
Connection, new and hard to put into words, with my son.
And open. Open to the risk of what the future may bring. Open to expanding our family. Open to conversations with my son about the implications of it all. Open to conversations with his birth mother about her thoughts, views, and experiences before and after her decision 18 years ago.
The following poem was given to us at his baby shower and it still hangs above his desk in his deep purple bedroom. An unknown author penned these words giving honor and insight to both kinds of mothers.
Legacy of An Adopted Child
Once there were two women
Who never knew each other;
One you do not remember,
The other you call “Mother.”
Two different livesShaped to make you one;
One became your guiding star,
The other became your sun.
The first one gave you life,
And the second taught you to live it;
The first gave you the need for love,
The second was there to give it.
One gave you a nationality,
The other gave you a name;
One gave you talent,
The other gave you aim.
One gave you emotions,
The other calmed your fears;
One saw your first sweet smile,
The other dried your tears.
One sought for you a home
That she could not provide;
The other prayed for a child
And her hope was not denied.
And now you ask me
Through your tears …
The age old question,
Through the years.
Heredity or environment …
Which are you a product of?
Neither … my darling … neither,
Just two different kinds of love!