Today’s guest essay is written by Nicki Stapleton (honeybeenicki), who has previously shared her essays, “My Life as a Prison Wife” and “My Life as a Post-Prison Wife” on Dear Wendy.
When I was a kid, I loved going through the photo albums that lined our book shelf, looking at pictures of “young me,” as well as other people I knew. In one album were photos of this beautiful little dark-haired baby girl, often held by my mom. I was my mother’s only child and as blonde as blonde could get, so I knew that baby wasn’t me. When I asked my mom about the dark-haired girl from the photos, she told me her name was Jessica, that she was my sister whom my mother had at a very young age and that she had been given up for adoption. As a child — and now as an adult — I always had an insatiable thirst for information, so I had question upon question upon question for my mom, and she answered them as well as she could with what information she had and with what she believed I could understand.
My mother got pregnant at 15 and had Jessica a few months after she turned 16. She was able to keep her for a year before she had to make a very difficult decision to give her up for adoption so that Jessica could have the life she deserved. Both my mother’s parents had passed away prior to this and family support was not a viable option. It was hard for her, especially after having spent a year caring for Jessica, but she knew it was best.
Once I learned about Jessica, I knew that I wanted to meet her and have a sister relationship with her. But as I got older, I realized how unlikely that was. Even if she ever wanted to meet me, I was the child that my mother raised and she was the one who had been given up for adoption. Of course, I was born about five years later and my mom was married and stable and no longer a teenager, but how would Jessica know that? Would she understand? I always knew I at least wanted to try to find out.
As a teenager, I researched ways to track down siblings who were given up for adoption and I even registered on sites designed for adopted people to get in touch with their biological family members. I decided that no matter how much I wanted to find her, I wouldn’t actively try to. If she didn’t want to meet my mom or her biological family, that was her business and I had no right to interfere with that decision. But I still hoped that one day she would get in touch with us and I wanted to make it as easy as possible for her to find us.
We knew that when Jessica turned 18, she would at least be able to get information from the state regarding her birth parents if she was interested, but Jessica’s 18th birthday came and went with no contact. We knew when she turned 21, she’d be able to get even more information, but we still had no contact from her after her 21st birthday came and went. I thought about her all the time. I wondered where she was, what she was doing and how life was going for her, but I stuck to my decision to not actively seek her.
When Jessica was about 25 years old, mom got “The Call.” A representative from the state called to say that Jessica was trying to get information regarding her birth parents and wanted my mom’s permission to release the information. Mom had kept her information updated with the state in case this ever happened and told the representative it was fine to share it with Jessica. She knew that it was possible Jessica might never use the information, but she called me later, and through the tears, I heard her say something about Jessica trying to get in touch with her. My mother had carried Jessica for nine months, gave birth to her, and had taken care of her for over a year. However much I wanted to meet Jessica, I knew that my mom wanted it exponentially more.
After Jessica contacted my mom, they made a date to meet in person. I asked my mom if she wanted me to come with her, but she decided it was something she wanted to do on her own. She knew it was possible that this could be a one-time deal with no relationship developing between them. But when my mom called me from Jessica’s house just two hours away, she sounded so happy. She got to meet her daughter for the first time as an adult and her two grandchildren in the same day. She even decided to stay the night.
A few weeks later, I met Jessica for the first time. She was so amazing and welcoming, and we learned that we have a lot of things in common. We both love of horror movies – especially the B-rated ones – and we both love tattoos. We even both have a cat with wings tattooed on our right upper arm! Unlike the other half-siblings I have through my dad, I finally found the sister I could be close to. We just clicked.
Sure, there are things that we disagree on, like any sisters do. We have occasional moments of “What the hell is she thinking?” that I think stem from the different backgrounds we were raised in (she was raised in a strict Puerto Rican family — biologically speaking, she is half white and half Mexican — that hold different views towards family and male-female relationships than the family I was raised in). But on many things, we see eye-to-eye.
Jessica and her kids have always been part of our family, even before they knew they were. We found out after meeting her that the reason she did not try to contact us earlier was because she didn’t know that she was adopted. She has a sister who was also adopted, and her family chose not to tell them. They still choose to ignore the fact that she knows us and spends time with us, but that is their right. I know her mother is coming around a little bit and has expressed interest in meeting my mom, but for now we have all we need.
Things are not always been rosy and wonderful. Sometimes I feel like my mom gives Jessica special treatment because she feels guilty, which she’s pretty much admitted to me. She’ll occasionally loan money to Jessica and then hesitate about loaning me money simply because Jessica hasn’t paid her back yet. Sometimes I wonder how Jessica feels about me being “the one mom kept” but just by her actions as my sister, I don’t think she feels a lot of jealousy. She had a good childhood and has parents who love her greatly. And generally, we don’t let anything like that interfere with the relationships among the three of us.
We did an interview with a local organization highlighting adoption stories, in which my mom said that when I was a baby, my father was the one to get up with me in the middle of the night because she just couldn’t do it since I “wasn’t Jessica.” Luckily, that didn’t keep me from having an amazing relationship with my mom – just last year she bought a duplex with me and we are now permanent neighbors. She has always been a great mother to me and I couldn’t ask for a better parent. And with Jessica, I couldn’t ask for a better sister.
Our collective adoption story is admittedly unique. Usually when an adopted child finds his or her biological family, it does not turn out as happily as our situation. It’s been about seven years since Jessica came into our lives and I can barely remember life without her. My mom takes her kids about once a month to give her time to herself, we visit each other regularly, spend holidays together, and chat all the time. We had a lot of lost time to make up for, but now it’s like she’s always been around.
lets_be_honest May 9, 2013, 1:13 pm
Chills! Honey, I never thought I’d read something by you that was as fascinating as your last 2 articles, but wow, this blew me away. Your mom is one brave soul. I’m happy for you.
Addie Pray May 9, 2013, 1:14 pm
I enjoyed reading that – thank you for sharing!
Addie Pray May 9, 2013, 1:28 pm
Also, is it weird that it made me sort of wish my parents had given up one of my siblings so I could find them later and marvel at the things we have in common?
Addie Pray May 9, 2013, 1:32 pm
Also, and then I swear I am getting back to work: One of my good friends, M, is adopted. Like your sister, when M was in her mid-20s she reached out and found her bio mom and was pleasantly surprised to learn she had a younger (full) sister. M is now tight with her “bio mom” and “bio sis” as she calls them. Anyhoo, the bio sis needed some legal advice so she gave me a call – and holy shit M and her bio sis have the EXACT SAME VOICE. If I hadn’t had caller id and could see the call was coming from 10 states away, I would have not believed it wasn’t M.
rachel May 9, 2013, 2:45 pm
That’s awesome. I met a friend’s sister when I was in her wedding a few years ago, and they talk *exactly* the same. I don’t think I sound like my sister, but I also don’t think I sound like recordings I’ve heard of me, so I’m probably wrong.
GatorGirl May 9, 2013, 3:16 pm
My mom and I have the same voice. My dad can’t tell us apart on the phone. It’s kinda funny.
We also have the same manerisms and gestures.
lets_be_honest May 9, 2013, 1:35 pm
That tattoo thing is CRAZY!
Addie Pray May 9, 2013, 1:41 pm
It is! Honeybee, what other similarities have you noticed? I ask because this is fascinating to me! The way you walk? Talk? Hold chopsticks? Tell us all!
honeybeenicki May 9, 2013, 2:22 pm
I’d have to think about that. I know we have the same dry, dark sense of humor. I don’t know if we really walk or talk the same, but we might. I guess I’ve never thought about that. We both are picky eaters (as is my nephew – her son – who looks just like me). Next time I see her, I’ll have to pay more attention.
Fabelle May 9, 2013, 2:14 pm
I was sort of wishing the same thing! It sounds so cool.
honeybeenicki May 9, 2013, 2:28 pm
It’s not weird, but I can tell you that I’m happy it turned out the way it did. The years of waiting and knowing how disappointed we could have been would have sucked. But luckily, she’s awesome and wanted a relationship with us. I know a lot of people don’t get so lucky. My mom goes to a birth parent support group and some of their stories are much more sad and don’t have the happy ending we do.
rachel May 9, 2013, 1:14 pm
This is so cool! I’m so happy for you and your family.
bethany May 9, 2013, 1:36 pm
My life seems so dull after reading about yours! How awesome to be able to have a relationship with her after all that time… I wish I had a sister.
GatorGirl May 9, 2013, 1:42 pm
Is the birth family not allowed to look for the adoptee?
honeybeenicki May 9, 2013, 2:20 pm
Under the agreement my mom signed when she put her up for adoption, she was not allowed to try to get information. The rest of us could, but I decided not to because for all I knew she knew she was adopted and didn’t want anything to do with my mom (and me by extension). Or maybe she didn’t know and I would be some stranger telling her and that would be bad too – and she didn’t know so it’s good I didn’t try.
GatorGirl May 9, 2013, 2:27 pm
I was thinking it might be case specific. It was thoughtful of you to put your own wants (meeting/knowing your sister) aside in case she had no desire/knowledge of the adoption and y’all.
honeybeenicki May 9, 2013, 4:10 pm
Don’t get me wrong, I went through a stubborn teen phase where I was going to find her no matter what, but once I was of an age that I could have tried, I realized that it might not be a good idea.
kerrycontrary May 9, 2013, 1:55 pm
I wonder why you can get more information at 21 than you can at 18. Can america stop pretending that we’re “legally adults” at 18 if a lot of things are still restricted to 21?
lets_be_honest May 9, 2013, 2:00 pm
I think there are all sorts of options on when/what to provide to people who are adopted. I don’t think its just one rule across the board.
The way America is headed, they might as well make the legal adult age 21.
honeybeenicki May 9, 2013, 2:18 pm
I think it was more because of the specific agency she went through than anything else. But adoption and adoption laws are all kinds of mucked up in the US.
comeoneileen May 9, 2013, 4:15 pm
It probably has something to do with the state they live in. I work with children and young adults who have lived in out of home placements (foster homes, adoptive homes, etc.) and in my state, as well as others, there has been a lot of movement towards providing follow-up care to young adults from 18-21 because a lot of teens aren’t fully self-sufficient at 18 (not that they are necessarily more self-sufficient by 21). Once the kids turn 18 the state is not as involved as it once was, but they can stay involved up until 21 to some extent especially if the young adult is utilizing state resources available to them for things like college or vocational training. After 21 though the state is totally done. I’m not sure of the specifics of the additional information that the sister received at 21 but it could have something to do with this more extended involvement from the state/or an adoption agency funded through the state.
sisisodapop May 9, 2013, 1:59 pm
Ya, so I just cried. In my office.
This really is a remarkable story. I’m so happy that everything has turned out so well for all of you. <3
Copa May 9, 2013, 2:22 pm
I got teary-eyed, too! In the same way that I sometimes do during, like, pet food commercials when I’m on my rag.
ktfran May 9, 2013, 2:28 pm
Add me to the nearly started crying in my office list.
What a great story. Honeybee, you have so many!
honeybeenicki May 9, 2013, 2:35 pm
I think that’s about it. The whole prison wife and this are the only interesting things in my life. And I like it that way. It’s actually about one too many interesting things for me.
lets_be_honest May 9, 2013, 2:59 pm
that’s about it…for now!
honeybeenicki May 9, 2013, 3:02 pm
Yeah, just wait until I get pregnant and manage to have like sextuplets or something. In which case, I don’t think I’ll have the time or energy to write anything about it!
lets_be_honest May 9, 2013, 3:04 pm
hahaha, you said it, not me!
honeybeenicki May 9, 2013, 3:23 pm
Well my mom is trying to wish twins upon me (apparently she always wished I was twins) and I’m an overachiever, especially when it comes to her so who knows what I’ll get.
sisisodapop May 9, 2013, 2:07 pm
I know this is completely OT, so I apologize in advance…. Can anyone tell me how to change my avatar picture thingy?
TaraMonster May 9, 2013, 3:21 pm
Me too! Help me, someone! I’ve logged into gravatar and changed it. I changed it on my wordpress blog, and it’s STILL a picture of my cat. Annoying.
CatsMeow May 9, 2013, 3:30 pm
Mine won’t change no matter what I do. Nothing I change it to shows up on here! I’ve tried like a zillion different ones.
sarita_f May 9, 2013, 2:49 pm
Honeybee, forgive me if I missed this in the story, but since your sister’s parents didn’t tell her about being adopted how did she and her sister find out?
honeybeenicki May 9, 2013, 3:24 pm
I didn’t even notice that I didn’t put that in there. Basically there were a lot of “slip ups” from other family members throughout the years (for example, one person asked her which of her parents couldn’t have children) and eventually she was able to pin down one family member to get answers and then verified it with her mom, who chooses not to speak about it generally but at least confirmed it.
lets_be_honest May 9, 2013, 3:41 pm
Such a shame.
iwannatalktosampson May 9, 2013, 4:12 pm
I agree! That’s bizarre. I know I’ve mentioned by two cousins who both adopted two kids – so I have 4 adopted kids in my family – and they have such an open and honest relationship about it. The creepy thing is that there’s only one of the 4 that doesn’t look EXACTLY like their adopted parents. Like pale skin red hair for the two adopted from cousin A and her husband and tall and dark hair with light eyes adopted from Cousin B and his wife. The second kid to Cousin B is tall too, but with blond hair and blue eyes. So he sticks out, haha.
I just think adoption is such a happy great thing if all parties want to make it that way, that it sucks when people keep it all hush hush like it’s something to be ashamed of.
lets_be_honest May 9, 2013, 4:28 pm
I have 1 adopted cousin (since he was an infant) and while he looks very different than the rest of us, he’s never been treated any differently and has always known he was adopted. Its odd that someone would be ashamed of that.
honeybeenicki May 10, 2013, 8:07 am
I think it was a cultural issue. She was raised in a conservative Puerto Rican family.
CatsMeow May 9, 2013, 3:05 pm
Awesome story! Thanks for sharing.
mcj2012 May 9, 2013, 3:39 pm
Great read and really happy things turned out so well!
TaraMonster May 9, 2013, 3:22 pm
I got all misty eyed! Thanks for sharing, Honeybee. I keep wondering what Jessica must have felt when she found out she was adopted.
honeybeenicki May 9, 2013, 3:26 pm
She’s told me a little about it. She said she was extremely angry at first. At my mom for putting her up for adoption, at her parents for not telling her, at the rest of the family for the same reasons, etc. But eventually she got curious enough to check into it and it’s all history from there. I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for her and I know she feels the same way. She says it’s awesome to have two families who love her even though it sometimes poses problems.
lets_be_honest May 9, 2013, 4:33 pm
This just makes me want to adopt all the babies and children. 🙁
othy May 9, 2013, 5:34 pm
Mr. Othy is adopted, and I think I am more interested in his potential birth family than he is. It is so strange to think that he likely has biological half siblings out there. Of course, he has a good relationship with his folks, and has no desire to find his birth family (neither does his sister).
mylaray May 9, 2013, 8:42 pm
This was a really great and honest story. It’s nice to see that there was a mostly good ending too.
I have a half-sister out there somewhere, but she would be nearly impossible to find (different countries). But this story makes me want to adopt even more now.
Slamy May 9, 2013, 9:25 pm
This is awesome. Thank you for sharing.
Sunshine Brite May 10, 2013, 8:58 am
I’m adopted but always knew. I have no desire to find my birth family, although there was a letter once from my birth mother that my mom read to me when I was like 12. She’d been saving it awhile and it basically said don’t find me, you have a couple half-siblings, and don’t look for them either. Oh yeah, and she’s had breast cancer or her mom (I can’t remember. I really hadn’t wanted my mom to read it to me in the first place) 3 times already. I hate when people say that I deserve to know my medical history. That letter pissed me off so much. Thinking about it has actually brought down my morning.
Melissa May 10, 2013, 6:27 pm
Knowing your medical history is better than dying because you didn’t.