What’s in a Name?

If you’ve followed my little blog for any time, you’ve read before that I am an adopted person.  I was born in June of 1967.  I didn’t go home from the hospital with my family or origin, but my birth mother didn’t sign papers to give me up until September, so I entered a kind of legal limbo as ward of the State.

When the legal documents allowing it were finally signed, I went home with a family where I was given a name, kind of like when you take home a puppy, I suppose.

I arrived with a handwritten note about things I liked and disliked, but nothing about a name.  Nothing about the names of the people who gave me up or the people who cared for me for those first months.  I was devoid of history – and identity.

I’ve given birth to three children.  Each time one of them has reached that e-month mark, I’ve marveled at their budding personalities.  They’ve known me.  They’ve trusted me.  They’ve listened to me coo their names thousands of times.  They have known who they are.

My mom and dad gave me a name.  They named me after my mom’s sister.  We shared both first and middle names.  She was called by our first name, and to distinguish us I was called by first and middle names.

As an older adolescent, I asked people to drop the middle name.  It sounded too “country.”  I imagined myself more sophisticated than that name – think “Petticoat Junction,” if you’re old enough to remember that kind of thing.

My Aunt and I had a special relationship growing up.  She had no children of her own, and so having a child named after her was an honor that she seemed to really enjoy.

As I’ve aged, I’ve used that middle name more often.  I long to be more “country.”  You can take the girl out of the country and all that jazz.

My birth mother and I found each other on the internet around 20 years ago.  I asked her for my birth name, but she didn’t think I had been given one. I didn’t think much about it at the time.  That chapter of searching for answers brought more unanswered questions, and I eventually found it too painful to continue.  I sent her a birthday gift this year but she never acknowledged it.  It was kind of sappy.  I bought two teacups in a second hand store.  I sent her one set and kept the other so that we could sip a cup of tea together, but apart.

I turned 49 a few weeks ago.  I’ve lived nearly half a century with the name I was given at the age of 3 months and until today, it never bothered me that I didn’t know my “first” name.

Ohio passed legislation a couple of years ago that allows me to request a copy of my adoption file with my original birth certificate.  I downloaded the form this morning. It will only cost $20.00 to see if I ever had a name.  I filled out the form, but it requires notarization and I haven’t decided if I ‘m motivated enough to go to the trouble.

I have a feeling that when the documents come, I’ll discover that I’m the original “Baby Girl,” (eat your hearts out Criminal Minds fans).  I’ll still be me. The diplomas on my wall and my driver license will still match the identity that I have formed. It would be nice, though, when that inner child cries out to know what name to coo to her to bring comfort.

My cousin told me today that I wear my aunt’s name well, and that made me very happy.  She was a special person, and sharing her name is an honor.  This longing isn’t about her death, I don’t think, although that event brought it to the surface.  It was a catalyst, not a cause.

I don’t know a lot about many things, but I know a little about a lot of things.  I just write what I know.

~Be~

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Ohana Means Family. Family Means Nobody Gets Left Behind or Forgotten

I spent the day with family today.  Legally, we have no relationship.  On paper, we are strangers.

I was born in 1967 and surrendered for adoption.  I grew up always knowing that I was adopted. I can’t remember learning the fact.  My Mom always told me that she and Dad picked me.  Some days that made me feel very wanted and very special.  Other days, it made me feel sad, because for my mom and dad to pick me, someone else had to leave me behind.

Like many teens and young adults, anything that made me “different” made me feel a little awkward and self-conscious.  Adoption was one of those issues.  I sometimes wondered what my birth family would think of me if they could see me at that time in my life.  Would they be proud when I won the lead role in the musical, or when I was accepted to the university of my choice?  Would they have come to the football games to watch me march with the band?

When I gave birth to my first child and felt that bond like no other, I wondered what it must have felt like to leave the hospital without me.  My birth mother didn’t have a face for me then, but she was not forgotten.  She was a part of me, and I was sad for her.

I didn’t know much about my birth family.  My Mom always told me that the adoption caseworker had told her that my birthmother wanted me.  I hoped it was true.

I found my birthmother in 1997. In-home internet access was a relatively new thing.  I was bored one evening, and I put the details that I knew about my birth into a database on AOL, never thinking it would lead anywhere.  After all, adoptees often searched for years and spent lots of money on investigators to try to find their birth families.  I was shocked when, a few short minutes later, I received a phone call advising me that someone in the database matched me, and asking if I wanted to speak with my birthmother.

I called off work and drove 30 minutes from home the next day to meet her.  I was terrified, but as I stepped through her door, the fear melted instantaneously.  She and I were wearing the same earrings.  She gave me a glass of water in the same drinking glasses that i had in my kitchen cupboard.  We had some of the same artwork hanging in our respective homes.  The meeting convinced me that nature plays a strong role in development.

As our friendship grew, we began finishing one another’s sentences.  My mom would always be my mom – she, my “mum” felt more like a big sister.  Like many sisters, we had a falling out one day over something silly, and we didn’t connect again for years.  Neither of us was still angry, but both of us were afraid of reaching out – afraid of rejection.

We connected several more times over the years.  There was no anger, no hard feelings.  There was only love.  Somehow, years would pass between visits.  Life got in the way.  It’s funny how life does that.

This week, she asked me to lunch.  I was delighted to accept, and excited that my grandparents, too, would be available.  we spent hours and hours today talking.  We didn’t talk about adoption.  We didn’t talk about what it felt like to grow up somewhere else.  Instead, we talked as parents or grandparents and the younger generation would talk.  We talked about pets and experiences.  We talked about travel and hotels and antique stores. We talked about first jobs and cooking.

My adoptive family is my family.  My birth family is my family.  My husband’s family is my family.  “Family” is that affinity we have for others when we are tied together by blood, shared culture, or the bonds of marriage.  Family is Ohana.  I like the concept of Ohana – it is much broader than a mommy, a daddy and the children who reside in the same residence.  Ohana signifies the respect and cooperation that family members should have for and with one another.

Finding my birth family forced me to reconcile some feelings.  I still remember looking at my “new” family’s pictures and seeing faces that really looked an awful lot like mine looking back.  I remember some of my adoptive family – the only family I knew – questioning whether I would still want to be a part of that family now that I had found my “real” family.

I took the search farther a few years later and found the other side of my adoptive family living in another part of the country.  We haven’t met face to face, but they are a part of my Facebook world.  They, too, are Ohana.

I was adopted into a big, big family.  My concept of family already included ten aunts and uncles, their spouses, and a whole slew of cousins.  It wasn’t difficult to mentally expand that arrangement to include a few more.  Somehow, life kept the birth family from becoming a close-knit part of my family, but we were, and remain “Ohana.”

Although we didn’t discuss my adoption or the facts and feelings surrounding it on this particular occasion, we discussed it enough in the past that I knew that I was never forgotten.  Although I was elsewhere, I was safe and loved.  I was never truly left behind.  Likewise, the family I grew up with remains my family.  I love them dearly, and although I don’t see many of them often, either, when we talk face to face, it’s like we are picking up where we left off a month or a decade ago.  Ohana means nobody gets forgotten.

Yesterday was a special day for adopted persons in Ohio.  For the first time, thousands of Ohioans who were adopted between 1964 and 1996 can apply to receive a copy of their original birth certificate and adoption files.  For over 400,000 of us, finding lost family is a viable possibility.

More than 400 people waited outside of the Bureau of Vital Statistics yesterday to apply in person to see where they came from.  My birth family and I have never petitioned the court for an order unsealing the records to confirm that we are “Ohana.”  I haven’t decided whether I will apply to open that record.  Having found Ohana, there is a fear that when opened, the family I lost and then found again might not be on that piece of paper.  I don’t think that’s the case, but it’s possible.

As was stated in the Disney Film, “Lilo and Stitch,” “Ohana means family.  Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”  In my world, it doesn’t take blood to make you family.  It doesn’t take marriage.  Ohana, to me, are those people who are a part of me.  Ohana is stronger than friendship.  Family are the people who care about you even when you mess up.  They are the people who love you even when you say hurtful things or turn your back on them.  We may be separated from family for a time, but they are not left behind.  They are not forgotten.

As thousands of adoptees apply for their birth records, there will attempts to contact people separated for years – for decades.  Some of those people will have happy reunions.  Some will meet and be glad that they were able to fill in the blanks on their medical history forms.  Some will have doors slammed in their faces and phone calls ended abruptly.  I pray that those who don’t have a happy reunion will be able to cope with the fact that the rejection isn’t about them – it’s about facts and feelings over which they had no control.

My husband has finally figured out much of my complicated family tree.  I had to draw him a picture.  It’s okay.  My tree branches like crazy.  Some branches die off, and new ones grow.  The ones that aren’t with us leave a mark.  Nobody gets left behind or forgotten.

Ohana.