This week, I had the privilege of discussing adoption, adoptees, adoptive parents, and foster care with Marchita Masters, PsyD, who not only has worked with foster care children in several settings, but who has also adopted a child. Our conversation can be viewed on YouTube or listened to on SoundCloud or Apple Podcasts. I hope it is helpful as we seek healthier ways to engage with and support one another.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to begin this post.
Humorous? Those ancestry.com commercials are cute, right? White people finding out their brown, African roots; black people finding out their white, European roots. It’s all fun and games, until you click on that other link and find out who your biological father is.
Somber and Poetic? Aunt Catherine said she asked my pregnant mother one question, who’s the father? Joyce looked at her, lifted a finger, and pointed at the janitor, a lanky, white man. DCFS had reported a janitor found me as a baby. Not thinking there could be more than one, the storyteller in me put two and two together and made myself biracial. Turns out, I’m not. My father is an African American male. I know because of an ancestry DNA kit.
Straightforward, yet Cheeky? Like 4 million other people, I thought I’d spit into a tube, mail it off through UPS and find out from what part of Africa I hailed. Cameroon/Congo, Benin/Togo, and England/Wales are the top three. But ethnicity isn’t all you can learn there. When I clicked on the little green icon called, View DNA Matches, the full name of my biological father appeared. This is how I found him.
My feelings about finding my biological father, who we’ll call CB, are just as varied as these introductions. I’ve been trying to pin them down, but they range anywhere from a #KanyeShrug to elation. Those of you who’ve followed my blog for the past four years might understand clearly.
Much of my time has been spent healing and talking about my adopted father, who passed in 2015. His death brought pure peace to my being. An integral connection ended for good. Although a different person, CB is still my father, and finding him had the potential to open another relation called, father. Was I ready for this? Did I need this? These questions swarmed in my brain.
It is my belief that no matter what your head says, your heart and soul always know better. I’d released the idea of knowing my biological father, not because I didn’t want to know, but rather because I thought it an impossible feat. I’d forgotten my own 2018 mantra: Anything is possible, especially finding your father via 21st century methods.
So, I am ready for this. Relating to my deceased father and processing hurtful emotions has prepared me to connect with whoever CB is. I’ve learned not to judge as harshly as I used to. This has been useful. When CB described the circumstances surrounding my conception, a one-night stand, I felt liberated, not judgmental. Who am I to judge a one-night stand, or a baby born out of wedlock to two unprepared people?
I also needed this. It might seem shallow, but I finally have a complete picture of who I am. This is something I’ve noticed biological families take for granted. Growing up, I always felt physically out of place. No one’s skin color was like mine. No one shared my body type. No one walked like me. No one held their head like mine. In fact, the size of my butt was often the topic of conversation; I now know that comes from my mother’s shapely frame. I was also often told to stop walking slew-footed and to stop walking like a turtle. It might not be healthy, but now I see why these things were challenging for me to “correct.” CB and one of my sisters have similar characteristics.
I’m prepared for this. Learning to love myself has had one major impact. I no longer seek relationships to fill a void. This means I now enter situations as a whole person, with clear boundaries. Therefore, I am good no matter what may come from this new connection. And if I’m not, I’ll add it to the memoir 😉
After delivering my first baby, I knew it was time. I had to find my biological mother. It was unfathomable to me that a woman could nurture a baby in her womb for months, deliver a child, and hold it in those first few proverbial moments, and then give her up for adoption. Something heavy had to hang in the balance to make such a decision.
So, in 1999, I contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
The woman who answered the phone told me that their department was not in the business of reconnecting families; they existed to find loving homes for children.
Her apathy left me little choice but to wait.
Months later, I placed another call. A different woman revealed the name of a group that was in the business of re-connecting families: The Midwest Adoption Agency. The social worker rattled off a list of information they needed to conduct a search: birthdate, (adopted) parents’ names, year of adoption, official birth certificate, and birth name.
It had never dawned on me that I had a different name. My father, unlike Grannie, was ecstatic to know that I was conducting this search.
“She had named you Petula,” he said. “Your mom and I always thought that was strange. Maybe she liked the singer, Petula Clark, we thought.”
I had never heard of Petula Clark, but I had heard of the song, Downtown, for which she is known.
The following year, the counselor had found my birth records and sent a detailed report. My mother, Joyce Belcher had considered abortion several times before giving up the idea entirely. This was noted by her social worker.
Joyce had been diagnosed with acute schizophrenia: undifferentiated type. Up until my birth on May 23, 1973, she was seen walking up and down the sidewalk talking to herself. After giving birth, she would lay on the sofa doing nothing most of the day, laughing hysterically.
By the time I was five-months-old, Joyce had left me in our apartment building. According to the report, a janitor found me and contacted the police. I’d been there several days. Joyce named this same janitor as the father; he denied it. Shortly after, she surrendered her parental rights.
Two more letters followed the report. Joyce Belcher had died when she was twenty-eight years old, about five years after I’d been adopted. Her cause of death: drowning.
She was survived by her father, her four sisters, and my older sister.
In 2001, I birthed another child. This time, I understood the circumstances surrounding my adoption. But another question lingered. How could four sisters allow the State to take their sister’s child?
Midwest Adoption Agency allowed me to ask for a Request for Non-Identifying Information. You can only ask for this information one time, from one person. I chose my birth grandfather. As the family’s patriarch, it seemed he would have the most information.
Not only had each of his seven children been a part of the Illinois foster care system (he had two sons), but also only one of his five adult daughters kept in contact with him. Her name was Catherine. I would later find out that she was the only one that he didn’t molest, thus their continued connection.
Aunt Catherine and I spoke for the first time on February 6, 2005. It was Super Bowl Sunday. She was excited to hear my voice and wanted to hear all about who raised me and who I’d become.
“I always thought you were raised by some rich black people,” she confided.
I assured her I was not.
“I tried to get you, but the State wouldn’t let me. They told me to leave you alone and not ask about it anymore,” her voice trailed off.
Later, her daughter would tell me that each weekend, Aunt Catherine would get drunk and cry about finding Petula.
Aunt Catherine and I met once and marveled at our similar wide smiles and pointy noses. We talked weekly, until she suffered a heart attack and died in June 2006.
That’s when I decided not to seek out my biological father. There was little reason to endure more emotional pain.