My Other Sister

I’m sure I’ve talked about my sisters here. Strangely, I’ve probably mentioned my sister who died after a three month battle in the NICU when I was two more than my sister who is 24 and currently lives in an apartment across the street from my own. The fact that I’ve talked more about the one that died, than the one that is alive, really highlights the focus of this blog.

Yes, I have mentioned my two sisters, though I have never called them by their real names. I’ve touched upon how they have shaped my life, one through her constant presence as a friend and the other through her impenetrable absence. But there is one sister I have never mentioned here before. I rarely mentioned her in my real life either. She is my older sister and I don’t even know her name. Neither does our mother, because she gave this sister up for adoption at 17 years old, ten years before I was even conceived.

I learned of my older sister’s existence when I was 20 years old. My mom told me oveer the phone. I’m not sure what inspired her to bring it up, after all those years of silence but one day she did, seemingly out of the blue. My parents were 17 when my sister was born. My mom had planned for the baby to be adopted by a nice family but found out later that her family intervened when they found out the family wasn’t Catholic (I think you can guess what my mom’s family is). My mom was able to handle the pregnancy for the school year. She was pregnant when she graduated and nobody knew. In the final months she “went away” and had her baby on August 23. Her daughter was taken away from her almost immediately, she didn’t even have a chance to consider her choice. At the time my mother had no idea who had adopted her little girl.

My mom never told me why she put her first daughter up for adoption but I can guess. My mom was the 9th of 12 kids. Her mother died when she was only seven years old. Her father was an abusive alcoholic who was diagnosed with schizophrenia after he tried to take his own life, twice. He was institutionalized and received shock treatments. Because there were always siblings old enough to take care of the younger children (or because their family simply fell through the cracks) social services were never involved. The remaining bothers and sisters raised each other; most of the oldest boys left as soon as they turned 18, getting married, joining the army or both.

My mom had plans to get out from under her difficult upbringing. She paid her own way through the best private girl’s high school in the area and was poised to pay her way through college when she found out she was pregnant. (Until a decade ago she was the only one of the six sisters to have earned a degree.) My mom needed to get away. She grew up raising her younger siblings in difficult conditions and wanted something better for herself. I’m sure she gave up her first born daughter for both of their sakes. I wonder if she hadn’t if I’d have ever been born. Probably not.

In the almost ten years since I learned of my older sister’s existence I’ve wondered about her. What is she like? Does she resemble me or my other sister in appearance or personality? Does she share our father’s sense of humor, like we do, or is that a product of growing up with him and not his DNA intertwined within our own? I have friends whose mothers gave up babies for adoption but none of them shared a father. To know that I have a full sister out there, as biologically similar to me as the one I grew up with, seems inconceivable.

And what would she think if she knew about me? About us? I doubt most children put up for adoption by teenage parents, find the families of their biological parents intact decades later, complete with two other children born when they were more emotionally and financially prepared. Would the fact that our parents stayed together, and eventually had other children, make her resent them more for giving her up? Would she realize that if they had kept her, they may never have made it this far? Does it even matter?

The reality is my sister might not even know she was adopted. Adoption in the late 1960s was different than it is today. There is very probably chance that my sister believes she is the biological daughter of the parents who raised her. If that is the case, who am I to tell her otherwise, to turn her life upside down?

I ask that because I’m considering searching for her. In the past ten years I’ve thought of it often but I’ve never seriously considered it. There were always too many variables, too many unknowns. Do my parents even want to look for her? I know they’ve put their names on a list of parents who are open to being reunited with their birth children but I don’t know if they are interested in actively looking for her. I also can’t know if my sister knows about us, or if she would even wants to meet us if she did. She might resent us. She might be perfectly content with the loving parents she already has. She could worry that a relationship with her birth parents might complicate a life that makes her perfectly happy.

I worry about the same things. What if we find our sister and it changes everything? I mean, of course it will change everything, but what if it changes everything in a negative way? My little family of four has a good thing going. We are very close. We love each other deeply and are best friends. Adding another person to the mix, in any capacity, will disrupt the status quo. There is no way to be sure we won’t regret inviting someone we don’t know into our family.

I’ve never blogged about this before because I believed, ultimately, it was my mother’s story. That baby, given up 41 years ago was my mother’s daughter long before she was ever my sister. In the end I believe my mom’s preferences on this win out over my own; if she doesn’t want to actively search for my sister, I won’t ask her to do it.

My mom and I don’t talk about this. Not ever. I sent her an email asking her what she thinks about searching for her daughter. I never thought there was much possibility of finding her but lately I have more hope. I’ve been reading about a fellow blogger’s search for her birth mom, which recently came to fruition. Knowing that a lost family member can be found makes me that much more interesting in finding my lost family member.

*     *     *     *     *

I was about to hit publish when my mom emailed me back – she has so much more information that I thought. Both good and bad. Evidently she knows my sister’s name and knows quite a bit about her family. My mom says they had dealt with infertility for years before adopting my sister and then got pregnant almost immediately afterward. She also found out that it’s illegal for birth parents to receive information about their child from the adoption agency but information can flow the other way. In 2003, my mom opened the file so that her daughter could receive all our information if she so desires.

I guess that means my sister doesn’t want to contact us. If she did, she would have, but she hasn’t. I guess it doesn’t seem fair to reach out to someone who has the ability to reach out to you and hasn’t. We could still try to find her, but if we did so it might be against her own wishes. So much new information to assimilate; I’m not sure how I feel about any of it.

If you had a sibling that had been adopted before you were born, would you want to contact him or her? To what lengths would you go? Would you do so even if you suspected he or she didn’t want to be contacted?

23 responses

  1. Wow. What a complicated situation, and I think you have covered all of the angles quite thoughtfully. I once watched this show called The Locator, about a PI who mostly specialized in finding adopted children or birth mothers or fathers. It was pretty interesting. I will leave it to others more well-versed about adoption to advise you further, but I’m glad you posted this.

  2. I’m going to repeat something my therapist always says to me… “Be careful not to assign intentionality.” And by that I mean just because she hasn’t reached out doesn’t mean she’s not interested. She may have struggled with a lifelong fear of being rejected by her birth family. (I just read A Princess Found which is a memoir on that topic.) Or maybe she truly isn’t interested. If it were me, I’d want to search and if I found something, gently put the feelers out. Thanks for sharing this story – it’s intriguing.

  3. Just like Jjiraffe said, it’s a complicated situation. And as you said, the fact that you are full sisters makes the what-ifs even more compelling.

    And Miss Oh Kay is right, too, just because she hasn’t contacted your family doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to. There’s so much you don’t know, and may never know. But I think that by opening the file, your mom has done what she could to let your sister know you’d all be happy to hear from you.

    How frustrating not to be able to do anything about it! Ultimately, it’s all in her hands. Thank goodness adoption isn’t handled this way anymore.

  4. So – I can totally relate…

    I found out about a year ago (maybe) that my father gave up a daughter (or rather, she was taken away) long before I was born… I tried to reach out to the agency immediately…I didn’t give it any of the thought you have..

    However, my situation is a little different… She is only my half-sister, but would be my only sibling on my dad’s side. And, I guess the fact that I am so far away is a reason why I wasn’t hesitant to try and find her – if she’s still in South Africa, it’d be unlikely that we’d ever really meet.

    I’m not sure why I didn’t give it more thought – maybe that’s selfish?

    Anyway – my dad has very few details, can’t even specifically remember her birth date… so the agency was unable to find any information about her.

    I hope you find peace with your situation…I know it must be difficult knowing the information is there for her, yet not knowing if she wants to find you, or if she even knows about you (that she’s adopted).

    All the best!!

  5. Thank you for following along with my story as it reveals itself.

    I, too, echo what others have said, just because your sister hasn’t found you doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to. As you said, perhaps she doesn’t know she is adopted (although, my feeling is that she probably does) or she isn’t aware of the agency that placed her, or she feels she was abandoned and is afraid, or she thinks that her birth mother (or family) should coming looking for her.

    When I was struggling whether to have another child (which in our case would be through adoption) and was trying to untangle my many competing emotions, one astute comment posted, simply, “What are you afraid of?”. Do not let fear be the predominant reason you don’t do something. What if your sister isn’t alive? What if she has/had a hereditary form of breast cancer (would you want to know)? What if she is married and has children, your nieces or nephews? While she likely knows she is adopted, she has no clue about you or your sister, her full-blooded siblings.

    And, to think that you will upset the status quo of your family is a bit far reaching in that she has a family and so do you. Being biologically related to someone doesn’t de facto make them family. It could just be an exchange of information that settles your quest. There is MUCH that would need to happen between A (finding her) and Z (considering her family).

    You can talk yourself in/out of anything. Know that you know more information that you thought your mother had, you can always go searching for her and, if found, see how you feel then. If you know she is alive and living in XX, perhaps that will be enough. You can always sit with the information that you find in your search and then see if you feel like acting.

    What are you afraid of?

  6. This is such an intense situation. My first thought was that you should talk with your family before you do anything. If all of you are on board, and it sounds like your mother is (damn, my heart goes out to her. Her life has been unbelievably complicated), then it seems like it would be difficult not to search for her. It doesn’t guarantee a relationship in the future, good or bad, but not knowing just seems like one of those things that would never go away.

    Either way, I hope that things go well!

  7. I have a similar situation, but not as close as a sister.

    I really want to find this relative and connect with her. But others more directly involved don’t want that. So I can’t 😦

    I’m so sorry you’re in this conundrum. Sometime we can affect change just with focused intention. Maybe just reaching out to her on a soul level (woo woo alert!) might manifest a coming together.


  8. Wow. My mom was given up for adoption at 8 days old. She never even thought about tracking down her birth parents, but when she was diagnosed with lupus at age 40 (and now that my sister and I have discovered our bleeding disorders), my mom has wished that she had at least had medical records. She is 63 and her birth mom is a Holocaust survivor, so the likelihood of this woman being around is slim.

    That being said, I’m picturing what it would be like to be the mother of this child (the one that adopted her) and having her be contacted out of nowhere…eeek! Good luck and let us know what happens, ok?

  9. Wow! That’s incredible. I know that if I were in your shoes, I would most definitely want to find my sibling. But after learning what you just did from your mom, it would definitely make me feel like I shouldn’t. Except it would be so difficult to quench that desire!

  10. Incredible story- and what a testament to your mom. She has to be the toughest woman on the planet for all she’s been through! I have no wise words for you- it’s such a hard situation, but I hope that if your sister wants to connect with your family, she will find the courage to do so.

  11. I don’t have any siblings that were adopted out, but i do have 2 younger half brothers that I’ve never met and probably don’t know of my existence. i was an oops baby when my mum and dad were dating and mum decided to keep me. but according to my mum my dad said “he wasn’t ready to be a father” ( they were both 29 at the time, not teenagers). He has since married and has 2 boys. i’ve never met my dad or my half brothers. I only find out information about him through my aunt( my dads sister) who is my mum’s best friend and how she met my dad. i often think of searching for my dad and brothers and making contact, but then i get scared and chicken out. mabey its the same with ur sister.

    • Thank you for telling me your story and giving me another perspective of what my sister might be thinking herself. I feel my gut reaction is too look for her but sometimes I do things because of what I want and not necessarily what is best for others so I want to be careful.

  12. I would definitely want to know! My aunt’s biological mother had 12 kids, most by different fathers, that my aunt didn’t know about until she was in her 40’s and she was able to track down most of her half-siblings. It is pretty amazing what you can find when you try these days.

  13. Oh, is this complex stuff or what? As a social worker/mental health professional I just died a little on the inside at the way your parents’ adoption was handled–the sheer bullying of it, the removal of any semblance of self-determination, the lack of any birth parent support in the immediate wake of it all.

    I wonder if you could write your sister a letter and leave it with the agency? That way, if she does exercise her own interest, it’s there for her. Your feelings and thoughts would be encapusated. You get to express your feelings, and she gets to read/experience them on her own turf and at her own pace…

    And, I want to caution against using the language “gave up for adoption” or “put up for adoption.” I’ve been trained to use more empowering and sensitive language, such as “make an adoption plan” or “parenting plan for your baby.” It restores some self-determination and sense of proaction.

    • Thanks for those alternate phrases. As I was writing I wondered if I was no using the proper terminology – I never speak about these things with anyone and am not sure what language people use these days. Although, for this story, I feel the terms I used were accurate because I don’t think my parents felt there was much self-determination or proaction about what she was doing. And I doubt they were making an adoption plan, or if they were, it was overrun by prying family members who did not have their best interests at heart. But I will definitely use those terms when speaking of this in the future.

  14. P.S. I meant to ask–how does your father feel about this? About the adoption and about the possibility of meeting/knowing your sister?

    • That is a really good question and honestly I have no idea how my dad feels about any of this. I have NEVER spoken about it to him. We are pretty close but my dad just doesn’t talk about “heavy stuff” so I rarely bring it up with him. I guess I’ll have to talk to him about it at some point. I’m sure he’s just following my mom’s lead on all of this.

  15. Everyone has already said such intelligent things, so I’m not going to add much to the conversation, but I remember you telling me about this a while ago, and I’m glad that you finally posted about it. I suspect that it’s been nagging you more than you have been able to admit to yourself, especially given your own complicated struggles to build a family.

    I think in your shoes I’d want to reach out, even if she hadn’t. To let her know that I was there if she wanted to add to her family. To give her another place to call home, if she wanted to. To get to know her, to share the things that siblings share, even when they aren’t close. She may not be able to reach out to you, for whatever reason … that doesn’t mean you can’t seek her.

  16. I’ve heard of so many scenarios like this. I agree, it’s important to consider your parents’ wishes, but I can’t blame you for wanting to find your sister. One of my aunts had a baby out of wedlock before she was married; that baby, my cousin, would be in his early 40s now. I have no idea whether his three younger half-brothers know anything about this — I didn’t know myself until I was a teenager — and I certainly don’t feel it’s my place to tell them.

    My aunt (my mother’s brother’s wife) just recently met with her half-sister for the first time. Unbeknown to her or her siblings, her father had a brief affair while working on a travelling farm threshing crew in the 1940s. (This was a complete stunner to all of us, as he was THE most unlikely person you would imagine doing something like that.) Their mother only told them about it a few years ago before she passed away (in her late 90s). They were totally stunned, but agreed they wanted to find her. Her brother still lives in his parents’ house, & this woman, who is in her early 60s, called there earlier this year, looking for information about her family. They all recently met for the first time. Isn’t that wild??

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