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.
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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?