|Mary Ellen, at 6 months, March 1952|
The adoption papers are duly notarized, fees are paid, and the year-long foster period is over. A Certificate of Birth and Baptism changes my name from Ruth Ann to Mary Ellen, states that my parents are the couple who fostered me, and shows the 1951 birth date I’ve always known. It falsifies my birthplace as Rock Hill, S.C., and no hospital is named.
|Agnes, my adoptive mother, with me, Summer, 1952|
I’m 6 when my parents tell me the story of my adoption, a fairy tale with a happy ending. “Adoption” sounds grown up and strange, special, missing something. Or even precious or breakable. I fantasize the family who came before my adoption. I can see nothing of my father or mother in the mirror. I had all the dolls and toys I wanted, a loving home, but no brothers and sisters. How could it be that my first family was killed in a car accident? Why not me? Because I was with the nuns in the “home”? I imagined, even hoped, I would recognize them all in a store or on the street. Who do I look like? I squinted and studied the mirror.
It’s like being re-born when I meet my mother in 1993. I’ve persisted in my quest for kin for years, and now I have more truth. Now I know I lived in Phillip’s Mercy Infant Home in Rock Hill, South Carolina for 5 months prior to leaving with the couple who would adopt me a year later. I’m told my hospital records were lost to fire, so I may not see the imprint of my baby feet. My original birth certificate is forever sealed by the State, and a shortened version of my identity is all that’s available to me. With the help of a “search angel,” I have the most critical puzzle piece: my birth mother’s full name.
“Momma, a lady called me from up north, and said she might be your daughter,” my half-sister Karen confronted Leila. “Not true!” Once again, my mother denied me. Karen coaxed the admission. Our mother did give birth to another girl when Karen was about 2. She thought the nuns in the Catholic Hospital would take good care of me. She couldn’t recall whether she had held me; she said she “just left.” She denied she knew my father’s name.
“I’m Mary Ellen, your daughter!” I re-connected with my birth mother by phone in August of 1993, one day after my call to Karen. Leila sounded pleasant, and we were both excited. When I asked her how she felt about our reunion, she answered softly, “I think it’s great!” Leila had been watching talk shows about reunions, Karen told me, but neither suspected our own drama was unfolding. I further ventured, “They make it so hard to find our birth families. I don’t think that’s right.” The woman who gave me life replied, “No! Not if you really want to find each other.”
In fact, I may never have the whole story. Through the help of autosomal DNA and Ancestry.com, I have an ancestral profile, and in an attempt to thin out genetic matches to my 1/2 sisters, I have some idea of possible paternal lines. I can't be confident that I'll identify my paternal match. (I have trouble calling him father, because the likelihood is that he never knew I existed.)
Karen and I discovered Lottie on Valentine's Day, 2015. Leila never mentioned that she had left an infant daughter with her husband, who died at very young age, leaving Lottie to be raised by his family. Lottie posted an internet note on a geneology site around the same time that I was finding my kin. She sought information about her mother, Leila. Tragedy, irony, and finally, blessing: that we 3 sisters have connected without our mother's help, or the help of the State of South Carolina.