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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Letter My Mom Wrote

My mom (Susan Perry) in 2009 with my daughter and nephew
Before my mom, whose blog this is, passed away in 2014, she asked me to keep the site going if I could. "Maybe just once a month or so, I know how busy you are," she said. At this point in her life, with the end clearly in sight, she focused on spending time with loved ones, and not much else. Yet she used some of those precious last months on earth advocating for adoptees, and on making sure that we (her family) knew this was important to her. It was not one of the things that no longer mattered. It mattered. It still does. This month, I'd like to share some of my mom's own words. This is the letter she wrote, in 2003, to her original mother. Several years before, she had been diagnosed with Stage 2 malignant melanoma and had thus begun the search for her biological family at the recommendation of my sister, a doctor. The adoption agency in Trenton, NJ that had placed her contacted her original mother for her. She was not allowed to contact her herself (something that she found deeply offensive). Her mother told the social worker that she wanted no contact. That was the end of the story, for a bit. Eventually, my mom found her mother through an "enlightened individual" and sent her this letter. Being able to do so was crucial in her own journey as an adoptee. As readers of this blog know, my mom eventually found so much more, perhaps miraculously (we thought so), but it shouldn't take a miracle to find those we are related to by blood. Here is her letter.

September 19th, 2003

Dear Mrs. ______________,

I am writing this letter in the hope that you will be able to share just a little health and personal information with me about my genetic past. I am the little girl, now a middle-aged woman, whom you gave up for adoption 53 years ago. I want to assure you right up front that I have no need to meet you face-to-face and that I will never call you or come knocking on your door. I try to live my life according to the maxim "Do no harm," and for that reason, I thought long and hard about locating you privately and delivering this letter. (The agency was true to their word and would not release any information or forward this contact to you). I am doing this because I have a great need for healing and closure in this area, and I need to communicate with you, just this once, in my own words.

Perhaps the communication from the social worker at the Children's Home Society may have shocked and scared you. In a way, their letters scared me because they were so bureaucratic and impersonal, and really, this is such a personal event, fraught with emotion. I know that I will feel a much more satisfactory sense of closure by delivering this message to you personally via this letter. Please understand that I have no desire to hurt you in any way. I am so grateful for my life, and I imagine that this chapter in your life was absolutely excruciating.

All through life, I was curious to know something about my genetic past (which I believe is a very natural inclination for all of us, however loving our adoptive families), but my desire to know more intensified six years ago when I had a very scary bout with malignant melanoma. This experience included a life-threatening diagnosis, surgery, and numerous follow-up exams. Of course, all the doctors wanted to know my medical history, and I had nothing to tell them. Also, my older daughter is a physician, and she too was eager to know my genetic medical history. So much of what doctors study today are genetic links to disease.

Because we know without a doubt today that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to who a person is, I feel a definite sense of loss not having any information at all about the people whose genes I carry. That's why I tried to initiate come contact through the Children's Home Society, because I felt in my mind that I was asking for so little. Perhaps for you, my life ended the day you signed the adoption papers. I, on the other hand, had a life-long fantasy that somewhere in the world was a woman who must have wondered, on my birthday and from time to time, where I was and how I was doing. The death of this fantasy hurt so much that I sobbed like a baby for a couple of days and went about my business with a knot in my stomach for weeks.

I have to believe that your decision to close off all contact was one of self-protection and that you certainly didn't mean to cause me so much pain. For this reason, I hope you will listen to my modest request with an open heart. If you can share some information, in just one letter, you would be giving me a gift beyond all measure, and perhaps we both can feel a sense of peace and closure about this long-ago chapter. Here's what I'm hoping you will be able to tell me.

  1. Although I have a fine life outwardly (had loving adoptive parents; have an extremely kind husband and two daughters who have been and are incredible blessings; have interesting work as a writer and teacher), I have struggled since I was very young with intermittent bouts of depression. No one in my adoptive family did, and it took me a long time to figure out that my sad thoughts weren't part of some horrible personality flaw, just a physiological condition that can be controlled very well with mild antidepressants. I have been told that this condition could be a direct result of the closed adoption system itself, the result of a genetic predisposition, or a combination of the two things. Can you tell me - Is there any history of depression in my genetic past, either in you or in other birth relatives? Also, would you kindly fill out the enclosed medical form? Both my daughters and I would really like to have this information so that we can practice preventive medicine, and I've included a self-addressed envelope for your convenience.
  2. Are you able to tell me anything at all about my birth father? I know that he is deceased, but I am interested in knowing who he was and what he was like, if it is not too painful for you to describe him. 
  3.  For me, the greatest gift you could give me if a photo of yourself -- as a young girl, and as a young or middle-aged woman. It is a very odd thing to go through life having no physical similarities to all the people around you. I have a strong desire to know whether I look like you or other birth relatives. Again, I'm not looking to hurt anyone -- it's just that I feel my genetic make-up is an integral part of who I am, and I need some information to fill in the empty places. 
  4. Is your daughter, born in 1945, still living, and does she know that I exist? You may be aware that after your death, I do have the right to contact her through the Children's Home Society. I do not want to hurt you, so it would be helpful for me to know whether or not she knows I exist. 

I know that back in the days of my adoption, social workers counseled you that secrecy was best. Now, the thinking among adoption professionals has changed, and I am sure this is very frustrating for you. But we know so much more today about genetic links to disease and behavior, and without more complete background information, adult adoptees like me are stumbling in the dark in some ways. Again, I do promise that I will never come knocking at your door. I bear you no ill will. I am a good and sensitive person, a person of integrity. Perhaps I'm hoping to hear that you could have loved me had I been born in a different time -- a time in which out-of-wedlock pregnancies weren't so impossible and when society's rules were not so oppressive. You may be unable to do this, but please -- please don't refuse my request for background information just because I represent a painful episode in your life. Like so many adult adoptees, I simply have a need for some health information and for some knowledge about how I came to be. I know intellectually that my birth and your situation at the time must have been impossible for you, and I need you to know that your choice to give me life has been good for me, even though I feel I missed something, not knowing you.

There are other people in my life whom I love dearly and who love me too. I am not looking for a new family, just the information that I've requested. I pray that God will open your heart and that you are capable of giving me this one gift. I don't know you, but I believe that I can feel your pain and I am sorry for being the cause of that. I hope you can overcome it for the space of just one brief letter. Thank you for reading this letter, thank you for my life, and may God bless you for the rest of your days.

                                                                                        With hope and peace,

                                                                                         Susan Perry

P.S. I pray that you are able to share just a little in one letter and that you will. My address is ... Woodland Ave., Haddonfield, NJ 08033.  If you can do nothing else, I would so appreciate the updated medical information and photographs. I believe, if I had to, I could secure comprehensive medical records through legal action, but I don't want to take that route. You are not my enemy, and I do not wish to intrude on your life any further.


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