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Lia 00:00:05 Hey everybody. Welcome to Adoptees Crossing Lines, the not so Feel Good podcast. If you're looking for something that's grateful adoptees, this isn't the one for you, go ahead and keep scrolling and looking for another podcast that's not where we're about over here. We're back for episode three. Y'all ready?
Dr. Noelle 00:00:24 Yes, ma'am. Woo.
Tosha 00:00:25 Let's go.
Lia 00:00:26 All right, so today's episode is actually a listener submission. So they wanted to hear about what reunification is like and the stress and emotions that I could bring up. And I think that's a really great topic. So to start us off, how would you define reunion or reunification in your own words?
Dr. Noelle 00:00:50 That's such a great question. So I think the first thing for F folks to realize is Reunion looks different for every adoptee. Some folks reunion is just knowing who their biological family is. For some folks it's having partial relationships with different members of the family, not the whole family. For some folks, it's having a relationship with mom and not dad or with dad and not mom. And for some folks it's having, you know, the whole family experience. So I think it's really important to appreciate that reunion can be multiple different things for folks and it has different stages for each of us, right? We start usually by finding one person or two people. For me, it was finding cousins, started with second cousins and worked my way up till I found my parents. So I don't think there's a single description or definition of reunion. I think it's really important to appreciate that it is as nuanced as each adoptee.
Tosha 00:01:59 I agree with that as well. And for me, I actually started wanting to just simply find my siblings. That's all I wanted was to find my siblings in the very beginning and then it grew from there. And we also have to think about too, there's different ways of finding, uh, bio siblings, parents, whether it's going on the internet, whether it's going to an agency, whether it's getting a lawyer, sometimes costs are involved, sometimes laws are involved. So reunion is really, really heavy. There's many stages to it, and for some of us it can, it can be a lifelong journey.
Lia 00:02:33 Yeah, reunion is definitely something that's unique for everybody. Just like everybody's adoption story and journey is unique. What, what has your reunion experience been like? Are you in Reunion? What does that look like?
Dr. Noelle 00:02:50 So I am in reunion with my biological mother. I start there because it seems like the, the big piece of the reunion, but I'm also in reunion with multiple members of my father's family. Uh, so I had a large number of first cousins who are still alive. They're all in their late sixties, early seventies. My biological father was the youngest of his siblings, so all of his nieces and nephews were almost his age. And so I have this large population of folks who were really interested in getting to know me, stay in contact. I've met some of them. I also have a sister and a brother. I have mo lots of siblings on my father's side, but I have one sister and one brother that I have close contact with. And my brother actually is the person who took the D n A test to prove who my father was for me because my father is deceased. So I'm in reunion with them. I talk to them almost daily via text. And then I have my biological mother and her family. Huge, huge number of folks to get to know and who spend a good deal of time trying to get to know me. It's clunky. Um, it can be really clunky. I have some amazing first cousins on that side as well. First cousins play a huge role in my, in my reunion.
Tosha 00:04:27 For me, I would say that I'm in Reunion. It's been kind of up and down. I actually received my information prior to the pandemic happening. So once all that started, it kind of halted things. Me personally, I was dealing with a lot of things, so it was a challenge to balance life while also balancing the reunion aspect. It started with one of my sisters and over the course of time I met all of my siblings. I was able to speak with Biomother and then my bio dad, he came in kind of at the end of it. And at this juncture, he's the only one I'm communicating with on somewhat of a regular basis. I've had some phone calls and things like that. I'm looking forward to seeing them. So next year I plan to purchase that plane ticket and going to check them out. I feel like we've gotten to a point where texting and phone calls have gotten us to a certain point, but for me, I would like to really meet them.
Tosha 00:05:24 I've also been working with my therapist as far as expectations. Being an only child who's always wanted siblings, she's helped me with understanding the fact that you can have siblings that you don't even talk to or have strained relationships. Just setting it up so I'm not setting myself up for any failure and recognizing they have their own lives and recognizing I'm coming in when everyone's, you know, into their early thirties and things like that. Everyone's led their own lives and here I come. But I would say it's an active reunion and I hope that it keeps growing
Dr. Noelle 00:05:56 For me.
Lia 00:05:57 I'm definitely in reunion with mostly siblings. As I've mentioned in the past, both of my bio parents have passed, but my reunion journey actually started because I was trying to figure out who my dad was. I didn't know that he had passed. And so being the millennial that I am <laugh>, I went onto Google and Facebook and started looking for folks, trying to see if I could connect with him, if I could find him. And stuff was starting to add up. And so I ended up sending a message to who I thought was my dad. And I got a response back and it was like, Hey, I'm not your dad, I'm your brother. And I was like, oh, this is interesting. So both my parents were, were sex workers. And so it makes for <laugh> a really interesting story, like really big age gaps between me and my siblings on my dad's side in particular.
Lia 00:06:54 And Tosha, you talked about just how it's different for every state. There's laws, there's sometimes fees involved. When I was searching for my, uh, bio family on my dad's side, Facebook is all I had to do. I didn't have to do anything further than that. But when I started to look for my siblings on my mom's side, I actually had to pay a private investigator because in Florida your records are are sealed. And so you can try to petition the court, try to pot petition a judge, but there's no guarantee there has to be a quote unquote compelling reason. And you wanting to know or you wanting medical information, which is really important, is not enough. It's really up to the discretion of the judge. So for me, I was like, I don't want to spend all that money and go down that route. And it ended up a dead end. So I just decided to, to pay a, a private investigation firm and they ended up finding everybody for me. And I didn't have a lot of information. Like I had my mom's, like her name I had when she was born, I had when she died. And from that they found everything, which is a little scary, but also really cool <laugh>.
Lia 00:08:15 So what was it like, what was your experience like? Well, Tosha, I know you haven't, you said you haven't met your family yet, but I guess what was your experience like if you have and if not, like what are you hoping for or do you have any expectations?
Tosha 00:08:32 Expectations? From speaking with my therapist, I've tried to just not even have any, my expectation is to meet them and then whatever happens after that, I'll take it from there. And also thank them. They were also part of, you know, trying to make this happen with my situation. I went through or my, my parents went through an adoption agency. So after spending all the time, as we discussed on the last episode of being going online and going on message boards, I contacted them and they actually have a whole unit where they work with the, um, reuniting everybody. And my caseworker is actually someone who worked with my bio mom way back then, so she was surprised to see how she turned out and everything. But anyways, so their process is they will you contact them, they'll reach out twice, first time, send a regular regular mail, second time certified.
Tosha 00:09:28 So someone that was getting the mail from my mother kind of was trying to piece this together, but she didn't know anything about me. So she was like, the option agency, what's this? And so basically her speaking up and talking to others about it is basically what led to the reunion process starting. My mother is hooked on heroin right now, but she had a moment of clarity and sign those paperworks and documents because otherwise I'd have been like you Lia, having to go to the courts. At the time in Nebraska, the age was 26, which was an odd age in my brain to unseal records. And I was not 26 at the time and I was not willing to wait. So that was the first process that I tried and then that stopped. I just stalled for a couple of years and I said, maybe I should let the age catch up and then get there. It'll be easier process. But I did not and kept going a couple years later. And then as time grew, I was wanting more and more. My expectations did kind of change. I was like, I wanna meet everybody. And so right now, that's where I'm currently at. I know everyone has their own lives and everything. I just wanna meet everyone and hope that me meeting them in person can maybe strengthen and grow our relationships and to whatever that ends up being.
Dr. Noelle 00:10:43 So I started out meeting cousins. So I met second and third cousin in Chicago. I still stay in close contact with them. And then I had a second cousin, these are on my father's side. Uh, I had a second cousin who actually flew out to meet me in Memphis and stayed in in the house with me and my family. And it was incredible to lay there in my bed and think I have a biologically related person who is in my house, my father's side of the family. We look a lot alike. We, we all look a lot alike. And being a transracial adoptee, it was the first time I saw my own face in people other than my children. And so that was really intense for me just seeing how similar people look to either me or how similar people look to my children. I then, it took me much longer to find my biological mother than it did my biological father.
Dr. Noelle 00:11:44 There were so many relatives on Ancestry that it was relatively easy to start finding people and start piecing together the story, right? There's this narrative that goes with reunion. People tell you stories, especially if you don't land on the right parent the first time. People tell you these stories about who your parents might be. So I went through several on my father's side, <laugh>, there are several, uh, men of the right age all in the military traveling that, that were viable possibilities for my biological father. And they pieced it together until finally my brother took a d n A test and we were able to say for certain that was my father. Um, my mother's side, I, I <laugh> if you need anyone found, let me know <laugh> because I've got, um, I've got all all the ways of doing that kind of research and finding. But again, it was a second cousin who was on ancestry d n a, took him a year over a year actually to answer my inquiry on uh, ancestry d n a.
Dr. Noelle 00:12:57 He sent me his phone number and we talked and he did kind of the same thing, right? This narrative sense of women in the family who would be a viable age possibility for my mother. And he actually named her in our first conversation and it took another several months before she kind of came forward and was willing to talk to me and, and meet me. And now we have an amazing relationship. We talk to each other every single day. We ha have seen each other in person multiple times. Uh, I was in the hospital in May, she actually flew up and sat by my bedside. That was just unbelievable to me, you know, especially having the adoptive parents that I have where there's no way in blue heck that um, they would've come in set next to my bedside that this woman who is both stranger and not stranger flew up to sit with me was really amazing.
Lia 00:13:58 Yeah, it's definitely an emotional experience. So for me, I first met my siblings on my dad's side and I remember my brother being like, Hey, well like I can come meet your adoptive family. Like I want to, you know, make it easier for everybody. And I thought that was really sweet. I didn't pressure him or anything. That was just something that, that he came up with. And I remember telling my adoptive parents and they didn't want anything to do with it. In fact, I remember there were several, several weeks where my adoptive parents like did not talk to me whilst I was on this journey. And it was really painful. You know, I think for sometimes for adoptive parents they feel like you are quote unquote replacing them, but how can you replace something that was your birthright? You know, like this was something that always belonged to me.
Lia 00:14:52 In fact, it was stolen from me, it was taken away from me. So I'm just reclaiming what's mine. My brother and sister, they uh, live in Georgia and so I was going to grad school and I was driving there from Florida and so I made a pit stop in Georgia to meet them. And um, my brother had this cookout and I just remember for the first time I felt like I belonged, like the whole hood came. Like he invited the whole block. He was like, this is my sister. Like, and he was teaching me how to grill and cook and it was just such a good time. Like I've never felt, you know, more at home. Yeah. So that was my first experience and it was really, really positive. Now when I got to my mom's side, that was really challenging. Similar to what uh, Noelle has spoken on, just like the narratives and the stories that people tell you.
Lia 00:15:42 Like I remember being really excited to meet my siblings and first person that I spoke to was my mom's brother and he just started talking so much crap about her like, and was like cussing me out. And I was like, it's, it scared me. Like for a moment I was like, ugh, I don't know if I want to talk to anybody else. I don't know if I wanna meet anybody. Like, it was very, very emotional and, and Tosha talked about, you know, talking to your therapist before I even started this journey, I decided I wanted to find a therapist because I didn't know what I would find. You don't know if you're gonna find folks alive, dead, you don't know if they're gonna wanna talk to you. You don't know if they're gonna wanna wanna claim you. You don't know what's gonna come up. So for me it was really important that I had somebody to walk with me on that journey for whatever feelings and emotions came up for me. But being able to find them has been really meaningful to me, especially because I don't have my parents, like all I have is my siblings. And I remember seeing a photo of like my mom and seeing a photo of my dad and I was like, wow. Like I see myself, you know, and everybody says that I look just like my mom. I don't see it. But um, it's just really nice to see familiar faces when you've grown up your entire life not seeing anyone who looks like you.
Tosha 00:17:06 And it sounds like the three of us have had really pretty positive experiences with our actual siblings and for the most part that's where mine have been. And one thing about reunion I would like everyone to remember is the fact that we are in a sense interrupting lives. And that's how it was for my bio dad's side, you know, the whole secrecy of adoption. You know, we are secrets, you know, from birth and we may be a secret to whoever our bio parents get with later on. So it kind of, that's how it kind of seemed in my experience. It was like, oh, I've had this great awesome life. I've married, I've had other kids. What are you doing here? And at first he wanted to deny me and it got to the point where my brother, cuz it was my brother then me and my bio dad, he actually took care of him, which of course added extra, uh, grief and a hardship to me.
Tosha 00:17:56 I'm like, how'd you keep him? But give me up. But anyways, so it got to the point that my brother was ready to sit out him on the internet or just do a d n a test. He's like, how could you, whatever. But that was just my dad's process. Like he needed a moment to like, oh let's reopen this, let's go through this. So after he talked with his wife and talked with his, uh, children that I'm not, I wasn't related to for my other siblings, he was okay, but it took him some time and he later apologized for that cause he tried to make up all this whole story and all of that. So I just want people to understand too, when you go through the process, it may be fresh for you but it might not be fresh for anyone else involved in the situation.
Dr. Noelle 00:18:35 That's a really great point Tosha. So I am super lucky to have my mother's husband who I now called dad. He, uh, he's been nothing but a father very excited to be in reunion with, with me and very supportive and I, you know, I have no idea what their original conversations may have been like when I popped up in the middle of my mother's, you know, 40 year marriage. He has been nothing but kind and loving and thinks of me as his daughter. I am their only child. So that is interesting. But very lucky. I have two sisters on my father's side who will have nothing to do with me because my existence perpetuates the negative realities of who their father was. He already had children outside of the marriage, during the marriage they knew about and treated horribly. I hear the stories from my brother and sister and it's very upsetting the way that they were treated as children when it was this grown man's fault that they existed to begin with, right?
Dr. Noelle 00:19:52 But these two women have a vested interest in keeping our fathers the narrative of our father alive as this really great family man who is a wonderful father to his two girls. And if you heard them tell it, they, there are only two, two girls in their father's life and it was them. And so they uh, actually refused to, um, talk to me at all. And I can't even imagine how disruptive it is for them to know that there are more of us out here. And that I kind of popped up and I, I've gotta be very honest with you, I was not, I was not careful. I was not worried about people's feelings. I don't know if I will reach a point where I wish I did things differently. But, uh, by the time I got to finding people I was very frustrated because, you know, the system itself is built to hide you.
Dr. Noelle 00:20:55 I'm also a closed adoption. I still, even though I know my mother and have a relationship with her, I still do not have my original birth certificate. Right. So the system itself is built um, to keep you a secret and to keep you separated from biological family. But everybody has their own narrative about my biological parents and about what led to my being severed from the family. And I am horribly disruptive and I know that. Um, and I kind of tucked that away because that in itself is causes a lot of grief and upset. You know, why can't I just be accepted and loved and you know, and there are plenty of people including my mother who do accept me and love me and are very excited to have me in their lives and are working very, very hard to make up for the last 50 years. I'm a disruption for sure.
Lia 00:21:54 What would you say thus far has been the hardest or the most challenging? Part of Reunion
Tosha 00:22:02 For me is accepting some hard truths, shattering the image that I had in my head thinking that, you know, you guys giving me up, you're gonna have these great lives. And finding out that wasn't the case. It was some stories that I've heard from my siblings are, are heartbreaking. And then having to reconcile how I felt, like, okay, I've been feeling terrible, but I actually kind of had a pretty, I had a pretty decent life growing up. And to come to find out that you guys did not, that was pretty shocking. And then to find out how far down my mother traveled with her drug addiction was, I almost stopped right there. I was like, that was enough for me. Um, and I'm like, Nope, keep going. So I guess the hardest part for me is just finding new information that I didn't think I would find, but keep going.
Tosha 00:22:53 And having to realize kind of picking back what Noel was talking about, having to realize how this affects not just me and my bio parents, but also my siblings. Case in point with my dad, he has, there's another daughter. So that kind of changes her identity of being the only daughter in that family and having to, I've had moments where I wasn't so cautious cause I'm like, this is my journey, y'all put me on this and I'm gonna go through this and figure out my truths. Um, so I think the hardest part of Reunion is that there's no set emotion and it's very fluid and it can go up and down because you're dealing with other people while you're trying to figure out your own self.
Dr. Noelle 00:23:32 I think for me it's the hardest part of this is actually accepting that some people can reject me, that I can be rejected a second time.
Dr. Noelle 00:23:48 My, my sister's absolute refusal to acknowledge my existence was very, very hard for me. It currently is not hard for me and I'm not sure why. I think it's because I have my mother and I have my mother's family and I'm treated so well by these people that it makes it hard for me to center these two very selfish women. It's hard to know that people can pick and choose you still, right? Like the core of my grief around adoption is that somebody decided that they didn't want me and was able to make the decision to get rid of me. That that still continues at 52 years old, that people can still pick and choose whether to have a relationship with me. That is very hard for me.
Lia 00:24:36 I think the hardest thing for me is the abandonment. I felt like I got abandoned several times in the process. I felt like I got abandoned by my adoptive family because I was going on the search. And then when I found out about my bio dad raising two other kids and not raising me, I felt abandoned again. And then when I found out that my siblings, my two older sisters on my mom's side were raised by grandparents, I felt abandoned again. And so it was just like, I was really excited to meet everyone, but it was also like, damn, like y'all just keep <laugh>, keep leaving me. You know? And it was just like this really overwhelming feeling that I wasn't wanted, you know? And even within like my adoptive family, I, I feel abandoned as well and that's something that we can get into later.
Lia 00:25:33 But the abandonment was very much like the hardest part for me. It was like this, this dual thing where I'm really excited, but I'm also feeling really lonely throughout this experience. And just like how people have already had their relationships, right? If they like grew up together or whatever the case may be. Like they already have those things and I'm coming into it and for me it feels like I'm building like you're a stranger. Like I'm building a friendship from the ground up and I'm having to start all the way over. And to the outside it seems like it would be like this natural thing or be this really beautiful relationship, but it actually takes quite a lot of work to be able to build that and to be able to maintain it. And everybody else already has like their own stuff going on. And so you're, you're coming into that and everybody else is coming into it with their stuff as well.
Dr. Noelle 00:26:34 It's that moment where you think to yourself or say out loud. I've done both. I, I, I think about it a lot, but I've said to people, but I'm also family, you know, when they're, when they're positioning themselves as being loyal to the family, I don't, I don't wanna talk about this because I don't wanna upset the family and I'm, you know, the, the little girl in me is screaming. I'm family too. I'm family too. And I don't know if at what point I stopped feeling like an outsider.
Tosha 00:27:07 I feel the same way because all of they were essentially raised together. Um, my, I have my brother older than me of course, and then me and then I have three siblings, sisters and they were all raised together. So I super feel like an outsider. They of course do their best to make me not feel that way. And my therapist told me to make sure that I don't group them and that I treat each sibling as an individual as I try to build this. But as you said, Lia, it is a lot cuz it's, it's building a relationship from the bottom where they have established relationships already. So it's like, how do I fit myself into your life? And then, like you both said, I was not prepared for certain emotions, especially feeling some more abandonment, feeling rejection. But I had to realize that they, like you guys said, they have their own lives that we're getting into and not knowing them, like my brother was like, oh me getting missing has nothing to do with you.
Tosha 00:28:01 That's how I processed things. But I internalized it. Like, oh, I came in here, what did I say that was wrong? So it's like, I wanna be accepted, I want to accept my true self and yes, I am part of the family, as you said, Noel. And at what point do we get full access and we just, we we, I'm just looking forward to get rid of those feelings. But that's one thing that even my therapist was trying to help me, nothing prepared me to get rejected again and to feel abandoned again. And it kind of slowed my process down. I can be honest. I was trying to reach out more frequently, but I've backed down. I have to refuel myself again to put myself back out there knowing I might get rejected again, knowing I might get abandoned again. So now knowing that moving forward, hopefully that helps as I continue to grow relationships, as you've mentioned, you have cousins and things like that. I haven't made outside the cousins. I mean my, my siblings yet and then I have not spoken with at all with the children my dad had after all of us. So
Lia 00:29:03 It's gonna be a long journey With Reunion being a journey, what, what would you say that you're looking forward to like in the next step or the next part of your journey? I, I know that we're all at different points within our reunion or maybe there's not something that you're looking forward to.
Dr. Noelle 00:29:22 I think that I'm in a good place. I think that the hard, the hardest parts are behind me. I have a grandmother who's alive, she's amazing <laugh> and she continually threatens to give me the switch for not being in contact with her enough. They, you know, they seem very open to as much engagement as humanly possible. I think they actually would like more. Sometimes I forget to engage because I haven't had it. I, I, I will say that I have a desire to know all my siblings on my father's side. I keep trying not to make that important, but you know, it's one of the, the next things that I would like. I don't think it's gonna happen, but there's something about being rejected by them that really hurts.
Tosha 00:30:11 I'll say for me, I too wouldn't meet all my siblings going from a only child to what, seven or so? It's gonna be a lot and, but my mother has a lot of siblings. So basically I wanna learn how to balance all those relationships. That would be my end goal is to meet everyone. I don't have an expectation to have a relationship with everyone, but at least wanna meet everyone as many as I can. I wanna know more about where everyone comes from. I would love to know family history, share stories, things of that nature. But I do feel like this is going to be a forever journey. I have a long ways to go online. My parents are open to the process. Uh, I think that also helps cuz my dad is also adopted and he was not able to find a lot of information.
Tosha 00:30:57 So he's kind of going through his journey through me and is actually very supportive and excited about the steps and the processes. They actually wanted to come with me when I met the, my, my bio parents and I'm like, no, <laugh> are bio siblings. I'm like, that has to be a separate thing. And I'm kind of weird that that's, no, that can't happen. But yeah, this will be a lifelong journey for me. I wanna keep going as long as everyone is open and accepting me and to meet as many people in my bio family as humanly possible.
Lia 00:31:28 Yeah, similar to both of y'all. I wanna meet, I have a brother that I think was adopted as well. Um, and so I want to meet him and I also want to meet my, well find out more about my grandmother on my mom's side. So throughout my like reunion journey thus far, I learned that my mom was Puerto Rican and black. And so we think our grandmother's maybe somewhere, it's still in Puerto Rico. Her husband was murdered, which is how she ended up, I think, part of the story as to why her kids ended up in the system. Oh, I haven't mentioned this. My mom was also adopted. So I think that that played into it. And I'm just looking forward to like getting more in touch with, with that side as well. And just like the culture, the food, like one of one of my sisters is completely fluent in Spanish, which I think is so cool. So she's really tapped into it. And so yeah, I'm looking forward to, to just learning more about some of the other folks and getting to meet, getting to meet some more people as well. So for someone who maybe is thinking about starting their reunion journey or looking into it, what sort of advice or tips or you know, lessons learned would you give to them?
Dr. Noelle 00:33:00 I would recommend folks join the adoption communities, adoption reunion communities so that they can get this broad range of possibilities. I think the more prepared they are to accept a multiplicity of possible responses from their bio families, the better off they'll be. And get a therapist, get a really good therapist. Expect this to be bumpy. Expect this to be difficult because yet again, right, adoption directly impacts this innocent child. I mean, you carry that burden your whole life. The burden of reunion is also on the adoptee. So I, I think that those support groups and a good therapist are really important.
Tosha 00:33:48 I agree with that 100000%. I would like to add, be careful with your expectations. Be careful with timelines. Remember that you are human. Remember to give yourself grace and give the same to everyone else that you're dealing with in the process. I also agree with going on to different sites and different places that have adopted comu communities, especially reunion communities. And there's also some great websites out there and I'll share, again, I went through, I went through adoption agency, so some of them help with reuniting people as well. They gave me a thick packet of resources and information. So I would say use all of your resources. If you're someone who was open to putting your information out on social media, you can do that. I saw one today where the lady was putting up baby pictures just asking anyone to help. So if you're willing to do that, there's, there's different options in resources. Take your time and continue to love yourself and self-care,
Lia 00:34:46 I would say just to take care of yourself throughout the journey. It can bring up a lot of different emotions and also to lean into the adoptee community because no one else is gonna understand it better than us. And so really like take those opportunities to talk, to, talk to folks as you're journeying through it. And if you have access to a therapist, I certainly recommend that as well because once again, you don't know what you're going to find, but at the end of the day you gotta take care of you cuz if not you, then who.