July 21, 2014

A Personal Letter to My Family and Friends


Dear Family and Friends,

I believe our lives all hold a story to be told. Certainly each of us has had significant experiences that have taught us about ourselves and have shaped us to become who we are.

I love my kids, Jenna and Mike, with my heart and soul. But that doesn’t mean I automatically knew how to be a parent! Bruce and I were rookies when it came to babies: neither of us had spent much time around young children. I was an only child, I’d never been a babysitter, and I didn’t know a thing about babies. As we pondered the idea of parenthood, we weren’t 100% certain we’d know how to be parents, and I wasn’t sure I believed the “maternal instinct” stuff people talk about.

But Jenna was born, and later Michael, and ~ amazing! ~ we learned to be parents. I wasn’t that young – 30 when Jenna was born, and 34 with Michael – but I had a lot to learn!

And I did. I learned how to figure out what a baby needs, and to put my child’s needs before my own. I learned what it’s like to care for someone else more than you care about yourself, what it’s like to hurt when your child is hurting. I learned to love as only a parent loves. Ever since Jenna and Mike were born, I’ve been astounded by how much they have enriched my life. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without them.

The story that I want to tell you, though, began several years before Jenna and Mike were born, and I believe it helped shape me into the mom I was to become.

In 1977-78, I was a senior in high school. I was in journalism and on the school newspaper staff, speech team and student council. I played the guitar and sang at church, and was involved in my church youth group. The piece that didn’t fit with the picture was this: I was pregnant. My parents, heaven help them – to say that they weren’t expecting this would be a serious understatement. Telling them about this was the absolute most gut-wrenching thing I’d ever had to do in my life. This “wasn’t supposed to happen” to their daughter, certainly not to “someone like me”. Days, weeks, months after the day I told my mom about this, I very intentionally tried not to think about that day… it was too painful.

If you knew me then, you may have known Mark, the baby’s father. Some of my relatives met him ~ he went with my parents and I to visit the Skaffs at least once, maybe twice. His family was going through a difficult time then, with his parents moving toward divorce and his sister going through drug rehab. And then there was the unplanned pregnancy.

To summarize the next several months: I was in school until February, then left to continue my schoolwork independently at home. The public story was that I was out of school for medical reasons, specifically, “back problems.” My parents were active and respected members of our Catholic church, and right or wrong, that no doubt made my news even more difficult for them to accept. Not to sound cliche, but I’m sure they felt that to admit the truth of what was going on with me would have been shameful to our family. So, I stayed at home. I didn’t go to school or church, I didn’t see my friends, and the truth of why I was out of school was kept quiet.

I considered all the options. Abortion was not one of them. But I could not fathom the idea of caring for a baby; I could not wrap my brain around the prospect of raising a child. I was 17. I was scared. I had grossly disappointed my parents. And so I made the decision to give up the baby for adoption.

I honestly don’t recall my parents pressuring me on the adoption decision, and actually, at first my mom assumed Mark and I should get married. I knew that wouldn't be the right choice, and I resisted that idea from the start. In spite of that, fuzzy memories of conversations with my mom back then cause me to believe that, if I had chosen to keep the baby, my parents would have somehow made it work no matter how difficult. But the decision was mine, and once I decided that adoption was the right choice, I didn’t turn back.

On May 24th, 1978, my child was born – a boy. My son. I’d had a C-section and was completely out of it from surgery all that day. The next day, a nurse brought the baby to my room so I could see him. I recall that the doctor who delivered him also came to my room, and while he was there, he condescendingly admonished that I should have learned from this and not allow it to happen again. I looked at him and said nothing; inside I thought, You don’t even know me. Whatever it is you think I am, that's not me, you have no idea!

The day after my son’s birth was the only time I saw him. Adoption arrangements were made through Catholic Charities, and he was in temporary foster care for a short time until he could be placed with his family. I left the hospital without him.

My high school graduation was in June, and I’d recovered physically enough by then to participate in the ceremony. I reconnected with my friends, and surprising to me, no one asked a lot of questions. People were left to their opinions of where I’d been and why, but no one pushed for information. There was a court hearing at which I signed legal papers to terminate my parental rights. And by mid-June, Catholic Charities wrote me to confirm that the baby had been placed with his parents, and sent me a brief bio of his family. And then I was to move on with my life.

And I did. It was too uncomfortable to talk about this with my parents, and too painful to consciously think about, so that summer became my time of transition. I recovered as best I could from all that had happened. I started working my first part time job, prepared for college in the fall, and moved into a new stage of my life.

The next several years were busy: college, friends, career, marriage… and then busier: babies, kids’ activities, school, scouts, church… my dad had died when I was 21, and beginning in my 20's I was caregiver/advocate for my mom, Mae, and later, aunt Mabel.

All the while, I knew that the son I had in 1978 could choose to look me up after he turned 18 in 1996. I honestly never questioned whether I'd made the right decision, never regretted choosing adoption -- I always believed it had been the right choice. But I had no context for his life: I didn't know where he was, or who he was, and the prospect of him becoming an adult and looking me up caused me stress for some years. When Jenna and Mike were very young, I had no idea how I’d handle it if I were contacted by the child I gave up years before. 1996 came and went. I had had many very busy years, and so much time had passed it almost didn't seem real anymore.

Then, on March 3rd of this year, I was getting ready to leave work at 7pm. I checked my phone before leaving and noticed a Facebook notification. I had received a private Facebook message - at first glance I thought it was spam from someone I didn’t know – but within seconds I realized who this message was from: the son I’d given up to be adopted had found me! Thirty six years later, in an instant, I learned he was a real person, living and working right here in the Twin Cities. With the support of his wife and his parents, he made the decision last fall to search for his birth parents. It didn't take all that long for him to find me.

His name is Matt. He’s lived in the Twin Cities most of his life. His parents still live here, too. Matt is 36 now, and he and his wife, Lora, just had their first child on July 4th – baby Crosby – yes, that makes him my grandson!

Before we met in person, Matt and I chatted online for a week and began to learn about each other. He first contacted me on a Monday, and a week later, on March 10, we met. There’s so much to talk about, so much catching up to do – 36 years’ worth! – and we continue to get together as we’re able. It’s been an adventure learning about each other’s lives and families, discovering how we’re similar and how we’re different. To me, it has seemed less like getting to know someone new, and much more like reconnecting with someone I knew well but hadn’t seen for a very long time. 

I’m finally able to be open about this with all of you. It was a time in my life that almost no one knew about, and about which only a few friends have very recently heard. It has been exhilarating -- the beginning of our birth mom/son relationship has gone so well – and it is cathartic and unbelievably freeing for me to be able to tell this story after so very long. When I began to write this, the thoughts and words just flew from my fingertips – and I’m a writer at heart – so…

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. This is a long letter. Maybe you now know all you care to know, and then some. But, after 36 years of holding all of this at arm’s length, I’m now free to tell this story and I’m going to keep writing. At the very least, I’ll be writing for myself, but my plan is to continue this as a private blog, and if you should happen to want to follow along, I welcome you.

Besides, it’s no longer just my story. It's now “our story” – and that doesn’t just include Sandy and Matt, birth mom and birth son. It includes my daughter Jenna and her husband Lucas, my son Michael, and my husband Bruce; Matt’s wife Lora, his parents Barbara and Jerry, the rest of his family, AND his brand new son. 

I am honored by Matt's desire to find me, and am blessed that he has become part of my life. Relationships can't be rushed or forced, but my hope is that, as our families get to know each other, in time we'll learn to genuinely embrace one another as family. 

And so, if you're interested, I invite you to join me on this journey. :)


Love to you all,

Sandy

8 comments:

  1. Just an addendum to my post....since I began sharing this link a couple of days ago, I am humbled by the incredible affirmation and words of support from so many of you. Thank you, thank you.

    I have added a couple of options for following this blog, which you'll find in the right column. If you'd like to know when there's a new post, I invite you to follow by email or Google+. You may also see update links posted on Facebook.

    To all the family and friends who have read my story this week: you are a blessing to me! Thank you for being part of my life.

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  2. I wanted to thank you again for sharing - your story is beautifully told and full of examples of grace and redemption. I am humbled by every birth mother I meet - and pray that my son has the opportunity to know his birthmother someday.

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    1. Julie ~ When I first began to write this 3-4 weeks ago, I thought it might in some way be meaningful to families I knew, such as yours, who have adopted children ~ but I've also learned that the families of many people I know have been touched by adoption in ways I never knew. I've read parts of your adoption blog the past few months, and would love to talk with you about it ~ perhaps that coffee date we're to have the next time I'm in Des Moines?!

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  3. Sandy, I was so touched by your story. Tears stained my face as I read. I wished I would have known you back then, 1978, but I was only 5. The grace instilled in you, can only be from our God, who obviously, lives in you, works through you, and loves through you. You are an amazing woman. An amazing mom, now grandmother, and I have no doubt, an amazing wife. I can't wait to continue the journey with you!

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    1. Jen ~ I'm a bit overwhelmed by your words of support and encouragement...as I've been overwhelmed and humbled by the affirmation I've received since I began sharing this story. I'm human, and far from perfect, but God makes no mistakes. I believe this has all been unfolding exactly as it is meant to. God's timing is perfect. And I'll be writing about that as I get further into the story. :)

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  4. My new book called "Separated Lives" is a true story about the adoption of a baby boy. Years later I take him on a fascinating but uncertain journey to search for his birth parents. It is available from Dorrance Publishing (in Pittsburgh, PA) www.DorranceBookstore.com, Barnes & Noble barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com
    Author: Lynn Assimacopoulos

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  5. Dear Sandy, it's so beautiful and -- for me as a fellow birth mother -- healing to read your story. Yes, you are a writer indeed, and the way you convey your personal history shows grace and peace and a trust in God. Please keep writing!

    There are so many parallels with my own story. I feel blessed to have found your blog and look forward to reading all of the past posts. May God continue to bless you and all the members of your family.

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    1. I appreciate your kind words. This year I've only written one post so far - I wish I had more time to write! Initially, I'd hoped to write weekly or at least monthly, but learned very quickly that I need to think through what I write, review it, and say it exactly as I want it to be understood. It's been healing for me to share this story, and I hoped it would be somehow helpful to others - if you find healing in it, that's a blessing to me. Thank you so much for your encouragement.

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