Family Secrets

My 95 year old Oma (Grandmother) has been on a bit of a tear lately and said something out of nowhere but it made so much sense:

“If you let something boil for too long, it starts to stink.”

Ain’t that the truth….

I know I am not the only one out there with a story to tell…..stories filled with inconsistencies, lies, and tragedy.

Sometimes I’ll hear someone talking about a problem or situation they are dealing with and on the inside I think: “That’s nothing….I can one-up your battle scars when I tell you this…..” but I don’t like to do that. That wouldn’t help anyone but it is important to talk about the things in life that haunt you.

For the first 12 years of my life, something really important was kept from me. Not sure if it was done to protect me as a child or to protect the feelings of those involved but at the age of 12, I found out by accident that my Mother was adopted.

I didn’t want to believe it at first; how could this be true? The bond I shared as a child with my Maternal Grandparents was so strong, it felt like the last 13 years had been a lie.

If it wasn’t a bad, shame filled thing; why did she keep it from me?

Isn’t an adoption supposed to be a “happy” event?

One of my Dad’s sisters asked me once: “How did you not notice the differences between all of you?”

All of my Dad’s family knew her secret too, they also assumed I had known all along like they had. I was literally the last to know and probably wouldn’t have been told willingly.

Looking back, it never occurred to me why I had never seen a real baby picture of my mother with her parents past 18 months old. It didn’t occur to me that they all had either really dark or red hair; whereas my Mom, myself and my brothers had blonde hair and fairer skin.

A lot of things looking back stood out as blaring signs that I was not biologically related to the people I assumed were my biological ancestors.

“Does it matter now? Did it matter then?”

The love I have for my late Grandmother and 85 year old Grandfather remains but finding out the truth, hurt a lot because it was kept from me like it was this horrible thing when it really wasn’t and it made me wonder; “What else is she keeping from us?”

I get it: back in the 1960s, there wasn’t Open Adoptions like there are now but in my 12 year old mind; I felt like if she was adopted, I too was adopted in a way because a part of me is out there too.

Although I still loved them and this revelation didn’t change that, I felt lied to and deceived by all of them. In my view, there were so many opportunities to share the truth with me and my siblings but it was covered up. I was extremely close to my Grandma, we talked everyday and she was always so honest with me.

Why didn’t she tell me during all of those hours long phone conversations we had?

Why wasn’t she proud of herself and my Grandpa for adopting a child?

Since finding out, so many questions I had for my mom about this were received with anger, even now. Whenever I wanted to find out more or suggested unsealing the adoption records; I was shot down:

“Stop talking about it, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t affect you. It’s my business. Get over it.”

I have to say it really took months, maybe even a year before she finally talked about it without being so angry. I still needed to know answers to questions like:

Why does this make her so angry and upset?

I am her daughter, why doesn’t she want me to know?

Did she really want to tell me herself?

What was she waiting for? (Maybe my wedding day?)

Who knows, only she knows those answers and I’ve never dealt with that part of it because every time I try, I am railroaded with guilt because “it hurts other people like me and Grandpa.”

No idea if it hurts him for real or if that is her way of making me shut up about it.

Finding Out By Mistake:

I found out about her adoption while driving in a car with my Mom’s best friend whose husband is also adopted.

I call her my Aunt in real life as I’ve known her my whole life and she has always been a “Truth Teller,” which I love because Ive needed her in my life so much at various times, to give me honest, true advice. We were talking about my Uncle’s adoption when she dropped a bomb:

“Your mother is adopted too….” she said.

“No she’s not! What are you talking about?” I replied in disbelief.

“Oops – maybe I shouldn’t have told you that. I thought you knew already.”

Yes, I should have known that already and I should have heard it from my mother.

If she hadn’t already told me by age 12, I have to assume she probably didn’t have any plans to ever tell me.

Why did her best friend get to know but not her daughter or other kids?

This was in 1997, I was trapped in a car, driving through the big mountains headed for Florida so I could dance in a National Dance Competition.

All I could think about now was this information and getting out of the car so I could confront my mother. I felt so angry and obviously confused as well, my Aunt did her best to calm me down probably also scared shitless about my mothers reaction but I didn’t care; I wanted to bring it up as soon as I saw her.

When we finally stopped and met up with my Mother and brothers at a Gas Station, I exploded. She denied it; said it wasn’t true but I knew better.

I knew she was lying to me and I can understand why she didn’t want to tell me the real truth at a Gas Station in the middle of Georgia, but what about the rest of my life?

Apparently I had no “right” to know. It was “her business, not her daughters.”

According to her I had no right to know I wasn’t biologically related to the family I loved so much for all my life. I had no right to know she did in fact have family out there somewhere and I was angry she didn’t understand that this “part of her life” was also part of mine, part of me was missing out there too.

My mom in 1964 with my Grandpa.

My mom with her little brother. The resemblance to my oldest daughter is uncanny.

Is it really true that telling the truth sets you free or is it sometimes the truth hurts too much so people protect you from it?

It took awhile before she finally admitted it was indeed true; she was adopted because both of her biological parents had “died in a car accident together in 1961 when she was 5 months old and there wasn’t any one else to take her in.”

I wanted to believe her so badly, but it just sounded like a story made up by someone, something you would read about in a Fiction novel or in a movie.

There was more to the story: she was the only child out of the 4 my Grandparents had together that was adopted. My Grandma had polio in her early teens and it afflicted her for the rest of her life.

After the birth of her first child, the doctor told her “no more kids,” and so they adopted my mother when she was 18 months old.

After that, they proceeded to have two more biological children against Doctor’s Orders and everything was fine. They lived with their own secret about the adoption for 7 years before my mom found out by accident too, from her sister.

Who would invent such a story and why?

Was it the Catholic Children’s Aid who handled her foster care and adoption?

Was it my Grandparents who didn’t want her knowing the real truth because it would hurt her?

Or was it her who made it up? Ashamed of her past and how she came to be on this Earth?

17 Years Later:

Like I said before, I had bugged her for years to find out the truth about things which was always shot down quickly. I said I wanted to know for health reasons because I was about to get married and have kids. I just wanted know for my own reasons…..

17 Years later, after my first child was born; we did learn some truths and it wasn’t the same kind of heartbreaking story like the one I’d been told my whole life.

She had filed to have the adoption records unsealed which takes months for any private adoption that was done in the 1960’s. I had asked her for years to do it for various reasons but I guess the impending birth of her granddaughter was enough motivation to finally learn why she was given up.

Out of respect for my mother, I won’t go into the details but let’s just say, the real story; it is even sadder than the made up version used to make us all feel better about the situation.

The irony of it all is my Dad actually did die in a car accident. That fake story was told to my mom before he died so that was almost too insane to be true because then really, we have a family curse. I say this because car accidents have indeed changed our family not once, but twice. My Dad’s parents had 6 grandchildren grow up without a Father because they died tragically in car accidents.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to share those details but not now.


All I can do for myself and my daughters is be different and tell them my truths, even if it hurts, so they don’t find out later and feel betrayed and so that they trust me.

I want them to know no matter what happens they can come to me and tell me about the awful things that do happen. I feel in our lifetime, there are things that are only shameful if you let them be.

Family secrets can and will affect everyone so consider that before burying them but eventually the truth does come out. Unfortunately my own mother learned the truth from her older sister after coming home from a birthday party.

She wouldn’t give up her Loot Bag or something to her older sister who said: “Give it to me or I’ll tell Mommy and Daddy to take you back where you came from.”

I can’t imagine what that must have felt like, 7 years old and hearing that from your own sister but still; does history have to repeat itself?

What kind of relationship do you want to have with your kids?

An open and honest one where you tell them about the messy things in your life from the past, present or future?

Or a confusing, secret-filled one that makes you not trust or believe your own mother?

I want that first choice as a relationship for my daughters and I. It was my choice to bring them into this world so they deserve that from me.

I don’t ever want them to be scared of asking questions about my past or have a fear about my reactions. I want them to know every thing – that’s why we have kids after all isn’t it?

To share OUR life experiences, good and bad, with them so they TRUST us.

Happy World Adoption Day to everyone on this Thursday. I hope you enjoy your day, have peace, love and health in your life for the children you adopted or if you were adopted yourself.

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