Meeting the Bio Family: Chapter 11 – Maternal Family Connections Five Years in the Making

It takes time . . . to process the secrets, the decisions, the truths hidden for decades. Just give them time.

Despite having complete confidence in the truth of these words, giving this advice to adoptees hoping to connect with biological family is so much easier than living it. I’ve seen it happen, a long-denied connection is suddenly acknowledged and accepted, opening the door for a relationship. But sometimes the door never opens.  

For five years, I’ve longed to meet more people who knew my birth mother. Folks who’d spent time with her, who remembered her likes and dislikes, her quirks, her uniqueness. Relatives whose reminiscences I could borrow, whose memories I could slide myself into. If I couldn’t know her myself, I wanted to know people who had journeyed through life with her. People who might look like her and who might also look like me.   

What I really wanted was for the covers to be ripped off of the decades-old secrets once and for all. I could have pushed for that to happen. I could have done the “ripping off” myself. But I didn’t want to do that. Instead, I resorted to engaging with my new-to-me-family, who knew nothing of me, from a far by snooping through social media accounts, ever looking for resemblances and tidbits relating to their relationship with my mother. Yet, always fearful of accidently LIKING or sending a FRIEND request. Some would call it stalking. I prefer the term social investigation.

And then it happened. The secret leaked, as secrets tend to do, via questions raised by a family member’s DNA test results. “So, who are you?” Now one other person knew the truth. She received the news as well as could be expected. We chatted and exchanged pictures with a promise to meet up as soon as COVID allowed. Before long, a combination of factors converged to spill the news again with a bigger splash this time, one that wouldn’t be contained. The secret was officially no longer a secret. More conversations and photo exchanges helped the processing on both sides of the revelation, And then finally, a date and time for an in-person, early-dinner meeting landed on our June calendar. I had to pinch myself to be sure it was true.

Hubby’s question as we drove to the restaurant echoed inquiries from the handful of times that he’d posed a similar question. “Are you nervous?” Because how often does a person meet a half-niece and a half-nephew, just a few years my junior, who had just discovered the existence of a half-aunt? For most people the answer is never. Nervous? No. Excited? Yes. And very relieved to no longer be a secret.   

At a warm, friendly dinner for four we got acquainted with Leslie and John. Soon, we trekked to Leslie’s home for dessert where spouses, a son, and a granddaughter joined the family reunion. Now, I had met a total of five (5!) maternal biological relatives! I drank in every anecdote, learning many new and intriguing details about my mother, their grandmother, with whom they’d enjoyed a close relationship. When my daughter texted at the 4-hour point in the evening, “how did it go?” I answered with “we’re still here!” To which she replied, “it’s obviously going well!” Two hours later we bid farewell to our new kin with promises to get together again, soon. The evening was a smashing success.

I had been thrilled to connect via email with three of my mother’s first cousins when our DNA matched. I received a warm welcome each time as well as pictures, family news, and shared sentiments of “maybe we’ll meet someday.” But many miles and the interruption of COVID-19 had so far kept that reality at bay. I was especially anxious to meet Dave, the DNA match who first pointed me to my maternal family. He’s lived in California for decades, but he and his wife Shirley sometimes RVed their way back to the Midwest, so I held out hope that an in-person meet up would happen someday. Preferably sooner rather than later.

Well, that dream became reality in September when we enjoyed a delightful lunch with Dave and Shirley at the beginning of their journey back to California. Rain pounded the ground all around the restaurant’s outdoor seating pavilion as we dined on fish and chips—so fitting for our shared British ancestry. They regaled us with a wealth of extended family history, filling in dates and details that only firsthand accounts and years of research could provide. We could have chatted all day, but the long journey home beckoned them to hit the road. The lunch reunion another smashing success!

I’d exchanged many a lengthy email message with Dave’s brother, Jim, also a DNA match and the noted family historian. With our permission, he had added us to the volume of family history he’s meticulously compiled. It would have truly been a bonus if Jim could have joined the reunion luncheon, but there’s always next year. And I would indeed love to trek his way, to visit the communities in Michigan where my ancestors lived generations ago.

The maternal relative counter now rested at six (6!) with four (4!) “bonus” relatives by way of spouses. But there was one more in-person meeting we hoped to squeeze in before the end of the year. And what better time than my birthday weekend for a long-anticipated lunch with my half-great-niece Katie and her daughter Isabella, my half-great-grandniece. Katie’s DNA results last year had been the “leak” that eventually opened the secret door within the family. Although her great-grandmother, my mother, had died before Katie was born, she’d grown up surrounded by the memories and pictures of the woman her family held close in their hearts and with whom Katie shared a noticeable resemblance. A third smashing success reunion.

Six plus two brings the count on bio mom’s side to eight, including five generations, and of course, the “bonus” spouses. From one to eight, and it only took five years. But I’m not complaining, not really. I understand that the revelation of a secret doorstep baby swept through the family timeline like a tsunami. And that kind of thing takes time to process.

By the way, a note about all of this half business—half-niece, half-nephew, etc. It’s simply an effort to correctly label the genetic relationships. But as my (half) paternal bro Alan prompted early on in this journey, “Can we just forget the half part??” My answer then, now, and always, a hearty YES.

Expect one more post before I conclude this series, here. Not that my journey has or will end soon. I’m hoping for more connections and open doors and who knows what may lie ahead? I’m learning that this kind of reuniting of biological kin is an ongoing, lifelong process. This doorstep baby’s story will come together in its entirety in book form, accompanied by the wealth of insights and realities I’ve gathered about adoption and reunion and the wonder of family. In 2022? Hopefully, yes. That’s the plan. So, stay tuned . . .

If you’re just tuning in to this wild, adoption-reunion adventure, catch the beginning of the story here.