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Baby Boy #3331: An Adoption Story

A whole wall, floor to ceiling, had been devoted to these funny little pairs of kissing Dutch kids, giant rolling dice, coconuts hanging from their own palm tree stand, and hundreds of other variations. We would sit there on the floor and look up at them towering above us and play “I spy” and “What’s your favorite?”

When I was growing up, our home was home to more than just the four of us — my parents, my sister, and me. For as long as I can remember, my mother’s mother, Leila, spent winters with us, unable to keep up by herself with the snow and the cold that held her mountain farmhouse hostage each year from Thanksgiving to Easter. I looked forward to her visits and would sit on the kitchen counter as she baked something every day she was there: doughnuts, the old-fashioned kind, made with sour milk and fried in lard, or cinnamon rolls, with extra spice and sugary frosting. Overlapping her stay would often be one of her sons, my uncle Henry, who also lived alone the rest of the year.

At our house, the front door was always open. After my aunt Dorothy converted to the Mormon faith, our home became known on the missionary circuit as a place to drop in for those homemade doughnuts and sweet cider. A pair of young men would arrive at our doorstep, always in white shirts, dark slacks, and ties, and be seated at our table within minutes. There would always be talk of their missionary work, but my father, a Catholic and a former altar boy, would make it clear that conversion was out of the question. But have another doughnut, why don’t you? And they would. And six months later, two more would as well.

Who decides what information we can share, Rosalie? In a letter from the Vermont Department for Children and Families, my “request for the release of identifying information” has been denied. Instead, I’ll have to write to the probate court that handled my adoption, outlining my reasons for wanting to know who I am: “The judge will determine whether there is sufficient reason to release identifying information.” Sufficient reason? What if I say I’ll go crazy without knowing the truth? I resent having to prove it, but I admit it’s a good question. Why am I so desperate to find you, Rosalie? Why now, after all these years?

The fact is I’m not sure. Finding out that you had named me before relinquishing me changed completely so much of what I thought I knew about my adoption. Knowing that you gave birth to, and then lost, two children before me breaks my heart. I didn’t die; I lived more than 10 minutes, I lived more than six weeks. I’ve lived 45 years without you, Rosalie.

Edith died when I was 15. I remember one hospital visit, after the chemotherapy had failed to stop the cancer. My father was sitting on her bed, and they were talking. She whispered to him, “I’m dying for just one cigarette.” He turned off the oxygen and removed the tube from her nose. He lit a cigarette for her, and she was just starting to smoke it when a nurse came into the room. “What are you doing?” she yelled. “You can’t do that in here!” My father backed the nurse up toward the door and said quietly, so my mother wouldn’t hear, “What’s it going to do, kill her?”

I never fully understood what my father was doing that day in the hospital, not until nearly 30 years later, when I’m the one watching him struggling for breath. The doctors tell him they don’t know which will get him first — the emphysema or the tumor in his lung. This man has been such a good father to me, Rosalie, and it hurts so to see him the way he is now, tethered to an oxygen tank and disappearing. The other day I spoke to him on the telephone, and for the first time, he didn’t recognize my voice. “Is my son there?” he kept asking. “Let me speak to my son.”

I don’t know what else to say. I hope you’re still alive. I hope we can find each other. I hope that if I can find you, you’ll want to see me.

Rosalie, can you even think of me as your son? The last time you saw me, if you ever saw me, I was an infant. Now I’m a grown man. Strange, a mother and son to be on such new ground like this — strangers learning our names for the first time. Perhaps we should make up entirely new names for each other. But I wouldn’t want to change yours. For so long I have wondered about you, and today I have a beautiful name to say, a name to call you by. Rosalie, I can’t stop saying your name.

See also: Adoption Resources.

Updated Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

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