Open Reunion by Carolyn Campbell

Her parents and in-laws feared she might stir up trouble and break her own heart but 42 year old adoptive mother Ellen Brown was determined to help 15-year old Becky find her birthmother.

Becky struggled to cope with unresolved anger and a feeling that a piece was missing in her life. She had fits of temper and frequent rage. Becky’s conflicts weren’t caused by her adoption but Ellen was eventually convinced that meeting her birthmother might help resolve Becky’s inner turmoil.

To understand adoptee’s feelings, Ellen and Becky visited adoption support groups. Ellen reported that many people in their 30s and 40s still hoped to fill a void by meeting their birth parents. She didn’t want Becky to hang onto that pain for 40 years, nor to have a longing for her identity hold her back.

Ellen became firm in her conviction that finding her daughter’s birthmother was appropriate, despite Becky’s young age – six years below the recommended legal age of 21. “She is on the brink of adulthood. I though it would help her live a happy and productive life if she knew where she came from. I felt she needed to see her birthmother at least once – to see the whole person to make her own inner self whole,” says Ellen.

Ellen was grateful to the woman who’d given Becky up for adoption. Ellen and husband, Al, hoped to have several children. After five miscarriages adoption was their last hope.
They were approved to adopt in December and the following July, received the phone call from the social worker. Ellen remembers, “They left us alone in a room with the baby. She was dark-haired, gorgeous and so tiny. Just over a year later Browns were thrilled to discover themselves pregnant. Son, John, was added to the family.

Al and Ellen were always open with Becky about her adoption. Becky thought it was great to be adopted because she felt special and different from others. In about sixth grade she began to be curious about her adoption. They attended support groups and discovered the significance adoptees place on finding self-identity. Ellen was convinced such knowledge is vital; it became important that Becky know everything. She thinks even biological children fantasize and question “what if these aren’t my real parents?”

As family love expanded to include John, Ellen felt it could increase to include Becky’s birth family. Rather than weakening their ties Ellen felt that establishing a relationship with Becky’s birth family could create a bond they’d all share. She says, “I saw my search as expanding our family, as if Becky were getting married. I hope I’ll love my future son-in-law and I hoped to love Becky’s birth family.

Ellen felt Becky should write a letter authorizing the search, when she sensed it was the right time.

Ellen admits fear when the social worker found the birthmother’s name, Debbie Wallace, in just three weeks. When they called Debbie, emotions were running high and Ellen felt a sense of loss. “My ultimate goal,” she said, “is to make Becky a happy, healthy person by fulfilling her needs.” When adoptive and birthmother first spoke, Debbie surprised Ellen by asking, “Where have you been? Why haven’t you called before?

Following Becky’s birth, Debbie sneaked to the hospital nursery to gaze at her beautiful dark-haired baby. After the adoption, Debbie’s whole family longed for the baby they’d never seen. She never had another child. She consoled herself with the assumption that she’d agreed to an open adoption. She sent diary excerpts, letters, Christmas cards and gifts to the adoption agency for her daughter. She never received a response.

Debbie invited the Browns to visit her in Michigan. Teacher Ellen agreed as soon as the school year ended.

The families hit it off immediately during the 15-day reunion that included river-running, sightseeing, an extended family reunion and lots of time to reflect and talk. “It’s eerie – like we belong here and have been here forever,” reflected Ellen.

Besides their striking physical resemblance, Becky and Debbie share common personality traits. Both are strong-willed, assertive, impulsive and, like Becky, Debbie struggled to control her anger while growing up. Both like fantasizing about the future, movies, exercising and the same foods. Both growl in the morning.

Along with their warm friendship, the families reached an understanding that both the mom who gave her life and the mom who raised Becky are vital parts of her identity. After Becky met her birth family, she told Ellen, “Mom, if they hadn’t placed me for adoption, I wouldn’t have gotten you.”

About the author
Freelance writer Carolyn Campbell has published 200 articles in local and national magazines. She has been writing for 20 years. She lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and four children. E-mail [email protected]