ADOPTION SEARCH TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS IN WASHINGTON STATE

by Vicki Rummig

Me and my birth mother when I was about 2 months old.

The following is my story on the search for my birth family in Washington State. If you want to skip to search advice in Washington State, click here

10/95

I was born November 19, 1969 in Spokane, Washington and placed for adoption with my adoptive family in December of 1970. I have always known I was adopted and aside from calling my adoptive parents, my STEPPARENTS, for about a year when I was six, never had a big adjustment problem from this. I always asked about my birth mother, wanting to get all the information I could. I needed to feel connected to something. As much as I felt loved by my adoptive family, I have never felt "connected" with them.

When I was 18 I started looking into actually searching. I contacted Washington Adoption Rights Movement (WARM) to inquire on how to start a search. They told me for $280 they can locate my birth parents, $80 to open the records and $200 to do the search. I have thought for years that I had sent them the $80 to open the records, but when I went to follow through seven years later, they had no record of receiving anything from me. Kinda of odd, but maybe I was wrong. Well they said at this time for $500 they could open the records and do a search. I declined.

Skip to WARM 2/2003 update

Someone had once suggested to me writing Spokane County and requesting a copy of my original birth certificate by referencing with the certificate number. I sent them a letter "Please send me a copy of original birth certificate, file #XXXX" and signed with an illegible first, middle initial, and then my real married last name. I received a call about two weeks later. The lady was very helpful, but informed me they no longer send copies of birth certificates. I would have to write to DSHS and they would send me a computer generated copy. (Gee, thanks, I already have one of those). She did give the names of a couple of Confidential Intermediaries or CIs. Their prices ran $300 - $350, a bargain compared to $500. I requested the application and petition from one of them, filled out the paper work, and sat on it until I could get the money.

This is about the time I heard of non-identifying information, which is to tell you everything about your adoption without giving out names or places. This is a first step for anybody even considering searching for birth parents. It fills in so many gaps and gives you understanding of some things. You request the non-identifying information from the agency you were adopted through. For me this was Department of Social and Health Services for Washington State. I sent a letter requesting the information and received a phone call the following week. The lady told me they no longer send out non-identifying information unless there is a medical need because of a backlog of work load. Will let me tell you, you want medical need, I'll give you medical need. After giving information on two surgeries (both cancer scares) she sent it out to me within the week. I was surprised she didn't request a doctor's note. I received this information on my 25th birthday. Best birthday present I ever had. All my life I had wondered, "what time was I born?", "how much did I weigh?", "how long was my b-mom's labor?", etc. All of the things non-adoptees take for granted. I got all this information along with physical description of both b-parents and hobbies. Much to my dismay, I got my b-moms coloring and my b-dads build, "5'5" and hefty." I'm 5'3" and "hefty." My birth mom was 5'6" and 112 pounds. Sometimes life just isn't fair. The absolute best part of this info had to be, I was named Judith Marie. I was a real person before I was adopted!!

I don't know if this is true of all adoptees, but until I got this information I didn't feel like I existed. I always questioned my birth date and not knowing the simple little details of what time or weight, makes it seem as if your birth never actually happened. As it is now, I still don't know what hospital I was born in, but that will be simple enough to find out when I get off my rear and write the three main hospitals in Spokane.

I called my adoptive mother and shared all this information with her. When I told her my name had been Judy, she said "yeah, I know. Your name was Judith Marie Weaver and your birth mother's name was Shirley Weaver." WOW! Mom knew this all along. We also discovered my adoptive mother's mythology was quite different from the real circumstances. My mom believed that my birth mom had just dropped me off with an aunt and then disappeared. The aunt had supposedly gotten ill and the state took me as a ward of the court. At that time I was placed for adoption. When my aunt recovered, she went to court to try to get me back.

Okay, now for the real story. My birth grandparents were divorced. My birth grandmother passed away December 25, 1968. The family was living in California at the time (but I'm not supposed to know that). My birth mother attempted to take care of herself and her two younger brothers on her own. When things didn't work out, they went to live with their aunt in Spokane, Washington. Somewhere in the middle I was invented. My birth mom stayed with the aunt until after I was born. Not very long after my birth mom decided it was time we move out on our own. After a few months of this she went to DSHS to request financial assistance, one month later she relinquished me. The aunt had petitioned to adopt me, but the petition was denied based on the fact my birth mother did not feel that her aunt and uncle would be suitable parents based on their age and the fact they themselves had relinquished two children previously. After I was placed with my adoptive family, the aunt went to court to try to get me back. At least my adoptive mother had the court part right.

I understand where my adoptive mother got her mythology. All she knew was that the aunt was fighting to get me back and filled in the gaps with what made sense to her. The funny thing is after reading the non-identifying information and discussing how far off we were a year ago, my adoptive mother recently made the comment to me that my birth mother had never really taken care of me, the aunt did. Go figure!

Now some of the gaps are filled and I'm content for a short time. Of course I called Spokane directory assistance, but no listing for a Shirley Weaver. Okay, now what. I didn't have the money to send the CI at the time. I had recently heard that you can locate people through computer searches. I didn't have a computer at the time. I looked through the phone book trying to figure out where such a service would be listed. I couldn't find anything. I had also called a PI to find out what they would charge to locate someone. It was about the same price as the CI. So I sat on the information for a few months.

A couple of months later I sent the application and petition to the CI. After about four weeks she reports that she has found my birth mother and I should send a letter to her via the CI. In this letter I am not allowed to identify anything about myself, no names, places, dates, etc. That was a really hard letter to write. The letter I eventually sent was very short and curt. Looking back, I feel I should have been a little warmer in it. I kinda had the attitude, "if you want to know anything about me, you'll have to consent to contact." About 9 - 12 weeks later we hadn't heard anything back. At this time the CI sent a request for medical information. Six weeks later there was still nothing. The CI attempted to call her, but the number she has did not work. Things are not looking good at this point.

It was at this time I finally got on-line. I corresponded on Prodigy's bulletin boards and on the alt.adoption news group and got a lot of support and good information. I was also spending A LOT of time on the computer. Through the news group I met someone in Washington that is not a CI but helps people locate their birth families. The difference here is she can't open your adoption records, but with a first name and birth date she can give you a list of prospective matches. I sent her the information on Shirley and two days later she sent me an E-mail message. "I have found Shirley. She is living in Spokane." I understand that there had been 14 Shirley’s that came up with her birth date. She was the only one with the middle initial that matched and was living in the town I was born in. The data base only gives the city, not a complete address or phone number. My friend sent me a listing of all the listed phone numbers in Spokane under her current last name. None of the first names matched and being very cautious, I didn't call any of them. Another suggestion she made was to look in the City Directory. This is different from a phone book in that it gives addresses for EVERYBODY and more comprehensive information such as occupation, who else is living in the house, etc. I called the Seattle Library and within a matter of seconds I now had an address. But Shirley's number was unlisted.

I didn't have any idea what I should do at this point. I felt as if I was betraying a confidence because I went behind my CI's back. I didn't want to act on my new found information because I still wanted my CI to work with me and locate my birth father. I was afraid she would reject me as soon as she found out I went behind her back. It wasn't intentional. The information just kinda fell into my lap.

Curiosity got the better of me and on Labor Day weekend my husband and I headed for Spokane. The sole purpose of this trip was to drive by Shirley's house. My husband grumbled and complained that we were driving 300 miles just to drive by someone's house. Prior to the trip, one of my on-line buddies had driven by and gave me a description of the house. I can tell you, it's not a pretty site. It is a little shack of a house in desperate need of paint, in the middle of a fairly decent neighborhood. The first time we drove by there were two boys about seven years old in the yard. One of the boys I knew was my brother. He had the same color hair, the same nose, looked just like me at that age. It was the first time in my life I had seen someone that looks like me. As we drove away, my husband said "We can drive by later. I know you can't do it just once without wanting more." That was one of the sweeter things he ever said to me. I did drive by the house a few times that weekend. On one of my trips, I actually got a glimpse of my birth mother. Not good enough to really give a description, but I kept expecting to see this 5'6", 112 pound person. I can actually say I was happy to find she was also "hefty". It's still not fair though, because I was never 112 pounds.

The CI had continued the search for my birth father. The same source that got me an address for my birth mother, found someone who could be my birth father in Maine. I didn't have an exact birth date for him, but with his unusual name, Leeman, the data base only came up with three. The one in Maine is the only one who matches my birth father's age. I was going to put off writing a letter until my CI located him. Shortly after this I received an E-mail from my CI stating she believed she had found my birth father, but he was living in the wrong part of the country from where we expected and she was going to write to DSHS to see if she could get his last name to verify if it was him or not. I assume she had also found the Leeman in Maine. Several weeks later she E-mailed to say it was a good thing she checked, because the last name didn't match. I was shocked. There were only three Leemans listed, it had to be him. The other factor being that upon further database investigation the height matched and for being as short as he is, it is too weird of a coincidence. She did give me further information that my birth father married someone else on the same day my birth mother relinquished me. Another odd coincidence? To this day we still don't have anything on my birth father.

12/95

Recently I returned to Spokane to try to contact my birth mother. I had sent her a card the week before warning her I was coming and to call me if it would not be convenient to meet me at this time. I did get a couple of hang-up phone calls that week and will always wonder if it was her. Well I did it. I flew over, got a rental car, stopped and got flowers, drove by her house about 10 times. Finally I parked the car, looked at the house and contemplated for a while. Saw a couple of kids run out the door and mess with the dogs and go back in. I then walked around the block a couple of times. Finally I decided it was time to do or die. I got the flowers out of the car, proceeded to the fence gate. DOGS. Okay so now what? The dogs bark, "this is good, maybe she'll come out to investigate." No chance. The dogs turn out to really like me. I wonder "gee, do I smell like family to them?". I get the gate open, not an easy task, walk up to the door and knock. Nothing. Knock again, I can hear a little kid inside, still nothing. Finally giving up, leave the flowers on a table outside the door and leave. Proceeded to the nearest restaurant for lunch, drive back by the house, the flowers are not on the table, SHE GOT THEM. Okay, so now what? I go back to the hotel to contemplate some more. "Gee if I was going to be here a couple of days instead of one night I'd mail her a letter telling her how to reach me." A light bulb goes off in my head "I can have a letter messengered" I write the best letter I ever have in my opinion.

I don't want to hurt you or make things more uncomfortable for you than it takes to fill in the gaps of my own life. My heart never pounded as hard as it was when I walked up to your door, then it stopped when there was no reply. I would give anything for one hour with you to find out; what hospital I was born in, do we look alike, how many brothers or sisters do I have, were any more lovingly given up for adoption, why after nine months did you decide to relinquish me, etc. I don't harbor any resentment for giving me up. You did what was best. I can't explain why, but I do feel love in my heart or you. I will be in town until tomorrow morning. I am hoping you call. If you're not ready, I can accept that, but I'm not willing to give up. Expect to get cards from me three times a year; your birthday, Christmas, and Mothers Day. Please keep my address and phone number incase you ever change your mind.'
I included my home address and phone number along with hotel number and room number. She should have gotten this letter about 3:30pm, I checked out at 9:00am. No response.

After writing the above, I decided it was time to let my CI know what was going on. I sent her a copy of the story and held my breath. She sent me a message back saying how happy she was for me, sad things didn't work out as expected, but knew I'd probably find Shirley on my own anyway. She also made a note, "when it rains it pours. I just located your birth father yesterday." I got myself psyched up for another long wait. But guess what, within a week my CI had the consent form. She left a message with my husband on Tuesday that she had the form but that I would have to call her Wednesday because she was having company. When I got off of work Wednesday, I ran home to call her and got her machine. So I left a message and waiting impatiently. At 9:50pm she called and the first thing she said was "were you asleep, I didn't wake you did I?" I'm like no, and told her later via E-mail, for the information she was going to give me she could have called at 3:00am and I wouldn't have cared. She gave me my birth father's name, address, phone number and told me I have a half brother. She read letters to me from my birth father and my birth grandmother. I was somewhat of a welcome surprise.

Leamon hadn't known I was given up for adoption. Given the opportunity he would have raised me himself. I do feel I was best off being raised by the family I was, but it wasn't fair to Leamon not to get the chance. Of course in 1970, they would have laughed at him for even thinking about it. We have now been reunited by phone for 2 1/2 weeks. I also received a call from my birth 1/2 brother just two days ago. It is amazing to all of a sudden have all this new found family that is excited about your presence. After the months of disappointment where Shirley is concerned, it is quite the change. Leamon has sent me pictures. I now know where I got my extremely thick hair, high forehead, wide nose, and stocky build from. In fact my birth Grandma Pat wrote me a Christmas card, after seeing pictures of me, and said "If anyone ever asks you about your 'stocky' build, tell them it's from your Pennsylvania Dutch heritage -- also the double chin. Sorry we all have them!" My first thought was "Wow! I have a heritage." This has all been extremely exciting. In just three more weeks, we will all be reunited in person. It is going to be an exciting change getting to know my new found family.

01/13/96

Well, I finally met them and what an experience it was. As the plane was taxing to the gate I could see my birth 1/2 brother, Justin, and birth dad, Leamon. It took every ounce of energy I had not to start bawling right there. My lip was quivering, eyes watering, the whole bit. Somehow I managed to hold it together though. Leamon saw me and gave me a huge hug. It was weird because I had pictured him to look one way, then received pictures (from 10 years ago) and thought, "Oh, I guess I was wrong". Well I wasn't, my original intuition was correct. He had changed a lot in the 10 years. He is 5'5", has a beer/pot belly, gray hair, a "chops" mustache that grows off his face, and missing most of his teeth (the 2 front top ones are intact). In all the pictures he was a little big, dark hair, and a full beard. He is 43. Justin also gave me a hug but he was a little reserved. He looked the same as his pictures from 10 years ago. 5'10", 260lbs, mustache, and 1/2 Mexican. My birth grandma, Pat, was also there and said she knew I was a Duncan the second I started getting off the plane.

Grandma Pat owns a bar and she had to stop by to drop off some TP. She kept saying, "now don't tell anybody the first place I took you was the bar". We didn't stay long and she made a point of mentioning that also "well at least we didn't stay long". We played a game of darts while we were there. I think Leamon won after somehow managing to break the first machine we had started playing on when he was losing. We got to the trailer park where they and half the family live. Its a small trailer park that houses small traveling trailers, 5th wheels, Winnebago’s, and a couple of single wide mobile homes. Grandma Pat's brother-in-law had just passed away that week. We went to her sister-in-laws house (Leona was my grandfathers sister, he passed away in 1970, Harry was her husband who just passed away) and met several 2nd cousins. I didn't look like any of them. That was about all we did on the first day. We stayed up talking until 1:00am. I stayed in Aunt Leona's 5th wheel that she had just moved out of. The next day we went out to my uncle's house (Nolan). His wife was real sweet and really excited about the whole ordeal. Made me tell her everything I went through to find everyone. They had just very recently adopted a boy about 14/15 years old named Mike. He was real reclusive and didn't visit with us much. I felt like saying "hey, we got something in common." As we walked through the door I saw a lady in the house. Upon seeing her I thought "now I know she has to be blood relation to me". That was my aunt Pa"Tricia". We just hung out the whole afternoon, watched football, then they showed some family videos. They were trying to find one of Justin when he was about 12/13 at a family picnic and he snuck some (okay a lot) of beer. They never did find it though. Justin and I were sitting on the couch and the entire time I felt like kicking him. Not a mean kick, but a tease kick. I withheld for about 2 hours and than said "I know you have to be my brother because I have this incredible urge to kick you." Then I kicked him. The rest of the weekend we kept going back and forth with the kicking, pushing, shoving, etc. In the car we were at it and Leamon says to his mom "Mom, they're fighting back there". Grandma Pat said "what do you want me to do about it, they're your kids". I came out with "yeah, its your job to discipline us and Grandma's job to spoil us." I was having a good time. This time we stayed up till about 2:00am before Justin went home and I went back to the 5th wheel. Grandma was going on a trip the next morning so I said bye to her then.

The next day, the three of us went out to breakfast and then driving around Leamon and Shirley's old neighborhood. He showed me where they met and I learned more about their relationship. He also showed me the house she grew up in. For some reason, this part of the trip was real important to me. After we got done with that I went with Justin to meet his mom, aunt, brother 12 (which I must now adopt as mine) and grandma (that are no relation to me). They were a real nice family and their life style resembled more what I grew up with. His mom and aunt dressed like my adoptive mom and the house was decorated like my mom's. I found this real odd. After all this it was time to go to the airport. Leamon kept threatening to flatten the tire of the airplane so I couldn't leave. To be honest, I couldn't handle another day in that 5th wheel (it stunk).

I'm glad I went and all that jazz. But I feel a little guilty about not feeling closer to Leamon. A couple of things about him turned me off, so to speak. I feel like I'm being judgmental. Deep down he is a very caring and sweet person. But he looked at least 10 times his age, missing most teeth, sleeping on his moms couch, didn't shower, shave, or brush his 2 teeth, after I showed up. How would others feel in this circumstance? Am I being weird? I don't want to cut ties with him by any means, but I'm less anxious for our next visit.

The final thing; I want to share the letter I just got from Justin today:

1/16/96

Dear Vicki,

I just wanted to tell you what a pleasure it was to meet you, and what a honor it is to be able to call you my sister. I hope you enjoyed your visit, or at least found some of the answers you were seeking. At least now you know you do have a family resemblance (a very strong one I might add) to the Duncans. Better you than me, no, I'm just kidding. You are, in fact, very pretty. Even if you are my older sister.

I hope you weren't too terribly disappointed in Leamon. Despite all outward appearances, he is and as far as I can remember, has always been a genuinely nice man. He is exactly as I remember him, even down to sleeping on Grandma's couch. I tell you this in hope you don't waste too much time fantasizing about, or hoping that some miraculous transformation might somehow occur. All you can do is pray, because in God all things are possible.

I can also say in all honesty, that he was truly happy to see you and in my humble opinion, was in fact, touched by you. If guys to keep in touch, I thinks that’s great, but if you don't, don't take it to heart too much. Especially maybe even thinking its because your adopted, or it has any thing to do with the "honeymoon phase" or any other labels, because you already know what kind of relationship I've had with him over the years, and I'm definitely not adopted.

If it hadn't been for you, who knows when I would have seen him again. Although this time I think I will attempt a genuine effort to maintain contact with the family, after all they are my family. One thing about them is that they do treat you the same not having seen you in ten years or even just meeting you for the first time, and that does count for a lot. I also must admit that I envy the fact you have two sets or parents. I think being adopted might have worked out for the best for you. But then again, what do I know?

I'm still amazed at how comfortable I felt around you. I just got that feeling of being close without ever having met you before. That’s a very rare sensation for me. Anyways, I hope we can stay in touch. I really did like you personally, sister or not. If you ever need to talk or anything, don't hesitate to call. I promise next time I see you we can have some more fun, since we've now already bonded with the Duncan's, we can venture out some on our own.

I hope you didn't mind this old fashioned hand penned letter!

Extremely pleased we met,

You little bro,

Justin

PS I'll say hi to Barney (grandma's dog) for you

 

I guess that’s enough on my reunion for now.

 

09/20/96

I'm back from a new Spokane trip. It’s been a long weekend!

I met my cousin who is absolutely adorable. I must confess when I found my b-mom (Shirley) didn't have any grown up kids I was disappointed. I wanted to meet some siblings, preferably a sister, to be close to. Well it doesn't matter anymore because my cousin is PERFECT. She is two years younger than me, beautiful, genuinely nice, sweet, PERFECT. We met her for dinner and then decided to go out. It was hard to leave her, I felt an instant connection.

Now for the bad news. I did not get to meet Shirley this trip. That’s not so much of a shock, but the circumstances are. Before going I had been in contact with Shirley's uncle and aunt. They had driven by her house and it appeared to them that she was no longer living there. There were none of the toys, flowers, etc. that had been in the yard before. My girlfriends and I drove by the house and talked to a neighbor and found out when was still living there. I was adamant about letting her uncle be the one to make contact since she has not allowed me to have any in over a year of trying. Her uncle went out (get the Kleenex out) and went to her door. He knocked and started talking through the door. Things like "Shirley, I love you, I want to know what’s going on with you, lets go for coffee". She didn't respond to him. He then went on "Judy (me) is here and she loves you, please come meet her". No response "In the name of you mother Ella (deceased), PLEASE OPEN THIS DOOR WERE WORRIED ABOUT YOU". Still no response. He talked to another neighbor and got some information. The neighbor said that Shirley was definitely home.

About 6 months ago some Children Protective Service (CPS) workers had come by and Shirley wouldn't answer the door to them, they went around and talked to the neighbors, came back the next day and took her 3 school age children away. Before the kids were taken she used to go out for walks and talk to the neighbors and stuff. Since the kids were taken, she does none of that. The neighbors have tried to help her out and she won't let them. She will not answer the door for ANYBODY. All I know for sure is that she had been trying to home school them but not having an education herself it wasn't working. Her reason for home schooling was to keep her children away from other kids. Paranoid behavior. I have a feeling there is more to it than that. Anyway, after talking to the neighbor the uncle went back and spent over 45 minutes pleading with Shirley trying to get her to open the door. He said he thought he heard (or sensed) somebody whimpering inside. Shirley has a history of mild mental illness.

When he came back and told us all this, I called CPS to see if I could find out where the kids were and what they knew. They did leave a message for the case worker to call me. They suggested we contact Community Mental Health; they had us call Crime Check. The police went out to the house that afternoon and she wouldn't open the door for them. Mental Health was going to check on her today, but I haven't heard anything yet. Her uncle is worried about her reaction to him, afraid she may try something.

Today I and her/my cousin have both talked to the CPS case worker. She of course cannot divulge too much information, but she did say the kids were happy, healthy, beautiful, living with their father, and in school. (BIG RELIEF). I did ask if the kids placed within their age group when entering school. It sounds like the boys are both about 1 year behind. The second boy was placed in the first grade at 7 y/o, but could not recognize the alphabet, etc. The case worker believes that the kids father will contact the aunt and uncle and that although the case worker cannot say anything about me, she can have him call the aunt and uncle and that they can tell him about me and thinks he will be receptive to letting me into the children's lives. Maybe not as a sister (would be confusing with all the trauma they have been through) but I agree with that. Hopefully I'll be hearing from the kids father this week. The case worker said she'd have him call the aunt and uncle. The case worker was very nice is giving me what information she could, she knew Shirley had relinquished a child in the past, only didn't know the relinquishment happened after I was 9 months old. She was surprisingly open with the idea of me being an adoptee whose mother (her client) has had no contact with. Was very supportive of me meeting the kids. YEAH!!

We talked about Shirley's condition somewhat. She indicated (hinting only as case workers can) that since Shirley made it through the trauma of losing the children she wasn't worried as much about her doing anything drastic ANYMORE! I hope she is right. I am hoping the kids fathers call soon so he can fill me in on the details on why the kids were taken. I honestly don't have a clue on Shirley's mental capacity right now. Because of this it is no longer an issue of me seeing my mother, but of knowing she is okay and healthy. I must back off, but that is okay cause I feel complete now and I know I am part of her life, even if she won't willingly let me in I'm there. Someday all will be okay, but for now I just don't know.

 

06/09/97

I'm sorry to say, no new news in this saga. As you'll see in a minute, I'm a little out of sequence here. That is because I've just notice what a vital piece of how-to I left out. Sorry about that!  Needless to say, a cousin on my birthmother's side did not JUST pop out of the woodwork. Here is how it happened.

I was surfing the Internet one day when I found a bulletin board of adoption related posts. One of the post indicated that the writer was looking for a support group in Upland, CA. Now where have I heard that name before! Anyway, I wrote back and gave her all the information I could found for San Bernardino County as far as support groups go. But then I decided to go a step farther. I told her, Mary, that she was in my 'conception' town and asked if she'd be willing to do some snooping for me. This birthmother was more than happy to do anything she could. Two things I had to have, a picture of my birthmother and an obituary for my grandmother. The picture was easy.   See Mary works for the Upland School District. The obituary wasn't that hard either. I knew what day Shirley's mother had died on and I knew which town (being Upland of course). All this work was done during summer break, but Mary was great! She marched into the school before it was opened, found who she needed to find and got me a picture. She then headed for the city library and began the search. I was under the impression that my grandmother's name had been Judith Weaver. You know, just like my birth name. Anyway, this was wrong. We found Ella Weaver. The obituary listed her surviving children to confirm we had the right lady. It also listed her many brother's and sisters, mostly all in the Spokane area. So I had names and an area for my Great-Aunts and Uncles. The letter writing begins.

I used my phone CD Rom disk and found everybody in the area with Ella's maiden name that matched her brothers' first names and I ran everybody with her sisters' last names (both were somewhat uncommon) and between the two had a decent list. Luckily, being fairly computer literate comes in handy. I used the merge feature of my word processor and spit out about 30 letters. About two weeks later the phone rang. "Vicki, you have found the right family. I used to baby-sit you when you were just a baby." It was my Great-Aunt Pauline. This isn't the same Aunt who tried so desperately to adopt me, Eva had died a year before. This was less than two weeks before my planned trip you just got done reading about. Oh, on a side note, I did also receive a response from a second cousin. But once he heard I was in touch with Pauline, he said she'd be the best to get information from and I haven't heard back. It’s weird to me, because this second cousin was ALMOST my brother!!

10/3/96

I've heard from Shirley's Aunt Pauline. She has spoken to Shirley. I am happy to report I'VE BEEN ACKNOWLEDGED!!! Shirley asked her to tell me that now isn't a good time (which I can understand) and Pauline managed to get out of her, maybe in the future. I think one day she'll realize I'm not going away, either that or we'll meet up at a family event. Just being acknowledged is enough for me for now.

09/28/97

I made my annual trip over to Spokane. I had asked my Great-Aunt to go with me to Todd's (birth mom's ex) house. Saturday afternoon we went over, as it turns out I really didn't need her except for the kick in the butt to be sure I made the attempt. Todd is great!!! I went in and saw my little sister (Hannah) first. She's six years old and adorable. She drew a couple of picture for us. But much of the visit was catching up with Todd on the events of the past couple of years. See, Shirley has not been in contact with any of her family so we're all worried about her. Then the boys came home; Matthew (13) and Daniel (9). At first Todd just said that we were some of their relatives, their great-aunt Pauline and "Pauline's" niece Vicki. Ha, Ha. The "Pauline's niece" bit was Pauline’s idea. In my letters to Todd I had said it was totally up to him what we told the kids when I met them. I asked him how he felt about us telling them the "truth". He said he didn't care as long as we didn't get too much into detail on how. He seemed to think it was better to tell them the truth now then have them feel lied to later. Well I wanted to tell Matthew. I felt he was at an age he'd understand what he was being told and then he could set the tone for when we told his brother and sister. So me and Matthew went for a walk.

The walk started with me saying stuff like "I bet your wondering what we're doing here and why we keep asking your dad questions about your mom". The kid’s reply was "is it because she's psycho?" I said gently "well there is something about your mom you don't know and I'm gonna tell you". I then went into "when your mom was very young, right after her mother died, she got pregnant". Matthew says "yeah, I know and she had an abortion right?" (Shirley did have several abortions when she was younger, luckily I wasn't one of them). So I went on "well, no, she had a baby. But because she was so young and didn't have the baby's father around to help her she gave the baby to another couple to raise". Well, only has a 13 year old boy could say "NO WAY!!". So I stopped, looked at him and said "Matthew, I am your sister".

Well, he believed me but thought that is was "really weird". We walked for a while and I went on and on about how I didn't blame her, and things were so tough for her then, and she did what was best, blah, blah, blah. I didn't want him for one second to think she did something wrong or that I had any regrets. The only question he had was if I knew who my real dad was. I told him how she made sure to name him incase I ever went looking, so yes I did know him.

He started telling me more about her. I found Matthew to be very perceptive. Shirley's problems lie with her thinking everything is evil. She wouldn't put the kids in school, would let them play, got rid of the car, phone, TV and so forth. Well Matthew told me how it was just weird. One day they didn't have a car, then the VCR was gone, and so one. His statement was "she wouldn't be weird if it was 100 years ago". He commented on not being able to ever have friends over or visit anyone. Good thing he wasn't an only child. As it is the three kids are very close from this experience.

Matthew also asked if I'd ever seen her. I told him "no", that I thought I scared her and that would probably scare her to know I was talking to him. I asked him what he thought Hannah and Daniel would think. He seemed to think it would really freak Daniel out. I told him since he knew them better than anyone I would wait for his cue on telling them. If he wanted to wait until next year that would be fine. The truth be known, I knew how to tell a 13 year-old, but I don't know how to tell a 9 or 6 year old. Their father offered, but for some reason, I just wanted to tell Matthew myself.

Matthew was also fishing for similarities. He asked if I liked bikes, "no", he asked if I like car racing, "I like to go to the races" that was cool with him (I told him I'd take him if he ever came to visit me in the summer), he likes Super Nintendo, (you all know this) I like the computer and yes I play computer games. I had almost forgot to say it but I said "oh, and I love to sing". That stopped him "WOW, my mom likes to sing" so I told him Shirley's dad sang too. It surprised me he was looking for genetic personality traits. Like I said, very perceptive.

I spent quite a while there and as I said, their dad was great. He is totally for me getting to know the kids and letting me be a big sister to them. Since Shirley married somebody 11 years younger than her, he's only 8 years older than me and we found each other to be very compatible in the sense we'd probably be friends if we were neighbors. His girlfriend came home for lunch and he introduced me as his "step-daughter". What a weird thought. He shared pictures with me and told stories of Shirley and took pictures of the kids and me.

Oh, at one point he wanted Hannah to brush her hair. I asked her if I could do it. This is significant for two reasons. One is since the day I found out I had a little sister I wanted to brush her hair. In a couple of years I'll want to help her with make up and picking out outfits and all that mushy girl stuff. The other thing was as I was brush Todd commented on how my and Hannah's hair was exactly the same :-) I don't have much of a resemblance to the kids, but that one was evident-same color now (although when I was her age it was quite a bit lighter) and same waviness, length, etc. Todd said that it was too eerie. When I was done she didn't mind one bit cause I didn't pull her hair at all.

When we were leaving I asked if he minded if I stopped by in the morning before going to the airport. He was like, "sure come back later tonight if you want, come by tomorrow, come by anytime".

So I spent another two hours there this morning. Life is good!!!!

May 26, 2001

Wow!!!  It has been almost 5-years since I have written.  Not much had happened in that time.  I lost track of Todd and the kids and everybody lost track of Shirley not long after that visit.  I don’t think that Todd intentionally disappeared, rather he just doesn’t think of things.  Anyhow, that is no longer an issue.

This week I got a call from Aunt Pauline.  Apparently Shirley got herself into a bit of trouble and as a result was civilly committed for mental health treatment.  A good side of this is she is now on meds and appears to be making marked improvements.  The most significant thing was her calling Aunt Pauline wanting to spend time with her.  She is in a group home now with many privileges.  Anyway, Aunt Pauline did pick her up and spent the day with her.  They talked about all kinds of things like Shirley’s treatment, her lack of memory of events of the past several years, Shirley wanting to get back to work, and most importantly…ME!  Apparently Shirley does not have a recollection of me searching and finding her.  She did tell Pauline that she wants to meet me.  I hesitate and saying she wants to meet me because I think it may be a case of she may want to meet me someday.  Anyhow, it’s a good first step.  The only problem is at this point I have mixed feelings on wanting to meet her at this stage in her life.  I am concerned that she would expect me to be a good daughter and start to take care of her.  That is not something I am capable of.   But the more time I have to think about it, the less concerned I am.

I am now planning on going back over in a couple of weeks.  I have a conference planned that takes me half-way there, so after the conference I will continue on to Spokane.  I don’t know whether this means I will meet Shirley or not.  But I will likely get to see the kids, I’ll be staying with Aunt Pauline, and I’m going to make an effort to meet Shirley’s caseworker.  So, with that….you’ll here more shortly!!!

June 9, 2001

After six long years it finally happened. I met my birth mother, Shirley!!!

I called Pauline the day before I was headed on to Spokane to let her know I was still coming and what time I'd be there. She told me during that phone call that she had talked to Shirley and she was ready to meet me. She even asked if I wanted her to pick Shirley up and have her waiting at the house when I showed up. Whoa!!!! Too fast. I said I'd rather have a chance to gather my bearings before seeing Shirley and I rather she didn't. I was still worried that I might be getting a different message from Pauline than what Shirley was really ready for. She also asked what she should do if Shirley asked to spend the night. I said that we'd play it by ear. I wasn't sure if I'd be ready for that much exposure on the first visit. Once I was at Pauline's house she called the home where Shirley is and I listened to her conversation stating that I would be with Pauline to take Shirley out to dinner. Shirley said that was okay. I was finally comfortable with the idea of us meeting.

Shirley was in her room getting ready when we showed up at the group home. She kept us waiting about 15 minutes. That was okay by me. Finally she came out of her room. The first thing she did is ask Pauline if I was Judy. She walked kinda slow down the hall, probably due to the drugs. You can tell by looking at her that something isn't quite right. I asked if I could hug her and she let me. She seemed a little timid. I think that again might have been due to the drugs. She asked Pauline if she was just having dinner with us or if she might spend a couple of days at Pauline's. Pauline said 'of course you can stay'. She then asked me if that was okay with me. I was nervous, but I wasn't going to be the one to turn Shirley down. We went out to dinner and made some small talk. Pauline was constantly worried when the conversation got quite, but I actually liked those moments. I like to think things through and like to be given the opportunity to think when my brain is in overdrive. I mentioned a few things about meeting Leamon (birth dad), which Shirley seemed okay with. I mentioned that he told me that she liked avocados and used to buy one every day for her to eat.

Back at Pauline's we started looking through pictures. Shirley really liked one that I had from when I was ten and asked if she could have a copy. I told her we could stop by somewhere the next day where we could make all the copies she wanted. I showed her pictures from my reunion with Leamon and the pictures that Leamon had sent me from his family and past. When she saw the one of Leamon's father, she said that `my genetics came from that family'. Its true I seem to physically take more from my birthfather's family than Shirley's. I noticed a few similarities from Shirley, we both have big moles, not the brown beauty mark kind, but pinkish protruding things. Are We have the same color eyes and the same hands. Today someone saw a picture of Shirley and said we have the same smile as well. I guess I can see that.

A long time ago I had bought a book "God's Little Devotional for Moms" and a journal for Shirley. I gave these to her now. She said she felt awkward about accepting them, but ultimately did. She spent some time looking over the book and said she thought that the book would bring some hope and inspiration but that she feared it may also be convicting. Oops! That's not what I had intended. I told her if she thought the book would be upsetting she should put it aside until she felt she could better deal with it. She said no, that she thought it would help her grow. She then went on about living with the Holy Spirit. She's a little bit overboard in this department in my opinion.

She talked openly about that year in her life when I initially tried to find her. She said that there was too much chaos in her life and she was trying to get rid of all the extra stuff so she could get back to nature and nurture her children. She said she would not open the mail unless it pertained to one of her children and she would not open the door because people were interfering. Her plan was to ultimately move a cabin in the country and just live in nature with her children. She talked about home schooling them and said how she enjoyed it because she got to learn things with them.

Pauline's daughter brought her kids over to visit. Her son was about the same age as Daniel (Shirley's youngest son). Shirley mentioned that Derek reminded her of Daniel and started to get a little agitated. She tried to call the kids then, but reached Todd's wife who said nobody was home. After that Shirley was obviously upset and started pacing and said she was depressed she couldn't be with her children. I'll admit this was not easy for me to watch. She said she just wanted to be back with her husband and children and she believes it will happen someday. She refuses to admit that Todd is remarried nor that there is not a chance of a full family reunion. Shortly after that, her PM medications started kicking in and she was tired and ready for bed.

About this time I made up my mind that I couldn't stand three days of this and that I should go home the next day. I started planting that seed then. I can only attribute that decision half to that reason. I had also not managed to get any school work done all week and felt that going home a day early would allow me to get everything done before Saturday's class. At that point I just left it has a possibility.

The next morning when I got up Shirley was not up and about yet. Her uncle David said she had been up but went back to her room. She spent about 2 hours getting ready for the day. Pauline had told her that I wanted to take her out alone for a while. When she was finally ready she said she was nervous about going out with me. But we went. I asked her if she would show me where we had lived together. She said we would have to drive up and down the street a little bit because she couldn't remember exactly where, but could probably find it. On the way I saw a Walgreen's so we stopped there to get copies of pictures. One of the pictures we made a copy of was of us together when I was just a couple of months old (the one at the top of this page). I told the man that we were the same two people believe it or not and that we had just found each other after 30 years. He said he could tell we were related because we looked alike. Now many people have said this about me and my adoptive mom and we usually just laugh it off. This is the first time I've heard it when there was some truth to it. I didn't know how to react.

One concern folks have had about Shirley is her not eating. She has lost a lot of weight in the past couple of years and the group home suspected she didn't eat when she had taken her little break earlier that week. Well I'm happy to say that Shirley said when she was hungry and opened up a box of fruit bars in the store to get some nourishment ASAP because she was feeling weak. So we paid for our pictures, I through in a frame and picture album, and her fruit bars and headed down the street. She thought she found the street where we had lived and pointed out two houses that looked like it could be it. I'll eventually do some lookups in old phone books and city directories to verify the address. We then went out for a real lunch where she continued to ask questions like `what was my favorite food', `what was my favorite cookie', `did I like to cook'. She also said she hoped some time when I come we could cook together and that she would make me nutritious chocolate chip cookies with nuts (my favorite).

After lunch I broached the subject of me leaving later that day. She seemed a little disappointed so I dropped it. Things were going so well at this point I thought I could probably manage to stay. The school thing was still getting to me, but I hadn't sluffed off at all in the past two quarters so maybe it would be worth it now. My mind was still not made up. I figured I'd ask her again after she had time to think about it.

She then wanted to show me where she had lived out in the country with Todd and the kids. I wasn't sure how healthy this was given her delusions, but I don't want to play the role of mental health provider with her. So off we went. After that we headed back to Pauline's.

When we showed up Pauline told Shirley she would probably take her back that night because Pauline's daughter was going into the hospital the next day (overdue pregnancy) and she needed to be with her. Shirley said that was okay. This gave me my opening for heading out shortly thereafter. I didn't want to leave Shirley in doubt so I told her when I planned on coming back. This made her light up and she seemed okay with me leaving that day. She also had mentioned that it was all a little overwhelming, which I seconded. About an hour later we took some pictures and I headed on the road. As I was driving away, Shirley stood in the drive way and just watched and waved. I felt a little funny, maybe bad, at that scene. I didn't go see the kids this trip. Next trip I'll plan an extra day that nobody else knows about so I can do that on my terms.

I now plan on writing her, sending more pictures, and setting up a date for my next visit. I'm a little nervous over setting the right tone with her so that I don't get her expectations up and disappoint her. I'm not looking for a mother, just to get to know the person that gave me life and cared for me the first 9-months and maybe friendship from there. I'm still undecided myself what I want this relationship will look like in the future. But with the initial visit, I thought things went about the right speed. Somebody asked me today if I finally felt closure. I had felt that when I thought I was never going to meet her. Now I feel something, confusion maybe, but I don't think closure will come until Shirley and I can define our relationship. Time will tell.

I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about Shirley. I feel very protective of her and there is something else I'm not sure how to describe.almost an admiration or something. Maybe its simply love, but I can't say for sure. Would that be possible? Anyway, if I had to do it all over again knowing what I know now, I would most definitely go through my search and reunion!

Me and my birth mother June 7, 2001 (31 years later).


Shirley June 7, 2001.

 

The first step is to familiarize yourself with Washington State adoption search law. Visit WA Adoption Search Law . The first step for anyone searching for family members lost in adoption is to get your non-identifying information. This needs to be requested from the agency you were adopted through. All agencies differ on cost, what information you will get, turn around time, etc. If you are lucky, your non-identifying information should include a first name and date of birth (or at least age) for members you are hoping to find. The next step will be to register with Send a self addressed stamped envelope to ISRR; PO Box 2312; Carson City, NV 89702-2312. They will send you a long form with many more questions than you will know the answers to. Fill out what you can and return the form. If your lost family members have thought of looking for you, there is a good chance that they have registered and ISRR will make the match and contact both parties.

If you have a first name and a birth date you will want to have someone run a database check for you. The database check will give you a listing of everyone with that name and birth date who is registered to vote or has a driver's license. For Shirley we came up with 14. There was only one with her middle initial and she was living in the town I was born in. This will vary depending on the popularity of the name. There are several people on the Internet who have the access to the database. Each time the database is accessed, it cost the accesser $5 - $10. Many searchers will do the database search for you for under $20. My suggestion would be to join the adoptees mailing list AIML - Click Here . There are several people there that are always willing to help,  and a few have database access. Another spot worth looking into is the VSN - Click Here . Through the Volunteer Search Network (VSN) you can find a search buddy in the area where you are searching. Once you know what city you are looking in, call the city's main library and ask them to check in the Reverse City Directory for an address. Other information included would be other members of the household, occupation, and phone number if listed. If you are successful, you're on your way to a reunion.

I have found a great resource for Pierce County Obituaries. You can even order a copy of an obituary from the library for a $5 fee. Pierce County Library-Obituary Search .

 

If this does not work, or you cannot get a birth date, its time to call in the professionals. Confidential Intermediary's are the only ones who have access to opening your adoption records. All missing information should be included in these records giving the CI an advantage you didn't have. They also have experience in dealing with these very emotional reunions and can be great support. If you need a list of CIs in Washington, don't hesitate to E-mail me.

2/24/2003 - Update on WARM


I received the following e-mail today and thought it only fair to post it all for you all.

-----Original Message-----

From: Heidi

To: vicki@vsn.org

Subject: adoption search

I just wanted to let you know that I read a good portion of your website and was interested in your process. I recently searched for my birthmother, but for different reasons. Anyway, I did go through W.A.R.M. and had a good experience. I felt like I needed to put a good word in for W.A.R.M. The total cost of my search and unsealing the court records was $350 and the entire process took about 5 or 6 weeks. Much faster than I expected. Once I decided to work through them, they sent a packet of information which clearly stated all pricing and it was consistent with what I'd been told on the phone. Also, they sent me a receipt for each payment I sent to them. They also gave me weekly updates on my file per my email requests.

Heidi

 

This page has been provided for you. I am not a Confidential Intermediary, nor do I have access to database checks. I am just someone who has been struggling for the past year (May 26, 2001 – update, make that 6 years now) and would like to pass on my experience to help you in your searches. If you have anything you feel would be beneficial to add or if you disagree something I have said, please E-mail me. If this page has brought any success into your own search, I would love to hear about it. Thank You!

My birthfather, 1/2 brother and myself in January 1996

This lady that looks like me is my Aunt Patricia.

Send Comments, suggestions, etc., to vicki@vsn.org

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