Friday, June 12, 2009

In Which I Learn About Spanish Descent

In February 1993, I finally received my first real link to my birth story. My non-identifying information came in a plain envelope from Catholic Charities with a red stamp marking it CONFIDENTIAL. It was two pages in length and written on a typewriter. It was the most I had ever known about my biological family. It was subjectively written while giving the appearance of an objective observer. It was vague and noncommital but contained facts that answered questions and raised more at the same time. It was, in two words, life changing.

The birth mother it described was "23, vivacious, long blonde hair, talkative". She had worked in a bank, and as a phone operator, wasn't good at math but loved figure skating. It stated that her reason for surrender was that I would "have a much better life if given up." Her mother was Italian, her father was Irish and Dutch and English, he was a machinist and a war veteran. She had two sisters, both of who were married, while she was not. They were all Catholic.

The alleged birth father (because the birth father is always only "alleged" so that he doesn't have to sign away paternity rights) was "35, Spanish, dark hair, dark eyes, charming". He had a brother that had died of leukemia at age 18 and he was a "golf pro". His parents were "Spanish" and his father was a machinist also. He was married, although not to my birth mother, and they were all Catholic.

My first thoughts on reading this were "Irish makes sense, but the rest I don't see" and "hmm, I've never been good at math either." I felt calm, I felt relieved, I felt satisfied.

This feeling lasted about a week.

So I Wanted to Know Something

After I graduated from college in 1992, I decided it would be a good idea to visit the Catholic Charities office that I had been adopted through. After all, it was still in exactly the same place, people seemed friendly on the phone and the case worker was willing to meet with me. I called, explained that I would like some information about my birth family and first encountered the term "non-identifying information".

Non-identifying information is how the narrative surrounding an adoptee's birth and birth situation is characterized. It is designed to be informational about the birth parents and what was known by the agency at the time of birth. Some are very very short and some can be quite lengthy. What goes into the non-identifying information varies greatly from agency to agency and social worker to social worker. At Catholic Charities, all non-ID goes through a review process before it is released to the adoptee inquiring.

Naive me, in 1992, I thought it would be as easy as walking in and talking to someone. So I did. And the CC social worker at the time sat across the desk from me, WITH MY ORIGINAL FILE, and told me the above story about non-identifying information and why I would need to wait for the information to come in the mail. SHE HAD MY FILE IN FRONT OF HER...WITH MY NAME and everything else I wanted to know. I remember leaving CC and sitting in my car and crying, I was so frustrated. It seemed so unfair that someone could know everything about my background and being unable or unwilling to share it. I've since learned that many adoptees, meeting more sympathetic social workers, find themselves left in offices with their file on the desk while the social worker "goes to look for something". That was not my experience.

So I waited. And waited. And waited some more. I first asked for my non-ID in September of 1992. I moved to Houston and continued to wait. It would be Spring of 1993 before I would get the first version of my birth story.