• Mary Ellen Gambutti

Not the Whole Story

Updated: Jun 3

At age six, my parents told me the story of my adoption, a fairy tale my dad put a happy ending to. “Adopted” sounded to me like a grown-up word. Something that needs special treatment. I didn't think I was born like other kids. There was no mention of another mother.

I imagined a family who came before my parents. I couldn't see my father or mother in the mirror. I had no brothers and sisters, but fantasized about the "accident" that separated me from "the others." I couldn't ask Who are the lost people? Who are they to me? I squint in the mirror to see myself better.

I met my birth mother in 1993, when I was forty-two. It was a revelation; re-birth. I’d persisted in my quest for kin for over a year. Now I was face to face with the woman who gave me life.

The South Carolina Law only allowed me to have--through Catholic Charities--my "non-identifying information." In the State's opinion, I still, at sixty-nine, an adopted child, and can't see my birth records. To find my birth mother before internet access, I circumvented the law, and a network of search angels assisted me. We exchanged letters instead of emails. These advocates understood that adoptees have an intrinsic right to know about their origins. A human right. My birth mother agreed with me, when we first spoke by phone, that if an adoptee wants to know the truth of who she is, the State should not stand in her way.

She vaguely recalled signing the relinquishment paper for Catholic Charities and the State. She'd collapsed in labor at "the steps" of St. Francis Hospital, where she planned to leave me in the care of the nuns. She couldn't ask her parents to take care of another child. Karen was about two, and her (our) grandparents had very little money.

Leila, my birth mother, couldn’t recall whether she had held me. She said she “just left.” She knowing my biological father's name; both to me, and to Catholic Charities. She expressed no regret to me. I asked her how she felt about our reunion. I still remember her gentle voice on the phone: “I think it’s great...” I ventured further, “They make it so hard to find our birth families. I don’t think that’s right.” The woman who gave me life replied, “No. Not if you really want to find each other.”

Karen, my half-sister, later told me that our mother had been watching with keen interest; "fixated" on TV shows that featured mother and child reunions. None of us suspected the drama that was unfolding as I searched historical records and phone directories. Karen was not aware of me--her younger sister.

Sisters and Mother
Karen insisted we get these portraits at Walmart in 1993. I'm on the left--we are all about 5'7"

Thanks for being here. Until next time!

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