My name is Nicole and I am adopted. I imagine most of you reading this probably already know me. But for those of you who may not, I’ll do my best to catch you up. I’m excited to share this important part of my life story here with you.
I’d like to start by saying that (spoiler alert) this story has a happy ending. My experience with being adopted has been about as positive and successful as it gets. I lead with that because every adoption, no matter how great it is, has its trials. I’m using this opportunity to share my personal experience as an adoptee and to share with you what it was like eventually finding my birth mother.
When I was three days old, I was adopted by Gary and Nancy Kehl. They had three biological children at the time. They always wanted a big family but due to some unforeseen medical reasons they were unable to have anymore children of their own. I was the first of six children the Kehl’s would go on to adopt, making us a family of 11. My parents loved us with all their hearts and treated each of us exactly the same. Unfortunately, there is no guidebook to adopting kids. And even when placed in the most loving environment, adoption can be hard to understand, especially at a young age.
As a child I was extremely sensitive. I was aware of my differences early on and after learning I was adopted it only made things harder for me. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that there was a person out there in the world who actually gave birth to me, but for some reason, chose not to keep me. That made zero sense at the time, and hurt my feelings. So instead I focused my thoughts and energy on wishing I looked more like my family. I haven’t thought about this stuff for such a long time and sitting here now I remember feeling so lost, and ashamed that I didn’t blend in better.
It was helpful that my parents adopted more biracial children after me, but I still didn’t quite feel the comfort I was needing at the time. School was especially hard because kids didn’t understand what adoption was or why both of my parents were white but I was brown. I don’t blame them! Imagine suburb Sandy, Utah in the 1980’s. Our family was definitely one of the first of its kind in that area and in retrospect, I think “Wow my parents were brave!”
As I got closer to my teenage years adoption had become the “norm” for me. I didn’t even really think about it anymore. My parents treated all of us equally and if adoption was ever brought up, it was in the most beautiful way. The “always meant to be” dreamy kind of way.
But even armed with all that positive reinforcement from my family, I still often reminded myself what adoption was. And no matter how much they loved and wanted me, the fact remained that someone out there did not. I get that I was probably being too hard on myself. And I understand now that all of the negative feelings I had about my adoption were completely self inflicted.
I felt a ton of rage when I got to middle school. Textbook, adopted teen. Thankfully, I had an invisible entity to take it out on. My birth mother. Lets face it, puberty was hell for everyone but I took mine to a whole different level. Imagine yourself during those years and all the times you felt angry, misunderstood, lonely or just plain sad. It sucked huh? Well, I associated every one of those feelings with her. I blamed her mercilessly. “If only she had kept me, I know I wouldn’t be feeling like this”. “It’s all her fault” This was my teenage logic. Which didn’t even help. The scapegoat failed because it always made me feel worse.
I enhanced my insecurity by about a thousand, constantly reminding myself in those dark times that I was a ‘mistake’ to someone. That I actually don’t belong here, wasn’t meant to be here, and if it wasn’t for PURE fate, I WOULDN’T be here. Scary unsettling thoughts for a sensitive young girl to be having. I sometimes wish I could go back to that scared little girl and give her a big hug. Just hold her and tell her, “it’s all good kid, you’re gonna be alright”.
On the other side of the adoption tango were my parents, and understanding their feelings about MY feelings. Early on, I realized that my talking and thinking about my birth parents was upsetting to them. How could it not be? It is such a sensitive minefield and extremely hard to navigate as a child. So I tried my best to keep it to myself as much as I could. I used to try and talk to my other adopted siblings about how out of place I felt sometimes or just express general curiosity about “where did we come from?” It was always greeted poorly. They would tell me “Nicole, get over it. This is our family” which I understood and I still am grateful for. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand logistics and biology. Two complete strangers in the world made me, I exist physically because of them. I want to find out who they are without upsetting anyone. Is that possible? Probably not. So I’ll table it.
It was tabled, for a long time. I’d sign up for the occasional adoption registry, even looked into hiring a private investigator for a while. Since I was adopted through the LDS church, it made things a lot more difficult than an average adoption. Records with the LDS Adoption Agency are about as sealed as it gets. It was a pretty hopeless case. I was incredibly discouraged. I started to rationalize my desire to find my birth parents. Saying (valid) things like “I need to know my medical history,” that’s fair right? “My husband is curious for our daughter,” even more fair. Don’t these reasons take the sting out a little for my parents? I’m only searching for medical purposes, not emotional.
The truth is, I really did put my parents feelings before my own, even if it didn’t always seem that way. They are the entire reason I am who I am today. My life has been somewhat of a dream, I am blessed beyond reason. I love them so much it hurts. I feel all of this everyday but for some reason I still couldn’t stop wondering where I came from and still carrying around a burning desire to find out.
I always asked myself as an adult, “Why can’t this be enough? Why do you still need to know?” Maybe I’m selfish? I don’t know. But I needed to know.
A few years ago, my sister Debbie got into family history and genealogy. Then Ancestry DNA kits came out. I became interested in testing myself after my brother got his results back. It’s not my birth parents I’m finding but at least it can give me some real knowledge about my actual background/DNA, something I never had before. Debbie encouraged me to take the test and mentioned that she could use the information to try and find my birth parents. My hopes were up again for the millionth time and I tried my best to be realistic.
It took Debbie less than a year, and she managed to track down my birth mother.
She called me in October of 2017 to tell me the news, I was in Toronto visiting a friend. It literally knocked the wind out of me. I was spinning.
I changed my flight and came home early, back to LA. I needed to talk to my husband and hold my daughter. I needed to feel real. It was a strange time. My husband talked me through most of the shock. We made a plan to fly to Utah a few days later. That’s where I’m from. My entire family is there and as it turns out my birthmother lives there too. I’d see how I felt, talk to my sisters and my mom, feel everything out.
Debbie played a very successful liaison for me and my birth mom, whose name is Julie. I hate to say this now, but once we arrived in Utah, I went back and forth on how I felt about meeting Julie. I wasn’t sure if I could go through with it. I know it sounds crazy since this was seemingly all I ever wanted. But all those years of not knowing and mixed emotions were almost too much to bear. I didn’t feel like myself, I was dizzy and sweaty for days. I couldn’t sleep and at some points even felt nauseous.
Eventually, Debbie helped me set a lunch meeting with Julie. I regained my courage and met her in person. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly express what that meeting was like but in short, it was surreal.
I was really nervous, we both cried a bit. We talked for 4 hours. She brought pictures of herself when she was young, and some of her family. I tried to see myself in the photos.
My thoughts were a jumbled mess. I had so many things I wanted to say but couldn’t think of where to start. She was calm and kind. She told me about herself. She comes from a strong, close family. She has a wonderful husband, and two grown sons. She is a happy woman, with a good life. I couldn’t tell if that made me upset or not. I guess I thought it would be easier to forgive her if she had been an awful person. But she’s not. She’s perfectly lovely.
She apologized for any discomfort her decision caused me and offered to explain everything, anything I wanted to know. Then she said something completely unexpected. She told me that she came prepared for me to be angry with her. I could be as mad as I wanted and say whatever I had been bottling up for all these years, and she would just take it. I honestly feel like she used reverse psychology on me because at that moment, I felt no anger.
We talked briefly about my birth father. He’s not around but she told me how I came to be. The circumstances around her choice not to keep me weren’t overly dramatic. It wasn’t good timing. She was young, and it was absolutely with the wrong person.
Julie was hoping I would find her, and all this time I had believed the opposite. Turns out we had both filled out the necessary paperwork via the agency saying we’d like to meet around my 18th birthday. But nothing ever happened. Human error is all we can assume. She told me that every year on my birthday she thought about me and hoped I was ok. That was probably the single greatest thing I could have heard. She hadn’t chosen to forget about me, she WAS thinking about me. That felt good.
I left feeling like I’d barely scratched the surface, but relieved and proud of myself for deciding to go through with the meeting. I also really appreciated how warm and kind Julie was.
I was nervous to talk to my mom about my meeting with Julie. We set up a time to talk while she was in LA visiting about a week later. Her reaction couldn’t have been better. She listened to my story and said such positive things. In my head, I had always pictured my parents as these delicate beings that I had to protect. But what I saw in my mom that day was strength, confidence and unconditional love. She is my hero. Taking a child in and loving it, like it’s your own is something not everyone is capable of. My parents did that and then some. I am forever grateful.
I guess what I finally realized through all of this, is that everything boiled down to timing. I truly believe that everything happens when it’s supposed to, and for a reason. The truth is, I wasn’t ready to meet Julie when I was an angry teenager, nor when I was a confused young adult. That time in my life was hard enough. Trying to figure out who I was and where I fit in..yuck. If for some reason I had met her back then, she wouldn’t have stood a chance.
I’m thankful for time, and for where I am today. I’m thankful that I can now make sense of my feelings and be mature enough to forgive. I’m thankful for Julie and her beautiful, albeit difficult decision to give me to my family.
I want to end by saying, Thank You so much for taking the time to read this. I will admit I was a little nervous to share my story but I am so happy that I did. I’m hoping that at the very least, it will help someone out there understand adoption better. And maybe also, help you get to know me a little better too.
Let me know what you think about adoption and if you have any questions about my story. I’d love to invite you to share your own experiences with adoption in the comments below. Do you know anyone who has been reunited with a birth parent? Are you searching for a birth parent? What are your experiences with AncestryDNA? I wanna know! 🙂
Lots of Love