‘Is there a family history of cancer?’ I said, ‘I’m adopted. I have no idea.’ The search began.’: Adoptee reunites with birth family, ‘They accepted me with open arms’

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“I was adopted when I was very young in 1961. My parents were exemplary and involved. Mom and Dad had already adopted two children when I came along. Mom said, ‘We decided to only adopt two but I received a call you were available and we couldn’t say no!’ That’s not the only time that happened because they said yes one more time when our fourth sibling came along and needed a loving safe home. Lucky for us!

As a very young child, being adopted was something I was always aware of. It’s not like they sat us down to tell us we were adopted. We always knew and it was a natural part of our lives. In fact, it was a BIG event when we went to go get the next sibling. We all loaded in the station wagon to go to the adoption agency to get our youngest brother! Such excitement! I still remember that day. He was so cute and dressed in a little blue short set with suspenders. He had light hair and big green eyes. The poor child must have been scared to death because he bopped my sister in the nose on the ride home! I’m not sure if my parents said it at that time but later in life, it wouldn’t be unusual to hear them say someone was full of ‘piss and vinegar.’ It still makes me smile when I hear or think about it.

Courtesy of Julia Brate

It was common for Mom and Dad to read a bedtime story to us. Each night, part of our bedtime ritual was to get snuggled in bed and either Mom or Dad would come in and read us to sleep. Besides the Dr. Seuss books, fables, and fairytales, one of my favorites was always ‘The Chosen Baby.’ It made me feel very special and proud to be adopted. Growing up in what I came to call ‘FantasyLand’ was an idyllic childhood and my parents were very caring.

Mom stayed home with us while Dad worked outside of the home. She was there every morning to send us off to school with a bag lunch and there to greet us after school and help with homework. He was home each day by 4:50 p.m. and we waited until he went upstairs to change out of his work clothes so he’d be ready for the rest of the night. Dinners were always together around the table and we would talk about our day. We had home-cooked meals and passed bowls around the table. Once everyone’s plate was full, we said our blessing and then ate. Our parents worked well together and taught us morals and manners. When done with dinner, for instance, you didn’t just pop up from the table. You asked politely, ‘May I be excused please?’ And when everyone was done, you were excused from the table.

We also played with the neighborhood families almost daily, participated in all sorts of activities: sports teams, clubs, and activities at places of worship. A few of my all-time favorite memories were swinging from the rope swing from the treehouse our dad built, riding on the bicycle bar with Dad, hikes through the beautiful fire trails of the Brandywine Hundred park area, tobogganing down Petit de Mange’s hill with friends and family, bareback horse riding, and baking in the kitchen with Mom. Sometimes all of us would pile into Mom and Dad’s bed. We canoed down the Brandywine, swam together, closely watched each other dive, perform ballet, play ball, and we sang around the piano as Mom played.

Some parts were less fun, of course. All of us kids can agree our worst memory was picking up the gumballs, also known as monkey balls, that fell from the trees in the yard. We were given a bushel basket to fill. We had monkey ball fights occasionally, which consisted of throwing all those gathered in our baskets at each other. Then we had to fill that bushel basket again. We all had chores, but that was my least favorite. 

Courtesy of Julia Brate

Family gatherings were also a real treat. We would load up the car and go to the Finger Lakes to see both Momma and Dad’s families. It was also known as ‘God’s Country.’ The smell and taste of Nana’s homemade rolls, sugar cookies, and really anything else she made was delicious. She didn’t read recipes, she just knew how to make things. The water from their home was fresh from a spring. To this day, I haven’t had water that good. Our parents loved having family and friends come to visit. They also liked taking us to visit others. They grew up during the Great Depression and wanted us to know our heritage and family. Our family also had great friendships with others so we had a very rich life. I felt connected and loved. Things weren’t perfect, but as far as life went, it was pretty good. 

As I got older and had kids of my own, I realized how big of a deal it was for our parents to have adopted four children. When you have conceived and birthed your children, you probably have a bit of an understanding of them due to knowing yourself and them being a piece of you. I realized all six of us were cut from six different cloth, each one of us: Mom, Dad, and all four kids. I’m thinking this must have been complicated parenting. Each one of us needed something different, and our parents did their best to provide that. That kind of blew my mind, and when I discussed it with Mom and Dad, they understood and agreed. They had never really thought of it that way, but it made sense. I give them so much credit for trying to love us the way we needed to be loved unconditionally.

When folks would ask how my Mom could divide her love by four adopted kids, she referred to a quote by the Family Circus cartoon and said, ‘I don’t divide it, I multiply it.’ It was something that really made me feel special. Yes, I was adopted and had five other family members with different genetics, but we were one family. Over the years, I have come to realize in all situations I multiply love, I never divide it. My parents taught me the greatest life lesson.

Courtesy of Julia Brate

A bit later in my life, a breast lump emerged. When the physician asked if there was any family history of cancer, I said, ‘I’m adopted. I have no idea.’ They said, ‘You better find out.’

I was born at the time of closed adoptions, which was thought to protect everyone involved. A scant amount of personal details was exchanged when I was adopted, so no real useful medical information was included. This event led me to search for my birth mother. Mom and Dad didn’t know much but they knew at the time of my birth, she was single and underage. The search began. My family was concerned I may get hurt but managed to support me anyway.

My whole life I had wondered what she looked like. Where did this thick head of hair and my prominent features come from? I was excited to find out what I could. The Children’s Bureau was able to find her! I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this was really about to happen. I’m about to meet the woman who gave me birth.’ After arrangements were made, the social worker warned me. She said, ‘She may have had a myriad of reasons to give you up, and none of them may be what you thought or hoped for.’

I finally spoke to my biological mother on the phone and we arranged to meet at a park. A neutral spot. Mom and Dad were afraid for me, but they remained supportive. I sent my mom flowers to assure her of my love for her and remind her NOTHING would change her status in my life. We weren’t losing anything but we might be gaining something. The card I gave her with the fresh flowers said, ‘She gave me Birth, you gave me Life.’

The day I met my birth mom was Mother’s Day. I had gotten so caught up in everything I didn’t even realize the divine timing of it all. I was in absolute awe! I had never met anyone with the same genetics, bloodline, habits, looks, etc. And here she was, Jewel. We looked alike. Same hair, build, mannerisms, almost the same name, we even drove the same car. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up!

She told me her story. She said, ‘I was alone, I was dropped off at a home for ‘wayward’ girls and left there. When I gave birth to you, I wasn’t even able to hold you. I never moved away in case you looked for me.’ She apologized for putting me up for adoption and asked how my life had been. She was relieved when I said, ‘I have a really good life, and a family, and I don’t have any hard feelings toward you.’

We kept looking at each other, we couldn’t stop. And we even commented and laughed about it. It was a beautiful meeting and we were both so thankful. Later, she planned a big party at their home where I met my birth father, who she ended up marrying, and their three children. I met them, too, and their families, nieces, nephews, uncles, and more. It was a wonderful party and so surreal to meet folks who looked, walked, talked, moved, laughed, and thought like me! It also became known to me my birth father had two children with his first wife before Jewel. My family was getting even bigger and more interesting!

Courtesy of Julia Brate

Eventually, my parents met my birth parents at my home. I planned dinner and they were all up for a meeting! It was such a great feeling. I felt so lucky to have this amount of love and grace surround me. Looking back, I think we were all kind of in shock. Both my parents and birth parents thanked each other for their individual selfless acts within the adoption process and had some tears. Mom and Jewel hugged for a long time. Both Dad and Poppa John had tears in their eyes too. Talk about being lucky! I’ve often referred to myself as the luckiest girl in the world! My mom and birth mom even exchanged holiday greetings for years to come via the USPS. 

My birth family and I continued to have a great relationship. They accepted me with open arms and hearts. We lived less than a half-hour away from each other. I had an open invitation and dropped by fairly frequently with my family. The kitchen was usually busy with something delicious cooking and the house was filled with laughter and love. They didn’t skip a beat when it came to accepting me as one of their own. I had another family. Our sons had another set of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It’s overwhelming to think about sometimes. I had two families that loved me. Truly, I have so many great memories and I still wonder how I got so lucky.

Courtesy of Julia Brate

It has been a magical life and when I think about how fortunate I am, it brings tears to my eyes. My parents and birth parents have since passed on, but I will never forget the life and legacy they provided for me.”

Courtesy of Julia Brate

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Julia Brate. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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