“Just a month shy of my 42nd birthday, I found out I was adopted. While this would be earth-shattering news for most, what really swept the rug from beneath me was finding out who my mother really is.
I was the last of 6 children, composed of 3 boys and 3 girls. Due to the 11 year age gap between my youngest sibling and me, my childhood was happily spent with imaginary friends and loads of reading and art. However, the backdrop against which this period transpired is one rife with alcoholic rages, domestic abuse, and broken hearts.
Growing up with mostly adults, I chalked up any differences between my family and me to my age. And in hindsight, I do believe that was mostly true. However, I do see many moments now in a new light. For instance, being incessantly teased by an aunt for having a different nose than the rest of the family. Whereas I thought she was simply harassing me for her own amusement, it turns out the dig was much deeper than I originally perceived.
I had older brothers who also teased me, and I was told to ignore them, so I categorized this nose thing similarly. It did strike me somewhat odd that no one reprimanded my aunt for hinting at the truth of my origins. I suppose this is because of her seniority in the family and everyone assuming I was just a dumb kid.
Apart from my aunt’s cruel sense of humor, I also remember my mother and I were never affectionate towards one another. She never sought hugs or kisses from me, and vice versa. I really had no sense of perspective here (and I still don’t), since I was the youngest, and I have no idea how she was with the older kids when they were little. This led me to believe we simply weren’t a ‘huggy’ family and families who demonstrated this (and in public, no less) were ‘provincial’ or even inferior. I simply adapted to this mindset, as children do. Besides, I received small doses of quiet affection from none other than my oldest sister, Priscilla.
In May of 2020, Canada, like the rest of the world, was in the throes of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns and restrictions were strictly in place, especially in hospitals. Even though I have always been an integral part of her support team, this is the reason I was not with my sister, Priscilla, while she was in critical condition.
In the early hours of May 6, I received a phone call from Alan, Priscilla’s husband. He was clearly in distress; so much so that I had some trouble understanding what he was saying. After a short while, I gathered Priscilla had taken a turn for the worse (she suffered from a host of conditions, including gastroparesis, diabetes, and eating disorders). And this prompted her to make a confession—that she is, in fact, my birth mother.
My initial reaction was one of relief. Why? Well, getting actual phone calls at the crack of dawn is no longer normal in the texting age. Therefore, I had a sickening feeling when I accepted the call, the worst had already happened to Priscilla. Knowing she was still alive and alive enough to chat about this craziness was better news.
However, a few moments into the conversation, I was utterly confused. Is Alan having a mental breakdown? Has the stress of caring for my sister all these years finally taken its toll? I wanted to make sure he and anyone around him were safe. So, I made an effort to stabilize the situation by reassuring him I heard him loud and clear, and I was absolutely fine.
At this, Alan seemed to settle down, and we ended the call. I sat for a few minutes, simply mystified. I can’t even put into words the jumble of confusion I was in. A part of me still doubted Alan’s mental state, but a part of me also became hyper-aware of a dark void within that I did not know was there the entire time. My gut told me something wasn’t right, so I went ahead and called in sick.
A few moments later, I was conferring with my husband on what to do. We agreed it was best to reach out to my other siblings for confirmation. I chose to connect with my youngest brother, Daniel. As the sibling with whom I shared most of my childhood, including bearing witness to our parents’ dysfunction, I felt he was someone I could trust.
As we live in different countries, I sent him a text message describing the phone call with Alan. I asked him, ‘What can Alan possibly be talking about?’ Following what seemed like an eternity, I finally received a text back. ‘Jenny, you will always be my baby sister.’
Needless to say, I eventually received confirmation what Alan said was true and the folks I understood to be my ‘parents’ are actually Priscilla’s parents. Therefore, they are my maternal grandparents. She became pregnant with me at 18, which was absolutely unacceptable by the social and religious standards of her time. This narrative was not unfamiliar to me, growing up Catholic and Filipino. The rub was that this narrative was now about me.
As each day unfolded, so did my sense of self. Events began to feel surreal, and I was horribly frightened. My reflection, the sound of my voice, and pretty much everything else about me made me sick. I self-soothed with alcohol and all-day napping. Yet, I knew I had to get my act together. I was, after all, an adult who had a home and a child to look after.
One of the strangest aspects of this late-discovery adoption was Priscilla’s near-miraculous recovery. As I tumbled down the depths of major depression, Priscilla’s condition improved by leaps and bounds over the following months. While her improvement astounded her medical team, my psychiatrist increased my Lexapro dosage and brought me back on Clonaz and Seroquel.
I was given time off work, which I used to regain control of my spinning reality. This included frequent therapy and reaching out to friends and loved ones I trust. Once the shock of the revelation dissipated, most of them were supportive. The best of them raged with me and encouraged me to live my truth.
One of my favorite conversations occurred when I was having a meeting with Lucas, a colleague to whom I was handing my projects over. I essentially broke down and ended up pouring my heart out to him. Lucas is a gay man who had his fair share of struggles in being ‘seen’ and living his truth. Lucas told me simply, ‘Whatever you choose to do is the right thing to do.’ Again, the gut theme prevails. One of my first steps in this direction was to legally change my name. You may recall above that my brother (truly, my uncle), Daniel, referred to me as ‘Jenny.’ I went from my birth name to my new name, ‘Odile Grey.’
Social media has always been an outlet, and I posted about my experience with a fury. A few friends suggested starting a podcast to help direct folks who were interested in my story without me having to recount the ordeal over and over again. Thus, ‘That Twisted Truth’ on Spotify was born, along with its accompanying Instagram account @that.twistedtruth. These platforms allowed me to connect with other adoptees and witness their struggles and healing. I did notice there are very few intra-familial adoptee voices out there.
A year into my discovery, I felt ready to find the truth behind my birth father. I spent the year prioritizing my health and getting back to work. The COVID lockdown made this process easier by forcing me to slow down, appreciate nature, and enjoy life without all the chaos. I read all the books I’ve wanted to and then some. I wrote poetry. I ran a virtual half-marathon. I earned a university course certificate. I even began adult ballet classes. 12 months later, I was in a much better place.
After a particularly awkward and borderline frustrating conversation with Priscilla, I came away with a few Facebook profiles that helped me connect the dots.
The same folks who encouraged me to power through the difficulty of the early days were obviously happy I had reached a key milestone in my journey. As for the rest of my adoptive family, I did not solicit their opinion simply because I did not need it.
Sadly, I was unable to connect with my birth father because he passed away some years ago. However, I did unearth a wealth of joy and acceptance in the other children he left behind. Yes, I have half-siblings. And they are such kind people who are so generous with their time and information. And yes, they were looking for me, too.
It feels as though I am now at the conclusion of my journey for the truth. I now know everything I wanted to know and the outcome could not be more wonderful. While I missed the opportunity to meet my birth father in life, I also gained new brothers and sisters. I felt completely alone for an entire year. And now, I am being welcomed by a new family.
The truth can often be painful, but in the end, it is peace. And I am happy to have found it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Odile Grey from Ontario, Canada. You can follow her journey on Instagram and on her podcast on Spotify. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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