My parents gave me the money to begin the CI search for my birthday. My husband gave me cash towards starting my search for my birthday. The timing was right, as I was on the verge of beginning my search out of a need for answers for myself.
In August of 2007, I spoke with Becca from the CI office in Illinois on a rainyish day in August. I remember a deep conversation, and then telling her that I just didn’t think I was ready to search. My plate was so full. I was still just trying to learn how to parent my own adopted daughter and how to parent her as a child with attachment disorder. But, things got increasingly worse for me. My anxiety was overwhelming at times, I had a panic attack (unexplainably) in Sam’s Club, and I couldn’t function normally. I remember waking up one night with a “ping” sound in my brain. I startled awake, and it was as if the part of my brain that had stored the memory of being separated, removed, taken from my mother awakened. I did. I awakened to the sensation of losing her in that moment. It was awful.
I called the CI office, talked again with B, and then L, and the paperwork was set in motion. I did all of my steps . . . completed my responsibilities, and then tried to pretend that I didn’t care how long it would take/how long other searches have taken, etc. When I finally got the “report” in the mail that they most likely could find and contact my birthmom, my birthdad, half-siblings I didn’t even know that I had, and other relatives that I didn’t know I had, I was at first—THRILLED!! These people really exist. I am still happy for that! They are real people out there. They have names and faces and lives. I did not arrive out of a vacuum, I did not search and find no one—as do some, and I did not search only to find my birthmom and birthdad not alive.
So excitement at the sheer potential first. Then L sent a letter to my birthmom, and I waited for the phone to ring. Nothing. So, she sent another letter to my birthmom, this time certified—so that we would know she actually received it. If I remember correctly, still, after maybe two weeks of her receiving and signing for the letter, she did not respond. Somehow, L gave her a deadline to respond by, or the case would be closed. And I believe in November of 2007, she finally called in one middle morning. L called me right after. I wrote down every word L said and every word that my birthmother said. My birthmother wouldn’t/couldn’t even let Ltell her about me at all. She said it would be too hard. I know they had two conversations. I think my birthmom said that that was all she could handle for now. So she gave Linda permission to tell me about their conversation, and then I think Lwas to call her back to tell her my thoughts. I remember giving L a list of things to say to my mom. Looking back I realize how stressful that was . . . like my last chance (again) to say just the right things, that I had permission to SPEAK!! . . . and I didn’t wanna screw it up! I wanted to write something in there that would make her want me, make her want to come close to me.
But it didn’t work.
She heard them all, and didn’t move towards me at all. She did reveal more information that time, of which I wrote down every word and asked L to repeat.
And at the end of that phone call is when I got my first real clue to who my birthmom really is. I asked L, in tears, feeling like this might be my last conversation about my birthmom—that all would be buried again after this. I asked her if she could hear my mom’s voice in my voice, and my voice in hers. L gave me more than I had asked for. She said that our tones were similar, our phrasing was similar, our volume was similar, that we were both very expressive, . . . .and that our names were similar.
I stopped in my “tracks.” I repeated my name . . . “Jamie Nagy?” I asked. “Mmmmhmmm,” she responded. I didn’t understand . . . How could our names be similar?
Road trip #1: I left Brookings, headed to Chicago to pick up my best friend from high school and we drove to Champaign, IL. I had always believed that my birthparents must have attended the University of Illinois. I knew I was born in Urbana, IL and that my parents were in college at the time of my conception/birth. It just made sense that they attended that University. I even wondered if my birthmom was perhaps an Illinette because her Hobby in my non-identifying information was listed as “dancing.” I attended the University of Illinois myself for four years. One might think that I would dig and search while on campus; but I didn’t. I wasn’t hungry enough yet to dig and search, I suppose.
So, my best friend and I went straight to an underground basement where yearbooks/student directories of the past are archived, and we began searching for a girl in the yearbooks (1965-1970) who might resemble me and who might have a “similar” name. We made copies of the pages, we studied the pages. My best friend found “Jeanne Kay Danhaus.” I am Jamie Kay Nagy. She was blonde and “Jeanne” and “Jamie” are similar. I wrote down every detail about Jeanne that we could find in that basement library–where she lived on campus, her hometown address, her extracurricular activities while on campus. I also compiled a list of students who had “Accounting” as their major during those years, as my birthmom’s non-identifying information stated that her major was “Accounting.” (Side note: Right in the yearbook–the graduating class of 1970, I found that a family friend who is now an attorney graduated from the University of Illinois with an accounting degree in the same class that I believed my birthmom would have been in! Do you follow me? One of our family friends potentially attended class alongside my birthmom perhaps their junior years–before she became pregnant with me and stopped attending. I called him, asking if he remembered seeing any female in class who was pregnant. He had no recollection. Looking back at this part of the story, I see how improbably that all was–my birthmom stopped attending school when she was pregnant with me, and in those days–she probably would have hidden her pregnancy completely if she had kept attending and graduated. All of this makes me sad for her. )
Do you know, . . . I found Jeanne Danhaus’s nephew via myspace! . . . I carefully inquired if he knew of any such happening in Jeanne’s life–had she placed a baby for adoption. He was so kind. His mom was kind and they were encouraging and supportive. But, they were not “the ones.”
I then paid for another Confidential Intermediary search for my birthdad. That search was more matter-of-fact and moved quite quickly. Within weeks, my birthdad produced a few type-written paragraphs mentioning a few medical issues (which later proved to be incomplete). And, he typed that he “thought he knew” what I might be feeling. He assured me that he and my birthmom had spent much time trying to decide what to do about me, and that they loved each other very much. He was aware that “laws” were changing regarding adoption, and that he still believed anonymity was best. And, he wished for no contact.
When my birthdad’s sister read this letter (almost a year later) over dinner with me, she tearily apologized for it. I asked her why she was apologizing, and she replied, “because it’s so cold.” Honestly, I did not think of it as cold at the time; I was just so happy to have words on paper from him.
So, with no names to go on, neither birthparent allowing me to know them or allowing themselves to know me, my husband, their grandchildren, I was left with decisions to make. My birthmom had made her wishes known that I not contact any of her children, and my birthdad had done the same. So, my choices were to either go against their wishes and to ask the CI to pursue my siblings for another $200 each, or to allow her to close the case. Even as I type “close the case” now, I am aware that I could not even now allow the case to be “closed.” I had no answers at all in terms of my birth identity–many dollars, emotions, hours, and travels later. I was not done. However, my CI began to behave in a way that no longer being supportive/helpful to me . . . . Things I had shared with her in confidence I thought–since she offered to be a listening/counseling ear throughout the process, she was now going to “have to” included in my report to the judge. . . . She used the word “searcher” when she talked about me and told met that she would have to report to the judge that I had done some searching on my own (referring to my trip to the archive library at the university). She painted a picture for me that once the judge read the case and learned about my “searching” alongside my birthparents’ wishes that I not seek my siblings, that the case may not read so well.
There I sat. My ear to the phone. Feeling uncomfortable, like a misfit, and that I was being asked to give up–to submit.
Once I realized that L had done everything helpful for me that she really could, I began to speak to others . . . search angels in two different states. My search angels, family, and friends helped me gather that L should have never said to me “your birthmom’s name and your name are very similar”; she knew that she had said one sentence too many (of which I am almost always guilty), and that she needed to wrap this case up quickly and cleanly. Through my conversations with these search angels, with my husband, my best friend, I opted for another trip.
Feb/March 2008, Road trip #2: My goal for this trip was two-fold. I hoped to meet L face to face and to gain some closure on my search with her. I drove to their office in Des Plaines, IL. I was nervous and upset from the beginning because I knew this was really somewhat of an ending. Endings always make me sad. L did not welcome me into her office; instead, we sat in someone else’s office with someone else’s family pictures and memorabilia. L did not offer this information, but when I asked about her family (with genuine interest in the kids in the pictures surrounding us) she then informed me that this was not her office. Her office was “too small” for us to meet. Interesting. Actually, they had strategically not allowed me into L’s office–for there is where my birthparents’ information lie–on her computer/her notes/her papers. I am sure of it. Instead, I sat in a place where I could not “search” anymore. I discussed my options with L again–did a pros and cons list of sorts as my dad had always suggested. And, feeling pinned in by L, by my birthparents’ wishes, by an unknown judge, I chose to let this be the end. I asked L in my attempt for closure and to say “goodbye” to this ONE person on the whole earth who I know who has EVER spoken directly to my birthparents . . . I asked her, “Could you just tell me–since you’re the only person I know who’s ever spoken to my birthparents–your impressions of them? Anything . . . their voice? their tone? their sound? their demeanor? . . . just anything–something for me to hold onto, please.” L gave me her last words on each of them, which I scribbled on a short little notebook they had given me and now still have. While I sat there with tears and sobs, L assured me that she knew it must be difficult, but that we had had 45 minutes together. !! And that was it. That was my queue to get the hell out of there. I was furious with her. She KNEW that she should have never said to me “your birthmom’s name and your name are very similar,” and she needed to close the case. See ya. I was done too!
I drove straight from that office to CHASSI in Chicago. I found a free parking spot right next to Baskin-Robbins–my FAVORITE ice cream place of all time which we no longer live near. I had not/could not eat however. My nerves and emotions had overcome me that day. I entered CHASSI and thought of my birthmom. I don’t think she was ever actually there. I think my process/adoption all happened in Champaign-Urbana. However, the environment of a government-run facility that reaches to help people who just plain old need some help–it’s hard to explain. I felt no judgment; I simply felt like a baby, an orphan, one who needed help, one who was in “that position.” And, I imagined how my birthmother must have felt. I shook hands with a sweet young social worker, B, and we entered her office. I asked B questions about herself–what her job was, her training that had led her to this, what she enjoyed about it, what she didn’t like about it. She was a sweetheart. I then shared my story with her. She was tender towards me. She told me something that I never knew. My records, my adoption records, my original birth certificate–everything that held my information about my pre-natal development, my hospital stay, my foster care plan, it was all “downstairs” in a warehouse of that building. Can you imagine? It has dust on it, I’m sure. Does anybody want those records but me?? By this time, I was somewhat more educated on states who had opened their records, states that haven’t, etc. and we talked some about that issue. B seemed to come down on the side that adoptees (once adults) should have access to their own information. And, she did mention that if I were to come back, that perhaps we could sit together in a room and she could share with me the non-identifying information in my records. I told her that I would be back–in June! I was planning to take my son and his friend to the U of I at Chicago’s basketball camp, and the timing would be great to return then.
Road trip #3, June of 2008: My appointment time with this next social worker was a little later than when I had arrived, so I walked around Milwaukee Ave. a little. I found a Polish Museum!! I went in. I’m not sure what I thought I would find, but I looked around a little, spoke to the Polish woman working there and wondered about my birthmom and my birthgrandma. I picked up literature and brochures on “my people.” I was hoping to see pictures of Polish who had come across on boats to America. My birthmom had mentioned to L that my birthgrandparents were first-generation Polish. I wanted to feel connected, and perhaps I thought I could find some connection there. I also meandered into a Polish restaurant and was served Pierogies. The restauarant owner was Polish, spent time talking with me–telling me his story. I listened to the Polish natives speak around me, and I picked up more literature, and a Polish newspaper to take along with me.
. . . . to be continued
As my time approached, I went in to meet with B. We went into a private and large room. She sat on one side of the table with my file, while I sat on the other. I had all of the pieces and scraps collected in a large tote, and I pulled out the copies of the University of Illinois yearbook pages I had made when searching for a woman who resembled me with a name similar to mine–just to take notes on the back of the pages. As we began, she pulled out my “file” and told me that her thumb was covering up the last name of my birthmom–and that she would not be able to let me see that part . . . under her thumb. However, every once in a while, she lifted her thumb. I don’t know is she did it on purpose, if she didn’t without realizing it, but I zoomed my eyes in on that name! You better believe I did! I saw it in cursive and upside down, and it was a WILD and long obviously Polish name that I could never have imagined in a million years. Osta-ga-zewski is what I thought I saw. I wrote it (secretively) on my paper each time I saw what was written under her thumb.
In the meantime, I did ask her if she knew my birthmom’s birthday. She wasn’t allowed to tell me. I asked her if she knew the names of my foster care providers. She wasn’t allowed to tell me.
She did tell me that I had been named Lea at birth. That was supposedly “non-identifying information.” I now find that quite ironic–how could my name at birth which was meant to “identify” also be “non-identifying.” It was so nice to know–that my birthmom had named me and that she was thinking of Lea. I knew one thought of hers!
I was hit hard by learning that I had a paternal aunt. Based on the confidential intermediary report, I knew of a maternal aunt, but my paternal aunt had not been mentioned until now. As B described her height, her weight, her hair color, her eye color, and her age at the time of my birth, I began to sob. It’s hard to describe why. She was sixteen when I was born. I learned of her grade point average. The best way that I can describe my tears is that she was coming to life in front of me–another family member that I did not know existed–almost like a birth. Oh my goodness. I found out so much in that one and a half hour of time–mostly weights, hair colors, eye colors, health status, near-sightedness, . . . but most importantly, I walked away with “Osta-ga-zewski.” I thanked her warmly, and I requested that my file (that I was not allowed to touch or read for myself) be transcribed word for word with the identifying information left out. What I received from her much later was instead a four page paraphrase of my very full file. I read it and learned more (a few months later), but I was frustrated. As a writer and reader, I know that a paraphrase is really just a story; she put some of herself in that four pages of written work. I didn’t want anymore stories. I don’t want any more stories. I just wanted a word-for-word account of what had gone down surrounding my conception, my birth, my adoption.
I went to my car, punched in the address of my Illinois search angel, M., and could not believe that she was only about five blocks away! I’m in Chicago, remember? I drove to her house, and once again, found free parking right by her very cool loft-like apartment. I knocked on her door, she opened. “Did you get the birthdate?” She believed that if I could get B. to tell me my birthmom’s birthdate, we would be able to find her. “No,” I said . . . “I tried, but she wouldn’t tell me. I did get this tho . . . ,” and I proceeded to hand her “Osta-ga-zewski.” . . .
to be continued . . .