I’ve said I am fine without knowing her. The truth is more complicated.
For much of my life, I pretended not to care about my biological mother. But that was insincere. I was too afraid of the emotions that would come from even acknowledging that I want to find her.
The truth is; I’d love to know anything about my biological family. But I’m unwilling to sacrifice the enormous amount of time, energy, and emotional labor that requires.
Thinking about the added drama knowing my past would bring into my life is intimidating. I view meeting my biological mother through the lens of a cost-benefit analysis. Would I gain as much in finding her, as I would potentially give up by having my life altered so overwhelmingly?
The answer for me is a resounding no. It’s too jarring. I’ll live with the unknown.
As a speaker and writer in the adoption space for more than a decade, the birthmother subject is one of the triumvirate issues of the international adoption arena. The other constant topics are: Have you returned to your birth country? And how was adoption discussed in your house growing up?
People always ask if I’ve found my birth mother. Or if I am actively looking for her. I’m 42 years old — and I think it would be a futile endeavor.
The woman who raised me and who I call ‘Mom’ is one of my best friends. I love her immensely. We have a tight bond and a wonderful relationship. I cannot imagine anyone loving me more.
I do wonder about my first mother sometimes. But searching for and potentially finding my mother is scary. The woman who birthed me has been absent from my life for nearly its entirety.
The Logistics are Daunting
I’m from Kerala, an Indian state on the Southwestern coast. Kerala is similar in land size to Switzerland, but with four times the population, holding nearly 35 million people. Finding my biological mother requires sifting through reams of records because the only identifying information on my Indian passport or my birth certificate is one name; Joseph.
I have no middle or last name. The address recorded on my passport is the foundling home where I lived until my adoption in 1980. My birth certificate does not list any address.
My adoptive Dad is listed on the passport as my ‘Father.’ There’s no mention of a biological father on the birth certificate.
I am unsure how to begin searching with such paltry information. Furthermore, any hospital birth record (if kept after 40 years), would be in my native tongue, Malayalam. I don’t speak Malayalam, because my parents don’t speak it.
I would likely need to find a long-term living situation in Kerala. That would mean that I’d either go there by myself or move my whole family there. If the latter, that would add extra layers of complications. Maybe I could search the US. But that would require traveling back and forth between countries, introducing another set of logistics obstacles.
Either way, I’d also need to find excellent speakers and writers of both English and Malayalam to help direct and guide my search. People that I could trust and who’d be willing to assist.
But those are some examples of physical logistics. It doesn’t take into account the emotional toll. Trying to meet my biological mother would be one of my life’s most consequential decisions. I could not do it casually.
Some adoptee friends want to search for their birth parents. But they fear their adoptive parents would be intimidated or hurt. So they don’t.
My parents have always strived to create an emotionally healthy and transparent adoption experience for me and my siblings. If I sought my birth mother, they would not view my wish to find her as a threat. Their attitude would be the opposite. I’m sure they would encourage me, support my quest and ask many questions during the process.
Once, I had a ‘birthmother’ hole that I longed to fill. The hole remains, but the void lessened with my daughter Sonali’s birth in 2016. She was my first biological connection since my birth mother. And in 2019, my son Valentine was born. Thus, I don’t feel a gnawing for biological connection anymore.
I respect my birth mother, as much as one can honor someone they don’t know. And I wish her the best, wherever she might be. I think about her intensely on Mother’s Day, my birthday, and my adoption anniversary. And randomly she will pop into my musings, but I don’t think about her constantly.
My feelings for her are emotionally detached. I guess I love her, but it looks strange seeing that word written. And I’m not sure it is even true.
However, I don’t know what I’d say if we reunited. When I run through the possible circumstances in my mind, some meetings are horrible and others are wonderful.
Maybe we’d share a beautiful homecoming. It’s possible we would get along splendidly. We might both respect boundaries and develop a deep and lasting relationship. We might be able to ‘make-up’ for the lost lifetime away from one another for the rest of our lives. My kids might love her and she would be so impressed with Sasmita, my wife. The potential feel-good narratives are endless.
But it could be dreadful. It might be one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
Maybe she would be angry that I found her. Perhaps she would resent me for inserting myself back into her life. Possibly she’d reject me as an adult, cursing me for finding her. She might tell why she relinquished me. She might begrudge my American life of ‘privilege.’ She could constantly demand money, using my position as her child to gain emotional leverage.
Any of those possibilities exist. They are not outlandish reunion stories. I’ve heard of them happening to other adoptees. The nightmare possibilities would be devastating, to me, and my family.
I Visited my Birth Hospital
For many adoptees, finding their birth mother or father or biological connection is of paramount importance. I’m not taking that journey. If I could know for sure that it would salve my adoption wound, forever answering missing parts of my life narrative, I’d consider it.
Conversely, finding her could gash my adoption trauma semi-scabbed scar open and it would never heal. I’m unwilling to take the risk.
In 2011 I visited the hospital of my birth. It was a powerful emotional experience. I walked around the waiting room and halls lost in thoughts. I honestly can’t remember much about it. I work dark aviator sunglasses, hiding my tear-filled eyes. An avalanche of deep feelings overwhelmed me. Thirty-two years earlier my mom and I had been here together.
It was the last place where she held me. That was probably the final time I heard her voice. Maybe she kissed me and said ‘goodbye,’ and handed me to a nurse. Perhaps that nurse held me, as I wailed unceasingly, too young to understand that I would never see my mother again. And she cradled me as she walked down the same corridor that I stepped through that day, leaving the hospital. The final separation. A mother and her son’s connection forever severed.
That day was the closest I’ll ever be to my birth mother. And with passing time, I’m increasingly at peace with that decision.