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Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016

ADOPTION AWARENESS MONTH

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Perspectives: Adopted woman learns she has other family members

For the past 25 years, I have used my writing abilities to help others tell their stories. Now I find myself in the unusual position of using those skills to tell mine.

Life is full of choices. What we wear, what we eat, whether we want to take a life, keep a life or give that life away.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month. That alone is reason enough for this column. But for the first time in my life, I am looking at things quite differently.

Allow me to digress. I was adopted at the age of two months from the Methodist Home Hospital in New Orleans. My parents, who had already adopted a bouncing nine-pound baby boy about 18 months earlier, told the social worker they wanted a baby girl they could hold for a long time. I weighed just over five pounds.

From the beginning, my brother and I knew we were adopted. Our parents read to us from a book called “The Chosen Child.” We were special; we were loved. In our family, we didn’t say we inherited our abilities from one relative or another, we said it “rubbed off.” Adopting us was a choice.

So happy have I been during my life that I have never considered looking for the ones who chose to give me away … well, to be truthful, never more than a passing curiosity because, frankly, I wouldn’t be much of a journalist if I didn’t have a curious streak. A lot of that vanished when I had my own children and, lo and behold, there was finally someone who looked like me. Even now that both of my parents are gone, I find myself happier and more comfortable with myself than I have ever been in my life.

But not only is life filled with choices, it is also filled with changes. Enter Cynthia. Now this is the stuff from which Lifetime movies are made.

Let me set the stage. It was a Saturday evening in September. Pat (my husband) and I had just finished dinner and were sitting down to watch a football game when our landline (yes, we still have one of those) rang, and a south Louisiana area code and cell number showed on caller ID. I thought perhaps it was a friend from Baton Rouge. For that reason, I answered it.

The woman on the other end of the line asked if I were me. I said, yes, thinking, oh, great, a telemarketer, and I answered the phone! She continued, “My name is Cynthia (last name withheld to protect the instigator), and I have reason to believe you are my sister. I think we had the same birth mother.”

You can imagine how I felt. Or can you?

There were those few times in my life (mostly when I was a teen-ager and angry with my parents because I was grounded, surely for some unimportant and unfair reason) when I daydreamed of opening the door and there would stand these people who said, “We are your parents, and we have come to get you!” Those daydreams never lasted long, though, because I was blissfully happy with my life … my brother and I grew up water skiing, playing cowboys and Indians on real horses, living in what used to be the country where we could run barefoot and rarely, if ever, lock our doors. I really did not think about those other people.

But suddenly, here they were. Well, not the parents, but a possible sibling. My life changed when I answered the phone.

Being a journalist, the first thing I did was ensure that phone call wasn’t a scam. Then, I had my DNA tested because that is where I became a part of this journey. My youngest child, a daughter, had her DNA tested to learn her ethnicity on my side of the family. When her results were posted on ancestry.com, it alerted Cynthia that she had a match … a possible niece and, by default, a sibling for whom she had been seeking for 16 years.

Cynthia’s phone call was filled with information … more than I could absorb. I could hardly respond or react from the shock. Did I really suddenly have three half-sisters and a half-brother? A couple of weeks later, I received the answer when my DNA results were posted. The answer is yes.

I was born first and immediately placed in the adoption system. Then 18 months later, Cynthia was born. She was also placed for adoption. She thought for years that we were whole sisters, but DNA results prove we are not. We had the same birth mother but different fathers. Cynthia learned her three halfsiblings are really whole siblings and her four step-siblings are halves. For me, her wholes are halves and her halves are similar to steps, but not exactly.

Confused yet? Join the club. There is an elderly uncle. Our biological mother, who died in 1991, has a brother who lives in Shreveport. He is anxious to talk with me. I am struggling with that. There are so many questions to which he may have answers, especially where medical history is concerned. None of the siblings look like me (trust me, I’ve seen photos). None have information that connects to a biological father.

That uncle may be able to fill the gaps.

As I am writing this, I still don’t know where this journey will take me. My family is supportive. My husband, children and friends want me to follow my heart and make the next move if or when I am ready. I have talked with my brother and, well, nothing fazes him. He is and always will be my brother. He knows that. I have his support, as well.

I know that nothing will take away the feeling of knowing I was special to two people who gave me a Christian home, a safe haven, a strong support system and a lot of love. I remain their child, even though they are gone, and I still feel their presence every day. (Especially when I mess up, I can still hear my mother saying, “What were you thinking?”) My life changed, but I didn’t. What I choose to do next does not change who I am. I am a child of God who was fortunate and blessed to be chosen by the most wonderful parents in the world. You see, I now have a choice of whether to let these people, whom I didn’t know existed two months ago, become a part of my world and, therefore, a part of my husband’s life and that of my children and grandchildren.

My faith tells me there is a reason they have entered our lives at this point. Someday, we may need them or they may need us.

I cannot, in good conscience, burn a bridge that could affect the life of one of my grandchildren … or theirs.

So, as I look at this fork in the road, I will continue to pray and let God lead me.

Bonnie Culverhouse

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