“Paige, this is Tammy.” I’d waited twenty-six years to hear those words. After searching for ten months, I finally found my birth mother’s oldest daughter, and now I had something I’d wished for all my life: Sisters! I found an older sister and a younger sister. My older sister was Tammy, and we connected first.
I grew up as an adoptee in a small family. I had one brother who was six years younger, and no cousins my age. It seemed every girlfriend I had had a sister or two, and I always admired how my friends and their sisters looked so much alike, traded clothes, and shared girl-talk. My brother was a great guy, but our relationship could never be like that.
The night that long-anticipated phone call came, I was both prepared and not. Once I’d learned that I had a birth family, and they could be found, I set out on a mission to unearth every detail I could that might lead me to blood relatives. I became passionately driven to get at the truth of that other dimension of my life, and my sisters were out there someplace. I hoped like mad they were as curious and open to me as I was about finding them.
The search for my birth sisters took me all over the town where we were born. Like an old-time detective, I tracked my birth-people through old phone books and criss-cross directories in libraries, and via microfiche records in courthouses, person by person. This was before the Internet and all the social media sites we have today. I was equally driven to seek out my birth father’s family, but for the time being, all signs pointed toward my birth mother’s people.
At the end of my search, I’d sent a letter to a man in California I believed to be a former husband of my birth mother. (She was no longer living.) He was the only person on earth who would know about her kids. I’d given him all of my contact information, and waited.
When that call came, a glass-block wall opened up. I knew something/someone was on the other side, but I hadn’t been able to see or hear anything of substance before that night. Tammy and I talked for three hours and shared our life stories about family, kids, states we’d lived in, schools we attended, dogs and cats, TV, books, everything. Tammy put me in contact with our other sister, Kelli, and we exchanged photos. Our eyes matched. We’d all grown up differently, but our eyes made us part of one another.
Later, I made contact with my birth father’s daughters. More sisters! I have five half-sisters in all, but we don’t think about the “half” part so much. When we first met in person we caught each other staring at the other’s hair, profile and hands. We glanced back and forth at our children’s similarities, the freckles, noses, ears and cheeks.
I did not grow up with my sisters. We didn’t get to fight over nail polish, Barbies, or who took someone’s favorite shirt. We weren’t able to debate over who was hotter: David Cassidy or Donny Osmond. We didn’t have teachers who fondly remembered one sibling and had too high of expectations for the other. We did not share a mother or grandmother who might look at one girl and accidently call her by the other’s name. We’ve known one another for decades now, but still cannot dash into the Hallmark store and buy a mushy birthday card reflecting on growing up together.
That’s OK, though. We have today, and even if we live far apart, or our work and kids’ schedules steal our time, we do have each other. Our kids have cousins. We don’t blame anyone for a past we’ll never share. We embrace the present and treasure our chances to cheer at kids’ games and graduations, dance at weddings, rejoice at births, mourn when we need to mourn, work when we need to work, and laugh every chance we get.
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Paige Adams Strickland, a teacher and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio, is married with two daughters. Her first book, Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity, is about growing up in the 1960s through 1980s (Baby-Scoop Era) and searching for her first identity. It is also the story of her adoptive family and, in particular, her father’s struggles to figure out his place in the world while Paige strives to find hers. After hours, she enjoys family and friends, pets, reading, Zumba fitness, gardening, and baseball.
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