When I sat down to write A KISS FROM THE PAST, book 1 in my adoption in romance series, I thought about how to incorporate my experience of adoption into a romance book because, alas, I am a romance writer. At first, my adoption story seemed more something suited for women's fiction instead of romance and I tried that route with a convoluted plot plan and about 30,000 words before I realized women's fiction probably isn't for me. I pivoted back to my roots in romance, and tied my adoption story to Nichelle's love story, and gave her a love interest named Clark who could help her figure out her birth family, as well as offer support with her adoptive family. So the following adoption story will have a lot of ties to the romance book I ended up writing but that adoption romance is definitely fictionalized. I don't know anyone like Clark (honestly, I'm probably more Clark than Nichelle), but hopefully if I'm ever in need of a hot geochemist, someone will come my way. In the meantime, please read on for my personal adoption story that informed my romance novel, A KISS FROM THE PAST.
I kept seeing those ads for DNA testing and I'd already been building the Cain family tree so thought...why not? I took the test and received some odd results but didn't really dwell on it. My dad told us stories about his grandfather who met his wife on a reservation. Apparently, this was the meanest woman alive in Dad's opinion. He and his brothers laughed and told stories about her all the time. So, I was a little surprised there was no Native American in my DNA results. But also, how many families say they're part [insert Native American affiliation here]? Even though Dad knew his grandmother, I figured he was mistaken on her ethnicity. That was September.
In December, I revisited my results. Mainly because I'd given my daughter's DNA kits for their birthdays in October and their results had returned too. Very curious results that they questioned where I hadn't. That kicked off my quest to figure out what was going on. Adoption never entered my mind.
You may wonder why I didn't just ask my parents at this point. Well, Mom had passed away a couple years before (at aged 88) and Dad was steadily declining. He was 90. I did ask about his grandmother in relation to my results, but he only addressed that his grandmother was definitely Native American. I was confused (so confused) but didn't push him further.
So, after questioning my dad on his Native American ancestry and not really getting anywhere, I next turned to a couple of older family members. See, my mom was the youngest in her family (the baby if you will (that's what she called herself)) plus she and my dad were 40 when they had, er, adopted me so consequently, most of my cousins on her side were closer to her age than mine. Which meant they should certainly know what was going on with my heritage, right? My cousin, uh we'll call her Poppie, was my oldest cousin in the area and lived in Oakland during the time I came to be (my parents lived in Oakland during that time). When I told her about my DNA results, she skirted my inquiry and gave me a protracted history lesson on my mom's family (none of this was news to me) and really talked up my grandparents and our supposedly Irish grandmother that no one really knew anything about. Her non-answers really raised my Spidey senses and before we hung up, I said that I would get to the bottom of this (I know, very dramatic).
Since I didn't have any DNA matches I recognized, I next went to a cousin on my dad's side who was into genealogy and talked about it a lot online. We'll call her Joni. She's nearer my age, but technically a second cousin. Somehow, she wasn't on my list of DNA matches even though she'd taken the test and was on Ancestry just like me. She talked me through GEDMatch and gave me access to her Ancestry account where I could see her matches. Low and behold there were Cains on there including my first cousin, D. Now why would D match Joni, his second cousin, but not me?
I talked it over with my author friend group (side note: all four of them are character names in A Kiss From the Past) who were integral in helping me through all this. At some point, we came to the conclusion that my dad wasn't my biological dad. But who was? And what happened that my mom never told me?
By the time I accepted my dad wasn't my biological father, I desperately needed to know what happened. You may be asking yourself why I didn't figure out I was adopted at this point instead of ruling out my dad only. Well, my California birth certificate had my parents' names on it. So now, I thought that something nefarious happened for my existence to come about (you can guess the types of scenarios that ran through my mind and my friend group) and that my dad put his name on the birth certificate to cover it up. The thought of asking Dad about what happened two years into his marriage was mortifying to me, so I kept trudging along on my own.
I turned back to Ancestry and built family trees for my close matches like it was my full-time job. My closest cousin was a second cousin and 100% Jewish. I'd finally accepted that I didn't have that unknown Irish grandmother who maybe was part Jewish and that's why...etc. etc. etc. Obviously, this new father must have inherited Jewish genes and that's why it was the biggest percentage of my DNA (look, I was in a LOT of denial at this point).
This second cousin really threw me for a loop because his father (or maybe grandfather) had anglicized their surname. This little hiccup probably set me back weeks if not months of tracking down exactly how we fit. Because he was a second cousin, I looked at ages for his male relatives trying to pinpoint possible candidates for my father in relation to my mother's age. I narrowed it down to 4 of his cousins. I couldn't see myself in any of them though and as I researched each, I ran into one who was here in Texas not too far, but in prison for unspeakable crimes. I was heartbroken that this was a possible father but also maybe it would make sense if something terrible happened to my mom to cause my conception.
At this point, I had to put it down for a bit because Dad was on a decline, and I needed to give him more of my attention. So, I gave up all the tree building, but still not completely on research I could do from my phone as I whiled away my time in the hospital with my dad. Once home again, someone in my author friend group mentioned something in passing and it prompted me to look at the California birth certificate website.
Okay, side note. Bear with me for this slight detour. A couple years before, I'd tried getting my birth certificate from the county and hospital where I was born. For some reason ::cough cough:: I was unable to locate who exactly to get it from. I was getting the runaround. Then a friend at the time suggested I just try the state of California which actually worked, and I was able to get it. Hmmm I wonder why.
But, back to the story. When I read through the birth certificate site on the California government website, something jumped out at me. Actually, it hit me with a sucker punch. Turns out you can have the birth certificate amended. Who knew? So, I jumped up and rummaged through my files and pulled out my birth certificate. You could have bought me with a penny when I saw mine had been amended about 4 years after my birth. Gah! I'm guessing my parents needed it updated to put me in school. That's just a guess though.
So, I sat there stunned for at least about a half hour then I called my daughters and bawled inconsolably. Then turned to my author friend group to let them know what I'd discovered - I was adopted.
It was late and Dad had already turned in for the night, so I decided to wait until the next morning to confront him. I'll let you know next time what he said.
The next morning after putting the pieces together that I was adopted, I knocked on my dad’s door. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Morning, Dad. How are you feeling?
Dad: Doing good (swings his legs out of the bed and sits up, pulling his TV tray closer, looking at me expectantly).
Me: I was just wondering about something. Am I adopted?
Dad: (Looks completely unsurprised). Yeah. (says with a "well duh" affect.
Me: (Loud gasp, starts to sob). Why didn't you ever tell me?
Dad: (Now completely surprised). I mean no.
Me: It's too late. I figured it all out. What happened? Do you know who my people are?
Dad: (Looks around, searching for an escape). Uh, no, not really. It was a long time ago.
Me: Yeah, I know. 50 years.
Me: (shrugs) Okay, I'll go get your coffee and juice.
We never spoke of it again. He passed away about 4 months after this conversation so really didn't have a chance to delve deeper. I would have to figure out "my people" on my own.
By the time Dad passed away 4 months after that light "confrontation," I wasn't much closer to finding "my people." I'd made a spreadsheet with all the possibles listed and started pairing them off. I was fairly sure I could see myself in one of the women so felt she was probably my mother. LOL turns out we're not even related. She was related to that second-cousin DNA match on his mother's side. I'm related through his father. But I'm telling you, that women felt so familiar. I even found pictures of her in the Marin County society pages from the 60s (like a couple of years before I was born). She was a professor at some big East Coast school teaching some sort of dance. I should have known then because I can't catch the rhythm to save my life.
At this point, I was obsessed with figuring this puzzle out. Lots of cousins came for the funeral and I was showing anyone who would look at pictures of the possibles I had (which weren’t very many). Mind you, my actual birth mother was nowhere in these possibles. My birth father was though.
If you've read A KISS FROM THE PAST, I figured it out the same way Nichelle does. I realized I'd mistakenly put my grandmother's married name down in the tree instead of her maiden name. Once I realized my error, the pieces fell into place (especially since I had a closer cousin match on that side). I had my grandparents who had two sons and a daughter. The younger son was only 14 so I ruled him out. I mean, technically he could have been, but I thought it unlikely.
I focused on the older son first. He was 21 when I was born. Okay, now we were getting somewhere. Ancestry searching told me he married the month before I was born. Still quite plausible he could be dear old dad of course. The Book of Face told me he had three sons and a daughter named...Kelley. LOL can you imagine? Turns out she only goes by Kelley (that's her middle name), but still. I looked through all of their family pics and was happy at how close they all seemed.
I turned to the only girl to see what I could find. Not much. She had a couple sons, but I couldn't find anything on them either. I mean nothing at all which was perplexing. Pals, again if you've read A KISS FROM THE PAST, you probably know why I couldn't find anything. When I figured out the why, I was able to find them, but they had all their social media on lock. One of them (the younger) didn't even use his own picture as his profile picture. SMH
Before I leave this side of the family, I'll tell you that there's a few pictures of the siblings when they were young. My grandfather was a pretty big deal (I drop one of his book titles in TWO SIDES OF A SECRET) so there were articles of him (and even a couple books about him) from before I was born (he died of cancer 2 years after I was born meaning I was the only grandchild he knew about. ironic, huh?). So, I knew about what my father, or mother maybe, looked like as a child at least which was pretty neat.
On the other side, I'd nailed down my grandparents too. I keep saying this side or that side because I still wasn't sure who was maternal and paternal. Ancestry DNA has come a long way in the last 6 or so years and it's easier to figure that sort of thing out now, but not then. So my grandparents had three sons and a daughter. The daughter was 18 when I was born. I found a picture of her when she was younger and thought maybe. Then I dug a little more and realized she'd delivered a daughter of her own just four months before I was born so I reluctantly ruled her out. I know as I'm telling this to you it seems easy and quick. This took long hours to figure out. Each of these steps took days, sometime a couple of weeks to narrow down or rule out.
Again, the youngest son was too young when I was born. The middle son was 17 so plausible. And the older son was 21. At this point, I'd mostly accepted the daughter couldn't be my mother (still in the back of my mind a possibility like maybe my research was wrong about her giving birth a few months before I was born) so figured I was looking at the paternal side of my family for this one. Again, I did some Facebook sleuthing, reading through posts and comments on those I could find from the tree I'd built. One woman (my parent's first cousin) was particularly active and as I was scrolling through her posts from three years before (imagine how long that took to read back that far), someone popped out at me. He'd simply posted a "happy birthday, cousin" message but what got my attention was what he was wearing in his profile picture. It was a San Francisco 49ers sweatshirt.
As soon as I clicked on his photo, I just knew it was my birth father. Not that I looked like him, but it all just fit perfectly. And if this man was my birth father, that meant on the other side, the woman was my birth mother. Which meant I had two brothers. Looking into my father, I was able to tell I had two sisters.
About a week later, I received my birth report from the California Children's Society which didn't give me their names but based on the information they did give (mother, blond with blue eyes with a father who was blind; father, tall with a younger sister close to his age) it was merely a confirmation of what I'd already put together.
So now that I knew who everyone was, I formulated a plan to contact them. Just like Nichelle from A KISS FROM THE PAST, I didn't want to be a disruption to their lives. They had their reasons for giving me up for adoption those many years before, but I hoped that fifty years later may have them hopeful for a reunion.
Whew, I was so wrong on one front and quite right on the other.
Just like Nichelle, I wrote out two postcards with essentially the same wording on both. Here's a passage from the book that ended up on the cutting room floor: "She’d doxed her birth parents and found their addresses easily. Postcards were her weapons of choice because there was just enough space to introduce herself without giving too much away. If they wanted to know more about her, they’d have to reach out to her. She’d given them her personal email address and social media addresses. That may not have been the smartest move, putting her private information on a postcard, but if anyone gave her problems, she could easily block them." That's what I did IRL and how I felt.
Then I waited. And waited. By the time I was ready to cut my losses, I got a Facebook friend request from my birth father which I immediately approved. Then nothing (for a couple hours but felt like days). Then my youngest sister sent a message to my Facebook inbox asking if we could have a call. I gave her my phone number and she and our other sister called immediately. You would think this would be strange, and maybe a little awkward, but it was like I'd known them my whole life. They were so familiar, and I felt so comfortable with them. They were basically vetting me before they'd let me through the gate to my birth father (at his request). The thing is, he'd been told by a mutual friend of my birth mother that she had twin boys. I still don't know her reason for saying that, but my guess is that she didn't want anyone to go looking for me, especially my birth father. And turns out, he had been looking. My sister had left messages on various websites that reunited adoptees with their birth families. I'd checked some of those sites and left message of my own but would have never made the connection as (I think) my birth mother intended.
I talked with my sisters for about an hour and once we finished, my birth father called a few minutes later. We only spoke for a short time, but he continued to call me almost every day giving me snippets and snatches of his life. I'm not a huge phone talker either so this didn't feel like a slight at all. All of this took place in the summer, and we came up with a plan to meet in early December.
Meanwhile, crickets from my birth mother. I mulled it over in my mind and even got advice from my sisters (I had sisters!) on my next steps. Eventually I settled on reaching out to my baby brother on Twitter. During these intervening months, we'd followed each other on that platform because I liked a couple of his nature pictures. So early on a Monday morning in August, I crafted a message to him basically letting him know I was adopted and that we were related. He responded and asked how. I said well, we have the same mother so...siblings. LOL what a ridiculous shock, right? Well, that's because you don't know my amazing brother. He was so gracious and although he was indeed in shock, he never showed it to me. We had lots of back-and-forths in Twitter DMs then eventually moved it over to email (I sent him my birth report) and adding his lovely wife into the mix.
I've never had a chance to converse with my birth mother, nor the brother next to me in age (they live together), but she did acknowledge my existence then promptly said she never wanted to speak of it again. So, they haven't. But I have a close relationship with my baby brother, and he made the trip to Austin (picked it as his next marathon city) to meet me. Just like with my sisters, he was so familiar. I love them all equally, but I think he and I are most alike.
As for my cousin, Kelley, she reached out to me on ancestry when she saw me, and her father were matched. I explained and even though they don't talk to my birth mother, she embraced me into the family. Thanks to Kelley, I have many tokens from the grandmother I never got to meet like scarves, owl S&P shakers, and an owl necklace, along with her piecrust recipe. I got to meet Kelley for breakfast when I was attending a friend's graduation. She's so lovely and we text often.
I also exchange messages with her father, my birth mother's oldest brother. I'm meeting my birth mother's younger brother next month after I attend the Tule retreat (UPDATE: I met him and he was so lovely and interesting).
I try to see my siblings at least once a year. If you've been subscribed for a while or follow me on social media, you've seen pics of my trips either with them or to them, or them here to visit. My aging birth father has been down here to visit too (right after my granddaughter was born) and I see him in California as well.
It's been wonderful getting to know them all and feeling like I found a place that makes sense. I just hate I missed out on so many years with them. Thanks for sticking with me through this story. It's been quite the journey.