The search process for a state that has closed records is not easy. With tidbits of information, search angels in the forum that I belong to, can piece together a pretty whole picture and give the searcher a couple of avenues to follow. Today there are many many sites available that offer many different ways to search, but the bottom line is get your "non-ID" information. This comes from the state and from the agency. There are registries now, hundreds of them. But in 1998, information was still pretty scarce and paths to follow even scarcer.
Every site that had an adoption registry, I registered. Back then, it really was a needle in a hay stack. People were talking about the internet, but it still wasn't a part of everyone's life, so the probability of my son looking at the same registries that I put my information in wasn't good. But, it helped me pass the time and it helped me really think about the task I was undertaking and the implications, oh, and the doubts, too.
Around June 1998, his birthday, I stumbled across this group called PAFind. It's a Yahoo email group centered around folks separated by adoption in Pennsylvania. FINALLY, a group of people in the same boat, some of the stories were identical to mine, some were incredibly sad, some were unbelievably successful, but all had the common thread of adoption in Pennsylvania.
Through PAFind, I became educated in the search process. I saw people be successful in thier searches. I saw people in the afterglow of reunion, felt their roller coaster ride and all the while wondered if I would ever be so lucky.
I had tried to prepare myself for the worst. The rejection. If he were dead, at least I would have known that and had closure, but if there was rejection, I had to steel myself for that. But like death, I guess it's something that you can never really prepare yourself for. I had also had "best case scenarios" floating free form in my brain. The absolute best case is that we would have another person around our Friday night bonfires. Anything that fell inbetween would be gravey. And so I sent myself out on this journey.
I hadn't been a member of PAFind very long when I started corresponding with a young man that was an adoptee through Catholic Charities in Philadelphia and he was born in St. Vincents. His words of advice are emblazoned on my brain forever..."Go back to Catholic Charities, they are the keeper of the records". "Catholic Charities" were still dirty words to me. The phrase brought back a lot of agonizing memories, a lot of hurt and closed doors. But, I knew in my heart he was absolutely right, they are the keeper of the records. And if I was going to do this, this was the path that I had to take.
With my new found knowledge and power, I called Catholic Charities in Philadelphia because that's where I gave birth. The women I talked to were pleasant and caring...hmmm, this was a new twist for CCS. They did some research and found that my reocrds were not in their archives. I explained my initial contact was in Allentown, but since I gave birth in Philadelphia, I assumed the records would be retained with Philadelphia office. But they were not. OK...big deep breaths... I was getting closer.
The next call was to the Allentown Catholic Charities in October of 1998. BINGO. Yes, they had my records. Yes, they do searches and yes, they would send me the information on how to proceed. I hung up the phone shaking. It was becoming a reality. and I was right in the middle of it.
I received the information in the mail a few days later. I poured over it, agonized over it, then cut a check for $250 for the search and sent it in, against all odds. That little voice was still repeating "never, ever" and it was getting louder and louder. Was I being silly to actually entertain the notion that I might actually get to meet him?
Of course during this time, I was keeping my new support system from PAFind apprised of every action I was taking, every feeling I was feeling. They were behind me 150%. So, I set a date with the Allentown Catholic Charities to meet them 12/10/1998 and seal my fate one way or the other.
Time has a way of crawling when you're in anticipation of big events, doesn't it? During this time, I became overwhelmed with my job, with my search, with my life, with my marriage and on December 2, 1998, I had a breakdown. Something was bound to give and it was my mind. Just one too many things layered on top of each other and I became a hysterical mass of jello that had to be carted off to the hospital and sedated. It wasn't pretty. At this point, my doc advised me to take time off from work, signed a disability consent for me. My husband was advising me to let the search go. In my mind, that seemed rediculous. Here I was so close, and to stop now??? No, I couldn't do that. So, 8 days later, broken spirited, I went to Allentown for a 1:oopm appointment with a woman named Kathy at Allentown Catholic Charities. I tried to prepare for this as best I could. I took my medication, I went swimming where my sister was working, said a small prayer and walked in to the office.
The office was located in the basement level of the building, it wasn't much larger than a closet. We talked for 3 hours in the stifling hot little room. For the life of me, I can't remember what all was said, other than about half way through the interview, Kathy informed me that my son had been in contact with the office within the past 2 years looking for medical history information.
At that moment, I almost passed out.
I quickly took inventory of what I now knew, which was volumes compared to the past 27 years.
I knew that he was alive, I knew that he was probably married (Kathy informed me that most men contact them for medical info when they get married), I knew that he was in the United States, I knew that Catholic Charities probably had a fairly recent contact number for him. WOW. This was a virtual treasure trove of information AND the likelihood of the search ending in contact was more than good.
We finished the interview by Kathy first recommending that IF I wanted to, I should write him a letter, of course omitting any contact information. She also cautioned me about completing a waiver of confidentiality. I had always wanted information in my file that would lead him to me if that's what he wanted, but never knew I could do that. I was not the least bit hesitant about completing the waiver of confidentiality, which she put in my file and sent me on my way to digest the past 3 hours.
I sat down one night and I wrote my son a letter. I wrote it from my heart, leaving nothing out. Hopes, dreams, regrets, happenings...8 pages worth. When I re-read it, I changed nothing. It said everything I wanted it to say. I put it in an envelope and mailed it off to Kathy.
I contacted her the week of Christmas to make sure she received it and she responded that she did and she would be calling his parents to see if all parties were amenable to a reunion. Be still my heart.
Well, the phone call terminated with a generic answering machine that she did not leave a message on. She then sent a letter "I have more information about your birthmother, please contact me"kind of letter. The beginning of February, she called the number again and got his amom and identified herself and asked the amom to pass a message along to him for him to call her, which she evidently did. 1 1/2 weeks later, he called and left a message on the social workers voice mail, that he would call back (she failed to tell me at that point that he had left a number).
They finally spoke, my son and Kathy, on March 3, at which time he told her that he wasn't ready to deal with me yet, however he'd liked to receive the letter I wrote him. When Kathy reported this to me, I had so many mixed emotions.
So, the next question is, how did I feel about this. A bit disappointed that the initial response wasn't more positive, a bit relieved that I knew that I had done everything possible to open the door and have shown him the path that he needs to take should he decide that he'd like contact, and a bit encouraged that the initial response was not total rejection. And, I guess the best of all, is that all of the not knowing whether he's alive or dead and that he made it to adulthood relatively unscathed is OVER!!
The rest of March was lost to me. Waiting and patience have never been strong suites for me.
April 7th, Kathy called me, leaving me voice mail that she would have some information for me tomorrow. Talk about one long night!!! I didn't sleep at all. I was in to playing card games on the internet at that time, so I spent the whole nite playing cards. Finally about 8am, I checked my email, and there was an email from my son. The most articulate, beautiful piece of communication that I had ever received.
His name is Tom (I had named him Tim) and he lives inAtlanta and according to his letter, he's happy, content, well adjusted and we will probably meet during the summer. My wait, my uncertainty, my longing to tell him the story was over. He got the letter, he responded, the beginning of my healing had started.