Air Date: 4.12.16

You can read the transcript below are listen to the show by clicking here.

Jennifer: Hi and welcome to Adoption Focus. My name is Jennifer Jaworski and I am a social worker with Adoption Associates of Michigan. This is Adoption Associates premier talk radio blog show. Adoption Associates was founded in 1990 and we specialize in both domestic and international adoption. We provide pregnancy and adoption services throughout all of Michigan with offices located in Jenison, Lansing, Farmington Hills, and Saginaw.

Adoption Associates brings knowledge, support, and understanding in adoption. Adoption is not only our specialty, it’s our passion. One of Adoption Associate’s commitments is this radio show to help educate and support adoptive families, birth families, and the adoption community. So we are very glad that you’re listening in today.

If you’d like to call in during the show with questions or comments, we welcome that. You may dial 347-850-1100. Again, 347-850-1100.

I am excited today to welcome to our show Chelsea. Chelsea, are you with us? Chelsea, are you with us?

Chelsea, are you there?

Chelsea: Hey.

Jennifer: Hi, How are you?

Chelsea: Good, how are you?

Jennifer: I’m great, welcome to the show.

Chelsea: Good, thank you for having me.

Jennifer: Well, we appreciate you coming and sharing a little bit about your experience with adoption. I’m wondering if we should just go ahead and jump right in. If you would, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Chelsea: Yeah sure. So I was asked to be on the show because I’m an adoptee so I was adopted when I was an infant. It was a domestic adoption so I’m currently 24 years old. I’m a trans-racial adoptee so I’m biracial so I’m half black, half white. My birth father is African American and my birth mother is Caucasian. And I was raised by Caucasian parents. And those are my adopted family.

Jennifer: Wow. Okay, so thanks for sharing that with us. What was your experience growing up as an adoptee, I guess? Not only as an adoptee but you mentioned the trans-racial aspect as well. Can you elaborate about that for us?

Chelsea: Sure. I think the thing with adoption, the question I probably get asked most is when did you find out that you were adopted? And that was just a daily part of my life growing up. I never really didn’t know the time that I was adopted. My parents were very intentional about talking about my birth family growing up so I was always aware of them growing up. And I really appreciated being able to know about that growing up so it was never this big sit down talk where I’m six years old they’re sitting me down to say that hey, guess what? You’re not our biological kid. It was just very intentional thing that they discussed all throughout my growing up.

Jennifer: So that was just something that was always discussed in your family. You felt comfortable and open that you could ask questions about your adoption story?

Chelsea: Yeah. It was definitely … They started to express more details about my adoption as I got older but I always knew that I was adopted. I guess I kind of always joked around with it well ’cause I’m a different skin color you guys always had to tell me the truth. But they just made that very clear from the beginning that I was adopted. And then, I also have a younger brother that’s two and a half years younger than me and he’s also adopted. And he’s fully African American. And they made it very clear with him as well about his adoption story.

Jennifer: And did you have questions about your birth parents as you were growing up?

Chelsea: Not as much as when I was really little. I guess I just took it and ran with it that I was adopted. But as I became older, so probably like around seven or eight, I started definitely ask more questions about my birth family. I was very curious by it because I was starting to realize that my situation with my parents was very different than my friend’s situations with their parents. And it wasn’t the same as my friends that had stepparents. It was a completely different story. So I started to ask more questions about adoption after getting a little bit older.

Jennifer: Okay. And what were the things that you wanted to know? What were some of the questions that you asked your parents?

Chelsea: Sure. Definitely the main question was why did my birth parents place me for adoption. What was going on in their lives that they couldn’t keep me? That was probably my biggest question. And then, there was just other questions I asked too like if they still loved me. If they still thought of me. What they were like. Just any questions I could think of to try and get more answers about where I came from.

Jennifer: And how do you feel your parents handled those questions?

Chelsea: I think that they did the best that they could. Being that I was adopted 24 years ago, just seeing how much the adoption field has changed just in 24 years is mind boggling. So my adoption was a semi-open adoption so they didn’t have a ton of information. We didn’t have a lot of contact with my birth parents. So they gave me the information that they could. And as I got older, they gave me more and more information.

Jennifer: And do you feel that the information that they were able to give you and help you to understand, helped you to make sense of your story? That’s an issue that we often hear from adult adoptees is that as a child they were trying to make sense of what happened, sense of the birth parents choice, sense of this adoption. How do you relate to that?

Chelsea: Sure. I guess for me, my personality is very much I’m a people pleaser. I like people to be happy with what I’m doing. And I think I internalized my adoption a lot and I felt that I had done something wrong. And my adoptive parents could talk till they were blue in the face about how the fact I was a kid. There was absolutely nothing wrong that I did but I still inwardly felt that there must have been something that I did in terms of my adoption.

So I think that’s probably one of the things that I really struggled with was learning that it wasn’t my fault. That it was just the situation that happened.

Jennifer: Sure. Sure. What age do you think you were when you came to terms with that?

Chelsea: I think it was a process. I think definitely when I was 10 or 12, that age, I was really, really struggling with my adoption. As I got a little bit older so probably 15 or 16 is really when I just accepted it as what it was and even if I had done something, which I know that I didn’t, but even if I had, that’s in the past and it’s just best to look forward and move on. And keep going on with my life.

Jennifer: What were your feelings about your birth parents as a child?

Chelsea: When I was really little, it was just I prayed every night for my birth parents before I went to bed to help them have a good day the next day. So that was just my first real interaction with it when I was growing up. But as I got older, I think I did deal with a little bit of anger but there really just wasn’t a lot. My adoptive parents were always very intentional about the fact that my birth parents made the best … like what they thought was the best choice for me. And they let me express how I was feeling but they always went back to the fact that hey, your birth parents loved you. They made this choice for you. It wasn’t because they were being selfish. They were being super unselfish.

And I think because my adoptive parents were really intentional about that, it really helped me in terms of how I viewed my birth parents. It was never a oh, I’m really angry at you for what you did. It was like wow, what was going on in your life that led you to such a difficult choice.

Jennifer: Absolutely. So was there a point in time that you decided to search for them?

Chelsea: For me personally, it was just something that I always wanted to do. I don’t ever remember a time where I didn’t want to meet my birth family. I wanted to know where I came from. I had these questions that I wanted answered. So I remember being five or six years old and telling my adoptive parents I was going to find my birth parents someday. So I think for me it was never really a question. It was just something that I wanted to do and that I was grateful that it was a domestic adoption so it would be easier to do.

Jennifer: So it was really just a matter of when you were going to do it, not if you were going to do it.

Chelsea: Yeah.

Jennifer: And how did your adoptive parents feel about that?

Chelsea: They were pretty great about it. I think obviously at first they were like a little concerned because they were worried that my relationship with them would change based off of meeting my birth family. And I remember talking with them about it and being like this is a part of who I am and it’s something that’s really important to me but it’s not going to change my relationship with you both. I have an established relationship with you guys. You have been my parents my whole life. That’s not going to change just because I’m looking into my birth family right now.

So my adoptive mom, she was such a rockstar about it. She helped so much. She helped me search for my birth family and was just really intentional. We had a lot of discussions about it while it was going on.

Jennifer: So she actually participated in it?

Chelsea: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yep. She helped a lot.

Jennifer: That’s awesome.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jennifer: That sounds like in and of itself, that probably was a very involved experience for the two of you to go through together. What was the process like? How long did it take?

Chelsea: Yeah, so I had talked with someone who was an older adoptee and she really encouraged me to try and find my birth family so I could get closure in that part of my life. Because I had a lot of unanswered questions. So my adoptive mom and I decided we were going to look into doing this. They had always wanted me to wait until I was 18 but I was moving out of the state to go to school after I turned 18 so end of my 16th or 17th birthday, we started to look for my birth family.

I had her name so I remember searching for her name. And she didn’t have a phone number online but she had an address. So I ended up typing up a letter my senior year of high school and sending it to her and I didn’t get a response.

Jennifer: Oh man.

Chelsea: Yeah, the letter went through but I didn’t get a response. And that was really difficult and I didn’t really do anything else with it for a couple of months. And then talking with someone, they’re like you should really try. You really need to get behind this and get some closure on this. And so, my adoptive mom and I went online again and searched up my birth mom’s parents. And they had a phone number listed so I just randomly called my birth grandparents.

Jennifer: Wow.

Chelsea: Yeah, it was really weird.

Jennifer: That was an act of bravery.

Chelsea: Yeah, it was scary. Yeah, called them and just I ended up talking to my birth grandma. She’s the first one of the family that I talked to. And just was like hey, so I’m so and so’s daughter. I was wondering if I could have her number so I could talk with her because I’d like to meet her sometime. So she had known about the adoption and she was like yeah, I was kind of wondering when this call would happen. Just really reserved on the phone. The phone call lasted maybe a minute tops. Gave me my birth mom’s phone number and that was the end of that conversation.

So I think it was later that week, everyone was gone at the house and I called my best friend, Rachel, at the time. And I was like you need to come over to the house because I’m going to call my birth mom and I’m literally having a panic attack right now because I’m so anxious. So she rushed over and I called my birth mom.

Jennifer: So you were 17.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jennifer: And this had been, was it a few months since you first reached out with the letter?

Chelsea: It was probably about five or six months after the letter.

Jennifer: Okay. And so, your friend came over. You must have been extremely nervous.

Chelsea: I was. I was pretty terrified. It’s not every day that you do something like this.

Jennifer: So tell us … Oh definitely. Tell us about that. What happened?

Chelsea: Yeah, so I got on the phone and she answered and I just explained who I was. I used my birth name because they had placed me for adoption and they had named me something other than what my adoptive parents ended up naming me. And she said that she’d always kind of been expecting this call and that her mom, so my birth grandma, had called her to forewarn her that this was happening. And we probably talked on the phone for 20 minutes to half hour which was weird because I’m a pretty shy person. So being able to talk on the phone that long to begin with was a lot but we just talked and talked about stuff and tried to get to know each other better. Both of us just kept stopping in the middle of the conversation and like this is so weird. We can’t believe that we’re talking to one another right now.

She had gotten my letter. She was just really unsure of what I was really feeling about her. She didn’t know if I was feeling anger and I think she was afraid of what was going to happen which is very similar to what I was feeling as well. So we ended up that we decided we wanted to meet. We decided to do it that weekend so we were going to rip this off like a band-aid and go for it.

I ended up … She came down with her younger sister, so my birth aunt, and came and we went together and we got lunch and talked for hours and hours. And after that discussion, we decided that we really just wanted to keep our relationship moving forward.

Jennifer: That’s a wonderful story. Were you guys talking about how’s the weather stuff or were you talking about the serious issues of your adoption? And how it came to be that she made a plan for you? What was the context of the conversation like?

Chelsea: Yeah, it was actually … A lot of it was getting to know you sort of things. And we did that on the phone too. But I brought pictures of me growing up and she brought photo albums too so we could see pictures. When I was first looking into meeting my birth family, I had my case file and going through it, I found some pictures. And there was a baby picture of me and it had a different name on the back. So I took it to my adoptive mom and I was like well, what’s this picture? And she was like oh yeah, you have a full sister. And I was like oh, okay. I didn’t know that. And she’s like yeah, we thought that would be really difficult for you to process when you were growing up so we were waiting for that. So I had found out that I had a full sister. And when I was talking with my birth mom on the phone, I found out that she had another daughter as well that was also my full sister. So I found out about my two full sisters.

So a lot of the pictures she brought were of my sisters growing up and that was the creepiest thing ever. And it sounds weird to say but it’s just we look so much alike and there’s baby pictures that I can’t tell specifically my sister closest in age, she’s two years younger than me, I can’t tell us apart unless I’m looking at the outfit.

Jennifer: Wow.

Chelsea: Yeah. We were talking a lot about that and I know when I was first talking with her on the phone, she said that my voice wasn’t as deep as she thought it was going to be. She thought my voice was going to be deep like my middle sisters but it’s really light and like airy like my youngest sister’s and how I talk is so similar to how my younger sister talks and expresses herself. But I have more of a personality like my middle sister and we’re so much alike.

So that’s probably what we spent a lot of the time talking about. We also did dive into the issue of why she placed me for adoption and what was going through her head when that was happening. And what was going on in her life like after the adoption had happened.

Jennifer: So you got some much needed answers to questions that you’d had for all these years, it sounds like. What is one of the things that your birth mother did even before you met her that you felt was so powerful for you?

Chelsea: Yeah. There’s really two things that really stuck out to me about her decision. It’s one, that she wrote a couple letters like after my adoption had happened and had sent them. And I didn’t read them until I was 17 but she just really wrote down what she was feeling, how she felt about me and it was stuff that my adoptive parents have been telling me since I was growing up but it was so different to hear … from hearing them saying it to actually seeing what my birth mom had to say about it.

Jennifer: Sure.

Chelsea: And I think reading those, because I read them right before I met her, reading those really helped because when I was first meeting her, I didn’t know what I was going to get myself into. I didn’t know how she really felt about me. I knew my adoptive parents said that she loved me but I didn’t understand that. But reading those letters just really kind of solidified in my mind what she felt about me and it helped give me peace about actually meeting her because just in the letters that she was writing about just how much love and respect that she had for me, I knew that those feelings wouldn’t go away.

Jennifer: Right.

Chelsea: Yeah, so that was definitely one of the things that I appreciated the most. The second is that on my first birthday, her and my birth father sent a music box for me. And it played a song, it was Somewhere Out There. It was from the American Tail movie. And my adoptive parents recorded it on a tape player and so they would play that for me before I would go to bed at night. They’d always play that song. So that was always my special song that when I was feeling upset about an issue, I would listen to it because it reminded me of my birth mom. And to this day, that’s probably one of my most prized possessions. I love that music box.

Jennifer: That is a very touching story. I mean, what a great tribute to your birth mother too. How thoughtful of both she and your birth father to provide you with that gift that your adoptive parents then used in such a positive way throughout your life. That’s a really, really great message, I think.

So you mentioned your birth father, did you meet him? What happened with that relationship?

Chelsea: Yeah, I did meet him. I met him probably three months … probably like a month or two after I met my birth mom. And it went really well. My birth dad is really, really charismatic. He’s a lot of fun to be around. We’re not as close as I am with my birth mom and stuff but it’s more of my birth dad, he’s there for me but he’s not the best at staying in touch. So we just don’t communicate as much as I do with my other birth family members.

Jennifer: Okay. And your birth siblings. You’ve met them since?

Chelsea: Mm-hmm (affirmative) yeah.

Jennifer: You have.

Chelsea: I always get told that I need to have like a flowchart of my birth family because it’s very confusing. We need visual aids when you talk about it. But I have two older half brothers. So they’re my birth father’s children from his first relationship. And that was strange. That was definitely a transition for me because I was always the oldest in my adoptive family. I have two younger siblings in my adoptive family. And all of a sudden, I had older brothers and they were super nosy and overprotective and they were bossy and telling me that I wasn’t allowed to date guys. And that I needed to let them know if I was interested in anyone. And just complete full older brother mode and I had never experienced that before. And I’d always wanted older brothers so I definitely just eaten that up. I love being the little sister to them.

Jennifer: That’s great.

Chelsea: Yeah. Definitely the one closest to me in age, he and I are definitely the closest and I think he was probably the one that was the most welcoming of all my siblings when I first came into the family. He was just ready to go and get started right away. There wasn’t that awkward, weird tension at first. So I was really appreciative of that.

And then, like I also mentioned, I have my two younger full sisters and they’re from my birth mom and birth dad being together for four years after I was born. So they ended up growing up with our birth mom. So that’s another question I field, I guess, a lot is well, how does it feel that you were put up for adoption but your sisters were kept. And trying to explain to people that my birth mom was in a completely different place when she had me than when she had my younger sisters and I’m not bitter. I’m not angry. I understand why she did what she did. And I’m just grateful that all of us have a relationship now.

But my sisters, it definitely took more work for the relationship. All of us are pretty shy and it’s really strange to all of a sudden have a new sibling in the family that you didn’t grow up with but all of a sudden is just there.

Jennifer: When did they learn about you? Did they know when they were growing up?

Chelsea: They were pretty little. They found out. But it wasn’t … they just randomly found out and they said it was a hard thing. So they knew about me but not in a lot of detail or anything. But all of a sudden, having an older sister. And all of us have some trust issues that we’ve personally struggled with so I think we were very concerned that I think my sisters and I have definitely talked about it now and they were concerned that I was just going to be in their life for a little bit and then just leave. And they were really concerned about having a relationship where they could get hurt in that way with someone just leaving them. It took a lot of work.

Jennifer: And that’s not the case.

Chelsea: No.

Jennifer: You guys have continued this relationship.

Chelsea: Yep. But it definitely, it was hard. I’d go to my birth grandparents house for Christmas and we would sit next to each other and there wouldn’t be any talking. And it was awkward but I think that all of us deep down, we wanted it and we were going to keep trying to make it work even though it was difficult. And it was hard on me sometimes because I was just like I just want this to happen now and not have to keep waiting. But I was just really persistent about that and trying to be super intentional with them. And let them know that I wasn’t going to go anywhere. And I was willing to wait for them to be comfortable with me. And I wasn’t going to force that issue but I still was just going to be present. And I think in the long run that definitely paid off because my sisters and I are so close right now. I would definitely consider them two of my best friends and I can’t imagine not having them be a part of my life. I love spending time with them. We call each other and text each other often. And talk about what’s going on in our lives. And it’s just really great.

Jennifer: They’re your sisters.

Chelsea: But it definitely, it took work. And I’m grateful for the hard work that I’ve had to put in because it’s made the reward really sweet with the relationship that we have now.

Jennifer: And grateful that your birth family, all of them, were also willing to put the work in too.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jennifer: You mentioned that you were biracial and you were adopted by Caucasian parents, what role did race play in your life as a child? As a young adult? As a teen? How did all of the racial issues related to the adoption impact you?

Chelsea: Yeah. Kind of like back to what I said towards the beginning. Adoption’s changed so much in 24 years. And when my brother and I were adopted, race wasn’t a big deal in the sense that adoptive families didn’t really understand how much a role that race plays for a child. And so, I knew that I was another skin color. I knew my brother was another skin color. But race just was never a discussion that we really had at our house. And knowing that I was doing this radio show, I actually talked with my adoptive mom a little bit. And I was like so this race thing. And she was like yeah, if we had the resources that I know that you guys that are around now for adoptive families, we would have definitely been more involved with something. We just didn’t know that race was such an important factor. It just was never really explained.

So because of that, I think that I did really struggle and my brother really struggled in terms of racial identity growing up. Here we are being raised by Caucasian parents, and we didn’t have anyone that we really saw as influences in our lives that were of the same race as us. Especially for me growing up being biracial, there just wasn’t a lot of biracial people. And in the media, you could at least see African American actors more so than you would biracial actors. And the stuff that I was watching on TV. So I felt very alone in who I was identity wise, racial identity wise because I just didn’t know that there were other people that looked like me.

So I remember being little and watching a TV show and seeing someone that was Mexican. And then, I told my mom yeah, so I’m Mexican. And she’s like Chelsea, you’re not Mexican. And I was like but they look like me. And she’s like but you’re half black, half white. And I’m like no, because Caleb’s black. I’m not black. And she had to go through this whole long spiel about what it meant to be biracial. And I was so confused. And I think the next day I watched Pocahontas and I was like Mom, I’m Native American. And she’s like Chelsea, we just went through this. You’re not Native American. You’re biracial. And it was just really hard because I can laugh at it now but when I was a kid, I was just so confused about who I was.

Jennifer: You were searching for that sense of identity and understanding about who you were. And I think that’s a really great point that you’ve brought up. Adoptions today are different than they were 24 years ago in terms of the training and education and preparation that our families receive prior to adoption. I guess along that same line of thinking, I’m wondering what your message would be to a couple that may be considering adopting particularly a child outside of their own race. What would your message be to them?

Chelsea: Definitely research. Make sure that this is going to be a healthy decision for everyone involved. If you live in a town that’s all Caucasian and you have family members that you’ve come to realize have somewhat racist tendencies, be really careful about what you’re going to do because your child is going to have to deal with that. And you’re going to have to deal with that. And I think once you have adopted a child of another race, you’re going to be so much more aware of all these racial tensions that you weren’t aware of when you didn’t have that child. And I know that my adoptive mom has said that people have come up to her and asked questions about my brother and I growing up. I remember people coming up to me and just randomly touching my hair without really asking questions and asked me if it was okay. I think just really research and make sure this is going to be a good decision for everyone involved.

I definitely think that you can be Caucasian or whatever race and adopt someone that is outside of your race. But it’s just important to remember that they have a different cultural identity than you and you want to foster that and encourage that because there’s nothing wrong with that cultural identity that they have.

Jennifer: Sure.

Chelsea: Just because you’re of another culture doesn’t mean that it’s better or that it’s worse than theirs but theirs is important and they’re going to want to look into that and see what that means for them. Because their cultural identity is not going to go away. I didn’t suddenly become Caucasian as I became older. I’m still a biracial female and I think that’s very important for them to understand.

Jennifer: And based upon your experiences, what is your message to someone who may be listening that is experiencing an unplanned pregnancy? Someone who is considering adoption? What is your message to that young woman?

Chelsea: I think for me personally, first off, just that they have my utmost respect and admiration. It’s such a difficult decision and just knowing that it’s not easy. But that you do have the respect of the adoptees and definitely my respect for whatever decision that you make in regards to adoption. That’s probably my biggest thing that I feel like that I would have to say. I realize that my birth mom’s decision was the toughest decision that she’s ever had to make and I’m so grateful for her because I know that for her it wasn’t a selfish decision. She was being so unselfish in her decision because she was trying to consider what was best for me even though that choice was really hard and really painful on her.

So that’s my biggest message to birth moms or people that are thinking of placing their child for adoption is that I have so much respect for you and I can’t imagine what you’re going through when it comes to terms of thinking about making that decision.

Jennifer: That was very well said, Chelsea. And thank you. And the respect that I have for you in sharing your personal story is wonderful. You have shared with us today your experiences in helping make sense of your story and how you went about that through the years and how your adoptive parents supported that. Hearing about your reconnecting at the age of 17 with your birth family is an amazing story and I think it sheds light to a lot of people, birth mothers who worry about their children being angry with them for this decision. And I think that you’ve shed some light on that for us as well. So thank you. Thank you very, very much.

For our listeners that are looking to connect with Adoption Associates, you may call us or you may connect with us on the web, or 800-677-2367. Join us next week as we speak with Mark Livings who will share with us some trends that we’re seeing in adoption. For now, this is Jennifer on Adoption Focus. Hope that you have a great day. Bye-bye.