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Going Back So You Can Go Forward

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After reading Nancy Verrier's Primal Wound, I became more and more interested in meeting the foster parents that I was placed with for nine months prior to my adoption. In the 8 years since my reunion, I had only been mildly interested in that aspect of search until reading her book. My birthmother periodically expressed some curiosity, but I had dismissed it as unimportant. Mary Huse, formerly of Catholic Charities, promptly responded to my letter of inquiry, and was more than helpful in locating them. Connie Harrisen obligingly facilitated the meeting by exchanging our information.

While waiting for work to slop a bit so I could have more time to devote to a meeting, I received an enthusiastic message from my "foster sister" saying, "We've wondered all these years what became of you. We're waiting to hear from you, so hurry up and call us back!" I took the cue, called immediately, and drove out to see them the following evening.

I drove fast so I'd have more time to spend with them, but probably more so in response to the tension this situation was bringing up. My birthparents had driven out to seem them four months after I was born, and I had heard the story so many times that I felt I knew what the ride was like for them. I now imagined being my father, driving my mother out to see their secret in a borrowed card, nervous, a rare time when there was not much conversation between the two. I kept looking to my right as I drove, imagining the 21-year-old mother wringing her hands as she looked out the car window pensively. She had just surrendered her son, and did not know quite what to make of Catholic Charities' mysterious invitation to have a last look at her child. It never occurred to her that this was, in fact, her last option to change her mind.

I imagined my birthfather trying to keep his mind on driving, his mind racing, wishing he could fix this God-awful situation. He wanted to do the "right thing." He'd offered to marry her. He didn't want to let go of this love and his own child. But how could he make it work? How could they make it with no money, no home, and no support from friends, family, and the society that had driven them to do the unimaginable? She rode along, trying to convince herself that this was the right thing to do; he trying to reassure himself that someday it would all be OK. They both rode in silence; they both carried the pain forever.

I cut someone off to make the exit onto 95 south, and my apologetic salute to the passing car broke the silence of that early car ride in 1967. I began to think about what I would say to these people I had spent the second nine months of my life with. Why would they be so interested in seeing a baby from 26 years ago? What could be their attraction? For me, this journey was merely a scientific endeavor---a glimpse of how this early environment had affected my personality. How had the separation from two primary caregivers as an infant affected my ability to bond in my current relationships? This trip, in my mind, was a fact-finding mission and nothing more.

Well, it sure turned out to be an emotional fact-finding mission! My birthmother had described long roads through the woods to a cozy home on a corner with lots of little kids around. I drove those same long roads and came to the same house 26 years later. It was still cozy, and still had lots of little kids around. The little kids now were the children of those children from 1967 and clients of their home day care business. It was clear that these people loved kids more than anything else, and I never had to ask the nagging question, "Why had they taken in 59 foster babies in 19 years?" What a place to spend my first nine months outside the womb! Their whole lives revolved around kids---other people's and their own. Elaine Ring was a generous, ingratiating mother, and someone who had the ability to make anyone feel immediately at home and welcome.

I saw the crib that I used to sleep in; they kept it all those years! I saw their own children, now grown, who had once scurried around the house and fussed over me as an infant 26 years go. They had several pictures of me, each with my original name and age on the back. I had infiltrated their family photo album as had each one of their foster children. We were considered to be a part of their family, with our pictures scattered among those of their own family members.

Elaine had saved all the information that Catholic Charities had given her, and had kept track of us all. Although she and her family have only met a handful of their foster babies once they left for their adoptive homes, they are anxious to meet them once again and hear how they have fared. They genuinely cared about people and the lives that they have touched at such a tender age. It was a beautiful evening.

Late that evening, I reluctantly drove away. I drove slowly and thoughtfully this time, turning the reunion and its meaning for me over in my mind. I had made another connection; found another part of myself. I looked forward to meeting them again together with my adoptive mother and birthmother to bring us all full circle. I drove more slowly as I thought, "Thank you, Elaine Ring, and your wonderful family. Then I said something I never thought I'd say, "Thank you, Catholic Charities, for giving me another piece of me back."

Eight years earlier I had to wage war to get just a crumb of non-identifying information. I could only hope that their willingness to introduce me to my foster parents indicates a trend or heralds a call to agencies all over the world to respect the needs and feelings of lives over which they took control so many years earlier. I can only hope, and give my own thanks.

Bill Wattendorf
PO Box 485
Brant Rock, MA 02020

Credits: Bill Wattendorf

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