Dedicated to Adoptees and the family circle involved. May this story touch your heart and bring you a deeper understanding of yourself. I pray you will find peace at the end of your journey, whatever the outcome.
To everything there is a season, And a time to every purpose under the heaven. Ecclesiastes 3: 1
I was excited. It was the first day of school. My desk was on the front row. I just met Mrs. Houdyshell, and already loved her. She had snowy white hair, and she hugged me as I walked in the door. She was introducing us one at a time, “Sitting here is Beverly Smith, Sheryl Delay, Don Kazmaier, Janet Adams, Pete Bogerd, Teresa Fox, Mike Buchanan.” I was listening expectantly for her to call my name. When she got to me she hesitated. “I want to share with you how lucky we are to have, Dandy Donovan in our class. Everyone in this class was born into their family. Dandy is special because she got chosen to be in her family. Dandy was adopted and we are so happy to have her in our class.”
I didn’t feel different from the other kids, I wasn’t sure what she was trying to explain. I just felt good. But from that moment on, I felt wanted and cherished by my teacher, classmates and family.
My friend Beverly recalls,” I wanted to hold your hand and play with you, after hearing how special you were.” I probably let her hold my hand, but I was occupied holding Mike Buchanan’s hand at recess. The first 5 years of our life, we played together, attended Sunday and Bible School together in our country church in Centerview, Kansas. He was the only classmate I knew.
I hopped off the school bus at the end of my first day and ran in the house happy. “Mom, did you know that I was adopted?” I still had no concept of what being adopted meant, but Mrs. Houdyshell made it a positive experience. I don’t recall what Mom said, There was no discussion. I just informed her, then went off to look for my sister Dee to play.
Mom commented, “I don’t remember anything about that.”
I thought about it and figured it was time for me to start school. She had never told me and knew I needed to know. Not knowing how to tell me herself, the best way for her to do it was to have my beloved teacher Mrs. Houdyshell break the news in a positive way.
From those early years, I have gone through most of my life feeling unsettled, never quite content. I was grateful to have been raised by loving and generous parents, and yet, I have gone through a lifelong search for self.
I loved to write and started journaling. Recently, when I re-read my early journal writings I discover emotions from depths I had not even realized. Words of longing and yearning. Many times I never knew what I was writing, or what was on my heart, until I read the words I had written on the paper. I kept my journal in the closet. My search for self and journaling intermittently continued for over sixty years.
I read books and collected information on adoption, recorded my thoughts and added it to my journal. Throughout the years, I had fantasies about my birth parents. When I heard childhood stories, I wondered about my parents. Especially the story about “the little lady that lived in the shoe, had so many kids she didn’t know what to do.” I wonder if that could have been my Mother?
Every time I went to a doctor I had to fill out forms questioning family medical history. That was pretty easy. I just wrote ADOPTED in big letters, I had no medical history. Other small events brought adoption to my mind. Birthdays were bittersweet. Does my birthmother think of me on my birthday? When I turned 19, I thought, that was the age she was when she gave birth to me. I looked for excuses on why she would not keep me.
My brother Dennis was adopted from an agency called The Cradle in KC, Missouri. Two years later I was adopted from The Willows, in KC, Missouri. Two years after that, Mom gave birth to my sister, Deena. They had been married 16 years, wanting children. Mom always dressed Dee and me alike. She loved it when people asked if we were twins.
Mom never told anyone I was adopted. After moving to Arizona in 2003, she mentioned, “None of our friends know that you and Dennis were adopted.” I was a little puzzled. I tried to understand her thinking. Was it her way of telling me she loved Dennis and myself as much as she loved the daughter she gave birth to?
I continued reading books, would research and google about children that were adopted. Everything I learned I added to my journal. I looked up The Willows where I was born. I learned as a school age child begins to understand the implications of adoption, they start to feel a sense of loss for their parents, and the family they never knew. Even if they never met their birth mother, they still experience a sense of loss, and still grieve. Often the adoptee feels sad or angry without understanding their emotions.
Mom was very protective of her children. Her strictness embarrassed me. As I think about it, I believe it was because Mom cherished the gift God had given her. Her children. She didn’t want anyone to tease us or hurt our feelings.
TEEN YEARS THROUGH YOUNG ADULT
During the teen years I realized there was another side to the adoption story– that in order to be “chosen, you first have to be given away. But I still thought of my parents as my family.
Through the years I learned the majority of adoptive parents are above average levels of education. Therefore, great value is placed on academic success in their family. Mom was driven. She finished high school in three years and college in three years with a 4 point grade average. She loved to study and enjoyed working with numbers and keeping records.
She expected academic success from us. The minute we got home from school, we ate a snack, then set at the kitchen table to study until supper, then we had to study until bedtime. Most of my time was spent looking at my books and randomly turning pages so Mom thought I was studying, but I was really just daydreaming.
During the teenage years of identity crisis, adoption can take on an added pain: Adoption experts call it genealogical bewilderment. The feeling of being cut off from your heritage, your religious background, your culture, your race. When adopted children feel different from their families in any of these group identities, this can become overwhelming. I took my journal from the closet and continued to write.
I was curious about my adoption, but scared to ask any questions as I did not want to betray my parents. I didn’t know anyone else in my school that was adopted other than my brother, Dennis. But I didn’t really think about him as being adopted.
My senior year, I decided I wanted to go to school and work with mentally handicapped special needs children, but Mom wanted me to pursue a nursing career. Nursing school was difficult for me. I was never good at math or science.
I was sent to summer school the month after graduating from high school. Mom insisted I go because I was not a straight A student. She thought I should start taking some of the pre-nursing classes. That summer I spent a lot of time alone. I started wondering, Who am I really? What do I believe in?
In my 20’s, I made lots of choices good and bad. When my best friend and brother and sister married, I felt I should marry too. I married a boy I was dating, but didn’t love. He had a drug addiction from diet pills and we divorced. At that time divorce was not common and it was traumatic to me. That intensified my feeling of being unsettled and restless.
One day while feeling that way, I decided to go for a drive in the country, and came across a lot with a mobile home on it along the Ninnescah River. I knocked on the door and asked them how much they wanted for the land? They said $500. That was exactly what I had in my savings account. I agreed to buy the lot. I quit my job in Wichita, and bought a mobile home for the lot. I started working in a small hospital in Wellington, Kansas. I was longing for the peace and quiet of country living that I enjoyed on the farm. It felt like a fresh start to life. New job, new home and new friends. I spent time reading the Bible and renewing my relationship with God.
I had another crazy impulse and decided to take flying lessons. I decided not to tell my parents about this. Mom would have had a fit. Dad would have thought it was cool.
The best part of learning to fly for me, was the handsome instructor I got to spend time with. A lot of the instruction didn’t make sense to me. But the calmness in Norm, the simple way he explained things and his encouragement kept me coming back for more lessons.
You flew with your feet on the pedals, and the steering wheel was used for climbing or descending. We studied the instruments, their function, how to read aeronautical charts. You had to fly at certain altitudes you couldn’t just cruise around and enjoy the scenery. I learned FCC rules and you couldn’t chat on the radio like a CB. You had to use these phonetic letters, “November 8172 Victor.” Believe it or not, I passed my written exam!
To Norm, there were no dumb questions. Or maybe there were, but he never made me feel dumb. He was always calm, patient and encouraging. I felt secure and content flying with him. Nothing alarmed him, but he did things to alarm me! We were practicing touch and go landings when all of a sudden he hoped out of the plane and said, “Take it up by yourself!” When I was enjoying the scenery too much, he placed a hood over my eyes so I had to look at the instruments. Occasionally he would reach over and turn off the engine. I didn’t like to have to recover from a stall, but I felt secure that if I couldn’t get us out of this predicament, he could.
Since I had little faith in myself, and my ability to fly, I concentrated hard and focused so I could learn everything he was teaching me. I was totally caught off guard when one windy day I went in for my lesson. He commented, “it is too turbulent to fly today, shall we go get a Pizza?” Not one time had I even considered that Norman might be single. He was so nice I thought for sure he was married. All I was interested in at that time of my life was learning to fly. We went out for Pizza and from that day on my focus was less on flying and more on Norman.
Our first date, I was scrambling around trying to clean my house and make my yard look nice and my mower died. When I was showing Norm around the place, he spotted my mower in the middle of the back yard surrounded by tall grass. I explained to him the mower was broken. He immediately walked over to the mower, took off the gas cap, looked in the tank and kindly informed me, “You need to do a pre-flight check your mower, just like you do the airplane. It is out of gas!”
I never mowed again. And I have never felt more content and settled in my life, than the feeling I have just being with Norm. I always feel loved and cared for. And he always mows, and puts gas in my car. Maybe he thinks I will forget? It is nice having one sensible person in our relationship to balance out the impromptu ideas I come up with.
It made more sense to me to marry Norman then figure out how to fly that plane. (Plus I loved him with all my heart.) I actually planned to take my final exam to get my license but that never happened. I became pregnant soon after we married and every time Norm suggested we fly, I was sick. Bouncing around in a small plane was the last thing I wanted to do.
During my pregnancy, my adoption thoughts erupted again. I was pregnant and knew nothing about my medical history, or my Mothers childbirth. The doctor wanted to know that information.
After a long labor, I was overwhelmed with joy and love as I held Troy in my arms. I wondered, how anyone could give their child away. Troy was the first blood relative I had ever met. I had the same feelings when I gave birth to my second son, Todd too. I thought about my birth mom, and how difficult it would have been for me to go through those long labors without someone at her side. She didn’t have anyone with her that loved her. I wished I could tell her about her grandchildren. It brought up more feelings about being given away. I knew there was little choice for my mother- the stigma and all about illegitimacy during the 1940’s. But emotionally, it was difficult to understand.
THE SEARCH – SOCIAL HISTORY
When the boys were in middle school, I learned I could send off for social history. I got the nerve to talk to Mom about it, but was still scarred of hurting her feelings. She was very open to allowing me to search for my birthparents.
The history I got from the adoption agency was full of details. Having this information meant a lot to me. I felt more content and thought, now my search is over since I have my social history. I put the following information in my journal.
I was born on May 28, 1948. My birth mother was nineteen years old, pregnant, unmarried. She started comptometer school in November 1947. She was a Presbyterian and Active in Young peoples organization and choir. She was a Campfire girl, liked roller skating, sewing, outdoor sports. (I could identify with the church, young peoples organization, choir, roller skate and outdoor sports.)
My Birth Mother and Father met during the summer of 1947 when they were both employed at a summer resort. They spent a lot of time together. My mother wanted to contact my Father and tell him about the pregnancy. Her Father refused to let her contact him. He hired a licensed detective agency to get information on my Father.
The report said he was interested in sports and played on several sports teams in high school. He was friendly and outgoing. He attended a public high school for three years then recently graduated from an academy and a Business College. He spent time with his father in his father’s business.
Having this new information about my birth parents filled some of the empty holes in my heart that I didn’t even know existed. I went through periods where I felt grief for the parents that I had fantacies about. I longed to want to tell them, “Everything is OK now.”
I grieved for what my birth mother, being alone and giving birth to a baby. I felt sorry for her because she probably loved my father but was not allowed to contact him. I wondered if they had a love like the movie, “The Bridges of Madison County.” I grieved because her father dominated her too, like my mother dominated me. I identified with her, both of us were not allowed to make decisions for ourselves.
I pondered my birth mothers options. My fate under these circumstances was largely determined for my Mother by the social, cultural, religious beliefs of her parents. She and many other unwed mothers had to give their babies up for adoption. I was sure my birth mother had no other choice. Keeping me was not and option. It sparked my interest in unwed homes, and especially The Willows in Kansas City, Missouri. I googled it and discovered, Women were encouraged “to forget that their babies had ever been born” and to believe “they are better off this way.”
A read an article where a lady was interviewed for the Kansas City Tribune:
“Let’s get it straight that The Willows was no baby mill. They were fine upstanding people who ran the home and only the most socially prominent Midwestern women were taken in. It had a lot of snob appeal. It was like the Ritz or Waldorf of homes for unwed mothers. It cost more to go there than it did to attend a finishing school. Pregnant girls were met at the railroad station and escorted in limousines to the steps of the Willows and remained up to eight months.
Operation of the Willows was very strict. Not just every unwed mother could get in. They were recommended by prominent doctors throughout the U.S. At one time as many as 102 young women occupied the facility and as many as 125 babies were in the nursery, awaiting adoption.
At the closing and razing of the Willows in 1969, records of its 64 years of operation were piled in the back yard and burned. It was the end of an era. Tears came to my eyes as I thought about all those records being burned. This is the end to my search.
I reread my social history and pondered it again. Just looking for more clues. I googled comptometer schools. I googled summer resorts and they were all over the world. I went to one or two Adoption support groups in Wichita, Kansas.
In 1997 I took a temporary job in San Jose, California. While spending time there by myself I asked Norm to send me my adoption file. It had been about five years since I received the social history. As I took the information out of the manilla envelope I realized they had put white out on my name. All of a sudden the white out started falling off and there was my birth name, Evella. I was in California, and felt like a movie star. I loved the name Evella. I wondered if that was my real name, or the dreaming part of me wondered if Evella came from memories of an evening of summer love.
I continued to search, looking for information. I had no desire to replace the family that raised and loved me. “I want to stop running from life, to feel complete, to stop looking at every stranger wondering if I’m related;-to settle my self-image anxiety. I wanted to search and find a relation, not a relationship. I had a Mother and father, but my adoptive parents are my Mom and Dad.
Six years later, when I first saw my grandchild, Elijah, I was bursting with joy and pride. I’d never had a feeling quite like that before. To see your own child produce another child and to know that it came through you. I finally had a feeling that I had some descendants I was connected to. I still wondered what unknown traits I was passing along to my grand-children? My children and grandchildren are the sum total of my biological connection to the human race, lacking ancestors, I loved feeling connected to my descendants. Their was still a void in my past that was no longer mine alone-it becomes part of my children and grandchildren’s legacy.
SEARCH AND DISCOVERY
I spent money on World Wide Tracers and they were not successful as they publicized how good they were at reuniting families. They kept wanting more money and no results. I wrote to Ann Landers to see if she could print my letter. She declined. Finally I talked to a lady at the circuit court of Jackson County, Missouri. She explained I could pay a searcher $250, and there were two ladies they would release my records to which included my birthparents names. She would then contact my parents to see if they agreed to a reunion. I sent the money in 2002. Shortly after moving to Arizona in 2003 I received a phone call and Sandy had talked to my birthmother. I asked her to please mail me a letter. I was afraid I would forget some of the details of their conversation.
“The first time I called her she was real brusque. After I explained my reason for calling, she said that she was not interested, was not willing to share anything, and didn’t remember what illness there might be in the family. Sandy explained, this kind of response is not unusual, the birthmothers are caught off guard, and will either deny that I have the right person, or just say they can’t talk about it.
I called her back a few days later February 19, 2003 and she said that she was glad that I had called back. She never saw or held you. It was believed at one time, that adoption would be easier if the birthmother never saw the baby. The nurses would drape the mirror in the delivery room so that the mothers could not see the baby.
Your birthmother said that she doesn’t want to upset the family, and she would not be willing to sign a consent form to meet me. She said no one knows about you, not even her brother or husband. Her parents died of old age. She had married and had six children. “
After reading through the letter, I felt this was the end of my search and I had more questions answered. I placed her letter in my journal. The biggest surprise to me was, all these years, I never thought about having brothers and sisters.
It was time to quit searching, so I put my journal back in the closet. I needed to concentrate on caring for Mom the final years of her life. I wanted her to know I did love her, and thankful she was my Mom and I had a good life. I thing deep down, I wanted to pay her back for all she had done for me. I would get comments from other residents when I visited her at the retirement home. “ I can see how you resemble your Mom. She was in her 90’s others would mention, “it is nice to know you have longevity in your life.” I just smiled.
I still got excited every time someone said, you look exactly like – so and so. I quizzed them. I wanted to know where they lived. Did they have three brothers and sisters? What was their last name? I was always searching for a link to family. There is no one in my world who looks like me, other than by coincidence.
PEACE AT LAST
Mom died at age 98. I was at peace because I was there for her every day over the last 8 years. As I think more about my life and Mother, I suspect that Mother took adopting a child very seriously. Maybe there was a strong sense in her that she was bringing up somebody else’s child and she must do a good job. So, that meant I had to perform or it would bring disgrace on her. For some reason, I too felt like I needed to perform and first of all take care of Mom because of the good life she provided for me. I had a drive that caused me to be successful in life and in my career as a nurse.
I have had a good life. I loved living on the farm and finally felt happy and fulfilled. I feel very deeply about Norm, the boys and grandchildren. I want to protect them because they are a part of me and my legacy. I am much too sensitive about things going on in my kids and grandkids lives (just like Mom was) because they have a lineage to me, and they are mine.
I decided to do Ancestry DNA and all of a sudden had made contact with cousins of my birth mom. One of them called her and shared they had made contact with me. She again stated none of her children or husband know about me, so she wants no contact. The cousins were very kind welcoming me into their family.
The rejection was bittersweet. I prayed about it and read my Bible. After a few days when reading my Bible and praying, I came across Ecclesiastes 3:6 and God spoke to my heart. “There is a time to look for something and a time to stop looking for it. There is a time to keep things and a time to throw things away.” God was telling me, “Dana, you have found her. She did a good thing. She did not have an abortion, she placed you for adoption into a wonderful home. Let her continue her life in peace. And, you must continue your life and be at peace.”
I was finally at peace. It was time to add Ecclesiastes to my journal and return my journal to the closet.
PRAYER: Dear Father, Thank you because I have found her. Please watch over her and all of my siblings. Keep them safe and healthy. Thank you for the parents you picked out for me. I have been so blessed. Thanks for Your love and the Peace I feel today. Thank you most of all that I have been adopted into the family of God. Amen
PRAYER FOCUS: For anyone in the adoptee circle. May God’s will be done regarding your search. And in the end may you feel His peace and love.