You know how little kids in movies always blurt out embarrassingly personal facts about their families? That was me. I would tell anyone who would listen, “My mom was adopted, her mom was 16 when she was born!”
It was a pure truism to me, nothing special, so ingrained in my mind that I didn’t realize there were any possible negative implications. So what if I looked nothing like my adoptive grandmother, Nanny? But in 2007, my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer. After a year of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, she went into remission in the winter of 2008. Because of her unknown medical history, she had to go through painful (and expensive) gene testing to determine the likelihood that my brother and I would also develop colon cancer. Fortunately, she doesn’t have the hereditary gene, but I still have to start getting colonoscopies at age 37. Most people start at 50.
My mom’s illness was a turning point for my family. We started eating healthier, we spent more time together, we appreciated the “everyday things.” And my mom made the decision that it was time to get to know her mother. Her real, biological mother.
We knew my biological grandmother’s name and had a twenty–year–old phone number from the adoption agency, but that was it—not a whole lot to work with. So my mom turned to the one place where you can find almost anybody nowadays: Facebook. Believe it or not, that’s where she found her. One painstakingly crafted Facebook message later, my mom got the following response from her biological mother: “OMG! You finally found me!”
Getting to know my new grandmother, Renese, was bizarre. I found out that my family came from Austria, I saw pictures of great–grandparents and great–great– grandparents, I learned that I had three younger cousins—all these things that people seem to know since birth, but I was just learning at the age of 15. I figured out where my voracious love of reading came from. In the case of nature versus nurture, nature won in a land- slide. The similarities between Renese and my mom, even between Renese and me, were shocking. Yes, on the surface, we all looked alike. But more than that, we could talk for hours. We had similar temperaments, similar preferences.
But after that initial “honeymoon phase” of getting to know each other, our relationship with Renese turned sour. She couldn’t grapple with the fact that my mother ended up living a better life without her. She lashed out at us for showering my younger cousins with gifts and “showing her up.” Now, she has more or less cut off all contact with us.
On the brighter side, we see my mom’s younger siblings and my three little cousins regularly. They keep us up to date on Renese’s life, and they’ve introduced us to more of my mom’s biological family. I don’t think my relationship with these people will ever be quite as ingrained as my relationship with my dad’s side of the family. But meeting them has given me a new perspective on who I am, and, under different circumstances, who I might have been.