The Sense of Belonging to Someone

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader, Kim, brings back our adoption series with the story of her search for her birth family:

My story begins in 1962. I was adopted at six months old. My bedtime story, as a child, was about the special day when my parents received a phone call that they had a daughter. Mom and Dad said I was dressed in a pink dress and black patent leather shoes. They called me their living doll.

I had amazing parents! Both wise and loved me dearly. During my younger years I knew I was loved, but I also knew that I was different from my adoptive parents—different talents, different looks. Whenever I thought about having birth parents, it was like putting my mind in a deep, dark, vast space—nothing existed. My constant thought was, “I wonder if someone out there looks like me, and is similar to me.”

When my first son was born, I thought, “My first blood relative that I know,” though oddly I thought of him as my husband’s son. My second son looked just like me. I was so happy! But again, I thought of him as my husband’s son. Same when my third son was born.

I realized at that point that I had never really felt connected to anyone. Maybe because my heritage was missing. I didn’t know where I came from. No real sense of belonging to anyone.

Before my adopted dad died he asked me if I ever wondered about my birth family. I responded with “sometimes,” but didn’t want to hurt my parents’ feelings. In their mind and in my mind, they were my parents. Dad then told me that in 1962, a social worker told them that my birth parents were both in college, smart, and named me Elizabeth Christine May. At that point my life changed.

I realized for the first time that I really had blood relatives that existed, and they must have cared about me because they took the time to give me a name.

Dad told Mom that my adoption papers were in his brown briefcase. Mom refused to talk about it. After Dad died, I looked all over their house for my adoption papers. In the closets, filing cabinet, and cedar chest. No papers.

After Mom died I opened the cedar chest, and sitting on top—wrapped in pink ribbons, labeled “To Kimberly”—were my papers. Mom knew she couldn’t handle me finding my birth parents while she was alive. She wanted me to, but after she was gone. She did it in such a sweet way. I love her for this.

I registered with the Arkansas Adoption Registry. They mailed me my social history. It stated that my birth mother was an only child. Her father was a railroad brakeman. My birth dad’s father was a president of a bank, and his mother was killed in a car wreck three months before I was born. My mother stayed in a home for unwed mothers until I was born.

After reading the details, I knew I had to find these people to tell them thank you, that I was sorry for the heartache they went through, and that I was raised by two wonderful parents. I decided to look for an article in the newspaper in 1962 reporting the fatality of a banker’s wife. After months of searching for the article, it was found!

Thanks to the internet, I found ALL of my birth family. I now have a wonderful relationship with them. I have five half-siblings; uncles, aunts, and many cousins; and lots of family reunions. My sons have a new set of grandparents who have taken over loving them where Mom and Dad had to leave off.  And I know where I got my nose, blonde hair, and love of dancing.

It’s amazing what hugging your birth family can do—it gives you a sense of connection.

Can you relate to Kim’s story, particularly as someone who began searching for your birth parents after having children of your own? What’s your experience discussing your birth family with your adoptive parents? We’d like to hear your stories: hello@theatlantic.com.