Note: This is the 4th post in a series on my adoption story, being diagnosed with RP, and how I was able to get my records opened. The 1st post was “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”, the 2nd post was “It’s Not Denial, Technically” and the 3rd post was “The Miracle Worker?” just in case you missed them or want to read them again.
There I sat at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest, having spent the day going through a battery of eye tests, listening to this doctor talk about the importance of my family medical history, as he brainstormed about just how I might be able to get that information, being that, I was an adoptee and my records were sealed. Me, I just sat there in the stunned silence of disbelief. I don’t really know if the fact that I had never really given much consideration to my family of origin was because of my young age and lack of worldly experience in such things, or if, as some would have adoptees believe, I had been in some sort of, primal wound denial. My belief is that I simply had never given my biology any more thought than was brought about by the, normal, curiosity of an adopted child’s need to know the unknown, because, quite simply, no one ever told me I could. No one had ever told me that adoptees felt, well, things, about being adopted. It was a completely foreign concept to me. There I sat, listening to this doctor tell me, not only, that I should know more about my biology, genetics, who, where, and what I had come from, but I could? It was unbelievable, and a bit unnerving. Was he really implying that I, not only, should know and could know, but actually had a right to know?
It came as such a surprise that these were things I should, and could, know, that I’m not sure I really believed him, but being the curious person that I am, he had definitely gotten my attention. I was listening to what he was saying, hearing only bits and pieces in my stunned state, “court”, “medical importance”, etc. It wasn’t sinking in. It was too much to take in at the moment. Was he serious? Was what he saying true? I wasn’t sure. Could it really be as simple as he was making it sound? This new revelation had been thrown at me so suddenly, and so quickly, I certainly had not had time to figure out how I felt about it all.
My adoption records were sealed. I had always heard that it would take a court order from a judge to change that. There would have to be an extremely good reason. Would a diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa really be enough of a reason to convince a judge to, to do what? I had a vague recollection that an adoptee’s records could be opened if there were some kind of medical emergency, but where had I heard that? This certainly was not an emergency situation. Was it? This was just an eye disease that might cause major loss of sight. I wasn’t going to die from it. Let’s just say I had my doubts about it all. I would, however, do as the doctor asked.
I was to start by calling the agency, where my adoption had taken place, and inquire about my records. If that didn’t get us anywhere, we would try something else. I left the Retina Foundation that day, went home, and put it all out of my mind, at least for a while. I had more important things to think about at that age, like the date I had that weekend, and what I was going to wear. I had my priorities you know.
It was several weeks later when I finally got around to actually making that call. I was very apathetic about it all. I think, I truly believed they would just tell me that my records were sealed and there was nothing they could do. I dialed the number. A pleasant voice on the other end of the line cheerfully answered the phone, “Hope Cottage. How may I help you?” I began by telling them my name, and that I had been adopted from Hope Cottage in 1965. I was calling because I had been diagnosed with a hereditary eye disease called, Retinitis Pigmentosa. I was part of a research study and the doctors had inquired as to my family medical history, which I obviously, due to my records being closed, did not have. I informed the receptionist, that the doctors wanted this information, and was there any way, or how could they go about getting it. (Side Note: Isn’t it interesting that I asked if the “doctors” could have this information, instead of if “I” could get this information?) She transferred me to another very nice lady, to whom, I repeated the previously mentioned reason for my inquiry.
The pertinent information of my adopted name, my adoptive parents names, date of birth, the doctor’s names, and all other important information was taken down. With nothing more than that, she simply said that someone would get back with me, with no implication either way on the possibility of the doctors, or myself, gaining any access to my records. That was that, and I hung up, never asking her a question, never thinking anything would actually happen, and never inquiring as to the possibility that any information would be made available to me, much less the doctors. You might think that I would have at least asked, well, something, in regards to the possibility of my records being made available. Would you believe it never crossed my mind to ask?
I had done my part, and now life would go on. Right? You can imagine my surprise when a few short weeks later I received a call from an agency worker, requesting I make an appointment to go in for an hour of counseling, at which time, I would receive all non identifying information from my file. It was really just that simple. No fees, no muss, and no fuss, just like that, and yes, that was all there was to it. Imagine that. The thought that that information, was impossible to obtain, and I would truly never know, was so deeply ingrained in me, that, for the few short weeks that had passed since my inquiry, I hadn’t even given it more than a passing thought. The call back was definitely a surprise.
As I mentioned above, the thought that I would, or even could, know anything more about my family of origin than was on a little green sheet of paper I had found as a child, was nonexistent, at least at that particular moment in my life. In what seemed like no time at all, I would be walking through the doors of the agency where my adoption had taken place, and meeting with an agency worker, who would give me a summarized version of all the information in my file, minus, of course, any identifying information. What were my thoughts at the time? The nearest I can recollect, just simply, “Wow. Cool!”
Well, what did you expect from someone, who, up until that moment and time, hadn’t known I could, should, or would, feel any emotions about the situation? Besides, it wasn’t like I was going to learn my mother of origin’s name, much less find her, or meet her. The non-identifying information was more than I had expected. I wasn’t going to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth. I would take what I could get. Though I hadn’t consciously acknowledged that I ever wanted it, I wanted that information. I wanted to know all I could about my family of origin.
Obviously, like most adoptees, I had questions, and was curious about my family of origin. I might have never mentioned them much, never asked about them much, and I certainly didn’t spend time dwelling on the fact that I didn’t have much information about them. I just didn’t know, couldn’t know, thought I would never know, so I accepted it, pushed it down, and went on with my life. What else was I to do?
Getting the answers to those questions, the ones I never really asked, minus names, was good enough. I knew meeting my family of origin was impossible. Even a hereditary eye disease, like RP, couldn’t make that happen, and the thought that it could, or would, never crossed my mind. I was just grateful for the opportunity of knowing just a little more than I thought I ever would. After all, they were just handing it to me, like it, somehow, belonged to me? Besides, what was any of this going to change? Knowing this wasn’t going to hurt anything, or anyone, as far as I could see. It really wasn’t that big of a deal, so there was really no need for me to share the news of my non-identifying information with anyone significant in my life, especially not my parents? I would just go to the appointment, get the information, and it would all be over, and life would go on.
Just as, when I was a child, finding that little greens sheet of paper, with the vague description of my family of origin had made them real, and more than just an enigma in my young mind, this new turn of events once again, would bring to my mind the reality of my adoptee status. I had two families. One of them I knew. One of them I didn’t, and now that the opportunity was being handed to me, I wanted to know. I couldn’t deny it any longer. Who cared about medical history, or RP? I no longer did. Finding out more about my family of origin trumped all else.
I find it interesting, when I think back on that time in my life, though I had never given much thought to my family of origin, searching, or even believed non-identifying information would be a possibility, that the second I was given the option, I jumped on it without hesitation. I also find it interesting that, when the option was given, the reason for my initial inquiry, a hereditary eye disease that would later cause the loss of my sight, was a distant thought in my mind. I, simply, no longer cared about that reason, the doctors, research, or anything else. I just wanted to know what was in that file; the file that held the secrets of my life, my story. The file that held information I never dreamed I would ever know. To me, it was all so unbelievable. The impossible had happened. It was a miracle, the miracle of adoption, pun completely intended.