I always knew I was adopted. I remember standing in my parents’ bedroom with my mother when I was about five years old. We had just moved to a new house in a nice neighborhood so I could start kindergarten in a good school.
My mother told me I was adopted that day. At that age, I didn’t understand where babies came from yet and I had no idea what it meant. I could somehow tell though that this wasn’t really great news.
She made a big deal of telling me how much she wanted to have a baby and couldn’t and that she picked me because she really wanted me. But it left me wondering, “Why is she telling me this? What does this mean?”
As I grew up and heard older people talking, I began to piece together what it all meant. Back in the 1950s, women who had babies ‘out of wedlock’ were somehow bad women. They were looked down upon and people talked poorly about them behind their backs. They were supposed to feel shameful and I began to ‘adopt’ some of that shame.
My parents never adopted any other children and I grew up an only child. When I was a teen-ager, my mother asked me if I wanted to find my ‘real’ parents. I was perplexed. I thought I was living with my ‘real’ parents. (This was before “biological” became the appropriate word for them.) Whoever these ‘real’ people were, they didn’t have any meaning for me. I was happy with the parents I had and couldn’t imagine what I would do with any new ones.
My maiden name was “Love” and I ran quite an impressive campaign for Vice President of my high school senior class. “Love makes the world go round” “Everybody needs love.” “What the world needs now is…”. You get the idea. That same year, Diana Ross and The Supremes came out with the song “Love Child”. It made me sick to my stomach.
“In other's eyes I see reflected a hurt, scorned, rejected, Love child, never meant to be… It went on… No child of mine'll be bearing, the name of shame I've been wearing. Love Child!
The heroine grew up in a slum and some of the lyrics didn’t apply. I grew up not lacking for anything important…except a deep sense of who I was, where I really came from and feeling connected to people who looked like and behaved like me with talents and inclinations that felt familiar. I couldn’t look in anyone’s eyes and see myself. I always felt out of place: like I didn’t belong.
My father (Andrew) died when I was a sophomore in college. A few years after I graduated from college, my mother (Lois) died. As my husband and I were going through her belongings, we found my adoption papers. They showed my original name, Pauline Jones, my mother’s name, Marjorie Jones and were signed by Richard J. Daley, long-time mayor of Chicago, at that time still a Clerk of the Court. I read it with interest, but just filed it away for safekeeping. I still wasn’t sure what I would do with new parents but thought that one day this document might come in handy.
A few years later, my seven-year marriage dissolved. At that point, with no parents, no siblings, no husband and no children of my own, I felt completely rootless…adrift, alone, abandoned - again. I decided it was finally time to find these ‘real’ parents.
I contacted the adoption agency and told them they had handled my adoption 30 years prior. I gave them all of our names and asked if they could help find my ‘real’ parents. They said they could but they were backlogged and that it would take approximately six weeks. The woman I spoke with, however, promised to contact me as soon as she had any information. At about 5 weeks, she called and said she was about to pull the file and that I would be hearing from her soon.
Very shortly, she called and invited me to the office. When I arrived, she gave me 4 typewritten sheets of paper, which I read with great fascination. It described my mother as 5’2”, weighing 120 lbs. before the pregnancy, having a medium brown complexion, being quite success oriented and attractive, largely due to her prominent smile. This almost knocked me out of my chair as it described me to a “T”.
My parents had been students at a predominately Black University. I whispered aloud “I wonder if it was Howard” where I went. The social worker only smiled since she could not reveal any potentially identifiable information about them. The letter went on to say that ‘mom’ grew up in a family of 13 children (born of two separate fathers). Her mother had worked as domestic help then for a dentist. Grandma had musical and acting talents, much to the chagrin of her southern minister father. My mother’s family had often lived on public assistance and mom did not want me to grow up in that environment.
She was the first one in her family to go to college. She had studied psychology and sociology as had my father…and as had I (!), in spite of pleadings from my adoptive mother for me to become a teacher, doctor or attorney.