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THE EMPTINESS VANISHED by Jude Gilfordjudegary

In May 2002, I kissed my son goodbye at the airport. He was returning home to Baton Rouge. We were crying, and it took me back to the last time I kissed him goodbye.

It was April 1963. I had just signed the papers relinquishing him for adoption. He was two months old. I was a fifteen-year-old runaway from a broken home where my father had beaten me for years. The baby’s father was twice my age. He abandoned our baby eighty miles from our tiny French Quarter apartment, then threatened that I would be put in prison if I went to the police.

Authorities were returning me to California. Taking my son with me was not an option. The social worker left us alone in a cold basalt block room. I held my chubby, blue-eyed and golden haired, smiling baby close to my heart. My tears streamed: tears of guilt, sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness. My heart was broken. It was the saddest day of my life.

People close to me acted as if this never happened. They expected me to do the same, but that was impossible. Defensively, I buried those memories so deeply only years of counseling, writing and reading enabled me to realize I needed to find my son. I loved him; I wanted him to know it. I knew I owed him an identity. It was a gift that he didn’t have but accept, but I had to offer.

At adoption, his original birth certificate was sealed, and an amended birth certificate was issued substituting the adoptive parents’ names. I could not get a copy of the amended birth certificate, and he could not obtain a copy of the original birth certificate. My search objective was to acquire his name.

Thirty-eight years had passed since the dark day I signed him away. I joined a support group. I told everyone about my search. I read every book I could find. I searched endlessly on the Internet. I sent countless letters and e-mails seeking assistance. Months passed, then one day I had a message from a searcher in Louisiana saying, “I think I can help you.” Soon, I had my son’s name: Gary.

I called on the last day of April 2002. Although I couldn’t find a phone number for him, I found one for his adoptive parents. I was too excited to contemplate what I was going to say. Big mistake! A woman answered. I nearly fainted.

“Hello, is this Leona?” I asked.
“Yes, who is this?” she replied.
“Leona, this is Jude Gilford calling from San Francisco. I believe I am Gary’s birth mother.” I said.

Her voice became icy.
            “What makes you believe that?”

I said a silent prayer and continued in a rush of words. I told her about my search. I told her I didn’t want to interfere with her family in any way, but that I wanted Gary to know how to contact me. Honestly, I don’t really remember what I told her. I kept talking and dared not take a breath fearing she would hang up.

Slowly, the ice began to melt. She started talking about Gary, proudly sharing he was an LSU graduate, an electrical engineer, and married with a son. The family was very close and had dinner together twice a week. Leona started to say she would talk to her husband and they would talk to… I interrupted.

This was too much to hope for in one phone call after waiting so many years! In one call, I released the terrible burden I had carried. I told her I would send a package of information and pictures for Gary, and that I trusted she and her husband completely to decide how or when to share them.

They told Gary about my call at a family party just before Mother’s Day. In Gary’s words, the family was very excited and supportive. He was excited too, but it generated an array of questions: “What does she want? What do I want? What in the world am I going to do?”  Later, driving the thirty miles home, he risked glances at the photos, his eyes filling repeatedly with tears. Safely home, he poured over the information again.

On Mother’s Day, I received a call.

“I’ve spent my life looking at other people’s family albums hoping to see someone who looked like me. When I saw your photo, I knew instantly you were my mother.” he shared.

He told me he wanted reunion, but did not know how to do it. The next day he sent photos and a note: “Words cannot describe what my heart feels. There is so much more to ‘motherly love’ than people understand. All my life, I’ve felt emptiness in my heart that was impossible to fill. The missing piece was something I did not understand; I didn’t even know it existed. When you spoke those words to me this evening, ‘Gary, I love you,’ the emptiness vanished…”

A lifelong dream for Gary, and one I never dared to dream was coming true.

Thirteen days later, Gary, his wife and son, boarded a flight to Oakland. Driving from San Francisco and arriving early, I prayed, cried a little and paced. Finally I saw his tall, confident frame striding toward me. Then I could see the big smile, and the beautiful blue eyes. We rushed into each other’s arms and held each other closely. Neither could talk at the start, but that was short-lived. Soon we began on our week of talking, laughing and crying, getting to know and love each other again. For the very first time, we made plans.

Then, the week was over. I was back at the airport, kissing my son goodbye. Tears were streaming again, just as they had in April 1963. This time, though, they were tears of gratitude, joy and hope. It was the happiest day of my life.

by Judith E. Gilford

Copyright, 2007, All Rights Reserved

Rereading the Photo Album of My Life:  Beyond the surface and gazes and postures by Mary Anne Ingenthron

She died suddenly of a massive stroke August 8, 1997. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. We were to have many more years together, even though from our first encounter it seemed as if we had always known each other. I had only met my birth mother 6 years before. We had just begun that spring to weed through the shoeboxes full of old family photos. It was a slow process, slowed by my insistence that she narrate each photo. Nothing was insignificant to hear about.

There were a few childhood pictures of her with her sisters and brothers (ten siblings in all) on the farm in Webster, North Dakota; some of her parents and even her grandparents (my “real” grandparents and great grandparents) who immigrated from a German Russian colony in the Ukraine in the early 1900s and homesteaded on the virgin prairies of North Dakota close to the Canadian border. Other pictures show her in California in the 1940s where she worked and played hard as a young woman during the war years. Then the photos of her wedding to my birth father in 1950 three years after I was born. Hundreds of pictures of her own family as it grew--7 more children, my full blooded siblings completed the collection.

To my surprise, hidden in the boxes were pictures of me as an infant, a toddler and a teenager sent to her by her California friend Marie Frances who made it a point to befriend my adoptive mom for the sole purpose of snapping pictures of me as I grew to share with my birth mom 2000 miles away.

The family pictures we viewed together were fragments of a story that was my story and not my story, a history that was mine and not mine, ours and not ours to have shared. There is one photo of her with a group of friends in November 1947, the only photo I have of her pregnant with me (unbeknownst to her friends and family) just before she left for California to avoid disgracing her family.

Three years later  my birth father dies and I am back in North Dakota going through the family homestead with my siblings. My brothers and sister graciously consent to let me take home boxes of “family pictures” to scan, burn to CDs and send back to them, which I do. Over the past few years I have cropped, burned, dodged, sharpened, colorized, blown up and reduced, altered and manipulated in dozens of ways these treasured traces of my own lost history and identity. I have an insatiable appetite for looking at these family pictures. It is a strange sort of looking. These pictures represent a part of my history that was not my history. From the outside looking in I know some of the lies they tell, the secrets harbored in their hearts. The pictures arouse anger at times at the “should have beens.” They open the wounds that as a child caused great pain and sorrow--the quiet subversive wondering about my “real” parents. Subversive because you weren’t suppose to want to know. It was suppose to be OK because we were “chosen” by our adopted parents. But other children did not have to be chosen, I thought, they got to be born!

And yet, I treasure the fragments of new information. Pictures and narratives of my grandparents and great grandparents’ lives would provide traces of information about a lineage that I never thought would be mine to know. I throw myself into geneology and trace the family line back to the late 1700s. I create a massive family tree in my newly purchased Family Tree Maker software program for the Volk family reunion in 2000--which I help organize. I am excited but confused once again as to how to fit in “the relinquished one.” It too is my tree but not my tree.

My adoptive father died suddenly in October 2001 of a massive heart attack. He was his family’s archivist and I have only recently been ready to face the task of organizing the boxes of his photographs that tell another part of the story of my life.

Copyright, 2008, All Rights Reserved

Permission to Search by Mary Anne Ingenthron

It is not uncommon for a health crisis to crystallize the voids in an adoptee’s family of origin medical history. The vanity questions, “Who do I look like?” “Act like?, “ “Take after?” easily take a back seat when the adoptee and/or her children face health challenges about which genetic information is not available. And it is not unusual for those medical conundrums to open floodgates of other unmet emotional needs.

For me, the issue came into sharp focus when I was 44 years old and facing a pre-cancerous diagnosis detected through a routine test. The test results required a procedure to further investigate and remediate the condition. There were the usual forms with pages of medical history information to fill in—the type I had always hated—all those questions which I routinely responded “NA.” It seemed absurd, however, this time that “NA”—not applicable-- would be the right answer. I needed to know now more than ever what, if any, genetic factors might be totally applicable. Little did I know that this situation would open up floodgates of information, secrets withheld from me “for my own good” throughout my life. And what came with them, at long last, was my own permission to search.

The appointment was scheduled for Monday morning, early July, 1991. My adoptive parents had come to town to be of help. It was not that my 16 year old daughter and I couldn’t handle the situation. She was very responsible and trustworthy and it was merely an outpatient procedure. I’m not sure why they felt compelled to be with me, but I was grateful for the support.

Saturday before my scheduled surgery we attended the 50th anniversary of Father Martin Bucher’s ordination to the priesthood. He was an old family friend who’s brother Victor had married my parents 49 years earlier and baptized me. The event was held at St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church in the Fruitvale district of Oakland—the parish and school that my extended adoptive family had been involved in for four generations.

As we ascended the wide stairs to the cathedral like edifice, my dad turned and pointed to the house directly across the street –which had been the home of their friend Josie Milano and her family. Out of the blue, dad proclaimed that it was in that house that our lives together began. My ears perked up as he continued, “It was late Fall 1946 and we were gathered in her living room for a rather routine evening of cards with friends. Josie pulled us aside and told us about an unwed mother who was staying with their neighbors Eddie and Marie Francis. The woman had decided to put her child up for adoption,” he said, “and was looking for a good Catholic family. Josie knew your mom and I had decided to adopt and, of course we said we were very interested. The rest is history,” he said.

“Your history,” I smirked to myself, “but in that act my history was wiped out!” In spite of my sarcasm, I was stunned at the revelation of information I had never heard before, and with all the possibilities its unveiling posed, I immediately responded with the question, “What more did you know about her?”

Dad replied quite forthrightly, “Well, we heard that she was from a farm in North or South Dakota and that she returned to the farm a few years later, married your father and had several more children.”

I fought back the instinct to be enraged at how many years this information had been withheld, in spite of my having asked numerous times before, usually around medical conditions my daughters encountered at various times growing up. Not missing a beat, I immediately shot back with the question, “Would you be OK if I did a search to see if they are still alive? It would be really helpful at least to know information about my medical history.”

They responded in the affirmative saying it would be ok with them if I searched. “We understand that you have a right to know,” dad said. I was in such shock that I didn’t notice my mother’s body language. To this day I wonder if she had reservations about dad telling me this information. In any case, my heart was pounding fast, not knowing what to do or say next, but certain that I would immediately start my search. And I did, as soon as I was through with my brief hospitalization which concluded with a clean bill of health—which, of course, was no less a deterrent to searching.

I wonder now if my adoptive parents made a conscious decision to tell me what they knew at that time because of my medical situation or if it was a spontaneous release—perhaps guided by some mystical spiritual force. In any case, it was out now, the genie released--and I was on my way to finding and reuniting with my birth family and 5 remaining siblings.

Last week my daughter called to ask about family medical history. “Mom, did Wallie ever have thyroid problems?” she asked. I was happy, in a sad sort of way, to be able to recount in detail the litany of medical problems that my birth mother had—thyroid, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, etc.—a list much longer than I would ever have suspected, having been sick hardly a day in my life.

As I answered Monique’s medical inquiries, I wondered if as a new parent, she too was starting to ponder on a deeper spiritual level her own ancestral roots——that long train of traits, characteristics, values, temperaments, experiences and drives that she herself was now passing on to her own child that had deep roots—transgenerational ties from which she too grew up disconnected.

Copyright, 2008, All Rights Reserved

Copyright © 2008, Tucson Adoption Reunion Support. All Rights Reserved.



From birth mothers:
The Emptiness Vanished by Jude Gilford

From adoptee's:

Rereading the Photo Album of My Life:  Post Reunion  by Mary Anne Ingenthron

Permission to Search by Mary Anne Ingenthron

Contact information:

Harmony Brown

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