"However Motherhood Comes to You... It's a Miracle." - My Adoption Story
In the mid 90’s, the population of the United States is estimated at around 269.4 million people. The thought of finding one certain individual amongst that many people is insane. I first heard the word “discombobulated” many years back but have never really had the opportunity to use it. I am using it now when I tell you that when I first started searching for my birth mother, I felt discombobulated. I didn’t know where to begin. The internet was my main means of searching. The internet was still considered “new”, the popular search engine Lycos came to being in 1994, as did Yahoo. My search started somewhere around 1996.
Let me backtrack a little bit. I was born in Odessa, Texas, and was put up for adoption from birth. I spent a small amount of time between foster homes and the hospital, as I was not very healthy. I was adopted at 5 months old, which is nothing compared to the length of time many babies wait for homes. Back in 1973, adoptions were still hush-hush. They existed but were rarely discussed. Single motherhood did not wear the badge of courageous accomplishment the way it sometimes does today. Back then, there was no help for young girls who found themselves in this situation. People struggled to make ends meet; and their definition of “struggling” was decidedly different than what I thought struggling was.
Growing up, I was told from the moment I can remember that I was adopted. It was always a positive thing, never shrouded or cloaked in sadness or pity. My mother would rock me in the rocking chair, and hold me close, telling me the story of me. She wove it into a story of love, because that is exactly what it was. She would tell me how they had wanted a little girl, because they already had a little boy. She told me that my birth mother was not able to take care of me and loved me enough to give me up. She knew I needed more than she could give. So because my dad was in the Air Force at the time and based in Texas, they made the drive from Laredo to Odessa. Mother said that when she first saw me, she cried and cried tears of joy. She said I was so small, and sickly, and even the doctor had wanted to adopt me, but it was against protocol. Mother was convinced that my ailments would disappear once I was in a stable home, being held regularly, and being loved. She was right.
I grew up in a wonderful loving home. Sometimes that is enough for adoptees. In my case, there was always something missing. I knew I was different. I knew my parents loved me just as much as they loved my brother, who was their biological child. However, as the years passed, I knew that this longing, this empty feeling I had, was because I felt I did not know where I came from. No matter where I was in life, anything I went through, whether it was good or bad, always came back to the same thought: “I want my mama.” I remember my parents having to discipline me for things, and I would scream at them, “You’re not my parents!!!!!” They took it because they loved me. They did not let me disrespect them, but they understood my frustration. I love them for that.
There were many moments when I wondered where my birth mom was, who she was, what she was doing. Did she think about me ever? Did she need me at all, like I needed her? Birthdays were awful for me; I didn’t like them, even when I was very little. I would think about my birth mom, and know that she was out there somewhere, and I was sad. I was afraid she had forgotten all about me, afraid that she never thought about me. Maybe she had a family of her own and didn’t want me.
When I was 23 years old, I decided that I needed to search for her. I felt it was at the root of every failed relationship, every poor decision, every heartache. I did not blame my birth mom for my troubles, at the time I did not know why I always felt alone, or why I felt so empty. However, looking back, I know that I had and would continue to try and fill that lonely void with just about everything I could. Nothing worked. So, I found myself making a decision that would change my life forever.
That was the winter that I called my local internet provider and ordered dial up internet service for myself. What a wonderful tool this was! Everything was at my fingertips! This would be easy! I was so naïve. I had no clue what a huge task I was undertaking.
The first problem I ran in to was that I did not know my birth mom’s name. I knew very little about her, as adoptions in Texas were almost always done under the most extreme confidentiality imaginable. My birth certificate listed my adoptive parents as the mother and father. My adoption records were sealed, meaning that I could not access them, my birth mom could not access them, and my adoptive parents could not access them. I had a vague idea of her age; she would have been in her very early twenties when I was born. The only other thing I knew about her was that she was Mexican American. Well, when you’re talking about a state like Texas … need I say more. That is over 20% of the population there!
For months I searched, not knowing what I was looking for. I told my parents what I was doing, and they were extremely supportive. They knew that this was something I had to do.
My mother told me as much as she could about the circumstances surrounding my adoption. She told me that when they adopted me, I had been staying in the hospital. She said that one of the nurses had given her a bottle of medicine for me, and on the side of that bottle were the letters “JAQUEZ”. Those letters were barely readable, since the nurse had also scratched through the letters with a pen. But my mother managed to read them, and after all of these years, she was able to remember those letters. I was pretty excited, because I thought that maybe I had a clue that would help me find my birth mom.
On the internet, I joined as many adoption forums and registries that I could keep track of. These are agencies that try and unite adoptees with their birth families by providing a place to enter personal information about yourself. Hopefully, members of the birth family will also register, which may connect people who are related. I went in adoptees chat rooms and chatted with other people who were adopted. Some were successful in finding their birth families and went on to establish close relationships with them. Others found out who their birth families were, only to discover that they passed away or were not receptive to a reunion. For many people, they still lived in the same state that they were born in. Others, like me, had been moved away, and thus their searches were a bit more difficult.
For years I would do more investigating, and more digging. I poured over birth records online, looking for girls who were born on my birthday, trying to see if my birth mom’s name might be listed anywhere. Dial up internet, as everyone knows, is way slower than the high-speed internet connections that we use today, and I would experience frequent disconnects. This was frustrating and added to the hopelessness I felt. There were times when I would hit a wall, and I would take a break for months from my searching. There were times when I did not have internet access, being a single mother myself and trying to make ends meet. That didn’t always include the monthly payment for internet service.
During one of my search endeavors, I stumbled across a chat room, filled with adoptees, who were talking about “Search Angels.” What was a search angel? Search Angels are individuals who voluntarily look up information for adoptees and birth parents, if their adoption took place in a state other than where they currently live. A kind woman, who I only know by her screen name, which was “Mary J in Texas”, volunteered to help me do some searching. She lived in Odessa, Texas, where I was born. All she asked for was my date of birth, and the file number on my amended birth certificate. She then went to the library in Odessa, and went through microfilm, where she was able to match the file number on my amended birth certificate, with the file number of a birth record for a “Baby Girl J.” She sent me an email with this information, along with a name- Carla Jaquez. I still remember this moment. My heart stopped for a second, because this was the very first time that I had a name for my birth mom. As it sank in, it was too overwhelming, if that makes any sense. I stopped my search for a while, not sure if I was ready to deal with what may lie ahead of me.
During this break, I continued my reckless behavior, not thinking about my birth mom at all. I actually didn’t think about her for over a year. I went on with life, doing this and doing that. I partied. I was quite selfish during this time, not thinking about tomorrow, or the next day. One night I ended up in the hospital with a serious medical emergency and almost died. That made me rearrange my thinking really quick. I cried for lost time. I cried for my children. I cried for my family. But mostly, I cried for my mama. Then, a little voice inside me said that it was time. Time to pick up where I had left off.
Back to the computer I went. To my dismay, do you know how many people with the name “C. Jaquez” exist in the United States? It felt like a real-life version of “Where’s Waldo.” She could be anywhere! Just because she gave birth to me in Texas, didn’t mean she still lived there. Just as I started talking myself out of the giant task in front of me, that little voice whispered, “Start in Texas, go day by day.” So that is exactly what I did. I started in Texas. There were only a few listings in the phone book for “C. Jaquez.” And I knew I didn’t want to call them without knowing more than I did. How do you make a phone call like that? A P.D. Eastman book comes to mind, entitled: Are You My Mother? It makes me laugh even today, and the yesterdays when I used to read it to my little girl.
Years had passed since I started searching, and the internet had grown by leaps and bounds. Many, many records were online now. Odessa had its very own website, complete with historic people and vital statistics. However, even with these outlets, I still could not find any record of a Carla Jaquez. I checked birth records for her, voting records, everything. I registered at Ancestry.com and paid a monthly charge for being able to see public records and other personal information about individuals. There were no marriage records, or divorce records for her. Then a horrifying thought came to me- what if she moved to Mexico? I would never find her!! I don’t even speak Spanish! But I kept on searching, taking a break here and there.
I found a few “C. Jaquez” listings in the White Pages, although nothing really seemed promising. It was also my understanding that the great state of Texas had taken it upon themselves to remove all microfilm from their libraries containing confidential information, such as what Mary J had found for me; and only about 6 months after she found my information! However, to redeem themselves, Texas had also recently passed a law that adoptees could request a certified copy of their original birth certificate, provided that they could successfully complete an application that asked for names of the birth parent or parents. This was my big break.
Eagerly, I printed out the online form and filled it out, proudly putting my birth mother’s name in the designated box. Since I did not know my birth father’s name, I left that blank, hoping since it was not listed on microfilm, maybe it wouldn’t be listed at the Vital Statistics office. With a shaky hand, I put my application in an envelope along with a $15.00 fee for research and copy. I mailed it out, praying for the patience to wait for the response. In the meantime, I decided to write to the six “C. Jaquez” addresses I had come across. I composed a letter of who I was, and who I was looking for. I gave as much detail about my birth as possible. I gave my contact information. I stressed the fact that I was not looking for more than what my birth mother was capable of giving. All I wanted was to know who she was, and the rest we could figure out along the way. I enclosed a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and asked for a reply, even if they weren’t the Carla Jaquez that I was looking for. Three weeks went by. Nothing.
One day, I stayed home from work sick. I felt horrible. I plopped down on the couch with a blanket and hot tea, feeling sorry for myself. Then my phone rang. I looked at it and saw that it was a number I did not recognize. I answered it a bit hesitantly. It was a woman from the Office of Vital Statistics in Texas! Again, my heart stopped and I could barely function. She told me her name (which I cannot disclose) and she told me she was processing my application and request for my original birth certificate. She asked me, “I see you have your birth mother’s name here, but is there another name for her that you could give me?” I was dumbfounded. Did she realize how long it took me to get that name, let alone come up with another one?
“I can’t,” I said sadly. “I can’t send you your birth certificate without that information,” she said kindly. I felt so defeated and said, “I know you’re just doing your job. It’s ok. I understand.” She then said, “Well…maybe you could guess…” Guess? I barely was able to remember my OWN name by this point in the conversation. Then she went on, “Boy, this is really a popular Hispanic name, isn’t it? Hm. Maybe it starts with an ‘S’?” My mind scrambled and raced and I slowly said the only name I could think of- “Sanchez?” Then the realization of what she was doing started to sink in. “You’re absolutely right!” she exclaimed. “I’ll go ahead and say that you told me the information over the phone, and I’ll get this out to you today!” I burst into tears. If I hadn’t been sick, if I had been at work that day, I would probably have had my phone off and would have missed this call.
As I waited for my birth certificate, I also realized that I probably wasn’t going to hear from anyone that I wrote those letters to, and I never did. So, all I could do was wait. Then the day came when I went to my post office box and found the envelope from the Office of Vital Statistics. With trembling hands, I opened it up and for the first time, I had a glimpse into the beginning of my existence. Her name was Carla, but her last name was listed as Sanchez, not Jaquez. I had no idea she had been married at one time! Also, the county had listed the fact that she had two other children, male children! I had brothers! And under her name, was her address at the time she had given birth to me. I carried that birth certificate everywhere with me. I would pull it out at random times during the day, absorbing every detail.
With this new information, I went back to the internet, and found her birth record, and the name of her parents, the names of her siblings and their birth records. I found out the name of the man she married at 17 years of age, and the two boys they had back to back. I also came across her divorce record when she was 19 years old. How sad, I thought. Her boys would have been two and three years old when I was born. I found all of this information, but still, no address for her. No phone listing. Frustrated, I decided to send my letter to the address on the birth certificate. It was a long shot, but I was mentally exhausted, and knew that if this didn’t work, I would take another much-needed break.
On September 29th, 2006, I went to the mailbox. It had been weeks since I sent out the letter to my birth mom. Mixed in with all the junk mail and bills, was a pink envelope addressed to me, with the sender’s name as Carla Jaquez. It was a San Antonio address. I hadn’t sent letters to San Antonio, so I was taken aback. I sat in the parking area at the post office, and tore the letter open, careful not to destroy the return address. As I opened the card inside and read the first few lines, the world stood still. “My name is Carla Jaquez, and I did give birth to a little girl on August 8, 1973, who I had to give up for adoption…” The letter went on to say more, she told of her sadness, she told of her longing for me all of these years, how she thought of me every day, and prayed for me every night. She expressed regret and sorrow, asking my forgiveness, hoping we could talk. She said that her mother still lived at the address on my birth certificate, and that she had forwarded this to her in San Antonio. She enclosed her phone number. I sobbed uncontrollably. At that moment, the heavy, heavy weight that I had been carrying on my shoulders all of my life lifted, and for the first time, I understood what had been missing all of these years.
I wrote back to Carla the very day I received her letter. I admit I wrote and re-wrote that letter a few times before I felt that I “got it right.” I told her not to feel badly about her decision, because I had a wonderful upbringing. I assured her that I was not angry at her and felt no resentment or hostility towards her. I thanked her for giving me life, and for putting my needs first. I told her that I was really wanting to talk to her, and that she could call me anytime. About a week later, I checked my messages from work, and lo and behold, there was a message on my answering machine from Carla! Her voice was so feminine and sweet, so full of happiness and hopefulness. She said that she was so overjoyed to get my letter, and that she couldn’t wait to talk to me. Needless to say, I listened to that message over and over, drinking in the sound of her voice- my birth mom’s unfamiliar voice.
After another letter written to Carla, we picked a date that we would speak on the phone. It was a Saturday afternoon. I had put my littlest daughter down for a nap; and with a rather huge rush of adrenaline, picked up the phone and dialed her number. When she answered, we both sort of giggled and tried to talk, but then the tears came and if I remember correctly, we both cried during much of the conversation. She sobbed as she told me of her regret, of her sadness and depression over the years. She hadn’t spoken of me to anyone. No one except her mother knew that she was pregnant with me. Her brothers didn’t know, and her coworkers at the factory where she worked were also unaware. She never told my birth father. She was in denial that it was actually happening. She told me that when she gave birth to me, the hospital staff would not let her hold me or even look at me, because she was already so depressed. However, my grandmother Cecilia did see me for a moment after my birth.
As she told me these things that had diminished her complete happiness throughout her entire life, I ate each word up with a hunger that can only come from years of being deprived of the instinctive bond between mother and child.
At this point in my story, I feel compelled to mention that my mother Margaret and I have a very close relationship. She is my mother, and always will be. And although I love her more than I can describe, it is with great guilt I admit that for me, during these younger years, I needed to fill this void inside with something only Carla could give me.
Carla sent me pictures of herself, and I marveled at this woman who was my flesh and blood. I could see myself when I looked at her face, and I was happy to see that I did look a lot like her. For the very first time, I was able to put a face to this person who up until that point had been a complete mystery. She was beautiful to me, and I was overwhelmed with the assuredness that came with seeing her face after all of these years.
Carla also chose to tell her entire family about me now. She wanted me in her life completely, without any secrets, so that she and I could enjoy each other openly and worry free. We also decided that I would call her “Mom.” It was a mutual decision, and one that fulfilled the void for us both. Mom told my brothers about me. I was so excited to have big brothers! They are two and three years older than me. When she told them about me, they were both so very happy. They also felt cheated out of many years, wishing that I had been with them all along, yet glad that I was not. Their little family of three had gone through much heartache and sadness and abuse, all of which I was fortunately spared.
We laughed about how similar we were. We had the same likes and dislikes, and the same way of talking and expressing ourselves. I had never felt like anyone could relate to my crazy and goofy ways, or understand why I do the things I do, until I spoke with her. We both went through the same things in life at the same ages; she had been through the same things that I had been through. We rejoiced to know that we had the same personalities, which was both hysterical and alarmingly frightening for anyone who really knows either of us! Now the world would have to deal with both of us together, which was not unlike mixing fire and gasoline- rather explosive, I would say.
So, after many intimate and joyous phone calls, we both knew that we had to meet face to face. In November, I picked a date to fly down to Texas. I would visit in late April, as this would give us all more time to get to know each other. Although, after the days, weeks and months went by, the wait was almost unbearable.
When April finally came around, I found myself being rather useless at home and at work. I’m sure I went through the daily motions of the things I normally do, but my mind was somewhere else completely. It was hard to believe that the years of hoping, wishing, and imagining our meeting were now turning into a reality. For years I had watched shows like Oprah, Montel, and Donahue, where they would reunite adoptees and birth parents, all the while sitting on the couch with the tears streaming down my face, thinking, “Why can’t that be me?”
I left my home up in Northern Minnesota on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 and flew out of Minneapolis early on April 25th. I hardly slept the night before my flight and was glad to finally get out of bed and take the hotel shuttle to the airport at 5:30 in the morning. As I sat at the airport and waited to board my plane, I did the only thing that I knew would bring me peace and security. I called my mom and dad. They lovingly talked to me about whatever I wanted, to help me pass the time. They reminded me that they loved me, and that I would be just fine. And when the announcement came for me to board, I thanked my parents for being there for me, and wiped away the only tears shed that day from my face.
After enduring a two-hour layover, and boarding another plane, I was happy to hear the pilot inform us that we were going to land in San Antonio in 20 minutes. The whole day I was a nervous wreck and didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I had brought my iPod, but didn’t want to listen to it, as I desired instead to soak up all that was going on around me on this special day. As the wheels of the plane touched ground in San Antonio, I excitedly gathered my belongings, and listened to the thumping of my heart. I was sure I was going to kick the bucket right there on the plane, and then I’d have to wait even longer to meet my birth mom!
Remember the good old days, when you would get off of the plane, and your friends or relatives would be right there at the gate with big smiles, waiting for you? Not anymore. Because of 9/11, all family and friends or otherwise must wait at baggage claim. My mind raced a million miles an hour. What would she look like? Would I recognize her? Would I cry? Would she cry? Would everything be ok? As I made my way downstairs to the baggage claim area, I realized that up until that moment, I had no feelings of hesitation or worry. All of a sudden, I thought, ‘What if this goes all wrong?’
Then I saw her. She was wearing a blue dress and had a smile on her face and water in her eyes. She was beautiful, and polished, and her arms were outstretched, waiting to finally hold me. I rushed into her arms, and she cried tears of happiness. I do believe I was in complete shock. I felt overwhelmed, and happy, and excited to meet this woman who I had so much in common with. She held me forever, and the entire rest of the world went away for a while, as I held the woman who brought me into the world. As we finally took a step backwards and looked at each other, we both said, “You’re so beautiful!” From that moment on, we laughed and laughed, and the smile would not leave my face. I never did cry when I saw her. I wasn’t sure what to think about that, and I still don’t know what it means, if anything at all.
She took me to her home, and we enjoyed each other’s company, and talked into the late evening. I will not go into the details of those first couple days, as those moments are so personal, and too special to share with anyone. We did make the four-hour drive to Odessa, my birthplace, where I met my brothers and my extended family. When my grandmother saw me, she cried and cried, and gave me a ring that had been hers. I still wear that ring. My brothers are wonderful. They tease me every chance they get, having 33 years to make up for!
Carla and I have a loving relationship. She and I talk often. She visited me here in Minnesota that summer and met my children. She also met my parents, to whom she expressed a love and gratitude beyond what words can say. To have both of my mothers in one place, laughing and smiling and sharing tears of joy was almost too much happiness for one person to bear. Sometimes love hurts, because it is present in volumes, spilling over and straining against the seams of the heart.
I finally felt like I belonged somewhere, and the only way that I can describe it is referring to an early phone conversation I had with Carla. We spoke of years lost, we spoke of hard times, we spoke of our need for each other, and she said, “You are not alone little Sarita.”
I am so thankful for my mom and dad, who loved me and gave me a home where I was cared for and loved. I am thankful that they brought me up the way they did. I love them for loving me. I love them for letting me go.
Today, when people hear my story, they say, “I can’t imagine not knowing where you came from!” And I say, “Oh…I’ve always known where I came from and who I am. It just took this journey to understand it.” I am a beautiful Mexican, Italian, Spanish, Cuban American. I am the product of three loving and unselfish people. I think back to the days of climbing up on my dad’s lap and chatting nonstop. I think of the day my dad finally gave in and gave me a puppy. I think of the day my dad took me and my brother aside, and excitedly showed us the diamond ring he bought for mom, just because he loved her so much. When I think of my mom, I think of days rocking in the rocking chair. I think of times when I sat in the corner, having done wrong, discipline always given out in love. I think of my mom's quick wit and easy laugh. I think of sunny days outside, my mom playing with me in the back yard. I think of wintery days when she made us hot chocolate and popcorn.
I think of Carla, the strong, fragile woman who was most unselfish when she let her heart be broken, so that I could experience a good life. I think of Margaret, the woman who lovingly took me in as her own.
When I think of the word “mother," I think of Carla, and I think of Margaret. When I think about who I am, it is with great pride that I can say “I am my mother’s daughter.”
Me with my Mom and Dad
Carla and I in San Antonio, and again when she visited Minnesota