I remember wanting to search. It was a project for me. Like starting a band with friends, learning to paint, modeling school, ice skating lessons, etc. You name it; I started it. But just like those other projects, I began searching with utmost passion and determination and then I stopped. I stopped each time for a different reason. My life had so many other things going on: School, Friends, Family, Relationships, and of course, those other projects. I filled my life with distractions and then when I was so overwhelmed, I would shut down, unable to understand how a life so filled with drama could feel so empty.
I graduated with my Master’s in Social Work on May 16, 2011; exactly one year after graduating with my Bachelor’s in Social Work. I had spent that year of grad school interning in an adoption agency and I was hired at the end of my internship to continue as a full-time Adoption Social Worker. It was my dream job, the reason I wanted to be a social worker in the first place.
Just as I had during my internship, I continued working with children in the foster care system. Some wanting to be adopted, some who did not understand the meaning of adoption, and some reajecting adoption and just wanting to find and be reunified with their biological family. In addition, I worked on the other end with the families trying to adopt. Some were the grandparents of children they were trying to “save” from a life in the system, some were the 5th, 6th, 7th, or more “parental figure” these children had since coming into foster care, and some were the only “parents” these children had ever known.Then one hot summer workday, my secret got out. The entire internship and start of my full-time job I had never told my supervisor, or anyone at work, that I was adopted. And just like that, the link between my work with these kids and my personal life was connected, not only for my supervisor, but also for myself. Here I was in a job trying to help children and teens find their identity and sense of belonging. Here I wanted to help them make connections between their past, present, and future. What about my own connections? My supervisor must have thought this too because then she asked the inevitable question, “Have you tried finding YOUR biological parents?” Without much hesitation, I answered as I always did before, “yeah…well I, mean…I want to but… it’s just so complicated…”
This answer no longer seemed acceptable, as my job was to help others do this same thing. I had to believe that being complex and difficult did NOT mean impossible. Not for them and not for me.
Maybe it was being finished with school that allowed me to start my search again. Maybe it was breaking up with a boyfriend or ending negative friendships in my life. Maybe I just got rid of enough of the distractions. Whatever it was, something led me to start that project one more time. I pulled out all my adoption paperwork as I had done so many times before. The legal sized papers lay in a stack, pages bent and torn around the edges. Only a small amount of the documents were in English but it the midst of the Spanish words I had never learned in high school, my eyes quickly found her name. Lidia. I wondered then, as I tried to organize the paperwork, who is Lidia?
“My birth mother.” I answered myself quickly, as I had grown up hearing this answer. But WHO is she? I read the words on the page over and over, translating everything I could. As I read, the details I had always known became more real to me. Maybe because I was now an adult, in fact the same age she was when I was conceived. Maybe it was also because I worked with families in the system. But this time I was really trying to understand the woman behind the name on these pages. My whole life I had tried to imagine her face, her eyes, and her smile. Now I wanted to know more. What was her story?
I took this project to my mom and asked her opinion. She was always willing to help me search and she suggested I start looking online. I had already Facebooked her name but the one woman with her name did not match the information I knew. I Googled Chilean Adoptee searches. I Googled everything. I found some leads including a yahoo group for Chilean Adoptees. I sent messages to adoptees that had found their biological family. I read blogs from other adoptees and learned their stories. Maybe it was because this was the first time (thanks to the internet and social media) that I was connecting with people who had succeeded. I smiled and I cried each time I read a new story as I realized they had found their biological families from thousands of miles away. Some had less information than I did and they succeeded. I could too. Some were still out there searching. I could be one of them. But I realized I wasn’t alone in this process. There were others just like me. I got excited. And this time, I did not stop.
My mom then suggested that I try emailing the Ties Program, a program that plans trips to adoptees’ homelands. We figured they might know something as they used to take Chilean adoptees to Chile and some of those children must have tried to search too.
So I did, and within days I received the news that Chile has a government run organization, SENAME, which helps adoptees find their birth parents. I could not believe that people were out there to help me accomplish my dream.
Now, the rest of the story is one of hurry up and wait. And boy, did I hurry. I submitted my application that day. I scanned in all my documents, and I sent them in an email to SENAME. I called everyone I could to tell them I was finally searching and this time I had hope. Then, I waited.
As I waited, my head was filled with possibilities. I fantasied about reuniting with my birth mother. I thought about her finding out about me, being overjoyed and excited to connect with me again after 25 years. Maybe she has been waiting for me all this time. Maybe I have younger siblings. But I also had doubt. I thought maybe they won’t find her or maybe she doesn’t want to see me. Maybe she is married now and never told her family about me. But the worst maybe was maybe it is too late, perhaps she is dead.
Every day after submitting my application to SENAME, I waited for the end to the maybes. And finally, while waiting in line at a Wendy’s in Lancaster, PA during an Adoption conference for work, I got it.
“…Lidia is alive and unmarried. Also, she has given birth to 4 other children, in addition to you…she is likely living in Santiago…”
I couldn’t believe it. Alive. Unmarried. 4 other children. Living in Santiago.
I had answers.
But was this enough? Did knowing she is alive make her real? She was still just a name on paper. I needed to connect with her. I needed to know, does she want to know me?
The wait became longer and more difficult as SENAME told me they were trying to send out a social worker to tell my mother about me. I became even more desperate. I checked my emails every minute, but nothing. For over a month (in my mind what felt like a lifetime) SENAME was unable to find her.
Then on Labor Day, 2011, I received the best news of my life.
“We found your mother, and she is very happy for finding you too. A social worker went to her house last Friday, and she was very happy because she was waiting for this moment…”
Attached to that email was her photo. So for the first time, I saw her face, her eyes, and her smile and my childhood dreams were answered. She is real.
She is real.
I found her.
Stay tuned for part two and three of JaySoLe journey to Chile, letter to her mom, and Youtube video of her reunion.
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