Ever think about your roots? As an adoptee, when I hear others talk about their genealogy or family reunions, it can cause mixed emotions. Many who are adopted eagerly desire to connect with their birth families and actively seek them out. In my case, though, my adoption was open. As I grew older, the more I learned of my birth parents, the more it caused me to reject the idea of being connected to them. The truth came at me in waves.
The first one hit when I was five-years-old, the night before my adoption became final. Up until that moment I was technically an orphan, being cared for by a wonderful couple. Even though I had been with my birth mother for periodic visits until the age of two, I didn’t remember who she was. “Who is my mother?” I asked and pleaded then was shocked to hear the truth. She was the odd, quiet woman that frightened me.
My birth mother has paranoid schizophrenia. As a young adult, I finally understood why this loving couple had agreed to care for me and had finally asked for permission to adopt me. My birth mother was unable to raise me. When people learned I was adopted and asked if I would search for my birth family, I quickly answered that I knew my birth mother and had no desire to reunite.
Soon after turning eighteen, another wave hit me as I received a letter from my maternal aunt in Texas who wanted me to know that I had nine aunts and uncles in Texas! One aunt led me to believe that the entire family was splintered; the hope and desire I had to connect with them was soon shattered. However, they did want to know, was their sister okay? It was hard telling them that I did not know, I did not visit her. I was left feeling confused about my responsibility to them and her.
As an adult, my childhood fears and misunderstandings of mental illness wracked me with guilt. I decided to visit my birth mother. Though her living situation was unlike anything I had ever experienced and her quiet, odd behavior left me feeling uncomfortable, I was satisfied that I had made the first step in connecting with my roots.
Sadly, a tidal wave came as the result: a few days after the visit, I received a phone call from my birth mother’s legal guardian chastising me for visiting her. Supposedly, the visit had caused her to have an “episode” resulting in disruptive–possibly even illegal–behavior towards others. I was told that I needed permission from the guardian before I ever visited her again. This left me drowning in a wave of emotions that affected me for more than ten years.
n those ensuing years, I mailed letters and gifts. When he was in the hospital, I occasionally visited her husband, who was also mentally disabled. I considered this man my birth father. He was now my only connection to my birth mother. He would keep me updated about her. Sadly, his untimely death dealt the final blow to any hopes I had of staying connected to my birth mother.
I called his cousin to pass along the news that my father had died. The cousin quickly replied, “You know he is not your ‘real’ dad, right?” Finally! Someone was willing to explain the mystery surrounding my paternity about which I had always been curious. I knew my adopted mother had heard rumors. My birth mother had made statements about it the one time I did visit. But now her husband’s relative was telling me the truth! The truth I had been afraid to seek out while my father was alive. I had been afraid to dishonor the man who was so proud of me, proud of my good grades as a girl, and later on as a grown woman, proud of my cute kids, his grandkids.
I learned the startling truth, a truth I was not prepared to hear. The man married to my mother was not my father. This cousin divulged the ugly news: my birth mother had been raped. Her husband knew, they had told relatives and had gone to the police. To preserve her honor, he had publicly claimed me as his own. I now realized that my birth parents consisted of a woman who is mentally ill and a violent criminal, the man that raped her.
Thankfully, at the time I learned this, my life was stable and my relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ was strong. Instead of experiencing an identity crisis, I simply embraced my identity in Christ. A daughter of the Most High King was the only identity I desired. Birth family roots seemed unimportant, and, instead, I would embrace the love of my adopted family. I also began to share my story, bringing light and truth to counter the dark lie of “pro-life except in cases of rape”.
Then my maternal aunt sent me a Facebook message, stating that she and one of my uncles wanted to come to Michigan to visit me. As plans materialized, I learned that she and THREE uncles planned to visit! My birth mother had not seen any of her family for almost forty years. Little did I know how disruptive this visit would be. Deep down I felt bewildered: what were these uncles’ intentions? I didn’t even know their names nor had I ever spoken with them. Could it possibly be that they simply wanted to meet me? Why?
The night they arrived in Michigan, I drove to the house at which they were staying and noticed a man standing outside the door. He quickly introduced himself as one of my uncles and then told me that he had wanted to come to Michigan to meet me more than 20 years ago, just to let me know that they loved me. Peace flooded over me. All my uncles had similar sentiments of love, affection and concern for me. For the first time in a very long time, I felt genuine fatherly love. While I know I did not need this to feel complete, it felt so good, so validating. While their trip was short, the aftershock has not been.
Soon, I was invited to and attended their family reunion in Texas. I know that if they had not first visited me, I likely would not have gone. But I was extremely blessed and surprised by my uncles’ desire to spend extra time with me during the visit. These men whom I had only met weeks before, valued me, accepted me, had true fatherly concern over my well-being, and enjoyed my company.
I never expected to be so loved. I am the long-lost niece, found and now surprised by such lavish attention. Waves of joy have washed over me ever since, as I’ve relished the feeling of being so wanted. My conception may have been the result of violence, and my mother may endure a lifelong struggle with mental illness, but my life and purpose defy such confusion. I am wanted. Thank you, Mom, for choosing to labor and birth me.
LifeNews Note: Mary Rathke is a licensed minister at Bay Valley Christian Church. She’s a pro-life speaker and Board Member of Save the 1, and also the president of HELPeople INC, which is creating The Great Lakes Dream Center. Her story was aired this week on Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson, along with 4 other members of Save The 1.