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“I was 14, pregnant, and in total disbelief. In my naïveté, I thought I could will the pregnancy out of my body. Maybe if I didn’t acknowledge my lack of a menstrual cycle for 2 months, it wouldn’t be real. ‘I’m too young to have a baby,’ I said to myself. Why hadn’t I told my mom to put me on birth control? What were people going to say?
I didn’t have a clue about being pregnant. The first symptoms, which I know all too well now, were completely foreign to me. My body was changing, but I detached myself from the reality of it. I lived as if nothing had changed. A trip to California with my mother, drill team practice before and after school, and playing softball were just a few things I did during my first trimester. I pretended my life wasn’t changing forever. I pushed the thought of being pregnant out of my mind, but I knew the outcome was inevitable.
When I was about 3 months along, I finally told my boyfriend, Sidney. We’d been together since we were 12 and 13, and he was quick to comfort me. We talked about whether the baby would be a boy or a girl, who the baby would look like, and what we would name it. ‘I want the name to be Sidney Jamal or maybe Jamal Donnell if it’s a boy,’ Sidney would say. I loved the name Elijah for a boy. Even though in our immaturity we were excited about the thought of a baby, we were scared and worried about the backlash we’d get in telling our parents. So, we put off telling them because it was easier to not think about it.
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At first, we kept the secret just between us, but once I started showing, it became harder to conceal. I wore baggy clothes or Sidney’s oversized letterman jacket. I placed my pom-poms over my belly at drill team practice and sat with a pillow in my lap at home. The kids our age eventually started talking. They suspected before anyone else did. I don’t know whether it was because they could see my little bump or because Sidney and I hinted about the pregnancy to our closest friends.
They carefully watched us at school. The high school rumor mill was in full swing, and soon, the teachers caught wind of it. Nobody asked questions though. It was taboo for more reasons than just a teenage pregnancy. Our story was always the subject of gossip and judgment. We were the only interracial couple who was fully public and out for everyone to see. We didn’t hide our relationship like so many other couples where the boy was black and the girl was white, even if it was the expectation in Texas during the late 80s. We were in love and determined to stand together. We endured whatever was thrown our way. This would just be another thing to overcome. Or so we thought.
Sidney was a star athlete and a charismatic, handsome, friendly, popular person. His confidence radiated in everything he did. His friends and football teammates looked up to him. His coaches and teachers adored him. He was a golden child. Chased after by girls from all over but labeled as ‘that black football player with the white girlfriend.’ He relished the attention. Welcomed the prejudice in a defiant way. He was the voice of our relationship, and I was the quiet one. An introvert and former ‘fat kid,’ I was told I was beautiful, but I couldn’t see it. I was quick to stand in the background as not to be the center of attention. Sidney liked it that way, I think. He put me on a pedestal. I was his prized possession. Something he was proud of and took care of. His girlfriend. His best friend.
Once we had the courage to tell his parents and my mother about the baby, they all agreed: adoption was the decision. They were hurt and disappointed, but we were relieved we’d finally gotten it all out. Giving our baby up for adoption seemed like the right thing to do. I kept telling myself it was for the best. It had to be, didn’t it?
The adoption agency we went through was the only one that would help someone with a biracial baby. They offered a home to stay in during the pregnancy, which helped with doctor’s appointments, staying in school full time, and providing a Christian-based counseling program and church family. Although they were welcoming, it was awkward and lonely. Leaving Sidney behind was gut-wrenching. I was accustomed to seeing him almost every day, and now all we had were brief phone calls and letters. I was due at the end of March. That was 4 months away. I was 4 hours from home, and the days dragged. My mom visited on a few weekends, but the mail became my point of anticipation every day. Letters and cards from my mother, grandmother, and Sidney were read and reread. I found out the baby was a boy. The son we talked about before actually knowing. The baby boy he wanted so badly to give his namesake.
I went through labor with the adoption agency caseworker holding my hand and telling me to push. No one from home was able to be there with me. I was alone during this monumental moment. My mom was coming but wouldn’t make it in time. Sidney wasn’t able to come. His parents wouldn’t allow it. They thought it would be for the best.
I felt like I was watching someone else go through it. It was surreal. I hardly spoke at all, and I followed the directions given to me like a robot. I breathed out when they told me to. I pushed when they told me to. I was scared, but, as was my way of coping with traumatic experiences, I mentally floated through it. I kept telling myself I just had to get through the hard part then it would be fine. Just keeping going. Almost there.
At 12:54 p.m. on March 29th, my son came into this world. I opted to see him after the delivery despite people telling me it might make the decision harder. They said seeing him would be traumatizing. I needed to see him though. I couldn’t fathom the thought of leaving without holding him at least once.
When they put my 9-plus pound baby in my arms, I felt surprisingly calm. I studied his little cherub-like face. I took off the tiny cap the maternity ward put on him and smelled his mop of curly light brown hair. I opened his blanket and touched his toes. I ran my finger down his little thigh to his knee. He had my eyes and his father’s lips. He was light tan in complexion and had a pug nose like most of the biracial babies I’d seen. He had the outline of thick eyebrows and his eyelashes curled out from beneath his closed eyes and up onto his eyelids. He had my eyelashes. My beautiful little boy.
He was perfect, but he wasn’t meant to be mine. I told myself he would have a better life with his adoptive parents, and when the nurse came to get him from me, I prayed he would. I didn’t cry when they took him. I remember feeling ashamed as if I didn’t have the right to cry. I was giving my baby up. I couldn’t possibly deserve sympathy, right? A teenage mother was meant to be judged, or at least that’s how I felt, and it kept the emotion from overtaking me.
That afternoon, they wheeled me out to the adoption caseworker’s car. I felt like everyone we passed knew I didn’t keep my baby. I felt conspicuous and ashamed. I stared straight ahead and avoided eye contact. I made it all the way to the car with no show of emotion, but when I buckled myself in, I felt a lump form in my throat. Looking out the window as we left, tears fell down my face. My vision was blurry, but I watched the hospital until it was no longer in sight. ‘Stop crying, Shelley,’ I said to myself. ‘He will have a better life.’. He had to.
During the next few decades, I would silently celebrate my son’s birthday each year. Although I thought of him constantly, he dominated my thoughts every March 29th. I always envisioned he had the same stocky, muscular build as his father. I saw him having my eyes and his father’s smile. I wondered if he was happy. I also wondered if he would have favored his sisters.
During my twenties, I married, had 3 daughters, and divorced. My oldest daughter was born 5 years after my son. I was young, but as an adult, the circumstances were different. I lived as the mother of 3 girls. I was essentially a single mother, and people always gushed over how beautiful and how well-behaved my daughters were. They kept me busy and on the go. They were the center of my existence. I dove head-first into motherhood.
With all my daughters’ activities, I barely had time to breathe much less mention my son when people would ask, ‘Do you have kids?’ My answer was always ‘I have 3 daughters’ not that I only had 3 children. That question almost always followed with, ‘So no boys, huh?’ and I would simply say, ‘I guess God didn’t see fit for me to raise a boy.’ My son always had a place in my heart and mind, but very few people knew about the adoption. I kept him to myself, outside of a few of my very close personal friends. I told my daughters when they were old enough to understand adoption. They asked a few questions, but I think they knew it was a sensitive subject for me, so they didn’t ask often.
I still didn’t have many answers. The adoption was closed, so I had no real info about his adoptive parents other than they were Caucasian. I knew it took a while for my son to be adopted, and during his 4 months in a foster home, they called him Eric. I wasn’t told what his name was after the adoption. I was only told the adoptive father was in the military and the mother worked for the schools. That was the last update I received.
I often thought he would find me in his thirties. For some reason, I always thought of a man’s thirties as when he starts to value life and family. I felt once he matured, he’d begin to question his roots. I hoped he’d start searching. I prayed he’d want to find me. The age of 33 always came to mind as well. It stuck in my head like an invisible marker, and after his thirtieth birthday, I looked into adoption reunion websites and joined adoption Facebook pages. I created a profile on a site that matched you with someone who fit the criteria you put in. There were no matches.
On March 17th, 2021, I knew his birthday was fast approaching, so I logged back into the website. I put in the search criteria. I hit search, and lo and behold, an 81% match popped up. Male born March 29, 1988, in Dallas, Texas, adopted at 4 months old, brown eyes, brown hair, unknown ethnicity. ‘OK, Shelley,’ I said to myself, ‘don’t get too excited.’ Brown eyes and hair could be any baby but ‘unknown ethnicity’ was what kept my attention. A mixed child who was adopted may not know their ethnicity, right? I looked at the adoption agency listed, and it didn’t match. My heart sank a little, but something wouldn’t let it discourage me, so I sent a few messages to the profile.
I kept checking back to see if I received a reply. I looked at the profile again and again, trying to will a response. I prayed to God someone would answer. I even started to get discouraged, but, on his birthday, I realized there was an address listed. I’d already Googled the adoption agency without any real hope, but I thought, ‘Maybe this is the adoption agency address, maybe I can call or email them.’
So, I Googled it, and instead of a business, up popped a house. A beautiful two-story house surrounded by trees with a wide driveway. This was the ACTUAL ADDRESS WHERE HE GREW UP. I couldn’t believe it! I thought if it hadn’t been sold, I could write a letter and mail it. The address was in Virginia, so driving there was pretty far from Texas, but I didn’t say no to the possibility.
This was a start, but something kept tugging at my brain. The name on the profile, Daniel Smith, seemed like an alias. but something told me to search it on Facebook. So, at 11 p.m. on my son’s 33rd birthday, I put in his name and location and hit search. It pulled up a profile. The profile picture was of a light-complexioned, tall, somewhat thin, young black man surrounded by 3 kids. I studied it and thought maybe he could be my son, but I wasn’t sure.
The profile didn’t have a birthday listed, so I scrolled down the page searching for any indication this was my son. I got to a picture of a young man in a heavy coat taking a selfie in the snow. The eyes staring back at me were mine. The lips were his father’s. I knew it instantaneously. I found my son!
I kept scrolling for a little more confirmation and came across a birthday post from the year before. The date was March 29th. That was all I needed. My heart was in my throat, and I cried tears of pure joy as I sent him a quick private message. ‘Happy birthday,’ it said, ‘I’m your birth mom. I don’t know how else to say that without just blurting it out. I pray you respond. I can’t believe I actually found you.’ It was 11:23 p.m. I prayed the response would be a good one.
When I woke up, I checked if he’d seen the message, but he hadn’t. I sent a longer message hoping he’d see it. Maybe he thought it was spam or just didn’t see it at all. I hoped he didn’t choose not to respond. I tried to stay optimistic.
After 2 days with no response, I sent his girlfriend a friend request and a message. ‘I hope you see this,’ it said, ‘I’m Daniel’s birth mother.’ And at 11:00 a.m. on March 31st, his girlfriend accepted my friend request and answered my message. ‘Wow, yes, I will let him know.’ I checked my phone every 2 minutes. ‘He’s probably at work,’ I thought. ‘Maybe he’s not sure if he wants to respond.’ Thoughts racing and heart almost panicking, I waited, and finally, at 3:10 p.m. on March 31st, I received a message from Daniel. ‘Hi. I don’t know where to start. I would love to talk to you.’ My heart exploded. My son wanted to talk to me!
I wasn’t able to call right away, but we exchanged messages. I asked him if he wanted to see pictures of his father. ‘Is he alive?’ Daniel asked. ‘I’m so sorry but, no’ I typed. ‘He was killed in 1992. He was a light though.’
‘I can’t explain really the emotions, so I know it has to be ten times more overwhelming for you. Thank you for answering. I was so scared you wouldn’t,’ I said. ‘Definition of overwhelming lol. I’m sorry for being short. I feel God right now,’ he answered. ‘We have so much to talk about,’ ‘33 years’ worth,’ I responded.
I always worried he’d resent me for giving him up. Would he only want to know why he was placed for adoption then leave me out of his life anyway? Would he hate me? I feared the worst, but his next message answered all those questions. ‘This is like a dream almost. There are a million things I want to say, and at the same time, I can’t find the words. Just know I love you. I have never once been upset with you.’ I breathed a sigh of relief and sobbed with tears of gratitude. He loved me despite the circumstances. It was my turn to feel God.
When my phone rang, I knew it was Daniel. I couldn’t answer fast enough. ‘Hello,’ I said, ‘Hey there,’ Daniel responded. It was my son’s voice. My baby boy was on the other end of the phone! He was unbelievably understanding and already so full of love for me, I almost thought it was too good to be true, but it wasn’t.
We talked for almost 3 hours and the bond was instant. He talked about always wanting to write a book, and I too always talked about writing one. He wanted to be a mentor, and I also considered myself a mentor in my roles as a manager. We talked about our shared love of the moon, and I told him I had an affinity for trees. He told me he worked with trees. It was crazy to us both, but it also felt completely natural. He was so much like me it seemed like magic. Our connection was amazing.
I had so many questions. ‘Did you have a good childhood?’ I asked. He responded, ‘I can’t say it was good, but I also can’t say it was bad. It made me who I am, and I am proud of who it’s made me.’ He said he knew someday he’d find me. He’d talked to his friends about it since childhood, and even through the painful periods of his life, he stayed optimistic.
I felt his energy through the phone. He was so much like me it seemed impossible he hadn’t been raised by me. I asked myself, ‘How can I possibly be blessed any more than I already am?’ My daughters and their children were everything to me, and now not only did they have a big brother but their children had an uncle and 3 new cousins. Daniel was receptive to it all. Talking for hours every single day, I quickly learned my son had a rocky life, but his heart was big and his life was an open book just waiting to add the chapters including me, my mother, his sisters, and his nieces and nephews.
When I told my daughters about finding their brother, they were so excited. They asked where he lived, if he had children, and to see every picture I could get a hold of. They all added him on Facebook, and although their conversations were shorter than ours, they wanted to meet him soon. Plans for Daniel to come to Texas had already begun. We counted down the days.
On April 29th, exactly one month from his 33rd birthday, Daniel came to Texas for the first time since his birth. The anticipation at the airport was almost too much, and I was so excited I could barely stand still. When I finally saw my son walking towards me, all I could do was dance around and hold my arms open. The first hug from Daniel was unlike anything I’d ever felt. My heart filled up and overflowed. ‘I can’t believe you’re finally here,’ I kept saying into his ear. All he could do was laugh under his breath. The moment had made him speechless and understandably so. My son was home.
The next six days were filled with family, food, and all the love we could give him. My girls, their men, and their children embraced Daniel in every way. Daniel soaked it all in. There were moments when we cried tears of joy and talked about how much Sidney’s presence could be felt. I gave him letters his father sent to me during my stay at the adoption agency and notes given to me during the years we were together. I wanted him to read about Sidney’s love for me and for Daniel before he was born. I wanted to give him a piece of his father to take back to Virginia with him. He deserved at least that much.
When Daniel went back to Virginia, it was hard to let him go. We hugged for minutes on end, and he kissed me on the forehead before grabbing his suitcase and walking into the airport. As I watched him walk away, I had nothing but pride in my heart and the feeling of God’s presence. Daniel was leaving, but he wasn’t. This was just the beginning.
Finding my son has been life-changing. The outpouring of love from friends and family and even Facebook friends has been so positive and motivational. We are both planning on things involving our journey on a grander scale. We want to share it with the world. We want to inspire hope and spread a message of love. Looking back, I know God had a bigger purpose for our journey, and I hope other adoptees and birth parents can find the courage to take the leap towards finding their families. It could change your entire existence. The possibilities are endless!”
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