In Land of Gazillion Adoptees, Amanda Woolston wrote this week about how adoptees’ scant background information reduces them to stereotypes:
The lucky, grateful adoptee.
The unwanted baby finally wanted by someone else.
A perpetual child.
A person with an invisible past.
Finding in her adoptive parents’ house some redacted records from her adoption file, Amanda was able to trace the outline of her story. Many years later, she was able to have her adoptive file unsealed and she filled in the blanks — finding the same pages now free of the censor’s marks.
As is often the case, Amanda’s post got me thinking.
I have an outline, but no full story. What adoption stereotype am I?
Mom kept a copious baby book, full of wonderful hand-written notes I cherish, plus locks of my hair, baby teeth and photographs whose images are being erased by time.
But what about the rest of my story? The story about Jennifer Elaine Clark, who later became Terri Salvatore, now Terri S. Vanech?
That part started out as the faintest sketch — my parents’ retelling of the story social workers told them: That my natural parents were unmarried teens and couldn’t keep me.
Then, when I got old enough, the sketch was filled in the slightest bit thanks to the typewritten schedule my foster mother had prepared. On those pages, I learned the bath was not my most favorite place, that I began eating solid food on April Fool’s Day, that I slept on my tummy in a basket, that I was (and remain) very sensitive to sound and loved people.
Silly how much I hung on those words — but I did, reading them again and again for any clue to decipher myself.
The reference to my sensitivity to sound and some of my foster mother’s other feedback shows up again in a much fuller narrative from Westchester Family Services I received in 2009. No identifying information — we couldn’t have that, of course — but details, basic details most everyone else knows about themselves fill the pages.
My ancestry: English and German.
Details about my birth: Three days early, on Feb. 15, 1966, in Yonkers, NY, at 10:59 am. Both feet first (yup, you read that right, or as the page says “a partly-assisted double-footling breech delivery.”)
Details about my natural mother, who I now know is Patricia Clark: From Long Island, 19 at the time of my birth but 18 during most of her pregnancy, she is described as blond, blue-eyed, tall and slim; as “having a ‘upturned nose’ and a ‘full and pleasant smile.'” An average student, she’d hoped to attend college and work in data processing.
Early in her pregnancy, she stayed with a half-sister in California, but around November, she moved to a maternity home in New York that I now know was St. Faith’s Home for Unwed Mothers in Tarrytown. It is said that her parents were supportive of her and visited her there often.
My birth father is described as “good-looking” with dark hair and eyes; he was a high school dropout who left school to become a machinist apprentice, and despite a romance of several years that preceded my creation, he was no longer in the picture.
This report offers the only clues I have to any health information: Patricia’s mother had MS and her father had heart trouble.
These tantalizing fragments crack open the door for me, but it doesn’t seem to matter how often I pore over them, they never gel into a full story. They haven’t helped me find Patricia Clark.
My calls have all been dead ends. The Classmates.com messages I’ve sent to Patricia Clarks who seemed likely matches remain unanswered.
I can lay the pieces of the puzzle out before me, turn them over and over again, but for now I remain a one-story adoptee: The girl born to an unmarried teenager who got herself in trouble, and whose arrival made it possible for a couple to start a family.
It’d be a much better read if it had a preface or a forward or something, don’t you think?