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Karl Shallowhorn: Giving up one’s child is a true act of love

I celebrated my birthday in June. This has typically been a bittersweet time for me. I was adopted at the age of 6 months and I’ve always wondered about my birth parents. Until recently, I had only the basic knowledge provided by my adoptive parents that my birth was the result of an interracial relationship and that both of my parents were in college and it was a closed case.

A year ago, I decided to see if I could find out more. First, I need to clarify that in absolutely no way do I feel like I wasn’t given a good life by my adoptive parents. They’ve given me more love than I ever could have wanted.

But still, there were questions: What did my biological parents look like? What did they like to do? Was there any health-related information I need to know about? These are the kind of questions that other adoptees like myself ask.

I reached out to a local adoption advocacy agency and was advised to speak to a person who had successfully found his birth family. In an ironic twist of fate, this person had recently been coming to my church. So I immediately took this as a good sign. We met and discussed my options.

He explained that first I should apply to the New York State Adoption Registry. He also said that I could obtain legal counsel to have my records unsealed. I decided to apply to the registry, where I could request identifying and non-identifying information. I asked for both. In order for there to be a match, both parties must request contact. I submitted the application last September without much expectation of a direct connection.

Time passed and I had pretty much given up hope of hearing anything, and then in May I received a letter from the registry. I recall looking at the letter and having a feeling of anxiety before opening it. What would it say?

Upon opening the letter, I was disappointed to see that it had little information – and only about my birth mother. It did, however, say which agency handled my adoption, so I reached out to the agency. But I still didn’t have high hopes considering what I had received from the state.

Two weeks later I arrived home to find a letter from the agency. It was a thick envelope. My heart quickened as I opened it. The cover letter affirmed that the agency could provide only non-identifying information. However, the two pages that accompanied the letter were what I’ve been hoping to find out all my life.

It confirmed that my biological parents were in college, but there was more. It referenced their physical appearance and that my mother was in nursing school and my father was a doctoral student. It also reported their interests, including, among other things, that my mother liked classical music and horseback riding while my father was into fencing, folk music and modern dance.

The sobering piece I did learn was that my mother experienced a great deal of pain during her pregnancy coming to the realization that she would not be able to keep me. She knew that marriage was not an option and that she could not raise me without a suitable home system and support from her family. I realize that giving me up was a true act of love.

While I know that I will never see them, I still have the satisfaction of knowing more than I ever thought I would. It has filled a void that I never believed could be filled. I am satisfied.