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Mothers Don't Always Know Best

As I've shared in a couple of my previous blog posts, adoption is a big part of my story. Judy, my birth mother, found herself pregnant in her early twenties. Throughout my childhood, my adoptive parents emphasized that Judy wasn't quite ready or able to care for me. Judy, working a full-time gig at a factory during the day, enlisted the help of who would later become my adoptive mom to look after me while she was at work. Come evenings, Judy took on the responsibility of looking after me.

However, things took a turn when the family taking care of me noticed signs of abuse on my face and body. They decided to step up and adopt me into their family. Already a crew of seven with a mix of three daughters and three sons, I rounded out the bunch, making it an even eight. Their eldest is a good twelve years older than me, while their youngest trails behind by six years. In the end, I became their fourth daughter, finding my place in their unique and loving family dynamic.

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Quote and Credit:  Anne Lamott | #MeToo

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Abuse Comes In Many Forms

When I was around five or six years old, my adoption became official. My adoptive father's own upbringing had seen him spend years in an orphanage, his mother passing away early, and his father unable to care for him and his siblings. It wasn't until later that I discovered one of the primary reasons they chose to adopt me was because they doubted I'd find another family due to being biracial in predominantly Caucasian towns around the area. They feared I might face mistreatment and neglect, drawing parallels to the hardships my adoptive father experienced during his years in the orphanage.

My early years with my birth mother, Judy, weren't exactly sunshine and rainbows. I faced abuse from her and a few of her boyfriends. And let's not forget the peculiar incident with a German Shepherd she left in charge of guarding me in the bathroom of our trailer while she was off doing who knows what. The dog would bite me whenever I cried, creating a traumatic association that lingers to this day. However, I've come to understand that the dog was simply reacting to the environment imposed on him, not inherently evil. I can't blame the dog for the sins of my birth mother, but the experience left me with a lasting unease around German Shepherds.


One of Judy's boyfriends, whom I recall being called Bear (assuming it's a nickname, but I could be mistaken), stands out in my memories. Unfortunately, his interactions with me were far from pleasant. I endured spanking and slapping on multiple occasions. Bear, a hefty man with long dark hair, a beard, and a perpetual scent of cigarettes, made an intimidating presence. While it's crucial to emphasize that no child should face physical harm for any reason, I've often wondered whether my biracial identity played a role in his unkind treatment or if it was simply the fact that Judy had a child who wasn't his own that irked him. Regardless, it seemed like I became a stumbling block in his pursuit of having Judy all to himself.

Judy's house was a revolving door of men during that time, though as a child, I couldn't discern whether they were just friends having a good time or if they held a more significant role in Judy's life. It was, after all, the '70s.

According to my adoptive mother, she noticed burn marks from cigarettes on my body (the scars of which I still carry) and instances where I was dropped off unbathed with dirty clothes. There was a particularly troubling incident when I arrived at her house with an angry red welt in the shape of a handprint across my face. While I can't say for sure, this might have been the tipping point that led my adoptive parents to intervene and remove me from Judy's care.

Meeting My Birth Mother for the First Time

Back in 1994, at the ripe age of twenty-four, I decided it was high time to meet my birth mother, Judy. Armed with a free plane ticket on the verge of expiration, I embarked on a mission to track down my birth parents.

Now, keep in mind, that Google was just a twinkle in the internet's eye back then, so I had to resort to some good ol' detective work in the online phone listings. Armed with Judy's name, I speculated that she might have relatives lingering in my hometown of Havana, IL. Cue the search for phone numbers under her last name. After a bit of digging, I struck gold and found a relative's number. With a deep breath, I dialed.

Turns out, the lady who answered the phone knew exactly who I was and spilled the beans on Judy's whereabouts in Lincoln, NB. When I called Judy's number, she answered the phone and had been expecting my call as my informant contacted her following our phone call.

Judy seemed genuinely happy to hear from me, and she provided answers to the multitude of questions that I bombarded her with.  She spilled the beans about her college days, revealing a brief encounter with my dad who is Black (she is white). The plot thickened as she divulged that my dad was engaged during their time together. When she found out she was pregnant, she decided not to drop the bomb on him, not wanting to jeopardize his future or tether herself to him with a child. According to Judy, it wasn't a love story between them, just a fling with no emotional strings attached.

Face to Face with Judy

Following my phone conversation with Judy, I decided to take the leap and visit her in Nebraska.

When I landed at the Nebraska airport, I was met with the warm and welcoming smiles of Judy and my cousin, Stephanie. It's important to note that Stephanie, only a few months my senior, has her own unique story to share, and it's not my place to tell it. What I do know is that Judy has a sister, and both of them became pregnant around the same time.

Stephanie and I shared a close bond growing up, as cousins should. We even bunked together in our grandmother's crib, snapped annual photos, and spent as much time together as fate allowed. However, our paths diverged as she eventually lived with our grandmother, and I embarked on the journey of adoption.

In the course of growing up, I would occasionally encounter my grandmother and other blood relatives at the local pool during my summertime swims. Their attempts to approach me, strike up conversations, or persuade me to go with them became a source of concern. When I shared this with my adoptive mother, she advised me not to engage with them and to run home if I saw them again. Their presence seemed daunting, colored by the narrative my birth mother had conveyed to me.

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Love. Me and My Babies

Hello Birth Mother

Returning to the topic on hand (my birth mother), the initial encounter with Judy and Stephanie at the airport left me with mixed feelings. As mentioned, Judy embraced me with open arms and teary eyes – a display of emotion I wasn't quite prepared for. This wasn't an Oprah show, and forgiveness for her past actions while I was in her care hadn't been discussed and her being resolved or forgiven for her actions. While I allowed her public emotional moment, I held back from reciprocating.

We all crammed into Stephanie's car, making our way to Olive Garden for a meal and conversation. To the best of my recollection, Stephanie and I dominated the conversation, with Judy occasionally interjecting a comment. Post-dinner, we headed to Stephanie's house, stopping by a gas station where Judy worked. There, she grabbed some 40 oz beers, a sight I found somewhat unfamiliar (I'd never seen a white person drink a 40 – just putting it out there).

The highlight of the visit, for me, was spending time with Stephanie's adorable kids. I have a soft spot for children, and I engaged with her daughter Kate while Judy indulged in some beer. Unfortunately, Judy didn't have the answers I sought; it seemed she was looking for a fresh start, a chance to build a relationship with me. That was a hard pass. While playing with Stephanie's daughter and observing Judy's beer consumption, I spent a significant part of the evening on my cell phone, chatting with friends and my then-husband. The desire to catch an earlier flight and head home grew stronger.

Eventually, as the night wore on, I felt it was an appropriate time to bid goodbye and request a ride back to my hotel. My cousin Stephanie graciously took me back, and her daughter Kate spent the night with me.


Goodbye Birth Mother

The next morning, Stephanie and Judy stopped by to take me to the airport. As we bid our farewells, this time around, I embraced Judy with a hug, sensing it would be our final meeting. She handed me a pair of sapphire earrings, a thoughtful nod to my birthstone, and with that, we said our goodbyes.

In the aftermath of our visit, Judy reached out through cards, letters, and attempts at phone calls. However, I chose not to respond. Her words held no apologies or explanations that could have justified or rectified the impact of leaving me in a more abusive environment than the one she provided.

Though forgiveness has found a place in my heart for Judy, I've recognized the need to draw boundaries. While I wish her a long and joyful life, I've come to terms with the fact that I can't be a part of it. My capacity for love knows no bounds, but I've learned to surround myself only with those who reciprocate that love, show respect, and don't expect anything in return.

And a crucial reminder: if you observe signs of child abuse, speak up and report it. Your voice might just save a child's life.

Mothers Don't Always Know Best article image of Simply Amazing Living's Autumn Murray


Click to read an article about my birth father:   Who's Your Daddy

What is child abuse?

Child abuse is when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failure to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child. There are many forms of child maltreatment, including neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, and emotional abuse.

If you see signs of abuse with anyone you know or are a victim of child abuse, get help right away.

For more information, to seek help, or to find out how to help abused children click here:  Childhelp.

We hope you enjoyed Simply Amazing Living's “Meeting My Birth Mother for the First Time and Discovering Mothers Don't Always Know Best” post.


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