Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Starting with Chapter 2, by Guest Author, Natalie Manolakis

By Guest author, Natalie Manolakis,
Adoptee in reunion, Volunteer Search Angel

My story used to start at Chapter 2. For years, I had no chapter one. I was missing, gaping holes in my story, the kind of holes that other people take for granted. Who am I and where did I come from?  You would think that with time, those feelings would dissipate, but the curiosity to know why you look the way you do or if you should be seeking preventive care due to unknown medical information, doesn’t ever go away.  The simple piece of paper holding my chapter one, my identity as a U.S. citizen, is actually not real. In fact it isn’t even true. I am not entitled to my original birth certificate. Instead the document holding my identity has a big fat stamp on it - “Amended.” I have been labeled since birth with something I will never escape. I was ADOPTED.

Even though we are all US citizens, the birthright of those not adopted entitles them to any information about their ancestral heritage and medical background that they so desire. They are able to seek medical care for preventive health measures due to their family histories. I do not have the same privileges and rights to my history; my information is sealed, locked away and a secret to me.

My search journey began nearly 20 years ago, but I would refer to the majority of those years as “closet searching.” When I turned 18 and requested my non-identifying information from the adoption agency, I was required to meet with the social worker and learned that my natural mother came to into the agency two years prior looking for information about me.

Wait, what?! She was searching for me too? The complexity of knowing that the same agency that facilitated your separation, holds the only key to bring you back together, but is unable to unlock the safe, even though you are mutually agreeing and consenting adults, because of the law, is impossible to understand (and write!). I realized that day, that if I was fortunate enough to solve my puzzle and unravel the mystery, I would help anyone I could, do the same thing.

Determined to stay in the drivers seat, I was now the author of my own story. I was in control for the first time after so many other people had made decisions on my behalf. 

Late at night, I would peruse online adoption registries hoping to find someone looking for me. The urge became stronger around holidays and birthdays, but I often went months without thinking about it at all. I knew the state I lived in had a mutual state registry, but learned a vital statistics office employee would be the one to make contact with each party and share the information regarding the match.  I was hesitant to give up control, especially to a complete stranger.  Considering this was the only state-funded way to search (though each party still has to pay to register), the thought that my natural mother may have changed her mind after all these years, held me back from putting myself out there.  I finally registered a few months before my search journey turned a new page, but there wasn’t a match. No one was looking for me, or at least not on the state registry.

I learned of other ways to stay in charge of my journey. DNA testing would be my next step. My non-identifying information stated that my birth parents game from German and English roots.  Growing up, I identified closely with my family’s Lebanese culture. Despite the fact I was a blue-eyed, blond-haired girl, I was entrenched in the traditions and never really identified with my said German or English backgrounds. I was proud to chronicle the moment I finally spit in the DNA test tube and shared pictures publically as I sent away the box that would finally begin to unravel my mystery. 

I anxiously waited, checking almost every day, to see if my DNA analysis was complete. Finally, after weeks of struggling to be patient, the results began to pour in. 

IRISH! I’m Irish?... Did they confuse my sample with someone else? 

My entire life, the only information I clinged to with any sort of identity, no longer made sense.  My known German roots from that little piece of paper I held so safely all those years, weren’t even enough to register as a full 1% ethnicity in my blood.  They were replaced with almost 50% Irish ancestral DNA. My story was becoming an exciting reality, and I loved it! Staring me in the face was my own reflection and it was foreign. Maybe I hadn’t ever truly seen my own reflection before because I had no idea who I was or where I came from?

DNA testing also provided me with hundreds of new found family members, relatives that actually shared blood lines with me. Most of them were open to getting to know me and tried to help identify how we were related. Like tiny pieces of a massive puzzle, I moved the clues into place, building layers of family branches until I finally found the one that fit.

            “Honey, honey, wake up I found her.”
            “Huh? What? It’s three in the morning.”
“Yes I know but I have been living on no sleep for weeks putting this puzzle together and I found her! Don’t you understand?”

My husband was my biggest supporter, but while he continued to sleep soundly, I spent hours getting to know the family I hadn’t seen in over 36 years by staring at their profile pictures on social media sites, searching for a resemblance.

This was uncharted territory, and I wasn’t sure how to navigate the waters. I began this journey without expectations, but the truth was that I still hoped for the fairytale ending.  I didn’t want a solid end with closed doors. I wanted to have the first chapter of my story and finally begin to understand who I was

My story continues to unfold day by day. Having all the pieces in place, I now see my own reflection in the mirror and am slowly understanding myself on a much deeper level. I have been inspired to help others search for their roots and write their chapter one.  I recently co-founded a group focused on search and reunion support in the state of Utah for all members of the adoption constellation.  I am privileged to work side by side with the most brilliant and passionate search angels I have ever encountered.  I am honored to be recognized as one of the Spokeo Search Angel Award winners this year, knowing there are so many dedicated volunteers changing lives every day who are so deserving of this award.  I will cherish the stories that have touched my heart so deeply helping others search for their chapter one, and the friendships I have made by being a part of this journey with others forever.