You've Come A Long Way, Sandra Heath

I received my adoption records in the mail Saturday. I knew there were 82 pages, because I had to pay the copying costs, but I imagined lots of legal crap and little substance. Instead, over half is ridiculously personal information about my birth mother and my parents.

My father would just die if he ever found out I was reading things about him in any kind of interview, much less a series of public welfare ones during an adoption process. That alone is worth the $200 I paid for this kind of scoop!!

It all starts in 1959 when, deciding against a private adoption agency for privacy reasons (that worked well for 46 years), they put their names on the Memphis, Tennessee, public welfare department’s list to adopt. They ended up with my brother, Pat, in 1960. They had no idea, poor things. It’s a good thing they got me next, because my motto was then and remains, “You’ll barely know I’m here”. I’m referred to as a “good, sweet baby” on at least 35 pages. My parents are referred to as “attractive” on just as many. That would make them both as happy to know as the good, sweet part about me made me.

A few things were news to me. For example, my mother told me that she was the one who couldn’t have children, but according to these pages, she wasn’t the one lacking in reproductive abilities. And, I was told that everything was lickety-split, like my parents were practically there as I popped into the world. Not exactly the case, because, apparently, I had a little stint at a Coston Boarding Home and was known as Sandra Heath (legally until 1965!).

The information is so detailed and led me right to the birth mother. Her family has been in the same tiny town in Kentucky for centuries. They were farmers at the time of my adoption and most didn’t finish high school. She hated school and got awful grades and her only interest was “keeping house”. She went into great detail about her relationship with the birth father but lists him as “unknown” in several locations and “Joe Brown” in another, indicating that maybe their connection wasn’t as mutual as she might have wanted people to believe.

I’m concluding that her family sent her to Memphis, TN, to be pregnant and have the baby. Her address suggests a tiny rooming house near Riverside Park. And she indicated that she would be returning home after the baby was born. Why I was given a name and released from the hospital one week and surrendered to the orphanage the following week, I’m not sure. I can’t tell if she had a change of heart or if this was normal procedure.

My parents had to jump through some pretty high hoops between the time of petition for adoption in May 1964 and when it was final in January 1965, all extremely well-documented and full of opinions and recommendations about their family dynamic and parenting skills. More information my father would just love me knowing about! Yippee!!

So, lessons learned and next steps: I’m all eaten up with curiosity now, so I’m considering a drive by this poor woman’s house just to see what she looks like. Think that’ll fly in a town of about 1,000? And I’m going to spend some time this year writing down everything I know about my mother and father’s families for Austin, reminding myself to not edit the editorial, because that’s the most fascinating part about the information I just received.

I didn’t do this for any other reason than to provide genealogical information to Austin, should he ever want it. I'm 46 and can say that I've never had an inkling to find out anything. I did request medical histories in 1989 when I was pregnant, but the letter I wrote (which was in the file!) specifically asked for no identifying information. Again, "You'll barely know I'm here." An elderly friend of mine strongly recommended that I get the records while they were still available, should Austin want them in the future. And after talking to him about it, he expressed an interest, so I did.

I gave him a little glimpse into my Kentucky gene pool, and he said he wasn’t surprised. Defensively, I asked what he meant by that, to which he replied, “Well, I didn’t think we were from a noble line or anything." And his final stamp of approval: "As long as it's not Alabama, I’m okay with it."