Annie was looking at a note from a woman she didn’t know. Someone she’d been searching for all her life. A woman named Harley, who just might be her biological mother.“I can’t wait to talk to you,” Harley told her in the email. “Here’s my phone number.”
Annie tried to describe what she was feeling at that moment.
“I’m freaking out,” she said. “I literally almost vomited on the floor.”
Annie’s story — and it’s a doozy — is set to air this week on a new podcast called My Gay Life.
The Seattle-based producers Rebecca Fernandez and Cyndi Butz-Houghton put the show together. Annie’s story, titled “Are you my mom?” is just the second episode, so the team has already set the bar pretty high.
Rebecca, who gave us the heads-up on Annie’s hour-long story, told us it made them all “laugh, cry and get goose bumps.” Not a bad review. We heard it, and all of us here were right there with the Kleenex and group hugs.
In Rebecca’s quick summary of the story, she said, “(It) features a 30-year-old lesbian who was reunited with her birth mother — partially in thanks to 23andMe.”
But the story is way way more than that.
It’s about Annie first coming out to her parents at 14. (Her father was like “Duh”, but her mom was a little surprised.) What it was like to grow up “hella gay, in a hella small town.” And the story is about Annie finally finding a solid relationship with her partner, Alejandra, and about building strong bonds with her adoptive family, as well as with Alejandra’s parents.
Annie’s story is unique, but much of what she talks about will sound familiar to other adoptees, like growing up and being keenly aware that, unlike her friends, she didn’t look like her parents, or the fact that she didn’t have a family tree, or even a family medical history.Annie knew that she was born in a small town in Idaho and that she’d been handed over to her adoptive parents when she was just 12 hours old. That was the extent of what she knew of her birth. So what she carried her whole life were questions about her origins and the mother who gave her up for adoption.
But, as someone who had a wonderful, loving relationship with her adoptive parents, asking those questions brought up other uncomfortable issues. She didn’t ever want her parents to feel like her search meant that she felt they were in any way inadequate. Many adoptees express similar feelings. So much of her searching was internal. She thought about her biological mother more than she went out and searched for her.
“When you’re adopted and don’t know where you come from, or what your family looks like, you make up this vision,” said Annie.
For her, it was creating this “cookie cutter” version of a family with a mom who had the perfect hair, at home baking cookies.
The truth was a little different than that, Annie said. And after learning about everything, she felt she was fortunate that it took this long, because maybe earlier in her life she might not have been ready.Then this year after turning 30, Annie said she was finally feeling ready to answer the biggest question of her life:Where did I come from?
“My life was falling into place, so I decided I would start looking again,” Annie said. “I was at a point mentally that it was OK.”
Other things seemed to fall into place as well, and almost immediately after beginning her search, she started getting answers, first through a free search site for adoptees and then using 23andMe to confirm her connection. Within 24 hours, she connected with Harley, who shared photos.Right away some of the fantasies about her birth mother were set straight. Her birth mom had tattoos and worked in a bar. Annie, who has tattoos of her own, said the photo went counter to her idolized version of her birth mother, baking cookies at home.
“That was not what I was expecting,” Annie said.
At first, Annie didn’t even see the resemblance. She thought that once she talked to her birth mom, there would be this instant connection. That didn’t happen, but as they talked Annie felt drawn to her. And she heard for the first time the story of her birth. It was hard to hear.
Her birth mother was just 17 when she became pregnant. She ran away from home, but came back just before the birth. They told her that the baby would be adopted, so she asked her dad if she could at least see the baby after she was born. He said of course, but that’s not what happened. She never saw Annie. She didn’t even know if she had had a boy or a girl. Her parents had told her conflicting stories, even giving her wrong information to hide where Annie ended up.
Everything wasn’t cookie cutter and perfect for her birth mom. She had two more kids, two sons, who went to live with her sister and mother in Olympia, Washington. Harley spent some time in jail for a drug offense. One of the many twists in the story was that at one point, after being moved, Harley’s cellmate was one of Annie’s closest childhood friends.
Not long ago, Annie traveled to Sand Point, Idaho to meet her biological mother. She called it the “biggest day of my life.” And oddly she’s grown closer to her adoptive parents through all this.
As she thinks of everything that has happened in such a short time — she only began searching again in May — she realized that perhaps she could have solved the mystery of her birth long ago, “but I wasn’t ready.”
It wasn’t until now that she was ready. The timing was perfect.
Alejandra, Annie’s partner, told recently how the experience seemed to change her.
“’You are happy now,’” Alejandra told her. “It’s a positive change. You have a bounce in your step.’”
We’re feeling a little of that bounce. You can too by listening to Annie’s story here.
And here’s a video of Annie going back to Sand Point to meet Harley for the first time. If you are not a patient person you can go to about the 3:30 mark, but keep the Kleenex close.