Secondary Rejection

I have been sitting at my computer for the past 15 minutes just watching the cursor blinking on and off on the blank page, just trying to wrap my head around what I am about to write.  With this blog, I try to be helpful to those who will come after me on this journey but for today, we are going to go a different direction and we’re going to get very personal.  Some may think I am crazy for putting this all out there, but writing has always been an outlet to process a buzzing of different emotions and thoughts.  So here we go.  Today we are going to talk about how the search for my biological mother that was 34 years in the making came to an end.

When you are adopted in the state of NewYork, it is notoriously hard to get information because all documents are sealed and you have to petition the courts to get information, and even then it is probably going to be non-identifying.  I actually started my search years ago, but the only thing I could do was register with the state and see if there were any matches.  There weren’t because the registry was started after my adoption, so my birth parents probably didn’t even know it existed.  After all of this BRCA business started, we pushed further into the court system and discovered they wanted a ton of money to assign a guardian ad litem to be the go between.

Because of other technologies available to us now, it turns out I didn’t need the court system at all.  A girlfriend of mine and I were talking about Ancestry DNA because she had done it and it was cool to see your nationality broken down and you can even get linked to distant cousins.  It isn’t guaranteed, but it sounded like a fun thing to try.  Before my surgery, she gifted me a kit, thinking it would give me something to get excited about as I healed.  So, I spit in the test tube and mailed it off.  Approximately six weeks later, I got an email saying my results were in!  I clicked on the link and saw that my nationality was spot on with what I was told.  You can’t look at me and think there isn’t Viking blood in there somewhere, which was the majority of my genetic makeup.  Then there was a button to see any DNA matches in the system, and I nervously clicked on it.  I saw there were hundreds of matches, but some were 5th and 6th cousins and some weren’t even a sure thing.  However, right at the top of the list was someone who was listed as my first cousin which I thought was awesome because they definitely had to know my birth parent.  My mom, husband and I started Googling names, especially the ones listed as first cousins and discovered they were all from the same group of five sisters.  After looking at the ages of these women, we deduced that the man at the top of my list was not my cousin, but was in fact my half brother.

For 34 year years, I never thought I would ever get to this moment.  I grew up thinking my mother was this hero that was so selfless that she bravely gave me up because she wanted the best possible life for me.  She was an abstract idea and I never thought I would have her name, but there it was, black and white on the computer screen.  Of course, I spent the entire day researching who she was.  I got to see that she made quite the career for herself and that she had two sons.  I think learning I had brothers out there somewhere made me more excited than actually finding her.   Being an only child, you do get lonely and the idea of siblings always left me wishing that I knew what that felt like.  It also took my breath away to know that she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 42 years old.  If that is the age that was going to get me, then I beat it by seven years.  Knowing that such a close relative had it made me feel more justified than ever in making this difficult choice to undergo preventive surgeries.

After I had found all the information I could, including her Facebook page and email address, I decided I wanted to contact her.  Much like I was when I started this post, I sat there staring at the screen because how do you tell someone, “Hi there! I’m your daughter!”?  I was finally happy with what I had to say and I sent it off to every email address I could find, hoping I would get the right one.  One day went by.  Then two.  After three, I couldn’t decide if she was ignoring me on purpose or if she really wasn’t getting the message.  After a week of no response, my husband, God bless him, volunteered to call her as my intermediary because I just couldn’t do it and we figured it might take some of the pressure off of her to have a middle man.  It went to voicemail and after 24 hours, we got no response.  At this point I was angry.  In my mind, I was being ignored and that was just cruel.  I told my husband that at this point, she could tell me to go away, I just wanted a response.

A day later, I got my wish.  She sent my husband a text, but what she had to say was not what I had spent my life expecting to hear.  I always expected her to be overjoyed to hear from me and that she would want to know what I was like as a grown up.  Well, that was not the case.  She told my husband that she did not want to communicate with me and the she insisted I not contact her children as they didn’t know of my existence and that I should not contact her as she would reach out if she ever felt ready.  Oh and tell “your wife” that I am BRCA positive so she should get tested.  Well… thanks.  Apparently in the adoption world this is called “secondary rejection” because the biological parent is rejecting you for the second time.  Even though her response was cold and insensitive and an absolute kick in the gut, deep down I actually understood where she was coming from, but it didn’t make it any easier.

So where does that leave me now?  Heartbroken obviously, but all I wanted was a response and she gave me one, even if it wasn’t to me directly and it wasn’t the one I was hoping for.  I am sad that I won’t get to know my brothers.  I tell myself every day that she didn’t reject me but the memory of a time in her life that was very difficult and she was not ready to revisit.  I tell myself that at least now I have closure and I can stop wondering if she was out there.  All of this happened while my kids were on a trip with my parents.  When they came home I gave them an extra big hug and while I am trying to be understanding, a big part of me doesn’t understand how you can turn away your child, no matter how long it had been since you last saw them.  As a mother myself, I can’t imagine being so detached from one of my children.  I also can’t imagine having to give up a baby, so I can never know what it takes to cope with those feelings or what it does to your state of mind once that child resurfaces.  One thing I do know is that while my biological mother might not want to talk to me, the mom and dad who matter the most have been incredibly supportive through all of this.  I am surrounded by people who love me and that will always be enough.

One Month Later

Here we are! I never thought the one month mark would get here.  This month has definitely been the most challenging I’ve ever faced and it has gone both slow and fast at the same time.  I re-read my last post, which was written right after surgery and I have to apologize to those of you who are reading this and have yet to go through your mastectomies.  I really did not mean it to sound so scary and harsh and I am here to tell you that no matter what, it does get better.  Now that I have had a little more than four weeks to heal and attempt to get back to normal, I wanted to give some tips so that you won’t lose your sanity and so that you can stay as pain free as possible.

  1. Support.  This is absolutely number one on the list of things you NEED as you go through this.  I have a wonderful, devoted husband who tended to my every need and one tough, dedicated mama who stayed with us for a week to help in any way she could.  I am here to tell you that I would not have healed this well without them.  After surgery, I compared myself to having T-Rex arms because you really cannot move above the elbow.  However, if I needed a glass of water, a snack or the occasional chocolate treat, it magically appeared because my mom and husband were just that good.  My mom kept herself busy by picking up any slack in the house cleaning department and my husband learned to cook and make the perfect cup of coffee, even though he hates the stuff.  Then there were the kids to consider.  My dad and in-laws were rock stars in that department because while I was being taken care of, they were entertaining my kids and keeping them distracted so they weren’t worried about their mom.  So, we were a well oiled machine and not having to worry about anything helped immensely.
  2. Surgical Team.  This seems like it should be a given but I am going to mention it anyway.  My doctors, Dr. John Rimmer and Dr. David Lickstein truly are artists and a top team when they work together.  No matter who you choose to do your surgery, make sure that you are 100% comfortable and confident in them.  I knew I was in the best hands and never once worried.  At a short four weeks later, my incisions are barely visible and Dr Lickstein took what could have been a scary mastectomy reconstruction and made it look like a breast augmentation.  No woman going through this process actually wants her breasts removed, but looking down and being happy with the results once it’s finished definitely gives you peace of mind.
  3. Comfort.  If you take away one thing from this post it is this:  Don’t try to be a hero!  Stay ahead of the pain.  If you need the pain meds, take them.  Rest and let others take care of you.  As women, we want to get up and do things around the house, but you really need to rest if you want to heal without complications.  Finally, the one thing I could not live without were my Axilla-Pillas.  You will not want to put pressure on your incisions or drain sites, so these were with me 24-7.  Put them under your arms and keep them there.  I even slept with them.
  4. Mental Toughness.  Everyone talks about all the physical things you’ll go through, but this really is a mental game too.  First of all, this is not a boob job.  It is not exciting and I very much doubt that any of us want to be in this position.  You are doing this to save your life so there is that worry in the back of your mind until that clear pathology result comes back.  Tell yourself that you are a badass warrior and cancer will not take you down.  Sitting down inside all day will also start to get to you.  I don’t know about you, but I love being outside playing golf, riding horses, swimming in the ocean, etc.  The fact that you can’t do any of that will drive you nuts.  Do not sit inside your dark bedroom all day.  Open a window.  Go sit outside.  Do anything so that you don’t feel like a hermit.  Just having sunshine on your face helps tremendously.  Finally, do things to make you feel good.  At one week post op, my mom took me to get a pedicure and the day after that I went to the Blow Dry bar to have my hair done.  Pamper yourself in any way that you can, you definitely deserve it.
  5. Patience.  Here it is, the toughest thing to master through all of this.  Healing does not happen overnight, no matter how badly we want it to.  Be gentle with yourself and know that time is the only thing that will literally heal all wounds.  If you rush it, you will battle seromas under the skin like I did.  The more you aggravate things, the more fluid your body produces and the more you will have a giant needle aspirate fluid out of the breast.  I’m thankful every day that it finally resolved on its own.  At one month, I have been cleared for light exercise and I am getting better every day, but even now I can feel that I am still healing.  It feels great to be moving and exercising again, but I am having to take it very slow and use tiny, baby dumbbells even though I want those heavy barbells like everyone else.  Patience is not something I excel at, but I’ll get back to where I was eventually.

And that’s it in a nutshell!  This is a process that has tested my sanity, but there hasn’t been one second that I have regretted my decision and that is the biggest point I want to make.  This pain is temporary, but peace of mind lasts forever.