By DENENE MILLNER

I found the papers when I was 12 in a metal box tucked under my parents' bed. I wasn't supposed to be snooping all through their personal belongings; my mother had put a lock on her door, presumably to keep my brother and I from dipping into her stash of moon pies and using her pricy, smelly lotions, and discovering her and my dad's copy of The Joy of Sex. But kids are experts at getting into stuff and finding the hidden, and that little flimsy lock was no match for the wits of a curious preteen and her big brother. If we wanted to see it, it was going to get seen.

But this? This I wasn't ready for.

BABY GIRL…
DENENE MILLNER
HEREYBY FORMALLY ADOPTED ON THIS DAY

My fingers trembled as I brought the paper closer to my face as if the words would magically morph into something wholly different if I just stared at them a little harder, a little longer, a little bit more closely to my 20/20s. But the words just wouldn't change.

And then, suddenly, it felt like someone had fired buckshot into my chest. The shock was almost unbearable: My mom and dad weren't my mom and dad. My brother? Not my brother, either. None of them by blood, anyway.

To this day, I can't tell you how I got those papers back into the metal box, how I pushed that metal back under their bed, how I convinced my legs to carry me out of their room and shut the door and lock it back and act like I'd never seen those papers.

How I managed to keep their secret my secret for all those years.

For years more than 20 years I refused to acknowledge my adoption or tell my parents I knew they'd adopted me. At first it was because I was scared they'd be mad at me for snooping, but as I grew older, that morphed into my need to protect their privacy. Maybe they didn't want to explain to everyone coming and going why they didn't have biological babies together, or where they found me, or why my birth parents gave me up. Maybe, I reasoned, my mom and dad feared I would search for the people who abandoned me on the stoop of that New York City orphanage that I would find them and, in turn, reject the two people who didn't give me blood, but who truly gave me life.

I couldn't do that to them. To me. To us. Though my birth parents deserve praise for birthing me and having the courage to love me enough to give me away, my parents get the glory for raising me, educating me, supporting me, disciplining me, and loving me beyond measure and doing it with an enormous amount of grace and wisdom. Despite the odds. With little money. And no help. Just them.

And love.

No, there was no need to find the birth parents it didn't even occur to me to do so. Not until, that is, I became pregnant with my first baby.

Not knowing, you see, wreaked havoc on my health history, which, because I don't know who my birth parents are, is basically non-existent. From the time I've been old enough to go to the doctor on my own, I've been forced to leave the family history part of the stacks of first-visit papers blank, which always leads to a really awkward opening conversation with my doctors, who realize pretty early on that they'll have to treat whatever is ailing me without the extremely valuable family health history tools they need to figure out what might be causing my health problems. I haven't a clue if cancer runs in my family, or diabetes, or weight problems hypertension, stroke, gout. You name it, it could be lurking, waiting to claim me, and I will have no clue until it taps me on the shoulder and goes to work on my system.

This was most glaring while I was pregnant; neither of my ob-gyns had the valuable information they needed to help me figure out health risks for my pregnancy and, more important, my children. They knew Nick's family's health and were able to keep an eye out for specific Chiles family issues. But my side of it was the big unknown you might as well have crossed an X across my paperwork.

And this disturbed me greatly.

I couldn't change this in time enough for my pregnancies, and while I still have no interest in finding out who my birth parents are (wouldn't be able to anyway, seeing as she/he/they left me on a stoop in the middle of Manhattan) I do wish that the government would change laws to at least allow adopted kids access to their health history, even if their adoption records are sealed tighter than Ft. Knox.

This doesn't and shouldn't be your story if you know who your birth parents are you're looking to get pregnant or are pregnant. For sure, all you have to do to gather up your family health history is to start asking questions. Ask your mother and father who has/had what in their family; hit up your aunties and uncles at the next family reunion; quiz your cousins at the next barbeque. Your play aunties might even have some info might know what your granddaddy's brother might have had when he passed on.

Then take that information and write it down. The March of Dimes is a fantastic resource for info on the importance of family history, and has on its website a downloadable family health questionnaire to help walk you through the information you should be gathering. Take a look at what the March of Dimes has to say about the importance of genetic testing, too, to help you see into your baby's health future.

I didn't have this option.

You do.

Please, don't take it for granted.

For more information on family history, genetic testing, and pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and newborn care, please check out the March of Dimes website. This blog post was donated by MyBrownBaby to the March of Dimes as part of its March of Dimes Moms initiative.

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18 Comments

  1. Oh wow, thank you for sharing this very personal story. I am without words. I do agree on the importance of knowing the history of your birth parents. You were really brave to keep that secret for so long and I totally understand why you did it.

  2. oh sweet girl…what a difficult discovery on your part. it’s a different time now and i’m so glad we were able to keep our adoptions open and try to get all the info we can for the kiddos. the fam history is tough though. when the doc’sw ask me questions about fam history, i always tell them, “oh, you know i have had…” then they always have to remind me that i’m not the bio mom. crazy!

    i applaud you for this sharing and i couldn’t agree with you more on the health history. my bro has NONE either and it looks like he’s got some things to battle, which would be easier with some history.

  3. Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal story. My own daughter came to our family through adoption. We do not have an extensive medical history to share with her. The info just isn’t there. It does make for interesting dr. visits.

  4. Wow, touching story. I have family members that were given up for adoption and I always wonder what the future may bring for them. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Wow, amazing story and incredible testament to the deep love your family has provided you. Great reminder that I personally need to take more heed to. My grandmother shared so much about her and her sisters’ medical history that no one had ever spoke on- I need to chronicle these things for the future.

  6. Wonderful post as always. You never cease to amaze me with your ability to tell your story. Just when I think I know a little about you, BAM! Here comes another layer that makes you uniquely you.

    Tara
    http://theyoungmommylife.com

  7. A very valuable message, but I have to tell you that it was the middle of your post that hit my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I pray every single day that my unbelievably amazing adopted brown daughter will feel this way about us as a young adult.

  8. What a powerful post! I tell you, women just never cease to amaze me! How Betty Badazz are you for taking a story of uncertainty and looming questions, and turning it into a post about self-empowerment through the simple process of asking questions and using available resources!! You should add, “andWhat?!” to the end of your name, but you have to make people say it real gangsta! Befitting, isn’t it?

  9. MBB Founder and Editor Denene Millner

    My God, Execumama–you CRACK ME UP!!!! I’m on the floor over here, seriously. Thank you, love, for the kind, funny, empowering words! Yes, gangsta is mos def befitting. There is no other way, is there?!

  10. MBB Founder and Editor Denene Millner

    And anymommy: If you’re even a quarter of the mom in real life that you are in your blog life, your brownbaby is going to be so very grateful for the life you’re creating for her, and especially your love, which just sparkles brighter than a thousand stars whenever you write about her. She is blessed. So are you.

  11. This is so true. I only learned of my paternal family history after my dad died. Diabetes runs wild on that side, as well as my mother’s side.

    Thanks for sharing your story. You light the way for us all =)

  12. What an amazing post. As always, thanks for giving us a little of you and empowering your readers. You know that our sisterhood goes way beyond marriage!

  13. BRAVO!

    I loved this post. Not just for the sharing, but it simply is well written. Wow, the things we encounter and discover as children: starts innocently, but changes our lives forever. Well done and thank you so much for sharing Denene.
    I respect your decision to keep your parents confidence, thats a testament to your love for them. Theyve done a great job raising you.

    Peace,
    Thomas

  14. Well lady, imagine growing up all of your life thinking your Grandmother is your mom. I found out when I was about 11 that this woman I called Mom was really my Granmother. Long story but now I am close with both of them and consider myself blessed that I have two mothers.

    I’m sure you will share this with your children when the time is right.

  15. Sheena @ Mommy Daddy Blog

    I applaud you for sharing this story! I always go by my mom’s side of the family since Papa was a rolling DEADBEAT!

    I seriously love how you contributed to March Of Dimes in this post. WOW. Never seen it done this way before. Usually when I read an entry supporting a cause, if not in the title already..they dive right in to the purpose. You pulled me in and I love that.

  16. Wow! Thanks so much for sharing this info. I’m half adopted but I’ve been in touch with my biological half sister and grandmother and found a few things that run in my family blood line.

    I’m really interested in the March of Dimes now too! Thanks SO much for sharing!

  17. I know a little how you feel. My mom was adopted from Germany after WWII. My grandma walked in and said “I’ll that that one” and that was it. It would be nice to have some health history but it makes us extra diligent to get our annual exams and screenings.

  18. I can't imagine how difficult that would have been, I grew up with my mom and had very little contact with my dad until I was 25. Family is what its all about and such a strong foundation when done right but just the opposite if not. Thanks for sharing.

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