Our Given Name

by JoAnne on March 3, 2016

They must have known I lost my name and wrote this clever, fun book for once-little girls just like me. Maybe I could write my own book :). I believe when society includes the word “adoption” to a child’s less-than-perfect beginnings, it somehow is supposed to always make the story have a happier ending.

As an adult, I asked my adoptive mother who named me. Strangely, she flat-out refused to tell me. I asked the doctor who delivered me and who, as my hospital birth records show, I was discharged to late in the evening, “Why is it that your wife’s nickname is Jo and your daughter’s name is Ann, yet my adoptive mother won’t tell me who named me?” He also answered me like he was holding all the cards, “I am not going to tell you!”

A few years after his death, I asked his daughter named Ann, “Your father said that he took several babies home for an adoption agency. Do you remember him taking me home?” (She would have been a teenager at the time). Miraculously, she did partly answer my question in a cordial phone message. “I asked my older sister and to the best of our recollection dad never brought any babies home from the hospital. I will talk with the nurse he worked with for many years and get back to you.”
Guess what? She never did, even when I sent her a brief follow-up letter a few months later. The adoption agency refuted her father’s claims as well, and the director added that they had nothing to do with my placement in the first place.

So in the meantime, one of my adoptive aunts who, still to this day, knows nothing about the ridiculous tug-of-war I had to endure while attempting to find even simple answers to what I believe most of us take for granted, “What significance did naming me JoAnne have to someone or anyone for that matter?” One day, out of the blue, this aunt mentions that my adoptive mother was close to one of my grandmother’s extended family and supposedly that relative had a baby named JoAnne who passed away. It was important to me to find this mystery baby in old genealogy records, but I never did :(. It would have certainly felt less empty than it does now if I learned I had been named after a precious child whose life was cut short, rather than this other nonsense.
My birth certificate still has no name.



Two mothers

by JoAnne on January 25, 2016

I am assuming she must have done something very bad. However, for a brief moment that we made eye contact as two mothers, it didn’t matter.

While sitting in the waiting room at the hospital on the day my first grandchild was born, I noticed what appeared to be a number of uniformed officers asking for permission to go back and forth through the locked area to Labor/Delivery. I didn’t give it much thought why security seemed to be so tight that day in a safe place where new life is welcomed into this world.

Looking over at the door each time it would beep, to see if my son-in-law was there to proudly announce the birth of our grandson, it took a minute to register the surreal scene that was playing out before us.

An ashen-faced young woman was being pushed out in a wheelchair by one of those big burly uniformed officers and surrounded by at least three other men dressed like prison guards. Still in a hospital gown with flip-flops and shackled at the ankles, it was clear to me, she had just given birth to a baby.

For a brief moment, this prisoner and I made eye contact. It wasn’t a look to kill but rather one of such hopelessness in her sad eyes. As a mother with daughters of my own, I knew even for that quick second she was feeling a tremendous loss from her poor choices. She could have committed the most heinous of crimes that would make me wonder how we could ever forgive evilness, but what I saw that day was a human being … a mother who had just given birth to her own child.

I will pray each year on my precious grandson’s birth not only for him but that this young woman was able to turn her life around and be a mother to her child. If not, I hope that her baby will be able to see one day like I did — a human being — despite her flaws.

prison pregnancy


Take Your Pick

by JoAnne on January 7, 2016


When I was searching for my birth father, the old-timers mentioned three separate names as possibilities. None of the people I contacted seemed to be positive about who my mother, a lonely miner’s wife with three older children, was having a relationship with during the time period I would have been conceived.

My first preference: Mr. Nice Writer guy because, of course, writing is one of my favorite things. 2. The well-respected Mayor who was married to the embarrassing town drunk. 3. A very bright geologist whose sometimes poor choices in life weren’t always quite as impressive.

I had no intention of finding my half-sibling’s father instead. Ten months after my birth, my birth mother found herself with another unplanned pregnancy. She and number 2. (the Mayor) as it turns out placed my younger birth brother for adoption. Apparently, the proud Mayor always knew who his son was and watched from afar his career and achievements that, amazingly, had paralleled his own. I am still holding this information close to my heart in case my birth brother ever wants to know.

Yes, I was a little disappointed … my birth father was my last choice: the geologist. He had supposedly turned his life around and unfortunately, passed away just a couple of years before I started searching for him. I wanted to ask him to please put his name on my birth certificate as one of the few pieces of truth in my adoption story.

But, I am still trying to find the connection that one of my birth relatives has to be some great author. If not, I will keep telling my birth parent’s stories to show that sadly, life really hasn’t changed that much from then to now when it comes to the definition of “faithfulness.”

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Outside the Lines

by JoAnne on January 1, 2016

As a young girl, I can’t remember spending any time being creative. I am not even sure I ever had a box of crayons or a coloring book. Our home only had oils paintings displayed of the magnificent Grand Tetons, where my parents often escaped alone on vacation.

Part of me was afraid in school that I would color outside the lines. I didn’t want anyone to know that I couldn’t even cut straight; my favorite childhood doll’s bangs were proof. However, when I was in the fourth grade, I remember drawing the most beautiful cherry tree. I was so proud of my artwork. I wished I had saved the sweet memory.

Always in the back of my mind over the years has been “my prize masterpiece.” The branches on my beautiful artwork became even more full and defined as I watched my daughters’ blossom.

My oldest daughter, Tracy was born with a crayon wrapped around her precious little fingers. She has taught me that there are more than 8 colors of crayons. Tracy loved to plaster our walls with her special gifts and filled neighbor’s mailboxes with love-note drawings. With her vivid imagination, she could make some wonderful children’s books. I’ve always tried to encourage and embrace her creativity.

Shortly before my long-time close friend passed away in 2008, I surprisingly received a box of pastels in the mail with the words, “It’s okay Annie Jo to draw outside the lines!”

In 2016, I will …



Never Shut Yourself Off

by JoAnne on December 30, 2015

Back when I was a freshman in high school, I lived with a family far away from our new home. Long story, but it wasn’t because of anything I had done wrong. The truth is that my parents didn’t want to be bothered with raising children. Well, this family I ended up amazingly living with (strangers to my parents) turned out to be these wonderful human beings. They made such a positive impact on my life. Even as an adult, up until their deaths, this family was a buoy when life got so sad and confusing. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt they would have adopted me, especially if they had known nobody did.

The family shared, from their perspective, how they saw me as a hard-to-read teenager. They said my mother had bought me such beautiful clothes, but I had very few personal belongings. And what little I had for being from a rich family I held close to me, as if I feared someone might take them away.

The woman I called “mother of affection” said she had asked me to show her where I had lived before our family moved down to Southern CA. At first, I wouldn’t, but when I finally did, I still remember what I was feeling at that time, but couldn’t put into words. The home represented a mansion of emptiness to me compared to what this family had given me in the short time I had spent living with them. For some reason, I felt ashamed. This family said I was very respectful when I’d talk about my parents and would say how much they must have loved me, while at the same time, share stories about my upbringing that would even make outsiders wonder how anyone could define it as love. I would often say, “it hurts” with no modifier when I would describe my feelings about something that had nothing to do with my parents or family.

Shortly before one of the sisters who I had lived from that loving family back in high school passed away on 12/29/2008 from an aggressive form of breast cancer, she sent me an e-mail in the middle of the night. For awhile there, it was too painful to read her poignant letter. But no matter how gravely ill she was towards the end of her life, my friend wanted me to remember this always, “I celebrate that you have never shut yourself off from your heart. That’s a bit of a miracle, a bit of Grace.”

When I became a part of her family is the first time I felt truly loved. I am thinking about you today my friend, not with sadness and regrets, but rather with fondness for the many happy memories.

Cathie's heart


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My Most-Deeply Moving Gift for 2015

by JoAnne on October 16, 2015

Heart of the Rose

I received a wonderful surprise in the mail from my 94-year-old aunt by adoption. My aunt gave me a replacement copy of a cherished book that she had randomly sent me as a gift back when I was a teenager. Her words from the heart in a hand-written letter on the inside cover mean the world to me. I truly believe I missed out on knowing this kind and loving woman as part of my family.

I have fond memories of my aunt from back when I was a child and I stayed with her “big” family through the difficult times in my adoptive mother and first adoptive father’s tumultuous marriage. I am grateful that my mother’s four sisters and my grandmother had at one time been “anchors” in my confusing childhood that was filled with turmoil and many mixed messages. Unfortunately, after my parents’ divorce and my mother’s remarriage, I hardly ever saw my relatives again.

Our family lived two states away from the rest of our relatives and because we did not share in their religious beliefs we became the “black sheep family.” Over the years, I could only guess that this must have influenced/changed the way all of my aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins felt about me. Through my eyes, I thought it made me even more of an outsider because, in addition to all of this, I was also adopted.

Years ago, strangely, my parents refused to tell me why I didn’t have a birth certificate. While searching for answers to their disturbing silence, disappointedly, I ran into a never-ending trail of deception that began after I had been placed for adoption at birth. As it turned out, I discovered that my only birth certificate on file still listed me technically as my birth mother’s child. Judges in three different states where I had lived during my lifetime kept giving me sealed, incomplete courts records. Feeling betrayed under the disguise of adoption, I couldn’t find anyone to help me make sense out of all the lies and secrets.

I had no plans initially to try and locate my birth family, but I found myself needing to find my birth mother at that point, in hopes that she might be the one person that would keep it real with me. Sadly, I learned that my mother had been deceased since I was a little girl. Contacting my three birth siblings couldn’t fill the void in my heart either; my disruption only brought up old wounds.
The valuable lesson I’ve learned in my journey is to take the time to listen to those stories without happy endings and to listen without passing judgement.

My aunt’s uplifting letter in my replacement book amazingly spoke to the core of who I proudly am and how I choose to live my life, despite the losses and disappointments. Through my tears, I again see her as that anchor as I’ve struggled over the years with feeling worthy of being loved as someone’s niece, daughter, sister, granddaughter and cousin. Thank you for reconnecting with me my loving aunt and for having been such a positive role model in my life.

Your niece,

“God appreciates how you are using your gift and talents to make a difference in the world. You are my precious niece and I love you dearly.”

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Our Meant-to-Be Acquaintances

October 6, 2015

In my search for my birth father, regardless of all the time that had gone by, I found the majority of my inquiry phone calls and letters were well received. Many of the old-timers, who may have known my birth parent’s story had not strayed far from where my beginnings were written. One of the […]

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Say Something

July 29, 2015

You would think with both of my parents being in the medical profession (my stepfather a long-time medical doctor and my adoptive mother an RN for many years) that they would have already understood the subject that Alex Stavro wrote about in the article below. As it turns out, my stepfather actually had a whole […]

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Who would it be?

July 15, 2015

My younger birth brother, Joe :). Only 10 months after my birth, our mother learned she was pregnant with her fifth child. Married with three older children, I am thinking it would be fair to say she found herself in an unintended situation for the second time in a very short period of time. Both […]

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Sweet Determination

July 13, 2015

Before barely allowing me to get the words out in a sweet, cheerful voice, “Would you like to buy some Camp Fire mints?” the woman grumbled while slamming the door in my face. Hurrying back to the car, as a very young girl, I explained to my father that she must have just been having […]

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