I don’t know how old I was when I realized my father was adopted. It wasn’t hidden knowledge, nor was it brain surgery to deduct that a Germanic looking man would not be born into a family of Southern Italians. Fair and blue eyed, my father was adopted when he was three weeks old. It wasn’t that it was a taboo subject, but more a basic understanding that questions about my father’s adoption be avoided in front of my grandmother, so ya, taboo.
Because of this, his adoptive past turned into a Pandora’s Box, one I wanted to open, but not at the expense of my grandmother. I wasn’t searching for a family I wished I had; on the contrary, I don’t think I could have been blessed with a better set of grandparents. What I felt was a healthy curiosity and a sense of being disconnected from my gene pool. This wouldn’t be a betrayal, as my grandmother may have feared, it was information gathering. Throughout my childhood, I fantasized about where my father was from, who his parents were, why he was given away, what they looked like, what their medical history was, and what, if anything, there was to learn from the people who were my relatives.
I also had the occasional thought that one of my kids could end up marrying their first cousin. So there was that. Ick.
Not long after my grandmother passed away, I asked my grandfather about my father, and with as much description as he could recall, he shared his story about the day they drove from Massachusetts to Maine to collect their son. He described how frightened and excited, how fortunate and blessed they were that God had given them a child that they couldn’t have on their own. I think it gave my grandfather a sense of comfort to tell the adoption story because when I asked about the birth mother’s name, he knew it off the top of his head, like he’d been waiting for someone to ask. That day, I had been given enough information to begin a process that would take me 14 years to complete.
In 1994, before social media simplified finding folks on the internet, I manually gathered what information I could, writing down names and phone numbers of potential relatives. The only lead I had to go by was the birth mother’s name. I found the name through directory services and, without a practiced speech at the ready, braved up the courage and dialed the phone number. Busy signal. After a half hour of redialing, I placed the phone back on the receiver and told myself this was a sign, that it wasn’t meant to be and that maybe: I would inadvertently hurt someone by contacting them, my bio fam was psychotic, if he was given away, then “we” were given away for a reason, and maybe I should leave well enough alone. My interest in my gene pool had peaked and plummeted, and I tucked away my bio fam’s information, telling myself that someday, if the timing were right, I’d try again.
My inquisitive personality craves facts, making it impossible to let go of a project I’ve begun to research. Sometimes weird events happen that propel you to continue on, informing you that it’s not yet time to give up, that it’s okay to delve into the unknown, even if it feels murky and uncertain. Here’s the weird: My brother, who possesses a strong instinctual nature, was visiting my parents this past October. From what I understand, he was at the computer, and for no apparent reason, asked my father what his bio mom’s name was. When he Googled her, an obituary appeared explaining that she had died just two weeks earlier. Reading the blurb off the Internet caused me to Google further until I found another obituary, one with a photo. At first blush, I could see my father’s blue/gray eyes, square jaw, and wide smile. I studied her photo for quite some time, disappointment washing over me that time had run out, that I had missed the opportunity to meet her. I asked her what she wanted me to do with this new knowledge, and waited for that photo to speak to me.
And it did. The news of her death reignited my desire to find my biological family, and my super sleuth skills were set into action…
…okay, right here, I kind of want to boast about being all Sherlock Holmes with mad deductive reasoning, but FYI, anything can be found at the click of a mouse, provided you know where to hunt, and I’m a pretty good bird-dog.
The obituary told me who my relatives were. I wrote down the names of her living siblings and searched for other living relatives on all social media sites I was connected to, investigating anyone with the same surname as my biological grandmother. I looked for babies born the same month and year as my father, and queried local town halls asking where I could gain access to original birth certificates.
From what my grandfather told me, and from looking at the ages of the relatives I could find, I determined that my best bet would be to contact the biological aunt, who was somewhere in her late 70?s. My only hesitation was that she may not have been aware of my father or of the adoption, and that I would shock her. Or give her a heart attack. Or something awful would happen and a can of worms would open that I wouldn’t be able to close. It took another two weeks to dredge up the nerve, and if weren’t for the support of my best friend, Agnes, holding my hand (literally) I never would have found the courage.
Calling the sister of my biological grandmother felt like this: guarded, shaky, fearful, like I’d just sprinted down the street breathless and on caffeine, tongue tied, simultaneously projecting the best and worst outcomes.
Here’s what happened: The carefully planned out explanation that I had written down and rehearsed with Agnes didn’t matter. The aunt trusted that I was who I said I was, and before I could launch into an explanation of why I was calling, said to me, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
It was eerie, like in the movies: “I’ve been waiting all my life for you, what took you so long, finally, you’ve come to me.”
Do you have the chills yet?
My Great Aunt’s name was Janet, and she connected me to my father’s sister, Aunt Pat. I gave Pat my father’s phone number and within a couple of weeks, he met his two sisters for the first time. What he learned was that his mother loved him, his existence was known in the family, circumstances led her to give her son up for adoption, and that for the rest of her life, she mourned the loss of him.
A few weeks ago, I meet my Aunt Pat, Aunt Anne, and Cousin Mary. I was greeted with warmth and hugs. We shared photos and noted resemblances in features among relatives. At no time did it feel awkward or uncomfortable. Surreal, yes, but also a sense of connection to a long lost family.
Facts I discovered along the way: My maternal grandmother and my father’s bio mom were born on the same day of the same exact year. According to records, my biological great grandparents are buried in a cemetery with the same surname (Bruno) as my father’s adoptive parents. My father has two biological sisters; their first names combined equal my mother’s first and middle names (Patricia Ann), and my father and his biological sister were born a year apart and a day apart in the month of May.
I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe that if you pay attention, you’re directed to where you’re supposed to land. It’s the paying attention part that always foils us humans.
Was my brother unwittingly a channel for my biological grandmother? Did she get the ball rolling because she wanted to reunite her family? Did she speak to me through her photo, guiding me to make the calls I needed to make?
I believe she did.
For three weeks, Danny wasn’t looking himself. I went through the mother’s checklist: no fever, no stomachache, ear, tooth, or body aches, and no sore throat. No swollen glands, no sign of infection on his skin. I couldn’t put my finger on why Danny didn’t look good, but it was the kind of not good that triggers the maternal panic button. A perpetual bullet of activity, his desire to hang out with friends diminished, and when questioned, he stated he was too tired. The best I can describe it, he looked “mystery virus” worn out. To pacify myself, I felt his forehead often and continually asked if he was feeling ill.
Later that week, my husband, Danny, and I headed to my daughter’s apartment in Amherst, where we were looking forward to a five day vacation and a two day lacrosse tournament that Danny was participating in. We walked through town and stopped at an ice cream parlor. After drinking a large smoothie, Danny complained that his back hurt, and when I touched it, he winced in discomfort. Once again, I went through the laundry list of potential ailments, and wondered if it wasn’t his appendix, but no fever and no pain in that area. I went to bed the kind of unsettled you get when your kid is so sick you want to sleep next to them with your hand on their chest so that you can feel it rise and fall. The next morning, I woke to what I’ll forever refer to as my ‘God moment’. What if it’s diabetes? I promptly phoned my girl Sonia, whose son was diagnosed two years ago.
“Is he drinking a lot?”
“The other day, he downed a half gallon of orange juice in one gulp.”
“Is he eating a lot?”
“Is he peeing a lot?”
“He’s mentioned having to get up a couple times a night,” I said, worried the symptoms were too close for comfort.
“Is he tired? Lost weight?”
“He looks like the walking dead, and yes, he looks thinner. This past week, he’s complained of blurry vision. I was going to call the eye doctor on Monday.”
“Okay,” Sonia said calmly. “I’m not saying that it is diabetes, but if you told a doctor what you just told me, they’d be taking his blood sugar. I think you ought to get him checked out, like now.”
Flash forward to the urgent care center.
“His blood sugar is at 587,” said the nurse’s assistant.
“That’s damn high,” I replied, feeling the room spin.
“Yeah, it is,” he said, and left to get the doctor, who promptly called an ambulance.
Within the half hour, we were at Baystate Medical Center, where Danny was stabilized. From there, we were sent to Children’s Hospital for a two day stay where we were given lessons on my son’s diagnosis, Type I Diabetes.
You know how when a diagnosis is given to you or a loved one and your brain tries to skirt the issue?
That’s what my brain did. I wanted it to be anything else – mono, appendicitis – something that would be a temporary pain in the ass, not a lifelong hindrance.
I questioned my son’s diagnosis to every nurse or doctor that entered the room. I told them that perhaps the diagnosis was made in error, that maybe it could be something else. Danny was on prednisone for poison ivy and that does elevate blood sugar, which could, I argued, give a false reading.
It wasn’t until I was sitting across from the diabetic counselor that his diagnosis sunk in.
“I keep thinking the prednisone is giving a false reading,” I said.
“Not likely. Prednisone can elevate blood sugar, but not to 587,” she replied.
“But it could be,” I pressed.
She looked me in the eye and said, “I wish I could say otherwise. Listen up, there is nothing else this could be but diabetes.”
For a solid month, my husband and I ran on automatic pilot. Our job was to check Danny’s blood sugar 4 to 5 times a day, including in the middle of the night. We administered two kinds of insulin, one during the day, and one for bedtime. There were calculations that involved carb counting, meaning my lifelong aversion and fear of math promptly came to an end.
A month into his diagnosis, here’s how I felt when hit with the realization that my child had an illness, which if not treated properly, would threaten his existence: like the pointy end of a spear hit me center gut. It was a long summer of sleepless nights, daily learning, doctor appointments, blood tests, and more follow up appointments. I felt irritated when well meaning folks told me that diabetes wasn’t a big deal, that one can live a long and happy life. Studies have shown that men with Type I lose about 11 years of life expectancy compared to men who don’t have the disease. This is because it affects major organs in your body, including heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. One doctor told me, “How you treat your body will determine whether you live to fifty or to seventy.”
Anger at the lack of control I had over this disease, and the fear of losing him was like a constant background noise in my head, and I thought about his well-being all day. It took some time before I realized that I no longer needed to think like a person in crisis mode. This wasn’t my disease, it was my son’s. I was looking at it from a mother’s perspective, and I was mourning the death of his beta cells. Losing his beta cells was losing a part of my son, but it wasn’t losing my son.
Danny understands his diagnosis is not something to take lightly and has proven to be amazingly resilient, faring much better than my husband or I have. He’s also developed a level of maturity I hadn’t expected. It took under a month for him to take over the regimen, and now he’s the supervisor of his diabetes, and his family a team of coworkers.
Sonia has been my go-to guru, who I’ve called with a multitude of questions and/or observations, one of which is the confusion between Type I and Type II, two unrelated diseases.
“It can be frustrating at times. People don’t understand that Type I isn’t about sugar. It’s not about cutting out one food item or one food group. It’s about every food group, and accounting for just about everything you put in your mouth. It’s not like cheating on a diet where there’s a Monday morning do-over. Type I isn’t a diet you can break,” said Sonia.
Over the summer, a friend noticed Danny checking his blood sugar.
“You’re being very responsible,” she commented.
“I have to be, or I’ll die,” he replied.
Fair statement, and as morose as it sounds, it’s something I would like him to always remember.
Although I have my moments, we don’t talk about diabetes like it’s a bad thing; we consider it more of a nuisance. We try not to micromanage, but do keep an eye on his numbers. The initial fear that he was going to go into a coma with the littlest sway of his glucose has vanished, replaced by knowledge and time, and witnessing how well he has taken care of himself. I’ve even stopped trying to talk him into getting “Type I” tattooed on the inside of his wrist so he never has to worry about forgetting his bracelet.
This is my new normal: “How was your day did you check your blood sugar?”
This is Sonia’s: “Hi, run your number.”
I’ve considered celebrating the death of his betas (of which I’m sure I’ll be the sole participant) to commemorate the ending and beginning of this lifelong journey. Maybe I’ll even sport a diabetic mom tee shirt, or be one of those people who post diabetic things on my social media wall. I recently started browsing Pinterest for diabetic posts, some of which have made me giggle. When I showed Danny the diabetic humor like it was our inside joke, he rolled his eyes and said, “Momm, you don’t have diabetes, I do.”
Crash course in Type I Diabetes
This is a high level overview of the way we process food: You eat, glucose passes into the bloodstream, and insulin is released, which regulates your blood sugar. Now onto Type I diabetes.
Type 1 is an autoimmune disease, meaning that, for reasons unknown, the body, thinking it’s its own enemy, attacks itself. What this means for a Type I diabetic is that the body attacks and destroys insulin producing cells called beta cells. Beta cells will not repair, and new ones will not be produced. Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and so is the body’s ability to produce insulin. Because of this, a Type I diabetic will need insulin via an external source in order to live.
End of course
Want more info? Visit this site.http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/
For six years, I ran at five-forty-five in the morning. Three years into the six, I added two days of sculpting classes at five-thirty in the morning. When I turned 40, I began getting lower back pain that would last for an hour after a run. I ignored it, not the best laid plan.
When I told my chiropractor that I wanted to run despite the pain, do you know what he said?
He said, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but you don’t have a runner’s build. The human body is meant to self-destruct, and running in and of itself wears the body down. You may want to try another route of exercise.”
Moving forward a month: I’m doing yoga core work, feeling stronger, walking two miles per day. I want something more. I need something more. I need to flail. I have runner’s itch, but am not a fan of perpetual ice packs and Motrin.
You know how you’re in a funk where you just don’t know what to do and you hope for a sign, some sort of direction? Enter my friend, Marie. Marie had started taking Zumba classes and was thrilled with the results. She loved it so much that she worked herself up to four classes a week and even purchased Zumba dance shoes. Well, if Marie thought that highly of it that was enough for me.
For those of you unfamiliar with Zumba, it’s a type of dance that blends Latin rhythms with dance steps. Sometimes the music is fast, sometimes it’s slow, but you’re always shaking your booty. And I mean shaking it. A few of my girlfriends were also interested, and we all signed up for a Tuesday evening class. I met my girl Wendi outside of the building where we both admitted to performance butterflies. We entered a large, spacious gym with no mirrors where 35 or so women were gathered, all ready to express themselves through dance. By the end of the first dance class, I was sure I was going to pass out. By the second class, my Zumba reservations had all but disappeared. Here’s how it went: Key music. I’m throwing my hands up in the air singing along with the song Dynamite by Taio Cruz. I’m feeling the groove. Feeling the love. My money maker is shaking up a storm. The music switches gears from Latin to African to hip hop. I’m no longer a stiff-hipped white woman. I’m a devil-may-care Latina beauty. I’m an African Queen. I’m John Travolta’s dance partner in Saturday Night Fever. Remember the Solid Gold Dancers? I’m the lead dancer! I’m the boss of hip hop ~ dare I say a pro hip hop dancer?
Yes, I dare.
I had no idea I could bust a move like this. I think I’m skinnier than I imagine myself to be because man, I’m like the wind! We’re back to me with my hands in the air saying AYO, gotta let go. Grapevine, hip thrust left, hip thrust right, hip circles and clap. Here we go, two steps up, two steps back, hip circles, clap and step and…and so it went. I caught glimpses of my friends biting their lips or sticking out their tongues in concentration. Not to compare, but they were a bit rigid. I think I had better range. After all, I did dance throughout my childhood. I felt a slight pity towards their inability to pick up the moves as quickly as I did, but hey, not everyone is an African Queen trapped in a white woman’s body.
Fast forward: I’m driving home in a satisfying sweat, the kind you get from healthy overexertion. I enter my abode in high spirits, walk to my laptop, and You Tube Dynamite so I could bust Zumba moves in front of my full length mirror. Key music, and…
Oh. My. God. Something is horribly wrong with my mirror. My mirror sucks.
I’m not seeing an African Queen or a Latina beauty. And whose ass is that? Certainly doesn’t belong to me. My hips were definitely moving ~ in a devil-may-care special needs way. Oh, how to describe: uncontrolled, spastic at times, doing the overbite thing, and sort of, but not really, in time with the music. Oh boy. I had myself on Dancing With the Stars and now I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t qualify if there was a town-wide dance contest held in the Zumba gym and three people showed up.
Yeah, so…I return for my third Zumba class thinking maybe I should tone it down a bit. Control my moves. I’m still not sure it’s great for my groove thang anyway; this is merely a trial class. Key music. Dynamite comes on. I’m overtaken by both the dance bug and my natural disposition for “more”. Suddenly it doesn’t matter to me that I’m sucking in my lips in concentration and missing every third step. We’re all too busy trying to follow the instructor to look at each other anyway. Before I know it, my hands are in the air like they’re possessed. I’m singing AYO, gotta let go.
And for the rest of the class, that’s exactly what I did.