A Tale of Three Adoptions

By Linda Brodlieb
Issue 139; November/December 2006

Illustration of adoptionThe letter came while I was at work and, rather than waiting for me to come home, my husband, Marc, called to tell me about this particular piece of mail. It was about our children, Alex and Sarah. The letter was written by a 12-year-old girl, Miranda, who claimed to be their younger sister. She was asking for permission to introduce herself to her siblings. I was speechless and, though I tried, I couldn’t manage to link two related thoughts together.

We had adopted our children at birth, but I no longer even thought of them as adopted. I don’t believe they did either. They were simply our children. But the two of them were, in fact, full blood siblings. Was it possible there was a third? And how did Miranda know of them when they knew nothing of her? None of this made any sense. Yet if what Miranda wrote was true, our children would have to be told, and it would be best if they heard the news from us first.

That evening, Marc and I put off any further discussion until after dinner, when Alex and Sarah went off to do their homework. Then, finally, we sat down to try to sort out our thoughts, and, for the first time, I read the letter myself. Miranda referred to her adoptive parents by name and spoke of them briefly, saying that her dad was a psychologist, her mom an elementary-school teacher. Her parents had always told her that she had a brother and sister and that one day she would meet them.

How could this be? All information regarding the adoption of our children had been ordered sealed by the court. Back then, in the early 1980s, this was standard procedure in the state of New York; most of the information relating to an adoption was kept under wraps. But what if Miranda was, indeed, a third sibling? And if she was, how did her adoptive parents know of a brother and sister, especially since we did not know of Miranda?

Perhaps Mr. Michaels, the attorney who had handled both of our adoptions, had told Miranda’s parents of other siblings. By now it was 10 p.m.; surely, Mr. Michaels wouldn’t still be in his office. Was he even still in practice? We hadn’t been in contact with him since Sarah’s birth, nearly 14 years earlier. Marc and I decided to call him first thing in the morning to see if he knew anything about a third child. Then we would contact Miranda’s parents. If there was any truth to this story, we would proceed from there. One thing was for sure: if Miranda was, in fact, our children’s sister, we would have to tell them as soon as possible.

That night as I tossed in bed, trying to get to sleep, I remembered a conversation Sarah and I had had years before, when she was four or five years old. We were in the bathroom talking about adopting things we loved—people, pets, even beliefs. Then, just as she was stepping into the tub, she turned to me and asked, “Mommy, how could the lady give two of her babies away?” The children, of course, knew they were blood siblings, but still, Sarah seemed too young to be making this kind of connection, or perhaps I was just naïve. Either way, I couldn’t help but worry now. What would the children deduce from learning that a third baby had been given away, and separately from her two siblings? The following day, Marc called Mr. Michaels. He listened to my husband recount the story, then admitted that he was aware of a third child born to the same woman. But he hadn’t handled that adoption; he had sold his practice to two women just before the child was born, and it was the birth mother who had told those attorneys of the two earlier births. Because the standard procedure was to try to keep siblings together, they had called Mr. Michaels asking for our address, which he had given them. Now he regretted that he hadn’t followed up on it—the two attorneys never contacted us. Mr. Michaels gave Marc the names and phone number of the attorneys and wished him luck.

Next, I called Miranda’s adoptive mother. As the phone rang, the thought occurred to me that she might think I was someone playing a prank. As it turned out, that was hardly the case. After introducing myself, I told her about the letter my husband and I had received from her daughter. Not in a million years could I have predicted her reaction. She was genuinely delighted, telling me so in six different ways and actually making me feel as if we were estranged family who had, at long last, been reunited. She and her husband had told Miranda about her brother and sister as soon as she was able to talk. Miranda, a wizard on the Internet, had located Alex and Sarah on her own.

Now that my husband and I knew that Miranda was, indeed, our own children’s sibling, we had to move quickly to make sure that we, not Miranda, were the ones to break the news. But it was not an opportune week to give them such momentous information. Alex was just finishing his sophomore year in high school, and Sarah was in eighth grade and about to graduate from middle school. Both were just beginning their final exams, so we decided to hold off a bit longer. After their last exam, we would tell the children about Miranda, the sister they never knew.

The day before their last exam, we told the kids we were calling a family meeting for the following evening after dinner. This triggered a barrage of questions: “Why?” “What’s it about?” “What do you want to tell us?” “Why can’t you tell us now?” “Please, please!”

We stuck to our guns, telling them to be patient, that we had something good to tell them, even though I had a hard time seeing it that way. I simply couldn’t share their enthusiasm. They reacted with such positive anticipation, but I felt as if I were leading lambs to the slaughter. I was worried and anxious, thinking only to protect them from life. I was concerned that Sarah would again begin wondering how a woman could give her babies away, and this time not two, but three. I couldn’t even imagine how Alex would feel: upset? angry? resentful? And perhaps I was being selfish in not wanting to share my family with another.

The next morning, bursting with nervous energy, I started the day, organizing my desk, paying bills, shopping for food, and tackling some chores I’d been putting off. Then, around midafternoon, I began to pace. Marc, on the other hand, was absorbed in a baseball game. I wanted to shake him. From the moment I’d gotten out of bed, I’d been in a state of perpetual motion. I couldn’t understand how he could just sit there, focused on a game, when I was jumping out of my skin. I supposed this was just his form of release. Suddenly, I heard Sarah’s voice, chattering away. A second later, she and Alex raced into the room, all their exams behind them.

By the time we’d finished dinner, the kids were so excited that I worried perhaps we’d made a mistake and created too much suspense. Maybe we should have taken a more relaxed approach. Then Marc nodded at me as if to say, “It’s OK.” Although my heart was beating furiously, I smiled as I handed the children Miranda’s letter.

Alex was the first to grab it. While he read, Sarah hung on his shoulder for leverage and attempted to stretch her head out farther than his, trying to speed-read right past him. Suddenly, she shrieked with delight. “Alex, we have a brother!” He started laughing. “No, dummy, we have a sister.” Sarah appeared to be disappointed, perhaps even a bit jealous. Next, we heard such phrases as “This is so cool!” and “I wonder what she’s like.” Not once did they stop to question how, or when, or anything. Then they ran toward the phone, yelling, “Let’s go call her!” A second later, they stopped, and I could hear Alex: “Well, maybe we should send her an e-mail.” Sarah, always anxious to please her brother, said, “Yeah, an e-mail would be better.” I had to laugh at their sudden shyness. They took off, then again came to a stop. Alex turned to Sarah and said, “Maybe we should just write her a letter.” Then they were gone.

Marc and I looked at each other and sighed with relief. Never could we have predicted their reaction. Like many parents, we had underestimated our children’s ability to welcome change and the unexpected turns life brings. We’d just have to wait and see how the situation would unfold. But one thing was clear: their innocence was not simple naïveté, but a wonderful openness to life. I had wanted to protect them from life, but they were ready to embrace it.

Miranda eventually became a valued addition to my children’s lives, and I learned how capable they were of teaching me an important lesson about life. Worrying about what might happen in life is wasted emotion. But anticipating the positive is an investment in happiness.

Linda Brodlieb received her BA, then entered master’s programs in social work and public health administration. After years of managing a health-care agency, she retired to raise her children and is now pursuing a writing career.