This is a heart-story that I wrote about my search and reunion with my birth mother, called, First Breaths:
In a bustling airport, I am walking toward a beautiful Aleut woman. She motions for me to stop and unrolls a paper sign that reads, Welcome Debbie. We come together and embrace. Behind closed eyes, I am no longer at the airport but back in my birth bed taking first breaths. Our hearts overflow through our eyes, and we hold each other in a way that denies a 23-year separation.
Like a laughing seed shedding tears, I draw in air of identity and breathe out shivered uncertainties of joy; exhilaration sends seed to root, wedding memory to light, coloring acres of bountiful blossoms, and I am alive.
My mother's voice returns me to the airport as she says, "I feel like I just had a baby."
Then it is evening, and I sit among three others whose lives began in the same womb. I am welcomed as though there has always been an empty chair at the dining table. For the first time in my life, I resemble those around me. I study the slope of my sister's arm, the shape of my mother's eyes, the color of my brother's skin, and I feel connected and shaken by the emotional bond that links us, with fragility, against time's backdrop of empty space. We have no history together.
One year before this reunion, I dreamed of walking alongside the house of my childhood. I climbed atop a fence and was surprised to find, in my own backyard, a bountiful garden--lush, green, and ripe. I tingled with awe while treading slowly among the flourishing life. From inside a wooden shelter stepped a beautiful Native American woman. I drew a sudden breath. She was about to speak, when a surge of adrenaline woke me. It was then I began my search.
My adoptive father and I went together to the adoption agency. The law had erected a fence between me and the yellowing file, which the social worker held at an angle to prevent me from reading--upside down--the name of my birthmother. The indifferent stranger gave me only a sheet of paper entitled "Summary for Debbie." It told how my mother was a "petite, attractive woman who tended to keep to herself . . . had a difficult childhood with her mother dying in childbirth in 1945, and lived in government boarding schools from the time she was four until she graduated from high school." The paper went on to say she saw me at the hospital, asked to know my birth weight and length, was happy I was a girl, and cried while signing the adoption papers.
Hope--would we locate her? Fear--would she want to see me? Longing--when would I know?
To ease the waiting, I wrote her letters, yearning for the day I could hand them to her. "Dear Mother: First, may I call you that? I know you by no other name. I'm feeling strongly about reconnecting with you. We never had the opportunity to be with each other because I was adopted when nine days old. I know only the nine months inside you, and I want much more."
Months passed . . . 9, 10, 11. Then fortune struck. I met with Ramona, a childhood neighbor now working for the Seattle Indian Center. In one week, she had the judge's approval to open the adoption records.
A week later, I remember sitting at my dining table, opening the cover of an empty, clothbound book in which I would record only material pertaining to my families. The phone rang. I took a couple of steps to answer it, but feeling an entry was about to be made, went to retrieve the blue-flowered book. It was March 31, 1985, and officially, a Blue Moon.
Ramona was on the line. "Hello! Your mother's name is Fekla Tretikoff, and she goes by 'Vicki'! She lives in Anchorage, is a dental assistant, and has always thought you would find her. Call her at work, as she says she'll get nothing done until you do."
I hung up the phone, and from my open mouth came the joy of a spirit dancing. I collected myself and dialed.
"Alaska Native Dental Center," came a voice at the other end of the line.
Swallow. "I'm calling for Vicki."
"Just a moment."
Then I heard, "Hello?"
"Hello, Vicki, this is Debbie."
"I knew you would call. . . ."
Although the conversation was brief because a patient was waiting, there was time for five or six "I'm so happy," "I'm so excited" exclamations. We agreed to talk that evening. She said, "I love you." I said it also and felt it like never before.
What does she look like? I wondered. I have two sisters and a brother?
That evening, I filled 10 pages of my clothbound book. I learned of an uncle, grandparents, 4-foot, 11-inch aunts. "Did you make it over five feet tall?" she wanted to know. She told me she and my father had had intentions of marrying, and she gave me his name. I began to realize that my history went back beyond nine days of age. I had ancestors, a heritage.
For the months that followed, she was "Vicki-Mom." I was not ready to call her "Mom," as that word had come to mean the mother I had grown up with.
Four long months after our initial phone conversation, I met her. And as I remember the moments at the airport, my emotions ignite, and I am taking my first breaths again.
We spent a week together, talking for hours, learning of each other's lives. She said honey always made her think of me because of my skin color at birth; that she planned to live with her grandmother and and raise me in her small Alaskan village. Her grandmother died and she was alone, so she went to a home for unwed mothers. The social worker broke hospital rules and let her hold me so she could tell me she loved me, was sorry, and that she wished me a rainbow life. She watched two year olds when I was two, three year olds the next year, and on and on.
It was about the time I dreamed of the fruitful garden that my mother began to have feelings she describes as "faith that we would meet within the year."
I continue to become acquainted with my birthmother and my people. Childhood perceptions of myself as an ugly, odd-looking girl dissimilar to the light-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned others in my adoptive family have shifted to include an identity as a beautiful Native American woman. My adoptive mother passed on before having the opportunity to meet my birthmother. My adoptive father communicates regularly with my birthmom, and they call me "our daughter."
The fence from my dream is now dismantled, and a new passion enhances all my relationships. This heart-story I am living has given me the urge to know my ancestry, to savor life, and to rejoice in forming a bond with my husband and our children, relishing the history we create together moment by moment.
My emotions are picked up and twirled as my head stays centered, celebrating the words of N. Scott Momaday:
You see, I am alive.
You see, I stand in good relation to the earth.
You see, I stand in good relation to the gods.
You see, I stand in good relation to all that is beautiful.
You see, I stand in good relation to you.
You see, I am alive. I am alive.