I think this entry should come with a warning: MAY TRIGGER EMOTIONS. But stick with me because as the story continues, it all matters.
And…..if you received my email letting you know that my adoption + 23andMe story was being told, then you might remember me telling you that I was going to be talking about a few things that I haven’t talked about. Things you most likely don’t know about me. So, you might as well prepare yourself now for some “holy shit’s” and “WHAT!?”
Oh……and I’d be eternally grateful if you could refrain from judgement. I did the best I could…..and I did what I was made to believe was right.
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, y’all already know that I had lifelong struggles with my mom. I’m not going to go too far into that in any of these pieces because that’s not what all of this is about……but I did. I wasn’t an awful child…..I sometimes just did really dumb things. And because my mom and I had such an ugly relationship, most of the rebelling I did was aimed at her. Kinda like, “if you’re not going to love me, this is what you get.”
I didn’t get involved in drugs or alcohol (I DID experiment with alcohol like most teenagers)……I wasn’t doing anything outside of the ordinary teenage stuff. I just struggled with constantly looking for her love and acceptance and the more it didn’t come, the more I rebelled against her. And naturally, the older I got, the stronger and more creative the rebelling got. She’d say yes, I’d say no. She’d say black and I’d say white. It was a constant argument that she always won.
All the rebelling got me kicked out of the house more times than I can remember and literally left out of any family stuff. When I was kicked out, it was like I didn’t exist. And being “out on my own” for several weeks (and a few times even months) so many times led me to searching for that love wherever I could find it. The time I’m about to tell you about I had been kicked out and staying with a friend that was a few years older than me and had her own apartment…..and I met a guy from down the hall. He was kind, showed me attention in a caring way and I fell hard. But a few months later it ended when my mom allowed me to go back home.
Fast forward a little bit………I wasn’t feeling my best. I wasn’t sick but I wasn’t right, either. I would get waves of nausea and I was peeing A LOT! I ended up at our family doctor (who just happened to be my dad’s cousin) because a local hospital clinic I went to told me I had a bladder infection and the little blue pills I was taking to clear it up weren’t working. I have blocked out so much of my life but I remember that doctor appointment clearly.
My mom didn’t take me. I rode my bike there. I absolutely adored our doctor and had been seeing him since my parents adopted me. Dr. Kenneth Ray. Anyway, after running some tests that I was totally oblivious to what they were, he came back in the room and said “The good news is you don’t have a bladder infection. The bad news is that you’re pregnant.”
Tears. LOTS of tears. He put my bike in the trunk of his car and drove me home to face my parents.
My mom was furious. My dad sat quietly…..which was even worse for me than my mom’s anger. I knew I had disappointed him.
A few weeks went by and my mom and dad sat me down at the dining room table. Again, my dad was so quiet and my mom did all the talking.
“You have 3 choices here. Choice #1 is to move out of this house, have this baby and raise the baby 100% on your own…..because I’ve already raised my kids and I’m not doing it again now. You’ll get no help from us. None.” Choice #2 is to have an abortion. And Choice #3 was to carry the baby to term with 100% of my parents help and support financially (doctors appointments and various things I’d need) and emotionally….. and place him up for adoption.
As I mentioned, my mom did all the talking. My dad sat quietly.
Those weren’t good choices to me. Choice #1 may have been an option had my circumstances been different. I was 18, no job, no car and with the exception of being kicked out of the house for a few weeks a bunch of times, I had no idea how to live on my own. I was barely qualified to take care of myself, let alone a newborn. I considered it….but I had no idea where to even begin to gather the help that I was going to need. #2 wasn’t even an option for me. So there I was, facing #3.
I talked myself into being okay with my “choice”. I remember thinking about all the stories I had heard about my own adoption – that my parents had to do backflips and jump through so many hoops in order to bring me into their lives…….so I convinced myself that this child of mine would be adopted by two parents that wanted him desperately, were prepared for him and would raise him with all the love and guidance a child should have.
Lutheran Social Services met with us at my parents house on several occasions. I signed paperwork and everything was in place. And I went through my pregnancy trying so hard to not get attached to this little human inside me that I was growing…..but how does a person even do that? I wasn’t successful…….but the decision had been made. My parents made sure I had everything I needed to keep me healthy and comfortable for the next several months…..but I didn’t really go anywhere – alone or with my mom – because “what if people see you?” So I spent most of my time at home “in my bedroom” or sitting on our porch…..and I lived for the days my dad would ask me if I wanted to go for a ride. We’d just get in the car and go on an “adventure”…..nowhere in particular…..just getting me out of the house.
“In my bedroom” is in quotation marks because it wasn’t really my bedroom. My “bedroom” was moved to the basement. I had my bed and a dresser and a few other things (it’s still kinda foggy) but it was all literally at the bottom of the basement steps. No walls. No nothing. Just me and some of my stuff in the basement.
I went into labor in the morning of November 22, 1980. My mom was still sleeping and my dad and I were in the kitchen making pancakes. I really had no idea what to expect labor wise, but my mild cramps were coming pretty close together and my dad woke my mom up and said “I think it’s time”. Funny……is that THE line to say?
My mom didn’t get up. Well, she did but it took her a while. By the time she got out of bed, my dad and I were dressed and ready to go. I remember my mom telling him “you take her…..I’ll meet you there.”
Growing up, two of my most favorite humans in the word were my Godparents. Carla and Elmer. To say I adored them was an understatement and I think in a way, my Godmother protected me. Or at least she tried. I spent nights at their house, they’d take me camping, she would do my hair……..and we always spent Christmas Eve with them and her extended family. Being in my Godfather’s lap was one of my most favorite places to be. I loved them with my whole heart. And my Godmother was sort of my saving grace. When I got a little older (not sure how old I was – most likely late teens) I remember her telling me that she told my mom “If you didn’t want another female around to take Art’s (my dad) attention, you never should have adopted a little girl.”
Anyway, my Godmother met us at the hospital.
I was terrified. Terrified of being in a hospital. Terrified of giving birth. Terrified of how I was going to feel when they took him away. Terrified I was making a very big mistake.
My OB/GYN was amazing. Dr. Laham. He was the kindest man and never judged me. We’d have talks when I went in for my visits….. more about my mental health than the pregnancy and I felt safe with him. I felt like he understood me and that how I felt mattered. He knew I was so conflicted but also feeling stuck.
We had talked about the delivery a week or so prior to me getting to the hospital. He thoughtfully told me he’d put me on the surgical floor rather than with all the new mom’s and their babies…..and he told me that he’d give me something to cover my eyes while in the delivery room so I didn’t have to watch the mirror above me. I was REALLY struggling.
I remember the moment Shawn was delivered…….I couldn’t stand it. In a quick moment I made the decision to pull the towel from my face so I could look in the mirror and see him. I needed to see him. I needed to know he was whole and healthy……and that I had at least managed to do THAT right.
But I didn’t pull the towel in time. By the time it cleared my eyes, he was already on the other side of the room. So I never saw him…..and although Dr. Laham told me he was a “beautiful baby boy and perfectly healthy”, I needed someone I loved to tell me that.
My mom wouldn’t go to the nursery.
But my Godmother went. My Godmother went to the nursery, sat down in the chair and held him. Rocked him. And she told me that he had all his fingers, all his toes, was beautiful and healthy……and that she had a little talk with him and explained everything to him. I don’t even know – to this day – if my mom knew my Godmother went to see Shawn.
He was born Jonathan Alan Ferstle. I named him. I knew that someone eventually would change it, but while he was there waiting for them, he had my name. That was super important to me I think because with everything else being out of my control, I had control over that.
When Shawn (what his adoptive parents name him) was born on November 22, 1980, the adoption laws had just changed in September. When I went into the adoption system and up until then, the laws were super strict. The ONLY information an adoptee was allowed to be given was “non identifying”. Meaning, they were gonna keep adoptees from ever finding out their history.
I had different options for Shawn. I could either choose to leave the file empty – which meant I wanted no contact….or I could fill out a form with all my contact information and keep it updated over the years. If Shawn ever got curious, they would check the file, call it a match because my information was inside and tell him everything. Pretty sure I don’t have to tell you that I chose THAT option.
For 18 years……I would see a little boy that would be “about his age” and wonder. I would search his face for similarities to my own. And every single time I moved or got a new phone number, I contacted Lutheran Social Services to have my information updated. When Rob and I got engaged (he already knew about Shawn – I told him while we were dating), I called and updated what would be my new last name, our new home address, new phone number and added Rob’s name as a contact. They told me that typically boys don’t get curious until facing a major life event…..like marriage, having children, getting sick…….so not to hold out too much hope because IF it happened, it probably wouldn’t happen until much later in his life.
We got married in October, 1998.
By then my Godparents had moved to Texas….and my Godfather’s health was declining. I talked to them often on the phone and I can remember him telling me that “he wasn’t going anywhere until he saw me walk down the aisle.” That statement was probably one of the most loving things ever said to me and meant more to me than I know how to tell you. God I loved those two humans. My Godfather kept his word…….but he left this life 6 months later. And my Godmother joined him less than a year later in March of 2000.
Shawn turned 18 the very next month. And I don’t know how YOU feel about the nature vs nurture thing but let me tell you, that boy got every ounce of my “need to know”.
The morning of his birthday, our landline rang. Caller ID said LUTHERAN SOCIAL SERVICES. Rob was literally on his way out the door to drive to Chicago for a hockey tournament as I answered the phone. I didn’t even connect the day with the call so imagine my shock when the woman on the other end told me who she was and why she was calling – Shawn and his girlfriend were standing in her office and he wanted to know me.
Rob unfortunately had to leave but of course I said YES to the woman on the phone. She handed it to Shawn and we were both in tears trying to talk. He asked if he could come to my house and absolutely I said yes…….and he and his girlfriend arrived maybe an hour later and spent most of the day with me.
It’s been 24 years since he came for me and with the exception of a few times we struggled over different things (mostly me struggling with what my role in his life was), we’ve been close. He lives a little bit from me but we talk all the time on the phone. He’s a good good human with a big heart and crazy talented in music.
So if you DO question which one is stronger – nature vs nurture – I’m here to tell you that although nurture is super important, don’t discount nature. Shawn is so much like me it’s almost eerie and it’s been a blessing – in so many ways – to have been able to watch him grow and mature from an 18 year old “I know it all and you can’t tell me any different” barely adult (and yep, he got that from me) to a kind, thoughtful, talented, loving man.
I was recently called out on my personal Facebook page for starting to share this story. MY story. The exact words were “I’m lost for words ~ so personal ~ on social media ~ sorry but I can’t. Private is private.” And she’s right, it’s all VERY personal. And it’s gonna get even MORE personal. (And just so you know, I’ve talked to Shawn and he knows this is being published and he’s more than okay with it.) Sharing all of this – all of ME – is by far NOT the easiest thing I’ve ever done. It brings up memories that I had buried…..it invites so much sadness that I have lived through…..and it’s scary! There’s a lot of people in my life – or even people in my small-ish community that don’t know any of this. But now some will. And I can’t be afraid of that anymore…..because in sharing these pieces of who I am might be the hand that someone else needs to get through their own stuff.
I’ve always been very open, honest and raw with my story because it’s the foundation I’ve built my brand from. I spent my life hiding……and feeling very alone and very broken. If you’ve ever received a RYSE™ product in the mail, you saw one of my insert cards. It reads: “My story is filled broken pieces, bad decisions and some ugly truths….but it’s also filled with a major comeback, peace in my soul and a grace that saved my life.” followed by the other side that says “The ugly part of your story is going to be the most powerful part of your testimony.” I choose to share the most vulnerable parts of me in the hopes of helping at least ONE person feel a little less broken……..and showing you that there is a light.
You CAN come back from every broken piece, every bad decision and every ugly truth.
Shawn played an enormous role in finding my bio father……but that search brought up even more memories that I had buried so deep and and ended up revealing so much more than I could have imagined.
Stay tuned for Piece 3! (And thank you Karyn for renaming these entries to “pieces”…….as in pieces of me.)