Full show notes: http://www.adopteeson.com/listen/117
Episode Transcription by Fayelle Ewuakye. Find her on Twitter at @FayelleEwuakye
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You’re listening to Adoptees On, the podcast where adoptees discuss the adoption experience. This is episode 117, Jemma Part 2. I’m your host Haley Radke. Hey friend, it’s so good to be back talking with you this week. Last week, we replayed Jemma’s first appearance on the podcast where her biological mother adopted Jemma back. Well, things have changed quite a bit from that happy ending. Jemma felt it was crucial for other adoptees to know the ups and downs that reunion can bring over many, many years. We are going to wrap with some recommended resources and as always, links to everything we’ll be talking about today are on the website adopteeson.com. Let’s listen in.
Haley – I’m so pleased to welcome back to Adoptees On, Jemma. Welcome Jemma!
Jemma – Hi Haley, thank you.
Haley – So it’s been a minute since you were on the show. How about a couple years. And I just, I replayed your episode last week but I’m gonna just give Cliff’s Notes version. We talked about some really hard things, about estrangement from your adoptive parents, about your search and very quick reunion with your first mother. And even about her adopting you back. And we had this really you know, great conversation and it was so happy and lots of like, talking about, “It’s A Girl” party and all of those things. And then even by the time your episode had aired, some things shifted for you. So why don't you pick up your story there.
Jemma – Sure. So after we had our episode talk, and just before it aired, my mother received a terminally ill diagnosis. And was given a year maybe, maybe 18 months to live. And so that was kind of a rough blow because we had just kinda gotten to this point where it’s like, oh we’re gonna have time together, we’ve got all the time in the world. And it did not go that way at all. So she got her diagnosis. I went down, spoke with the doctor, I’m a registered nurse myself. So she didn't intend to tell me. She just kinda let something slip that was just enough that I was like, hey wait a minute. So I flew down the next morning in time for her doctor’s appointment and kinda of surprised her. And then you know, went in and got the details and what was going on. So then it was, she was going through a divorce at the same time, so yeah. So she, I had to kind of help her find a place to live and all of that. And once we did that, seemed at first she moved in with one of my brothers and that wasn’t working. So we got into a rental home with my youngest brother to kind of keep an eye on things. And then he was supposed to let me know when things were getting too much for him and then I would go down and take care of her. And come, gosh, I wanna say it was end of October, she was kind of acting not herself.
Haley – So only a few months after the diagnosis?
Jemma – Yeah. And so a few months after the diagnosis, it had spread to the brain and that kind of like, based on her behavior, I’m like, okay, this is spreading. And they got her to the doctor, turned out she had been skipping her appointments and all of that. And so she, the doctor wouldn't release her from the hospital until I got down there to take responsibility and they instituted all of her healthcare surrogates and all that stuff which is me. So I went down to live and expected to stay until she passed. And that didn't go to plan either. So the brain metastases really altered her behavior very badly. And this person who, is really kind of a free wild spirit, but normally with me was very kind and very gentle towards me, certainly verbally and stuff. There are things she would never have said and next thing you know, I’m getting called the C word, the B word, you know, saying F you, go the F home. You know, all the stuff. And I’m like, well if I go home, you have to go to a facility, ‘cause they’re not gonna let you stay on your own at this point. So it got kind of rough. And she was pretty rough with my little brother and she would have moments of clarity where everything seemed fine and so forth. But it just kind of kept getting worse. And her terminal diagnosis was lung cancer, secondary to smoking. So I was also a hospice nurse. So I'm like hey, smoke away, as long as you're safe about it. So we had rules around the smoking. She wouldn't follow the rules. And I had to place her in a facility because she was putting all of us at risk. And I mean, we’re talking, sticking her head in the oven kind of risk to light a cigarette. It was bad. So she obviously, did not appreciate. So basically right after Thanksgiving I had to put her into a facility. But I found a facility where she could drink and smoke.
Haley - Really?
Jemma – That’s Polk County, Florida.
Haley – I was gonna say like, you can Tweet Jemma if you wanna find out the details for this place, so okay.
Jemma – As I say, only in Polk County.
Haley – Wow, okay, so things deteriorated really quickly. And it’s almost like you’re having this relationship with someone who’s completely different from the person that you’ve known for 20+ years.
Jemma – Well it’s sad, she seemed a lot more like my former adoptive mother in her behaviors. So it was really like this massive blow and I, you know every night I’m in bed and I’m crying and I’m saying, it’s not her. It’s not her. I mean, she actually got to the point where she was planning to threaten me with a knife but my little brother was the one who walked through the door, not me. And so she dropped it, kind of thing. And at that point I had to have her committed to check her medications and stuff. And they did find one medication that needed to be adjusted. After that we got her into a facility and it was very nice place. You know, I’m thinking gosh, if it was me, I think I might be okay with this place. It’s kinda cool. They had happy hour every Friday night. So there was a lot of fun and social stuff going on but she’s not really a social person in that way. I mean she’s social with parties, she does like that. But she didn’t view herself as part of this place. So it’s kind of tough. And she was at that point, then she’s fighting, then she’s threatening to get the attorney to overturn the, all the legal work that she did and I’m just like. Well, good luck with that.
Haley – To overturn your adult adoption?
Jemma – Power of attorney and–
Haley – Oh, all the healthcare things, okay. Yeah.
Jemma – Yeah, but it just, you know, there was one point when she was just calling me every name in the book. And I just, you know you have that moment. It’s like on the one hand you know it’s not really them talking. But at the same time, you’re human and you have that human moment and I’m like, why the hell did you even adopt me back if you were just gonna treat me like this? And she said, I don't know.
Haley – Ugh.
Jemma – And I’m just like, well alright then. You know, and then you go back and again, I mean thankfully I go back and go okay, not her. Not her. But it just, it still hits you in the gut.
Haley – Now in our last episode, you told me that, in your, almost very first meeting, she told you who your father was. And that he wouldn't really, he wouldn't give you the same reception as she had. And you said that you had met him once and that you had you know,a couple of relationships with some people on the paternal side. But he had passed away I think.
Jemma – Correct.
Haley – Okay, so now I know there’s some stuff with that as well.
Jemma – Yes.
Haley – Why don't you tell us about that.
Jemma – Sure. So, after all this stuff with her, then in, and I had been asking, ‘cause I had some questions. Because my uncle, my paternal uncle, had done a DNA test for me. and it wasn’t matching up. And I’d be calling Ancestry saying, what’s going on. And they’d be like, oh no, it’s something with the algorithm. And they kept giving me the runaround. And so my gut was kinda going, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. But they kept telling me this, and my mom kept swearing that this was the only possibility, saying, I was a virgin when I met him. And he’s the only one and all this stuff. And I’m like, okay. And of course, you don't wanna believe that your mother would lie to you. You certainly don't wanna believe that she would adopt you back with that hanging over you. But I was in an adoptees only group one day, it was like in January. And this is the following January after she adopted me back. And this gal started talking about her crazy Polk County family. And I started making these jokes about hey, I’ve got a crazy Polk County family. You know, maybe we’re related. And we started talking behind the scenes. And I said yeah, maybe you can get a match to my uncle ‘cause I sure can't. And she said, come again? Pardon? And I told her what was going on with the DNA and she goes, oh gosh, how do I tell you this? She said okay, there’s two scenarios here. Either your father’s adopted or he’s not your father. And I said well I know for a fact he’s not adopted. She said, well then, he’s not your father. And I said, well, but they’re saying, she goes, I hear you, I tell you what. Why don't I pull you into the DNA detective groups that I’m a part of and we’ll see what you can post in there and see what everybody says. You know, or if you just wanna trust me with it, I’ll help you find the right dad. And I pulled up her profile and on the bio it said something like, part time DNA expert. And I just yeah, I think I’m gonna trust you on this one. Because I don't think you would tell me this willy nilly. So let’s, okay. And I said, and I’m just gonna tell you, you’re gonna need to beep this one out. I said I better get <bzz> sisters out of this mess.
Haley – Oh my word. Okay, so the person that your mother first told you was your father and that you had met –
Jemma – And formed relationships with his family, his brother, is not the daddy. So now it’s like, I say, this is the not the daddy, this is the not the uncle, the not the cousin. You know, and I got off the phone with her and I was like, practically hyperventilating. And I called my not the cousin. And I’m just, I just lost it. And I told her I’m like. And she said. well I don't give a damn what that DNA test says, you’re still my cousin. You’re still part of this family. And I just, oh I just lost it. Just lost it. And in fact, I was down in Florida shortly thereafter, within like 2 weeks, I flew down the end of January to confront my mother. And to get her to do a DNA test so that I could isolate her DNA. And understand, I had –
Haley – This is like 6 months after her diagnosis and you’re already seeing these challenging things with her personality.
Jemma – Oh yeah, and so, and understand, I had given her a DNA test back in 2015 when I gave one to my uncle. And she kept coming up with excuse after excuse about why she hasn’t done it yet. So I swung by the house, I picked up the old DNA kit, this 3 year old DNA kit and I brought a new one with me from a different company, just in case there was a problem with the failure of whatever. And I had those in my purse. And I, and my best friend had already called her and gone to see her and confronted her. And tried to get her to tell her something. Give her some kind of information. And you know, she kind of acted shocked and oh, gosh, you know, whatever. And at any rate, I was having an issue with one brother with all this stuff that went on with my mom and he wasn’t speaking with me at the time. Which is, it’s been resolved, but back then he wasn’t speaking to me. It’s my younger brother, when he found out that my mother had lied to me, about who my father was, he was just really, really upset. It really hit him hard. And my brother said, if it’s okay with you, I’d really like to be there when you confront her. And you know, this is a brother who generally really isn’t much for confrontation or anything, but he just, he felt like he needed to be there to support me as I talked to her. And my best friend also went with me. So the three of us go into her room and first we start kind of like with these, you know, the little niceties. And at this point I’m already kind of really just livid underneath. And I had to keep reminding myself, she needs to be able to play the victim. You have to give her that to get what you need. And so I finally just said hey, listen, there’s this elephant in the room. Let’s get it over with so we can move on. And she’s like, okay. And I said, so Randy’s not my father. DNA has excluded him as being my father. And so, what can you tell me about that? And she was like, oh gosh, I mean, well there was this guy, Mark, and he was gonna be an attorney. And she just gave me this whole thing, which by the way, also not true. Also not the daddy. She’s like, I can’t remember you know, his last name. And I said it doesn’t matter, I don't need a last name, I just need a little info, whatever you can give me will help. And she’s like, really? And she just gave me all this other fake info. And from what I’m hearing, honestly Haley, I don't doubt there was a Mark. I believe there was a Mark. There might have been a Jim, a Joe, and John too, from what I’m hearing. So, which, I mean, okay. I’ve never cared about that. I mean, it’s kind of funny because I told her, I don't care if you screwed the whole football team, I really don't. I just care about who my dad is. I’m not gonna judge you for who you had relations with. I mean, that’s none of my business.
Haley – Yeah.
Jemma – Outside of who my father is, I really don't care. I’m like, I’m no angel. I’m not gonna judge you for that. So I didn't really address with her, why’d you lie to me. You know, because it just, it wasn’t gonna get me whatever it was I needed. And I said, so at this point I’m like, she gave me this information, who knows at that point, I’m like, who knows if this is real or not. And I said, so mom, there’s one more thing that you could do that would just probably help me better than anything. And she said, well what’s that? Well, you could give me a DNA sample so that I can isolate your DNA, so that I can know that what I’m left looking at is all my father’s family. So that I can kinda figure this out. And she’s like, oh, okay, sure, send me the thing. And I said, yeah, no need, I've got two kits right here. So she said yes obviously, she’s got witnesses seeing her agree to this. And she’s thinking I’ll say yes and you know. So I pull them out and her mouth just kinda popped open and that little, oh! Oops, I’m caught. Oops, I’m in trouble. And my best friend went over there and we just did the samples. We’re like, here you go.
Haley – Why do you think she was so against you finding out who it really was?
Jemma – I really, well I think because she not only lied about the fact that she hadn’t been with anybody else, that there were these other possibilities. She also said, you know, that my father knew about me and that he didn’t you know, that he wasn’t interested or whatever. But none of that’s true. I mean, and I think she was afraid.
Haley – So just that she was like, caught in this lie, and also just ashamed that she literally didn’t know who it was?
Jemma – I think there was toxic shame there, that there were multiple partners within a short period of time, she didn't know who the daddy was. And I was always willing to say, okay listen, maybe you really believe that this guy was the guy, but to lie to me and tell me there were no other options is where you went afoul. I mean, that was the problem that I had. It wasn’t that there were multiple options. I don't care. I mean, but, I could’ve done a DNA test with Randy 26 years ago and known then that he wasn’t my father. And so since then, like I said, I did pull out the DNA thing, she’s like, oh, she said, I don't, my mouth’s really dry. I said, no problem, came back with lemons for her sip. And all of a sudden, water water, here you go. And she’s like, yeah, hello, nurse here. I know the tricks. So I you know, so got it and literally dropped them in the mailbox on the way back to her house from the facility. And then I just, I didn't really talk to her much over the next two months or month and a half. Because I was still just you know, so I talked to her where I had to. Things that I had to deal with, I dealt with. And you know, relative to her care and making sure she was okay and all of that. But to sit and have a chat like we used to, I couldn't do it. I was like, I'm not, I can't fake it. What I feel is always written on my face. And it comes out, you know they say resting B face, I’ve got resting B voice as well. I can't hide and I can't lie. I always say I’m allergic to lies. I can't lie, I suck at it. And to hide that I, I mean I guess if my life depended on it I could. But for that I’m like, uh uh. So for me it was easier to not talk to her until I was able to kind of compose myself. But anyhow, March comes around and her DNA comes back isolated it out. Let me backtrack for a second. When I was talking to the gal, the gal that not the daddy on the phone, it only took her like 5 minutes looking at my, I gave her access to my stuff on Ancestry. Took about 5 minutes. She said, well I know that this first person here is a paternal one. And it was like, my closest match that wasn’t my mother or my daughter kind of thing. Or at the time wasn’t my daughter. This is a paternal match based on the other information that you’ve given me. She said, I can’t say about the, anybody else, but this one I know is paternal. And it was a first cousin to my father. But it was a female, so it was, who knows last names or whatever at the time.
Haley – That’s a really close match.
Jemma – Yeah, oh yeah. But she’s like, but I can’t find her anywhere. She said, I’ve already run a search and I can’t find this chick anywhere.
Haley – Oh.
Jemma – And it’s like, she said, I think this is a married name and it’s not, we’ll keep looking. And so she started on a mirror tree at that point and by the time March rolled around and mom’s DNA came back, she had given me a couple of surnames to look out for just as possibilities. And when my mom’s DNA came back, I found that the second highest match that wasn’t my mother or daughter, was also a first cousin match to my father on the other side. So now I had first cousins on each of my father’s family sides.
Haley – Okay so that means like, your father’s maternal side and your father’s paternal side?
Jemma – Yes. Exactly. Yeah. So I just had to at this point, try to narrow this down. And I’m looking at it. Neither of them had a tree. And neither were responding to me on Facebook. And neither of them had been on, I mean not on Facebook but on Ancestry. And neither of them had been on Ancestry in a while. So I’m like, okay, I’m kind of at a dead end. But what I did was look at, I went up to the next people on each side that had an extensive tree. And those were third cousin matches for both sides. So I went those, basically 3 generations up, and then I basically, using the genetic genealogy, where you go line by line, coming down and ruling people out based on age or what have you, just kind of came down until I found where the two trees intersected at my grandparents. And that was after two days, 12 hours a day sitting in front of a computer.
Haley – Oh my word.
Jemma – So then I looked at that, and then I looked a little further, and then I kinda said, okay, well so these are like possibly my grandparents, let’s look at their kids. And they had three kids, and two of them were boys. One of them was likely too young you know. I didn't think my mom would go high school after she was already out. Then again, I’m finding I really don't know her. But my instinct was correct, and unfortunately, when I did a Google search on my grandfather and kind of hit the mother lode, there was this, I don't know what you’d call it, like an anthology of this family name all the way back to the 1600s in Scotland on Google. And it just was coming down and boom down, boom, found my family line and boom, there’s the likely father. Father, brother, father, uncle, aunt, whatever. Father deceased.
Haley – Oh.
Jemma – Died 7 years after I found my mother.
Haley – Oh no.
Jemma – So her lies kept me from meeting him. And then I looked a line down and found, I have 2 sisters. I have sisters. I got my f-ing sisters. So I thought, well, okay. Which is, it’s kind of funny, because I always felt like I had sisters out there. It just never made sense to me that I kept finding brothers. And I just felt like I had sisters. And turns out I did. You know one is 3 years younger than I am and the other is 11 years younger. So I tried finding them and I has having trouble finding them and so thankfully in this anthology, it had their mother’s name and they had been, their mother and our father had divorced. But I found her on Facebook. And I couldn’t access her friends list, ‘cause you know a lot of people have those really locked up tight. And so I just pulled up on any public post that she had, I pulled up anything that had a lot of likes on it, to see if I could find anybody with their names. And sure enough, I found them, I found their names that way.
Haley – Wow.
Jemma – So then, so once I had their current names and stuff, I tried to, you know I tried White Pages which is the thing where you can pay to get current numbers and this, that, or the other. But they didn't have any current numbers for them. So the first person I contacted was, my father’s second wife. And this is before I knew that I had sisters. I actually had tried to contact this second wife. And basically she said, he’s dead, that’s all I’ve got to say.
Haley – Oh.
Jemma – Didn’t even tell me I had sisters or anything. So, okay. So then found out I had sisters, and then I thought, well you know I think I’ll reach out to my uncle first. ‘Cause I don’t want to mess with them until I see if the DNA matches. Because I don't wanna upend their lives, I’d rather upend an uncle than sisters. I just figured an older adult would probably handle it a little bit better than younger potential siblings. And contacted him and he was a little sketchy on talking to me. He spoke to me and stuff and mentioned that I had sisters. And then said some not very nice things.
Haley – Oh no!
Jemma – And I just said well, that’s between y’all, I still wanna talk to them. And he agreed to, he told me to send him all the info that I had on how I came about my discovery that, or thought process that led to them. And led to his brother. So I sent him everything, I screenshotted everything, all the DNA, all the everything. And sent it to him and then he sent me a note back saying, okay yeah, I’ll do a DNA test. And so I sent it to him and whatnot. But I sat there, after I got off the phone with him, and just based on what he said, my gut said, if I don’t contact my sisters, I’ll never get to talk to them. Because he’s not gonna facilitate this, he hates them. He is not gonna help me.
Haley – Yep.
Jemma – So I contacted them the only way that I had which was through Facebook Messenger. And I just constructed a message and sent it to both of them, you know I pulled them up, sending them a friend request. And that I was going to put a special photo album on my Facebook for them to look at. So that they could decide. In the meantime, before I did this, before I reached out to any of them, I did call this DNA friend that told me not the daddy and said I think I found my father. And she’s like, okay, and she took a look and then she took one look at the photos and said oh yeah, you got the right guy.
Haley – Oh my goodness. And she’s done this a bit, so she knows.
Jemma – Oh yeah. She’s like, oh yeah, you got the right guy. Seems kinda funny but –
Haley – So what was in your message to your sisters that you crafted?
Jemma – So what I said was “Hi, I’m contacting you because I believe I am your older half-sister. I know this is likely a shock to you as it certainly was to me. For the last 25 years, I was told my father was someone else. DNA, however, has just recently excluded him as my father. I am pretty sure that GA was my father, based on a very close DNA match to his first cousin. My mom dated him for a month or so in the summer of 1970, as confirmed by both my aunt and my mom. I was born just before he went into the navy and before he met your mother. I was placed for adoption in March 1971, he knew nothing about me. I would love to speak with you. I will friend request you so you can check me out a bit. I will give you a little info here though, I am 47 in 2 days, I am an RN by profession, a stay at home for a long time now, have two children so and so, and so and so, and gave their ages. This one’s still in college here in Missouri studying equine sciences, my husband’s a CPA, partner at PWC, live just outside of Philly, grew up in Winterhaven, Florida. I have two half brothers on my mom’s side who are in Lakeland, Florida. I’m just trying to find the truth about who I am and where I come from, medical info would be a plus, especially for my kids. I’m happy to pay for DNA tests through Ancestry DNA, I would be grateful if you would speak with me at least once, although I am very open and hoping to get to know you and developing a relationship as sisters.” I give my cell number and just said, I assure you this is real and not a scam. I just want to know my family.
Haley – And you, you said you had had some pictures and things. Did you send them like, here’s all the DNA work I did, like you had to, send receipts?
Jemma – You know, it’s kind of funny, I did eventually show her some of the stuff. But it wasn’t like they were like, I need to see this and so forth. And so I sent this same message to both sisters. And then I was sitting there and I was talking to my husband on the phone and I’m just like, shaking and then all of a sudden, the little thing comes up next to the message that shows you that someone just read it. And I’m like freaking out, I’m going, oh my God, she just read it.
Haley – It’s live, and you know. Things are happening.
Jemma – I’m like, oh! She just read it! And then I’m like, okay, let’s see what happens. And apparently, like she read that and she called my other sister and was like, have you looked at Facebook yet this morning? And she’s like, no, I’m just getting up. Now this other sister is in the UK. And so she is 5 hours ahead of me. But it was just kind of, you know, she’d had some fun out on the town the night before. So she was like, ugh. She said, why, what’s going on? She goes, sit down and open your Facebook.
Haley – ‘Cause, did you send it like a group message to both of them at the same time?
Jemma – No.
Haley – Oh okay, but you sent the same thing to both?
Jemma - Yeah. So she, they're just kinda like oh my God. And then they hold up the photos that had, so they got on my thing and pulled up the photos that it had put in. And they immediately I guess called their mother and said mama, what do you think? And she goes, oh yeah, she’s an Arbuthnot.
Haley – Oh.
Jemma – She said, I can see it, I can see Greg in her. Right there. She’s definitely, yeah, she said I mean, the DNA stuff will confirm it, but you honestly don't need it. And this was their mother. So anyhow, my baby sister sent me a thing says, hello, this is definitely a shock. I would love to chat with you. Is there a good time to call you? And I was like, I’m available anytime, I’m available now, whatever works best for you. And then next thing I know, I’m getting photos of my dad sent to me. You know, from his wedding to their mom and a picture of him holding her when she was little and just different various pictures and stuff. And then there’s like this one that they sent, and then she sent pictures of our grandfather. And I’m just, you know, and we’re just kinda going –
Haley – So you’re back in like the reunion, honeymoon stage.
Jemma – Yes, so then she called me that day. Like right then and we started talking. And it was so comfortable. It was like, you know, it wasn’t weird. I mean, we were you know, kind of laughing at all kinds of different things and just talking about different personality traits and going, oh my gosh yes. And oh wow, me too. And one of those things was that she has a degree in equine sciences.
Haley – Oh my, so, and that’s what, your daughter is taking that.
Jemma – Yeah, my daughter is doing equine facilitated therapeutics but at the time she actually equine sciences major. But yeah, so same, they both have that same love of horses. And studied in college and stuff like that. And just, sent a picture of me when she was 18 and I put up a picture of when I was 18 we look like the same person.
Haley – That is so wild.
Jemma – And yeah, I mean, and it was cute ‘cause her husband, she says, my husband went nuts and photoshopped me into one of your photos. And it was just so cute. And I mean, it was really, really cool.
Haley – Are you still in touch with them? And do you have relationship with them?
Jemma – Yes. So my other sister called me the next day and again more funny coincidences. Like we both have a Phoenix tattoo on our backs. You know, just stuff like that. We just kind of have been, we were kind of talking. I contacted them on a Sunday. But that Friday prior, my baby sister had sent out a DNA sample to Ancestry.
Haley – Come on.
Jemma – So even if all this other stuff hadn’t happened when it did, the universe was bringing us together no matter what.
Haley – You would have had, you wouldn't have had to do all of that genealogy down all the layers.
Jemma – Right?
Haley – And you would have had a match with her.
Jemma – Yeah.
Haley – That’s incredible.
Jemma – Yeah, so it just kinda, it kinda all came together that way. So that was mid-March and I got a call then in April, that my mom was taking a turn for the worse. And I got on a plane to go down and basically they said, you know, they told me oh well it was this day that she started, things started to change. That day, Haley, was my father’s birthday. And so then I got on a plane the next morning to go down and be with her for her last days. And then while I was there, my, both brothers, I got them both up there. And we kind of healed the stuff with the brother that we weren’t really having a good time with at the time. And we got that kind of worked through which was good.
Haley – What was that like for you, being with them and being with her in this time after you know, so much, so many things had happened, that were really painful for you?
Jemma – It was probably the hardest, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, was trying to give this person grace, that had lied to me the entire time that I knew her. That because of those lies, I never met my father, I never met my grandmother, who also died during that time. So you know, there was a lot there and I just, it was kind of hard because when I did find out for sure who it was, and this is kind of important. I called her to tell her. And she’s like, oh, so who was it? And I gave her the name and she’s like, huh. Well, I’ll tell you the same thing I told you with the other one. Don't expect a good reception. And I said well mom, I don't really expect any kind of reception considering he died. And she says, good, then you don't have to put up with that crazy family. And I kid you not, I almost vomited. I was just like, wow. I just, and I literally got off the phone. I’m like, I gotta go. I gotta go. And I just, I couldn't even say I love you. I was like, I gotta go. ‘Cause it was just like, it was just nauseating.
Haley – Yeah.
Jemma – Cruel. It was cruel. And she had just never been, even talking about my not the father, when we thought he was the father, she was never cruel about it. She was matter of fact and trying to, seem like she was trying to protect me. But this was, she was just being cruel. And again, I mean, brain metastases, it just totally changed her behavior, but I don't, so that was tough. Being down there in that space, and of course you know, I told my brothers what was going on and they were both just like, oh my gosh. And they were both I think, very upset with her for doing that to me and for you know, acting that way. But just for the lie in general. But it was a very, a very healing time for my brothers and me. with the previous rift there that had come up, we just kind of, we’re sitting there. And it’s actually, there she is on her death bed, the three of us sitting in the room with her, she’s basically comatose at this point. And we’re talking about everything that was going on and the things that she had done and so forth. And at one point I literally stopped and said, turned around to her and said, we’re not talking about you mom, we’re, you know like, we’re not bad mouthing you, we’re just explaining who you are, this is who you are. And my brothers kind of laughed like, we all kind of had that odd chuckle like, this is so inappropriate. But what are you gonna do? This was the only time there was gonna be to heal this. It needed to happen and it was in my gut was saying, do this while she’s still here and you can tell her that everything’s okay. And then she can go on. She can, it’s not something she’ll worry about. It’s not something that’s gonna make her hold on or what have you. And she, at one point, my brothers left and went home. And I was there with her alone, she kinda opened her eyes at one point. And I just said, I just wanted to talk to you for a minute because one of the things that one of my brothers had told me was that, whenever I had spoken to her about the trauma of adoption, and so forth and what I had experienced and you know, as a result of adoption, because here I am trying to get into a space of advocacy, and I’m kinda starting to get pumped. And I’m excited and I’m trying to share this with her. But what she heard was me trying to guilt trip her. And that’s what she had said to my brothers was that I was trying to make her feel guilty for the decisions she made. So there I was with her on her last day and said, I understand that you’ve made this comment to my brother and she said yes, I said that. And understand she hadn’t talked in like 2 days. But she says yes, I said that. I’m like, okay. And I said, well, I need you to know that that’s not true. How you feel isn’t the truth. That is not the truth. I said, if you feel guilt over what you did, you need to let that go, in terms of giving me up for adoption. You don't have to hold on to that, I’m not holding on to that in terms of, I mean I wasn’t you you know? You had to make the decision. You dd what you thought was best at that time and I’m not gonna waste my time being angry over that part. I mean I am, not happy that she didn’t even tell my father I existed, because everybody says, he would not have consented.
Haley – Consented to you, being relinquished?
Jemma – Yeah, he would not have consented to me being relinquished. So I’m just kinda like okay, little salty about that. But I told her I said, if you wanna feel guilty about something, feel guilty about lying. But the truth is mom, I’m really angry with you. But I don't wanna be angry with you. And so I’m gonna have to choose here and now to let that go with you. And she said yes, let it go. And those were her last words. I stepped out of the room briefly so they could kind of, do some comfort measures with her. They came out and got me and said, you need to come back in. and I walked in and I put my hand on her and she took her last breath. And I just, you know and it’s strange because as a hospice nurse, I’ve attended a lot of deaths. And I just sat there like, really? That’s it? But it was, you know, a little irreverent I guess, but I was like really that’s it? And they looked at me and they all knew that I was a hospice nurse so they were kinda like, yeah, that’s it. I think that’s the last one. I’m like, okay. So walked out, called my brothers, and everybody came up there and that was that. But the interesting thing is, as I was flying down to be with her, my sister’s DNA results came in that night. So when I went to see her, I had that solid feeling of, I found my people. So I don't know, I just was like okay, I’ve, this is, I’ve got this.
Haley – Did that make it any easier for you? Knowing that you had your certain answers, did that make it easier to tell your mom like, I can let this go?
Jemma – No. And I mean, it really didn't, I mean I, my focus at that moment was, I don't wanna say, it wasn’t disingenuous. It just was, I wanted her, she was my mom. And I loved her. And I wanted her to go with peace. And I wanted to just kinda set myself aside to give her that. And I mean, ‘cause the reality is, you know mentally she was already gone. And had been and so it’s, I knew I was never gonna get the real closure of her acknowledging that she lied or saying she was sorry for lying. Or even, I knew that was off the table because she wasn’t even capable anymore of that. And so it was just gonna be a matter of giving her enough grace to let her go peacefully. And it wasn’t easy. That was pretty rough and then actually a couple days after that, I went and had lunch with Renee Gelin of Saving Our Sisters. And after lunch with her I was sitting in my car and I realized that I was only about a 30 minute drive from where my father was buried. So I drove to Florida National Cemetery. And went to visit his grave. And my grandparents are also buried there. I also went to their grave and while I was sitting there at his gravesite, my baby sister called me out of the blue. It was just like, how did you know? I needed to hear from you right now. It was just another one of those coincidences and stuff. And so after I sat and kind of talked to his grave for a little bit, I walked over to my grandparents and introduced myself to their grave, because I was their first born grandchild. None of them ever knew about me. But it’s, you know, I get to hear stories from my sisters and from their mom and probably my older of my two sisters is the one telling me most of the stories just ‘cause she was older. So she probably remembers our grandmother I think a little bit easier and stuff. But it’s nice when she says stuff like, you’re just like our grandma. She was a such a sweet woman and stuff like that. But I did go out and visit them, they were together in Oklahoma last July visiting with their mom. And so I flew out to Oklahoma, near Fort Sill. They met me at the airport with a bouquet of flowers and hugs and we were going along, just kinda doing our thing for a couple of days. And then on the third day I went over to actually meet their mom and everybody. And I, you know, it’s funny I thought that I’d be boo hooing the whole time because it was just so emotional. And I was just like stoic. I don't know, like I disconnected. It was really kinda strange. When I met their mom and I went over and she gave me a hug and I sobbed like a baby. I broke down in their mother’s arms, just like, sobbing. And of course I’m sitting there like I’m so sorry, she goes nope, no apologies, we do emotions in this house. And she saying things like, it’s okay, you’re with your family now. You’re home, you’re with your family. We’re all here. And just, and then my baby sister stands up and says well it’s about damn time you showed up Jemma. I mean it was just, and I guess I didn't even realize, it’s almost like you’re kind of holding your breath for all of it. I don't even know how to explain it. I just was so, it was so strange for me. And that was that. I mean, after that there were tears, there were lots of laughs and stuff. And I got to meet my cross sister who’s their half sister on the other side. And she’s awesome and you know, and I did say to her, I felt like I needed to say something to her because she’s had these sisters for 20 some years. And here comes this stranger stepping into the picture and I’m just like, I’m not here to take away, I’m here to add. And she’s like, cool. And I said, if it’s okay with you, we can be bonus sisters. This is a bonus. And so we were like okay, cool. So there’s that. And then—
Haley – Oh my goodness, there’s so much. Your story is like, it’s like this huge rollercoaster and I feel like you’ve had so many ups and downs and finally you have the truth about everything and I think you’ve handled it, I mean, amazingly well. I can't even imagine what it must be like to go through that.
Jemma – And I think that’s the thing with adoption and with reunions and stuff. It can turn on a dime. I mean, it just, it’s one minute here, one minute not. One minute not, one minute there. And it’s just, it seems so ever changing and for me I’ve been struggling with that whole, that fear of abandonment. That fear that something’s gonna go wrong and then they won't be there. And I just point blank told them that. And they're both like, not gonna happen. It’s just not gonna happen. You're our family, this is, you’re our sister and that’s all that matters. So don't, you don't have to worry about that. And there are gonna be times, we may get upset with each other at some point but that’s okay because we’re sisters, we’ll work it out. And so it, that’s been nice and they’ve been very reassuring in saying things like, the more you're around us, hopefully the more relaxed you’ll feel about it. And maybe it won't be as big of a fear for you. And the more we connect and stuff. But when I met with them and just being around them, it’s very much, very natural. Very like, you can tell, this is what was supposed to be. We were supposed to have each other. And it’s, I don't know, there it is.
Haley – Well I’m so glad that you’ve got another, happy ending? I don't know, happy beginning? Do you have a last thought on anything that you wanna share before we do our recommended resources?
Jemma – Yeah, I think that’s really the big thing. And just, you know, that fluid nature of all of it, how it just, it is up and down and around every curve. And I just thought I was through a lot of it. So it just kind of, what is it, just when you think you’re out they pull me back in. it’s like, you know, kinda—
Haley – Yeah, no kidding. Well the reunion roller-coaster is real for you, for sure.
Jemma – It is real. The struggle’s real. But just looking forward to every moment I get to spend with them and you know, one sister came over at Christmas and my baby sister’s coming this July, so we’re just, we just keep planning. We’re planning a trip to France in the next year. So yeah, and we’ve already decided, I’ve already told them my 50th birthday we’re going to the ancestral home in Scotland.
Haley – Exciting.
Jemma – So we’re doing that.
Haley – Lots of good stuff coming up. I’m so glad. Okay, alright, let’s do our recommended resources. And, ‘cause I knew were gonna be talking about some challenging things in your story today. I picked this article that’s called, To Grieve is to Carry Another Time. And it’s by our fellow adoptee, Matthew Salesses. And it’s on Longreads. So it’s this really beautiful and thoughtful piece about grief and adoption. And Matthew lost his wife last year and he has two young children and it’s just a really beautifully written piece. And I think because so many people don't understand the intricacies of grief that are woven throughout adoptees’ lives, I think Matthew really gets it. And so I really recommend this piece and it’s a little bit of a throwback. It was written in April 2019 and you can also find other things that Matthew’s written, his Twitter is @Salesses and I’ll link to that in the show notes. Jemma, what did you wanna recommend to us today?
Jemma – You know, I think the best way I can say it is all things Anne Heffron. I just, I seriously, every day on Facebook and she’s posting, she’ll post a picture of a flower or some pretty view or something. And it just, I don't know, it’s kind of soothing seeing them. And then like, her book, I’ve been reading through her book and it’s just, yeah her book, You Don’t Look Adopted. It’s so real, I mean that’s the thing. You read some stuff and you go oh gosh, boy this is really, you know, but this is just real. It’s raw. It’s Anne. And she holds nothing back.
Haley – That’s very true. You had a chance to go to one of the retreats that she does with Pamela Cordano, how was that for you?
Jemma – Yes, oh it was wonderful. We did the Beyond Adoption:You retreats. And it was amazing. And I think it’s very accurate to say, healing happens in community for adoptees. And I’m not gonna lie, it was rough. To do some of the things that we did, some of the exercises. And it was hard, but it was a good hard. It was the kind of hard that pushes you to a better spot, you know, you walk away going, I’m better for this. I’ve gained insight and I think we gain into yourself and into others. And it just, we had a wonderful group of people that you get to know made some, what I feel are gonna be lifelong friends. And I actually got together with one of them at the American Adoption Congress—
Haley – Where we got to meet!
Jemma – That was a highlight for me by the way. That is definitely a highlight for me to get to sit and chat with you for a minute, face to face.
Haley – That was so fun.
Jemma – It was very, I found it very valuable to go and do that and meeting Anne and with Pam, and it just, it was just, again, I mean, you get the real, raw person. To me, that’s refreshing. Because it’s that space where you can really let go and be the real you, whatever, whoever that is in that moment. Because I think we’re all evolving on that front. But you know, you just, you get to let the emotion out and you don't have to feel any shame for having the emotion or whatever you’re feeling, it’s just okay. This is what you’re feeling. And so it was very, really wonderful to me to do that. So yeah, it’s all Anne Heffron for me.
Haley – So you can find links to all things Anne Heffron, her website is AnneHeffron.com. And she’s got all her social media links there and you can find her book there and all the things. Thank you so much, Jemma, thanks for sharing your story with us again, the ongoing saga of reunion and search and all the things. Where can we connect with you online?
Jemma – A lot of people connect with me on Facebook, but generally I’m on Twitter.
Haley – Your handle is @J_R_Sullivan.
Jemma – I interact a lot there. Well thank you so much for having me again to kinda go through and it just, it felt unfinished after everything changed. It felt like there was this thing hanging out there. Like everybody thought that everything was just so perfect and lovely and everything was just, you know, and I’m just, I didn't wanna leave with that complete impression, that that’s the way it ended up. It felt wrong to leave it that way.
Haley – There is this, I think for, I don't know, I don't wanna speak for all adoptees. But I think for a lot of us, there’s a deep desire to be authentic because we search our whole lives to find our identity and so you know, you said for you, lies is like, I don't lie. That’s a deal breaker. Yeah, you know, we wanna tell people the whole story. And there’s so many like, picture perfect reunions and we don't get to see the after the airport moment. Thanks again Jemma.
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