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Passion for the Climb
Memory of a lullaby
By Kate Gallagher ’03
Through the toilsome process of finding her birth family, Kate Gallagher ’03 (pictured here with her birth mother) has developed an interest in the politics of adoption and gaining more rights for adoptees.
Light saturates the room, pouring in from behind me, and I’m in the center of this cozy jewel box. She’s singing, or perhaps humming, to me, as we rock back and forth.
“La la la, La la la la la, La la la laaa...”
Is this a memory, or a fantasy I have comforted myself with these 28 years? Was I ever really in this room, a place where I felt so loved and at peace?
I cannot remember when I was told that I had been adopted. My adoptive
parents were open with me, but I also believe I have what I refer to as “nature’s GPS” — a sense of where I came from, a pull to reconnect with my roots.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines family in many contexts. The Latin
includes all members of a household, servants as well as kin, and the relationship between family members ranges from loose affiliation to shared genetic ancestry depending on the intended usage. One definition of self is, “the union of elements (as body, emotions, thoughts, and sensations) that constitute the individuality and identity of a person.”
I have often contemplated these concepts, which are sometimes at odds with our society’s vision of family, self, and adoption itself — in concept and in practice. My journey of self-discovery has accelerated in the past few years, and it has opened my eyes and heart in ways I could have never imagined. Having been adopted at three months, I recently located and am getting to know my biological family.
I began my search in early 2008. I had previously hesitated to, for fear of hurting my adoptive family. But I have four parents instead of two, and my desire is to have them all in my life. The realization that I should make it my priority to do what was right for me did not come easily, and I owe a lot to one good friend who pushed me to decide for myself. I am eternally grateful to him and to all of my friends whose kind words, curiosity, and willingness to help kept me positive when I encountered roadblocks along the way.
I went into the search with an approach that is characteristic of me.
I had no questions, nor expectations. I simply wanted to know my family, if they were open to getting to know me. I began by copying every document in a file my adoptive parents kept. I also have always had a letter from my biological mother that indicated that she loved me and did what she felt was best for me.
The search process itself was frustrating and convoluted. I quickly learned that adoptees don’t have clear rights when it comes to obtaining information, and that agency regulations and practices are often in conflict with state laws. It took more than a year of piecing together small tidbits of information, learning the nuances of Massachusetts adoption laws, and creative cajoling with — and paying fees to — the agency through which my adoption was arranged. I found adoptee rights organizations, and a variety of reunion registries and resources, but also lobbyists who believe adoptees have no rights to search for their families. I even found a case where an adoptee with leukemia was denied access to her birth records when medical information could have saved her life. I became more and more incensed.
A stroke of good luck — finding a social worker who was willing to try to contact my biological mother — finally yielded the release of my biological mother’s name to me. I wrote to her at an address in Key West that I found online, and on Monday, Feb. 9, 2009, at 11 a.m., we first spoke on the phone. We were reunited on February 19, the 28th anniversary of her signing my adoption papers, and over the next few months, I visited with her several times and met more of my newfound family.
In the spring, she decided to move back to the Northeast, so we took a road trip together from Key West to Boston, where I have been living. Along the way, we visited some of my Colgate classmates: Kelli Wong and her boyfriend, Conrad, in Charleston, S.C.; Laura Simmons Kovacs and her husband, Jeff, in Durham, N.C.; and Melanie Kiechle in New Jersey. It was important to me that my biological mother meet some of my best friends; the support I have gotten from them has been integral to this journey.
We have been back in Boston since early June, and are getting familiar with each other’s patterns and habits. I love and respect her more each day, and even when we are having a difficult time understanding one another, I am struck by how lucky I am to have her.
I have also since met my biological father, and have spoken with his mother, my one living grandparent. Perhaps my biggest surprise of all was discovering that I have an older half-brother.
I asked my biological mother if there was some significance to Valentine’s Day; I had always felt my strongest connection with her then. She told me that Valentine’s Day 1981 was the last time she saw me. I was in a foster home, and she came to visit me before she would sign the adoption papers. She sat in a rocking chair, holding me and talking to me. She prayed that I would always know how much she loved me. We were in the center of a room, there were no lights on, but it was a bright winter day and light was pouring in from the two windows. And she sang a lullaby her grandfather had sung to her.
“Sleep my child, And peace attend thee, All through the night...”
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