As an Adoptee, I Knew My Son Needed These 5 Things From His Birth Mom

Denise Massar
5 min readMay 5, 2020
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

I was adopted via closed adoption in 1972, and forty years later, my husband and I adopted our son via open adoption. While I would search for, and find, my own biological mom shortly after bringing our son home, I grew up knowing nothing of why I was placed for adoption, my biological family, or my medical history. I wanted my son to grow up differently.

In modern domestic adoption, hopeful adoptive parents are tasked with finding a woman considering placing her baby for adoption. Pete and I searched for six months; obsessively networking, we did it all: Facebook posts, Vine videos, tacked up flyers in laundromats, and dropped ‘Ready to Adopt!’ business cards on the back of public toilets.

On New Year’s Day, 2014, we got The Call. A woman in Northern California, I’ll call her D, had given birth the night before and had chosen us from a stack of Dear Birth Mom Letters — how quickly could we get there? Boarding our Southwest flight, a blue paisley Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bag pressed to my chest, subconsciously, I was already determined to get for my son the parts of his story I’d wished for as an adopted child:

An Answer to the Question: Why Was I Placed for Adoption?

Growing up, I created a story that explained why I was “put up” for adoption and who my biological parents were. I imagined that she was a cheerleader with shoulder-length auburn hair (a sophomore) and he a football player (a handsome senior) and that they’d done it in the back of his car. I imagined them as nice and good people who were simply too young to be parents.

Seven hours after getting the call, Pete and I sat in front of D’s attorney. He was going over a stack of documents we needed to review and sign before going to the hospital to meet our baby. One of the forms — the AD 67 — gave the adoptive family and the adopted child information about the child’s biological parents. As I flipped through the AD 67, which had been filled out by my son’s birth mom, I was in awe of the information he would own, regarding his biological family. D had handwritten answers to questions and prompts, such as: Why did you place this child for adoption? How do you feel about being contacted by the adoptee when he is older? Describe your personality. Describe your talents, hobbies, and goals in life.

It was a letter from a mother to her son.

He would always know why he was placed for adoption and who his birth mom was, as a person, in her own words.

His Medical History

Throughout my life, when asked for my family medical history, I’ve always written: Adopted N/A. Did cancer run in my family? Heart disease? Who knew? A few years ago, I had shooting pains in my right breast, and I’d convinced myself it was cancer. I was scared. After making an appointment for a mammogram, the first thing I did was send my birth mom an email, Has anyone in our family ever had breast cancer? She replied within seconds, No. It was a soothing balm to finally have my medical history.

My son’s AD 67 included pages of family medical history. He, and we as his parents, would know: What type of cancer his biological grandfather had died from, what allergies he might have, the likelihood of a non-threatening heart murmur common on his mother’s side. I held my new son’s medical history in my hand, understanding more than most what a gift we’d been given.

His Original Birth Certificate

People are always surprised to learn that most adoptees have never seen their original birth certificate. As adoptees, we have two birth certificates: the original, which lists our biological mother’s name, and maybe biological father’s, and for most of us is kept in a sealed file by the state of our adoption. Then, we have a second birth certificate which lists our adoptive mother and father as our parents and is required for everything from enrolling in kindergarten to applying for a marriage license. The second birth certificate is a perfectly legal, state-produced, forgery. Of course, as adoptive parents, we need to be listed as our child’s mother and father on their birth certificate, but adoptees need access to their original birth certificate, too.

In the hospital, when an older woman with a thick Middle-European accent and a laptop on rolling-cart asked for our son’s name, Pete and I eagerly declared, “Henry,” and Henry was typed onto his original birth certificate, just above his mother’s name, D’s name. Several months later, we received his second birth certificate, on which Pete and I were named as his parents. We keep his birth certificates side-by-side in the black metal box where we keep “important stuff.” One confirms his birth mom as his mother, the other names me. Both are true, and they both belong to him.

Pictures of His Birth Mom or Birth Parents

Growing up brown-eyed, red-haired, and freckled in a family of blue-eyed non-freckleds, I always wondered, Do I look like anyone? I had no photos of my birth mom but imagined her as an amber-toned 1970s senior portrait — a straight middle part, a Partridge-Family collar.

When we were saying goodbye to D in the hospital, I was determined to get photos of her for Henry. We had an open adoption, but what if she disappeared? We were together — then — in that moment.

“Can I take your picture?” I asked.

“I look awful,” she answered, running a hand through her long, dirty-blonde hair.

“You look beautiful,” I said.

We took photos of Henry and D, her gazing down at him, lovingly. We took pictures of D and I side by side, Henry in her arms. A team. The final photo we had taken in the hospital is of Pete and me, with ecstatic grins on our face, and Henry, a football, snapped into the car seat between us.

A Clear Path to His Biological Family

My closed adoption meant that learning who my biological family was would require legal petitioning, the means to hire an attorney, appearances in court, and the use of an intermediary. It was overwhelming to a twenty-six-year-old — my age when I first called the Washington State Department of Social Services, a toe-dip into the ocean of my curiosity. I did eventually search for, and find my birth mom, eighteen years after that first phone call, and our reunion has been overwhelmingly positive.

I wanted Henry’s path to his birth family to be a clear one. While we’re not in contact with his birth family now, we have each other’s addresses, phone numbers, Facebook pages. When the day comes that he wants to meet her again, she’s just a phone call away. And I’ll help him make the call.



Denise Massar

Author of SEARCH HISTORY: A Memoir of Loss, Obsession, and Meeting My Mom at 44