Akin to the Truth

Unknown-2Akin to the Truth is a memoir written by Paige Adams Strickland after reconnecting with her birth family. Throughout Paige’s childhood, her adoption is never kept a secret, but there is little discussion of any details. When she does ask her parents about her adoption, they tell her to “have gratitude and not fuss so much” because out of all the kids they could have chosen, she was “the one they fell in love with and picked.”

Although Paige yearns to know more about her birth family, she feels powerless to do anything about it. Afraid of being labeled an outsider or a freak, Paige keeps her adoption a secret from almost everyone.Like most adolescents, she wants to just blend in, and but as much as she tries to hide her adoption on the outside, she can’t deny it on the inside. As Paige continues to experience important milestones, the identity of her birth parents, especially her birth mother, becomes more important.

Every summer Paige and her family vacation in Florida, which eventually prompts her parents to relocate the family from Cincinnati to Saratoga. Paige says goodbye to her high school sweetheart, Scott, and enrolls at Manatee Junior College. Eventually she transfers from the Junior College to Florida State University and graduates with a degree in Multi-lingual/Multi-Cultural Education. Paige makes her way back to Cincinnati and Scott where they eventually marry, and she begins her career as a high school Spanish teacher.

The newlyweds settle into married life, and Paige sees that many of her friends around her are having babies, which makes her think about her own family and her missing pieces. With Scott’s encouragement, Paige takes the first step to getting the answers she’s always wanted. She writes the state of Ohio for her official adoption papers and begins lifting the veil that had kept her in the dark for so long.

Paige’s story helps readers understand the experience of an adoptee from childhood to adulthood. Paige never stopped yearning for the truth of who she was. Although she is at first motivated by knowing the truth more than she is finding her family, Paige finally gets the answers she was looking for. At the end of her journey, she is finally “free to walk, work, fly, or be anywhere without obsessing about who was who ever again.”

Read on for our interview!

I can relate to your avoidance of talking about your adoption, and you pretty much kept it a secret outside of a few close friends. Growing up, you wanted to take “amnesiac” breaks from your thoughts of adoption. When did you get to a point where it became natural to discuss your adoption?

It became more natural after I found birth relatives.  Then I felt I had something meaningful with honest answers to talk about.  As I met new people, I felt more at ease discussing what happened.  However, with old friends, it was still difficult to talk about because I’d been in such a habit of covering up for so many years.

Your adoption was considered closed as you had no option to contact your birth family, and the unknown information was a source of frustration for you. What are your views on the more open adoptions today?

I think if the adoptive and birth parents agree to it, it’s the best plan out there.  It’s the most honest form of adoption there is.

I cringed when you were assigned the family tree project in 7th grade. You turned in a project that was not “scientifically factual”, because admitting your adoption “was a potentially deadly move, especially in junior high school.” You also wrote that during this time “adoption made you feel like an outsider or a freak.” What would you say to a young person who is struggling with their identity because of adoption?

At some point you will have to come clean about who you are and who you might be.  For example, I knew my future husband had to know.  I would never have wanted to lie to my own children either.  If you are struggling because you aren’t satisfied with who you are or because you only know a “fall-back story” and you want more facts, then go search as much as you can.  Learn everything you possibly can. I felt that finding out who I was may have been more important than meeting the birth family.  Getting enough facts about how I started out in life was my first goal.  Meeting relatives was like getting bonus points or the game-winning grand-slam.

Towards the end of the novel, you start searching for your family. You waited until you were married and completely independent of your parents before you started searching. Do you think the timing helped or hurt your search?

Timing overall helped.  I was still a kid and would never have had the power to find and meet my birth mother.  She died too early on.  Had I procrastinated my search by more than a year, my birth mother’s former (widowed) husband would have sold the house and moved out of state.  I had one address from her death certificate.  Had he moved out of there, my letter might have come back to me, and I wouldn’t have been able to connect with my sisters.  In my case, timing was everything.

Like many families, yours had its share of secrets and lies. Did you feel any apprehension about writing a book that included some very personal details about your adoptive parents? How is your relationship with them today?

I had a lot of apprehension about writing about my adoptive parents. My Adoptive dad passed away in 1996, so I didn’t have him to deal with.  I don’t think this book would be out to the public if he were still living.  It would have been impossible unless I were to write it secretly and just wait for some day.  As for my adoptive mom, she has mixed feelings, but I made the decision to publish it and hope she would have enough understanding, like she did when I conducted my actual search.   My dad’s situation is no longer a secret, and hopefully readers will see my mom as a woman who came into her own, grew stronger and more independent because of what happened in their marriage.

How does your experience as an adoptee shape your role as a mother today?

I do the best I can to not be a “helicopter mom”, but I think I have more fears than most parents about my kids’ safety and being unintentionally exposed to harm.  My biggest fear, when they were very small and unable to speak for themselves, was that somehow,  we would become separated from one another. That may have to do with not just being adopted but because that did happen to my birth mother when she died young. I have tried to instill in both my girls a deep appreciation for their heritage(s) and who is who in our family.  My daughters are over 21 now, but I’ll never stop wanting to find enriching experiences to teach them or ways to protect them from wrong-doings. Oh, and as a pet “mom”, I adore my animals and feel for all homeless fur-babies.  I’d have a barnyard and a kennel if I had the resources!  LOL

Do you have any future projects? Will there be a follow up book?

I am in the process of compiling reflections and stories about my 30+ years in education.  It won’t be adoption-related so much.  I have thought about writing a sequel to Akin to the Truth.  Many people have asked about that, and I left the story open for that possibility.  I have written an “epilogue” of sorts, which equates to about 10 book pages, so obviously I have more work to do if I go in that direction.  My other writing related projects involve writing adoption-themed essays and entries for anthologies, which will help to promote my book and my name as an author in the adoption community.

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Paige Adam Strickland is an educator and writer and currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and two daughters. You can find out more about Paige on her blog at www.akintothetruth.squarespace.com

Finding My Family

The events of the past few months have been surreal. There are no other words to describe it. This blog has done many things for me. It’s been a way to express myself and share my adoption journey. I’ve also been able to hear and share others’ adoption stories. But most importantly, it has helped me find my family.

At the end of June, I wrote a post about Searching. I had several people reach out to me, and each person kept offering their help to find my family. They knew someone who was in Haiti or they knew someone who could help me. I was still scared to start searching, but every time I was discouraged, I thought of the stranger who was sitting on their computer so moved by my story that they reached out to me to let me know they would help. So I started searching.

My family is from Pestel, Haiti, a small town outside of Jeremie. I went on Facebook and found a Facebook Page for Pestel. I sent a private message that I was searching for my family and I listed my name, birthdate, and my parents’ names. The administrator, Jean, reached out to me and kindly translated my message into Creole and French and shared it on the page. He also told me he was from New York, had family in Pestel, and would gladly share my information with them.

About two weeks later, I was on vacation with my husband and kids when I received a message from Jean on Facebook.

Mariette, hope all is ok. Please call Denise 011509********, she will be able to give you more info on your mom and dad. You can tell her Jean ——- gave you the number. Do you still speak creole?, if not I can always translate. I’m leaving for Pestel, Haiti next week.”

My heart was racing. “She will be able to give you more info on your mom and dad.” I don’t remember the next few minutes, but somehow I was able to get the words out to my husband. He was just as excited as I was because he knew how much it meant to me. I somehow got through dinner, and tried to call Denise when we got back to the hotel room. I was hoping Denise could speak enough English that we could communicate over the phone, but she didn’t speak any English, and I don’t speak any Creole. I was frustrated and had to wait until I got home to find help.

When we finally got home, I messaged a long time friend who spoke Creole. I explained the situation and gave Denise’s number. Their phone call was much more productive. We found out that Denise knew my sister Ginette, and knew her phone number. She told us that I had seven siblings (five sisters and two brothers) all living in Haiti. Denise also told my friend that my mother was alive, but my father had passed away last year. The news that my mother was alive was shadowed by the fact that my father wasn’t. I felt guilty for several days. If I had only done this sooner, he could have seen me before he passed. I cried, but was consoled by the hope that I could still be reunited with my mother.

I thanked my friend for calling, but I was unsure of the next step. My emotions were all over the place, and I needed a few days to sort everything out. Over the summer I was working on several interviews for the blog, so I decided to email Marlyse, a woman who was in the process of adopting two children from Haiti, so I could get an update. She knew about my story, and asked me about my search. Wanting to be honest, I told her that there was a possibility that I found my sister in Haiti. I told her I had a number, but no way to communicate. Marlyse wrote back almost immediately. “Do you want to call her this week?”

Three days later, we had Ginette on the phone. I could understand little of what she said, but she was overjoyed to hear from me. Over the next 45 minutes, Marlyse translated as I asked her questions. Slowly, the blurred lines of my history came into focus. Ginette answered every question. She confirmed the information I knew, and filled in what I didn’t. Ginette knew the name of the Haitian woman who had ran the orphanage and given me up for adoption. I had not told anyone this information, and when I heard the name, I got goosebumps. I knew at that moment, this was my sister, my family.

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My sister Ginette

Ginette was in Port-au-Prince and promised to do her best to get our mother to Port-au-Prince from Pestel to speak to me. Within two weeks, I spoke to mother on the phone. She sounded like Ginette, but her Creole a little higher and softer. We told each other things that we had wanted to tell each other for so long, with Marlyse interpreting the entire conversation. I was sweating, my heart was pounding, but it was perfect.

Ginette told me she could send me a picture of my mother with the help of her neighbor. Ginette had a cell phone, but it didn’t have a camera. She was going to get her neighbor to take a picture and send it to my phone. We ended the conference call, and I waited. In the waiting time I tried to keep my hands busy. I kept thinking that I should be doing something special in the moments before seeing a picture of my mother for the first time. I couldn’t think of anything, so I just stared at my screen saver, trying to calm my racing heart.

My phone was beside me, and I heard it vibrate. I opened the email on my computer and clicked on the attachment. I had no words. I was by myself in front of the computer, and I just stared at the picture. I must have stared at it for a full five minutes before moving. And then I grabbed every single picture I had of myself on my computer and started comparing them. I finally called my husband into the room, and asked him “Do we look alike?” He answered my question with one look.

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My mother and I

My mother will be turning 70 on July 15th, and I would like to see her before that happens. A few days after we spoke, she took the long journey back to Pestel by bus. The bus ride was almost four hours, no easy feat for an older woman. When we spoke, she asked for nothing. Just to see me again. She had told me she had been praying every day, never giving up hope that we would see each other again.

So this journey that I’ve been on is no longer about me. It’s not about my wishes or unfulfilled desires. It’s about a woman who was separated from her daughter and never gave up hope that she would see her child again. And I owe this story to every single person who has encouraged me to search for my family. I especially thank Marlyse. She was a stranger who let God use her to reunite a mother and daughter. Marlyse helped give me closure, but what she did for my mother was nothing short of orchestrating a miracle, and I cannot thank her enough. To be honest, I was unsure if I would ever meet my mother on this side of heaven, but she never gave up on me. Isn’t that what mothers do?