I’ve never kept secret the fact that I was adopted as an infant. On the other hand I’ve never carried around a sign advertising it. It’s simply a fact of my life, one that I’ve known for as long as I can remember. There’s no great trauma attached to it. I treat the same as the fact that my eyes are brown. Just another part of me.
My mom and dad handled it in the smartest way—they were upfront with me from the start. I can’t remember a specific moment where I found out I was adopted. I’ve always known. I think that decision by my folks is why I don’t have any resentment about it. There was never any question that they wanted me, never any question that I was loved.
This is my story. My parents married in 1967. Later that year my mom gave birth to extremely premature twin daughters. They only lived a few hours and Mom didn’t even get to see them since she’d had a C-Section and was still sedated when they died. Complications from that and other medical issues meant they would never be able to have any more children. At some point (and I’m not sure when) they began the adoption process.
Jump forward to late 1970. Mom was home recovering from a hysterectomy she’d had maybe a month earlier. She got a call from the adoption agency and was told about me. I’d been born three days earlier and immediately given up for adoption. The agency knew about her surgery and told her to get medical clearance before they could proceed.
Mom called Dad first, then called her doctor to ask if it was okay to take me. The doctor gave his approval, congratulated her and my dad, and asked if it was a boy or a girl. Mom’s response: “I forgot to ask!”
I’ve always loved that story. Not only is it funny, it tells you something about my mom. She wanted a child so badly she did not care about gender. I’m sure my dad felt the same way, though I don’t recall ever asking him about it. I was six days old when they brought me home. Here’s a picture from that day.
From left to right: Grandma Josephine Gonko; Dad, Bob Gonko; Mom, Barb Gonko; Foreground, Cleo our family dog.
In 1973, Mom and Dad adopted my brother, Todd. Growing up we were typical brothers, usually arguing or fighting about something or other. There was the usual drama, angst, anger, high points and low. I don’t think anything I ever went through was different because I was adopted. I was just another kid growing up in the 70s and 80s. Were there traumas? Heartbreaks? Of course there were but they had more to do with being human than being adopted.
Through those years, though, the question of where I’d come from nagged at me. Mom and Dad knew that the day would come when I searched for the woman who gave birth to me. They understood and supported me in this, though there wasn’t much they could do help. The adoption records were sealed, as was common practice at the time, and they’d been told next to nothing about my birth mother. All they knew was that she was very young and couldn’t keep me.
It wasn’t until after my parents passed away that I was finally able to do something about it. Illinois passed a new law when I was around forty that allowed adoptees to get copies of their original birth certificates. On the appointed day I had my application in the mail. The response came faster than I expected and by the end of 2011 I had a copy of the original birth certificate.
The birth mother’s name was on it. No father’s name was given. Her address was for a property owned by the local Catholic Diocese which I suspect was probably a home for unwed mothers back in 1970. I tried searching for her name through the Internet but it was common enough I didn’t get too far. I decided I needed, forgive the expression, professional help so I hired a private detective.
The report came back quickly. Through his various resources he found her, living out of state (I won’t say where). He took me through what he’d found and I agreed that this was her. Since I thought a phone call would be too much of a shock, I wrote a long letter and explained why I thought she was my birth mother. I sent it to the address the detective gave me and just to be sure, I sent it registered mail. I got the receipt back but never heard a word from her.
For the first time I was hurting because of the adoption. My quest to learn more had been stopped dead in its tracks. I have no idea why she didn’t respond. If I had the wrong person, you’d think she’d at least tell me so. I’m sure I had the right woman. The only conclusion I could come to was that she didn’t want to have anything to do with me.
There are all kinds of reasons why this is the case and I’m not going to speculate on them here. I’ve spent the last five years wondering about those reasons and am no closer to an answer now than I was then. I have to tell you, though, that it hurt. It hurt badly. It was a rejection and I’ve never done well with rejection.
When I think about it now it still hurts. I learned to live with it when I realized that God’s hand was in what happened. I don’t get on the faith soapbox often but I have to here. It’s been my only comfort. I believe that the Lord was telling me that I’m better off without that in my life. Why? I don’t know that but I have to trust that God knows what He’s doing.
Over those last five years I’ve reached a certain peace about it. I don’t think I need to know anymore. If someone comes along someday I’ll accept it, but if I never find out who she was or what happened back then, I’ll be okay. I have a mom and dad. Their names are Bob and Barb Gonko.
That’s good enough for me.