Deborah Dimasi and her birth mother, Sue Adam, had tears in their eyes as I hit the record button to begin their interview. 39 years ago, Sue gave Deborah up for adoption. 12 years ago, they reunited and began to cultivate the bond that they share today, one that was palpable even before their conversation had begun.
Sue became pregnant with Deborah while studying abroad in France during her final semester of college. The following summer, she found herself sitting on a beach in Delaware, listening to the 1969 moon landing on the radio, and doing “lots of thinking,” she told Deborah. “It was probably the loneliest time of my entire life, because I had no one to support me. I realized that I was completely unequipped to raise a baby.”
“At the time, unwed mothers were treated very differently than anyone else,” Sue explained, while recalling her birthing experience. During much of her labor with Deborah, she was left unattended by the hospital staff. “Then they took you away, and they wouldn’t allow me to see you. But one of the nurses brought you into my room in the middle of the night, so that I could count fingers and toes. You were asleep, and so I never actually saw your eyes.”
According to adoption practices, Sue had to physically hand Deborah over to the doctor before leaving the hospital. This was an indication of her willingness to give up the child. “That was hard,” she told Deborah.
“I want you to know that I was never angry about that,” Deborah responded. “I never resented your decision. I never had reason to.”
Deborah grew up knowing that she was adopted. “My parents always made it a positive part of my life, that they picked me, that they really wanted me,” she told Sue. Her parents also didn’t place blame on her birth mother, explaining that she was young at the time and had made the decision so that Deborah could have a family.
“I just remember you being a question mark,” Deborah explained. “I always thought that I would probably search for information. I was also very aware of what the implications might be if I found you. Maybe you wouldn’t want to be found. Maybe it would be a secret you would have to reveal to family or friends or children.”
When Deborah was in her early 20s, however, her curiosity caused her to begin a search. One of her first steps was to ask her parents if they had any records. “That’s when I discovered a hospital bill with your name on it,” she told Sue. “On all the other hospital bills, your name was blacked out with a magic marker. But there was this one for, like, aspirin. It was the most inconsequential bill, but there was your name. It was the first moment that you as a person were concrete to me. And it knocked me down.” According to adoption laws, Sue’s name should have remained completely anonymous.
Soon after this discovery, Deborah registered for Soundex, a service that allows those separated by adoption to locate one another via mutual registration. Sue registered for the same service a few years later in order to give Deborah the opportunity to find her. They were matched within weeks.
“The night that they told me that you were going to call,” Sue remembered, “I had made plans to go out to dinner with some friends and I couldn’t focus much on conversation. When I got home, you had left me a message. I kept listening to it over and over again. It just never crossed my mind that I would ever hear your voice. I think it was at least midnight by the time I called you and we talked for two or three hours. It just seemed so easy.”
After months of weekly phone calls and countless emails exchanged, Sue and Deborah met in person. “I recognized you the moment I saw you,” Sue told Deborah, “and I was a little bit shocked at how much you looked like myself.” For Deborah it was “the first time I ever thought about looking like someone. It was something that as an adoptive child just wasn’t a fact of my life.” Some of their interests were also uncannily similar, right down to a penchant for Medieval and Renaissance music.
Deborah describes her current relationship with Sue as “more like a life mentor than a mother. You’re a person that I turn to for advice and someone that I enjoy talking to about all the things that I’m passionate about.” Sue considers Deborah to be “one of the many young people that help keep my perspectives fresh. And I’m really grateful.”
As I hit the stop button the end their recording, I was grateful to have listened to their very special birth mother-daughter relationship.