Sitting with my parents looking through photos, I frowned. “Mum, why is my skin a different colour from yours?” I asked. I was three and had dark brown skin, while she and Dad were white. I wasn’t the only one to notice – children at nursery asked me the same question.
Mum smiled, “We love you very much,” she told me. “I’m your mummy, but I didn’t grow you in my tummy like other mums.”
I looked at her, confused, as she explained I had been adopted by them when I was just 15 hours old. My parents hadn’t been able to have children and had been trying to adopt for a long time.
I was told later that a friend of a friend had connected my parents to my birth mother. They adopted me and named me Amy. I smiled as Mum hugged me tightly. “You’re our special girl,” she said.
I didn’t mind that I’d been given away as a newborn. I was lavished with love as I grew up, but as I got older, I wanted to know more about my birth parents. Mum never flinched from the truth. She told me my birth mum was Mexican and my birth dad was African American.
My parents said they knew my biological mother’s name and that she’d been around 18 when she’d had me. I also had three older brothers, one who was only a year older than me. “You looked like twins,” Mum said.
I liked the thought of having older brothers as I was an only child at home. But it was strange knowing they were out there somewhere without me. Over the years, I thought about my other family often.
I wanted to meet them out of curiosity, and when I was 14 I searched on social networking sites for them, but found nothing.
Eventually I became too busy with studies, and then I met my husband at 18, married and had two children, Erika, now four and Sean, now three. Sadly the marriage didn’t work out, and in 2011 we divorced.
In January 2012, when I was 22, I began volunteering once a week at the Phoenix Drop-In Centre – a rehabilitation programme for men recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and a shelter for the homeless.
I helped in the kitchen at the centre. I loved it because it felt like I was giving something back. I’d been through such a hard time with my divorce and I really enjoyed talking to the guys who had been through so much themselves.
Searching to understand
Although I didn’t feel the urgent need I’d had when I was a teenager, I still wanted to find my birth parents. I was curious – I thought it would help me understand why they had given me away.
My mum was helping me in my search. I’d moved in with her after my divorce and one day, in April 2012, she found a legal document with my birth mother’s name on it. It was a power of attorney document giving my birth mother’s sister the right to give me up for adoption.
I read it over and over, then I realised why it had been so difficult to trace my birth mother. We only knew her maiden name and had been searching with that, but she had married and changed her name.
Her sister had signed the document as a witness, and there was an address for her on it. I stared, stunned. The address was only five minutes’ drive away from where we lived.
I went straight there and didn’t think about anything until I was walking up to the door. My nerves jangled as I rang the bell. I didn’t know who was going to answer or what reaction I would get.
A woman opened the door. I peered at her, wondering if she was my birth mother. She had the same skin colour as me and her face looked quite similar to mine.
“Hi, I’m Amy,’’ I said, the words tumbling out. “I’m looking for my birth mother.’’ The woman looked shocked – then grinned. “No way!’’ she cried. It turned out she was my aunt, my birth mother’s step-sister.
“Come in,’’ she said, hugging me and bustling me through the door.
I had so many questions and they all came out in a rush. “Can you tell me anything about my family?’’ I asked. “Where’s my birth mother? Why did she give me away?”
My aunt smiled. “I’m not close with your birth mother now, but I can give you her number,’’ she said.
“When you were born it was a difficult time – your mum couldn’t keep you,’’ my aunt continued. “You look just like your half-sister.’’
I was overwhelmed to meet somebody from my family. I suddenly realised I was very close to meeting up with all the members of my family, and hearing that I looked like my half-sister made me want to see her even more.
I wanted the first conversation between my mother and me to be private, so I walked away with her telephone number and decided to make the call outside on the road. My hands trembled as I dialled her number.
“Hello?’’ came a voice at the end of the line.
“Hi, this is Amy. I was given your number by your sister,” I said. I’m the daughter you gave away 23 years ago.’’
There was silence on the end of the phone.
“Amy? I don’t believe it,’’ she said. I asked her how she was, where she lived, who my father was... “I’ll tell you everything in person,’’ she said, sounding happy. We arranged to meet the next day.
I went home in a daze. It was surreal. I had been searching for so long, and now I was about to meet my birth mother.
Mum was worried. “Are you OK to meet her?’’ she asked, concerned.
I nodded. “I’ve come this far, I want to see her,’’ I said.
I was looking forward to meeting her and also finding out about my dad. I wanted to ask her why she gave me away.
The next day I was nervous but excited ahead of the meeting, but coming face to face with her was amazing.
She was with my three older brothers and one younger sister, so I met them all. “This is crazy,’’ I said as I hugged each one of them.
Zak, the brother a year older than me, still looks like my twin. They lived less than an hour away from me – I couldn’t believe that we were so close yet so far apart.
My half-siblings were pretty shocked to meet me – they hadn’t known about my existence as nobody had told them about me – but once they got over the surprise, they were very welcoming. We were all talking and hugging, then I sat down to talk to my birth mother.
I thought there would be a bond there, some natural connection, but it was weird. She was a stranger, and it wasn’t as emotional as I had expected. For some reason, we didn’t click and it wasn’t easy to talk to her. She told me she’d had to give me away because my father was married and she was a single mother of three.
“Your father and I had a short relationship, but it caused big problems in the family,’’ she said. I looked at my birth mother, numb.
“I understand, it must have been hard,’’ I said, not knowing what else to say.
She told me that she had also given another child from a different father – Zak – to a family member to look after, as she just couldn’t cope with three children.
We spoke for more than an hour. She asked me what I was doing, we talked about my marriage, the kids and a lot about my adoptive parents. I was happy to meet part of my family, and a little sad that my mother and I couldn’t develop a bond, but I already had a great mum, the one who adopted me, so I didn’t have a hole in my life to fill.
My adoptive parents were happy for me too, and wanted to meet my biological mother, so she came over a couple of weeks later.
It was strange to see them in the same room, and I watched quietly, trying to take everything in. “Thank you for looking after her,’’ my biological mother said to my mum.
“Amy is a gift to us,’’ Mum smiled. “Let me show you photos of her growing up.’’
My birth mother smiled when she saw pictures of me as a cheeky toddler.
I asked her about my father and she said she’d had no contact with him after she became pregnant with me.
“Can you help me find him?” I asked her.
“Sure,’’ she promised.
I was sad saying goodbye that day. Somehow I knew we wouldn’t meet up again – there was just nothing between us. But it was good that we’d met. I had closure.
The next day, when I told my friends at the centre that I had found my biological mum, everyone was excited for me.
“What about your dad? Where do you think he lives?’’ one of the homeless men asked.
I shrugged. “I don’t know, perhaps he is closer than I think,’’ I laughed.
I continued working at the centre and almost three months after I first met my birth mother, in July 2012, I got a call from her. “My sister could help you find your father, Andrew Russell,’’ she said, giving me her number.
I immediately called her and she said she knew Andrew’s son, Patrick. “I’ll message you his Facebook link,’’ she said. I sent Patrick a message on Facebook and he replied with my dad’s number – it was that easy.
Intrigued, I looked at the photos on Patrick’s page, and saw the man I guessed was my dad. We looked so alike.
I had nothing to lose, so I picked up my phone and dialled the number.
“Can I speak to Andrew?’’ I asked, extremely nervous. I didn’t know how he would react.
“That’s my middle name, and no one has called me that for a very long time,’’ my dad said. He told me his first name was Willie, but everyone called him Will. “This is Amy, your daughter,’’ I replied.
There was no sound at the other end of the line. My heart was beating so fast, I was terrified he wouldn’t want to see me.
“Say something,’’ I said.
“It’ll be OK,’’ he replied. “I’d been praying to find you. The phone call was an answer to that prayer.’’ He said he hadn’t looked for me because he did not know where to start.
Willie lived in Phoenix too so we arranged to meet for breakfast the next day at a local café. I did my best to look nice. I wore heels, a skirt and a dress shirt. I wanted my dad to be proud of me.
When I walked into the café I recognised him straight away as I had seen his pictures on Patrick’s Facebook page. He was dressed casually and he got up and hugged me for a long time. Then we both stared at each other, not quite knowing what to say.
“Wow, wow, wow,’’ he repeated about 25 times. “Give me a minute, I’m lost for words and that’s not normal for me,’’ he said. I just grinned, happy to meet him.
“That’s OK,’’ I said shyly. I didn’t know what else to say.
Over breakfast he explained why he couldn’t take care of me when I was born. “I’m so sorry, my 20s were a train wreck because of drink,’’ he said.
He had been an alcoholic when he’d had an affair with my birth mother and never tried to contact me or speak to her after I was born.
“I am a different man now,’’ he said. He told me things changed in 2004 when he got sober and found a new meaning in life through his faith. He’d been working as a pastor for the past six years.
When we met it was like everything made sense – seeing the faces of my biological mother and father helped me understand who I was and where I came from.
He had been 23 when he started seeing my biological mother, and already had five children.
Dad and I talked for a long time, going over our life histories. He now had four more children, who were all living in the Phoenix area.
“I am sorry I have to go now – I have a shift at the Mission to go to,’’ he said after we’d finished our breakfast.
“Which mission?’’ I asked.
“The Phoenix Rescue mission,’’ he replied.
“On Buckeye?’’ I asked, somehow not believing it could be the same place I worked.
“That’s where I volunteer!’’
As we talked we realised we would have been there at the same time. Dad had started working in April in the kitchens and was now working with the men on a discipleship course. I would have been volunteering in the kitchens as he was teaching them just metres away.
I was in shock as I realised he had been there all the time and
I never knew.
Making up for lost time
The next evening there was a graduation at the centre for some of the guys who had been through rehab. Dad and I went together with his wife, Janet.
It was so much fun walking around, seeing our friends who knew us both and explaining we were actually father and daughter.
Later that week I went over to my dad’s for dinner and met seven of my new brothers and sisters – the remaining two were travelling. The youngest was Alexis, 16, who everyone called Lexi.
“Oh my gosh, you look just like Lexi,’’ everyone said when they met me. “You even talk like her!’’
I now had four new sisters, and coincidentally our names all begin with an A – Amy, Ashley, Autumn, Alexis and Amber.
It was amazing meeting them, and I just wanted to get to know them all better.
I didn’t feel sad that they hadn’t been in my life as I grew up. Now that I knew them, it was as if I had always known them.
Finding my dad could not have come at a better time. Being a single mum and trying to work was not easy.
We got on so well that I moved in with my dad and Janet for a short while with the kids, just so we could catch up on all the lost time. I wanted an opportunity to bond with my dad and his family.
My parents have been so supportive, but it is amazing to know my extended family, and see my brothers and sisters, who all look like me.
Now we have found each other I feel like my life is complete. I don’t feel like an only child any more – I have more siblings than I could have ever imagined.
On October 30 this year, I married again, to Travis Flower, 27, who I met at the centre.
I have a lot to thank the centre for. It drew me to my Dad, and was where I met my husband. It pays in more ways than one to give something back.
● Amy Roberson, 23, lives in Arizona