Perhaps this is long overdue. While I don’t know if and when I’ll write a long post about meeting my birth mother, I wanted to share a few memories from my trip. I am forever grateful to the many friends and family who helped me through every step of my journey. I honestly could not have done it without you.
I found my birth mother — and brother — on Facebook back in 2013. We talked frequently and were even able to video chat on Skype (with my dad’s assistance with translating). I know not every adoptee’s family is supportive of the search and reunion process, but mine definitely was and is, and I’m very thankful for that. My (adoptive) family knew I wanted to meet my birth mother, and frequently asked how she was doing.
About a year ago, I decided I had had enough of waiting. I had to meet her. I had to know. I was bursting at the seams with curiosity. Does she like the things I do? What is her house like? What does she like to cook? What does she smell like? What shampoo does she use? Does she smile and laugh easily like me? Does she sing when she washes the dishes? Where, exactly, did I come from?
These are simple things I never knew the answer to. And my desire for that knowledge far outweighed the stark and simple facts: I barely knew Polish, I was traveling to a foreign country not sure of what to expect, and I was going alone.
A lot of people called me brave. Maybe a few thought I was naive. Whatever I was, I was going. I booked my ticket in March and counted down the days to my departure.
My partner drove me to the Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto on June 11. He waited with me until the last possible moment. I wouldn’t see him, or anyone familiar, for about four weeks. That realization hit hard as I was pushed into a sea of people. I suddenly felt very small and very alone.
From there, I flew to Montréal. The flight was short, there were free snacks in the airport, and I began to feel more at ease. Then I was off to Frankfurt, where I tried to get some sleep on uncomfortable plastic chairs during a ten-hour layover. Finally, about thirty of us got on a very small plane to Rzeszów. Everyone was speaking Polish; many of them were returning home. This is it, I thought. Part of me felt like I was going home too.
I arrived at the airport, unsure where to go. It was just past midnight and not many people were around. I pushed open the nearest doors and there she was. We hugged and hugged and hugged. “Moja córeczka,” she said as she stroked my hair. “My daughter.”
My birth mother’s friend drove the car while we sat in the backseat, snuggled up close together. I realized she hadn’t held her baby, her child, in 23 years.
Her apartment was modest but immaculately clean, with family photos all around. My birth mother’s father, my grandfather, ran up to me and took my hands in his. He was talking a mile a minute and he definitely wasn’t speaking English. I could only make out a few words; he was smiling and crying at the same time. He kissed my cheeks and indicated I should sit down. We had champagne. We had food. So much food. (Turns out my birth mother also loves onion, garlic, chives, and dill.)
My brother showed me around the city. He spoke some English, and our conversations flowed more easily than I had ever hoped. I was thrilled. We walked for hours, we got ice cream, we watched flickering lights dance over a fountain of water at sunset. We tried to squeeze over two decades of our lives into a few hours. There was a lot of laughter. He picked flowers on the way home. “For our Mom,” he said.
I was in Poland almost a month, and I didn’t stay with my birth mother the whole time. I was incredibly fortunate that some of my family’s friends were able and willing to help me out — with translating (my birth mother spoke almost no English, and it was difficult for us to communicate), and experiencing as much as I could before I had to return to Buffalo.
I met the nurse who delivered me–in the hospital where I was born. I met Dr. Janowski and his wonderful family. I met my parents’ friends and their (now adult) kids, who showed me around Krakow and Warsaw. I caught up with a friend I had been corresponding with online but who I hadn’t seen since I was five years old. Everyone was so kind, inviting, helpful, and warm. The hospitality in Poland is something else.
I got to visit the orphanage where I spent the first year of my life, and where my family lived while adopting my younger brother (I was 5 then). This was one of the most incredible parts of the trip. One of the women who worked there remembered me from when I was only a few weeks old. We held each other close as I thanked her over and over again for taking care of me. They had all my old records. I saw my original birth certificate, my health information from the hospital, and the documents my parents signed to adopt me. The papers had been sitting, collecting dust in a drawer for almost 24 years. Some of them are mine now.
I had twelve hours in Kraków with friends, and we made the most out of every minute. We spent most of the day walking, taking it all in. Castles, bridges, music, horse-drawn carriages, shops on the street selling handmade scarves. In Warsaw, I got to bike to the Old Town. We went to the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Everywhere there were so many beautiful churches. We went to parks. We had pizza at a restaurant. The food was delicious, so fresh and full of flavor.
On my last day in Poland, I brought my birth mother flowers. We promised we would see each other again soon. And we hugged goodbye. Na razie. For now.
I wrote in my journal:
I can’t believe I have only one day left. I couldn’t have asked for a more incredible trip. This journey was more than a vacation – it was about getting in touch with my roots and meeting my birth mother. I finally got to see her, hug her, kiss her… and that alone is a miracle to me. I also got to meet my birth brother, grandfather, and uncle. After 23 days, I feel a sense of peace: I’ve put together some of the missing pieces of my story, and the circle is complete. Unbroken. My heart is bursting with the love, kindness, and generosity I’ve received during this trip. Thank you for being part of my journey of a lifetime. I am eternally grateful.