Some of the most moving moments at this year's Gather gala happened while Kiara Montgomery and Deanna Schuette spoke. Kiara is a birthmother, and a member of our case management staff, and Deanna is the Vice Chair of our Board of Directors, and an adult adoptee from a closed adoption. On Your Feet Foundation is well-known for keeping birthparent and adoptee voices at the forefront, and both Kiara and Deanna's words had our attendees moved to tears. We will be sharing both speeches on our site, for those in our community who were unable to attend in person this year. First up, Deanna's moving tribute to her family.
I found On Your Feet Foundation when I moved to Evanston in 2018. My husband, Brooke, introduced me to his friend Alexis, also OYFF’s Executive Director, who invited me to a Board meeting. While I cannot recall specifics of the topics covered that night, I distinctly remember the feeling of wonder being in community with people all connected to or caring about the journey of adoption, for the first time in my life.
Growing up, I was surrounded by a loving family. Yes, loving parents and a loving older brother (also an adoptee of a closed infant adoption), but also loving Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, cousins, and friends who felt like family.
For as long as I can remember, my Mom and Dad openly told my brother and me that we were adopted. They were not aware of the circumstances around either of our births and placement for adoption. When talking about it they almost always found a way to affirm that our birthparents loved us by recognizing that raising a child was not something they were prepared for at that time. And that being unable to have biological children of their own, that that decision provided them with their most treasured gifts. Whenever the topic of being adopted came up in our home, Mom and Dad also affirmed their support should we ever wish to seek out our biological families.
Over the years, my internal sense of being adopted took different forms: deep intrigue in science or psychology courses that explored nature versus nurture. Early childhood and attachment development topics. Making friends with other adoptees, and prodding questions that felt like they belonged in the quiet of my mind or heart: “I wonder why they didn’t keep me?”; “do they think about me too?”; “are we alike?”; “do I have brothers or sisters?”; “what do they look like?”; “do I look like them?”; “where do they live?”; “is it possible I’ve passed them on the street?”; “would I know it if I did?”
And surely stretches of time where it was more distant from my mind.
Every January 19th we celebrated my adoption day, as we did with my brother on his day. I would sit at the feet of this story, drink up the sparkling delight and love that Mom and Dad always had when reflecting on their journey becoming parents through adoption, and commemorating this day when their social worker, Carolyn, transferred me from the care of my foster parents to bring me home to my adoptive family.
On my adoption day in 2012, at the age of 30, I announced to my parents a plan to start looking for my biological parents. I felt I was at a place in my life where I wanted to try - whether they would be open to meeting and knowing me or not. All of the questions that felt easier to hold in those quiet places only became louder and more clear. Hints of all that was underneath my own permission to pursue knowing a more whole and complete story of what and who make me who I am.
After giving notice to my social worker that I wanted to try to make contact and ongoing connection with her along the way, I received an email nearly three months later that revealed the contact information of my birthmother, who was open to my outreach. From that point we enjoyed phone calls, email exchanges, and met for the first time a month later. I shared with her that I would value the chance to make connection with my birthfather. My BioMom soon shared that my birthfather was also open to my outreach and would email me soon.
Here are a few excerpts from that first emailed letter from my BioDad, which shall be a lifelong keepsake:
- I have always wondered if I would have the opportunity to hear from you. I am very pleased to hear that you have had a great life...
- We are all blessed with great extended family and stay close with siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews etc.
- Our family would welcome whatever contact you would like to have moving forward. I am not sure how one does this but we can figure it out. Love, your biological father
This welcome extended to me by my biological mother and then father was more than I ever would have let myself dare to dream.
Ten years on, with the mark of our first meeting coming up next month, I want to extend with every fiber of my being, gratitude to my BioDad, Peter and OUR family who have come to gather tonight – his wife, Lori, also a birthmother – my sister, Savannah – and my brother, Fritz. Yes, they are here because we all are tied to adoption. And, because this is who they are. Family who see the places and experiences that bring us alive and show up to support one another in that.
Family is sacred. Both as a whole and in each of its individual parts. There was a couple with a strong marriage foundation. There were parents who loved their children. Children who loved their parents. Siblings who were also the best of friends. And still, you opened a space there for me too. The chance to not only step in and witness how you do family, but to let – and more accurately, invite – the whole of who I am and what I bring in my understanding and presence with family.
You also stepped into mine. And soon a much larger context of how we can all belong together became real. And since that time 10 years ago, each of us welcoming the joy of partnership with Cody, Kayla and Brooke.
There really truly is no such thing as too many people in life to love or be loved by.
On Your Feet Foundation community, gathered here this evening, thank you for the space that you hold to let our hearts be full in all the joy and mystery and challenge that adoptions can be. And nudging each of us to look up and see the three unique places we start from on our paths in this parallel journey – as birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees. And, to look inward to honor all the feels these experiences bring.
Vogel family - thank you. I feel more whole in the chance to name you as my family. And to be called yours. Your openness to this journey has blessed me for lifetimes.