Each day I waited nervously for the adoption papers to arrive, and each day it seemed that the mailman arrived later than the day before. I would actually tremble with anticipation when walking to the mailbox! When they finally came, I hesitated before opening the thick envelope. Would they contain a key to my identity, or would they just be a lot of legal words masking my identity and closing the door on my search?
It's kind of funny when something like this happens. As excited as you are, you are equally filled with dread. Your mind goes into a funny whirly place, with gauze over your brain and ringing in your ears. Your stomach is in your throat, your heart is beating wildly, your mouth goes dry. You lick and purse your lips a few times, take some cleansing breaths, glance around to see if anyone is watching and wondering what you're doing just standing there. You can't decide whether to rip it open right there, or wait until you're in the safety of your house and open it slowly and neatly. It makes you see why sometimes people will hand over the envelope to someone else and say "no, please, you open it".
IN THE COUNTY COURT OF COOK COUNTY: Thomas W. Ecklund and Irene M. Ecklund -vs- No. 124737Lake Bluff Orphanage, a corporation, and Linda Irene Crawley, a minor. There it was in black and white - LINDA IRENE CRAWLEY! It took a few minutes to get past that, the name my real mother had given me at birth, but as I read on I discovered that “on the 9th day of August, 1948, the mother of said child duly surrendered the said child to the Lake Bluff Orphanage for the purpose of adoption.” August 9? Why had she waited almost three months to sign relinquishment papers? Had she kept me with her during those three months? Had she held me and loved me, only to decide that she couldn’t or didn’t want to keep me?
“The Court further finds that said petitioners are of sufficient ability to bring up said child, and to furnish suitable nurture and education therefore, and that it is fit and proper, and for the best interests of said minor, that said adoption should be had.” In thinking quickly over my childhood, I had to laugh at this paragraph, although it was certainly not something to laugh about. Suitable nurture? Best interests? Of course, they couldn't have known what actually lay ahead.
“It is further ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the name of the child and it is hereby changed to Linda Jean Ecklund, according to the prayer of the petitioners herein.” So they had kept the name that my birth mother had given me, Linda. But instead of keeping the middle name, Irene, which was my new adoptive mother's name, they changed it to Jean, after her sister. I would later learn that my maternal grandmother's name was Rhoda Irene, and I had been named after her.
After receiving and reviewing the adoption papers, I began an earnest search for the lady who had given me life. It didn’t take long to realize what a huge task I had undertaken! First, I had to determine what information I already had ( which was not much despite all the paperwork-birth name, orphanage, name of hospital) and where the information would best be put to use.
The first place I wrote was the hospital for any records that might still exist. For a $20 search and copy fee, they were able to supply me with xerox copies of all my hospital records, which would also include my mother's since they were entertwined. Of course, once again, I had to wait for it to come in the mail, which took several weeks! When they did arrive, there was little information to aid in my search. Though I did learn that I was a poor eater, and had had a rash on my face. All reference to my mother's name had been blacked out, but I did see record of her labor and delivery. And I did learn that I had been released directly to the Lake Bluff Orphanage on May 26, 1948, 11 days old and weighing 5 pounds 12 ounces. Which meant that my mother had not kept me for those three months before signing the relinquishment papers.
The next step was to contact the orphanage. It took several weeks to locate it because of a name and phone number confusion, but it was a very fruitful contact. After talking to the orphanage director by phone, he promised to send any “non-identifying” information that they had on file. Until I received his letter, there was nothing I could do but wait. Again.
(You may be wondering why I didn't just get my birth certificate since I knew the birth name now, but at that time all birth records sealed forever. There was a battle of sorts going on in this time period with adoptees and various groups trying to get those records unsealed when an adoptee turned eighteen , but I have forgotten the details all these years later.)
The day the letter came was one of the most intense experiences of my life. For the first time in my life, I would have some idea of who my mother was and why she had given me up. As I read the letter through the first time, I felt as if I were intruding on someone’s life. As I read it a second time, I realized that I was reading about my mother! I cried as I read it through the third time. (to be continued...Part 3 here)
7 years ago