When her teenage mother fell pregnant in the winter of 1971, Heather Katz’s mother hid her swelling stomach. “At seven months into her pregnancy, her mother finally uncovered the truth. The following day, her parents set events in motion that would alter the course of many lives to follow. The family arranged for my mother to leave her home state and move into the Edna Gladney Center for unwed mothers in Fort Worth, Texas, USA. No one in her hometown, including her siblings, was ever to know of me—and she was never to speak of my birth.”Heather was adopted by a rabbi of a large reform congregation in San Antonio and his wife, director of family life education at Jewish Family Services. After years of trying to conceive, the couple received a call from the Gladney Center. It was to be a charmed childhood for Heather.
“We did not keep secrets in our family. From the moment I was adopted, my parents spoke openly of my adoption. When I was only three months old, my great-great aunt asked my mom when she was going to tell me I was adopted. My mom responded with, “I am just going to tell her that she is a girl, Anglo, American and adopted. Being adopted will always be part of her identity.” Indeed, it was. I do not recall a moment of not knowing I was adopted.”
Now with her own children, Heather wonders about her birth family. “I still wonder which unknown family member passed on their musical abilities to both my children and me; I wonder what family folklore I might never hear; and while I met my birth father once, there is much I cannot say or know.”
When she was 21, Heather’s adoptive parents employed an adoption search specialist. Her birth mother was found. After a break of a few months to think about it, Heather asked the social worker to make the telephone call. Her birth mother answered, saying, “My family does not know about her. I cannot talk at this time.”
“Your daughter only wishes for you to know that she is doing well and that she’d enjoy exchanging letters when you’re ready and willing,” said the intermediary.
For several months, Heather and her birth mother exchanged letters. Finally, they met. “We all exchanged hugs, made awkward chatter about hair highlights or something mundane like that, and then shared a light-hearted restaurant meal together. We spent close to four surreal hours with them. From that encounter, a phantom had been laid to rest and my ancestral tree had grown a few more branches. However, when I had asked questions about my birth story or my paternal family, I learned nothing more. At the time, it was too difficult for my mother to dredge up the past.” It would be a further 18 years before Heather’s maternal birth family knew of her existence.
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