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From an Unexpected Message to a Family Redefined

Jul 26, 2007 (Morning Edition)

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When author A.M. Homes went home for Christmas one year, an unexpected message awaited her: "We've gotten a phone call and someone is looking for you."

For Homes, who had been adopted at birth, it was "terrifying" news. Then 32 years old, Homes had no particular desire to find her birth parents. But then she learned that her biological mother was looking to get in touch with her.

"It was literally the sense of the rug coming out from under," Homes tells Steve Inskeep.

For Homes, who has recounted the experience in the book The Mistress's Daughter, the prospect of meeting her biological parents "was in many ways very threatening for my adoptive family [and] they worried that in some way they would lose me," she says. They were also worried that Homes would be hurt emotionally by the experience.

"I think what was kind of interesting about it and kind of scary was finding out little, tiny details like my biological mother telling me that her father had died very early of a heart attack."

Suddenly, Homes had to worry about the possibility that a hereditary defect would kill her as well.

But the story turned out to be false. The truth was stranger: Her grandfather had really been killed in a shootout.

So then Homes had to wonder: "What kind of people were they that they would be in a situation where someone would be killed in a shootout?

"It was both fascinating and terrifying at the same time."

Homes ended up meeting her biological parents, and soon realized that her birth mother was lost in time.

"The conversations I was having with her were not in the late 1980s or the early 1990s," Homes says. "They were back in the 1960s, where she left off.

"When she returned to find me, in many ways she hoped to find her fantasy of the child she left behind."

"My biological mother was somebody who I think had had a very, very difficult life. She had left home as a teenager, which for a young woman in Washington, D.C., was a very difficult thing to do. She got involved with my father when she was in her late teens. He was married; he was in his 30s. I think she very much hoped that he was going to make a life with her, and that never happened. There were a lot of promises that weren't kept. So by the time she found me, she was incredibly needy."

Homes says she didn't know what to expect when she met her birth mother, "but it was certainly not in any way an easy relationship."

The author's biological father is still married and has four other children. His promises to Homes, like those he made to her mother, were never fulfilled, the author says.

"He wanted to take me into his family to make me a part of things, and that wasn't something he could do. I think what's painful about it for me is that I would have liked to know him better. I would have liked to know both of these people better."

Homes says the experience has taught her "that we are not just the products of our mothers and fathers ... that I am not just my adoptive parents' child and I am not just my biological parents' child. I am simultaneously all of their children and their parents' children and their great-grandparents' children."

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A Series Overview

An adopted child changes a family forever. Families and adoptees have learned that it's not just family photos that change — but entire family trees, family traditions and family stories that are altered by an adopted child's own story.

The Phone Call

In an April 2007 interview on All Things Considered, A.M. Homes read a portion of her memoir, The Mistress's Daughter, in which she describes her first phone conversation with her birth mother.

Last in a four-part series.

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