May 29, 2012

To Tell or Not to Tell



     While in Heuvelton, New York, recently, the only television we had was the Canadian Broadcasting Company from Kingston, across the St. Lawrence River. We’d cancelled the cable television, and Canada hasn’t changed to analog.

     One program had a segment called To Tell or Not To Tell. A question was raised and the audience voted—with placards—whether to tell or not to tell. The expert would agree or not, and explain her reasoning. Don’t tell someone the person they are dating isn’t right for them. Do tell your friend if you saw her husband on an Internet dating site or going into a motel room with another.

     I wondered what the audience and the expert would say if confronted with my situation.

     The thin ribbon of smoke held two small clues—a statement by a relative and a childhood memory. The flame was lit on my blog via comments I almost deleted, thinking they were spam: I found my birth certificate, I think we are related…

     Between mid-January 2011 and early February 2012 two sisters whom my mother released for adoption discovered their birth family. The process was enabled by three things: state laws allowing adoptees access to their birth records; my blog, which contained our mother’s name, and the fact that my mother’s maiden name was very unique—the only one in the history of this country.

     It was my task to inform my six maternal siblings and one of my paternal siblings of their arrival into our families.

     They received the news of the first arrival differently. A few knew of the possibility. Others had no idea. There was anger, joy, acceptance, and an altered perception of our mother.

     With the second arrival, the news was received much more smoothly. However, one sibling was obviously shaken. One mistake was acceptable—but two? Again, perceptions of our mother were altered.

     When my friend’s husband heard of this reaction he asked me why I told the secret.

     I said I told because keeping the secret would maintain a wall between those informed and those uninformed. I told because secrets damage more than the truth. And, quite simply, the veiled truth had come home to roost. It was necessary to tell those siblings who knew of the possibility. It wasn’t fair to ask them to keep it from the others—the others had a right to know.

     It was my choice. Did I have the right not to tell? Or was I obligated to tell? What about their right to the truth? What about the adoptees right to know, to be in contact with, their bio-siblings?

     Unfortunately, one doesn’t know the consequences of revealing a truth until after it is revealed. Would the sibling who was obviously shaken be better off being kept in the dark, maintaining the illusion our mother wanted him to have? Or is he better off knowing and dealing with his new perceptions?

     As my friend’s husband said, perhaps he didn’t want to know.

     Perhaps he didn’t. I am not to blame for my mother’s secret. She held it close to her heart. But the secret came out, as secrets often will. And this secret was revealed to me. It was my choice what to do with it. Either way there are consequences.



My Mother’s Secret: An Adoption Story

Oprah and I: Adoption Reunion Experiences





1 Comment »

  1. In this more mobile, more spread-out world, it becomes an obligation to let the secret be known. Cousins perhaps might be attracted to each other, without the knowledge that they are related. Everyone deals with information different, based on what their own relationship with their mother was. Working through it is difficult, but rewarding.

    Comment by Fran — May 29, 2012 @ 10:46 am | Reply

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