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  Barbara Lau  


Jessica Eisner ’87, Shawna Mulay Suckow ’91, and Lisa Fry ’02 are grateful for the multitude of benefits they have received being adopted. Yet each acknowledges the tug—sometimes irrepressible— for uncovering their origins.

“I am of mixed race, born in 1965 to a Mexican-Filipina woman farmer in Indiana. I don’t know much more, except that my father was Scottish and I suspect my birth was out-of-wedlock, surrounded by poverty and racism,” says Eisner of Bellevue, Wash. “Being adopted by a white American couple, I feel I had a better chance to escape my humble, if not doomed, beginnings. Now I am a medical doctor and filmmaker, married with two fine children.” Along with her two adopted siblings, Eisner’s mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were also adopted.

When Eisner was 10, her mother asked all three children if they wanted to find their birth parents. She felt compelled to offer them this chance since she had never had this opportunity. “We held a kid-meeting and decided that it would just hurt our adoptive parents’ feelings for nothing more than satisfying our curiosity,” Eisner recalls. “My mother cried in joy when we said we didn’t need to look any further for our ‘real’ mother. Although I am incredibly curious for genetic/biological reasons, I feel as though there is more to be lost than gained from such a quest.”

Suckow’s parents also promised their full support should she decide to locate her birth parents. “Despite this, I was terrified to proceed, afraid that they would feel betrayed. My intention was never to create an involved relationship; I simply wanted more information— health records, my birth story, and an explanation of why I was given away,” explains Suckow, who lives in Eagan, Minn. Her curiosity eventually “became overwhelming.” She began her search without her parents’ knowledge, concluding that if she never located her birth parents she would not need to upset her adoptive parents.

After six months she made contact with her birth father. (Her birth mother wished no contact.) “Then I had the agonizing task of telling my adoptive parents. To my amazement, my parents hugged me, consoled me, and supported me, just as they had promised. My dad had some issues to face, however, and when I got married years later, he asked if he would be the one to walk me down the aisle! In my mind there was never any question who my ‘real dad’ was. I only send Father’s Day cards to one man, and that will never change.”

Like Suckow’s parents, Gail Meyer Trenhaile ’64 of Omaha, Neb., has coped well with her daughter’s desire to investigate her birth parents. She and husband Curtis adopted Rebecca Lynn as an infant, just four months after applying with the Nebraska Children’s Home in Omaha. Trenhaile reveals, “There was a time early on when I would have felt threatened having contact with Becki’s birth family. In later years I trusted her love for me. In fact, I was as devastated as Becki when her search proved fruitless.” If Becki resumes her search later, “I promise to be beside her every step of the way,” Trenhaile says.

Barbara Lau is a poet, journalist, and teacher who has taught composition and creative writing courses at Cornell. Her book, The Long Surprise, won the 2000 X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize. Lau and husband Don Chamberlain, associate professor of music at Cornell, have two daughters, Grace and Lily. Lily was adopted as an infant through a private agency in Texas.

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