Monday, December 1, 2008

How met my birthmother & brother: Part I


It began with cleaning out and closing an unused safe deposit box, a name revealed from a dream, a sudden illness, and this letter...

"Dear Aphrodite;

You had better sit down.

I am looking for a woman who lived in Portland, Oregon in 1957, who had a child at University Hospital on December 17, 1957. That child would be me—I grew-up with the name Denese Lorraine Ashbaugh although I am now married and call myself Denese Ashbaugh Vlosky. The woman I’m looking for would be in her mid to late 60s or early 70s with the first-married name of Aphrodite Landros. Landros was the name that she had when she gave birth to me. Her first-husband was deceased--the father was not a Landros, as I understand it. From the information that I’ve gathered, you would appear to be this woman.

I had heard about my birthmother from as early as I can remember. My mom only spoke about her in positive terms. She said that she was Greek. She said that my dad was Norwegian. She said that the woman’s husband had been killed—she thought in a war of some kind. She said that they could not have, or never had children. She said that the OB/GYN doctor who delivered me, Dr. Neilson, said that you “made him feel like a King.” My mother recently told me that she has dreams sometimes that my birthmother’s name is Aphrodite. She said that she doesn’t know how she knows this. I said, “Dr. Neilson told you this.” And she says, “He would never have told me that information!” I just laughed. I thought she had dreamt-up the name Aphrodite. I thought it was probably the only Greek name that she knew.

In the early summer of last year, my mother discovered my long-lost adoption papers in my father’s dusty, never-used, safe deposit box (you’d have to know my very-disorganized-father to understand how this could happen). On those papers was my name at birth—“Baby Landros.” It seems funny to say, but even at the age of 38 I had never before seen or heard that name. I really didn’t know what to do with the information, and I tried to put thoughts of my birth parents aside and get back to my life. However, my subconscious interfered.

In about July and for the first time in my life I began to have various and sundry odd physical symptoms, including not being able to swallow, and tingling in my arms and hands. Not surprisingly, I thought that these were physical problems. I went to my general practitioner, who sent me to a gastrologist and then a neurologist to try and get my “problems” diagnosed. At one point I was in a panic as the gastrologist had me totally convinced that I had multiple sclerosis.

Well, months later, I am happy to say that through many doctors visits we determined that my swallowing problem was due to me not using the information with which I had been presented (the name “Landros”) to find my birthmother.

Since I have been trying to find her (you), my physical problems have all but disappeared. So, I feel like this “search” is something that I have to do at this point in time. I am sorry to intrude on your probably very orderly life. However, I feel that this is “unfinished business” in my life, and probably in both of our lives. I am almost 40 years old; it is time to do this. I hope that you’ll be at a point in your life where you can say the same thing.

About these health ‘issues’: I don’t want you to think that I’m a delicate, fragile person. Actually, I’m pretty tough, and healthy, usually. And I’ve had a wonderful life. I want to thank you for that gift.

I grew-up in a middle class family in Portland, Oregon as an only child. My dad was a union president and my mom was a nurse. They were wonderful parents. My mom paid for my college education at Pacific Lutheran University, and then at Southern Oregon State College, and instilled in me a love of travel (I’m a travel-addict, actually). I graduated with degrees in Spanish and Economics and went to Costa Rica in the summer after my graduation to visit my AFS family (I went to Costa Rica on a high school AFS exchange-student program). There I met a cute Peace Corps volunteer who became my pen pal. He eventually returned and visited me in Portland on his way to a job in Chicken, Alaska. I visited him in New York that Fall at his parents’ house, and never left. We were married in the spring in a civil ceremony in New York, and again in the fall at the Oaks Pioneer Church in Portland. I was twenty-five and he was twenty-six. I was so comfortable around his family— something about their very ethnic, Jewish family that was immediately familiar to me, and that made me feel at-home.

We lived and worked in Seattle for ten years. I graduated from law school there, and Rich got his masters degree in Forest Economics. We adopted a fat little baby boy named Daniel from Korea—adoption was something that I had dreamed of since childhood.

I worked as a lobbyist in Olympia for a couple of years, and then quit to have James.Daniel is almost 11 and James is 6 ½. The last several years have been hectic. We sent Rich back to get his Ph.D. at Penn State University, in State College, PA, where I worked as an elder law and general practice attorney. I was so happy there. I wouldn’t have left if I’d had a choice. But, Rich got a job at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, so now we’re here until he finds someplace better suited to us. I am not practicing law here, as the law is based on the civil code, not the common law (the only state in the country to have a different system).

But, to make myself happy, Rich encouraged me to go “take a couple of classes” in gerontology. Well, I am almost done with a M.S. in family science, with an emphasis in gerontology. School has been a delight, much more fun than the torture of law school. My last class this semester is statistics, and I’m really struggling with it. But, I’m assuming that even at this advanced age, I’ll get through it. Anyway, school has allowed me to be around for my kids in the afternoons after they get home from school. James just started kindergarten this year, as his birthday is on the borderline, and as a boy he’s better off being older than younger. When I go back to work, assuming that I will, I don’t know if I’ll practice law again. Maybe I’ll do something else. We’ll see.

That’s all. That’s my life. I guess I have to say that you keeping the last name Landros, or almost Landros, Landros-Swanson allowed me to find you. If you’d dropped the name totally, I never would have found you. That makes me think that in some way you wanted to be found.

It’s also odd that I’ve lived in Pennsylvania (you lived in Pittsburgh I hear) and in Seattle (I hear you once lived in Seattle). Also, for quite a few years I had a fixation with living in Bellingham, where you are now. Rich applied to an academic job there recently—he didn’t get the job.

One last thing: I don’t want to hurt my parents in any way. They’ve been great. And I could never replace them. My mother is absolutely (and honestly) excited about me finding you. She’s been pushing this for some time. She says that she thinks I have a sibling, or hopes I have one or some. I think her fixation with finding siblings for me is because I am an only child. My mother had four sisters that she adored. My dad is not crazy about this idea of me finding you. But, he is sweet, and although he’d never tell you what he’s thinking, he’ll do anything to make me or my kids or my husband happy (Rich says he’d stand in a rainstorm of bullets for our children). Mom said he cried today when she told him about me finding you, and he said, “Well, she’s still my kid.” Of course I am! Nothing can change that.

I’ll leave you with my name, address and phone number. Maybe you and I can write at first. I am not sure I’d even know what to say to you if you called me on the phone. But, feel free to do so if you wish.

Warmly,

Denese

** Daniel and James and Myron, you will notice that names and locations have been changed to protect the privacy of certain individuals that aren't as comfortable with their life stories being splattered all over the internet.

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