By Dan Russo | Witness Editor
February 12, 2015
IDAHO FALLS, IDAHO — Martha Earney was raised in Iowa by great parents who treated her with as much love and affection as any child could ever need. Being adopted, however, she always wondered about her biological mother and father.
Growing up, questions came to mind, like ‘why did they decide on adoption? Where are they now and do we share the same eye or hair color?’
Recently, thanks to the post-adoption search program at Catholic Charities of the Dubuque Archdiocese, the young woman was able to get answers.
“I wanted to prepare myself for what I was going to find,” said Earney. “I was really hopeful that both of my birth parents would be in a really good place and I hoped that they had gone on and had kids and lived a good life, but I also knew that they may not want contact or maybe they were in relationships where that wasn’t something they had shared. I had to prepare myself for that, expecting the worst but hoping for the best.”
The 25-year-old was born in Cedar Rapids and has known as long as she can remember that she was adopted. She was raised in another part of Iowa, and now lives in Idaho, working as an occupational therapist. After decades of curiosity, she decided to contact Catholic Charities in 2012 shortly after completing graduate school. The non-profit agency stopped setting up adoptions several years ago, but has maintained its records from the past. Adoption search coordinator Angie Link, who works out of Catholic Charities’ Dubuque office, helps people like Earney track down their biological parents.
“Catholic Charities believes that adoption is a life-long process,” said Link. “Our agency is committed to assisting the parties involved to find healing and peace. Some members of the adoption process are looking to meet their biological relatives, while others are simply looking for medical information.” Earney prepared herself with Link for the search experience, full of strong emotions and excitement. Catholic Charities must receive consent from all parties involved before sharing any information.
In Earney’s case, the search process started with letters to the last known addresses of her birth parents. After four months, there was a response — first from her birth mom, then her dad.
“I touched base with Angie every couple weeks,” Earney recalled. “Looking back it went pretty quick, but at the time it felt like it took forever.”
In the beginning, Link and Catholic Charities acted as an intermediary, helping foster communication through follow-up letters.
“I guess you really don’t know how hard it is to share with someone you don’t know,” said Earney. “Those initial letters were the hardest. I think in both of their first letters (my birth parents) both (said) ‘We made this decision out of love.’ It was very self-less. They made that decision based on what was best for me, not necessarily what was best or easiest for them.”
Earney learned that her birth parents were a young couple that was dating just after high school when they became pregnant unexpectedly.
“They really wanted me to be raised in a stable home with two parents that were ready to make a commitment to each other,” she said.
Earney’s adoptive parents were a married couple in their 30s. For the first five years of their new daughter’s life, they exchanged letters and photos with her birth parents. Earney said she is grateful for her adoptive parents and their support of her desire to find her biological family.
“I really appreciated the fact that with Catholic Charities they have that faith-based perspective,” said Earney. “I think for couples struggling with starting a family, your faith is so important. To make the decision to open your home and your hearts to adopt a baby, it’s really an incredible experience. (My adoptive parents) didn’t know anything about my birth parents. They didn’t know anything about me. They were so willing to take me in and raise me. I really don’t know how you can do that without having faith.”
Earney exchanged letters with her birth mom for about seven months before progressing to emails, and now texts. The same gradual process took place with her birth dad. She was able to find out information that set her mind at ease and put to rest many of the questions that had been with her since childhood.
“I was really glad to hear that I had half-siblings,” said Earney. “(My birth parents) were very glad they made the decision that they did and had moved on from that.”
Although Earney’s biological father was very supportive of her birth mom, the couple did not stay together. They both furthered their educations. Eventually, both started relationships with other people and had other children.
“(My birth dad’s wife) also sent me a letter which was very cool,” said Earney. “She told me some things about him he wouldn’t normally share about himself to give me a better insight about him.”
Going through the experience of being adopted and tracking down her birth parents has taught her many things that she is open to sharing with others, especially families who adopt.
“Telling (adopted) kids it’s okay to have questions and providing them with the most honest answers is so important,” she said.
Earney also believes being sensitive to language is important when talking about adoptions.
“In a lot of cases, people say ‘oh she gave her baby up for adoption’ or ‘they’re giving their baby up for adoption,’” she said. “ When people say that I kind of cringe because they’re not giving up on their baby — they’re making a very informed and strategic decision and sacrificing a lot. My birth parents knew they wouldn’t see my first steps, the first time I rolled over — so they had to have a lot of faith that my adoptive parents would love me just like they loved me. It’s probably the most powerful selfless gift that they could give me and one that was given out of love.”
Earney has yet to meet her birth parents face to face, but reports that both sides are open to the possibility in the future. She said she is “extremely grateful for the support of Catholic Charities during the entire process” and is happy to have completed the post-adoption search.
“I am very blessed that both my birth parents were open to contact,” she said. “Being able to express to them my thanks for giving me the gift of life and making an incredibly selfless decision with my best interest in mind was a really powerful experience. Not everyone can say that they have two sets of parents who love them like I do!”
Anyone who was adopted through the Archdiocese of Dubuque may contact Catholic Charities for assistance with a post-adoption search. For more information, visit http://www.catholiccharitiesdubuque.org/
This article has been provided by The Witness, the official publication of the Dubuque Archdiocese. To subscribe, go to https://www.dbqarch.org/offices/witness/