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Positive Reunions and Painful Rejections

Updated On: July 9, 2024

How does the journey of seeking one’s birth parents unfold in real life, with all its emotional complexities?

For many, the decision to seek out biological roots is driven by a deep need for connection and identity. However, this journey can surface unexpected emotional challenges, from rejection to surprising familial revelations, as Kendall and our guest, Jean Widner discuss.

Positive Reunions and Painful Rejections

Benefits Listeners Will Gain:

Firsthand accounts of the emotional impact of seeking and sometimes finding birth parents, illustrating the dual possibilities of healing and hurt.

Perspectives on how individuals cope with the varied outcomes of adoption searches, providing potential strategies for others in similar situations.

An exploration of the support systems and psychological resources that can aid in navigating the often tumultuous process of familial discovery.

Join Kendall and Jean as they share their heartfelt experiences of pain, trauma, and healing on their quests to uncover their origins.

Guest bio:

Jean Widner was born at the Salvation Army Booth Memorial Hospital for Unwed Mothers in Spokane, Washington. She graduated from Central Washington University in 1987 with a double Bachelor of Science Degree in Fashion Merchandising.

With a background in retail, Jean owned two successful e-commerce retail companies, which she sold to pursue her passion for writing and living a larger purpose than just selling ‘stuff’. Widner amplified her e-commerce knowledge and created an online content and marketing services company while also developing, a social-based website that is Southern Nevada’s prominent small-town news source.

Developing her reporting skillset paired with her love for writing and creative content creation, Jean quickly became the “go-to” source with for news verification relating to government affairs, public interest stories, and special events within Boulder City, Nevada. Additionally, she launched a local authors series which fosters a publicity platform for independent books.

She currently lives in Boulder City, NV, when she is not traveling with the love of her life and her two golden retrievers. Further, her ambitions have left her with a love for education. She aims to share her expertise in marketing with other local entrepreneurs wherever possible and apply those same skills into the marketing of this project.

While Jean is now a seasoned media member, her book “The Adoption Paradox: Stories of Loss, Love, and Healing Told by Adoptees, Parents, and Birthparents” will be her debut piece.

She is currently a member of the Boulder City Sunrise Rotary, Lions Clubs International, Boulder Business Development, Boulder City Chamber of Commerce, Henderson Writers Group, and Southern Nevada Writers Group.

Book link: The Adoption Paradox: Stories of Loss, Love, and Healing Told by Adoptees, Parents, and Birthparents

Untangling Our Roots Summit

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Corey & Kendall Stulce (00:00.046)

Thank you for being here with us today. Thank you for inviting me. It's my pleasure. Absolutely. So it's interesting. We don't necessarily plan it this way, but it seems like we have little chunks of adoption themed episodes and we'll have like a few donor conceived interviews in a row and then NPEs. So we just did another adoption episode recording yesterday with an adoptive mom, which was really interesting. And it was definitely a perspective that we haven't had on the show before.

everybody's perspectives are important for us to get to a place where we were all, we can understand this better. Exactly. I really personally enjoy healing in, in constellation. And again, that was unexpected, but also when I knew that I wanted to write a book and when I knew what I wanted to do and to really try to tell stories from all three sides, that has been so rewarding. I mean, unimaginably even so I'm

endlessly humbled with how people have trusted me with their stories. The good ones, the hard ones, the everything in between ones, the ones that take strange twists and turns. I even had some drama play out while I was at Untangling Our Roots. Yeah. So I had some birth family drama play itself out right then and there. Actually, Monica Hall was a part of that. That's what I was like listening to some of your earlier podcasts and researching and stuff like that. I'm like,

My buddy. That's crazy. That is funny because she and I, I'm like, we just like, we hit it off immediately at summit, but then so Kendall was not able to be on that recording and she and I were on for like two and a half hours. Like you've only heard like a chunk of it. And there's definitely a shorter part that I'm going to include as its own little episode because she talks about somebody coming up and saying, I'm going to knock on my birth mother's door right now. Will you come with me?

Yeah, that was the scenario that played itself out at conference. His story went well and mine didn't. Yeah, wow. We can talk about that if you want. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, let's let's get into it. Essentially, he did go and knock on his birth mother's door. And this was after I think he'd sent letters and got no reply and was able to have reunion for a couple of hours. And it sounds like when he came back, he was like he had that glow.

Corey & Kendall Stulce (02:29.774)

yeah, no, he was on the moon. Yeah. Absolutely. Wow. I was a part of a group where he was recounting that story and I had just had my not so great story. So that was, no, but he deserved his moment in his honeymoon and he said, glad he had that. Yeah. So do you want to share how your moment happened? I'm one of these ones who did not want to search, need to search.

You know, my search started very, very late in life only within the past, like three years. I want to say it was 2021. when I got my original birth certificate being born in Washington state, as I was in 1965 and got that original birth certificate and got her name. And she was from this tiny town in North Dakota. And I was too emotionally close to it. So I handed it off to my mother -in -law, my mother -in -law, my bonus mom.

who's really good in ancestry. And so I said, here, you take this because I'm too emotional. I'm too close to it right now here. And that was like 8 .30 in the morning on a Saturday at 11 .30 the same morning, she calls me and she says, I need you to sit down. And she'd found her there. There was her high school senior photograph, a mirror of me at that age. And, you know, so we found her.

And then we found her founder and she was living in a suburb of Denver. She was alive. She had married much later in life. She was 39 when she got married. It always struck me as odd because I'm like, it's 1980, it's 1985. I'm a junior in college and she's just getting married for the first time in her life. You know,

I did send, you know, that very carefully worded letter and a handful of photographs and just saying, you know, I've had a good life, you know, I honor you and all you went through and whatever happened, I know you did your best, all the good things that you want to, you know, express in that moment and her nothing and nothing and nothing and nothing. I, you know, eventually just like sent a few Christmas cards and little things like that, very unobtrusive.

Corey & Kendall Stulce (04:41.486)

with my cell phone like hidden on the inside of the envelope and all the things, right? Because I'm thinking, of course, her husband probably doesn't know. And so before the event in Denver, I sent again a very nicely, carefully worded, you know, letter inside of a card and just said, you know, I'm going to be in the area from this date to this date. I would meet you anywhere. I would love just to see your...

just to see her face. I even ran that letter past several other birth mothers that I knew who both said, yep, okay, your wording is good. Everything's careful. All the things had parchment paper. I mean, all the things. When I'm approaching a 77 year old woman and didn't hear anything. Went to the event, you know, flew in on Thursday, Thursday night, Mike night, woo woo. And then Friday afternoon,

a letter arrives at my home here. And so I said to my husband, I'm like, okay, you know, he's like, I'm going to go ahead and open this and then I'm going to call you back. And we were on a break in between sessions and the letter said, you know, I love you. I'm glad you've had a good life, but I don't want to be in touch and I don't want to meet you and said, you know, my family doesn't know. And so please respect my wishes.

So that was kind of devastating on Friday afternoon, I would say. Well, there were certainly worse places to be to get that news. Yes. That is the thing. I mean, even my husband and I, and I mean, you know, he's a great man. I mean, he's sobbing, I'm sobbing, you know. And but if I was going to be anywhere, you know, then not with him. My God.

with adoptees and all sorts of people who are professionals in the field. And so I was literally able to just sort of, you know, collect myself and walk out of that room and tap a good dear friend on the shoulder who herself happens to be an adoptee, a first mother and a therapist and say, I need you.

Corey & Kendall Stulce (06:56.654)

and have her just walk away with me and then sit down and process it in the company of good friends. And so if I was gonna be anywhere to hear that, I was in the right place. Yeah. Well, and I mean, as hard as it was to hear, at least you heard, right? Like at least you got something. Yeah. yes, the ambivalence was killing me because you're, does she have dementia?

Was she in a terrible car accident and her face is ruined and she doesn't want me to see her? Has he been mean? Has he been hiding the whole letter? Does she even know all the things? And it was funny because I had also planned to, I stayed an extra period of time, had booked a rental car and we still did go ahead and go. Me and a friend, Monica.

Because that was our plan. She stayed an extra day or two and I stayed an extra day or two. And so we went ahead and we went out to the condo where she was. It was buttoned up tight. It didn't look like anybody was home at all. And so finally, you know, Monica being who she is, which is pretty brave, pretty ballsy. A bad ass. I picked her as my comrade, right? You know, smart move. So.

we started, you know, kind of inquiring with neighbors and eventually sure enough, she found a nice little old lady that said, yeah, she knew my mother and time shares. They travel all the time. They just left last, they just left a few days ago. They'll be back next. Wow. You know, one of the things that I haven't talked to Kendall about, cause I'm just, things are still coming back from Summit that I'm like, that I, you know, I'm remembering cause you know, it's a lot for three, four days. The whole idea of like not.

It's important not to compare our stories. You know, mine, well, mine's worse because of this or mine's better because of this. Because as you were speaking, I was like, yeah, but I mean, it's, we still talk about this every day that Kendall has that ambivalence because there's been no contact. Well, I think what makes it worse for him is that he knows just a tiny little bit that he's getting from his sisters and they're holding, I think they're holding their cards very close to the, to the best because, you know, they don't want to hurt him any more than he's already hurting. Plus they're trying to protect her.

Corey & Kendall Stulce (09:21.038)

wishes and it's just like, like I mean I think if Kendall were to get a note back just saying like, you know, I love you, it was a time in my life I've buried and I just can't, I think that would be something, you know? Yeah, yeah. I need, I've heard other, lots of other people say it, it's just I need to be acknowledged.

I need to be recognized. Like, I think it is, I think it's unfathomable just to just ignore your child. I don't, you know, like, I just, I don't think it's right. I think all it takes is to your point, one letter, one note, one call, one, you know, whatever it is. Right. Yeah. Cause as devastating as that is, I imagine that you've got at least got some closure now. You know, it's kind of one of those things.

I'm leaving the door open. She's gonna get a copy of my book, I'll tell you that. And it's funny because I'm still not angry at her. I've never allowed myself to feel anger and I don't, I've genuinely rummaged around, like literally tried to unpack that suitcase and get all the way down to the center of that onion or whatever. Pick your analogy. I genuinely don't feel that anger. Mostly what I am is just sad for her.

I mean, my God, it's like, and I just, I wrote this article that actually got published in a cub and concerned United birth parents about this event. And it was about mother's day. And as far as I can tell, my birth mother had no other children. She had no other children. Mother's day comes once a year, every year. And it's a loaded holiday for a lot of people, you know, not just us on the constellation. It's a loaded holiday for a lot of folks.

Yeah. Because they're either missing their mom who was amazing but wasn't there, or maybe they're mad at their mom because they walked out on the family or all the things, right? She was a drunk, she was a mean person, whatever. But the thing that I wrote was it's like, she actually deserves to celebrate Mother's Day. She actually deserves to claim herself as a mother, to declare herself as a mother. And she's missing out on that.

Corey & Kendall Stulce (11:45.902)

How sad is that? And how I'm not the most awesome person in the world, but I'm a pretty decent glass. I'm a good person. I'm a lot of fun. You know, it's like, chick, this is your loss. You know? And I mean, who doesn't want more love in their life? Who doesn't want more people in their life who can add blessings to them? And so as much as I want to say, I understand it and I understand it on the intellectual levels.

of the pain, the shame, what that era was, all that these women went through and they just, they tamped that thing down and they just closed that off and they can't open that door. And what a loss. Right. For them. Because again, you're an awesome dude. Right? Awesome dude, Corey would attest to that. I mean, well, thank you. I mean, yeah, you know, cause you do start

you start going for me because I know that my mother could know things about me because my sisters know things about me. I don't think she does though. I mean, I think there is such a feeling that when my mother said to my sisters, you guys can have a relationship with him, but I'm all good. I think that was their clue. Like we're not supposed to talk about him at all.

Not that her husband doesn't know about, he does. He knows about me, but I think they respect her and they just don't bring it up. So sometimes I wonder like, does she know that, does she know that I went to college? Does she know that I've never taken drugs? Does she know that, you know what I mean? Like I give back to my community and does she know I've been in a relationship? I know she knows I'm gay, but does she know that Corey and I have been together for 19 years? You know what I mean?

the things that really matter. Right. That you're, you're a whole person. You've made your way. You're at ease in your own skin. And wouldn't it be nice to celebrate that with your son? Yeah. Yeah. I just, right. Yeah. Yep. So to your point, that is sad, for any of, for any birth mother, but I admire your not having anger because I

Corey & Kendall Stulce (14:08.014)

I have fought with it. I just go back and forth trying to give her grace, the thing being them being pissed off. Like you're keeping, for instance, my sisters, my sister lives physically next door to my mother. My sister's daughter just got married like three weekends, four weekends ago. Of course we weren't invited. And I get it because my niece deserves to have her grandmother at the wedding. But, but

At some point, I feel really like a little bit entitled, like I have already missed 53 years with these people and my mother is helping me miss more. I'd be pissed too. I would be pissed too. Yeah. No, I think justifiable emotion without a doubt. Yeah. It's like, I don't have to hang out with her. You know what I mean? Like you can do your own thing and I'll do my own thing and I could just be another wedding guest, but

We're not, we're purposely excluded. We, I mean, Cory and I are purposely excluded and I just, I'm getting less than six years in, I'm getting less and less okay with that. Sure, sure. Yeah. And I, you know, what it ultimately also is, is a big lesson in control. We can't control what other people are going to do and we have to find our way to still be okay with that, even if we're pissed. Yeah. Yeah.

or disappointed or grieving, you know, right? Because I had, I'd allowed myself that little fantasy. Of course I did. And I have to grieve that and just say, all right, this is what's real. So. And it's hard for me, it shouldn't be, but it's hard for me to think that she's reacting exactly the opposite of the way that I would.

Like, you know what I mean? Like, to your previous point, I don't think you can have too much love in your life. And so what it took us 47 years to find each, well, now 53, you know, to really find each other. I just feel like that's okay. Let's move on. You know what I mean? Like, let's. Right, right. Yeah, no. I mean, it's, I'll never forget this one interview that I did with a birth mother and.

Corey & Kendall Stulce (16:30.734)

her daughter rejected contact with her. And there she and I were sitting on opposite sides of the country with each other, each of us having extended the thing the other would have so desperately wished to receive. And the pain of that moment as she and I just sat there with our tears with each other, you know, those are the healing moments. And I do have any number of women who I would now call friends who are themselves first mothers and

They don't understand their decision. They don't. And they also know it's real. So people are where they are in their journey. Yeah. Yeah. So, Jean, you said something that struck me and Kendall can attest I am not a math guy. But I think from what you've told us, she was 12. No, she was 18 when she relinquished me. OK. OK. OK. Yeah. No. OK. Not math. Not math.

She was born 1946, I think, had me when she was 18. And then her story is very sad, at least according to the non -identifying information from the Salvation Army. I always love to throw that word in non -identifying information. I'm flipping off the camera.

Flipping off the world for that one. But in her identifying information or not, you know, what they said was she was 18 and she'd had a boyfriend who they believe was in the military. I believe the air force because there was an air force base relatively close to her podunk little town out there in North Dakota. But they dated for two years. They broke up at one point, got back together.

And one of the issues for them as a couple was she was a serious Catholic and he was a serious Methodist. So in the early sixties, there was still friction around that. And then to just put icing on the cake, she was significantly younger than all of her older siblings. They were already up and out of the house and married. Her father had died. She's actually an NPE and doesn't know it. wow. That's what the DNA showed me. Sidebar anyway.

Corey & Kendall Stulce (18:51.022)

So her mother had remarried a man who happened to be the chief of police and also happened to be abusing them. So he back and around his women. And so obviously she turns up pregnant. They knew they had to get her the heck out of there, not just because of the usual shame and secrecy, but because they had to get her out of there because that was going to light a candle if you figured that out. She went to Washington state and I was born in a Salvation Army hospital in 65. My understanding is, is that she

This is that when we were at the conference and I read that very first piece on open mic night called the flame. This was that story. And my understanding is she signed the papers to relinquish me on April 30th when I was 10 days old and then boarded a train that very night to go back to the only place she had. But such is the circumstances of that time.

So she really was just stuck. Her boyfriend wouldn't marry her and he'd been relocated to Alaska in the military. He couldn't support him, all the thing. Wow. Have you done any searching for your birth father's side? Yep. And we are nowhere. I mean, I've worked with a DNA angel and there's just no clear path to him. There's a family, I think, but so far they've not responded to any outreach. So it's been a while. It's been a couple of years. So I may pick that mantle up.

So far, like my closest CM match won't respond. And yeah, no, that's a very tangled family tree somewhere in West Virginia. That's leading me nowhere right now. Well, I love the approach for your book because you've talked to more than a hundred people in the constellation and you've gotten, I'm sure got to hear all different

sides. But I'm curious because you mentioned that you attended the social media panel at Summit that how do you when you're doing these interviews, like how do you get through the conversation or how do you address the conversation for people who have very, very, very strong opinions one way or the other, you know, adoptees and birth parents? You know, let them have it. Let them have their say.

Corey & Kendall Stulce (21:12.334)

I am in no position to agree or disagree with anyone's stance on how adoption should function, how it ought to be conducted. So in that instance, I act as reporter, if you will. I mean, I'm not a journalist. I don't have a degree in journalism. I think I missed my calling there. I haven't done merchandising. That doesn't do me any good for this. I mean, it's never too late to start a new career, Jane. Exactly.

So, but I really do kind of view it as being a reporter. And so I'm gonna try to let things fly. And I will also say one of the other things that I did with my book was I hired two part -time researchers. I hired two UNLV students here in the Las Vegas Valley where I'm from or where I live. I mean, boy, have we amassed a ton of research.

on the impacts of adoption, on the ways that it's conducted, on the fact that the US is definitely an outlier compared to the rest of the world. We talk about transracial, we talk about international adoption, and we do that from both sides. So I've interviewed adoptees who have had that lived experience, and then the parents who have adopted in that lived experience. And so you've got a lot of rich and sometimes

highly diverse points of view. And yet you end up closer cousins on sometimes than you might think. And you have adoptees and adoptive parents, if they're open, who can join one another in a healing journey, you can get some really profound and amazing things, you know, from that. And from that also a great deal of wisdom. Yeah. So how are you structuring the book?

five parts right now. The first is, you know, I open with my story, talk a bit about why I consider, you know, adoption as paradoxical, lay that, you know, premise out, talk about the history. Then we do a deep dive, all adoptee centered, seven chapters, all about adoption impacts and adoptee centered points of view. Second section is birth parents, all the birth parent research.

Corey & Kendall Stulce (23:29.934)

deep seven chapters on their experiences and their points of view, including that we do spend one chapter also looking at the agencies and the institutions and how they conduct themselves. Then we have a next section, which is all adoptive parent focused point of view. Again, and we do talk about agencies and institutions. There's one each in there that I forgot to mention, those who have come out of foster care and have that lived experience. And then also the parents who are

working within the foster care system. And then the final section, I try to summarize, talk about roadmaps to reunions that work, right? Sharing some of that research, advocacy, the adoptee info wars in order for us to try to get access to our records and try to lay out kind of how that works and why this is such a, so much more of an obstacle than the general public understands. Because when you start talking to the general public, they go, what?

What do you mean you can't have access? Yeah, I mean, people don't know. You're right. They just. Yeah, they don't. Wow. Like I'm just like ready to read this book right now. So where are we at? So I'm under contract with a publisher, a small boutique publisher here in Las Vegas.

Manuscript is due late June. I've got some physical struggles. I'm going to have to have knee surgery in the next couple of weeks. So I'm really struggling right now to see if I'm going to be able to meet that deadline, but I'm trying. I mean, I'm, I really am down to some of my very last and final interviews, very last and final chapters. Foster care has been actually one of the hardest ones. It's been the hardest to get content. It's been the hardest to get interview subjects.

those are probably gonna end up being like maybe the last chapters I write even. Are you still looking for subjects? Within foster care? Yeah. Yes, I am. Okay, we can probably point you toward a couple of people that we've had on the show. that'd be great. That'd be wonderful. Thank you so much. And then, you know, again, the advocacy piece, you know, because there's a lot of legislative sessions that are in, you know, that final push right now. And then as soon as they hit their summer break, I've got a handful of people that I'm gonna be interviewing for that. And we'll talk about...

Corey & Kendall Stulce (25:53.134)

like the ongoing war that's happening right now in Michigan, the struggles in Texas, and then like talk about, you know, Iowa and Ohio and places where, you know, we've got it through and, you know, kind of compare and contrast all of those things. Very cool. Well, it sounds like it would be a great holiday gift. Is there a chance it's going to be? No pressure, Jeans. I'm not sure about a holiday gift.

For 2025, is that what you're saying? Or, you know, well, I mean, just for those in the community, I think this is going to be a good resource because, you know, you're approaching this in such a unique way that I think is, you know, it's going to be really helpful for a lot of people. Thanks. That's my hope. I mean, it is really my hope. And, you know, I've got beta readers and people like that who are kind of helping to push me and, you know, I

I'm going to try to put out a good product that people can believe in and they can find some help with and also have some of their narratives challenged a little bit because when you start doing some research here on the way adoption is conducted in the United States, it's not maybe all that it could or should be. Yeah. Yeah. And especially at the time that you and I were born. I mean, historically it's just, it's kind of

Historically, it's always been. It's never been about us. Are you kidding me? It's never been about the adopted child. No, you're right. In foster care, I think there's at least the attempt to make it a child, you know, because if you legitimately have a child that is in an unsafe situation that needs to be addressed. Foster care itself, though, unfortunately, and I'm sorry if you have to bleep it out, it is a shit show beyond all comprehension.

and is so messed up. I don't, even when I ask people, okay, what should we do to fix it? They don't have clear answers. So it's really tough. I know that there are really good foster parents out there who are trying to do the good work. I know that there are social workers out there who are trying to do the good work. And there are adoption agencies who attempt to function as ethically as they can in an environment such as we are, which is with...

Corey & Kendall Stulce (28:13.55)

I mean, the child welfare industry in America is worth $14 billion a year. And you have an incredible amount of supply and a very low demand. And we have a marketplace and that invites all sorts of unscrupulous activities. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And so, cause we're America, man. Exactly. Yes. We can do it.

Well, that's why we that's why we're trying to to shine a brighter light and raise more voices because a lot of people have no idea what's going on because it doesn't directly and doesn't directly involve them. And I think a lot of people would be shocked. they are. They are. I mean, you know, my husband, again, you know, wonderful supporter, but he's like every once in a while he'll ask me a question and he's like, I have a feeling I'm not going to like the answer to this. That did that did that did that. And I'm like,

Yeah, sorry, babe. He's like, you know, I wish I could think of adoption as awesome. I know. Yeah, I know. It's I have learned so much in this process. And I realized how narrowly focused I was for years. And I needed to broaden my scope of understanding about what happens to others. I

When you hear my story, I am so fortunate compared to many, many others. I wish that were the case for the people we'd spoken to, but it isn't, you know. Absolutely, absolutely. And I'm with you on that. I mean, I have to be honest. When I started this book, when I started this journey, I just thought I was going to be talking about the emotional complexities. I had no idea what I was wandering into.

And the problem is once you see it, you can't unsee it. You can't pull your brain back and pretend I don't know that these things are real. I try not to proselytize solutions. There are some things that I can think of. There are some people float ideas that I think have merit, others less so, blah, blah, blah. I'm not the ultimate decision maker. What I'm hoping to do with my book though is again, because I did have a good experience.

Corey & Kendall Stulce (30:35.406)

I'm not that bitter adoptee who's out there who was, by the way, when I say bitter, I mean entitled to their anger and their and their embitterment over being maltreated by a system and by adoptive parents who maybe abused them or didn't treat them as as carefully and respectfully, even as they should have. Those folks are righteously entitled to their anger. And that's the thing is I dodged that bullet.

Right? Fate in its little roulette wheel when it handed out parents, it sounds like both you and I got lucky.

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