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December 14, 2023 57 mins

Susan takes great lengths and risks to get answers about her biological family. But sometimes, in the world of family secrets, these kinds of answers beget more questions.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Family Secrets is a production of iHeartRadio. This episode contains
discussion of suicide. Listener discretion is advised. It had taken
me years to understand that not everyone was adopted and
that babies did not magically appear in crips. My friend's

(00:21):
mothers had swollen with pregnancy, and I had learned, at
age ten, shockingly about the details of reproduction from the
Breading Your Keyshn chapter of Our Dog Book. My heart
stuttered in my chest as my fingers walked through the
cards ad adoption, The Search for Anna Fisher by Florence Fisher.

(00:43):
I wrote down the book's number and pursued it like
a treasure hunt. Through the stacks. I pulled out a
thick book with a green cloth cover. On the first page,
the epigraph shook me. Oh, why does the wind blow
upon me so wild? Is it because I'm nobody's child?
That's Susan kiyo Eto, author of the recent memoir I

(01:06):
Would Meet You Anywhere. Susan's is the story of an
unfolding secret upon secret upon secret, one unlocking the next
over the course of many years. It's also the story
of courage and persistence and an overpowering desire to know
one's own history. I'm Danny Shapiro, and this is family secrets,

(01:39):
the secrets that are kept from us, the secrets we
keep from others, and the secrets we keep from ourselves.
I grew up in a small town where my parents
got this house right after I was adopted because the
social worker told them that I had to have my

(02:00):
own room, and prior to that they had lived in
a one bedroom apartment. So they bought this house in
this small little town in New Jersey, and we were
the only Asian family in that town for a really
long time. There was no black families or Latino families
at that time. It was a very homogeneous town. So

(02:23):
when I went to school, it was me just playing
with the other kids in the neighborhood. On the weekends, though,
we spent a lot of time with my Japanese American
extended family cousins, aunts and uncles, and then we went
to a Japanese American church in New York City, which
took us an hour to get there, and we would
spend like six hours. It was a marathon situation every week,

(02:47):
which I objected to very strenuously. It was important for them.
It was the three of you, right, Yes, I was
an only child. I consider ms I'm biracial, and so
I feel like my life felt very half in half,
Like I had my school week life with all the
people in this little town, and then I had my

(03:09):
weekend life, and they were so different, but they were
both really important parts of my existence. So you knew
from as early as you can remember that you were adopted,
is that right? Yes? Did you also know that you
were half Japanese and half not Japanese? I did. I mean,
I think I was very conscious from a very young

(03:30):
age that I did not look like my parents. I
felt different from them. So I was very aware. And
then they would say too. They would say things like, oh,
you're humbun humbun, which means half and half. Tell me
about your mom, your adoptive mother, Kikuko. She's a character.
She was a real tough cookie. She was like under
five feet tall, but very tough, and she would put

(03:53):
up with no nonsense, but very loving. She was born
in Brooklyn, and you could tell from the minute she
opened her mouth. She sounded like, I want to say,
Robert de Niro, own taxi driver, although I don't even
remember what that sounds like, but she would be like,
what's the matter with you? Where you go? What's going on?
She was just very rough. She grew up on the

(04:13):
streets of Brooklyn with her two brothers, who were also
very tough, and she had to stand up for herself
when people would meet her. Her voice was not what
one would expect coming out of her mouth. People were
often like, wait, what's going on here? And your dad, Massagie,
what was he like? He was a salesman and the

(04:34):
most gregarious charismatic. He was just larger than life, super
friendly and like. He could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.
He could sell you anything, and you would gladly buy
a dozen of whatever it was he was selling. He
was a traveling salesman. In his territory was the southeast,

(04:56):
like Virginia through Georgia, Kentucky all that, and he would
sell souvenirs to gift shops on I ninety five and
Stucky stores, those little spoons that say state of South
Carolina or Georgia, or those felt banners and anything like that.

(05:17):
He would sell. Gift shops was his thing, and he
would pack up his car with sample boxes and sell
his wares and so He'd be gone for chunks of time,
huge chunks, and I didn't really understand until I was
an adult when he would say, I'm so lucky. Those
guys they only get two three weeks of vacation a year,

(05:39):
but I get twelve weeks of vacation. And that sounded impressive, right,
But what I really put together was that meant that
forty weeks out of the year he wasn't living at home.
I knew that other dads would come on the commuter
train from New York City and they would have dinner
at home every night. And for my dad, it was
like when he came, he would home for a week,

(06:00):
and then he would be gone for two weeks and
they would come back for five days. I think it
really was hard on my mom. And your father fought
in the war, he did. He enlisted and was part
of the four four second, which was the all Japanese
regimen of the military, and he was in Italy for
three years, and that was considered to be a really

(06:21):
legendary unit, right, the four to four second quite legendary
and as they used to say, the most decorated. And
another thing. As child, I was like, oh, fancyist the
most decorated must have had the most medals, But I
didn't realize that also meant the most casualties. When Susan
is quite young, her mom casually mentions the name of

(06:43):
the adoption agency from which they adopted her, Spence Chapin.
Though this information is dropped into a conversation like it's
no big deal, its implications in Susan's life are a
very big deal. This information plants the seed of curiosity
and long to know more about her origins. My parents

(07:05):
spoke about the agency and also the social worker, Crystal Breeding.
Yes it's a real name, Crystal Breeding, Like she was
this legendary person in their minds. She was the person
who brought me to them and who made it possible
for us to be a family. And my dad had
a picture of Crystal Breeding, the social worker, holding me
in his wallet. He carried it around and he would

(07:28):
open it up and he would show me, Oh, there's
Crystal Breeding. She's why you're here. And both her name
and the name of the agency loomed large in my imagination.
So it wasn't a secret that I was adopted. Clearly
this woman had a lot to do with it, and
they would talk about how she would come and do
the white glove test in their apartment to make sure

(07:50):
that they were up to snuff, and it was a
big deal for them to have gone through this process
with her, which took over ten years. When Susan's around
twelve years old, she's in the library one day and
her curiosity and longing lead her to the card catalog.

(08:11):
Up until this point, she has known about her adoption,
but not much about adoption in general. What is it
really there, she discovers a book called The Search for
Anna Fisher by Florence Fisher. It was a huge moment.
I remember the feeling of the card catalog, those blonde
wood catalogs and with the little cards, and when I

(08:33):
saw adoption and that there was a book about adoption,
it was like scary for me to look that word up,
to be like, what does this even mean? Reading it,
I was shocked. It was really radical, This whole idea
of like I have the right to see my birth certificate,
I have the right to know where I came from,
And that was planted really early. That was planted at

(08:55):
the moment I saw that book. And in the back
of the book it said Florence Fisher is the founder
of ALMAH, the Adoptee's Liberty Movement Association, which also sounded
extremely radical. And I wrote to them immediately saying, help me.
I want to be part of this. I want to
know more about where I came from too, And they

(09:15):
wrote back right away. This was all like with a typewriter,
in envelopes and stamps and things. And they wrote back
and said, we understand how you feel, but we really
we can't help you till you're eighteen. As soon as
I turned eighteen, I wrote to them again and they said,
come on down. We can help. We have a support

(09:36):
group and consultants, and we'll help you during this time.
Susan is a student at Ethica College. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she
has found herself drawn to studying certain subjects that mirror
her own life experiences. She is extremely interested in the
psychology of family. For instance, she studies and writes papers

(10:00):
on adoption. So when Alma tells her to come on down,
she does. She also calls and visits the adoption agency
her mother had mentioned all those years ago, it Spen's Chapin.
I called and they said, yes, we have records that
you came through our adoption agency, and Crystal Reading had
long retired. She wasn't there anymore. But I met with

(10:22):
somebody else and it turned out that it felt more
like she was interrogating me than giving me information. And
she spent a lot of time asking me about how
was it growing up in your family? Oh, you had
a dog, Oh, you went on vacations, you went to camp. Oh,
you must have had a great life. And she really
wanted to hear about what a success story I was,

(10:45):
which is great for her. But then when it came
to me asking questions, she was very stingy in her
offering anything to me. But they have a phrase called
non identifying information, so she gave me a few you
little titbits. She said, your mother was Japanese, which I
had known, and she just gave me a few little crumbs.

(11:08):
And it was a really frustrating experience for me because
I had been, of course, hoping for more answers and
they were not to come. Yeah, you describe her as
sitting on the other side of a desk from you
and leafing through this big fat folder, and you know,
it's almost as if she was going, Oh, I can
tell her this and then again like, oh this little morsel.

(11:30):
So at this point, you hadn't told your parents that
you were doing this, so you write them a letter. Yes,
I sent them this letter saying I love you, but
this is something I have to do. And my mother,
in her fantastic prickle accent, called up and said, what
took you so long? We've been waiting for this. I
was shocked because we hadn't ever talked about it. They

(11:52):
had talked about Spence Japin, and they talked about other
kids who were adopted, and every once in a while
I would say, do you know anything about my mother?
And they basically said they didn't know much, and they
were just like, what can we do for you? And
it blew my mind, And I think about it now
and it blows my mind even more because I know
so many adoptive families don't react like that. I've been

(12:16):
in conversation with hundreds of adoptees now and I know
that their reaction is unusual, and I feel so grateful
to them. The support groups that the first thing you
need is your adoption papers, your official adoption papers, which
says the child X y Z will forever now be
known as ABC, and this is the change of name.

(12:37):
And my parents never had been given this. It was
part of the sealed records, but they said sometimes adoptive
parents had them and if they didn't, they could call
the courthouse where it was finalized and ask for the papers,
and that's what my mother did. So I said, this
is something you can do for me. It's a suggestion

(12:58):
that I heard and if it works, great, and they
were like, sure, we'll do that, no problem, And so
I told them what to say, and they called up,
and then a week later I had my adoption papers,
which had my original birth name, which none of us
had ever known or seen before. It was Mika no Gucci.

(13:18):
Susan endeavors down the road of next steps. First, she
calls the hospital where she was born to get her
birth records, but she has to concoct a story to
make sure they release them, so she lies and tells
them she's pregnant, which is why she needs her medical history.
The hospital says, no problem, absolutely, we'll send those right

(13:38):
over to your obgyn. Please give us their contact information.
But Susan hadn't prepared to include this level of detail
into her lie, so she reaches for the nearby phone
book and randomly picks the name of a local obgim
and provides that contact information. Well, great, the hospital will
send the records. But now she's really in the belly

(14:00):
of the lie and needs to figure out how in
the world she will actually get these records from this
random OBGYN of whom, of course she's never been a patient. Yeah,
So after I realized what I had done, I was
really plorrified, like, now what am I going to do?
Now this obgyn is going to have my records? And

(14:22):
how am I going to get them? What is the
next step? So I called that office and I continued
my fabricated story of being pregnant and hearing that my
mother had complications and pregnancy and it would be helpful
and I needed to be seen, and so they made
me appointment and then I went, and I really was

(14:45):
in that moment in the doctor's office. They told me
to take off my everything from the waist down and
get up on the examining table with the stirrups and everything.
And I was just like, Oh my gosh, what am
I going to do here? And I thought, if I
tell the truth, these papers, these records could just slip

(15:05):
away and I'll never get another chance. This is it.
And so you know how in a doctor's office there's
a little folder container outside the door. So I I
never took my clothes off. I just grabbed the file,
put it under my coat and quickly walked out, and
I said to the receptionist, I just need to get

(15:26):
something from my car. I'll be right back. And I
race walked out to my car and threw it in
the seat and just drove off as fast as I could.
And that was how I got those records which had
my birth mother's name. I think about it now and
I can't even believe that whole thing happened. I was like,

(15:46):
I am like breaking the law. What am I doing here?
Is this a crime? Is this? What am I going
to jail for this? What did I do? I was
terrified and my heart was pounding so hard. But then
there it was. I had it. So now finally Susan
has this pivotal piece of information, the name of her

(16:06):
birth mother, Yumiko Nagucci. But when it comes to taking
a next step to somehow using this pivotal piece of information,
Susan solicits the help of one of her coworkers. She's
working at a deli at the time. A man named Henry,
whose personality seems perfectly suited for this kind of hunt
for truth. He was somebody who was very detail oriented.

(16:30):
He was really into UFOs. That was like his thing,
and he had this system little cards or something where
there were UFO sightings. He was like a fanatic in
this very focused way. And he was like, well, what
are you obsessed with? And I was like, oh, I'm
obsessed with finding my mother. And then when I told him,
he was immediately interested and well, what do you know?

(16:53):
What do you have? What do you got? And I
told him about my whole story and how far I
had gotten so far that I had my adoption record,
I had the hospital record, I had her name, and
that I was like, now what do I do. I'm stuck.
I didn't really know the next step. And he said, well,
give me what you got and I'll see what I

(17:13):
can and he went and scoured every phone book from
the country or something and found people with her name.
I was flabbergasted. But it took hours, and I think
I had narrowed it to a certain part of the country,
and so he focused there. He founded her. So it

(17:34):
turned out it was just a wild coincidence that I
had already made plane reservations to go to the city
over spring break to visit my high school friend. And
so I totally lost my nerve at that point because
I felt like I was so close and I was,
and so I begged my friend to call for me,
and she did and confirmed that this was indeed the person.

(18:00):
And at first she did not have a good response
to the phone call. She was not happy about it,
and my friend, she said she sounded tipped off, and
I was just crushed the fact that she would be
upset at being contacted. When I was doing my research
for my psychology family class and I was doing my

(18:21):
paper on adoption, I read this book about adoptees in
England who had open records and so suddenly in the
seventies they were able to make contact. They had ten
case studies and eight of them were horrible. Oh, this
person found out that their mother had taken their own life.
This person found out that they were in a psychiatric institution.

(18:45):
They weren't happy endings. And I really tried to brace
myself that I wasn't going to have a good outcome.
I really tried to try on all these things and say,
how would I feel if I found this, How would
I feel if this happened. I tried them all on
and ultimately decided it was still worth it. But I
still wanted to do it. I tried to prepare and

(19:08):
so then I flew to that city. And when I
got there, my friend said that she had called and
left a note saying that she would be willing to
meet me, and she said, go to this hotel at
this time and go to the room under this name.
I was shocked. We'll be right back. When Susan arrives

(19:36):
at the Holiday Inn, the front desk tells her that
Yumako Nogucci is waiting for her in her room. Shaken
but excited, Susan gets in the elevator and goes up.
She knocks on the hotel room door, and when it opens,
there she is Susan is seeing her birth mother for
the first time. It was really been out of body experience.

(19:59):
I think one of the first things I noticed that
we were exactly the same height, and then I started
taking in different parts of her face, looking at her
cheeks and her nose and her lips. And feeling like
there was something there that I recognized. She had this
impeccable haircut and beautiful nails, and just a beautiful suit

(20:22):
with fancy jewelry that looked like it came out of
a museum. It just dazzled me. My adoptive mother dressed
very plainly, and it was just very different. I think
she was very utilitarian in her dress and her style,
and my birth mother to me, just seemed glamorous. I
was blown away. I also could tell that she wasn't like, Hey,

(20:44):
come on in, I'm happy to see you. It was tense.
She felt completely betrayed and felt that she had been
promised I suppose by the agency that this was going
to be her secret, and that it wasn't going to
come out and nobody would know. She says to you,
this was all supposed to be secret, and she's upset.

(21:04):
Something that was supposed to be secret has been laid bare.
This wasn't her narrative how things were going to go.
She also tells you during that meeting that you never
crossed her mind. In twenty one years, there's a lot
of twists and turns in your interactions with your birth mother,
and you know, it's sort of like that old thing

(21:26):
that people say of everything you need to know about
like the person that you marry, if you go back
to your first date, it's all there. So true. I
do think that's true of first dates and marriages, but
it's true of it seems true of your relationship with
your birth mother. That kind of everything that then plays
out for the rest of your relationship is already present

(21:50):
in that first bunch of hours that you spend together. Everything. Yeah,
it was like a microcosm of the next forty five years.
We went through so many different seasons and phases during
that one meeting. But I think when I started showing
her pictures, like childhood pictures, because you know, here I

(22:13):
was twenty years old and she hadn't known what had
happened to me since I was born. So I brought
family pictures also, so I could show her this is
the family I grew up with, this was my life.
And I think that made her happy. I think there
were things that she felt that she connected to. She
was glad. She was glad to see that I'd had

(22:34):
the life that I had, and I think it softened
her quite a bit. And also she didn't know that
I was adopted by Japanese American parents. They knew that
she was Japanese, but she didn't know where I ended up,
and so she had no idea that I was raised
in this family. And I think there was something about
that that made her really happy, that softened her, and

(22:56):
she became more comfortable as we found that we had
things in common, and as we got to know each other,
we started to develop a little connection. We had lunch
and then we were walking around a little bit and
there was an ice cream stand nearby, and we both
simultaneously ordered the same flavor of ice cream, and we
both looked at each other, what did you say? And

(23:19):
we just started laughing and making jokes about, oh, is
this genetic ice cream preference? And I think we were
starting to get excited about the ways and that we
were connected. Even though it's like totally random, you and
I might have the same ice cream preference, but it
felt really meaningful at that moment. You me and Susan

(23:41):
share more meaningful moments, and the softening in their dynamic continues.
You may tells Susan she has a family, she has children.
Of course, this is the first time Susan is hearing
that she has half siblings. She learns she has a
half sister and a half brother. Umi shows Susan a
picture of her daughter. In the photo, she's wearing a

(24:02):
monogram sweatshirt. Susan looks closely at the name. That was
a pretty shocking moment when I see this picture and
the sweatshirt says Mika, which is of course my birth name,
and it was shattering. It was a shattering I did
not know what to make of it. I had been

(24:23):
almost trying that name on internally, like what would have
been like if that was my name. I'd been playing
with it inside my mind, and when I saw it
on this other girl, I was just I don't know.
It was shocking. Did your birth mother explain that to
you at the time. She did. She said, well, I
really liked that name. I always wanted to use it

(24:44):
if I had a girl, and so that's the name
I gave you. But then I realized that you hadn't
been able to keep that name, and so I could
use it again. It was a moment, it was big.
And you also learned that you have a half brother
whose names ca And before the end of this first
visit with your birth mother. You asked her about your

(25:08):
birth father. She says that he's very friendly and gregarious
and that he knows about me, and that he knows
that I've contacted her, and I was like what. I
was completely shocked by that. And then she said, yeah,
he thought about you. He reminded me of you. This
also completely floored me because first she had said that

(25:32):
she hadn't thought about me, and then she said that
he actually had thought about me. And I had this
immediate feeling of I want to know this person. I
want to know this person who tried to remember me
to her, and she just said no, and I wanted
to know more. But that was all that was going
to happen at that moment. It took me the entire

(25:52):
day to work up the courage to ask about him.
It was, of course one of the first things on
my mind, but it was the very end of the day.
And that was a big bombshell that came when she
said that he thought about me. And it also seems
that she did more than evade. It was a real

(26:12):
mood changer, like she really didn't want to have that
conversation with you, right, or certainly not create some sort
of introduction or path towards that. Yeah, things have been
getting very friendly up until that point, and then the
mood definitely changed. A few months pass and on Mother's Day,

(26:33):
Susan arranges for her parents and grandmother to meet Umi.
They all go out for sushi. No one is talking
about the gravity of the situation, the importance of this meeting. Instead,
everyone is just on their best behavior, having a light,
friendly lunch. I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself.
It was surreal. At one point, she goes to the

(26:55):
restroom and my grandmother's like, oh, your mother's very pretty,
and I'm like, wait, what And the fact that she's
calling you me my mother and my mother is sitting
right there. They were just all really friendly to each other.
I think they felt a bond because they're all second
generation Japanese American, so they had that in common. It

(27:16):
was a real connector, and I think that if either
they hadn't been Japanese or she hadn't been Japanese, it
would not been as comfortable. At one point during lunch,
u Mei turns to Susan and tells her how extremely
lucky she's been to have grown up in this family.

(27:36):
The word lucky is tricky for an adopted child to hear.
When lunch ends and Susan goes off on her own,
she weeps. Angela Tucker she's an amazing adoptee writer and
she just wrote a book called You Should be Grateful.
And I think that's a message that adopted people here
all the time, You're so lucky, you could have been

(27:58):
languishing in an orphanage. So I think it's a message
that feels mixed. It's like, well, you can't be lucky
unless you've been unlucky. First adoption is born out of crisis.
Somebody does not get adopted unless there's a crisis that
happens that necessitates that. So I think there's that and
the fact that she said that I didn't know what

(28:20):
to do with that. And as much as I would agree,
as much as I felt lucky and I love my
family and I loved my parents, it was like, wait
a second, what are you saying here? I mean, I
think it gave her a sense of relief that her
choice for me had turned out well. I think she
was feeling glad that things had turned out the way
that they had, But it was also really hard to hear.

(28:42):
And then also the fact that it was Mother's Day
and she said, I have to get back to my family.
So all of these things combined, my head and my
heart were just swirling and breaking, and it was a
hard thing to put it all together. There were just
so many things happening at once, and to go back
to the microcosm that began with that very first encounter

(29:06):
with Yumi, there was this constant kind of giving and
then taking away, and then giving and then taking away,
very likely not conscious, but always there, so that the
minute you start feeling like warm or cozy or comfortable
or familiar, then something reminds you that, oh, it's not
like that at all. The world keeps turning for Susan.

(29:32):
She has a career and she's in a relationship. She's
in sporadic touch with Yumi. They correspond and see one
another occasionally. She exchanges gifts with her and her parents
during the holidays. One day, Yumi writes to Susan and
says she's coming to New York on business and would
like to see her. Susan starts cleaning her apartment right away,

(29:53):
preparing for Yumi's visit, but a few days go by,
and she doesn't hear from Yumi again to make plans.
Maybe she's changed her mind, maybe she's not going to
come at all or even reach out. But just as
Susan's thinking this, she sees a message from Yumi. I'm
at the Plaza Hotel. The message says, come over. Naturally,

(30:15):
that's what Susan does. I see that she's brought a
stack of books. She's a reader, she loves to read.
And we have room service and we have ice cream,
and it all feels so cozy and just fun. And
we're talking about things that I don't talk with my
adoptive mother about. We don't really have this comfortable way

(30:36):
of talking about, like if I have a boyfriend or
if I'm interested in someone. My adoptive mother was just
really uncomfortable with those kinds of topics. But Umi was
just easy to talk to, and I felt like we
had things in common, and she was like, you should
read this book and what about this? And have you
seen this movie? And it just was It was just
really comfortable and fun to be with her, and also

(30:57):
very confusing. What is this my friend? Is she my mother?
Who is this person? But I was enjoying it while
we were there. It was this cost of waiting for
that moment, you know, just waiting to hear from her
and not knowing if it was going to happen. And
then of course the moment she calls and she's so
happy and she's like, come on down, come on down

(31:20):
at the plaza that I would forgive anything, do you know?
It wasn't even about forgiving. It was like, of course
I would do anything. I would meet you anywhere, I
wouldn't meet you anywhere, I would go anywhere. I would
do anything. For five minutes and you stay over, and
what happens the next morning. The next morning, it's just
all business and very much Okay, we're done here, We're

(31:43):
done here. I'm going home, and we're done, and it's over.
The kind of the moment has disappeared, and I just
I got to leave. You describe it as reminiscent of
what behavior would be like after an ill advised one stand.
It felt so much like that. And I think a

(32:03):
lot of the secrecy of it, feeling like I'm meeting
somebody in secret. I can't tell anybody, They're not going
to tell anybody, and it's like, oh, is this what
people do when they're having an affair or having a
one night stand or something. Is this what that's like?
It felt like that. Five years later, Yumi calls Susan
to tell her she's in the hospital with complications from

(32:25):
a hysterectomy. Susan buys a last minute plane ticket and
gets to the hospital as fast as she can. In
the lobby, she's asked if she's immediate family, and she
has the jarring realization that Umi would probably say no
to this and would want Susan to say no to
this too. So Susan says no, as she asks herself,

(32:46):
what is my role here? Who am I here? She
calls you me from the lobby to tell her she's downstairs,
and Yumi tells her to come up. So I go
to her room and he's very weak. I bring up
some gifts and she says, look out the window. Do
you see that JC Penny out there? And I'm like yes,

(33:08):
And she tells me to go to the j C.
Penny for an hour and then to come back. And
I'm completely confused. And she says, Nika is coming and
I'm going to tell her. I'm going to tell her
about you and I'm just flabbergasted, like completely unprepared for that,
and she says, I'm going to do it now. It's

(33:28):
the right time to do it, because you're here and
she's coming. And so I go to the j. C.
Penny and I'm pacing like a mad person. And I
come back and my half sister is standing in the
hospital room looking completely shocked as well. And then my

(33:51):
birth mother gives us some money and says, go have dinner.
She's too tired to continue to visit. So we leave
and we go or a restaurant, and I think neither
of us had been prepared for that moment. At dinner
with Mika, she asks Susan if she knows who her
birth father is, and I say it, well, I know

(34:12):
a few things about him, and I tell her a
few details, and Mika says, oh, maybe it's this guy.
Maybe it's this person, And I just of course grab
onto that, Oh you think it's that person, And then
I hold that in my mind and believe that. But
she said unfortunately he died, So in the moment, I'm like, oh,
my gosh, I'm going to know who my birth father is.

(34:32):
And then but he's not here. Anymore. And that was
another one of those mini roller coasters that just happens
in a moment, and then we start to get to
know each other as people, and then I have a
sister for a little while. You may recovers and Susan
goes back home, but there's another visit to see her
soon after. You may tell Susan that there's someone she

(34:55):
wants her to meet, Barry, a very old friend of hers,
so flies out again to go have dinner with them.
This is the evening in which the story of Susan's
first hundred odd days of her life unfold. Barry, this
man she's never met until tonight, tells her things she's
never known. So I learned that she had actually been

(35:18):
visiting Barry and his wife while she was pregnant with me,
but they hadn't known that she was pregnant. In fact,
she had said that nobody knew, which I found so
hard to fathom when I was pregnant, because I was enormous,
and I was like, how could you even keep this
a secret? But she said, well, I didn't eat, and
I wore a really tight girdle and really loose clothes,

(35:40):
and nobody knew as far as she could tell, nobody knew,
and so she was visiting them, and she went into
labor when she was in a park near their house,
and a police officer took her to the hospital and
either he or someone at the hospital called Barry and said,
your house guest, your friend is in the hospital, and

(36:02):
she had instructed them to say she was getting her
she had had appendicitis attack and she was getting her
appendix out. So of course you're horrified when you think
your house guest is in the hospital with emergency surgery.
So they rushed to see her, and a nurse who
had not been told the appendix story said, oh, mother
and baby, you're doing just fine, and they were stunned.

(36:25):
They had no idea, and she swore them to secrecy,
and they promised that they would never tell anybody, and
they didn't. She had been under anesthesia when I was delivered.
They call it twilight sleep. It was a kind of
drug that they did back in the day, so she
hadn't really been conscious when I was born and she
hadn't seen me. I had to stay in the hospital

(36:47):
for a couple months because I was really underweight. Barry
and his wife went to see baby Susan then Mika
in the NICU, but Umi did not. As soon as
Umi was cleared to leave, she did without seeing her
baby at all. And then when I was able to
be discharged, she was the one who had to take

(37:10):
me out of the hospital and bring me physically to
the agency. So she did that and that was the
first time she had seen me. I was like two
and a half three months old, and so she took
me in a taxi and that was like the first
time she had really seen me. She described giving me
a bottle and I just had no idea about any
of this. I didn't really know that story. You know.

(37:34):
It's one of those things that it's so profound to
like just not know how you came into the world.
And it's one of the things I called not adopted privilege.
It's like a kind of privilege to just take for
granted that you know what time you were born, or
you know the circumstances, or you know about when your
mother went into labor, or you hear about things. There's
all this lore about when someone's born and people talk

(37:56):
about it, and it's something you just internalize as part
of your life story. And I didn't have any of that.
I didn't have any idea about any of it, So
hearing it as an adult was really stunning. And that
this guy, Barry had been the only person who had
known that I even existed and who had met you.
He was part of the first day of your life. Yeah,

(38:20):
he was even more than she was. I mean, she
burst me, but she hadn't seen me until I was
two and a half months old, and he had and
he had carried this, he had kept this, and he
had kept her confidence this whole time. In the ensuing years,
Susan and her partner John get married. You Mei and
Mika both come to the wedding. Of course, Susan's parents

(38:41):
and family she grew up with are all there too,
and for a brief shining moment, there's the sense that
there's a kind of extended family, even though not everybody
is privy to the nature of it. It seems to
Susan like maybe this is how it's going to be
moving forward, this big extended family. It seems like maybe
she can have it all. Susan and John decide to

(39:02):
start a family. Susan becomes pregnant but suffers from preoclamsia
and loses the baby, who she's already named and already loves.
Susan lets Umi know at the beginning of her pregnancy
that things are rocky and that it's looking like it's
not going to be okay, but Yumi says, oh no,
don't worry, it's going to be fine. I know it's
all going to be fine. But it's not fine. And

(39:25):
adding to the pain of the loss is the pain
of Yumi not following up with Susan to see how
things are. A week goes by and she does not
check in. Susan's parents are there being parents, and her
husband John is there being a husband, but her birth
mother doesn't think to reach out and support her during
this week of crisis. Invariably, this calls into question what

(39:48):
is a parent. It's a noun, but it is also
a verb to parent. You know, when I think about
it now, I don't know if it was cold or harsh,
or thinking or unfeeling, But I think the whole time
I've known her, she's really wanted to firmly defer that

(40:09):
role to my parents. She didn't want that role, She
never wanted that role, and she made her decision. She
made her choice. I am not her mother. I'm not
going to be her mother, and I was really surprised
and really hurt that she didn't check on me. Maybe
as a friend, I mean, like a friend might have

(40:31):
checked in. I don't know, but I think I was
thinking of her at that time as my mother, and
my mother is not checking to see how I've gone
through this experience, and I think she really had relinquished
that role from the beginning. Did you feel at that time,
up until that time that you had two mothers? I

(40:54):
really wanted that. I think I really wanted two mothers,
and I wanted what they both were to me in
their own ways. I wanted them both to be my mother,
and I think it wasn't until much later that I
accepted that wasn't going to happen. Susan and Umi continue

(41:15):
to have a relationship akin to a very slow tennis match.
Every once in a great while the ball bounces. There's
a bounce when Susan receives an invitation to Mika's graduation party,
but she's invited to attend as a quote unquote family
friend that will be her cover. Secrets upon secrets upon
secrets Susan was u Mei's secret, but now Yumi makes

(41:39):
it Mika's secret. Mika becomes the secret of you Mei's secret.
Because Kaz, Susan's half brother and Mika's full brother, still
doesn't know about the truths of Susan's existence, Umi wants
to tell him when Susan is there in person at
the graduation party. So Susan attends and prepares for this
big reveal, but then it now happens. Yumi has apparently

(42:02):
decided to keep the secret contained. As Kaz is heading
out for the evening, Yumi asks to get a photograph
of the three of them, Mika, Kaz, and their family
friend Susan. It's unclear why Yumy's doing this. Is it
to make Susan feel better somehow? Is it for you
Mei herself? Whatever the case, Susan is completely taken aback.

(42:24):
She dissociates and wonders why exactly she came to this
party and what exactly just happened. There's yet another bounce
about five years after this incident, when Susan is invited
to Kaz's wedding again. She's invited and attends as a
family friend. By this time, Susan has had her first child, Molly,

(42:47):
so she brings her along. At one point, Umi is
carrying Molly around and then something happens which leaves Susan
in a state of profound disappointment and sadness. Kaz also
has a baby at that point, and they're just a
few months apart, and somebody assumes that Mollie is the

(43:09):
baby of him, and she says, no, this is not
my grandchild. This is my house guest daughter. And it
was the moment. It was like a turning point where
I think, up until that point, I had felt like
I would do anything to have this relationship, Like I
don't care how much I have to lie. I don't

(43:29):
care how much I have to pretend I'm someone else.
I don't care. I'm not carrying this on to the
next generation. I'm not going to tell her that she
has to lie about who she is. I was suddenly
so protective of my child and seeing that if we
had to keep going like this, like I would have
endured anything on my own behalf, but not for her.

(43:52):
And that was the first time where I was like, Okay,
I can't do this. So did you cut off contact
with you me at that point, No, I didn't enough contact,
but I felt myself withdrawing, We'll be back in a
moment with more family secrets. A few years pass and

(44:20):
Susan has her second child, another daughter, Emma. Around this time,
she joins a group that becomes very important to her,
a group of Asian American adoptees. In the group, she
learns a lot about the mental health of adoptees and
the suicide rate among adoptees. The data is just staggering.

(44:41):
She also in this group connects with a man named Mark.
He too is biracial Asian and adopted, so he and
Susan find familiarity and connect with one another. And then
Mark dies by suicide. This is another turning point for Susan,
a breaking point. Not only is she dealing with the
loss of her good friend, but also the need to

(45:04):
know as much as she can about her birth father resurfaces.
Yumi is the only one carrying this information and she
has never given it to Susan for all these years.
Susan's in her mid thirties now. It's been fifteen or
sixteen years since she first met Yumi, and in all
that time, she's learned nothing else about her birth father,

(45:27):
so she writes a note to Yumi, asking her again
for more information and positing the possibility that it's this
person that Mika had mentioned to her those years earlier.
When she speaks to Yumi about this, she says, point blank,
I need to know this. She cut me off. She
was like, how dare you imply such a thing? How

(45:50):
dare you ask? Fifteen years of trying to be very
patient in hoping that we would get close enough or
that are relationship would get to a point where she
felt like she could tell me, and I was just like,
I haven't brought it up. In fifteen years since that
first meeting, I have not brought it up, and I've
been just patient, and I just want to let you

(46:12):
know I'm still interested. I still want to know. And
she was just like, I don't think we should be
in contact anymore. I had this feeling that if the
person who brought me into this world didn't want contact
with me, that maybe I shouldn't be in this world.
I think I was very confused and very distraught, and

(46:35):
I felt like I had done it. I had brought
this on myself. If I had just kept quiet and
not asked, we would still be in somewhat of a relationship.
You know, I just felt like I had destroyed it.
It was really devastating. And I think there's something about
the concept of the primal wound or being relinquished as
a baby, and that's a hard thing to deal with.

(46:58):
It is what it is. I don't know about my
private one. I don't even know. But there's something else
about knowing someone for fifteen years, knowing your mother for
fifteen years, and then having her turn her back. That
to me was like more devastating than being left as
a baby, because I feel like I understand why people

(47:19):
do that. I understand why she did that, But this
other thing of like having known her for over a
decade and then having her say I don't want anything
to do with you anymore, I couldn't really deal. Yeah,
and you got pretty much the same correspondence from Mika,
who also said I don't want to have anything to

(47:40):
do with you. So the feeling seems to be like
the world and your place in it sort of trembled
a little bit right then, like a little bit of
a fault line that opened up, And I was really
fascinated by something that pulled you back, which was that
you learned about this drumming circle. Tycho. Drumming was something

(48:05):
that I didn't even think about it until recently that
my dad had taken me to in New York City
and Brooklyn when I was in high school, and I
was completely captivated by and then forgot about until I
heard that there was a group near me, and so
I decided to go, and it really pulled me out
of my depression grief. It was very physical, and the

(48:29):
drums are really huge, and the drum sticks are also
really big and very heavy, and you just have to
you use your whole body. There's like dance involved. You're
shouting while you're doing it, and it brought me back
into my body in a very physical way. And the
teacher described it as these drums are supposed to replicate

(48:49):
the sound of heartbeat, mother's heartbeat, and it spoke to
me and I just felt like I was reclaiming my
body and reclaiming myself in certain ways, aiming being Japanese American.
It was extremely healing. The years churn by with no

(49:09):
information about Susan's birth father. In the meantime, her adoptive
father passes away, after which her mother moves in with
Susan and her family. Susan is at a juncture in
her life where she feels she needs to take the
mystery of her biological paternity into her own hands. She
hires a private investigator to find out more, to find

(49:29):
out anything. What's so interesting about the timing of you're
hiring the private investigator in the year after your father
died is that it's almost like, maybe now it was
okay to search an earnest in some way because you
were so close with your father. Yeah. I also felt

(49:50):
like my birth mother and I were not in contact
at that time, and I was like, there's nothing left
to lose, and also felt like she's clearly not going
to tell me, and I have to take this into
my own hands if I'm still interested in doing this.
The private investigator, however, HiT's a dead end. He even
calls Yumi at one point and has a conversation with her.

(50:10):
He comes back to Susan telling her that Umi has
absolutely no interest in this and there's nothing else for
him to do. Susan's defeated, and another long stretch of
time passes nearly fifteen years. It's twenty seventeen and now
DNA tests exists and they cost under one hundred dollars,
so she sends away for one, which leads her to
make a series of discoveries, some larger than others. So

(50:36):
it was three years where not much happened because I
think with every year that goes by, more people enter
the database. And so at first there was like hardly anything,
and I gave up on it. And then I have
a friend who's a genetic genealogist, and I was like,
I can't make heads or tails of this. I'm getting
all these seventh cousins or whatever. And she said, well,

(50:58):
let me take a look, let me look at your
DNA situation, and so I gave her access to my
ancestry and then I got a call from her, you know,
twenty seventeen, and she said, you've got a close match
and I'm going to look into this. And I think
I had going to have something for you. And then
a couple hours later, she's like, I think we nailed it.

(51:19):
We found him. And then she told me that he
had died in twenty fourteen, just three years before. But
she said he's got a sister, and his sister looks awesome.
I found her social media presence and it looks like
she's a progressive, wonderful person, and I think you and
she would really get along. And I was like, okay,

(51:42):
So she had found a phone number for this person,
and I called her up and I said, I think
that your brother might be my father, and she said what,
And then in the next breath she said, well, welcome
to the family. And I almost can't even I can't
even talk about without crying because it's just it was

(52:03):
so not my experience for this thirty five years. She
wanted to know everything about me. She was so ecstatic,
so happy to know me, and I didn't even know
what to do with it. It It was so the opposite
of everything I had experienced. And with Auntie Liz, there

(52:27):
were no secrets. It was the opposite of secrecy, right suddenly, Yeah,
she wanted to introduce you to everyone. And welcome to
the family wasn't just a phrase, it was she enacted it. Yeah,
it was big. I went there to meet her and
it was I don't know, I can't even describe. It

(52:47):
was such a warm and complete welcome. I had to
let you, may know, I didn't have to but I
decided to let her know by the way, I've made
this discovery through DNA, and I just want to let
you know that it's been confirmed. And that was the
next breaking off of this is terrible news. And it

(53:10):
was another period of I don't want to talk to
you again. We need to not be in contact anymore.
And you finally got what you wanted. Go good for you,
and I got this feeling of I've lost her irrevocably,
this is it, she'd done, and I'm getting this other family.
But I couldn't really focus on that because it was like,

(53:30):
at what cost was this that this just happened? What
was the cost? I've got this family, They're so wonderful
to me, they're so welcoming, and it cost her and
I just had to deal with that again. Today. Susan
is in her sixties. She's a grandmother, a mother, a wife,

(53:51):
a niece, an author, and an activist. She has a
very full life, but the secrets that followed her for
so long still leave their mark. Many elements of her
story have been clarified over time, but her story is
not over. It's not over. There are still things that

(54:12):
I'm living through right now. What strikes me is that
after a lifetime of being a secret, of being compelled
and forced to keep a secret to be the secret,
that the impetus to shape the story, tell the story,

(54:37):
own the story. Is why you didn't own your own story.
You didn't have the narrative. You didn't have those first
hundred days. There was so much that you didn't know.
I love what you said about non adopted privilege because
there are things that people walk around just assuming are

(54:57):
a certain way and don't know, oh, any other possibility.
It's a knowledge that you take for granted, and unless
you don't have that knowledge, you don't even think about it. Ever,
you don't even think about it until you don't have something,
you don't realize what it's like not to have it,
because it's just something. It's like oxygen. You just breathe

(55:19):
it part of your life. Here's Susan sharing one more
passage from her memoir. Here she comes as close as
she ever will to her genetic father, but at least
now she knows it traced his name with my fingers.
It stabbed at me that his death date was no

(55:41):
longer than an arm's length into the past, had come
so close to knowing him thirty seven years of searching,
only to miss him by thirty six months. What would
he have done with the news of my existence. Maybe
it was just as well. It could have been a
crushing disappointment. Maybe it was best this way to be

(56:01):
embraced by my enthusiastic aunt, a relative who had no
secret past, no shame or regret. Still, I felt a
swirl of overwhelmed emotion and numbness as I knelt in
the damp grass. I unwrapped the cellophane from the chrysanthemums
and laid them down next to his name. The harsh
wind bit through my fleece coat. I didn't say anything

(56:23):
out loud, but inside my head I said hello and goodbye.

(56:44):
Family Secrets is a production of iHeartRadio. Molly's Accur is
the story editor and Dylan Fagan is the executive producer.
If you have a family secret you'd like to share,
please leave us a voicemail and your story could appear
on an upcoming episode. Our number is one eight eight
eight Secret zero. That's the number zero. You can also

(57:05):
find me on Instagram at Danny Ryder and if you'd
like to know more about the story that inspired this podcast,
check out my memoir Inheritance. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio,

(57:35):
visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen
to your favorite shows.

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