Heartbreaking, inspiring, and totally true—the short non-fiction story, Friend Request, sets the stage for best-selling author Patti Callahan Henry’s upcoming novel, And Then I Found You. Here, Henry's niece, Catherine Janelle Barbee, talks about being adopted.
Some people say they were
adopted. Some people say they are
adopted. Some say they are an adoptee.
I’ve never felt a preference for one phrase over the other. It’s either/or to me. It’s just part of who I
am: Catherine Janelle Barbee
I’ve always known I was adopted. And I’ve always known that
I was loved. When I was little my mom bought me a kid’s book to help me
understand what it meant to be adopted. I can’t remember the name of the book
and I can’t remember much of the story (if it was a kid’s book it had to have a
story, right?), but I think that it must have been very sweet. I also think it
may not have been as straightforward as it should have been, because after my
mom read me the book I want around asking all my friends if they had met their real parents. I thought everyone was
Growing up, I knew a few things about my birth mother,
Barbi. I knew that she was a pastor's daughter and a gymnast, that she had
blonde hair and was beautiful. I knew
nothing about my father, though. Actually, that’s not true. I knew that he was
really young when I was born and that it was extremely tough for him to make
the decision to place me for adoption. When I think of that now I believe that
he must have been very brave to make what he believed was the best decision. I
believe it was the best decision, too.
I’ve always wondered about my birth family—did I look like
this woman, this beautiful gymnast with the
blonde hair?— but I never thought I
would want to find them because I was happy and had a family. A good family. I
didn't start asking my mom until I was older. It was just curiosity on my
part and I only wanted details for details sake, never ever to actually find
them. But things happen when you least
expect it, right?
One night when I was at college I had actually flushed my
blackberry storm in the toilet. (Don’t ask.) Well, I drove home to see if I
could find an old phone, and then I thought I’d check out my family’s Verizon
documents to see if there was insurance, or maybe a loophole or an upgrade or
something that I could use. That's when I noticed the adoption folder. Well, I
looked through the file—I told my mom; she was fine with it—and well, I could actually
make out my birth mother's name on the paperwork: Barbara Callahan. Barbi.
I did what anyone would do. I Googled
her. One thing lead to another and, well, I reached out to my aunt, the writer Patti
Callahan Henry, because she was the easiest to find. It just all opened up from
One thing I made sure to do through all of this was to reassure
my parents that they are my mom and
dad. Nothing will ever change that. Nothing. I have my family, I don't need a
new one. It was and is just wonderful knowing that there was this other family
out there who thought about me and who loved me so much that they put me first.
They gave me the gift of a better life with two parents and a family of my own.
to that question of whether or not I look like Barbi? You bet I do. And that’s a gift all its own.