Each year when the calendar flips to February–my birthday month–it reminds me of what I didn’t know about myself, what I couldn’t know because of the rigid laws associated with closed adoption. I am reminded of the day my life began.

No one remembers the day they were born. We rely on recollections from our parents and family to reconstruct what happened. If we’re lucky, there’s a family photo album or baby book to drag out from the attic.

Maybe the dusty tome shows a joyful but exhausted smile on Mom’s face, the beaming pride that squares Dad’s shoulders, or Grandma sandwiching a dozing infant in the sweet spot babies adore–the warm crevice between a voluminous, beating breast and a hefty midline.

Absent a baby book, there are the stories that families enjoy rehashing. Mom describes how big her belly was when she was pregnant, her terrible heartburn, the swelling in her ankles, her unexpected nausea when smelling seafood. And Dad expounds on the frantic drive to the hospital, the traffic jam that almost prevented them from arriving at the hospital in time.

If you’re an adoptee, like me, from the closed adoption era–that period in adoption history after WWII through the 1980s–then there are no skin-to-skin contact pictures or driving-to-the-hospital-just-in-time stories to share.

My State of Illinois Certificate of Live Birth is redacted. Once my adoption was finalized in the fall of 1959, my adoptive parents’ information replaced the details of my birth parents, and then the original birth record was sealed in the archives of the Illinois Department of Vital Statistics. Other than the date and time of my birth, no other identifying information made it through the closed adoption sanitation process.

The day I was born was clouded in so much mystery, it’s almost as if it didn’t happen.

When my adoptive parents collected my twin sister and I from St. Vincent’s Orphanage in Chicago on March 6, 1959, we were already three weeks old. And, other than being told that we were fraternal twins–a DNA test in 2011 proved that we are in fact identical twins–and that we had already been baptized, nothing was shared with them about our background or birth circumstances.

Even though my physical life began on February 11, 1959, my family life wasn’t created until March 6, 1959. Current adoption terminology refers to this special day as Adoption Day.

In my family, the date of my adoption was not something that we recognized or commemorated. Not because it wasn’t meaningful, it just wasn’t a thing. Transparency in the adoption experience and positive adoption language both came into vogue in the 1980s when open adoption gained prevalence.

So, instead of the play-by-play of what happened on the day my twin sister and I were born, the events that transpired on and around Adoption Day is the family legend which has trailed me in to adulthood. I know that my adoptive parents pulled their sedan out of the detached garage behind their two-bedroom ranch in Western Springs and merged onto the Eisenhower expressway for the twelve-mile trip into Chicago. Once they arrived on the city’s Gold Coast, my folks parked in the private lot behind the massive, red-brick structure at 721 N. La Salle Street.

Grinning with joy and shivering with new parent nerves, Mom and Dad took the elevator from the lobby to the fifth floor. Upon exiting, they were met by Sister Mary Alice Rowan, the renowned prioress of St. Vincent’s Infant & Child Home. She ushered them into her office where they signed our adoption paperwork and received our baptismal certificates.

And then, they followed the winged-hat Sister of Charity down a glistening linoleum hallway to the ‘waiting for adoption’ infant nursery. From behind a huge plate glass window, they beamed at the sight of my twin sister and me, swaddled in pink blankets, and in the arms of two nurse’s aides. When Sister Mary Alice gave the nod to her staff, the young women emerged from the nursery and placed us into our parents’ waiting arms.

This was the day my life began.

When Illinois adoption law changed in 2011, I was allowed access to my OBR, the unredacted version of my birth circumstances. That same year I found and connected with my birthmother.

I chronicle the search story in my debut memoir, Twice a Daughter: A Search for Identity, Family, and Belonging, which will be released in May by She Writes Press. I was 52 when I met my birth mother and she shared with my twin sister and me what happened on the day we were born. Filling in the details of my personal puzzle was a thrilling and satisfying moment–the fulfillment of a lifelong yearning.

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” I agree with Twain. Those two moments are vital to self-knowledge and personal development.

But as an adoptee, I have a third important day. Adoption Day. The day I became my parents’ daughter, which is the day my life began.


By Julie Ryan McGue

Julie Ryan McGue is an author, a domestic adoptee and an identical twin. She writes extensively about finding out who you are, where you belong and making sense of it. Her debut memoir, “Twice A Daughter,” is the story of her five-year search for birth relatives.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Julie received a BA from Indiana University in psychology. She earned a MM in Marketing from the Kellogg Graduate School of Business, Northwestern University. She has served multiple terms on the Board of the Midwest Adoption Center and is an active member of the American Adoption Congress. Her weekly blogs That Girl, This Life and her monthly column at The Beacher focus on identity, family and life’s quirky moments.

Married for over 35 years, Julie and her husband split their time between Northwest Indiana and Sarasota, Florida. She’s the mother of four adult children and has three grandsons. If she’s not at her computer, she’s on the tennis court or out exploring with her Nikon. Julie is currently working on a collection of personal essays.