Kristina Swenson


There are so many emotions for me being adopted that made this very hard to write, but it was also very therapeutic at the same time.  

My birth father’s family, the Pages, are happy to be identified.  My maternal family wants to remain anonymous, so I have changed their names.  Swenson is my adopted last name. I use the familiar term of mom only to refer to my adopted mom, and I use dad to refer to both of my fathers.

I always got mixed messages from people who asked me about what it felt like to be adopted.  It always seemed that although they asked me how I felt, it was important to them that I felt special.  I was asked if I were interested in finding my “real” family.  When I said yes, I was often criticized for not appreciating what “I had.”

What I didn’t have was medical information or an ethnic identity, and I resembled no one in a culture where all three are important. Adoption records are sealed in Indiana and for years, no request by anyone, for any reason, would unseal them. 

In Indiana there is now the Adoption Search/Indiana Adoption History Registry for adult adoptees and birth parents.  Currently, the program is free, but when I used the service in 2017, the fee was $350 and there was no waiting period. Both programs operate under “mutual consent” meaning both parties have to agree to releasing  identifying information.  I checked the registry’s website today and found there is a waiting list of 36 weeks for assistance.  

There is a provision in the Registry that allows a birth mother to completely restrict access to her records. 

My story begins prior to my birth, when my birth mother contacted the children’s bureau of Indiana to arrange termination of her maternal rights, without notifying my father.

I was adopted into a family who already had two adopted children, which was unusual in Indiana.  I later found out there were two reasons for this. First, the adoptive family already had two children and my placement with them would keep me in the same birth order as I would have been in.  Second, my birth mother indicated that my birth father was of Scandinavian descent and the Swenson’s were Scandinavian.

But I wasn’t Scandinavian.  I didn’t even come close to looking like I was.  In fact, there is a comment on my adoption records, made after I was born, commenting on how I looked very different than they expected.

I grew up with my adopted siblings in a typical midwestern family.  But I always thought I belonged somewhere else.  That feeling was not an attachment issue, my family was great. I think when an adopted person expresses interest in their genetic history, it is assumed they want to replace the people who raised them.  Unfortunately, this comment refuses to acknowledge that people do legitimately want to know their genetic identity which is underscored by the widespread popularity of home DNA kits. 

In 2017, I contacted the agency that handled my adoption and requested a search for my birth mother.  The fee was $350 and I was immediately matched with a search consultant, Katrina.  Katrina located my birth mother within 24 hours. 

Unfortunately she had died ten years ago.  She also located one of my pre-adoption sisters.  I did not have to wait for mutual consent because my birth mother was deceased.  Once Katrina received the official death certificate, she released my name and number to the oldest birth sister, Janice. We conversed via text for a few days and then met in person.  She brought a lot of pictures of a variety of relatives and told me stories.  My birth mother, Doris was an only child and married at 18.  She gave birth to her first child at 19 and the second daughter at 19.  I was born 3 years later in August of 1965.

Although Katrina did not give me the notes written by the social worker in charge of my case, she read them to me.  The reasons Doris gave for putting me up for adoption were largely financial.  She said that Janice and I shared the same father, Jim.

When I met Janice, I read to her the description of Jim that her mother had given the social worker at the adoption agency.  Janice said the description did not bear any resemblance to Jim in any way.  I specifically asked whether there were any Scandinavian ancestors. Janice told me that Jim’s family were not Scandinavian, but actually they could be traced back to a particular area in England.  

I was placed with the Swensons based on the description of Jim in the adoption records which explains how an Italian baby ended up with a Scandinavian family.  I believe that Doris probably knew that Paul Page was my father.  The Pages are Catholic and Doris requested that I be placed with a Catholic family.

Katrina told me in addition to the two sisters I already knew about that I also had a younger brother and sister.  I did meet all four of these siblings once at a get together. We took a picture and I have had little contact with 3 of the 4 siblings. I have had a relationship with the second oldest daughter, Jean. Jean told me the reason the other sibling did not want to have continued contact with me was that Doris lied to them constantly throughout their lives. I was a reminder of how far that deception went.

In 2020, I moved to Tucson for six months to enjoy the sun and to get to know Jean better.  It was great to get to know her and my nephew.  We maintain a great relationship and we often talk once a week.  If I need to make a decision about something difficult, she is the one I call.

I did an Ancestry DNA test in 2018 and matched enough of my fathers family, the Pages, that there was little doubt, I was born a Page.  I contacted one of my dad’s sisters and explained the DNA results.  She told me that she was sorry, but she could not help me.  I made one additional plea, to no avail.  Through the DNA results, I was to connect enough matches to determine that my dad was Paul Page.  A google search led me to my father’s obituary.  He had died 8 years ago from a heart attack.

At that time, I decided not to make any further contact with the Pages.  My aunt’s response made me question whether the outcome of meeting with them would be positive. The reunion with the maternal family did disrupt their lives substantially and I wanted to be careful not to do that to another family.

In September of 2022, I received a call and the now familiar voice of my brother, David, said “I think I am your half brother.” In the four years since the DNA test, I have matched additional family members.  When David found out about the test, he tracked me down in less than an hour.  We later did a DNA test to substantiate the Ancestry DNA results and I have been treated as a family member of equal stature ever since.

The Pages are a tight knit and proud Italian family.  Their commitment to family goes as deep as any oak tree.  The Aunt who declined contact with me earlier, did so because she was concerned that my existence would look bad on my deceased father.  Luckily that did not turn out to be true and I have been welcomed beyond anything I could have imagined.  

The Page family is massive and so I went to multiple family gatherings at both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I have weekly contact with David as well as a sister. My dad’s brother, as well as my two brothers, tell me that if our dad had known about me, he would have fought fiercely to raise me himself. So, I was wrongly put up for adoption for reasons I will never know.  

Processing this long journey is difficult and I must admit, caused some depression.  I have been wrongly denied years of my Italian heritage, and I did not have medical information that may have prevented my heart attack. Plus I had to deal with years of wondering where I belonged.  I did not know that I was Italian, but I always knew I was not Scandinavian.  

In the end, I belong to all three of the families.  One became a family because of my adoption, another now feels more complete and as for the third, that’s more complicated.  I was one less person to consume the meager resources of my maternal family, but the sister I do have a relationship with, now has one more root in this world.  

I still shed tears many days for good reasons and difficult reasons. I am grateful to my parents who raised me with a wealth of opportunities and love.  I feel a profound loss that I never met the father that I am told was charismatic, creative, and loved fiercely. If there is a lesson here, and I always think there is, it would be that no one should be put in a position that divides their identity and sense of self.

I should have been able to embrace the Swensons as my adoptive parents and had access to my genetic records. With unsealed records, I could have met my father and grown up with my cousins.  At the beginning, I said this was hard to write, but it would be therapeutic. Now that I have written out my story, I realize that the losses and gains I found can’t be measured on any scale. But, my journey and its combination of joy and heartache should inform the debate over sealing of genetic records and telling children about their genetic identity.