'Part Of My DNA': An Adopted Woman Learns Of Her Birth Mother's Resilience

17 hours ago
Originally published on April 26, 2019 12:16 pm

Lisa Bouler Daniels, 52, grew up knowing she was adopted. Seven years ago, she began searching for her birth family.

By the time she found them, her birth mother had died. So had her adoptive mother.

She tracked down her half brother, Benjamin Chambers, and showed up at his church in the Chicago suburbs.

"I kinda ambushed you," Daniels told Chambers, now 37, in an interview at StoryCorps in December.

Chambers grew up as one of four children. He had no clue that he had another sibling.

"It was shocking," he remembers.

He was struck by how much she looked like his mother. "It felt like I was staring at my mother — cheekbones, eyes," he remembers. "Even all the way down through chosen career path — her being a teacher, you being a teacher."

Still in disbelief, Chambers called his sister, Camille.

"I said, 'Is it possible Mom had a daughter before all of us?' " Chambers asked her. "And so she was like, 'I'm calling dad.' "

Turns out his parents had wrestled with wanting to tell their children about Daniels, especially when his mother got sick, Chambers said. It was a difficult truth to broach. Daniels' mother had become pregnant with her after she had been sexually assaulted.

"You know, once I found out that I am ... the result of a sexual assault, that kinda took me for a loop," Daniels said. "I struggled with maybe I should have stayed away. Now all of the pain and the sadness that goes along with my very existence is out in the open."

With this new knowledge, Chambers began to reflect on his upbringing. He said he could now understand why his mother had been so protective.

"I remember being a child and going to the park to play baseball or basketball and having to check in," he said. "Giving us the stranger speech over and over. Not being able to go to a friend's house or birthday party unless she met everybody."

Both siblings found comfort in their mother's resilience.

Lisa Bouler Daniels (right) and her adoptive mother, Ethel Marie Allen Bouler.
Courtesy of Lisa Bouler Daniels

"To have a child under the circumstances that I was born and then go on to marry and to have four more kids, I mean that is just phenomenal strength," Daniels said. "I do take heart in knowing that that's who I come from."

"That's part of my DNA, so to speak. I was birthed by a strong woman. I was raised by a strong woman," she said. "I remember thinking, 'Both moms would have been fast friends.' And so those missed opportunities, I feel sorrow around that. But I do think it happened how it was supposed to happen."

While the siblings still struggle with the pain their mother had to go through, they're grateful to have found each other.

The only thing that's missing, Chambers said, is their mother's presence. "But I think the way in which we were raised kept our hearts soft over the years," he tells Daniels. "And I think that that prepared us to one day meet you."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Aisha Turner.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It is Friday and time for StoryCorps. Today, uncovering a painful family secret. Lisa Bouler Daniels grew up knowing she was adopted. But it wasn't until seven years ago that she started searching for her birth family. By the time she found them, both her birth mother and her adoptive mother had passed away. Last year, though, she tracked down her half-brother, Benjamin Chambers.

LISA BOULER DANIELS: I kind of ambushed you. I showed up at your church. And I remember asking you, did you have a few minutes. I wanted to talk to you privately because you didn't know that you had a sister - no idea.

BENJAMIN CHAMBERS: No inkling, no hint, no nothing. It was shocking. It felt like I was staring at my mother - cheekbones, eyes - even all the way down through chosen career path, her being a teacher, you being a teacher. So I called my sister, Camille. And I said, is it possible mom had a daughter before all of us? And she was like, I'm calling Dad. And him sharing that they wrestled with wanting to tell us and, especially when she got sick, when was the right time to say something.

BOULER DANIELS: You know, once I found out that I am the result of a sexual assault, that kind of took me for a loop. And so I struggled with maybe I should have stayed away. Now all of the pain and the sadness that goes along with my very existence is out in the open.

CHAMBERS: I remember crying every day, thinking through what our mother had to go through and really thinking about how we were raised and how protective she was and now fully understanding why. I remember being a child and, you know, going to the park to play baseball or basketball and having to check in, giving us the stranger speech over and over, not being able to go to a friend's house or birthday party unless she met everybody.

BOULER DANIELS: You know, to have a child under the circumstances that I was born and then go on to marry and to have four more kids, I mean, that is just phenomenal strength. And so I do take heart in knowing that that's who I come from.

CHAMBERS: Right.

BOULER DANIELS: That's part of my DNA, so to speak. I was birthed by a strong woman. I was raised by a strong woman. I remember thinking both moms would have been fast friends. And so those missed opportunities, I feel sorrow around that. But I do think it happened how it was supposed to happen.

CHAMBERS: Where our relationship has developed, it's exactly where she would want it to be. The only thing that's missing is her presence. But I think the way that which we were raised kept our hearts soft over the years. And I think that that prepared us to one day meet you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "STEP IN STEP OUT")

MARTIN: Benjamin Chambers and Lisa Bouler Daniels for StoryCorps in Chicago. Their interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.