Beyond a Name
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
| This is the 265th story of Our Life Logs |
In 1981, in a town in southern Michigan, my mother (a teenager at the time who already had two children) gave birth to me. My biological father only stayed in the picture for a few months before leaving. Since then, it was like my mother cropped him out of my life…as she did with a lot of other things. It was like she had taken scissors to a bad newspaper article and shredded the evidence.
Still, I didn’t dwell so much on her secrecy as a young kid because, well, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Maybe I thought that was just her way. And even though my family was saturated in drama, fighting, and secrets, my siblings and I were pretty well taken care of, which is to say that we had what we needed. What else could I want?
And so, I was a happy, curious child who grew to love to hear stories and learn new things. Each time I asked her to tell me a story about…my mother immediately shut down and refused to entertain my longing. By the time I was in middle school, all I knew about my mother’s past was that she was from Ohio. Thankfully, we started visiting her family in Ohio in my teenage years where I quickly developed a close bond with my aunt, who was much more honest with me and graciously answered my long list of questions—albeit, behind my mother’s back. Even so, I was thankful. I’m sure she saw the curiosity twinkling in my eye and took pity, thinking a girl should know her father.
Through her, I learned that my mother was only 15 years old when she moved to Michigan with my father. I learned that early into their marriage, my father became a sort of moonshiner, a druggie, an absentminded man who did not have the capacity to be a good parent. In fact, before I came along, he had already fathered 11 children. He just didn’t have it in him.
But as soon as I began connecting the pieces of my mother’s past—and in turn, my past—together, my aunt and I were busted.
My mother was furious when she realized the topic of these conversations, so much so that I wasn’t allowed to speak to my aunt again. I remember wondering why she was so adamant about me knowing our family history. I didn’t care if it was messy. I just wanted to know.
It was around this time when I had a few brief meetings with my birth father, though, this only led to a few awkward conversations. Maybe there was nothing to know?
I didn’t think anything of my mother’s secret behavior until I passed my driver’s test at 16. Like any kid my age, I was ecstatic to begin this stage of newfound freedom, but my happiness was diminished when the instructor handed me my permit.
It read: Sarah Jean Fletcher.
What is this? That’s not my name! My name is Natasha Lynn Fletcher!
I wondered where they had pulled that name from. A mistake. When I pointed it out to the instructor, he just shrugged and said he printed the same name from my birth certificate. He handed it to me and, plain as day, that’s what it said.
When I asked my mom about it, she deflected my questions and instead blamed my father who she claimed must have messed up the name. But this wasn’t a simple typo. I could feel this pit forming inside my stomach.
For the first time in my life, I felt the weight of my situation, no longer able to overlook my cryptic past. Not only could I not get a driver’s license, but I did not exist under the name I’d known all my life. I felt like I’d been living a lie my whole life.
My mother offered no information or no wrongdoing, and I wanted to believe she truly didn’t know anything. The only lead I had was my dad, so, I called him up to see if he had an explanation, but talking with him only left me with more questions. He claimed my mom didn’t even let him near the hospital room before we lost contact. But how could that be possible if they both signed the certificate? I didn’t know who was telling the truth and the uncertainty drove me crazy. Why couldn’t anyone be honest with me?
Just to avoid more conflict, I left it alone for a year. But while that may have been the smoothest path, it only led to bitterness.
The next year, right when I turned 17, I began dating a boy who truly became my support system. It was through his encouragement that I decided to forgo the “peace” and retrieve the information I needed to get my name changed. Of course, my family was leery of his interference, but I no longer bought into the accusations. At that point, I didn’t care what had happened. I just wanted to fix it.
So, I tried gathering up all the information I needed to change my name. It was a long and grueling process with so many steps and records to collect that I lost motivation a few times, or maybe more than a few times. By age 19, I was fed up and got the documents together even if it meant upsetting my mother. Her secrecy and stubbornness had made me feel like I was a ghost, and I was tired of it. I couldn’t even buy a pack of cigarettes for God’s sake!
When I received a copy of my hospital and birth records, I found another buried secret. Scribbled at the top of the record were the words, “Mother does not wish to see the baby.” I knew this was normal phrasing for when a mother gives up their baby for adoption.
This time, when brought up the note to my mother, she finally gave me a tangible answer. She admitted that giving me up was her original plan, but she had changed her mind at the last minute. That seemed believable, but it still didn’t explain why my name didn’t reflect my birth certificate. I was also irritated that she refused to be honest from the start. I would have completely understood if she had given me up or had told me she had planned to. She was a young mom with two kids already, and an abusive, deadbeat husband. Of course, I’d understand! I just couldn’t fathom why even as an adult, she refused to trust me.
The anger that spiraled from this new plot twist consumed my heart. The bitterness that had been sown grew into resentment, which followed me like a shadow. The process of authenticating my identity was now synonymous with outrage. And while I was making progress, my soul was heavy.
Eventually, I got everything needed to be collected and signed. In 2007, I got my name changed to the one I had staked my identity in. As I finally held my ID card that said Natasha, I realized that the anguish of diving into my origins ruined the savory feeling I’d hoped for. I was Natasha now, but it didn’t answer any of my questions I still held inside, nor did it put me at peace.
After getting my ID, I grew up. I married my boyfriend, gave birth to two wonderful children, and processed a lot of my past regret and hurt. I recognized that the exhaustion of constant anger—no matter how justified—is not worth the peace of mind you must sacrifice. So, while I was tired of the secrets, complaining, and drama, I found that nothing was more exhausting than holding onto a grudge.
I spent the last two years of my life trying to focus on the positives of my life to melt the bitterness in my heart. Ultimately, I had to accept that I may never know the truth about my origin, but that’s okay because while a name is important, that’s not one’s true identity—my identity, in its truest form, is me.
Whether I’m Natasha, or Sarah, or Jane Doe, I have learned to make peace with my past, no matter how messy, mysterious it may be. As long as my path ahead is clear, then I will keep walking with a smile.
This is the story of Natasha Spieth
Natasha is starting her second year of college for her associate’s degree. Her parents’ past had always been fuzzy but she didn’t realize how much had been hidden from her until she tried to get an ID and discovered her birth certificate had a different name. In her quest for answers, Natasha realized that it ultimately doesn’t matter why it happened because a name isn’t your identity. In 2015, after being together for seventeen years, Natasha got married to the man who had been there to support through all the secrets. She has come to a place of happiness and acceptance in her life. In accepting things, she discovered a quote expressing that one can’t be mad at people for them not being who you wanted them to be, which made her realize that she has to accept her mom for who she is even if it means they never reconnect. She loves her mom and always will. She holds out hope that one day they can fix their relationship. She believes, “You are not to blame for things that happen out of your control, but you are to blame for your reaction”. She encourages others to focus on the good in their lives.
This story first touched our hearts on January 15, 2019.
| Writer: Natasha Spieth; Kristen Petronio | Editor: Colleen Walker |
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