AAC Conference Part 2: Dominique and Jennifer

You may remember Dominique Moceanu – the youngest Olympic gold medalist (at age 14) and a member of the 1996 Olympic gold medal winning U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team in Atlanta.

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Dominique and her sister were keynote speakers at the AAC conference. If you don’t know this story, you simply must hear it.

Dominique’s parents were both gymnasts from Romania. Her father was very strict and expected perfection from her. Dominique admitted that she was afraid of her father who often screamed at her not to embarrass the Moceanu name by making mistakes. He also hit her or pulled her ears. None of this was public knowledge when Dominique won gold for the United States in 1996. But, at the age of 17, Dominique filed legal documents for emancipation from her parents and the story came out. Dominique has since married and has two children. She says she is the first woman in her family line to marry a non-abusive husband.

A few years after Dominique was born, her mother gave birth to a second daughter. This daughter was born with no legs, and her father decided to leave the baby at the hospital. The Moceanu’s second daughter, who would be named Jennifer Bricker, was adopted by parents who believed in her abilities and taught her not to put limitations on herself. As a result, Jennifer was a competitive softball player, roller skater, and basketball player at a mere three feet tall! Jennifer loved watching competitive gymnastics on television, and her hero was Dominique Moceanu. She told her parents she wanted to be a gymnast too. Jennifer started tumbling at age seven and eventually became the Illinois state tumbling champion – and not in the disabled category! Jennifer now makes her living as an aerial acrobat.

Jennifer knew she was adopted, and she had even commented to her parents that Dominique looked like her. But she was never very interested in her origins until, at the age of 16, a friend told her that she had found her birth parents. Jennifer came home and asked her adoptive mother what she knew about Jennifer’s biological parents. Her mother brought out the envelope of adoption papers she had been saving. Miraculously and accidentally, the signatures of the biological parents had not been blacked out as was the usual procedure.

At the conference, Jennifer went into detail about her search and discovery that her HERO was also her SISTER. She contacted her biological parents who were less than enthusiastic about being found. Jennifer waited. But in early December 2007, she said that her dreams were consumed with making contact with Dominique. She summoned up the courage, copied all the legal documents and pictures of herself growing up, and wrote a letter to her hero. Meanwhile, Dominique was 9 months pregnant with her first child and studying for five final exams to complete her undergraduate degree when the letter arrived. Dominique knew the information was true as soon as she saw Jennifer’s pictures. She waited until after her baby girl was born in late December to call Jennifer. Both sisters said they connected instantly like “best friends.” Dominique reflected, “Life will forever be divided now. Life before knowing Jen, and life after.”

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Jennifer commented, “I had the best childhood. Dominique didn’t. She was blessed in a different way.” She said their circumstances have taught her never to have harsh feelings about birth family: “Things don’t happen TO us. They happen FOR us.” She also said, “A different set of parents would have made a different Jennifer Bricker. The biggest blessing in my life was adoption.”

When asked about her mother (-her father is deceased-), Dominique responded that it is important to forgive those who hurt you so you can live a healthy life. She said she has compassion and understanding, now, for the kind of upbringing that created her father’s behavior. She said that keeping a secret, the way her mother did, for 20 years “affects her.” The memories of pain and hurt make it hard for her to have a relationship with Jennifer. She carries guilt. She worries about judgment. But, Dominique said, the relationship will come in time.

I’m tempted to draw conclusions based on this story – but I know to be cautious. Adoption and adoption reunions don’t always work out this well. There are not always identifiable “good guys” and “bad guys.” Loss is felt more deeply by different members of the adoption triad depending on the circumstances and the personalities of the people involved. Nonetheless, it was good to hear such an uplifting story. It was also good to hear that no one is being left behind. The sisters are willing to be patient and hopeful that their mother will one day be able to experience the joy as well as the pain of adoption.

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