Leave The Door Open

Recently a commenter on my blog was making a big deal about “genetic parents” being able to opt out of their own child’s lives. This could be equated to surrendering a child to adoption and this commenter actually extended her perspective to donor egg or sperm sources. I don’t think her points of view are realistic but she is an activist in such concerns and I understand her perspectives. Like much of scientific medical advances being light years ahead of moral and ethical considerations. She thought ALL of the parents should be on a birth certificate and have full responsibility for the well-being of the children involved. As a society, we are simply not there yet.

Happily, there is a huge effort within the adoption community (made up of adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents and birth parents) to create an organic, grassroots kind of reform of the whole situation. What might such a “reformed” situation look like ? I think this story is an excellent example and so I share it with you today (I hasten to add, it is NOT my own story, because sometimes that isn’t understood in this blog).

My daughter’s parents were very distant after they made the adoption plan for her. They felt that by doing so, they had given up their rights to ask anything or to know her (this is what both of them have explained to me). Keep reaching out, keep sending photos, updates, hand and foot crafts, etc. When my adoptive daughter was almost 3 yrs old, her mother came to understand that we DID want her in our daughter’s life and that we were happy to have her here. Her dad went longer, so many years with out seeing her, he said that he was afraid of making her life harder by showing up when he finally felt ready. We talked about it and I sent a ton of links to him showing that it’s better for children to know their families, if they can. That year he brought his girlfriend and parents to her birthday party. Our little girl loved being snuggled up in her father’s arms for the afternoon. If you genuinely leave the door open and make the child’s original parents feel welcomed, there is a good chance that one day they will come through that opening.

John Murry’s Adopted Relationship to William Faulkner

John Murry

It’s not hard for me to be drawn into any adoption story. As a writer, I am of course aware of William Faulkner. As a result of disappointment in the initial rejection of his work, he became indifferent to publishers and boldly wrote his next novel in a much more experimental style. In describing the writing process for that work, Faulkner would later say, “One day I seemed to shut the door between me and all publisher’s addresses and book lists. I said to myself, ‘Now I can write’.”

But really, this blog is not actually about Faulkner but about a related adoptee, John Murry. The name Murry actually runs down a long line of Faulkner’s. William Faulkner’s father’s and brother’s first names. John Murry had been adopted by his adoptive parents by an agreement made before his birth. His biological mother was a Cherokee schoolgirl and his adoptive parents thought they couldn’t have children. Also not unusual in cases of adoption, his adoptive mother gave birth to a son a year later, who John was raised with as a brother for a period of time. While growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi, John’s relationship with his parents was troubled (also not unusual for adoptees).

With the birth of their biological son of more importance to them, John was eventually sent away to be raised by his grandmother. She was a first cousin of William Faulkner, who considered her to be like a sister to him. John Murry’s grandparents were related to the Faulkners – on both sides. Mississippi is that kind of place, he says. Murry often refers to Faulkner’s book, The Sound and the Fury. He says that his adoptive parents hoped to model him after a character, Quentin Compson, who appears in that book. John feels more identified with Quentin’s brother, Benjy. Quentin had gone to Harvard University. John says his adoptive parents gave little thought to the fact that Quentin commits suicide in that book.

Faulkner died 15 years before John Murry was born. His grandmother and Faulkner had been inseparable, and his grandfather was a pallbearer at Faulkner’s funeral. When Murry was growing up, his beloved grandmother told him that, despite the lack of blood lineage, he was “obnoxious” and “more like Bill than any of us”. Obnoxious was the ultimate compliment, he says – it meant he challenged authority and called out can’t.

So the character Murry relates to, Benjy, is labelled an “idiot” in the novel. Today that character would have been diagnosed as autistic like Murry was at the age of 32 (confirming his own instincts about who he was most like). He struggles. At times he is in control of all the stuff going on in his head; other times, paralyzed by it. “I have an eidetic memory,” (More commonly called a photographic memory.) He says, “I can remember conversations verbatim. I can hear multiple conversations at once too.” He’s not boasting. Many of his memories torture him. “I don’t want to remember some of these things.”

Not wanting to remember is unsurprising because his childhood was violent. Murry is phenomenally well read, for which he is thankful for one thing: the shelf-full of books his lawyer father gave him. “I was 10 years old, and he puts books out there for me to read like The Communist Manifesto and the Autobiography of Malcolm X – books he didn’t agree with.” Although his parents were set on him going to Harvard, he had other ideas. He chose to play music and compose songs (another way of telling stories).

Murry spent three weeks of his childhood in a host family’s home with other dysfunctional children (who were also being treated at a fundamentalist Christian rehabilitation center). There, he had his first sexual experience, which was being repeatedly gang raped by three older boys. He says they discussed killing Murry in front of him. “I want people to know if something like that happens to you, that violence is not something you bring upon yourself, just as I didn’t bring it upon myself. I was the victim of it.” He blames a later heroin addiction that almost killed him to that time he spent in that Christian rehab as a youngster. “I think the thing that led to heroin was having to repeat again and again, ‘I am powerless over drugs and alcohol, and only Jesus Christ can save me from that’.” 

Giving up drugs and leaving America in a move to Ireland changed everything for Murry. Albert Camus is quoted by Murry as saying, “The first thing a person has to do in life is to decide whether or not to take their own life and once they’ve done that they can choose to live. I don’t want to die – I know that now. I slowly realized my perspective on things has changed. I’ve changed.” I recently completed reading Camus’ book The Plague (I know, a perverse choice in a time of pandemic perhaps but actually enlightening as regards the behavior of people under such extreme circumstances which it seems changes little over time).

John Murry’s story is sadly typical of many adoptees who have a higher rate of suicide, dysfunctional relationships, drug use and are more likely to be victims of abuse.

The Truth About Louis Armstrong’s Adoption Story

I saw this story –

A Jewish family named Karnofsky, who immigrated from Lithuania to the United States, took pity on a 7-year-old boy and brought him to their home. There he stayed and spent the night in this Jewish family home, where for the first time in his life he was treated with kindness and tenderness. When he went to bed, Mrs. Karnovski sang him Russian lullabies, which he sang with her. Later he learned to sing and play several Russian and Jewish songs. Over time, this boy became the adopted son of this family. Mr. Karnofsky gave him money to buy his first musical instrument, as was the custom in Jewish families. Later, when he became a professional musician and composer, he used these Jewish melodies in compositions such as St. James’s Hospital and Go Down Moses. The little boy grew up and wrote a book about this Jewish family, who adopted him in 1907. And proudly spoke Yiddish fluently. In memory of this family and until the end of his life, he wore the Star of David and said that in this family he learned “to live a real life and determination. “This little boy’s name was Louis Armstrong.

It’s a very sweet story and has some factual basis but I have NOT been able to prove the adoption story. In fact, Louis Armstrong’s life – while filled with poverty and hardship – was more complicated than this simple story. The “adopted” allegation isn’t of the legal sort, though definitely the family was special to him and helpful at a critical point in Armstrong’s young life. Louis Armstrong’s actual family was always in his life to some degree, though at one time he was sent as a punishment to the Colored Waif’s Home for borrowing – without permission and recklessly firing – his stepfather’s gun.

Armstrong worked for Mr Karnofsky and the money “given” was actually an advance against what he earned. In fact, it was Louis playing a little tin horn that was intended to attract attention to Mr Karnofsky’s trade. Louis Armstrong did indeed write a memoir titled Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family in New Orleans, La., the Year of 1907. It has long been true that the Black and Jewish communities have recognized the discrimination that both races have suffered and have experienced some common ground due to their treatment by other members of society.

Louis Armstrong did adopt – he adopted the 3 yr old son of his cousin Flora. She had died shortly after giving birth. Clarence Armstrong was mentally disabled, the result of a head injury at an early age (forgive me, but this does give me pause without knowing how it happened). Louis Armstrong spent the rest of his life taking care of his son. He also accepted the paternity claim of Lucille “Sweets” Preston, a dancer at the Cotton Club. He had his manager pay a monthly allowance of $400 (US$4,830 in 2020 dollars) to the mother and child.

When asked about his religion, Armstrong answered that he was raised a Baptist, always wore a Star of David, and was friends with the pope. He wore the Star of David in honor of the Karnoffsky family, who took him in as a child and lent him money to buy his first cornet. He was baptized a Catholic in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in New Orleans, and met both Pope Pius XII and Pope Paul VI.

I love this song but watching Armstrong sing it brings up conflicted feelings. Some parts appear as deep reflection and other parts almost feel strained. No doubt, he had much to be grateful for but considering the times during which he was performing, I would not be surprised at honest and genuine feelings that were indeed conflicted.

They Are Not Orphans

If anyone cared about children and adoption, they would be focused on changing the things that lead to a child being taken away from their parent or a parent not feeling adequate to parent their own child.

Things like poverty, addiction, mental illness and abuse.

Most “adoptable” children are NOT actually orphans. That is a myth.

Poverty plays a huge role in how children end up in foster care and through that in the adoption system or end up going straight into adoption without the parent ever trying to raise their own child.

Society needs to focus on the inequities that destroy a stable family unit.

Focus of those aspects that disrupt children’s lives.

At the maternity ward level, every adoption takes place in a tragic situation where the birth mother actually wanted her baby – that is the main reason any woman would devote 9 mos of her life into the creation of a new human being in her own womb. This is a huge sacrifice and commitment on the part of any woman.

Here’s the honest truth – there actually is ENOUGH money in this world to HELP people – instead of jerking their precious children away from them in order to make a profit from another couple who desperately believes that is their only path to parenthood.

Another Rejection Of Me

For many adoptees, simply the fact that their original family is not raising them is a rejection. That is why this story really touched my heart.

I’m an adoptee that’s been recently reunited with my first mom and her side of the family. They have been so welcoming and want a relationship with me, and it’s been so great getting to know them. Unfortunately my adoptive family isn’t taking it well. I’m just so sad that they can’t be more supportive and are taking it personally. I’m not surprised at all by my adoptive parents reacting this way, but my one safe person (my adoptive paternal aunt) is also taking it badly. I wish I could just have the joy of reunion without the overwhelming guilt. Their rejection of my biological family feels like another rejection of me. I so wish they could share in my happiness. They say they can somewhat understand my curiosity about who my biological family is but they don’t understand why I want to have a relationship with them. My biological family on the other hand has expressed wanting to meet my adoptive family and it breaks my heart that the feeling isn’t mutual. I hope they have a change of heart, but in the meantime I am grieving.

Argentina’s Courageous Abuelas

Abuelas (Grandmothers) de Plaza de Mayo is a non-governmental organization formed in 1977. Their grandchildren disappeared. Many babies were kidnapped with their parents, some after their parents were killed, and others were born in clandestine detention centers where their mothers were taken after having been sequestered at different states of their pregnancies.

The grandmothers note that from the moment that their children (often with their grandchild still in the womb) disappeared, they have visited every court, office, orphanage, day care center, and so on, trying to locate them. They have appeared before the courts, the successive military governments, the Supreme Court, and the ecclesiastical hierarchies, never obtaining a positive result. They eventually directed their claims to international organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States. All to no avail.

These disappeared children were deprived of their identity, their religion, and their right to live with their family, in other words, all of the rights that are nationally and internationally recognized as their universal human rights. Beginning in 1997, the grandmothers began an informational campaign seeking to draw the attention of young people (of an approximate age range of what their grandchildren would be at that time) who may have had doubts regarding their true identity to the Abuelas organization. Happily, they have had some positive results.

The grandmothers wish to make it clear that their grandchildren have not been abandoned and inform them that they have the right to recover their roots and their history. They wish for these victims to know that they have relatives who are constantly engaged in searching for them.

Over 3 decades, the grandmothers located 120 of the disappeared children, including 4 found by governmental commissions and 2 located by CLAMOR, the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the Southern Cone. The estimated number of children kidnapped is approximately 500. Widespread DNA testing is now making it possible to locate more of these children who could have been sent out for adoption to any country anywhere in the world.

Some of the recovered children are already living with their legitimate families and have become perfectly integrated. Others are still living with the families that have raised them, but are in close contact with their true grandmothers and relatives. By being a part of two families, the children have recovered their identity. Sadly, there are a large number of disappeared children whose identities were completely annulled. In those cases, the grandmothers are using modern science to prove that they are members of a particular family. They continue to rely on support from the scientific community in the field of genetics, hematology, morphology, and others to accomplish their goal.

A Miscarriage of Justice

The origination of many adoptions is the traumatic experience of having a miscarriage. One miscarriage leads to another miscarriage – that of taking a woman’s baby for one’s own self. It is often an act of trying to overcome honest grief and sorrow by inflicting a lifetime of grief and sorrow on another woman. Our society condones this behavior by creating mythic stories that adoptees often call the rainbows and unicorns narrative of how wonderful adoption is. In truth it is not more wonderful than the realistic slings and arrows of everyday life and for some (the adoptee and the birth mother) wounds to carry forever. Some eventually experience a reunion with one another and while these are mostly happy stories (but not always), there is no way to make up for decades of life going on with different trajectories for each person.

If this society was a just one, we could be taking care of our mothers and our children instead of allowing money to drive the exchange of human beings to fulfill the thwarted desires of the people with the financial means to purchase a baby. Oh I know, most adoptive parents don’t view it that way. I know most adoption agencies and facilitators don’t want to view themselves from a perspective that they are baby sellers in it to make a profit. It is so easy for people to delude themselves with feel good stories.

I don’t have a lot of optimism that the profit motivated adoption industry will end any time soon. I am only heartened that some of us keep trying to make the point that children belong with the people who conceived them. Children need to grow up within the genetic, biological familial roots from which they emerged. Yes, sometimes parents die. This has happened to my own grandmothers – both of them – and we’ve lost more than one mom in my little mom’s group that has existed a bit more than 17 years now. We’ve also lost a couple of fathers too.

Orphans do deserve care within a family structure but there is no need to change a child’s original identity or name in order to provide for them. Some parents in our modern society get messed up – with drugs, with violence, with the criminal justice system. These people need intensive restoration into functioning members of our society. It is complicated and not a quick fix. I’ll readily admit that.

Not Every Situation Works Out

It can be heartbreaking. Case in point –

We were matched with an expectant mother 2.5 years ago who chose to parent. We understood and gave her all the things we had for the baby. We checked in on her legitimately a few times to offer help, but she blocked us – which I also understood. This was not a $50,000 agency adoption. She found us on social media. During the time we got to know her, we also got to know her sister who we have remained Facebook friends with. The sister recently reached out to ask how we were doing. In that conversation she shared that soon after her niece was born, her sister got into a bad relationship and started using drugs. Her child was taken by Child Protective Services, the Termination of her Parental Rights by court order occurred and the foster parents adopted the child. The sister was complaining that at first the foster family let them have visits, but they were super uncomfortable, seemed sketchy, and have since blocked contact with the child’s biological family.

I do advocate for moms to keeping and raising their babies. The woman above asked, “but what about situations like this?” and goes on to make a point that there are some moms that do not do well parenting or maybe their circumstances change. That maybe she wasn’t as able to parent though she thought she was.

A really good response to this story acknowledged that the woman telling this story was really trying to learn and wrap their head around breaking out of the whole “rainbow and butterfly” narrative (what adoptees often refer to as the societal adoption myth). I believe you are mature enough to understand that there is always going to be a “not“ situation that falls into a gap. I have a sibling who could perhaps fall into that not all situation… (and in fact this blog author does too.) To answer your question… Yes, there are probably situations involving parents who don’t want to raise their children. Some parents believe the narrative that giving a baby for adoption is better than having an abortion. Some parents, maybe in this particular situation, decided to parent the child because they honestly feel that’s what is in the best interest of their child and it was. Here’s the reality – being in an abusive relationship can change the victim’s mentality. A person trapped in such a relationship can literally become someone you would no longer recognize and someone they never intended to be. So again… Had this child remained with the mother and had she received the kind of support and assistance she needed when she need it including how to get away from her abusive partner, this story would have had a good outcome. There are so many women in situations that really could use help. There are a bunch of places where the system fails to help. And in her case, those failures resulted in the termination of her parental rights. I immediately wonder why this woman’s sister wasn’t contacted to foster this child who is her kin. Why was this sister not encouraged to adopt this child? It’s too late for answers to these questions. I’m just saying there were so many ways in which this one child was failed by a seriously flawed system. The trauma will be huge over the child and her mother’s lifetimes.

Never Belonged There

From an adoptee –

I haven’t been “woke” for very long when it comes to adoption. Things have always felt wrong or at least, at times, on and off, weird about it. But when you’ve always been told getting adopted is a “gift” and a “blessing” and you’re “lucky” but you don’t feel that, it’s complicated isn’t it ?

I started speaking up about how I felt a little bit as I got older, especially to people not in my adoptive family who act like I should be grateful that my parents “saved” me. Well, no, I don’t feel like I was. I’m told I should just basically eat shit politely with a spoon and fork and say thank you (my adoptive family has a narcissistic dynamic like I’m learning so many adoptive families do. Guess who’s the scapegoat?).

Anyway, it wasn’t until the last few years, when I realized there were communities and groups for adoptees like me. Then, I really started to learn just how messed up the whole adoption and foster care thing is. Now, I’m almost 39 and I still haven’t really unpacked any of my trauma. I have so many health issues including anxiety and high blood pressure and these are becoming critical. I know I really need to seek therapy.

I’ve never quite felt like I belonged anywhere, certainly not within my adoptive family, and it’s so hard for me to make friends. It’s hard when you’ve been told your whole life that you are just too much, because your personality is so different than that of your family. It always felt like I was walking a couple feet above everyone else. I’ve always felt like I lived in a different, parallel world. Books like Harry Potter really resonated with me, the ones where the main characters are living life feeling all alone like they don’t fit in, when suddenly they discover the other, secret world in which they actually belong but somehow unknowingly were taken away from, and they actually do belong somewhere! I have probably used books like that to dissociate from my adoptive reality a bit. I have preferred books in a series so that I could live in that other world as long as I could. I would always feel devastated and grieved when the story ended.

I recently found my birth family, only two weeks ago. I have been talking to my birth mother and I’ve talked to my birth father, too. My birth mother has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease and only a very limited amount of time left to live.

I realize now what I never realized before – how angry I am. I put off finding her because when I was a child, my adoptive (narcissistic) mother would sob and make me promise I wouldn’t look for my original mother. And to be honest, these last few years, I didn’t know if I could handle emotionally not fitting in with another family. But now that I’ve found her, she seems wonderful so far and yet now I have only a very limited amount of time left with her. Not only that, I will have to watch her die a horrible death.

Even though I should be and actually am grateful I found her before it’s too late, that is offset by just how devastated and angry I am. And my birth father, During our first conversation, my birth father wanted to know if my adoptive family was wonderful. How am I supposed to respond to that? I think I said something along the lines of “uh, uh, yeah, I guess” and thankfully my kids interrupted. My birth mother hasn’t broached the subject, I think she suspects it was not wonderful for me..

A Failed Adoption Is Not The Same Thing

A woman shares this – Someone’s asking how to support a friend whose adoption has been disrupted at [a specific point in an unborn baby’s gestation]. This friend is a would be adoptive parent. The responses to this situation, that include some from other adoptive parents who identify themselves as having experienced this, equate it to a death in the family, stillbirth, or trauma.

Certainly, one could relate the two up to a point. The prospective adoptive parents have been excited about the pending adoption. They have the expectation of holding a newborn in their arms. They may have invested in a crib, baby clothes and diapers among their other preparations. But the similarity stops there.

My daughter experienced a stillbirth with her first pregnancy. She describes to me being given the expelled fetus in a blanket to hold and say goodbye to at the hospital. She tells me that when she became pregnant again with my grandson, she could hear this first one saying to her in her heart, you weren’t ready for me then.

Another woman shares (she is an adoptive parent) – I have had two late term stillbirths. Both were cord deaths. In no way, shape or form would I say that a failed adoption is at all related to experiencing a stillbirth or death loss. You cannot even put the two together. It’s only recently that stillbirth has been allowed to even be spoken about. This is why pre-birth adoption matching of unborn babies to be shouldn’t be allowed! Adoptive parents who compare the two, taking away from the women who have had an actual loss by birthing a stillbirth baby by comparing that tremendous sorrow with a belief that their loss of a baby because the expectant mother has changed her mind is a kind of mental illness.

An adoption reform response to prospective adoptive parents experiencing this kind of loss could be – “While this is a type of loss for your family, can you shift your perspective and realize how amazing it is that this mother and your family will not have to live with the certain regrets surrounding an adoption? It is a lovely and precious thing for this mom to be able to parent – just as it would have been for you.”