It Can Be Hard To Reconcile

Consider this. You are an adoptee. You are highly dependent on your adoptive parents’ good will. You have already experienced what felt like abandonment or rejection, regardless of whether that was the truth of your adoption circumstances. This reluctance, and often even an inability to get to the honest truth within one’s self, is true for many adoptees. It is even possible for them to be happy with the people who adopted them – I know that my parents were, and that as the “grandchildren,” we loved and respected and cherished those people.

One comment on this graphic image admitted – “Shit it took me until I was 25 to even have this conversation with myself.” Another said – “took me until my early 50’s.” or “35 for me!” And this – “Going through the fog was unlike anything I could imagine. Isn’t it nuts? I’m 31 now and I’ve only talked to 2 people honestly about it all.”

More – “I’m only 55. So it’s still only been a few years and I’m still reeling some days.” Or this, “The last couple years I would think I was through, only to be thrown back in even deeper.”

I have also read The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier – I would recommend it to anyone with adoption within their own family background. I found it balanced and fair in her perspectives as the mother of an adoptee plus a biological child, and not only that, as a therapist to families with adoption related issues.

So this one resonates with me – “40 for me! And that was only after my birthmother died and a fellow adoptee gave me ‘The Primal Wound’ to read.” 

One wrote – I want to share this on my personal page but I know my adoptive parents will be offended. In response, another person noted that this is how so many adoptees feel. They’d never risk sharing their feelings. Going public on Facebook is brave. I do it and then most of the time I get annoyed – it’s crickets and so I delete it.

Ray Liotta and Adoption

I don’t remember him actually making any kind of strong impression on me but I did see the movie “GoodFellas” back in 2020 (thanks to Netflix keeping track of these things for me).

It is interesting how ideas for this blog come to me. This one was from a short acknowledgement in Time magazine about the man’s recent passing. Something about his adoptive mother dying during the filming.

I thought, so another adoption story. It never ceases to amaze me how many people in our society are somehow touched by adoption more broadly (meaning not necessarily adopted themselves but in their extended family). I went looking to learn more about this aspect of the man’s life.

The story I read was about how he found peace with his adoption. He said, “At first, I didn’t understand how a parent could give up a child. So, I had that kind of energy of just being like, that’s just f***** up.” His perspective changed after the birth of his own daughter in 1998, at which point he felt he had to trace and locate his birth mother.

Ray was born in 1954, the same year I was, in Newark New Jersey. He was adopted at the age of six months. He was in an orphanage at the time. His adoptive parents were Alfred and Mary. Liotta knew he wasn’t his adoptive parents biological child growing up. He also had an adopted sister, Linda.

His drama teacher in high school asked him if he wanted to appear in a play during his senior year. Liotta didn’t take it seriously at the time (he was into sports) but it led to him eventually studying acting at the University of Miami. After graduation, he got his first big break on the soap opera Another World.

In his 40s, he hired a private detective to locate his birth mother and younger siblings. He subsequently learned from her that he is mostly of Scottish descent (like I learned regarding my maternal grandmother’s family). He then met his birth mother and siblings – a half brother, five half sisters and a full sister. She explained to him that she had given him up for adoption because she was too young and couldn’t contend with the responsibility.

He said that then, “I realized that she did it for very valid reasons from her perspective and for 99% of the kids put up for adoption, the birth parent believes that it’s for the betterment of the kid… Often, the household, the situation, the age just dictate that’s the best thing to do for the child.” After the meeting her, Liotta honestly said that he was “disappointed” by his mother’s story. He reminds me of my own mom in saying that he was “really grateful that [he] was adopted.” When Larry King mentions there is a book for adoptees called “You Were Chosen,” Liotta admits that his was “I was given up.” Most adoptees hate the “chosen” narrative.

Liotta died in his sleep while filming Dangerous Waters in the Dominican Republic. Foul play is not suspected in his death. At the time of his death, he was engaged to fiancée, Jacy Nittolo. That had made him a happy man. He wrote, “Christmas wishes do come true. I asked the love of my life to marry me, and thank God she said yes!!!” Liotta is also survived by his 23-year-old daughter, Karsen, who he shares with ex-wife Michelle Grace.

When It Is Family

A woman’s sister writes – My sister asked me to care for her baby. The mom signed the form to terminate her parental rights, when her baby was only 2 days old. She had been in a car accident during pregnancy and lost her job. She is now financially stable, has her life together (her baby is only 5 months old now) and wants me to discontinue my adoption process regarding her baby.

The problem is – we don’t want to give her baby back. Is there anything legal – my sister, the baby’s biological mom – can do ? We’re so close to finalizing the adoption, all that is left is the home study. What do we tell our child, when she’s older, about why we refused to give her back to her original mom ?

Just goes to prove, that just because we are siblings born into the same family, once we are adults, all bets are off. I’ve seen it many times in many situations.

One commenter said – I truly can not fathom doing something so obviously horrible and disgusting. The fact that this woman is aware that what she’s doing is wrong because she wants to know what to tell the child (once they get older), well, it just makes it even worse. How incredibly selfish. That poor baby !

Important points not to miss – this women is the mother’s sister ! The baby’s Aunt ! In MANY families …. family members do HELP family members in crisis, to care for their children. Often via a parent-placed, joint custody with the more stable family having primary physical custody. The best thing about this is that there is no need to change the baby’s birth certificate. Any sister could raise her sister’s child appropriately, while calling herself Auntie. In some Indigenous cultures, it is not unusual for a primary caregiver to be called “Auntie” when that person is not the child’s actual mother. A term of endearment for the care given.

An overwhelmed pregnant women in crisis. with poverty related issues of housing, employment, transportation, food and daycare insecurity …. such a woman is easily manipulated into thinking she is not enough. Then in this particular case, add the huge factor of her physical injuries ….

This woman never offered her sister the option of providing temporary care. It was adoption or no help at all. That makes it very easy to see how this situation developed.

Most infants placed in foster care will remain there an average of 15 months with maybe 2 – six month extensions. That this Mom got herself back together in under 6 months is phenomenal. She has maintained contact with her infant and is now in a position to parent her child. Ethically this is a No-Brainer. This woman should definitely reunify her niece with her original mom. Need to tell other children why ? Family helps family. OK, someday you can tell the child that you did miss her living with you but you don’t regret doing the right thing at the time.

5 months is only the blink of an eye in this child’s life. Transitioning this baby as soon as possible back to the child’s original mother is important. Time is of the essence. Do the right thing !!

So often a pregnant woman in temporary crisis is pushed into a permanent solution – and then things get better. Most adult adoptees will counsel such a woman to sincerely try parenting her child first, before surrendering the child to adoption. Many times, this leads to a happy ending for mother and child.

Fear of Abandonment is Real

Stephanie Drenka and genetic family

I went looking for a topic for today’s blog and found this story by Stephanie Drenka. She writes that – “I was struck by the pervasiveness of adoptive parent-focused stories. Where were the adoptee perspectives ?” The photo is from when when she was reunited with her biological mother, two sisters, and a brother.

She notes that “abandonment issues do not end in adulthood. Though I haven’t experienced divorce, I can imagine it might be similar. If a woman’s husband leaves her, even after remarries the perfect guy, she may always deal with a persistent fear that he will leave her as well. Fear of abandonment is real, and has to be acknowledged in order to resolve it.”

I have personally witnessed this issue playing out in a loved one and it had not been resolved previously. It came out at a very inopportune time but never-the-less had to be dealt with in its extremity.

Stephanie notes – Even the most well-adapted adoptee still faces moments where the trauma resurfaces. For me, that meant small things like every time a doctor would ask me for my family medical history or now, post-reunification, not knowing when I will be able to meet my biological sister’s new baby boy. And adds – I won’t go into the trauma experienced by birth mothers and families, because that is not my story to tell. Suffice it to say, from my personal reunification experience, adoptees are not the only ones who struggle with the aftermath of adoption.

She says – I love my (adoptive) mom and dad to the moon and back. They are my role models, biggest supporters, and best friends. I feel blessed to have them in my life– but please don’t presume to tell me that I was “lucky” to be adopted. Like many adoptees, my parents told me that I was special. While meant with good intention, being chosen is a burden. It puts pressure on us to be perfect and grateful. It can be incredibly emotionally taxing and negatively effects your self esteem in the moments where you can’t live up to that perfect picture. These expectations can prolong mental illness without treatment, because it may seem like asking for help is being ungrateful.

Choosing to adopt is an expensive proposition and as Stephanie notes – one mostly related to white privilege. I agree with her stated perspective – Can you imagine if the money people spent on adoption services went instead to supporting single mothers or low-income parents? Or what if adoption profits were used to benefit adoptees themselves in the form of post-adoption services like counseling, genetic testing, mental health treatment, or birth family search costs?

She ends her own essay with this – The truth about adoption is that there is no Truth. Adoption is many different things for many different people. It is love, loss, grief, abuse, hope, despair. It can sometimes be celebrated, but should always be examined through a critical and compassionate lens.

Making A Career Of It

Dougherty Children

So I do wonder about couples who start adopting and keep adopting until their family size is large. We live in an era of self-promotion and the Dougherty family seems to be an example of that. Sometimes it becomes a kind of calling – as it seems to have become with this family. They believe they have developed a good method of dealing with an issue that does cause some children to end up in foster care and/or adopted – Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders. Likewise, it is also true that managing a large family requires a great deal of organizing every aspect of family life to even make it possible to cope. And their are joys and benefits to belonging in such situations.

Though they call themselves the Dougherty Dozen, I could only count 10 children in any photo – maybe the parents, Josh and Alicia, are including themselves, which I could justify. “We figured, if we’re already doing this for one kid, what difference will another one make?” Josh says as an explanation. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother consumed alcohol during pregnancy. FASD can cause a lineup of physical and learning disabilities as well as behavior problems.

The couple claims that one of the reasons they have so many children is that caseworkers, impressed with their dedication and success, have continued sending complicated children their way. “We became known as the parents who could handle the difficult behaviors,” Alicia says. The couple also has four biological children between the ages of 4 and 10 as well as the 6 children than have been placed with them.

It’s hard to judge but I do cringe at their admission that they cameras in every room except the bathrooms and that they lock the kitchen food cabinets and the refrigerator at night. As to self-promotion the couple has TikTok and YouTube videos about their family life. I can appreciate their stated perspective that “a person is not their diagnosis” and belief that they’re doing their best to help the children move forward with their lives.

Corporation Adoptee

It never ceases to amaze me how often adoption comes up everywhere around me. Last night we watched The Truman Show. In this movie, which is described as a psychological science fiction, is an analogy also for the lives of many adoptees.

Truman was selected as one of five children who were products of unwed parentage. So he was born at the “right time” and from birth was the adoptee of a media corporation who builds a long running TV series from his lifetime.

The director, Christof, claims that Truman came to be adopted not just by the show, but by the whole “world”. Truman’s hometown of Seahaven Island is a complete set built within an enormous dome, populated by crew members and actors who highlight the product placements that generate revenue for the show. The elaborate set allows Christof to control almost every aspect of Truman’s life, including the weather.

They do everything they can to prevent Truman from discovering his false reality, even manufacturing scenarios that dissuade Truman from acting on his desire for wider exploration, including the “death” of his father (an actor) in a sea storm to instill aquaphobia. Constantly broadcasting and printing messages of the dangers of traveling and the virtues of staying home. However, Christof cannot predict all of Truman’s actions. During his college years, Truman was intended to fall in love with and marry co-student Meryl (which does happen), but he also did fall in love with Sylvia, who was intended as an extra on the program.

The movie really is like the unreality of most adoptee’s lives. It is a thoughtful rather than comedic Jim Carrey movie.

The Pain of Adoption

It’s my 68th birthday and besides the usual busyness amongst so much sorrow and reasons for global level concern, I’m a bit short on time too. So sharing this worthy blog from my adoptee friend, Ande

I have been asked if I think losing a parent is the same as being adopted. No, it is not. Plenary adoption is the legal loss of identity, history, family.

Being adopted also does not mean you won’t then lose one of your Adoptive parents. Many of us do. Some to death, like I did. Others to divorce or the end of a relationship. Then, if we are able to find out who our parents are, many of us discover that they are dead, or emotionally unavailable.

People who, while still children, have lost a parent to death know that this is a pain other do not understand. The only people I have ever met who understand what that was like for me, are people who also had a parent die.

But it’s not the same as the pain of adoption.

I have lived for almost forty years with a person whose father walked away when he was a small child. I know from talking with and observing him that this loss has had a profound impact on his life. I do not in any way want to invalidate that loss. It is real, and it is painful.

It’s just not, the same. Adoption is another layer of trauma that non-adoptees do not understand. Please grant us the same respect you wish for us to show your lived experience.

Lebensborn – Fount of Life

Some time ago, we watched Six Minutes to Midnight and my husband is currently reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich because of Putin. All of which inspired him to ask me what I thought they did with the babies of The League of German Girls, the elite offspring of the Nazis who sent to the summer camps such as Augusta Victoria College in Dorset Road, Bexhill-on-Sea from the movie who became pregnant. I couldn’t find a direct answer to his question.

Nazi authorities created the Lebensborn program to increase Germany’s population. It was originally intended to provide pregnant “Aryan” women with financial assistance, adoption services, and a series of private maternity homes where they could give birth. Pregnant German women deemed “racially valuable” were encouraged to give birth to their children at Lebensborn homes. During World War II, the program became complicit in the kidnapping of foreign children with physical features considered “Aryan” by the Nazis. By the end of World War II, Lebensborn became involved in the Nazi regime’s systematic kidnapping of thousands of “biologically valuable” foreign children to be raised in German homes.

I have not read the book who’s cover illustrates today’s blog. However, there was a review on the Diary of an Eccentric – writings of an eccentric bookworm website. Hitler’s Forgotten Children is the heartbreaking story of Ingrid von Oelhafen’s decades-long journey to uncover her true identity. Ingrid grew up in Germany with German parents, but she was only a young girl when she learned that she might be Erika Matko, who was born in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia in 1942, stolen from her parents, brought to Germany, and placed with “politically vetted foster parents.”

In a first person narrative, von Oelhafen explains in great detail her earliest memories, her cold treatment by her foster parents, how she first learned about Erika Matko and the Lebensborn program, her research into Lebensborn, and all the steps she took over the years to find out the truth. Von Oelhafen’s story is hard to read at times, from the way her foster parents treated her to the part of her life that was taken away and irrevocably changed by the Nazis. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the evil of the Nazi regime and how one can live nearly their whole life without knowing who they truly are.

The book explores identity, what makes you who you are, and how to build a life for yourself when you don’t know where you came from or who you belong to. Von Oelhafen was forced to consider what she knew, what she didn’t know, and what she will never know, and the book explains how this affected her opportunities and her decisions over the course of her life. 

The Archaic Shadow Of Secrecy

Parent Child Match

The closed, sealed adoption records of yesterday are much easier to pierce with today’s inexpensive DNA testing. Today’s story from Severance Magazine.

It begins this way – in 1967, I’d given birth to my first-born child in an unwed mothers maternity home in New Orleans, Louisiana. I had been a typical 17-year-old high school senior with plans for the future that evaporated overnight. In the sixties, it was considered close to criminal for a girl to become pregnant with no ring on her finger. The father of my child had joined the Army, preferring Vietnam to fatherhood. After my parents discovered my shameful secret, I was covertly hurried away and placed in an institution for five months. There, I was expected to relinquish my baby immediately after giving birth to closed adoption and I was repeatedly assured my child would have a better life without me. After his birth, I was allowed to hold my son three times. My heart was permanently damaged when I handed him over the final time. The home allowed one concession—I could give my baby a crib name. I named him Jamie.

In the Spring of 2016, this woman and her husband submitted DNA tests to Ancestry.com. By October 2016, a  ‘Parent/Child Match’ message popped up on her iPhone, causing me to stop me in my tracks, as my knees gave out from under me. After 49 long years, Jamie had found her. Who was he? Where was he? Would he hate me? How would this affect my life? My family? His family? She had always dreamed of finding Jamie but never thought past that point.

She relates – that night I heard my son’s voice for the first time. The wonder I felt when he said, “I know your voice” transformed me. In minutes, the secret of my son changed from fear of anyone knowing about him to wanting to shout out to the world, “My son has found me!” She also learned she had three new grandchildren.  Within four days, her son flew from Louisiana to California to meet her. She describes that first meeting as magical. She says, “My son was back in my life, and suddenly I was whole.”

Due to severe depression brought on by the COVID pandemic as a messy divorce, the loss of his job, and unhealthy isolation began to destroy him, she worried from a distance. In February 2021, they had what would be their last conversation. Before hanging up, her son said, “I love you, Mom. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.” Two days later, the son she had mourned for 50 years, the son who had found her, left her again. He took his own life. Now she had lost him twice and this time was forever. Even so, she cherishes that phone call.

She ends her story with this – “I wish I could speak to all the birth mothers out there, who continue to carry the shame and guilt that society placed on us. For those who refuse to allow their relinquished child back into their lives. I want to say I know your fear. I know your uncertainty. I lived it and still live it. It is deep-seated in us, regardless of the circumstances that resulted in us leaving our children. Please know if you are brave enough to welcome that lost child into your life again, you may create a peace and a bond worth all the fear and guilt. There is nothing quite like reuniting a mother and her child, and you may be giving a gift of connection to that child and yourself, as it should have been all along.”

Adoptee Jodie Sweetin

I will admit that I didn’t know who this woman was nor did I ever watch Full House. That said, today I learned that she was adopted and has now spoken out about her adoptive family. I read that Full House portrayed the perfect life, the perfect kids, as well as the most perfect parents one could hope for. Jodie Sweetin played the adorably sarcastic Stephanie Tanner on the much-beloved family sitcom. She also starred in some Hallmark movies. Years later, after Jodie was all grown up, she reprised her role on the Netflix revival series Fuller House.

At the time of Jodie’s birth, both of her biological parents were incarcerated. Her original mother was a struggling addict. Her father was killed in a prison riot before Jodie ever had the chance to meet him. Recently, she made an appearance on Olivia Jade’s ‘Conversations’ podcast and opened up a lot about her life. “My dad, Sam, my adopted dad, his ex-wife who he had three adult kids with when they adopted me, she was my biological father’s aunt,” Jodie explained.

Janice was his second wife and they were hoping to start a family but were having troubles with conception. Because of her original parents’ circumstances, Jodie was in dire need of a family and Sam and Janice wanted a child of their own and so, fates aligned and roughly one year later, the adoption was finalized.

The adoption began fostering feelings of hurt and rejection. In her younger years, she used to think “‘Oh, something was wrong with me.’ There’s this point in your life where you finally kind of realize what happened,” Sweetin said. “That it no longer becomes something about you, that it’s like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t wanted.’ ”

Intrafamily adoptions are incredibly common and even preferred. An intrafamily adoption is a specific type of adoption that allows a family member to adopt a child. This is a streamlined kind of adoption. “People don’t really talk about it, because I think there’s this weird sense of shame, if there’s an interfamily adoption,” Jodie said.

Having resolved some of her emotions around adoption, currently Sweetin says, “They actually made the healthiest decision for me by allowing me to be adopted by another family that could provide better.”