This guy, Brad Ewell, now has a monthly column at lavenderluz LINK>Field Notes from an Adoptee. He also has that “mini-series” at this LINK>Empowered To Connect Podcast. There is read, “A Texas Police Officer minding his own business, Brad got a Facebook message at age 48 that completely changed his life. As he pulled the threads of his own life story, even he couldn’t have predicted the twists and turns that emerged.”
From Lori Holden’s website – Lavender Luz – Introducing Field Notes with Brad Ewell. He is a Late Discovery Adoptee. He didn’t learn he was adopted until 2019 at the age of 48. He writes – “In the four years since my discovery, I’ve reunited with much of my birth family, lost my adoptive father, hugged my biological father as he walked out of prison, lost members of my birth family, and met a lot of adoptees. I’ve also taken a hard look at adoption and how growing up adopted, and with my true story unacknowledged, may have impacted the man I grew up to be.”
It is his desire, to expand the connections he has made since then, to reach further out of the adoptee echo chamber because he doesn’t believe growth and change occur when we only talk to people who are similarly situated to us. His aim is to speak openly and honestly about adoption’s good parts as well as it’s challenging parts. He hopes to improve adoption for those we love and everyone else involved.
Today’s story is thanks to the Santa Fe Reporter – LINK>Junkyard Girl. Carlyn Montes De Oca lived for 57 years before she found out she’d been adopted. An investigation into her own past to unravel the clues—included interviews with siblings and cousins (all of whom seemed to know more about her than she knew about herself), old photographs and the delusive evidence of memory.
She’d spent her life believing she belonged to a family of six—her parents were Mexican immigrants, and her sister and brothers were first-generation American citizens—who lived in Carpenteria, California. Still, though she always believed she was tied to the family by blood, she had the sense something was missing. Something about her was different, and it kept her at a distance. When a DNA test revealed she shared scant genetic material with her presumptive family, her sister decided to break the promise she’d made to her parents to keep Montes De Oca’s adoption a secret.
Carlyn explains – “For two years I pretty much dealt with this topic by myself. I didn’t realize that there are a lot of other people who have gone through a similar situation—taking a DNA test for fun and suddenly discovering, ‘Holy cow, I’m adopted. I have a sister, I have a brother. This isn’t my parent.’”
Though once it was common to keep adoptions a secret, today only 3% of adopted children in the US aren’t told they’re adopted. Carlyn decided, when she learned she was adopted, that she faced a choice: “The tethers that bound me to my family, the family I grew up with, in some ways were cut. There was a sadness with that, a loss—but also a freedom. It allowed me to stand on my own and to choose what family means to me.”
I know that feeling. Even though my parents’ adoptions were not a secret, they died knowing next to nothing about their origins. I made it my mission to learn about my family’s origins. What I did not expect was how that would make me feel about the “family” I had while I was growing up and actually for over 60 years of my life. They were not actually my blood relatives and it did have an unexpected, profound effect on me. It took some time to re-integrate the adoptive family as being “real” to my lived experience, even as I learned there were actual genetic relatives living their lives with scant, if any at all, knowledge of my existence, nor any knowledge for me of theirs. It takes time to begin to build a bond with the people we discover we are genetically related to but didn’t know for decades of their own lived experiences. It is not an easy process for any of us in this world of severed birth families.
Carlyn contemplates the saying “blood is thicker than water.” Usually this means one’s birth family is the strongest tie. She did meet her birth sister, aunt and mother, but hasn’t maintained a strong relationship with her biological family. I understand, as I related above. Carlyn notes – “For me, it was the family that was not really mine by birth—the water of the womb—but the family I spent my life, my culture, my experiences and love with.” I think it was something like that which allowed me to re-integrate my parents’ adoptive families back into my mental map of what family is.
We choose our families through what we share with them, even if it isn’t blood. This could include our closest friends that become a kind of family for us.
When I was old enough to comprehend the gravity of my truth, my parents sat me down and told me that I had been adopted from China. It was fairly easy, even as a child, to recognize that I did not look like those around me, especially my parents. In fact, I found it quite awesome to be different ― to have come from a country so rich with history and culture.
However, the reality of living in a town with a predominantly white population is that many of its residents ostracize anyone who is different. I tried desperately to fit in with the other kids, but it became clear early on that despite my parents’ whiteness, my Chineseness would always make me an outsider.
Growing up, she didn’t realize the seemingly small acts of aggression she experienced were actually racist or that they would grow into hatred in the future. She writes – The first time I returned to China with my parents, I was 9 years old and longing for a place filled with people who looked like me. I was completely in awe of the country that created me, and this is when I first realized that I needed to embrace being Chinese. This proved nearly impossible. It was obvious that I did not belong to those who lived in China. From the way I dressed to the language that I spoke ― or couldn’t speak ― to them, I was American through and through. I felt like a foreigner in a country that I desperately believed should have felt like home.
She continues – As I grew older, it became more common for adults to ask me how lucky I felt to be adopted from China, and I became resentful at how their questions commodified me. I was adopted from China after being left at a train station and should be grateful for my parents’ generosity ― for the roof they put over my head and the food they put on my plate. My epiphany occurred when I realized that I am allowed to simultaneously love my parents and grieve what I lost. While transracial adoptees may be placed into amazing, loving families, it does not change the fact that their culture was stolen from them.
The second time I returned to China, I was 15 and felt more in touch with my emotions. I wanted to build connections with other adoptees and hear their stories. This trip, which catered to adoptees from the same agency, allowed me to spend time with others who had been taken into white families. Together, we found and created a safe environment for each other where we could talk about our experiences and vent our emotions without fear of judgment.
I held no anger toward my birth mom for giving me up, especially when I understood the state of China and the one-child policy. But the curiosity of knowing about where and who I came from was there, and probably always will be. By the end of the trip, I cannot say that this goal was completely achieved. But while it might sound cliche, we adoptees did find each other, and in some way that was worth more to us than our original goals.
All transracial adoptees deserve to have a place where they can release their emotions and feel a sense of community. While I know not all transracial adoptees will want or be able to return to their country of birth and connect with others who have shared experiences, I hope they can find another way to build a community, perhaps through local groups or online. Being able to share my thoughts, emotions and challenges ― which I worried only I was thinking, feeling and facing ― with people like me has changed my life for the better.
The author, Iris Anderson, is studying biology and psychology at Columbia University and is part of the class of 2026.
Blogger’s Note – being in an all things adoption online community has made all the difference for me as the child of two adoptee parents. I have learned so much and very often, what I learn is translated into these blogs I write almost every day. My only hope is that I help others who have much less experience with adoption understand better what adoptees feel and experience in the lives they lead.
An adoptee writes – “My birthday was a few days ago, and with Mother’s Day this weekend, there are a lot of complicated emotions flying around.”
Some background from the adoptee – I was adopted at birth by my aunt (my genetic mom’s sister) and uncle, and moved several states away. I was given a new name, new Birth Certificate, the whole works. My adoptive parents had been trying for a baby, and since my original mom didn’t have the resources (job, place of her own) they asked to adopt me. A month after I was born, my adoptive parents ended up pregnant with my brother. My sister followed a year later. I do not look like anyone in my adoptive family and I never felt like I fit in or belonged. I was treated way differently than my siblings. My adoptive mother passed away when I was 19. Since then, I’ve had a mediocre relationship with my adoptive dad, barely there communication with my brother, and my sister won’t acknowledge my existence.
I was a rebellious, angry teen, and my issues carried over into adulthood. I caused my family a lot of pain, but had no idea that any of my issues were likely caused by trauma. That said, I take responsibility for my decisions, own up to them, and have repaired relationships where possible. Still, I have lived most of my life filled with shame and thinking I am defective and a bad person regarding some of the choices I’ve made.
After years of therapy for depression and anxiety, a wonderful therapist suggested that my lifelong issues could be a result of adoption trauma. I brushed her off, saying “My adoption happened a long time ago. I’ve dealt with it. I’m fine.” And she gently replied, “No, I don’t think you are.” And so it was, that I started coming out of the fog five years ago, right around the time I turned 40.
I have always known who my mother was, but never got to know her and have only met her three times. The first was when I was 3. She visited with her new husband so that she could come clean about her “past.” The second was when I was 15. I was in the throes of angsty adolescence and started having issues around my identity. The whole purpose of my visit was to talk to her openly about my adoption, but…although her husband knew I was her daughter, she would not acknowledge that I was his sister to my half brother, who was 10 years old at the time. I had to tiptoe around for a week while he called me “cousin.” More shame. The last time I saw her was at my adoptive mother’s funeral, almost 26 years ago. We talk here and there, mostly on Facebook, but I literally don’t feel anything for her. She still talks of giving me up as being “the best thing” for me, without acknowledging the harm. I realize she was in an impossible situation, but just to have her see me, acknowledge the hurt I experienced and continue to deal with, would mean so much.
This really does make me think of my mom’s life with her adoptive mother . . . and then there is that painting of me . . . the story below is not my own, though at the bottom is a snippet about me as well.
It took a near death experience (21 days intubated for covid pneumonia while pregnant) and the loss of my 3 year old the very day I came home from the hospital for me to admit I even needed therapy. Though the therapist accepted me based on my grief trauma, most of our time has been spent discussing my childhood.
So many pieces finally fell into place this week. It’s like I wasn’t even aware I HAD all the pieces I needed, much less did I know where to put them. I did some sleuthing to try to get a clearer picture of my very early childhood, because my story was withheld from me and only presented in a very fragmented way.
The messages and calls to the courthouse, the man listed as father on my birth certificate, my sister, her stepmother, and finally the man who raised me yielded little in the way of real answers. The woman who physically abused me caught wind that I was digging and contacted me. She sent FOUR PAGES on bullshit which started off as a sideways apology and ended with her basically saying it was my fault she tortured me. I was 2.
“Dad” (guy who raised me, my sister’s uncle) came the closest to answering my questions of them all. We hadn’t talked for 3 years prior to this. Even when I nearly died, he wouldn’t reach out to check on me. He included in his message a sappy story about how much he sacrificed for me. He insinuated I didn’t care about my sister’s pain, and he closed with a reprimand about how I should feel sorry for HIM because he lost a grandchild. He only met my son once, by his own choice.
My first few years with them were a fantasy. “Mom” hand made my clothes. I looked like I belonged in a magazine. My hair was brushed and arranged until it was glossy ringlets. There were ribbons, bows, ruffles, tights, pinafores, and patent leather shoes. My bedroom was fit for a princess. There was a 4 post bed with a canopy. It was white with burnished gold accents, as was the matching vanity and stool. The bed covering was white and pink ruffles, and the canopy was tailor made to match. Christmas, Easter, and birthdays looked like the toy store exploded into our living room. I had it all.
Once I reached that awkward, gangly phase, it was over. By then they had their own daughter and son, and I was a nuisance. No longer a doll they could dress and pose. I could sense their disappointment. Their delight in me was gone. So I tried harder. I won more awards, I practiced music longer, I earned higher scores in school. The more I tried, the more disgusted they seemed.
I looked back over all the big milestones that mark the transition from childhood to maturity. In my high school graduation photos, he looked angry. In my wedding photos, he looked sick. When my children were born, he didn’t want to see them. When I chose a path for how I would spend my life, it wasn’t good enough. When I chose to move to a new state with better opportunities, I was being foolish. When he finally came to visit my first house, he literally became ill and vomited all over my bathroom.
I failed them. By growing up, I failed them. They treated their children like people, and they celebrated them appropriately in both youth and adulthood. I finally put it all together this week and realized I’ve intentionally kept myself small in my mind, because somewhere deep down I knew that only as their little princess could I feel their love.
I dug through my old pictures and found so many of me paraded in beauty pageants. But this is the one I settled on. It was taken the month after they got custody of me, in their home. I told her – little Sandi – that her work is done. It was never her job to make me palatable to the parents who stole me. I understand why she did. Her life was an exercise in terror, and these white knights were her ticket to salvation. But it was never her job to earn their love, and that isn’t her job now. So she has my permission to rest peacefully. I grew within the soil where they planted this little seed. It’s my turn to do the work of deciding who is worthy of my best efforts.
From the blog author – As a young child, my mom’s adoptive mother dressed and arranged me for a large oil painting portrait she wanted to do of me but now having read today’s story, it speaks volumes. And my mom did have a princess bedroom with a four poster bed. I know that my mom had a very “challenging” relationship with her adoptive mother. She really didn’t share many details of her childhood with me. That probably means something significant as well.
Some of my adoptive family did not treat me well after reunion. Not being happy for me. My adoptive mother is having her own insecurities and blaming me for saying I was wondering about my birth family when I were younger and throwing it in my face as an adult, saying “how do you think that made me feel.”
I was adopted in 1975, not sure what they were told but I almost think it was somewhat…these are your kids and they will never see their birth family again. I also have adoptive siblings who are biological to my adoptive parents. One doesn’t even talk to me anymore… That’s another story.
Why are we treated this way for finding our truth and deciding how we choose to live our life and who we choose to include in it ?
It’s Valentine’s Day and the mind and heart turn naturally to discussions about love. So I went looking for adoption related articles (having slept late today and having a long day away from home today) to create a blog for such a special holiday. I found this 2007 The Guardian piece – LINK>A different kind of love by Kate Hilpern.
It begins with a question that I often see come up in my all things adoption group. Does a mother love a child she has adopted in the same way as she might love a birth child? And why is it such a taboo to ask?
One adoptive mother answers – ‘If something tragic happened to my adopted daughter I’d be devastated, but I wouldn’t die. If something happened to either of my two boys who I gave birth to, I feel I would die,” says Tina Pattie. “I don’t love my daughter any less, but it’s a different kind of love. With my sons, my love is set in stone. It’s that ‘die for you love’ that would never change, no matter what. With Cheri, it’s a love that develops and grows. It’s more of a process than an absolute.” And to my own thinking, that might be why a love for the child too often fails in an adoptive situation.
The article goes on to note – Ask most adopters whether they think their love for their children is any different than it would be if they had their own offspring, and you can generally expect a resounding no. Very likely, they’ll be offended it even crossed your mind. But in families such as Tina Pattie’s – where there are both biological and non-biological children – it’s a question that is put to the test. It’s a question that gets to the very heart of what it means to be a parent.
“I don’t care how close you are to your adopted son or beloved stepdaughter, the love you have for your non-biological child isn’t the same as the love you have for your own flesh and blood,” wrote Rebecca Walker in her recent book, Baby Love. “Yes, I would do anything for my first [non-biological] son, within reason. But I would do anything at all for my second [biological] child without reason, without a doubt,” added the estranged daughter of the renowned author Alice Walker. Understandably, her comment has attracted a lot of controversy.
Tina had always wanted three children, so when she was told it could jeopardize her health to have a third baby naturally, she persuaded her husband to adopt. Her preference was for a baby, but there were none available and they were offered a little girl five weeks off her fourth birthday. “I was totally and absolutely shocked to find that in the early years, I felt no love at all for her,” recalls Tina. “It didn’t even feel right to say she was my daughter. The word ‘daughter’ describes a relationship, a connection – things we didn’t have.” There was no one point at which Tina began to love Cheri, now 17. “It was a drip, drip, drip kind of process. Now, I love her a lot. I’m really proud of her and close to her, but it has taken time,” she says.
Tina has spent a lot of time “unpacking” the disparity in her feelings for her children. “I think there are several things going on. First, she wasn’t a newborn baby, like my sons had been. There’s nothing quite like a newborn baby. Second, when you get a stranger in your house, you’re not going to love it straight away, you’re just not. Then there was the fact that Cheri was a hugely damaged and difficult child. Even now, I wonder that if she’d been sweet and easy instead of angry and violent whether it would have been different. Instead, I turned from a calm, patient mother into a monster. I’d never felt rage like that, ever. But even in the blackest moments, when there was no connection between us at all, there was never a question that I would give up.” This is not at all uncommon, adoptive children have trauma, it is unavoidable.
There is more with other stories on a related theme in The Guardian article, if you are interested.
I’m an infant adoptee, adopted within family – I was raised knowing my natural mother as my cousin; my natural mom’s uncle is my adoptive dad. I didn’t know the family relationship until 10 years ago, in adulthood.
In 2 weeks, I have a work trip to the city where my natural family lives – mother, father, full brother, and grandmother (adoptive dad’s sister). Since this trip came up a few days ago, I’ve been debating whether to reach out to my family and try to meet up for an afternoon. My adoptive parents have both passed away.
Background: While I remember always being told I was adopted, my adoptive mom was always really vague and acted like she didn’t know who my natural parents were – even though we had been in the same room with them multiple times! We didn’t see them often, just a few times a year until my adoptive dad’s parents (my natural great-grandparents) passed.
When my mom was pregnant, she had already secretly set up an adoption to strangers and kept her pregnancy quiet – but when I was born, my great-grandmother demanded that I stay in the family, and my adoptive parents suddenly got a call. So there was a ton of drama and secrecy there from the start.
I haven’t seen my natural parents since I was about 14, at my (great)grandfather’s funeral. We’ve chatted a couple of times via Facebook, but haven’t had much communication, and it always feels so weird after so much secrecy for so long.
Part of me thinks it would be nice to know them better, and seize the opportunity to see them for the first time in 20 years. Part of me wants to put my head in the sand and let sleeping dogs lie. I’ve been feeling really stuck, and need to make a decision soon to plan.
She then updates to add – I sent my natural parents a message this afternoon. They haven’t seen it yet, so we’ll see how it goes.
Today’s blog is courtesy of LINK>an essay at Today.com. Shannon Gibney is the author of The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be. Her book is described as A Speculative Memoir of Transracial Adoption. It was published by Dutton just last month, January 2023. Her book details her search and reunion with her birth families, as well as the ongoing ripple effects of adoption intergenerationally. She notes – “For adoptees, figuring out our story requires work — scouring fragments of documents, stories and phone conversations. And sometimes, we still come up short.” As the child of two adoptees that basically had to do the same thing – I can relate and so, I share.
Shannon is a mixed-Black woman who was adopted by a white family. This is commonly referred to as trans-racial adoption. She writes, “In a culture that deeply values personal and family histories that appear to be seamless — at least on the surface — those of us who have little or nothing to go on can feel alienated and alone. Which is why so many adoptees search.” Certainly, for my mom and for my own self, we quickly became aware of the priority of genetic relationship in working with the DNA matching sites – 23 and Me and with Ancestry.
Shannon compares her own search to the more difficult efforts of international adoptees from countries outside of the US. Therefore, she says – As a domestic, mixed-Black transracial adoptee, my search for my birth family and my beginnings was far easier to navigate, although I didn’t know it at the time I began searching. I could say as much myself. My own search turned out to be surprisingly easy and relatively quick (within a year I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were, something of their stories and had connected with living genetic relatives that I had not known about before).
Her birth mother had given the adoption agency permission to share her identity with Shannon, if she should ever reach out and ask for it. She goes on to describe what happened next – Thus began a long, complicated, on-again and off-again relationship with my birth mother, which ended with her death from a rare cancer in 2014. While initially getting to know her, she told me that she had had a very brief relationship with my birth father and couldn’t give me any real information about him beyond his name. She also warned me that he was “dangerous,” that she didn’t trust him, and that they “were both lost souls” at the time they got together. And, as it turned out, I did not have any biological siblings.
A therapist who specializes in adoption issues helped her to track down information about her birth father, though sad – In 1981, he had died from injuries he had sustained from a high speed police chase in Palo Alto, California. She was 6 years old at the time. She notes his family – “held the blackness that set me a country apart from both my white adoptive and biological families. This was a kind of racial and cultural damage I hadn’t anticipated.”
Yet, also a happy outcome – I eventually tracked down my paternal grandfather, and was even able to talk to him some years before his death. Likewise, conversations and meetings with my biological aunt and uncle on my father’s side have filled in many gaps in my story, and have given me the great gift of a fuller picture of my father. I may have never met him, but I can surmise so many things about him from the little information I do have.
Similarly to Shannon, I have had to accept – Adoptees will never have fully fleshed out stories of our origins, but we do have the conviction that we deserve far more truths than we ever receive, and we have a dogged determination to seek them out. All of this can make us feel frustrated. And yet, I too have discovered “talking to other adoptees we realize that we are actually not alone in our struggles, and that there are strategies and communities we can build to help mitigate the difficulty and disappointment. We also have imaginations that we can use to explore the people and possibilities that brought us into existence and with whom we co-create our identities.”
So, I’m not a Star Wars fan. I was once told I reminded a Salon participant at Jean Houston’s home of Yoda. I went looking. I have to admit there was some physical resemblance. LOL
Anyway, today I learned from a Time magazine article about The Last of Us that The Mandalorian had an adoption theme. That I did find interesting (though I am still not going to watch it). I did go looking and found quite an extensive article at Adoption.org LINK>What Does ‘Star Wars’ Have To Do With Adoption? In that article I found some answers.
From the article –
There is also a series in the Star Warsuniverse that is an amazing picture of foster care in the most untraditional sense. The Mandalorian explores the question of “who is family” when the main character is charged with capturing and eventually protecting a young creature who bears a strong resemblance to Yoda. He is strong in the force, but the Mandalorian is set in a time when being a Jedi is outlawed, and Jedis are killed without impunity. The Mandalorian becomes a makeshift foster father to the little guy who finds all kinds of ways to get into trouble and create drama. The war-hardened Mandalorian grows to love the little guy and does everything in his power to keep him safe and to get him back to “his people.” At the end of the first season, we see Grogu go off with Luke to learn about the ways of the force, but it probably isn’t the last time we’ll see the little guy.
Maybe it is just because adoption and foster care are such a huge part of my life that the themes of adoption, found family, and foster care stand out so starkly, but I don’t think so. The entire series falls apart without twins separated at birth. It doesn’t work without friends who didn’t know each other becoming the best allies for one another. The connection they feel is what ties all of the stories together. One of my favorite parts of the movies is that Jedi “become one with the force” when they die. When someone is “one with the force,” they turn invisible but can still interact with the living Jedi. They can still root their family on from beyond the grave. Even though our family is gone, they are still with us. Everything is connected by “the force.” What a great allegory for the love believers are supposed to share.
Even if you know nothing about Star Wars, you know about the swords. Almost everyone has swung a plastic, colorful sword and made the noises “swoosh, whoosh, bzzzz” as they “fought.” My adopted kids think it is the best ever. Star Wars and adoption are like popcorn and coke. You don’t need to make the association. However, if you have the popcorn anyway, the coke makes it so. Much. Better. Honestly, though, we couldn’t do this adoption thing without mentors and help from the people around us. Luke and Rey had big feelings about their past. They felt betrayed by their parents until they knew the truth.
Rey stops to think about the people who loved her. The people who helped shape her into the person she was, the people who cared for her when she didn’t know what to do. And she found her name. She called herself Rey Skywalker. She had no “legal” claim to that name. She hadn’t officially been adopted by Luke or Leia, though Leia ended up being her greatest mentor. She chose to associate herself with the people who loved her when she was struggling and when she triumphed.
There is much more at the link. The author, Christina Gochnauer, is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places.”