What it’s like to grow up with both parents adoptees.
Knowing our family history was entirely “missing” made it into unknowable proportions.
To grow up knowing it couldn’t be known . . . it felt so very incomplete.
What it’s like to grow up with both parents adoptees.
Knowing our family history was entirely “missing” made it into unknowable proportions.
To grow up knowing it couldn’t be known . . . it felt so very incomplete.
Please bear with me (not to be confused with the mammal but in the sense of enduring any clumsiness in my delivery), if this blog seems to lack cohesiveness. Many times my day seems to develop a pattern and it informs my thoughts and my emotions as diverse elements seem to play off one another. So that happened today and it started as soon as I sat down at my computer. I will do my best to make sense of the notes I jotted down for you, my reader.
I spent most of the decades of my life with no knowledge of my familial roots due to both of my parents having been adopted before the age of one under sealed (closed) adoption files. They died clueless really but I had always thought after my mom had been denied her own adoption file (related to the Georgia Tann scandal in Memphis) that maybe after she was dead I would be able to get what she had not been able to obtain. All the state of Tennessee did for her was break her heart with news that the woman who gave birth to her had died some years before.
My day began with several links from a Facebook friend. She has been grappling with the admission that defines her as a NPE. In genetics, a non-paternity event (also known as misattributed paternity or not the parent expected). This happens when someone who is presumed to be an individual’s father is not in fact the biological father. Often an inexpensive DNA test at a matching site reveals that. The primary effect is a feeling of betrayal or having been lied to. Late discovery adoptees (meaning they didn’t know they were adopted until well into their maturity) experience similar feelings.
“The place where it’s interesting is what it takes to get from one stage of your life to another. The trick is finding a way . . . ” ~ Susan Rigetti in a Time article about her new novel, Cover Story. To which I add, to get there. In my own journey of genetic biological discovery, my past, present and presumably now future have come into harmony. And it feels so very good. For me, it has been entirely worth learning what I learned and brought me a surprised gratitude to understand that I could have so easily been given up for adoption by my unwed (at the time of my conception) high school student mother.
One link was a YouTube by Thich Nhat Hanh, he addresses ancestors one never knew. And he points out something quite obvious, some people in contact with parents still living don’t really know them. My parents, like many, did not share a lot about their lives. I am grateful for what they did share. He is correct that each of us is a continuation. As that, we have an opportunity to transform the negative and develop the wonderful.
One link related to a practice referred to as Emotional Genealogy. It is what we have inherited from those who came before us. It is the stories about our ancestors, and what their lives were like. It is the connection we have, with or without our awareness, to our grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents…going back two, three, four, five and sometimes more generations. It is the emotional traits that were handed down within our family lineage: the optimism, grit, rage, pain, inaccessibility, kindness, cruelty, avoidance, violence, tenderness, fear. It was noted that what is not transformed, is transmitted down the family line.
We owe our existence to those who came before us. Simply put, if they hadn’t lived, we would have no life. And simply put, the realization I arrived at was that if my grandmothers (because in each case it was the mother, the father did not have an actual say in the circumstances – whether my grandparents were married or not – there was one case of each) had not given up my parents to a different set of parents to raise them, I would not exist. That is a fact I can not get away from. I value the price that each of them had to pay. It is considerable, as I have learned from others that are part of the adoption triad of adoptee, birth parents and adoptive parents.
In my own roots journey, my family found over time that they didn’t come from the town or country that we (and at least I) had thought they originated from. For example, my mom was adopted in Memphis TN but was born in Richmond VA. My dad was not Hispanic and left on the doorstep of the Salvation Army. Yet because he had been adopted in El Paso TX I thought that. The crazy thing is that I also knew he had been born in San Diego CA. Go figure. When we lack complete information we fill in the blank places as best we can. And while I struggle with acknowledging double the usual set of maternal and paternal grandparents, I do know that because my adoptive grandparents cared, they deserve to be remembered.
Some people find out after twenty or thirty years that what they felt and suspected was true. Always know that intuitive knowledge IS knowledge, and it is a resource to be treasured.
My image at the top of this blog may still seem out of place but it is not to me. Robin Easton writes – “your exquisitely beautiful sensitivity. I see this refreshing trait expressed through you in so many ways: in your wisdom, your creativity, in the ways that you face life’s challenges, and in the ways that you help me walk through this life. Thank you, for such a sacred and intelligent gift.”
Whatever you know about your family can help you develop emotional intelligence. Make the effort.
Links shared with me this morning –
How to love and understand your ancestors when you don’t know them?
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
What Is Your Emotional Genealogy?
~ Judith Fein in Psychology Today
How Your Ancestors Can Help You Become a Better Person
~ Crucial Dimensions
I was reading an article this morning in Time Magazine (the March 14/March 21 2022 issue) by Aubrey Hirsch titled “Why my children have their mom’s last name.” She describes all of the complications this has raised in their family’s lives. When I conceived my oldest son, my husband strongly wanted my name added to our son’s names and so both of my son’s have my maiden name as their middle names (which in this patrilineal society causes us not the confusion this woman and her husband’s choice has caused). What is a bit strange in our case is that both of my parent’s were adopted and so my maiden name links us not at all in genealogical terms to my family. Even trying to concoct an honest family tree at Ancestry is going to be a challenge (one that I only started but still need to complete).
My dad was given his mother’s maiden name as a surname because she was unwed at the time she gave birth and even though she knew full well who his father was (as I have since discovered in my own adoption story journey and am grateful for the breadcrumbs to my paternal grandfather’s identity that she left me) she did not name him on my dad’s original birth certificate and of course, because he was adopted, his birth certificate has the names of his adoptive parents. And because his adoptive mother later divorced the first adoptive father and remarried, my dad was adopted twice and his birth certificate as well as his first name was changed twice. It was all very patrilineal because his “new” (one could say he spent his entire life as many adoptees do living under an assumed identity) first name was the name of the adoptive father each time as well as the surname for each of these adoptive fathers. I can imagine what this might have felt like to his 8 year old self when the second one occurred.
The woman who wrote that personal essay for Time magazine laments how she has been pushing back against her children having her last name and not the father’s since they were born. Is it true that babies must take their father’s last name ? Well only if the mother identifies who the father was, I suppose, in most circumstances. Studies have shown that 95% of the time, heterosexual married couples give the baby the father’s name.
Ms Hirsch makes a good argument for her choice, she says – women do the hard work of pregnancy and childbirth. They also do the vast majority of the actual parenting (generally about twice as much). And she also points to the circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic 80% of US adults who were not working were women who were caring for children not in formal school or day care.
I agree also that our society simply does not support mothers and their children enough. Note that any attempt to pass more social supports for working parents, like paid family and medical leave, subsidized day care, and universal preschool, have stalled. It is mothers who will be shouldering the bulk of these burdens, forced to give up their jobs along with their names. And it is the male dominated society we live in that is mostly to blame. In general, women are not valued as highly as men, only make about 75% as much in the same jobs in most cases.
The issue of names shown on birth certificates is one that most adoptees are very sensitive to for understandable reasons. Even so, this woman bucked the tradition. She is proud of her family heritage and it is true that marriage erases the family connection for women 95% of the time (though some women today do keep their maiden names in marriage or hyphenate them). For this woman, her family name will be part of her genealogy and not erased as most women’s connections to the family of their birth are.
Someone was asking adoptees if it’s OK to identify as “half adopted.” They were raised by their biological mom but their biological dad was absent. Then they were later legally adopted by mom’s next husband.
She goes on to note – The amount of tone deaf, “Of course, you were adopted” by non-adopted people and one adopted person was really irritating. They have their own loss and trauma, but they had their mother and only learned their father’s name when they were already in their teens.
The responses in my all things adoption group were interesting and somewhat surprising. The points chosen seem valid. I think what might be different is the degree of trauma that accompanies an infant or young child being separated from their mother.
If you were legally adopted, you’re an adoptee. I was adopted twice (blogger’s note – so was my adoptee dad) and not raised by birth parents, but it feels weird to tell someone who was legally adopted that they can’t call themselves adopted.
The person who was adopted gets to identity however they want to, in my opinion. Your identity is valid.
They were adopted, so they could decide – adoptee, half adoptee or not as an adoptee. It is their choice.
Half of their stuff was still changed. They are still not involved with the family of half of them.
Step-parent adoption or kinship adoption – I do see them as different than a stranger adopting an infant. (Same as the point I made above – less trauma effects in these situations.) Another one added – I’m a kinship adoptee (adopted by maternal grandma) and I identify as a kinship adoptee.
Yet another response – Step parent adoptions are in no way equal to full adoptees. In most cases, step parent adoptees got to stay with their biological mother – therefore not experiencing the “primal wound’ trauma that connects so many adoptees or the trauma of being completely separated from your biological family.
Sure they are “technically” adopted – but not at all in the same way.
The issue arises when they try to say they’ve experienced the trauma discussed by full adoptees or try to say they are privileged voices in spaces where they really are not because they don’t have that shared life experience. Some of these “half” adoptees have even misrepresented themselves in order to dupe hopeful adoptive parents and profit financially as “consultants” or the like.
It really bugs me when those who were adopted by a step parent try to say they are “adoptees” in the same way that I am. Because they just aren’t. Full stop. I’m pretty surprised by the other responses here so far actually.
And a last valid point – Part of me wants to know to what purpose, to what end? A lot of people are just trying to find their identity, to explain some of their trauma responses, to understand how to describe their situation to other people.
But if the purpose is that they want to come into adoptee spaces and converse about adoption as a privileged voice to elevate their own opinions–which has happened before in the adoptee community on TikTok–they most likely will be schooled on that before too long.
I see it as a facet of adoption just like any other. There is a LOT of intersectionality here. People can be adoptees but not infant adoptees, or transracial adoptees, or late-discovery adoptees, all of which come with unique sets of issues. No two experiences will be identical. I recognize I cannot speak for transracial adoptees, for example, and so, I know not to minimize their experiences by pretending mine is just like theirs. I don’t have x, y, or z issues.
Though the podcast has been live since Feb 6th, I was only able to finish listening to my interview yesterday. I had gotten through the first 41 mins previously. Life is busy and it is long and so I do forgive anyone who doesn’t want to listen to me talk about my experience of being the child of two adoptees for an hour and a half approx. Though my satellite quality of transmission is inconsistent, it seemed to me that somehow the audio zoom file was able not to lose words but after a disruption continued where it would have been anyway. I am happy to say I was not embarrassed when I listened to it. Though most listeners would not notice my only big blub – giving the wrong part of my dad’s birth name as it relates to his father’s actual name – I can accept that as mistakes go, it wasn’t significant to the quality of listening to my interview by Ande Stanley of The Adoption Files.
For those who don’t want to listen to such a long interview, I’ll try to hit on the key or more significant points.
Though both of my parents were mid-1930s adoptees, their individual responses to having been adopted could not have been different. My mom always felt like her adoption had been, in her effort to be polite, inappropriate. She knew a bit about Georgia Tann and from what she knew and from a weird quirk in what she did NOT know (having been born in Virginia but having been adopted still technically an infant in the first year of her life from Memphis TN, how did she get there ?) she had crafted a story to explain what she was never going to be allowed to know.
I say that because she did try to get her adoption file in the early 1990s from the state of Tennessee who rejected both her initial and subsequent appeal because they could not determine the status of alive or dead for her father (who had actually been dead for 30 years by that time). Basically for $180 dollars she had the privilege of being told the mother she sincerely wish to reassure as to her outcome as an adopted child had been dead for several years. It broke her heart.
No one ever informed her that just a few years later, by the end of the 1990s, she would have been given her adoption file as Tennessee changed the law of closed and sealed adoption records for the victims of Georgia Tann (who bought and sold babies for 30 years). That is why for less money ($150) I received over 100 pages of her adoption file (which thankfully was intact though minimally inaccurate – deliberately) plus 4 black and white negatives of photos taken the last time my maternal grandmother held her baby.
Had my mom been given her adoption file, it would have cleared up misunderstandings caused by a lack of information and given her a lot of peace. She would have seen how hard her original mother fought to keep her and the obstacles against her. She would have seen how over the moon her adoptive mother was to have received her (though in life they had a difficult relationship). Though not stolen, her mother had been exploited. More importantly, my mom could have reconnected with her genetic, biological family and learned a lot of first hand impressions and lived experience regarding both of her parents.
Closed, sealed adoption records continue to be an issue that turns adoptees into second class citizens in these United States. I encountered this in Virginia, Arizona and California. I believe the main impediment is money – who has it and who stands to gain from keeping adoptees from their own valuable personal information. These parties are the adoptive parents, the adoption agencies and the legal system including adoption attorneys. They are the ones with the money to hire lobbyists to impress upon legislators the need to keep secret adoptees records. It is a big money business.
My dad was never interested in knowing his origins. I tend to believe he was afraid of what he would find out as he didn’t much like my mom searching and warned her against opening a can of worms. For $100, the Salvation Army gave me one paragraph of information, which even so gave me something important – my dad’s full name at birth and that the Salvation Army had hired and transferred my paternal grandmother from Ocean Beach CA (near San Diego) to El Paso TX with my dad in tow. I do believe they coerced her into giving him up. They had legal custody at the time he was adopted. Also, my dad was adopted twice due to his adoptive mother’s divorce and remarriage. Therefore, he experienced a name change at the age of 8 (he also was originally adopted as a infant less than one year of age).
The aspect of my story that seemed to interest Ande the most was how being the child of adoptees had affected me personally. Adoption does not only affect the adoptee but their children as well and even more so when both of the parents are adoptees. There was only a black hole of familial and medical history information beyond my two parents. Just as my mom had made up a story of being stolen from the hospital in which she was born and transported to Memphis, I had made up a story that my dad was left in a basket on the doorstep of the Salvation Army in El Paso TX by an unwed Mexican national mother because her child was mixed race with a white American father.
I readily admit that I got lucky in my own attempt to learn the truth of my parents’ adoptions. Nothing we believed due to our lack of true information has proven to be true but the truth is definitely preferable. Not all efforts at learning an adoptee’s origins are as productive or end as happily as mine with acceptance by my genetic biological relations. Persistence and determination are important. And getting one’s DNA tested can make all the difference. I had mine tested at both Ancestry and 23 and Me. Also noted in the interview however, without actual names, just finding DNA matches does not yield very much useful information as my own story shows.
In case you missed the link at the beginning of this blog (and there is so much more there than I can reasonably write for today) here it is – https://anchor.fm/ande-stanley/episodes/Interview-with-Deborah-Hart-Yemm-e1djv8e.
Today, I was first attracted to a blog by this woman, Michele Dawson Haber, in which she shares imaging her father talking to her while making coffee. “What’s this? Why so many steps? Do you know the coffee we drank in the old days was just botz (mud) at the bottom of our cups? A life like yours, with such complicated coffee—Michal*, it makes me happy that you’re not struggling as I did.” *Michal (מיכל) is her Hebrew name.
I come from a long line of coffee drinkers. The pot was always prepared for the timer to begin the brewing before any inhabitants of the house woke and wanted a cup. After my mom died, I spent several quiet treasured morning drinking coffee with my dad out on their deck as we watched the dawn turn into sunrise. When I returned to my parents’ house following my dad’s death, as I walked through their kitchen, I heard him clearly say in my mind, “You miss your old dad, don’t you ?” Exactly as he would have said it in life. I admitted that I did miss him already. With my mom’s passing, . . . oh, I heard her a lot say “You’re doing really well.” many times while sitting on the toilet in the bathroom where she died in her jacuzzi tub. So much that I finally had to let her know – “enough, I don’t need to hear this any more” – and it stopped.
Yet, what really touched my heart was Michele’s piece in May 2021 in Salon about her mother’s letters – “It’s my mom’s fault I stole her letters.” I found letters like that among my parents things as I cleared out their residence after their deaths only 4 months apart. I wish I had read Michele’s piece before getting rid of my parents’ love letters to each other that my mom treasured enough to keep for over 50 years. Just before I began that work, I had read a piece by a woman who’s mother had destroyed her love letters from her father. The mother had said these were private between your father and I – and for that reason only, I let the letters go after having coincidentally read only one but a very relevant one – as though my mom reached out from beyond the grave to make certain I at least saw that one.
Michele writes in her personal essay for Salon – “I felt guilt wash over me. The debates with my two sisters over whether it was ethical to steal her letters replayed in my mind. In the end, we decided that the information in those letters belonged not only to our mother, but also to me and my older sister.” But I had not and so chose a different course based upon someone else’s story. Michele goes on to say, “the question of privacy continued to gnaw at me. I knew that if I had asked my mother 20 or even 10 years ago for permission to read the letters she would have said, ‘Are you kidding? No way. What’s in those letters is none of your business.’ And so I did what I always do when faced with a conundrum: I researched. In her book The Secret Life of Families (subtitled How Secrets Shape Our Relationships and When and How to Tell the Truth), Dr. Evan Imber-Black distinguished secrecy from privacy. A secret, she wrote, is information withheld that “impacts another’s life choices, decision-making capacity and well-being.” Conversely, if a piece of information is truly private, then knowing it has no impact on another’s physical or emotional health.
Michele goes on to share, “In my fantasy argument with my mother, I would say that her secrecy about my biological father did impact my well-being, that depriving me of my genetic heritage handicapped my ability to shape a strong identity.” I agree with her reasoning on this one.
I had read one note (not even a letter) from my mom to a friend, stressing about how my father might react to learning she was pregnant. She had conceived me out of wedlock as a 16 yr old Junior in high school. My dad had just started at the U of NM at Las Cruces and it appears they wrote each other almost every day, though mostly these were the letters she received from my dad, except the note I read. I remember when I figured out that I had been conceived out of wedlock and how in my heart (though only for a few months) I turned against my mom because of that. I didn’t want her to touch me, such as take my hand. Hopefully, she thought only that I was asserting some independence because I was growing up. It was just all those “nice girls don’t do that” lectures she had given me. As a grown woman now, I know that she didn’t want me to make the same mistake. I hastened to get married with a month yet to graduating from high school even though I was not pregnant. My parents supported me and we had the fully formal church wedding and reception in my parents’ back yard. I suspect my parents were afraid I might turn up pregnant like my mom did and so did not discourage me from a marriage that lasted long enough to conceive a child 4 months after I married and then ended in divorce when she was only 3 years old.
Finding that letter further softened my feelings about my conception because I could clearly feel my mom’s emotions and concerns before my dad knew he would become a father. Anyway, this long story shorter. I didn’t keep the letters but sent them to the local landfill along with other items my mom had kept from their many journeys – souvenir booklets and the like. Reading Michele’s story makes me regret that all over again, and I have felt that regret before.
After my dad died, I learned from my cousin, who’s father was my mom’s adoptive brother, that it was possible to get the adoption file that the state of Tennessee had denied my mom in the early 1990s. It is a pity they didn’t let her have that because it would have brought her so much peace. My own journey to rediscover my original grandparents (both of my parents were adopted) only took me about year after my dad’s death; and then, I knew who ALL 4 of them were and something about my ancestors. What I didn’t expect was gaining cousins and an aunt. Even though I am very happy to now have family that I am biologically and genetically related to – I will also admit how difficult it is to create relationships with people who have decades of history lived that I was not any part of. Thankfully, they have all been kind in acknowledging me (and sometimes the DNA makes it difficult for them not to).
Do read the links above to Michele’s stories. I’ve made this blog long enough that I am not going to include any more excerpts beyond the coffee bit and some of her thoughts about personal letters.
I’m realizing a day late that yesterday would have been my maternal grandmother’s birthday. Her father died on Christmas Day in 1953, one year before I was born to his first grandchild, who he never even knew. I can imagine Christmas was not the usual kind of holiday for my Stark family but then I don’t really know. My mom was adopted away from them when she was 7 months old.
Relinquishing a child has lifelong consequences for women and for adoptees. Between 13–20% of birth mothers do not go on to have other children. For those in an era of birth control, a few may consciously feel that to have another child would be to betray the first child which they lost to adoption. For many, and especially in my grandmother’s generation, there was either no known reason for infertility or something about their life circumstances precluded having more children.
After receiving the adoption file from the state of Tennessee that they had previously denied my mother, only breaking her heart and motivation to search by informing her that her birth mother had died several years before, it took me forever to make real contact with one of my grandmother’s remaining family members – this one is a niece. She would actually be my mom’s cousin, that same generation of descendants. She is the warmest person and gave to me the gift my heart was yearning for, some intimate, personal memories of my grandmother along with this picture of her with her second husband.
In some belated post-Christmas communication with her today, I felt compelled to correct the seeming misperception that my mom was the child of the couple in this blog. Here was my reply –
My grandmother never had another child. My mom was her only child (and this is not uncommon among women who lose their first child in such a tragic manner). Her father appeared to have abandoned them, at least to my grandmother’s perception of events, though a super flood on the Mississippi River in early 1937 must have been a factor. My cousin that shares him as a grandfather with me, believes he cared deeply about family. So why did he not come to Memphis to rescue the two of them ? There is no one alive now that can answer that question for me and so, there it sits forever unanswered. Of course, once Georgia Tann knew about the precarious situation my mom and grandmother were in, she swooped in to acquire yet another human being to sell. Awful but a definite truth of it all. I am happy that my grandmother found happiness with her second husband after the divorce between her and my maternal grandfather occurred (and it didn’t happen until 3 years after they first married and my mom was already permanently beyond the reach of her original family).
She later corrected that “seeming” misperception, of course, she knew my mom was not this man’s child.
It is a tragic story. Why my grandfather left her after only 4 months of marriage, causing her to be sent away to Virginia to have my mom, there is no one left alive to tell me. Why my grandfather didn’t respond to the letter from the Juvenile Court at Memphis when my grandmother came back with her baby, there is no one left alive to tell me. My grandmother was so desperate to find a way to stop my mom’s adoption that she called Georgia Tann’s office 4 days after being pressured into signing the surrender papers, under a threat of having Tann’s good friend, Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, declare my grandmother an unfit mother (which she absolutely was not !!). Then, she took a train to New Orleans to prove to Miss Tann that she did have friends there who would take the two of them in resolving at least the issue of stability, even if only temporarily. Everything she tried to do, including taking my mom to Porter Leath orphanage for temporary care – FAILED tragically.
I have all of my original grandparent’s birthdates on my yearly calendar now. I wasn’t able to know them in life but I don’t forget them in death. Maybe someday in the nonphysical realm to which my grandparents (and adoptee parents) have all gone, I will meet them once again and receive the answers my heart cannot acquire in life.
This blog is mostly about adoption and sometimes foster care. Today it is Christmas and not every child is in a stable home with emotional and physical supports nor is every family functional and happy.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a stable and loving family. We didn’t have a lot, were not wealthy but my parents made what we did have stretch as far as they could. Grocery day was always exciting because by then we had run out of “fun” stuff to eat and we could be certain my mom would bring home some treat. One of my favorites was Chocolate Eclairs (I almost bought some the last time I went to the grocery store simply for sentimental reasons).
My parents made Christmas morning a wonderland of presents and our excitement was hard to contain until they finally woke up. I believe my husband’s family was much the same. When we had our sons late in life, while they were little, we wanted to give them the feeling of that same kind of surprising magic – going to bed with an empty tree and waking up to a wonderland of presents. We’d get up in the wee hours of the night, I would stage the previously wrapped and hidden gifts on our basement stairs and my husband would creep down and get them.
We live in a one-room cabin of a farmhouse. We have one big room that is bedroom (two king-size platform mattresses side by side), our entertainment center (when the boys were young the floor was always covered in toys like trains and building blocks), as well as our office for the home-based business that has supported us. The Christmas tree has always been between the beds and the office space. I’m not certain one or the other boys never woke up while their dad was placing gifts or hanging stockings but as they got older they at least pretended for their own self interests.
We have been struggling financially the last few years, maybe not quite a decade, but the boys are older now (17 and 20) and when finances got really tight, they began to notice fewer and fewer presents under the tree. Finally, we came clean about the fun game of Santa that parents play. We began to buy quality gifts and only a few. Now it has gotten to where there are only token gifts and some stuff for the stockings but we are all happy with that.
To be honest, we spent way too much money and bought way too much stuff. For awhile, we cleaned out some of the things the boys had outgrown and took it to a woman’s and children’s domestic violence shelter that serves our region. Then, came Trump and we live in a very conservative, solidly Republican, sparsely populated county. We have now for the last year or two, taken no longer needed clothing and all the excess stuff that the boys only unwrapped and never looked at again, to a predominantly Black and poverty stricken area of North St Louis. My husband’s mother was once a social worker for the St Louis Public Schools doing everything she could to help Black children stay in school. So my husband honors his mother’s memory (we lost her in 2009) by choosing this avenue of giving.
These things we bought way too much of, that sat on a shelf un-used, were high quality and educational because our sons are schooled at home. We had a huge library of children’s books that we have given many of these books away (we’ve kept the best of the lot, stored now on a high shelf in our library in case one or both boys someday have children of their own – we are not optimistic they will – many young people are now choosing not to have children – one can never say never but we will never pressure them in that direction).
All I really want to say today is that my Christmas Wish is that all children had the stable, secure and loving home we have given our sons and that my husband and I had growing up. I think my parents got pretty lucky with the adoptive parents they had (both my mom and my dad were adopted). It is a sadness that not every child has that warmth of family to give them security.
Most U.S. citizens raised by their biological parents never question whether the information on their birth certificates is accurate. With the evolution of adoption and alternate means of conceiving a child, “accurate” is an increasingly subjective term.
Is the purpose of a birth certificate to portray a biological account of a person’s birth parents, or is it an account of one’s “legal” parents — the ones responsible for raising them?
The US Census Bureau created Birth Certificates in the beginning of the 20th Century as a means of tracking the effects of disease and urban environments on mortality rates. The task of issuing birth certificates was transferred to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. In 1946, the recording births was decentralized into today’s varied state systems (and in reality, based on my parents births in the 1930s, this existed well before the 1940s). This has caused there to be 50 different sets of regulations concerning how, when, why and if access to original birth certificate information can be obtained.
The document has become an important (if not our sole) means of identification when we obtain anything from a driver’s license to a passport. It is an indispensable tool for genealogical researchers.
For adoptees as well as donor-conceived persons, there is oftentimes a clear distinction between one’s genetic parents, those with whom you share DNA, and one’s legal parents, the ones who have rights and responsibilities attached to their parenthood, and most-times, the ones who are raising them.
Our birth certificate practices concerning non-biological parents began with adoption. In the mid-20th Century, there was rising concern that adopted children’s birth certificates read “illegitimate.” In response, states began to issue adoptees amended birth certificates, listing the adoptive parents as if they were the genetic parents, thus hiding the shame of the child’s illegitimacy and the adoptive parents’ infertility. The originals containing the biological parents’ names were sealed and not available to anyone (including the adoptee) except by court order. The new birth certificates showed no indication that they had been amended, which gave adoptive parents an easy way to not tell their children of their adoption. In about half of the US states (including large population ones like California and Virginia as I personally found with my two parents adoptions), adoptees original birth certificates remain sealed.
Women who use donor eggs to become pregnant are listed as mothers on birth certificates. When our donor informed me she had her DNA tested at 23 and Me, I made the decision to provide my children with the information and private access to her (with her consent) that DNA testing and that site’s design make possible. It is unsettling to see someone else listed as my two sons “mother” even though they grew in my womb, nursed at my breast and have been cared for and nurtured by me 24/7 for almost every day of their entire lives. Yet, I knew this was the proper path to establish for my own children their personal reality.
There are a whole host of concerns raised by adoptees and the donor-conceived, including the right to identity, ongoing medical history, biological heritage, and the right to know their genetic parents and I for one believe these issues are valid and should receive transparent answers.
The US Surgeon General reports 96% of Americans believe that knowing their family history is important. It certainly has made a world of difference for me as the offspring of two adoptees. I suppose this has given me a broader perspective on the importance of a person knowing from where their genes originated. The United Nations has acknowledged the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations.
I believe that all people have a moral right to know the truth about their personal history. Where the state has custody of relevant information it has a duty not to collude in deceiving or depriving individuals of such information. Growth, responsibility, and respect for self and others develop best in lives that are rooted in truth.
There has been a recommendation made that the Standard US Birth Certificate be revised to expand upon the “two parent only” format to include categories for Legal Parents, Genetic Parents and Surrogates. In the case of adoptees, the child’s birth name and parentage should be recorded along with his or her legal/adoptive name.
The time for birth certificate reform is now. Unfortunately for many, it should have happened decades ago.
“Creativity is the urge to wholeness, the urge to individuation or to the becoming of what one truly is.” ~ Jean Houston in Public Like A Frog
Creativity is the spiritual drive in us, just below the surface of consciousness, so that you as a personal becomes extended into the universal. An adoptee experiences an immense yearning. An adoptee (if they know they were adopted, and I believe, even if they don’t) knows that they are part of something that is missing and the only remedy is to find the missing part(s) and finally become whole. I know that experience intimately in my own life and circumstances (both of my parents were adopted, knew next to nothing about their origins and so could not pass that information down to us – leaving it my destiny to fill in the missing parts in order to become whole, and by extension, return wholeness to all of my parents’ descendants.
Identity issues – there is a lack, not knowing where and from who we came into being. Certainly, I knew (as many adoptees do not) who my mother and father were (thankfully). But beyond them was nothing but a black hole, a void. To not know this affects self-esteem, even if it is not understood to have that effect. We lack something that almost all other people have so effortlessly that they take it entirely for granted.
Here are examples of situations that adopted children can find themselves confronted with, either during childhood or after they enter adulthood.
A. A woman discovers that her birth mother is alive even though her adoptive parents told her she was dead. In point of fact, her adoptive mother had tried to contact her and the adoptive family from the time she was five years old and onward.
B. A young woman from a war torn Asian nation was adopted by a white American family. She will not search for her parents and family because she is convinced they are dead and she does not wish to “betray” her American parents. She comes to therapy because she has difficulty maintaining intimate relationships and feels quite depressed.
C. An adopted girl is convinced that her parents are her natural parents. However, they are unable to explain to her why she is in their wedding photographs, when they had told her she was born a year after they married.
D. A male baby is adopted by a Jewish family and is raised in the Jewish religion. There are no records anywhere of his birth parents and he knows nothing of his genetic origins.
Even though a lot more is known today about the importance of the adoptee learning about their natural parents and their genetic histories, many individual and family issues involving the people who do the adopting, interfere with good child development and adult adjustment.
Issues faced by adopted persons:
1. It is very common for those who were adopted to feel rejected and abandoned by their birth parents. This is accompanied by feelings of grief and loss. There is no set time or age when these feeling surface but, sooner or later, they do.
2. Feelings of loss and rejection are often accompanied by a damaged sense of self esteem. There is an understandable tendency to think that “something must be wrong with me for my birth parents to have give me away.” It must be understood that these feelings and thoughts are unrelated to the amount of love and support received from the adoptive parents and family.
3. Guilt accompanies loss and grief because the adopted individual believes that they are being disloyal to the people who adopted, loved and raised them. They do not want to hurt or betray their adoptive mother or father. Feelings of guilt and fears of being disloyal were what prevented the girl in case “C” from asking the obvious question, “why am I in your wedding pictures if I was not born yet?”
4. In cases B and D there is a disconnect with the original heritage of the birth parents. For the Asian young woman, raised in a large family with many siblings, the obvious racial differences did come to “haunt her” later on. While she wished to visit the Asian nation of her birth, she was so totally identified with being American, and even “while” that she feared stirring up her past. She, too, did not want to cause any hurt to her adoptive parents. However, it must be said for them, that they encouraged and offered to help her in her search. Despite this encouragement, she was not ready to do any search. Long discussions in therapy never revealed what she feared.
5. According to the great psychologist, Eric Erikson, adolescence involves a search for self identity. While this search is difficult for most teenagers, it presents special problems for adoptee. Assuming they never met their natural parents and family and have no idea of their genetic background, they are left with a gigantic gap in their search to answer the age old question, “Who am I.” Of course, the more information available to young people, the less of a gap there is in the information they need to formulate a real sense of themselves. In all of the cases above, a huge gap existed in this information. Except for the Asian young woman, all were denied any information, mostly because the adoptive families, either wittingly or unwittingly, did not provide necessary facts.
6. Missing genetic information is important for obvious medical reasons. It is important for everyone to have knowledge of the medical history because it can provide clues to genetic diseases. For example, in case D, the patient entered psychotherapy unaware that he had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. His family was unaware of this as well. If more had been known about the birth parents, it might have been possible to predict his childhood problems at home and at school. It was only after entering psychotherapy that he was evaluated and diagnosed with ADHD and appropriately treated for this. The information was relieving to both him and his adoptive parents because everyone now knew that he was never “bad” or “dumb” but afflicted with this disorder of the brain.
7. Many adults who were adopted struggle with fears that they will be disloyal to their adoptive parents if they search for their natural parents. In my experience, the only real exception to this is when adoptive parents make the very deliberate and conscious effort to inform and encourage their child to do a search and to let them know how important that is. Unfortunately, as illustrated in cases A and C, there are people who discourage such a search and even lie to their adopted child about their origins. In the end, lies and distortions never succeed and often result in feelings of anger at the adoptive parent, sometimes causing a breach in the relationship.
Why do a few adoptive parents hide the truth? And even if they do not (both of my parents knew they were adopted from childhood but that did not provide them with any information that could have informed their sense of self-identity) there can still be such a gap in what is known as to be functionally useless (as it was in my parents case until I went to work to find out the details). There are cases where the adopting family lives in a state of fear that, somehow and someday, they will lose their child. This fear of loss, often irrational, is a powerful motivation to keep the adopted child as close as possible.
The truth is that, adopted children who search for their natural parents, have no reason for shifting their loyalties and feelings. They set out on the search because there is a deep-seated need, as there is for most of us, to know as much as possible about our history, both racial, cultural, personal and genetic.
Most of the less than personal information above came from – Psychological Issues Faced by Adopted Children and Adults from MentalHelp.net.