Our Father

Documentary on Netflix

I’m pretty certain this is streaming and we only get dvds from Netflix. Never-the-less, not for the first time, has a fertility doctor been accused of inseminating patients with his own sperm. So, yes, this is a true story. The Indiana fertility specialist, Dr Donald Cline, is the subject.

In a moment when the right to safe and informed reproductive care is under threat in the US, Our Father is particularly resonant given the questions it raises about how our legal system views those seeking control over their own reproductive choices, and restitution when that autonomy is violated.

Jacoba Ballard’s life changed after she took an at-home DNA test and learned she had seven half-siblings. After reaching out to her newfound family members and researching the mystery of their shared relation, Ballard and her siblings soon discovered with horror what their parents’ trusted doctor had done. The number of confirmed siblings continued to grow as more people added their DNA to 23andMe’s database. Each time she saw a new connection appear on her profile, she’d steel herself before reaching out to deliver the news. “I know I’m going to call them and I’m going to ruin their life,” she says in the documentary.

Jacoba Ballard grew up suspecting that she, the only blond, blue-eyed member of a family of brunettes, was adopted. When she was 10, her parents told her they had used donor sperm to conceive her. “I wanted a child so bad,” her mother, Debbie Smith, says, the pain clearly visible on her face. The Smiths went to Cline, who had a reputation as the best in what was then the new field of fertility treatment and artificial insemination. The good doctor – and devout Christian, church elder and respected member of the community – told them that medical students were used as donors, each no more than three times to limit any future problems with consanguinity (the medical term for unwitting siblings later having children together). The couple went ahead and nine months later Jacoba was born. “She’s my everything,” says Debbie.

Our Father includes interviews with eight of the 94 siblings. Because of Cline’s lack of cooperation and the unknown number of patients he had the opportunity to inseminate up until he stopped practicing in 2009, there is no way to know for sure how many siblings there may be.

One criticism of the documentary is that it gives too little space to the unresponsiveness of the district attorney’s office – alerted by Jacoba early on – and the extraordinary fact that it was impossible to prosecute Cline over what he did to the women because none of that amounted to a crime under the then-current law. Jacoba’s research reveals that one of the people in the DA’s office who might have been expected to follow up on her complaint is associated with the Christian fundamentalist movement Quiverfull, which encourages the faithful – or at least the faithful of certain coloring – to have as many children as possible and groom them for power so they can become ambassadors for God. Is it relevant that church elder Cline has produced what Jacoba likens to “this perfect Aryan clan”?

Surveying the blonde hair and blue eyes of many of Cline’s offspring, the film briefly meditates on whether Cline’s crusade may have had white supremacist underpinnings (Quiverfull ideology, which promotes patriarchal gender ideology and other conservative ideals and bemoans European population decline, certainly seems to).

The filmmakers behind Our Father, including director/producer Lucie Jourdan, say they were moved to tell the story of the siblings and their parents in order to help them condemn Cline’s actions to a broad audience when it became clear the court had failed. In 2017, he was brought to trial facing two counts of felony obstruction of justice, for lying during the investigation. The obstruction of justice charges meant that no evidence related to Cline’s actions toward his former patients was admissible—though those actions constituted the injustice for which the siblings and their parents were truly seeking restitution. Cline pled guilty, and received two suspended sentences (meaning he served no jail time), and a $500 fine.

In 2018, the siblings’ lobbying, led by Matt White and his mother Liz White, contributed to the passing of Indiana’s fertility-fraud law. There is still no federal law on the subject.

Acknowledging Time Magazine and The Guardian from which sections of today’s blog were taken.

Who Even Am I Anymore

A journal for processing various experiences for adoptees including late discovery, to donor conceived, and for those who discover a non-parental event and misattributed paternal event.

Between 6 and 10 percent of people who order mail-in DNA kits are shocked to discover Misattributed Parentage. Others may learn the truth without saliva; their lives are turned upside down by unexpected phone calls, social media messages, or files left behind by an older generation.

The effects of a DNA-Discovery can be life altering and identity shattering. Without a precedent for this brand new global phenomenon, the world is scrambling to catch up, finding itself short on resources to address this kind of trauma.

Who Even Am I Anymore is the first process journal of its kind, specifically designed for a community of people that grows larger each year. Eve Sturges used her experience as an NPE, a licensed psychotherapist, and host of the podcast Everything’s Relative to craft thoughtful questions for this uniquely existential journey. Designed to be used by individuals or in groups, with a therapist or without, this resource offers itself as a compass to those who find themselves unexpectedly lost at sea.

One reviewer writes –
I am a Late Discovery Adoptee and experienced years later via DNA test that my biological dad was not my biological dad. Eve asks just the right questions. I loved these writing prompts. They give me the opportunity to reflect, write it all out and heal from the act of writing.

Another one writes –
As an NPE (non-parental event) it truly helped me to get through and process the feelings from the trauma of finding out my dad isn’t my dad.

You can learn more about Eve Sturges at her website.

It Actually Does Matter

I have known quite a few people who were not entirely happy with the family of their birth but those of us who have been touched by adoption lost the family of our birth. Some of us find our way back. Today’s blog is inspired by a story in Severance Magazine written by Kristen Steinhilber titled My Biology Matters. It Did All Along.

She writes – “It took me more than three decades of fairytale-oriented platitudes and assumptions thrown like bombs my way about adoption to piece together one very relevant thread: everyone who told me that biology doesn’t matter—including both sides of my own adoptive family—had intact bloodlines and genetic histories. And that what they were really saying, whether they meant to or not, was that my biology doesn’t matter.”

I encountered something like this as well. When I was first learning about my original families (both of my parents were adopted), I was attending a writer’s conference in St Louis when one of our members questioned me – If the adoptive family was good, why does it matter? As we talked, it slowly dawned on her that if she wanted to know, it would have been a fairly easy thing for her to learn as much as she wanted to know from her older family members. Not so for adoptees.

She goes on to write – “. . . withholding and secrecy—are encouraged in the world of adoption when it comes to the biology of adoptees. In fact, withholding and secrecy are legally enforced through sealed birth records. So when I found out, I assumed this was normal, understandable, or even maybe for my own good. My adoptive mother may have even believed that herself.” And adds, “since I’d always been told that adoption was such a gift, I didn’t feel I had the right to it. I pushed my own feelings away and suppressed what was in my gut.”

Even my adoptee mom, after being denied her adoption file and being told her mother was already dead, tried to put a good face on it all as she abandoned trying to do a family tree at Ancestry using the adoptive family details saying “it wasn’t real” and I understand that but needed to say at that point “because I was adopted, glad I was.” Though I doubt she really meant that, what else could she say at that point ?

She describes her experience of reunion – “I had a beautiful reunion with them for years and ‘fit’ naturally. Not in the same way that they fit with each other; that’s simply not possible when you miss out on all those years.” This has been my experience in having genetic biological relations reunions – I can feel these are really, truly the people who I am related to and at the same time I can’t make up for all of the years they were living their lives and I wasn’t in them. It affects my feelings towards the adoptive family I grew up with. I’m like my mom in very real ways – they aren’t real anymore, though at one time they were. The love remains for the good people they all were and are, yet they are also “strangers”, not actually related to me in reality. 

I understand it when she says, “The spiritual and psychological isolation of having two families but not belonging to either has ripped me from limb to limb . . .” That’s the painful part of it all. While I do now feel more “complete” and know my ethnic and familial roots, I don’t actually belong to either family group in any real way. It is actually very sad and only now do I allow myself to feel this, brought almost to tears by the truth of it. It is the sense of not belonging that plagues many adoptees and now I understand passes down the family line to their children as well.

She talks about the massive number of adoptees who stand in solidarity for adoption reform. At least, I am one of those now as well.

Broken Family Threads

It is said that it is Black History Month, though many of my friends chafe at that and say it is ALWAYS black history. I understand. Imani Perry’s book South To America has been getting some buzz and as I writer I notice those things.

Yesterday, I read an essay adapted from her book published in Time Magazine’s Feb 14 – Feb 21 2022 issue titled “The Way Home.” It is about her effort to reconnect with a grandmother in Maryland who she is able to know very little about. Was her name Easter Lowe or Esther Watkins ? Was she born in Maryland or Georgia, was she 101 years old or 91.

I realized as I read how much I could relate to her journey to Maryland which is described in the article. Her attempt to get some insight into unknowable people. I recognized my own “roots” journey, often fraught with disappointment and too little too slowly. I am fortunate to know what I know now. Though the African American experience of slavery is not mine, I know how it feels not to know anything about where one came from (both of my parents were adoptees). At one time, I used to tell people I was an albino African because no one could prove me wrong, not even myself. Now I finally do know better.

Slavery was not exactly in my family history but in a way it was. My paternal grandmother was put to work in the Rayon mills in Asheville NC at a young age. She was not allowed to keep her own earnings and was probably expected to do a lot of other chores in the home. Her mother died when she was only 3 mos old and she had to live with a decidedly evil step-mother (from a story I heard about her being tied to a tree in a thunderstorm). She was a run-away slave. When her family visited her grandfather and her aunt in La Jolla California, she refused to return to Asheville and her slave labor there.

Poverty and the Great Depression was likely the cause of both of my grandmothers being separated from their babies. There really was not any family support for them. My maternal grandmother also lost her mother at the age of 11. She also escaped harsh conditions with her widowed father who was a sharecropper. She ran away to Memphis where she met and married my mom’s birth father.

Though I am not black and my family wasn’t enslaved, I can relate to Imani Perry’s story because in very real ways it is my story too. I didn’t grow up with a strong white supremacist’s identity. I was in the minority in Hispanic El Paso Texas and anyway, we didn’t have a clue to our ethnicity. Even so, I do recognize now that being white has put me in a class of advantages and I’ve worked very hard at educating myself by reading every anti-racist type book that has come my way. I celebrate the contributions of Black, African Americans to the diversity and vibrancy of the country of my own birth.

Uprooted

This kind of discovery is happening more and more often with the advent of inexpensive DNA testing. I belong to a circle of mom’s who all gave birth in a 4 month period of time in 2004. We have pretty much stayed in contact – at least a majority of us. At one point, way back when, our group ended up divided on the common question for those who conceived via Assisted Reproductive Technology over whether we would tell our children the truth or hide it. Some definitely chose that second path, my husband and I did not. I am grateful for that choice.

It’s not as though we’ve ever made this a big issue in our household and I’ve not made it a public issue locally as well (in the early days I received some hints of questions seeking to know). One of the strategies early on was to let our children tell if that was their choice and not make that choice for them. Only recently, have I become more outspoken about our family’s origins because – gee, I will be 68 this coming May and I have two sons, one that is almost 18 and one who will be 21 this February.

There is another strategy that we owe it to other woman who could be deceived by our having given birth at advanced ages that they have all the time in the world – as I believed in my 40s when my husband decided he wanted to be a father after all after 10 years of marriage. He was always glad I had “been there and done that” so no pressure on him to parent, as I do have one daughter who is now soon to be in her 50s and she has gifted me with two grandchildren. Then we learned how low the odds of that actually happening were due to my own advanced age. A nurse practitioner recommended her own fertility doctor saying “you don’t have time to waste.” He is the first one who told us that there was “a way” and that way for us was via egg donation.

We have stayed in contact with our donor since day one. Facebook makes that easier today. The boys have met her in person more than once but distance limits that contact. I do show them pictures from her FB page from time to time. When she tested with 23 and Me, I gifted my husband with a kit, and then when my oldest son turned 18, I gave him one, and rather than wait for the youngest one to turn 18, went ahead and gave him a kit.

Doing this also allowed us to tell our boys, now that they are older, all of the reasons that we chose to do what we did. Also to emphasize that they simply would not exist or be who they are any other way. There is no “if only” things had been different. And that no one could be more of a mother to them than I am and it is clear by their behavior towards me that I am precisely that to them even with this complete knowledge.

While it is decidedly strange to see another woman listed as their mother at 23 and Me after having carried their pregnancies in my womb and breastfeeding each of them for a year, as well as being in their lives 24/7, I do not regret making private message access to her available to them if they so choose.

I understand the yearning for truth about our genetics. Both of my parents were adoptees who died 4 months apart, still basically ignorant of their origins. My mom did try to get her adoption file (a file I now have complete possession of) in the early 1990s. Within a year of my dad’s death, I had identified all 4 of my original grandparents and have contact with some cousins and a couple of surviving aunts.

There are very real and serious issues with donor sperm. It has produced a lot of children with the same genetic paternity and has existed under a protection of privacy. Unlike egg donation which we are aware that our donor went through a painful process as well as a fraught experience with powerful drugs, it is relatively easy and painless to donate sperm, as my own husband did in order to give birth to genetically, biologically related sons (our sons do have the same maternity and paternity and so are 100% siblings). Some egg donors were also promised privacy in the early days of assisted reproduction.

Here is some information about the book, Uprooted, that I have featured today (but which I have not read) –

By his forties, Peter J. Boni was an accomplished CEO, with a specialty in navigating high-tech companies out of hot water. Just before his fiftieth birthday, Peter’s seventy-five-year-old mother unveiled a bombshell: His deceased father was not his biological, genetic father. Peter was conceived in 1945 via an anonymous sperm donor. The emotional upheaval upon learning that he was “misattributed” rekindled traumas long past and fueled his relentless research to find his genealogy. Over two decades, he gained an encyclopedic knowledge of the scientific, legal, and sociological history of reproductive technology as well as its practices, advances, and consequences. Through twenty-first century DNA analysis, Peter finally quenched his thirst for his origin.

​In Uprooted, Peter J. Boni intimately shares his personal odyssey and acquired expertise to spotlight the free market methods of gamete distribution that conceives dozens, sometimes hundreds, of unknowing half-siblings from a single donor. This thought-provoking book reveals the inner workings—and secrets—of the multibillion-dollar fertility industry, resulting in a richly detailed account of an ethical aspect of reproductive science that, until now, has not been so thoroughly explored.

The Audiobook and ebook have been available since January 4 2022. The print book is to be released tomorrow on January 25 2022.

Artifact DNA Testing

This article in Wired actually caused me to write yesterday’s blog on the value of DNA testing. Beyond the inexpensive commercial DNA testing platforms of 23 and Me as well as Ancestry, there is another way – though it is expensive and probably not a good choice for most people. It has been used though in some paternity cases.

It was highlighted when Swiss forensic geneticists analyzed DNA recovered from postage stamps dating back to World War I to solve a century-old paternity puzzle. Renc and Arles, were the children of Dina – and maybe Xaver, or maybe not, maybe Ron was the father of Renc. Their descendants wanted to confirm or rule out that Ron was Renc’s father, as he was believed to be. So, the family offered up cheek swabs from living descendants of Dina, Renc, and Arles for DNA analysis, and some postcards that had been sent by Renc and Ron during WWI that it was hoped might hold their DNA, in the remnants of the saliva used to paste the stamps. 

Solving kinship cases is a common task in forensic genetics but this case was a little more complex than usual. The team tried to confirm the reality, but to no avail. By October 2018, they had thrown in the towel. Then, in March 2020, the family returned with more heirlooms. They had found some more old postcards that had been sent by Arles on a business tour in 1922. 

The scientists compared the DNA found under these postcards’ stamps with the DNA found on postcards sent by Renc, while he was fighting in World War I and on postwar trips. They found common Y chromosomal lineage, which meant that the two brothers shared the same father. After more than a century, the family had an end to their paternity drama: Xaver, not Ron, was Renc’s dad. 

Extracting centuries-old DNA from artifacts—a licked envelope flap, hair from an old brush—was once considered the Next Big Thing in genetic genealogy. Its promise lies in offering anybody the opportunity to gain precious insights into long-deceased ancestors and loved ones, to look further back into their family tree, and to potentially reunite with existing relatives. MyHeritage, the DNA testing company, announced in 2018 that it would be jumping into the business of commercial artifact testing.

What was once envisioned as an explosion in artifact testing has petered into more of a slow burn. A number of factors have prevented it from becoming as big as commercial DNA test kits: it’s costly, it involves tampering with or destroying potentially sentimental family heirlooms, and there is little guarantee that it will be successful.

Here’s an example why, when relying on DNA extracted from saliva, you’re taking a gamble that the sender was the one who licked the envelope flap or the stamp, which surprisingly is not always the case. There once was an old practice to wet stamps on common pads at post offices. The running joke in some artifact testing labs is that if we check all these stamps, you will see that all the children are in fact children of the mailman. LOL

Realizing the Value of DNA Testing

Getting the results of my own DNA tests (both Ancestry and 23 and Me) did NOT bring surprise results to me – in that I knew BOTH of my parents were adoptees at the time I did the tests. What was I hoping for ? Answers to my cultural identity. A question that had plagued me since public school. What are we ? I asked my mom. We’re Americans, she answered. No, I said, what ELSE are we ? We don’t know because we were adopted, she answered.

And I did get insight into what I had yearned to know from childhood. Yet, my DNA tests did something for me that I did not anticipate. As actual genetic, biological relations were found at the two platforms, my DNA test proved to these that I actually was related to them. Me, someone they never knew existed. Though to be honest, I never knew they existed either. Building relationships with people who have decades of history with my original families (the families my parents were conceived as part of) and none involving me is slow and not earth-shattering but soul warming never-the-less.

I am pretty certain I came as a surprise to some of these – especially on my dad’s paternal line. His father’s family was located in Denmark. Several of his father’s siblings as well as his father immigrated to the United States. Unfortunately, his father never knew he had a son. More’s the pity. My dad did look remarkably like his own father and they shared an interest in boats, the ocean and fishing. They would have made wonderful friends as father and son. So, that family has been the most amazed at my existence. I originally found my grandfather’s step-granddaughter who told me quite a bit about him. And only recently, I now have email contact with one of his nephews in Denmark, who has told me something about my grandfather’s early life in that country before immigrating.

With my other 3 grandparent family lines, there was some awareness of my parent’s existence. One of the first that I met shared the same maternal grandfather with me. His daughters (my mom’s half-siblings) were aware of her existence. My cousin said to me upon my emergence into her life, My mom always wondered about your mom and wanted to have an opportunity to meet her. Sadly, I barely missed this half-aunt of mine. She died only months before I began my own search into my roots after BOTH of my parents had died only 4 months apart.

Next came cousins and an aunt on my dad’s maternal line. 23 and Me outed my cousin and she wrote me in excitement, Delores or Dolores Hempstead/Barnes is my grandmother. The aunt is her mother and she was living only 90 miles away from my dad at the time he died. He never spoke to me about being adopted except that one time after his adoptive father died and my dad was going through some papers and marveled that his original surname was Hempstead. My mom did tell me that he was not supportive of her own effort to search, warning her that she might be opening up a can of worms. That has informed me somewhat about his perspective – that the people who adopted him were his parents – end of story. We did know that my granny “got” him at the Salvation Army. There is so much more to that story that I have now been able to learn and I will always believe that the Salvation Army coerced her into surrendering him to adoption as she was unwed. I’m told she regretted losing him the rest of her life. One cousin lead me to another cousin who had the breadcrumb clue that my paternal grandmother left as to my dad’s father’s identity. A few photos and some notes written on the back of these.

Though the initial focus of my adoption related searches was my mom’s Stark family line, that one took me the longest to finally connect with the children of my grandmother’s youngest brother, who I also just missed as he had died not all that long before. I did learn early on from a woman “related by marriage” who was also a genealogist that my Stark family was Scottish. She belonged to the church across the street from the cemetery where my grandmother, her second husband and her parents are all buried. My maternal grandmother was a victim of Georgia Tann and the baby stealing and selling scandal of the Memphis Branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. My mom knew some of this background information, believed that she had been inappropriately adopted (her words for what happened to separate her from her mother) and actually tried to get her adoption file (the one I now have the complete file of, including photos of my grandmother and baby mom) but was denied it by the state of Tennessee. These second cousins (as they are my age but would be genetically my mom’s cousins) had close and fond relationships with my maternal grandmother. They gave me the warm kinds of intimate details about the kind of person she was – what my heart had yearned to know since I began my own journey.

I believe I have fulfilled my destiny to reconnect the broken threads of our family’s origins – the reason I managed to be preserved with the parents who first conceived me out of wedlock (my mom still in high school, my dad had only just started at an out of town university – high school sweethearts they had been. They did marry and remained married until death did part them).

Until I began learning more about the traumas of being adopted, it was the most natural thing in the world to me. So natural, that both of my sisters actually each gave up a baby to adoption. Thankfully, I’ve met and have contact with both of these wonderful, valuable persons – my niece and nephew. It’s impossible to know how their lives might have been different if my sisters had kept them. If my parents had never been surrendered for adoption – the miracle of it all for me personally is – I simply would not have existed. I love my life and for having one at all and with my original parents, I am grateful. So, I am also grateful I wasn’t given up for adoption – it would have been the most normal thing in the world to have happened to me.

Identity – Before and After

Today’s blog assist comes from this man – Travis Bradburn

What makes you… you? Those people with a DNA surprise have a “before” and “after” marking the day their identity was upended. Family secrets tear at the fabric of who a person is. Tell the truth and practice forgiveness.

In 2018, at the age of 45, Travis Bradburn’s identity was upended. In an instant, his life now had a before and an after. He saw – “Predicted relationship – half brother.” Those were the words he saw when he opened up his 23 and Me app.

He writes – In very real ways, I always had a feeling of being ‘out of place’ and like I didn’t quite belong somehow. Those words…”predicted relationship – half brother” meant that I was 45 years old, and did not know who my father was. My brother and I were raised by a single mother, who alone, along with our church family, raised us to be strong, independent, educated, hard-working, faith-filled people. She struggled to provide, but she did it. 

He continues telling his story – I’m a happily married man with a wife who has been very supportive through this entire process. And I have 4 beautiful children I love more than life. In spite of all of this, in making this discovery, I became unmoored. I did not know who I was; who made me. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t fully recognize myself. The most basic parts of my life story were no longer true.

As I was told my father’s name, I learned he was alive; a little about who he was; and that he had 3 children. I had more brothers and a sister. It’s amazing how quickly you can find information about people online when you really want to know.

I never had a father in my life, and now as I learned this truth, I was intent on making sure that as little time as possible passed before we met. And so 17 days after my discovery, I sat down at a restaurant table with my father. It was a surreal 2 hours that included some laughter, tears, awkwardness, questions and good conversation. Those moments are forever etched in my mind. During our visit, that feeling of ‘other-ness’…like I didn’t quite belong in some way…disappeared. Many of the feelings of not knowing why I was a certain way…felt answered.

We continued to meet together for dinners over the next several months. They are cherished memories I will always have, of just getting to know each other, and I hope those can continue for some time. Eventually, he agreed to share this news with his other two living children…my sister and my brother.

About 13 months after my discovery, I sat in my father’s home and met my family I didn’t know existed for the first 45 years of my life. We talked, laughed and shed a few tears for several hours that day. We shared photographs and stories. Words can’t describe how happy and grateful I was to see the burden of this secret lifted off my father’s shoulders. It was palpable and something I will never forget.

Genetic connection and identity are inseparable. Please read that sentence again. I believe this to be an irrefutable truth that has profound implications. Those who have not experienced this could never fully comprehend it. I feel like I could have been a human experiment in the debate of nature versus nurture. Think about your mannerisms, appearance, your laugh, manner of speaking, aspects of personality, the way you walk, things you like and dislike…to name just a few…all more highly connected to genetics than I think people realize. Not seeing that genetic connection in your life has implications.

Learning you are a 45-year secret is hard. Learning you are no longer a secret was healing beyond belief. Maybe that’s part of why sharing my story matters to me.

It’s Complicated And Confusing

Kimberly Mays with Robert Mays

Mention of a television program called Switched at Birth led me to today’s real life story and it fits with the Missing Mom theme of my blog and so I share. The 1991 American miniseries, directed by Waris Hussein, is based on the true story of Kimberly Mays and Arlena Twigg. The two babies were switched soon after birth in a Florida hospital in 1978. Today the relationships between Kim Mays and her two living mother figures remains strained. “I don’t really feel like I’ve had a mother growing up. That’s where the confusion comes from,” Kimberly has said.

It does appear that the switch was intentional. In November 1993, Patsy Webb, a nurse’s aide from the hospital where the babies had been switched, came forward, claiming that Dr. Ernest Palmer had told her to switch the ID bracelets. She refused to do it, she claimed, but told the doctor she would keep quiet, fearing that she would lose her job and health insurance if she spoke up. She said she saw the next day that the babies had been switched.

Webb decided to come forward because she was dying and she wanted to clear her conscience before she died. There were two or three people involved in the switch she has said. The one baby was very sick. While Webb didn’t make the decision, she went along with it and that made her feel like a guilty party to it.

Yet for Kim Mays, the shocking and incredibly emotional twists and turns of her childhood, have not served her life well. “I had a rough childhood,” Kim Mays said. “I lost a parent.” When her first mother died, her father remarried. Until she was 6 years old, she thought her stepmother was her mother. After 7 years of marriage, he divorced that woman and remarried again. Kim Mays now says the man who raised her, Bob Mays, was very controlling and she ran away from home several times.

When she was 15, she ended up at a YMCA shelter and then asked to live with the Twiggs (her actual genetic family and who she had “divorced” just a few months earlier through the courts). “I was going through a lot of emotion. So I ran away, and I went to the Twiggs’ house. I stayed there a year and a half to two years almost,” she said. Mays left the Twiggs two weeks before she turned 18. She got married to her first husband and they had a son together.

“Losing my mom at two, to (Bob Mays) getting remarried right away, to him divorcing her, then finding another relationship to jump into, then (learning about) the switch, and then, other stuff that occurred,” she said. “It’s a lot to process as a child. I just didn’t handle it very well at the time, unfortunately.” Nor did she handle it well after that. She and her first husband divorced and their son, now an adult, was raised by her ex-husband and his family. That is an aspect of her story that I can relate to as my own biological, genetic daughter ended up being raised by her dad and step-mother. She has had six children by four different fathers.

“I feel bad for both sides, (the) Twiggs and everyone involved,” Kim Mays said. “(Arlena – the baby she was switched with) passed away (at 9 years old) and then they poured everything into finding me, so they went through a lot.”

You can read the complete story here – Kim Mays, Switched at Birth. The entire original 20/20 series is also available at YouTube.

Who’s Real ?

It’s a conundrum, a confusing and difficult problem or question. I understand it personally. When I finally learned who my original grandparents were and met relatives who were genetically and biologically related to me, my adoptive family receded into the background.

As a child, I had grandparents who adopted my parents when they were young. They are the only grandparents I knew growing up and going through old family letters from the early 1980s that I need to finally let go of, I see how they were my personal cheerleaders as I left one kind of life I had been living and began the long and slow process of making a different kind of life for myself. I am grateful for their love and concern.

I have aunts who became more significant again in my own life after my parents died. I am grateful for their love and support.

Those of us impacted by adoption often struggle to describe our relationships with two sets of relatives. Sometimes the word “real” is used to describe those that family DNA type websites would consider as being accurately related to us. It gets cumbersome to try and define “real” from “acquired”.

The topic came up yet again in my all things adoption group. I thought this was a good response – “Everyone is real. It’s kind of a given.” Direct and to the point. Even so, it can be confusing to people who don’t know your personal family history.

We aren’t exactly playing along with our adoptive relatives but for an adoptee, the person is often too well aware that their name and their birth certificate have been falsified to change their identity – from the one they were born with to being in effect the possession of the people who adopted them. This was often done to prevent the original parents and the adoptees from ever finding each other, though with the tools available today (inexpensive DNA testing and matching websites) reunions are taking place constantly.

One adoptee admits – I had a hard time with “real” as a kid growing up. When people found out that I was adopted I was always asked, “Do you know your real parents?” “Do you have any real brothers or sisters?” “Do your adoptive parents have any real kids?” People seemed to use that word in place of biological and to my kid-brain, it felt like I was somehow less of a person because I wasn’t my adopters “real” kid.

Add to this that adoptees often honestly do feel that they don’t belong in the family they are being raised within. And quite honestly, that feeling is accurate, even though it is their reality.