I feel a kinship with this man’s DNA Roots journey. In fact, my family just finished watching the original Roots series based on the book by Alex Haley. I had my own roots journey and like this man, Tim Curran, 23 and Me and Ancestry DNA did help me on my way only I didn’t leave the US in search of family – yet. I’d love to travel to Denmark – from where my paternal grandfather immigrated to the US.
Tim’s story comes to me by way of CNN Travel. LINK>I used DNA analysis to find my birth family and it sent me across three continents. California connects Tim’s story to mine and like me, he found the impenetrable walls of sealed records and tight-lipped officials in that state. Only he was born in 1961 and my dad was born there in 1935. From what I know of my own father’s story, this part of Tim’s story seems to be very similar – “On opposite sides of the world, they had both butted heads with difficult parents and left home at the first opportunity. They both wound up in one of the most free-thinking places on Earth: San Francisco.” On my paternal side, it was San Diego.
I don’t think my paternal grandfather actually butted heads in his family but opportunities in that country for siblings other than the first born were limited. My grandfather was the 5th of 10 children and several of his siblings had already migrated to the US – mostly into the Illinois and Wisconsin areas. My grandfather chose to take a train from NYC, where he landed, and on that train met a woman, much older than him and a private duty nurse, who agreed to marry him. It was mostly a marriage of convenience. When we don’t really know the accurate story, like Tim, I filled in the gaps. I suspect he may have eaten dinners, while his wife was on duty with some person, at the restaurant on the beach where my grandmother was employed by her aunt and uncle. She had a truly evil step-mother and so yes, she fled them and refused to return to Asheville North Carolina, after they traveled to visit her grandfather in California.
Like Tim, I have found my mother’s and father’s families welcoming me – even though they hardly, if even, knew I existed before I made contact. Some were vaguely aware that one or the other of my grandmothers had given a child up for adoption but really didn’t know any more than that. Sadly, it does not appear that my grandfather ever knew he had a son, being the married man having an affair with a much younger woman. But resourceful as she was, she simply handled it ending up employed by the Salvation Army after giving birth in one of their homes for unwed mothers.
Back to Tim’s story (which you can read in full at the LINK at the top of this blog) – his father worked as floor installer in the city’s North Beach neighborhood — where she was a cocktail waitress and dancer. I pictured them meeting while he installed floors in a nightclub where she was working. By all accounts, it must have been a very brief affair. My father was living with a girlfriend, and my mother’s sister says she never once heard my mother discuss my father in any way. Other than the sister and her mother, no one else in her family was told she was pregnant. (I was lucky enough that my grandmother had a photo album with a head shot and the name of my grandfather on the back.) My father’s family says they are 100% certain he was never told. (And my Danish relatives likewise, never knew my grandfather had a son.)
Tim has a large Moroccan family who own a set of neighboring summer homes just yards from the beach. The houses are built on property his grandfather bought nearly a century ago (when the land was thought to be worthless). It is a place where they go to escape the summer heat of Casablanca. In that family, he was able to recognize that many of their personality traits and quirks – how boisterous, curious and sly they are – just like he was as well. When I met a cousin on my paternal line, her appearance could have made her my youngest sister’s twin. That obvious physical appearance connection between our families seems to have mattered greatly to her.
Touring the country of Morocco, the sites he saw were beautiful and awe-inspiring, alien yet weirdly familiar. He experienced the country in a unique and very personal way thanks to his DNA journey: as a son just one generation removed from his father’s homeland. Though Alex Haley was further removed from his own African roots, it must have been deeply emotional to experience the native culture, which was so different from the modern life in the United States that he became a successful author in.
Like Tim, I bravely went looking. I was not content with the not knowing that my parents died with. I had the wherewithall to seek answers and with determination found success. Just as Tim and Alex both did. It is a journey well worth taking and many have written about similar adoptee root journeys that they have taken. Not every effort succeeds. Tim’s parents were both deceased and my grandparents were all deceased. For Alex, the stories lived on, passed down orally from one generation to the next.
As a Gemini, twins have always fascinated me. I have wondered if I once had a twin in utero who vanished. Having gone through assisted reproductive medical interventions, I know this happens. It happened with my older son when my pregnancy originally appeared to be twins. I really didn’t want the challenge but in my mom’s group we have several pairs of twins and one set of triplets. The father of the man I am married to was a twin. Both my father in law and his twin brother are now deceased.
The less than common occurrence of multiple births has my attention this morning after watching the documentary – Three Identical Strangers. The story tells how these men were separated at 6 mos and adopted out with strategic intent by the clinical psychiatrist, Peter Neubauer, through the cooperation of the Louise Wise adoption agency. Psychology Today did an article entitled The Truth About “Three Identical Strangers.” The article explains – Dr Viola Bernard was the chief psychiatric consultant to the Wise agency. In the late 1950s (before Dr Peter Neubauer was involved), Dr Bernard created a policy of separating identical twins when they were adopted. Dr Bernard’s intentions are described as benign. In a memo subsequently recovered, she expresses her hope that “early mothering would be less burdened and divided and the child’s developing individuality would be facilitated” by this separation. It wasn’t only the Wise agency but many other agencies that also practiced the separation of twins at the time of adoption.
The conclusion by Dr Lois Oppenheim in the Psychology Today article is – The basic premise of the film, that the triplets’ separation was a heartless scheme undertaken at the expense of the children’s well-being to enable a scientific study, is fiction. The filmmakers could have created a documentary about the complexities of the twin study, its origins and context, and the changing standards of ethical norms and lessons learned. This might have been less dramatic, but it would have made an important contribution to our understanding of gene research and parenting.
Yet, the practice of separating identical or even non-identical siblings in the adoption industry continues and the study and research of such persons continues to this day. Regarding my photo above of Lily MacLeod and Gillian Shaw, the story in The Toronto Star by Amy Dempsey tells us that the 12-year-olds were separated as babies in China but reunited after the two separate Ontario couples adopted them. When their separate/different adoptive parents made the startling discovery that their two daughters were identical twins, they vowed to raise the girls as sisters. Their situation is highly unusual: Lily and Gillian are two of only a handful of twin pairs – mostly Chinese children adopted by North American parents – who are being raised, knowing they are siblings but separately apart. For scientific researchers, the girls are yet another opportunity to study the effects of nature vs nurture in real-time. As for their families – strangers thrown together by the most unusual of circumstances – their situation explores a new kind of blended family, with unique and fascinating joys and challenges.
The Toronto Star goes beyond the story of the twin Chinese girls to note that in the late 1970s, scientists at the Minnesota Center for Twin and Adoption Research began studying what was then a new category of multiples — adopted twins who were separated at birth and reunited as adults. Dr Thomas Bouchard’s landmark paper was titled “Minnesota Study of Identical Twins Reared Apart.” The study shook the scientific community by demonstrating, across a number of traits, that twins raised apart are as similar as twins raised together. The study’s evidence of genetic influence in traits such as personality (50 per cent heritable) and intelligence (70 per cent heritable) overturned conventional ideas about parenting and teaching. And findings of genetic influence on physiological characteristics have led to new ways of fighting and preventing disease.
While I was yet pregnant with my oldest son, I chose to read a book titled Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy which had just come out in the year before. So my interest is long standing and it is little wonder that the issues continue to capture my interest. For centuries, the self-sacrificing mother who places her child’s needs and desires above her own has defined womanhood. Designed by nature for the task of rearing offspring, women are “naturally” tender, selfless and compassionate where their progeny are concerned. Those who reject childbearing or fail to nurture their offspring directly are typed as pathological, “unnatural” women. In traditional Darwinian evolutionary biology, the female of any species has evolved to produce and nurture the species; one could say it is her only role. Feminist treatises have long argued against the necessary conflation of “woman” with “mother,” and classics such as Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born have cogently argued that such altruistic maternity is a cultural construct and not a biological given.
From a review (link above) of Hrdy’s book Mother Nature – US anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy strides into the minefield, examining motherhood across cultures, historical periods, evolutionary tracts and biological species to better understand human maternity. Hrdy’s book resides in that rare space between academic disciplines (she is a professor emerita at the University of California-Davis and she has been schooled in anthropology, primatology, evolutionary theory, history and feminism). Her work can be situated somewhere between specialist treatise and popular biological science. Hrdy’s unique placement enables her to combine the best of Darwinian evolutionary biology with feminist cultural theory, without falling into the political entrapments of either camp.
Heartening for me, as a biological/genetic mother who lost physical (but not legal) custody of her daughter when she was only 3 years old, I am reminded in this review of Hrdy’s book that stay-at-home mothers are rare in the historical and evolutionary archives; community caregiving is an age-old model of childrearing. Throughout history in primate and human communities, mothering techniques involve “allomothers”: the delegation of child caretaking to other members (male and female) of the community. “Mothers have worked for as long as our species has existed, and they have depended on others to help them rear their children,” Hrdy writes. That means I was not the abject failure I believed my self to be for over 60 years but just another kind of mother. Motherhood today often includes women who have jobs and incomes of their own. Hrdy sees this as an evolutionary process to ensure long and safe lives for these mother’s child(ren). A lack of financial resources most certainly drove me to leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother, while I took a risk to see if I could earn some decent money driving an 18-wheel truck. There never was the intention to permanently abandon my child to other people. Thankfully, as adults we are happily close enough at heart and I believe love one another as fully as any mom could hope for. It is actually the lack of financial resources that is at cause for most adoptions.
In “60 Years On, Twin/Triplet Study Still Raises Questions” – an interview of Dr Leon Hoffman by Elizabeth Hlavinka for Medpage Today looks at the ethics of that study, which began in 1960 (the documents from which are sealed in the archives at Yale University until 2065). This tells me that Peter Neubauer, who died in 2008, eventually had his own qualms about the ethics of what he had perpetrated, though he is judged to have mostly been concerned with confidentiality issues that (until open adoptions began) were the rule in commercial closed adoptions (the effects of which continue to obstruct and vex adult adoptees to this day – change comes slowly). My blog today takes it title from an observation by Dr Hoffman – that the problem with a lot of “exposés” is that we judge the past by our present values. That is an important point. He also notes that at the time of the Neubauer project, there was a prevailing belief that twins would be better off separated, if they were going to be adopted. That twins were more difficult for the mother and that it would be easier for the mother to take care of one child instead of two children. I understand. In our mom’s group, those with twins often hired au pairs to assist them in those early days.
In this interview, Dr Hoffman notes – I always tell parents of kids that I see, “How much is genetic and how much is environment?” and I always say, “It’s 100% of both,” because those two are always interacting with one another. More and more data has shown that genetic variations get very much affected by the environment. I believe this is also evident in the story about the triplets. They even admit that during that time of their own high publicity, they amplified their similarities because that is what people were curious about. It is clear that they each had unique personalities that do seem to have been affected by their adoptive parents and the differing environmental situations they were raised in. As aging adults, the two surviving individuals have very different surface appearances while retaining many similarities.
Since I have looked at mother/child separations now for several years and am against the practice of adoption generally and in favor of family preservation, I was emotionally triggered last night by thinking about the amplifying effect of separation trauma (which IS mentioned by the triplets in their documentary) as yet another separation wound for babies who grew into their humanity in the same womb. Fortunately for the children in my mom’s group, they don’t have either of those added traumas. “The twin relationship, particularly with (identical) twins, is probably the closest of human social ties,” says Nancy Segal, who is herself a twin. This is why it’s so important for multiples to grow up together. Segal, now a psychology professor at California State University, has found about 15 more sets of adopted twin children being raised by different families, most of them Chinese girls. Researchers attribute this phenomenon to China’s one-child policy, which led to the abandonment of thousands of female babies. Though China’s official adoption rules state that twins should be placed together, pairs like Lily and Gillian prove things don’t always happen that way.
I found one other article that I’m not going to say very much about. You can read the story – Stories of Twins Separated at Birth by Pamela Prindle Fierro at the VeryWell Family website. There are the two sisters – Anais Bordier and Samantha Futerman. They found each other through Facebook and YouTube. They had been raised on different continents. The article includes information about the “Jim Twins” – James Arthur Springer and James Edward Lewis who found each other at the age of 39 in 1979. And there are actually MORE stories at this link.
The important thing to learn is that every action taken, that affects another human being, has the possibility of unintended consequences and that there is always the need for a fully informed consent in the interest of human well-being. An issue with adoptees is that due to their young age, they are never able to give informed consent and therefore, their rights are never considered. This is an issue with many adoptees who feel they are treated like second-class citizens with important basic human rights withheld from them – identity and medical issues foremost. An evolving issue with donor conceptions is similar. The human being conceived in that manner had no ability to consent to the method of their conception. Realistically, none of us consents (in a human sense, but I believe we do in non-physical prior to birth as I believe we are eternal souls).
Bonding doesn’t begin at birth,
it is a continuum of physiological,
psychological, and spiritual events
which begin in utero and continue
throughout the postnatal bonding period.
When this natural evolution is interrupted
by a postnatal separation from the
biological mother, the resultant experience
of abandonment and loss is indelibly
imprinted upon the unconscious minds
of these children, causing a primal wound.
~ The Primal Wound – Understanding the Adopted Child
by Nancy Newton Verrier
This was not well understood until quite recently. It’s effect on adoptees is profound, even when the adoptive family is a good one and does everything in the best possible way for the well-being of the child. Some adoptees don’t even realize it’s effects on their own lives until well into adulthood.
In learning to understand this, I was also able to recognize the unconscious wound in a person who wasn’t adopted but had experienced a betrayal of his earliest romantic love. Decades later, an unrelated event sent this person into an emotionally breakdown, when circumstances triggered a fear of another abandonment looming. Though it wasn’t the truth of the situation or the relationship.
These two little girls, my mother’s half sisters Mildred and Javene, lost their mama when they were only 7 and 4 years old. I was startled to realize that both of my grandmothers lost their mothers when they were very young – 3 mos and age 11.
It seems that people often died back in the early 1900s of something or other but given that both of my parents were lost to their mothers through a relinquishment to adoption, I felt that not having mothers mattered.
Without the support of one’s mother, it becomes easier to lose one’s child when a woman is still very young herself. My paternal grandmother lost her first born son when she was only 23. My maternal grandmother lost the only child she ever birthed when she was only 21. It actually isn’t unusual when a mother loses her child that way to never have any more children. It is a secondary infertility that statistically has a greater risk of occurring when a mother loses her child against her will, as my grandmother did.
I didn’t realize when my own daughter went to live temporarily with her paternal grandmother while I tried to make some money driving an 18-wheel truck that it would become permanent. It did though, when her dad married a woman with a child and then they had a child together – a yours, mine and ours family.
I thought if she lived with at least one of her divorced parents it was an equivalent situation. I didn’t think I really mattered that much. Only recently has she admitted that she suffered from my absence. And only recently have I understood that I mattered more than I had imagined.
I have learned a lot about the impacts on women who lose their mother to death (which is very permanent – as was the situation for my grandmothers and my mom’s half-sisters) by reading an excellent book by that title – Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss – written by Hope Edelman. I highly recommend it for any woman who has lost her mother – even those who only lost their mother the way my daughter did or through relinquishment to adoption.
One of the most helpful of the books I’ve read in the last year was The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier. She is the mother of two daughters – one who was adopted and one who was not. Her clinical work has been with adoptees and other members of the adoption triad. With these experiences, she has come to believe that even newly born infants, when separated from their mothers, are deeply wounded and that their pre-verbal state of consciousness renders these wounds into a feeling state without the verbal context that memories require.
This has not been well understood until recently. But upon reflection, it makes a lot of sense. The gestating fetus grows inside the mother’s body. This is a very important time in both the mother’s and the infant’s lives because they are bonding and preparing for their lives together, once the child is delivered into independent life.
Any woman who has given birth, upon reflection, will realize that her infant knew her from the first moments of its life. Taking this child away from its mother causes deep anguish and sorrow. When placed in the adoptive family situation, the infant instinctively knows this stranger is not the child’s natural mother.
While in good circumstances, the child will learn to accept it’s placement into an adoptive home, deep inside there are fears of rejection and abandonment. Individual children will deal with these anxieties in one of two ways – either they will be compliant and do their best to live up to their adoptive parents’ expectations (while fearing all along that if they don’t they will be sent anyway, causing a lifelong insecurity in the person) – or they will act out. A defiant adoptee will often disrupt the family they have been placed within, causing biological or other adopted siblings to resent them and causing feelings of rejection in the adoptive parents – if, they don’t understand the source of the challenges they face in trying to parent this child.
It seems to me that as a society we don’t value our mothers and children enough. It may be that some people are not meant to be parents but I’m not convinced. If we could give good financial and emotional support to new parents, I believe most people who conceive a child, could parent them adequately and without the trauma that separating a child from their mother would cause. I believe that such separations should be rare and that only orphans need parents not related to them. Best for those would still be extended family willing to give them basic support.
In a Facebook group I belong to – Adoption:Facing Realities – I was made aware of this and it goes right along with my statement above. Within my own family’s experiences, it was always financial.
LANDMARK DONALDSON ADOPTION INSTITUTE STUDY REVEALS FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES, SOCIAL PRESSURES AND LACK OF SUPPORT – ALL FACTORS IN DECISION-MAKING FOR EXPECTANT MOTHERS
Much of the information that adoption professionals reported discussing with new expectant parents focused on adoption-related concerns rather than full consideration of all of the parents’ options. Less than half of adoption professionals specifically mentioned discussing information related to parenting their child or methods for helping expectant parents’ problem-solve how this might occur.
Recommendations included –
Mandate that adoption agencies and adoption attorneys must provide expectant parents with a standardized, informed consent that details the possible outcomes associated with relinquishment of parental rights to a child for adoption, as well as potential outcomes that the child may experience.
And this has come to my attention as well –
That pre-matching expectant parents with prospective adoptive parents can have an explicit negative and coercive effect on their decision-making.
Mature adoptees and original mothers continue to speak out in order to make a better tomorrow for more children.
Growing up adoption seemed like the most natural thing in the world. I thought my parents were orphans. Neither of these was true of course. The first bump came when my school friends bragged about being French or German. When I asked my mom what we were, she said American. I said but what else? We don’t know, she said, because your dad and I were adopted. We didn’t have the identity so many people take for granted.
As I began to learn about my grandparents, I began to suspect that being adopted and my grandmothers losing their own mothers at young ages (3 mos for my paternal, 11 yrs for my maternal) played a role in the fact that my sisters and I were not able to raise our own children. I began to suspect this strange detachment my parents had about parenting might have also been affected by our circumstances.
The impacts of being motherless daughters and being adopted did have effects. Then I learned about inherited family trauma. Our circumstances began to fall into place, began to make a bit of sense that I had not previously considered. My sisters and I were not purely failures at living, we were carrying wounds passed down to us.
Anyway, without giving too much of my story away, here’s a list of books that proved informative to me on my journey. The more universal are at the top of the list, the more personally specific nearer the bottom but all of them have proven useful to my own understanding.
 The Primal Wound – Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Newton Verrier
While written with a focus on adoption, this book offers a lot of insight into the effects of mother/child separations in general. Adoption is common in our family – Gale Patrick Hart, Julie Sue Hart, Susan Ostrowski and Thomas Patrick Parker – were each given up by their mothers for adoption.
 Motherless Daughters – The Legacy of Loss by Hope Edelman
While focused on mothers who died young and left behind daughters, a topic that appealed to me because both of my grandmothers, Lizzie Lou Stark and Dolores Abigail Hempstead – lost their own mothers at a young age; however, this book offers very deep insights into all mother/daughter relationships
 It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn
Explores the possibility of inherited family trauma. I had suspected this was a factor in our own family dynamics even before I knew about or read this book.
 The Baby Scoop Era by Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh
Details about adoption practices from the 1940’s up through the 1970s and more.
 Hole In My Heart: A Memoir and Report from the Fault Lines of Adoption by Lorraine Dusky
The memoir of a woman who gave her daughter up for adoption and then later has a reunion with her.
 Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Although fiction, she did her research on the Georgia Tann/Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal as the foundation of her engaging book.
 Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America by Jim Webb
Very good historical background of the clan in Scotland and their participation in the settlement and wars of the United States.
 The Diary of Joshua Hempstead of New London, Connecticut by Joshua Hempstead
Covering A Period of Forty-Seven Years From September 1711, to November, 1758
A glimpse into everyday colonial life by a direct ancestor through that family line.
 Memphis and the Super Flood of 1937 – High Water Blues by Patrick O’Daniel
Thorough account of that event.
 Images of America – Ocean Beach by The Ocean Beach Historical Society
Picture of The Door of Hope, a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers, is where Gale Patrick Hart was born. Image on page 116.
Even before I began uncovering my roots, I read The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption by Barbara Bisantz Raymond – just after my father died. It made me very grateful for the couple that adopted my mother. It could have been much worse. There are other books as well but these were the most significant for my own self.