Unless I Truly Try

Persistence really does make all the difference in some situations. On Sunday night, my family had a lesson in persistence. We’ve been playing Scrabble on Sunday nights and are finding while it causes our night to run late, the whole family becomes engaged and some of the problematic issues we were encountering trying to watch videos as a family are now gone. We’ve been playing with the tiny board with lock in pieces meant for traveling rather than the large, more traditional board. That small footprint works out well on our cluttered dining room table.

But on Sunday night, my youngest son dropped his piece holder. Most of the pieces stayed on the floor but improbably one piece went bouncing down the stairs to the basement. We looked forever, everywhere, and discussed giving up and playing with one piece missing. However, my son could not accept that. He suggested sending another piece down the stairs to try and determine what happened with the missing piece. I thought for certain we’d end up with two pieces missing. We didn’t lose the second piece but it did show us the missing piece probably didn’t go very far from the stairs. It was then my youngest son, who was definitely the cause of this crazy situation and very upset by knowing that, saw the piece on the floor right under the lowest stair. How we all missed that is something to wonder at. His persistence made all the difference. That word has been on my mind as a writer and I even have a book in our library with that title that I haven’t read.

Today’s story involves the persistent effort of a transracial, internationally sourced adoptee.

I have paperwork from my closed international adoption. The thing is, for many of us, we don’t know how accurate or truthful our information is. I have names of both birth parents and in 2017, I searched my birth mom’s name on Facebook out of curiosity. It was a little tricky because her name is in English but I needed to translate and search it in Hangul. A couple profiles popped up and one of them had pictures. The woman and I share so many physical similarities. So I debated and agonized over whether or not I message or friend request her. I did both. Nothing.

4 years later, I decide to try again. I messaged her this time in Hangul hoping it would help. I’ve been learning Korean since February this year in hopes of being able to communicate. I also changed my profile name to include my Korean birth name in Hangul. This was in March, still nothing. I don’t have the option to friend request her again. I know I can go through other channels to find my birth mom but I’m so discouraged already. It takes so much out of me just to even make the choice to take action. Plus, if this woman is my birth mom and I contact her through other channels, she may deny me anyway.

I know I’ll never know unless I truly try. I know I can’t and shouldn’t assume anything. I know it’ll eat away at me if I don’t eventually do this. I just wish it wasn’t this hard, scary, expensive, confusing, terrifying, and frustrating. My reality is that right now, I wish I wasn’t adopted.

One very good suggestion was this – Have you joined any Facebook groups for ex-pats in Korea? I live in Korea right now and I see people posting in the ex-pat groups looking for information about original families or unknown fathers, there’s enough people in those groups that maybe some information can turn up.

I know that in my own adoption search efforts (both parents were adopted) it did take some degree of persistence and I did not have the international complications to deal with. However, my paternal grandmother was unwed and went to a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers to give birth to my dad. His original birth certificate does not name the father. Thankfully, my grandmother left me breadcrumbs – both in the name she gave my dad and in a little headshot photo with his father’s name on the back. And I did go into some dead ends. My breakthrough came through Find A Grave and his second marriage step-daughter. She confirmed the headshot was the man she knew.

Then, DNA matching really completed the task, even connecting me to Danish relatives still living in that country who had no idea my paternal grandfather had any children. So, a task that seemed unlikely to succeed at first, eventually brought me knowledge of all 4 original grandparents – even against what seemed like daunting odds at first.

Disappointing Reunions

Worse than not having the opportunity at all to experience a reunion with the woman who gave birth to you is having one that turns out crappy.  This story breaks my heart –

Feeling so lost and broken. Although a relationship can be built, it’ll never be the same as being raised by my mom. Currently stuck in Nebraska and waiting to leave the hotel at 4 am. No point in sleeping for 3 and a half hours.  I’m stressed, hoping Uber shows up on time so I can make it to the train station in time with my 3 kids.

To make a long story short I got a ride to Nebraska last week.  My hubby’s job traveled from Chicago to Nebraska.  So I said, “Please take me with you.”  We got a hotel after begging my mom to make the 3 hour trip from South Dakota to Nebraska to see us. I had to pay for her gas and give her the king size bed in our hotel.  I slept with my 3 kids on the sofa bed.

Then, my husband’s job finished by the end of that same week.  I said to him, “You go home.  I’m gonna go back to South Dakota with my mom.  She said she’ll bring me back in her van.”

I was there almost a week and the plan was for us to leave and go home today. She texts me from her room and asks me to leave on a plane.  She can’t handle the kids.  Their noise causes her fibromyalgia pain to be worse.

I reply, “Can we wait till you feel better and you can take us home?”

She said, “No, I really can’t take it.”

So I went online to check flights.  A last minute effort is really expensive.  So I try to rent a car but I can’t because my credit card is maxed out. The train doesn’t depart from South Dakota.  I have to find a way to get back to Nebraska.

My mom’s husband drops us off at the hotel in Nebraska that my husband paid for.  He also paid for (what feels to me to be unnecessary) train tickets, but that is the reality.

This trip to reconnect with my mom cost more than a real vacation to Wisconsin Dells.

Today I feel so alone and abandoned – once again.  Sorry, but I really wish she had aborted me.  Mine was a Termination of Parental Rights adoption due to neglect and drug use.

And – she has the audacity to tell me I need to parent better and get off of my phone !?! At least, my kids are alive, well fed and loved. MY KIDS ARE KIDS.  THEY ARE NOT SOLDIERS!

I actually said, “Let’s not talk about parenting.”  LOL  I really wanted to add, “the nerve of you.”

So, I am just feeling completely broken.  This is the first time I have ever actually cried in front of my kids.  I just couldn’t control it.

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I’m just going to let this one speak for itself.  I have no words to offer but lots of compassion for the heartbreak and disappointments. 

The Sound of Love

It may be hard to imagine what a joy it is for a mother who once relinquished her child to adoption to finally hear their voice decades later.  One such story that reached me today and was conveyed like this –

“I got the call I’ve waited on for almost 31 years. More so the past 2 years.
My Son called me! 💙💗
His voice was like that of someone I’ve always known. He sounded so familiar. Almost a 2 hour phone call.  It was more than I ever imagined.💓

It may have taken a pandemic but it finally happened 🥰

And now I embark on this next rail of this roller coaster that has been my life. At least today I woke with a smile.”

Not every attempt at a reunion ends happy.  Some mothers are so devastated that they have tried to block out all memories of the unhappy experience.  They do not wish to remember what happened.

And in this time of isolating ourselves an in-person meeting may not be possible but I guarantee that someday this will all be in the past and while life may never look like it did before ever again, a new kind of normal will emerge.

An experience like the one I have shared is healing for both the mother and the adoptee when it goes so beautifully even with the complications of our current moment.  Advice for entering into such a fragile beginning –

Understand your emotions will be very intense, this is normal.
Journal journal journal.
Cry cry cry.
Yet, try with all your might not to burden your child.
Ask for their permission before you do stuff.

Adoptees had no choice regarding what happened to them. If your relinquished child comes back, be grateful for such a blessing.  Always be gentle towards both you and your child.

Reunion Disappointments

Search on “adoptee reunion disappointments” and you will come up with a lot of links.  Many adoptees, while they are children, fantasize about what their original parents were like and how they would have treated them differently than the adoptive parents raising them.  The reality cannot live up to the fantasy.

First there is the joy in discovery and finally, finally, knowing the truth of where one came from and perhaps how they came to be conceived (which may or may not actually be a very happy story).  Then there is the old “nature vs nurture” story.  How much of who we become is due to genetics and how much is due to the culture we are raised within.

Finally, there is the issue of gratitude.  Adoptees often feel like they need to be grateful to the parents that raised them for saving them from ?  That is the problem.  There is no way of knowing what would have been better.  Reality is whatever it was.  There are always issues of abandonment and rejection and fears of causing more of those wounds if the adoptee betrays the affections of those who raised them.

Here is one adoptee’s story –

Paul had spent his whole life dreaming about his mother. He imagined what it would be like to meet someone who looked like him, who offered unconditional love and who took away the empty feeling he had always carried in the pit of his stomach.

“I thought meeting her would make me whole. I had had a happy childhood but somewhere deep in my gut, I have always been hollow,” said Paul, now 42 years old and living in Kent.

But Paul’s meeting with his mother was a disaster. “I now believe you can never recreate that mother-child relationship,” he said. “Away from the dreams, the initial rejection an adopted child has suffered makes unconditional love impossible to recreate in the cold light of reality.”

“I understand why my mother gave me up but I still find it impossible to forgive,” he said. “Now I have to come to terms with the fact that I have spent my life looking for something that was never there.”

One study revealed that, eight years after first making contact, almost 60 per cent of adopted children have ceased contact with, been rejected by or rejected further contact with their birth parent.  It is rare that a birth relative rejects the adoptee.  Even so, the birth parent may have higher expectations of a renewed relationship than the adopted child, who may only want to answer questions about their own identity.

According to one survey, over 70 per cent of searchers and 89 per cent of non-searchers fail to feel an instant bond with their birth parent.  One in six new relationships break down within one year after initial contact and almost 43 per cent of relationships are abandoned within eight years.

From my own experience of discovering my genetic relations (I am not an adoptee but both of my parents were), one cannot recover lost time nor opportunities to forge closer relations.  One can only begin where they find themselves to slowly, over time, develop whatever relationship is possible.

 

Becoming Whole Again

Much of what I write here came as an unexpected side effect of discovering who my original grandparents were.  Both of my parents were adoptees and both of them died without knowing what I know now.

The journey began because my cousin informed me she had received her father’s adoption file from the state of Tennessee.  This came as a huge surprise to me.  Back in the early 1990s, my mom tried and failed to get her own.  I had hoped, since she had died, it might become available to me but that is not how sealed records work generally – and I have bumped up against them in 3 states – Virginia, Arizona and California.

What made Tennessee different was the Georgia Tann scandal.  There would have been criminal charges lodged against her if she had not died before that could happen.  The movers and shakers of Memphis political life were all too happy to let the wrong-doing die with Miss Tann.

The story had such potency, that it erupted on the public’s imagination in the early 1990s on 60 Minutes and Oprah.  A movie was made by Hallmark featuring Mary Tyler Moore as a convincing Georgia Tann.  Reunions of adoptees with their original parents started being seen on television and my mom wanted that for herself.  It was not to be.  No one told her that less than 10 years after her own efforts were denied, it would have been possible.

It was surprising to me how the dominoes began falling so easily, so that in less than one year, I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were and made contact with some surviving descendants.  Only a few years ago, I would never have predicted such a result.

It didn’t end there however.  From that new wholeness, I also began to understand deeply the impacts of separating young children or infants from their mothers and original families, how this causes a deep traumatic wound in the adoptee and how even the most well-meaning of adoptive parents (my adoptive grandparents were totally that and good people in general) can not make up for what has happened to the victims of the process.

And from all that, has come this blog.  No doubt I still have more to say as soon as tomorrow.

 

One-Sided Reunion

On her deathbed, she made her family promise to never forget her only child, whom she knew would someday return.  When I spoke to her youngest brother’s son, he vaguely remembered knowing that she had had a daughter.

Was this my grandmother as well, who used her “childish nickname” Lizzie on her gravestone ? Her second husband survived her – did she make certain he knew ?

What I do know is that my mom was almost a decade too late in attempting to locate her natural mother.  Though she learned about the Georgia Tann scandal as a teenager, for the most part, growing up, she didn’t let herself think about her natural mother, there seemed to be no use, but as an adult when stories of reunions hit the national awareness, she began dreaming about finding her.  Learning that she had already died devastated my mom, destroyed her dreams of reunion.

In my 60s, I made it to my grandmother’s grave and sat on the ground speaking to her.  I did the same at my grandfather’s grave and at my mom’s half-sister’s grave.

I have discovered in my own life that Life has a way of coming full circle. I am whole now.  I believe also that my mom finally got that reunion with her own natural mother – after she died. It’s what my heart believes and I know in my heart that my mom knows even more of “her story” now than I have yet to discover.

“The day I realized I had two mothers, I was cut in half . . .One half of myself resided here with my family, and the other half was lost, lost to a shadowy woman floating somewhere out there in the world. You see, I’m adopted.” ~ Anne Bauer, The Sound of Hope

“But there’s a story behind everything . . . behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins.” ~ Mitch Albom, For One More Day

Reunions

In the early 1990s, my mom began a process of trying to obtain her adoption file in the hopes of reuniting with her original mother.  The state of Tennessee was uncooperative but did tell her that her mother had died several years before.  My mom was devastated.

The story of Georgia Tann’s baby stealing and selling scandal of the early 1950s had re-emerged in public awareness.  There were programs on 60 Minutes and Oprah and even a movie about the woman’s life starring Mary Tyler Moore.  Tennessee was compelled by an overwhelming demand for justice to unsealed the adoption files of those directly affected by Tann’s corrupt practices but no one told my mom.

After she died in 2015, my cousin told me that it was possible to obtain the file.  She had managed to get her dad’s (my mom’s brother who was adopted from the same agency a few years before my mom was).  In October 2017, I was able to obtain this and learned the truth that we never knew about our original grandparents.

Both of my sisters surrendered babies to adoption and they have been reunited in the sense that they know us now as their biological, genetic relatives.  I have also reunited with cousins for each of my parents original family lines and so I have some sense of the complicated experience of growing up in adoptive families and then discovering the original ones.

I will be writing more generally about reunions in the coming days but this part is my own story.