A Reunion That Came Almost Too Late

David Rosenberg and Margaret Katz

50 years after the unwed teenage mother gave birth in a maternity home and lost her son to adoption through the Louise Wise agency, mother and son finally were reunited not long before David died of thyroid cancer. She was a victim of the baby scoop era. Their story really isn’t all that remarkable to anyone who has been deeply researching all things adoption for any length of time.

However, thanks to a new book – American Baby: A Mother, A Child, And The Shadow History Of Adoption by journalist Gabrielle Glaser recently published, their story joins legions of others who have endured similar trajectories. And like many others, the revelations they were hoping for came by way of inexpensive, publicly available DNA testing. In this case, 23 and Me.

The journalist was working on an article about kidney transplants in 2007 when she met David Rosenberg. He admitted to her that that one reason he’d agreed to media coverage was his dream that “somewhere on the vast internet,” a young Jewish woman who’d given up a baby for adoption in 1961 would see his picture, “his black eyes, his thick, strong hands, cleft chin, and broad smile” — and recognize her son. Even so, it would be another 7 years before his dream came true.

There was a woman, Margaret Katz, who had a matching dream of finding the son she lost in 1961, when she was a 16 year old and rather than let her marry her high school sweetheart, her parents sent her away to a maternity home on Staten Island. These stories hit “close” to home for me personally. My mom was that 16 year old unwed mother. Her high school sweetheart was my dad. They have both passed away. I sincerely believe that if my dad’s humble adoptive parents had not intervened to encourage him to forgo his dreams of a college diploma (which he had only just embarked upon) and marry her, I would have been adopted similarly. In learning about the stories of both of my parents, both of whom were adopted, the surprising realization for me has been the miracle I was not given up, that my mom wasn’t sent away by her banker dad and socialite mother to have and give me up.

Many people have heard about the Georgia Tann scandal involving the Tennessee Children’s Home in Memphis Tennessee. She was involved in my mom’s adoption. Some people may have been aware that The Salvation Army was known for its own homes for unwed mothers. My dad was born at their Door of Hope in Ocean Beach, a suburb of San Diego, California. Some people are aware of the role that Catholic Charities has played in the adoption – for profit – industry. Some may have watched the old movie, Blossoms in the Dust, about Edna Gladney who also became renown for facilitating adoptions.

In the case of David and Margaret and the new book, it is the Louise Wise agency – which I have had less awareness of except – oh yes, there were the relatively recent revelations known as “Three Identical Strangers,” about triplets separated at birth as part of a nature vs nurture study. Louise Wise is notorious for the medical and psychological analyses, hare-brained experiments on newborns, that she is pilloried for today. In the meantime, having separated the baby from the mother (who wasn’t even allowed to hold him after his birth), these infants were kept in foster care for months, while the agency extracted money from hopeful adoptive parents, who had to pay to remain on waiting lists. 

Many adoption agencies lied, as I now know Georgia Tann did in the case of my mother. They would often obscure the race of a baby. (Since most white couples wanted white babies, biracial children often languished in foster care till adulthood.) They lied about how they came by a baby (if they had snatched the baby from a Native American reservation, for instance). They also embellished the biographies of the baby’s birth parents. And this is what happened in my own mother’s case – where her poverty stricken parents were presented as unfortunate college students who got caught by pregnancy for having sex before marriage (all of that untrue and they were married but separated).

In the case of this new book’s story, Louise Wise wrote that Margaret was a gifted scholar who wanted to continue her studies at a prestigious science school (untrue), and that George was a fair-skinned, freckled college student (he was swarthy and still in high school). Couples who couldn’t conceive were so desperate for a child that they didn’t ask questions.  Also true of my own mother’s financially comfortable parents when they adopted her, only to later discover what they were told and some of the information in the surrender papers was contradictory. By then she had been in their home for a couple of years and they were not going to give her up, though they lacked complete peace of mind about her pre-adoption circumstances.

I don’t know if I will actually read this new book. I’m certain it is a good one and it is easy to find rather detailed reviews simply by doing a Google search. I’ve just read so many and I have more or less moved on from that intensive research period I went through myself, as I learned my own parents pre-adoption stories.

Baby God and DNA

DNA testing has helped a lot of adoptees finally know the truth about their origins. Today, a review of a documentary titled Baby God caught my attention.

Cathy Holm was newly married at age 22, settling into a new home in Las Vegas, Nevada, and struggling to start a family. It was the early 1960s, and infertility was a largely taboo topic; devoid of options, she looked up a doctor listed as a “fertility specialist” in the phonebook. Dr Quincy Fortier, a respected obstetrician who opened Las Vega’s first women’s hospital, had a record of helping couples achieve a viable pregnancy, and promised to inseminate Holm with a sample of her husband’s sperm.

Decades later, in March 2018, Holm’s daughter, Wendi Babst, bought an ancestry kit to celebrate her retirement as a detective in the Clackamas county, Oregon, sheriff’s office. Like many Americans, Babst was hoping to glean a comprehensive picture of her genealogy, but she was unnerved by her DNA test results: numerous close matches, despite no known first cousins or half-siblings, and the repetition of a name she hadn’t heard of, Fortier.

The database unmasked, with detached clarity, a dark secret hidden in plain sight for decades: the physician once named Nevada’s doctor of the year, who died in 2006 at age 94, had impregnated numerous patients with his own sperm, unbeknownst to the women or their families. The decades-long fertility fraud scheme, unspooled in the HBO documentary Baby God, left a swath of families – 26 children as of this writing, spanning 40 years of the doctor’s treatments – shocked at long-obscured medical betrayal, unmoored from assumptions of family history and stumbling over the most essential questions of identity. Who are you, when half your DNA is not what you thought?

What was once the work of combing through records – birth certificates, death certificates, hospital archives – DNA testing sometimes becomes an inadvertent Pandora’s box of secrets. It even happened in my own family. A father named on the birth certificate turned out to be a lie as my youngest sister hid the awkward reality of how and by whom she became impregnated. It took ancestry that didn’t add up with the lie and private investigation and DNA testing to prove who the real father was. In my own marital relationship, we used assisted reproduction to have our sons. Thank goodness, DNA testing through 23 and Me has proven that their dad is the dad we thought they have.

Before inexpensive DNA made it possible to uncover one’s relations, there was a phenomenon of fertility fraud performed by at least two dozen American doctors. Though Dr Quincy Fortier never lost his medical license (he died in 2006), he did acknowledge his paternity of four children who were part of a quietly settled lawsuit in his will, and left open the possibility that more biological children would later be revealed.

A cavalier, brash attitudes toward sex and reproduction seems to have been one manifestation of widespread attitudes toward female fertility: a “doctor knows best” attitude, belief that women don’t need to know, the end justifies the means, all coupled with the lack of frozen sperm (which didn’t become common practice until the 1980s). Looking for answers from the legal system for this kind of fertility fraud is kind of misguided because it’s always been illegal. It’s battery, it’s malpractice, bottom line – you can’t put something in someone’s body without their consent.

The documentary Baby God premieres on HBO tonight (December 2nd).

DNA and Facebook – Hope for Adoptees

For the last 24 hours, I’ve been absorbed in an adoptee search story going viral on Facebook. My friend in The Netherlands alerted me, knowing it would be of interest. I can’t keep up – at the time I am writing this – there have been 3,000 comments and 60,000 shares.

It is the story of a coach and a cheerleader, never married. She went out of state to her aunt’s when she learned she was pregnant. As an adoptee, she was comfortable surrendering her child to adoption and the father was not ready to take on raising a child himself. I joined the thread when it was still early enough to connect with the adoptee doing the search.

Like my mom and my self, Ancestry isn’t always helpful, at least not quickly and not until one has more complete information (names and locations) than the minimal information the agency in California was willing to give this woman. Also, Ancestry does not have a lot of records newer than the 1940s. This woman was born in 1977. We are becoming friends because, though our stories are different, we have a lot in common.

Already, there seems to be strong evidence that the father has been identified and may have lived out his life in Eldon, MO. This is particularly interesting to me because my adoptive maternal grandmother’s family originated in that geographical area, so I do have some sense of the place. My grandmother’s father founded the town of Eugene, which is located nearby. My adoptive maternal grandmother was a double cousin to Maudie, who lived in Eldon at the time I met her. Their parents were brothers and sisters who married brothers and sisters and they grew up on farms walking distance apart.

If this man (who seems quite likely to be the father) is indeed the father, the sad news is that he has died. However, he did have another daughter during his life. A good friend of mine got a big surprise when her mother died and she found out that the man she had been told was her father – wasn’t. She has since located and reunited with a half sister and they are so much alike. This is a joy that softens the shock of her own discovery.

Like the adoptee doing this search, my mom wanted to find her own mother. By the time she made the effort with the state of Tennessee, her mother had died. That devastated my mom. Tennessee denied her the adoption file but the law had changed by the time I tried and I now have that treasure trove of information. After my mom and dad (both adoptees) died, I went on my own journey of reunion because my family still knew next to nothing about our origins. Ancestry helped me with some background information about my mom’s dad. By then, I had learned from exploring Ancestry about his children by his first wife. I visited his grave in Pine Bluff, Arkansas only to discover my mom’s youngest half-sister buried nearby. I had only missed meeting my aunt alive by 2 months.

This led me to an Ancestry page for my aunt. I sent a private message and the surprise was that it was answered by the best friend of this woman’s daughter. She put me in touch with my cousin. I did spend an entire afternoon with her. She had all of her mom’s photo albums and by the time the afternoon had ended, I felt like I had lived decades within the family.

23 and Me eventually led me to discover who my dad’s father was. His mother was unwed, he was given her surname at birth. I thought it would be impossible to ever know who he was. A cousin did 23 and Me, which put me in touch with another cousin who had my paternal grandmother’s photo albums. She had left breadcrumbs as to my grandfather’s identity there that did end up being the lucky break that revealed him.

Never think it is impossible to re-connect the threads of your identity, even when states seal adoption files and the agencies involved refuse to give you identifying information. Not all searches are successful or happy, however, reading through some of the entries on this woman’s now viral search thread on Facebook, I have been heartened to see so many adoptees have shared their own stories of how DNA brought them success with their own searches.

Assisted Reproduction

Breanna Lockwood with mother Julie Loving

The 51-year-old woman served as the gestational carrier for her daughter and son-in-law and gave birth to her granddaughter. The newborn, named Briar Juliette Lockwood, is the first child for Lockwood and her husband, Aaron, who are the baby’s biological parents.

These kinds of stories based upon the miracles of assisted reproduction, always raise opinions. Among those who have dived deep into such issues this is considered, for the baby herself, probably one of the best possibilities that such medical capabilities produce.

I had my daughter at the age of 19 in all ways conventional. That marriage ended. I remarried and after 10 years of marriage, my husband informed me over Margaritas at a Mexican restaurant that he had changed his mind and actually did want to become a father.

It was too late for me. I sorrowed he had married such an old woman. Then, medical science made it possible for us. I carried, birthed and breastfed 2 sons thanks to the gift of another woman’s eggs. I gave birth at 47 and 50. There are times it comes fully upon me how old I’ll be (70) when my youngest is 20. However, my husband has been every bit the awesome father I thought he would be. Because of financial circumstances, my daughter did not live with me past the age of 3 but was raised by her father and step-mother. It was my second chance to prove to my own self that I wasn’t a failure as a mother.

Both of my parents were adoptees and both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption. In the short 3 years that I have been able to learn who all my original grandparents were (something my own parents died not knowing), I have been in this group and read so many books and while I do not think surrogacy is a good idea due to mother/child bonding in the womb and the separation that occurs after birth, I have known of two couples that did choose that route to becoming parents. It really isn’t my business but I do have concerns.

While our method of becoming parents is not perfect, we’ve always been honest with our sons about their conception. They are connected to the egg donor via 23 and Me and have met her more than once. She lives far away and so the relationships are not close. I am grateful I had the opportunity to parent, even so late in life.

Carmen Martinez Jover

Here my newfound values related to all things adoption and foster care bump up against my decidedly new age tendencies and personal experience.  It’s always about the bunnies in my household.  Though these bunnies have human hands.  Oh my.  That part is a travesty.

The adoption group I am a part of does not appreciate Carmen Martinez Jover because of her books on adoption.  One adoptee writes – “My thoughts to you Carmen Martinez Jover: I did not chose this, I did not want this, I reject this, fuck adoption!”  This is tough ground.  I am not an adoptee but I know too much now to ever dismiss the feelings and trauma an adoptee experiences in being separated from the mother in whose womb they grew.

Her books seek to explain adoption to adopted children.  She and I also share an interest in past lives.  The manuscript I have in process is actually about reincarnation and being given a mission to deliver a message in a Syrian refugee camp.

As a matter of fact, her theory is that adoption occurs by the choice of the child’s soul.  This is hard because we really can only theorize about consciousness before physical life.  However, due to my own personal beliefs, I find it difficult to criticize her on that point.  I see this belief structure as being about empowerment, not fault finding.

Here’s one quote –

“The soul is with its soul group, then goes and visits the Elders who give the soul advice on how to be happy when it’s born. The soul is then shown glimpse of possible lives and chooses the parents it wants. Understanding that it cannot be born in a conventional way and is born in another woman’s womb and with the help of adoption lives happily with its chosen parents.”

I do realize that such thinking is not for everyone.  Jover has experienced infertility firsthand and is a fan of Dr Bruce Lipton, who I once met in person and also deeply appreciate.

What I do know about adoption has led me to feel that, of all the options for addressing infertility, egg donation is the kindest to the child.  That is my lived experience thus far.  My obstetrician suggested it to my husband and I when an attempt to jumpstart my very last egg failed.

I would not call it a fully informed decision based on what I know now.  Both of my sons know as much as they are interested in as teenagers about their conception and we are fortunate because the egg donor for each of them was the same woman.  There is some sadness in my youngest son that he doesn’t have any of my genes, though my emotions and the foods I ate throughout his pregnancy contributed to the body his soul inhabits.  My sons would not be who they are otherwise.  This is the bottom line truth.

There is some adjustment needed in my own feelings and emotions as we have all done 23 and Me.  My grown daughter (who is biological to me and my first husband and thus carrying our genes) is also there at 23 and Me.  I see her shown accurately as my daughter.  That feels good.  But I do not see my sons.  The woman who donated her eggs also has a 23 and Me DNA result account and she is shown as their mother.  Genetically, that is the truth that I can’t deny.

This is the world modern medical science has made possible.  I loved my pregnancies with both sons.  I loved breastfeeding them each for over a year.  I love that I have been here for them from day one and will continue to be in their lives until I die (hopefully, before either of my boys).  It means a lot to me to have mothered them because I have faulted myself for being a horrible mother.  Due to poverty and my ex refusing to pay child support, my daughter ended up living with him.  He remarried a woman with a daughter and together they had a daughter.  This gave my daughter a family with two sisters, the same family structure I grew up within.

I paid a steep price for not raising her, I lost so much and know it, and I continue to pay a price for the choices I made as a young adult.  Though I have a good relationship with my daughter now, her childhood wasn’t as good as I once believed but I didn’t know the truth then.  Just like once upon a time I didn’t know anything about adoption.  Just like I never saw inexpensive DNA tests changing everything for donor conceived children.  I do still believe in eternal souls.  I do believe there is much more to this thing called Life than any one person can know or understand.  Only the “All That Is” intelligence can know that.  Some people call that God.  I am good with whatever anyone wants to call what I have discovered for myself somehow exists.

When There Is Another Mother

Cinderella and her Step Mother

Step-mothers have an enduring place in the societal imagination and like natural mothers they come in all types from loving and kind to cruel and indifferent.

I often relate to original mothers who have lost a child to adoption.  In my case, I lost custody unofficially to my husband when he remarried a woman with a child and they proceeded to have another child.  Because my daughter grew up for the most part away from me, I suffered every bit as much as any mother who has lost awareness of her child’s day to day life.  I am grateful that I continue to have my daughter’s presence in my life though it is mostly at a distance and that for the most part our relationship is a good one with no more than the usual number of bumps along the road of our life’s path and unfolding.

When I was on a path of discovering who my original grandparents were, a big breakthrough was learning that my dad’s unwed mother had subsequently married and what her married name was.  I learned that thanks to finding a copy of a will on Ancestry.com that was her step-mothers.  It was clear between the lines that there was some kind of rupture in the relationship of the step-mother with her husband’s children by a previous wife who died when my grandmother was only 3 mos old.

When I discovered a cousin with the same grandmother thanks to 23 and Me DNA testing, she told me stories she had heard about my grandmother’s life with her step-mother.  How the step-mother would tie her to a tree in a lightning storm either to scare my grandmother into being compliant or in the hope the tree would get struck and eliminate the life of my grandmother.  Who can know now?  But it was traumatic for my grandmother.  Also that her step-mother put her to work in a rayon mill, barely a teen, in Asheville N Carolina when they migrated there from Oyster Bay Long Island.  Her step-mother would take the money she earned to assist the family’s financial support and while that is not unusual in itself for a family in poverty, it was still yet another area of conflict between them.  So my grandmother “divorced” her family in effect by refusing to return to N Carolina and instead stayed in La Jolla California with her aunt.  It was there that she met the father of my dad.

I was reading this morning about step-parent groups are as mean and nasty to original parents as some foster/adoptive parent groups.  I suppose it is a type of insecurity that would drive someone to bash the child’s original parent, want to erase the child’s original parents and want the child to replace those with the step, foster or adoptive parent by insisting the child call them mom or dad.  My daughter tells me that her step-mother always insisted my daughter maintain a relationship with me.  I can only guess regarding some of the less than happy thoughts my daughter may have had about me from time to time but as I said, I am thankful for the relationship I still have with my daughter.  Her step-mother died some years ago.  My daughter still honors her memory.  At the same time, I feel less competition, if that is the proper word for it.  I have tried to heal my own wounds around the situation.

One step-mother admitted that she hates it when her step child calls her by her given name. She has to explain to other people hearing that, why her step daughter doesn’t call her mom and is personally embarrassed. She thinks it’s disrespectful of her step daughter because this step-mother accepted her step daughter as her own child. She considers her step daughter her daughter.  I think the most hurtful thing that ever reached my own ears related to my daughter’s step-mother is that she told my daughter that I gave birth to her so that the step-mother could have her instead.  Not an exact quote but close enough.

Regarding these online groups, one woman said of the mommy groups and step parent groups that they can be awful. The entitlement. The control issues. When you marry someone with kids, the kids have parents already. You’re accepting the ex and the child or children. It is very important to never bash the ex partner who is also the child’s parent or have unrealistic expectations about how your step-child relates to you. You came into the child’s life uninvited.

Much the same applies to adoptive and foster parents as relates to a child’s original parents.  Many wounds come from this negativity in an effort to build up one’s own ego.

When To Test

I read about a situation today where the genetic parents of a toddler who has been adopted want the adoptive parents to have the child’s DNA tested so that family connections are available for that child.  This is within a diverse adoption community and the responses were diverse as well.  It is true that in getting our DNA tested we have no idea how that identifying information may be used in the future.  Many of those commenting thought it should wait until the child was old enough to consent.  Many suggested the genetic parents do the tests so that it is out there if or when the child wants it.  Some believed it would have been helpful to them to have this information while they were yet a child.

I’ve had some experiences with adoption or donor conceived and DNA testing experiences.

Both of my parents were adoptees. I’ve done both Ancestry (my mom also did this one but it didn’t help her and yet, has been invaluable to me for learning ancestral relationships and my genetic family’s movements over time) and 23 and Me. Both have helped me be accepted by genetic relatives who might have doubted me otherwise. I’ve been able to make a few “good” connections and have a better sense of some of my family thanks to stories and photos shared. As to developing relationships with people I lost over 6 decades getting to know ? It is slow going though everyone has been nice to me.

Now on another front . . . both of my sons are donor egg conceived. We’ve never hidden this aspect of their conception from them and they have met the donor on several occasions. Fortunately she has an amazingly good perspective on it all. I waited until the oldest was 18 to gift him with 23 and Me. I knew the donor had done that one and before I gifted my son, I gifted my husband. After the older one received his results, I gifted the 15 yr old as well. He is mature and there was no reason to exclude him. It is uncomfortable but the GENETIC reality that the donor is listed as their Mother. They grew in my womb, nursed at my breast for a full year and have known no one else as “mom”. They seem to have processed it well as far as I can tell. Thankfully.

The adoptive mom of my nephew did Ancestry using only initials to identify him. It turned out (and she helped him in discovering this), my sister lied about who the father was on my nephew’s birth certificate. The Ancestry DNA test was their first suspicion. The effort though came at the nephew’s desire to know. He has since met his genetic father several times. They look remarkably alike and now my nephew has certainty.

My niece (child of a different sister) was also adopted and is going through some frustrations over her DNA results though her mother has given her the name of the genetic father. It can be a complicated and confusing experience.

There is one other nephew who was raised by his paternal grandparents. My sister lost custody in court when the paternal grandparents sued to possess him. This child is of mixed heritage – both white and Hispanic. He was raised in a very Hispanic family. His DNA shows a beautiful diversity.

No solutions, simply thoughts and examples.

Family Contact Matters

I understand this as the child of two adoptees.  The adoptions for both of my parents were closed and my parents both died knowing very little about their origins or the details behind why they ended up adopted.  Since their deaths, I have been able to recover a lot of my rightful family history.  I now know of genetic relatives for each of the four grandparents.  It has been quite a journey.  It wasn’t easy (though maybe easier for me due to our unique circumstances than for many) and it required persistence and determination to see it through.

Certainly DNA testing and the two major matching sites – Ancestry as well as 23 and Me – were instrumental to my success.  Since the genetic relations I was coming into first contact with had no prior knowledge of me and I am well over 60 years old, seeing the DNA truth that I was related to them, I believe it mattered.  It is hard to refute when it is right there clear and certain.

My mom had four living half-siblings on her father’s side when she was born.  One died young of a sudden heart failure.  I barely missed getting to meet my mom’s youngest half-sister by only a few months.  I was lucky to connect with her daughter who had all of her mom’s photo albums and possession of a lot of family history, including written accounts.  One afternoon with her and I felt like I had lived my Moore family’s history.  The family photos I now have digital copies of are precious treasures.

Though my Stark family was the first I became aware of and within a month, I had visited the graves of my grandmother and her parents east of Memphis in Eads Tennessee, those living descendants were the last I finally made a good strong connection with.  The reality is that I simply can’t recover 6 decades of not living with the usual family interactions with my true genetic relatives.  All I can do is try and build relationships with whatever time each of us has left.  The personal memories of my grandmother that my mom’s cousins possessed (she was our favorite aunt, they said) made her come alive for me.

The Salvation Army was somewhat forthcoming with information about my father’s birth at one of their homes for unwed mothers in the San Diego California area just walking distance from the beach and ocean.  They were able to give me my father’s full name and the missing piece of how he got from San Diego to El Paso Texas where he was ultimately adopted.  Once I knew my grandmother’s first married name (born Hempstead including my dad, later Barnes, Timm at death) and a cousin did 23 and Me, my discoveries were off and running.  Her mother, my dad’s youngest half-sibling, was living only 90 miles away from him when he died.  Mores the pity.

I thought I’d never know who my dad’s father was since his mother was unwed but the next cousin I met who I share a grandmother with had her photo albums and she left us a breadcrumb.  Clearly she had no doubt who my dad’s father was.  His father, Rasmus Martin Hansen, was an immigrant, not yet a citizen, and married to a much older woman.  So, he probably never knew he was a father and that’s a pity because I do believe my dad and his dad would have been great friends.

I now also have contact with my Danish grandfather’s genetic relatives.  If it had not been for the pandemic, they would have had their annual reunion there in Denmark.  I haven’t heard but I would not be surprised to know it is postponed.  My relative (who I share a great-grandfather with – my dad being the only child of my grandfather) planned to make the Danish relatives aware of me.

To anyone who thinks not knowing who your true relatives are – if the adoptions were more or less good enough, happy enough and loving enough – I am here to tell you that not knowing anything about your family (including medical history) and being cut off from the people you are actually genetically related to DOES matter.  Adoption records should be UNSEALED for ALL adult adoptees at their request.  Sadly over half of these United States still withhold that information.  I know from experience as I encountered this problem in Virginia, Arizona and California.  If my mom’s adoption had not been connected to the Georgia Tann, Tennessee Children’s Home Society baby stealing and selling scandal, I would not have gotten my first breakthrough.

It Is Odd Now

Twenty years ago Genealogy was not a consideration in my own mind.  After 10 years of marriage, my childless husband decided he wanted to have children after all.  For those first ten years, he was glad I had been there and done that and there was no pressure on him to become a father.  We had seen a short news piece that said that woman who conceive at an older age live longer.

Over Margaritas in a Mexican restaurant he boldly told me that he wanted to become a father.  My mouth fell open in amazement and then I said “okay”.  So began our adventure together.  We used ovulation kits and did it faithfully as much as possible at the appropriate times.  Nothing resulted.

One day at my general practitioners office in consultation about my cholesterol with the nurse practitioner, I told her about our efforts to become parents.  She said to me, “I’m not saying you are infertile but at your age you don’t have time to waste.”  Then recommended her gynecologist to me.

I made an appointment and just before that we saw another news piece that informed us of our low odds of success at my age.  I was devastated and went to the place where I often poured my heart out to my God, the place where I had stood to marry my husband, and lamented that he married such an old woman.

At the gynecologist’s office, we saw on ultrasound that I had an egg developing, so the doctor prescribed a shot to jump start my chances.  It was the very last egg I ever produced.  When the doctor’s effort failed, he said there is a way and we rejoiced.

Thanks to advances in medical science we have two wonderful sons.  When they were conceived I knew nothing about my own genetic roots and so it was not an issue to me.  Fast forward twenty years and inexpensive DNA tests are available.  My whole family has had our DNA tested at 23 and Me.

On my page there, I see my daughter, my nephew and a whole slew of cousins.  I have also been able to discover who all 4 of my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted and died knowing next to nothing about their own origins – my mom did have her DNA tested at Ancestry, as did I, but it didn’t help her during her lifetime).

I carried my sons in my womb and they nursed at my breast.  No one could be more their mother than I am.  I’ve been with them almost every day of their lives, though I have had to be away from them occasionally.  My husband has never been away from them.  He is genetically related to them.

It is odd to wrap my own mind around the truth.  They are not related to me genetically nor to anyone else I am related to genetically.  There have been times, when in an argument with my husband, I have felt keenly he has more right to them than I do.  Even so, I love them with all of my heart.  My youngest son did lament to me that he has none of my genes but he would not exist otherwise.  The reality has to be absorbed by each of us.  In fundamental ways, nothing has changed.

Robbed Of Heritage

The symbolism in this painting calls to something very deep within me.  It is a painting by Barbara Taffet. In 1973, she reinvented herself as Maria Alquilar, a Latina artist whose fictive back story included a Sephardic Jewish father from Argentina. Drawing on her deep knowledge of world myths and spiritual traditions, filtered through her own personal mythology, she began creating idiosyncratic works inspired by the work of the California Sacramento-Davis area narrative expressionist, outsider and funk artists she admired and collected.

Adoption robs us of our actual cultural heritage.  All my life until very recently, I believed my dad was half-Mexican and my mom possibly half-African American.  They were both adoptees and for what little we knew about our familial roots, we could claim any story we wanted and not even our own selves knew whether it was true or not.

So along came inexpensive DNA testing.  Both my mom and I had ours done at Ancestry.  Later on, I had mine also tested at 23 and Me.  My mom has some Mali in her and so, I suspect slavery had something to do with that.  My dad’s dark complexion actually came by way of his Danish immigrant father.  I have learned there is some Ashkenazi Jew in me and suspect that comes via a family that lived for generations on Long Island New York.

Why does this painting call so deeply to my soul – there is that Jewish symbol and there is the Southwestern symbols as well.  There is a predator protecting it’s prey – my maternal grandmother was preyed upon by Georgia Tann, the famous baby thief of Memphis Tennessee.  And it is always about the bunnies in my household.  The angelic image at the top is more like a Jackrabbit which fits nicely with my New Mexican birth.

In many transracial adoptions, the very young child is not only cut off from their cultural heritage but loses contact with their native language.  It may be difficult to understand how disorienting that is but I get it.  It’s time to change the rules of the adoption game.