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.

If Not For DNA Testing

If not for DNA testing, I would not have revealed so much so quickly about my original family cultural roots.  Certainly, my mom being adopted in what later turned out to be a baby stealing and selling scandal gave me a quick start.  Because of that scandal, Tennessee was eventually pushed to open their sealed adoption files.  And my mom’s was rich with details even if Georgia Tann was a known liar and I did uncover some lies in that file.  Thankfully, there was enough true information that it opened up a world to me that I never expected to know nada about.  Yay !!

Both of my parents were adopted.  On my dad’s side it was trickier.  His mother had been unwed and his adoption came through The Salvation Army.  Ancestry was a big help in revealing enough details to what I already knew that The Salvation Army was then willing to reveal a tiny bit more.  23 and Me was the big breakthrough there, when a cousin received her results and contacted me to tell me we had the same grandmother.  That led me eventually to another cousin thanks to Facebook.  She had the final breadcrumb keys that my grandmother had left for me as to my dad’s father’s identity in a photo album.

Interestingly, almost a year before I received the breadcrumbs, Ancestry had identified a cousin.  He didn’t reply to my inquiry right away.  When he did, he apologized for not having a clue how we were related.  By then, I had some details about my paternal grandfather.  The man was able then to tell me that our grandparents were brother and sister.

Yes, I do believe in DNA testing and for adoptees given that half of these United States continue to refuse to unseal their adoption files, DNA matching may be the only way to learn your true cultural identity.  Today, I read another story about how this helped.  I will summarize.

The daughter of a Jewish patriarch gave birth, out of wedlock, to this person’s mother.  That fact remained a secret within the family.  This person’s mother died knowing none of this, much like both of my own parents. She was raised by another couple, just like my parents were. In the case I was reading about there wasn’t even a formal adoption or paper trail.

So it took DNA testing for this person to discover his ancestry. Thanks to that testing he discovered relatives, leading him to even more new discoveries.  That is how it was for me too.  I know of living relatives for 3 of my 4 grandparents.  With my paternal grandfather, he had no more children but he did remarry.  Thanks to Ancestry and Find-A-Grave, I came into contact with what I will call a step-cousin, who could give me some details about his life.

It is said that a recent survey showed about a quarter of the people who take these tests find some kind of surprising result.  That sometimes leads to a book about the story of those discoveries.  At the end of December, I completed the story of my own.  I am now in the process of seeking a literary agent.  May 2020 prove successful in my quest.

For more about the Jewish story I mention in my blog today, you can go to this link – https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-a-dna-test-revealed-the-family-i-never-knew-2020-01-10/

What Defines A Mother ?

Yesterday, sitting in the waiting room of our auto mechanic with an elderly woman, somehow the subject of our children came up.  She seemed shocked to hear I gave birth to my youngest son at the age of 50.  Honesty demands that I always admit that I needed medical assistance to do that and rarely do I feel that it is anyone else’s business as to exactly what that admission means.

Yet, as I contemplated writing my essay for today, I felt that I needed to be honest about the fact that my sons are donor assisted conceptions.  We have faced the issue directly this year with 23 and Me DNA kits for each of our teenage sons.  I knew that our egg donor had hers done and it is remarkable how close we are at the genetic level – as to cultural heritage and our maternal haplogroup – without actually being related at all.

I also gifted my husband with a 23 and Me kit over a year ago and then, knowing that the honest truth must be admitted to (though we have never hidden the unique details of our sons’ conception from them and told them their story at a level they could understand at a young age, as well as have taken them to meet their donor on more than one occasion) my sons were finally old enough and mature enough to get a more detailed understanding of what makes them special.

It is difficult for me as the woman who carried these boys in my womb and nursed them at my breast for over a year to see another woman listed as their genetic mother but that is the truth of the situation at a genetic level.  It was my OB, who first made us aware of the possibility of conceiving the children my husband decided he wanted after 10 years of marriage, and we had tried and we even failed to jumpstart my very last egg with a hormonal injection, who then said – “there is another way.”  It was either end a good marriage so my husband could marry a younger woman or take a leap and do something slightly unconventional.

My older son has not expressed what his feelings are about the situation.  He was contacted by a relative of the donor at 23 and Me.  I advised him to tell her to ask the donor about it.  My younger son seemed disappointed to learn that he doesn’t have any of my DNA.  My OB once explained to me, how much the gestating mother contributes to the development of the fetus – turning on or off genes and contributing to the nutritional preferences and emotional environment.

At the time my husband and I made this choice, I didn’t know anything about the issues all adoptees contend with nor about what a separation of mother and child does to an infant.  Yet, given the reality that these fine young men would not exist in any other way, I think we did the best we could to fulfill their father’s desire to have children of his own and limit any deep wounding for our sons.  I am the only mother they have ever known since their procreation started.  And I do have a daughter and grandchildren that are genetically, as well as biologically, related to me and so, I do understand what it was that my husband was yearning for.

Family That Isn’t

Ohana is a Hawaiian word which refers to a person’s extended family, which can include friends and other important social groups.  In the case of adoption, “family” is a complicated concept.  Growing up, because both of my parents were adoptees, I knew that my grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins – while perfect stand-ins for the real thing – were not actually related to me.

I was reading about one adoptee’s experience of having an older brother who was also adopted.  She says, “Even though we grew up in the same household with the same parents, I’ve always had difficulty thinking of him as my brother. He’s my family and I love him, but family is such a weird thing for adoptees. My brother and I are so different. So far apart in personality, thoughts, interests and goals. We didn’t have a single thing in common.”

And I reflected on my mom’s relationship with her brother who was also a Georgia Tann baby and I could see the truth of this.  They were never close as near as I could tell, though she did date one of his neighborhood friends in high school.  She once drove over this young man’s foot getting into the car when she knocked it out of park.  On a date with him, she met my dad at a party – and although she went to the party with this guy – she left with my dad.  It is hard to think of my mom as a teenager but I guess she was about as wild as the three daughters she later birthed.  LOL

Having learned who all 4 of my original grandparents were has totally changed who I think of as my “grandparents”.  Oh, I still appreciate the people who raised my parents and they were influential in my own life growing up.  I still love 2 of my “adoptive” aunts dearly, having become close to them all over again when my parents died.  And cousins are still in my life from those relationships.

However, I am keen now to slowly, without too much pressure, create these new relationships with an aunt and some cousins who represent most of my grandparents, though my paternal grandfather seems to have fathered no more children after my dad.  DNA and the matching sites – 23 and Me as well as Ancestry – make possible finding one’s relations that many states who still maintain sealed adoption records seek to block.  It is a new day and thanking all that is good that it is so.

No image can describe what of our fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers, remains. ~ Rumi

And yet, it does matter that they are there within us always.

Safe Haven Babies

How does one preserve the identity and heritage of a baby dropped off under Safe Haven laws ? Is this a case where adoption is the only recourse ?

Safe-haven laws are statutes in the United States that decriminalize the leaving of unharmed infants in specially designated places.  The child then becomes a ward of the state.  Safe-haven laws typically allow the original parents to remain nameless in a court proceeding to determine the child’s status.

Some states treat safe-haven surrenders as child dependency or abandonment and a complaint is filed against the parents in juvenile court. Other states treat safe-haven surrenders as adoption surrenders and void all parental rights.

Of course, eventually, the ease of accessing inexpensive DNA tests and the matching sites 23 and Me as well as Ancestry may reunite the child with some member of their original family.

Yet, in the meantime, what to do ?

Critics argue that safe-haven laws undercut temporary-surrender laws, which provide the buffer of time for parents who are unsure about whether to keep or relinquish their children. Supporters argue that anonymity protects infants from potential abuse by their parents.  Fathers can find themselves shut out of the child’s life without their knowledge or consent.

And I still do not have the answer to my initial questions  . . .

 

 

 

 

Each Small Death

. . . is just a season where a part of us is shed to make way for a new one. ~ Jonas Ellison

This quote captured something in my heart.  When I was already into my 60s, I lost first my mom and then 4 months later, my dad, to the normal processes of life that end in one’s death.  When they died, none of us knew who their original parents were.  They were both adopted and their adoptive parents were also dead.

Turns out my original grandparents were all dead as well.

But there is “new” life in me because I now know so much more about my authentic family history.  I know there is a lot of Danish in me because of my paternal grandfather who was an immigrant.  And there is a good deal of Scottish in me because of my maternal grandmother.

On my paternal grandmother’s side is a long history that includes an ancestor who wrote a journal that is still in print.  It is considered to be one of the best records of early colonial life in New London Connecticut spanning a 47 year period from 1711 to 1758.  Yes, before our Revolutionary War.  His home is on the national register and a museum now.

That leaves my maternal grandfather.  His own grandfather was 2nd Lieutenant in the Confederate Army from 1861 through 1864. He fought in the battles of Shiloh, Chattanooga and Spring Hill, as well as other less notable engagements.  There are actually Confederate connections on my maternal grandmother’s side as well.  Not that I take any real pride in that, it just is the honest truth.

All of this is “new” to me.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to know about these people but learning about them and meeting some living descendants has made me whole again.  Even though it was too late for my parents, losing them opened up the path for me to know these things about my family history.

All that to say, if you are in a similar circumstance by all means push ahead.  Inexpensive DNA testing and the matching sites that include 23 and Me as well as Ancestry are making it possible for many people who’s past was clouded by adoption to finally know who and from where their roots are grounded in reality.

 

Second Choice

It could be the worst thing about being adopted.

Everyone’s first choice is to pass their genes down to a biological child.

Even before I knew so deeply about all the complications of adoption, my husband and I considered adopting when he wanted to become a father (I had already become a mother at age 19).  We rather quickly rejected the idea and never seriously pursued it.  We chose a novel method that is not without its own complications now that DNA testing is so inexpensive and matching sites out the truth, at least privately between the affected individuals.

Adoption has often been the solution for a couple when their first choice died young and subsequent efforts to conceive have failed – known as secondary infertility.  Whether the woman has previously had a successful pregnancy or never could, some of these couples decide to adopt when all else has failed for them.

Just last night in a Season 6 episode of The Simpsons about the conception of their youngest daughter, Maggie, Dr Hibbert says to Marge – a healthy baby can bring in $60,000.  Yes, the comment did not passed but caught my attention.

 

 

To Whom Do You Belong ?

My mom was fiercely an individual, even though to all surface appearances – she was passive and submissive. I think I am, in a lot of ways, like her.

Even though she was appreciative and showed responsibility towards her adoptive mother as she aged and needed assistance, my mom knew clearly that she did not “belong” to that family.

She had to give up creating a family tree at Ancestry based upon both hers and my dad’s adoptive families because she knew clearly it was NOT “real” in the sense of genetic lineage.

Though my own work to recover each of my parents true family trees remains incomplete, I do intend to do that and thread them back into the identities I grew up with.

Most genetically based sites do not fully allow for complex relationships such as adoptive or reproductive assistance kinds of familial relationships; but because of my parents, I do recognize that DNA matters.

So in answer to the question, who do you belong to ?, I believe that both my mom and I would answer – our souls, that which created this physical lifetimes experience.

 

Secrets

I think because my parents were both adoptees and I spent most of my life with no idea of my heritage or our family’s origins, I am particularly sensitive to the need to know.  Most people take what they know about such things for granted.  Adoptees are grateful when they are able to gain such information, since so very often they encounter only obstacles, sealed records, hidden identities and struggle with a lack of family medical history when they have unusual health challenges.

So I have gifted my husband and both of my sons with 23 and Me kits.  I want them to have a clear and honest understanding of their own origins.  For me personally, it isn’t the most comfortable situation but as my own family history indicates, it is important and I understand that.

Inexpensive DNA and the matching sites of 23 and Me as well as Ancestry do out family secrets now and even 20 years ago this was not an obvious risk to keeping secret children conceived in novel ways made possible by advances in reproductive science nor does it keep secret the relationships of adoptees to their true genetic relatives.

I think it is all for the good because genetics is now proving that DNA has more influence than previously believed.  A book – Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are by Robert Plomin – makes a persuasive case for the primacy of genes over environment in shaping our individual personalities.  The genetic influence is great even in areas we’d hitherto assumed were almost entirely environmental.

So, you may need to reconsider those “secrets” you thought possible to keep from your children because chances are, they will know the truth for themselves eventually and if they didn’t hear it from you, they will likely feel they were deceived.