Fear of Abandonment is Real

Stephanie Drenka and genetic family

I went looking for a topic for today’s blog and found this story by Stephanie Drenka. She writes that – “I was struck by the pervasiveness of adoptive parent-focused stories. Where were the adoptee perspectives ?” The photo is from when when she was reunited with her biological mother, two sisters, and a brother.

She notes that “abandonment issues do not end in adulthood. Though I haven’t experienced divorce, I can imagine it might be similar. If a woman’s husband leaves her, even after remarries the perfect guy, she may always deal with a persistent fear that he will leave her as well. Fear of abandonment is real, and has to be acknowledged in order to resolve it.”

I have personally witnessed this issue playing out in a loved one and it had not been resolved previously. It came out at a very inopportune time but never-the-less had to be dealt with in its extremity.

Stephanie notes – Even the most well-adapted adoptee still faces moments where the trauma resurfaces. For me, that meant small things like every time a doctor would ask me for my family medical history or now, post-reunification, not knowing when I will be able to meet my biological sister’s new baby boy. And adds – I won’t go into the trauma experienced by birth mothers and families, because that is not my story to tell. Suffice it to say, from my personal reunification experience, adoptees are not the only ones who struggle with the aftermath of adoption.

She says – I love my (adoptive) mom and dad to the moon and back. They are my role models, biggest supporters, and best friends. I feel blessed to have them in my life– but please don’t presume to tell me that I was “lucky” to be adopted. Like many adoptees, my parents told me that I was special. While meant with good intention, being chosen is a burden. It puts pressure on us to be perfect and grateful. It can be incredibly emotionally taxing and negatively effects your self esteem in the moments where you can’t live up to that perfect picture. These expectations can prolong mental illness without treatment, because it may seem like asking for help is being ungrateful.

Choosing to adopt is an expensive proposition and as Stephanie notes – one mostly related to white privilege. I agree with her stated perspective – Can you imagine if the money people spent on adoption services went instead to supporting single mothers or low-income parents? Or what if adoption profits were used to benefit adoptees themselves in the form of post-adoption services like counseling, genetic testing, mental health treatment, or birth family search costs?

She ends her own essay with this – The truth about adoption is that there is no Truth. Adoption is many different things for many different people. It is love, loss, grief, abuse, hope, despair. It can sometimes be celebrated, but should always be examined through a critical and compassionate lens.

A Delicate Balance

I think it is entirely understandable for an adoptee to want to make contact with the people who contributed to their conception. With fathers, it can be a delicate balance – the how to go about it. This example illustrates some of the challenges that may be present.

I was told my biological father passed away before I was born. I have discovered that he, is alive and well. However, he is married and has children. A nonprofit found my father for me. It has been several months now that I have known and I’ve thought about it a lot. So, I sent him a Facebook message. We aren’t friends, so I know it’s a long shot he will never see it. It has been a month now. That was the amount of time I decided to patiently wait for a response. I’m torn about the next step to take. I wrote in the message that I have no intention of causing him harm in any way and I do sincerely mean that. His wife is very active on Facebook and has a public profile but it feels wrong to reach out to her. Trying to add him as a friend feels even worse. In his “about me” section, he lists a daughter but I’m reluctant to reach out to her. I have a whole lot of “who-the-hell-am-I-to-start-shit” feelings. But I am dealing with some rage. Actually, a lot of rage, though I am unclear as of yet as to exactly where that feeling is coming from.

I deeply wanted to make contact with someone in maternal grandmother’s family (both of my parents were adopted and all of my grandparents are dead, so I didn’t have such a delicate line to try and walk as this woman). I had a testy exchange once with the step-daughter of my paternal grandfather who accused my paternal grandmother basically of being a whore (though she used more polite language from a long ago public school book I had read – The Scarlet Letter). He was a married man. I don’t know that she knew that when she started seeing him.

Anyway, I discovered the lovely daughters of my mom’s youngest uncle. I did go the Facebook Messenger route and I don’t remember how long it was but literally months. I do remember when I saw a reply – it totally knocked me into bliss. They did provide me with some personal memories of my grandmother, who was they very favorite aunt, that were comforting to my heart. My parents are both deceased now but my belief that there is a continuity of the individual soul means that I do believe my parents reconnected with their original parents after death and now know more than I have discovered. It brings me some comfort.

Some of the advice the woman here received –

Messages from non-friends in Facebook can easily be lost in their labyrinth inbox system. In fact, I remember one from my nephew’s step-mother that it took me months to see. It happens and it doesn’t necessarily mean a rejection but adoptees feel a deep sense of rejection regardless from the simple fact their parents gave them up for adoption.

Another added – I would not reach out to his wife on Facebook.  It wouldn’t be fair to your biological father if you went around him.

Someone else with some success noted – I found the addresses of my biological parents using a combination of Facebook info, google searches and looking up some things on ancestry using a two week trial free pass. I think it took me two days. I hope you have as easy a time as I did.

Ancestry brought my own first real break – my mom’s half-sister (they had the same father) has only died a few months before I found her grave. I found a slide show from her memorial service and got my first glimpse of that side of my family tree including a photo of my maternal grandfather. A friend of my cousin’s posted about her mother and through her, I was put in contact with her, met her and discovered they had long wondered about my mom and hoped she would be in contact with them someday. That totally turned around my feelings about my maternal grandfather. My mom had not been very inclined towards him (I suppose feeling like he contributed to her becoming adopted which was actually true). However, that he made certain his other children knew about my mom changed my own feelings toward him. This cousin was so warm and over one afternoon, we went through the many family photo albums she left behind. I felt as though I had lived decades of that family’s life by the time the afternoon ended.

Someone added a resource I didn’t know about – True People Search is the site I usually use for addresses. White pages can be helpful as well.

The perspective from a birth mother – I would like to think that he would want to know. Maybe he wasn’t told about your existence?! Maybe he does know about you, but doesn’t know where to begin? My heart goes out to you no matter what you decide.

In support of this possibility of not knowing comes this story –  I met my birth father 2 years ago. I had been told he was a nasty piece of work by my birth mother and I should never contact him because he wouldn’t want to know me. Well turns out she never told him. I had someone on one of the lost or search for family Facebook pages help me. She located him, sent him an email once she established his email address. Now the only reason why they opened the email, is because they thought they recognized her name. She connected us. I am so thankful. From there, we did a DNA test to confirm. Then they told their 4 kids. Before the person that helped me, I had previously reached out to one of his kids, but both him and his wife both put it down as a scam. Its incredibly hard to connect with people these days because there are so many scams happening.

In my dad’s case, I don’t believe his father ever knew about his only child/son. The self-reliant woman that my paternal grandmother was simply handled her pregnancy (though she did try to keep my dad and definitely knew who the father was – it is thanks to breadcrumbs she left me in her photo album that I now know. The family has been a bit surprised to discover me – thanks to DNA matching (which really does add legitimacy when one begins to contact family who didn’t know you existed for literally decades).

An adoptee notes that the woman at the beginning of this blog is the innocent party here. It’s not her job to coddle or spare the feelings of other people. Sorry/not sorry – as an adoptee, we are told from the start to think of others before ourselves. We put our feelings and needs on the back burner and try not to rock the boat. I say rock the boat. You don’t owe anyone anything. You owe yourself peace and certainty regarding your place in this world. It’s not anyone’s job to tell you what to do or how to do it. But know first, can you go on without any contact with him. If not…do what you must.

Yet another perspective – at arm’s length but observing – in the case of my current husband… His issue was through adoption. He didn’t know his son had been put up for adoption, only that the mom had refused contact. He never told his current wife or kids about her, and so, it was a huge shock for the whole family to learn about the son. Eventually, they did build a very positive relationship. I agree that I wouldn’t contact his wife.. She’s not a party to this.

And there was this alternative approach through Facebook – my birth mother refused to respond to my contact – just left me hanging for over a year. I am firmly in the camp of adoptees having a right to know our relatives and also for them to know of our existence. So I made a Facebook group, added all my half siblings, then sent them all a carefully worded, respectful group post message. Frankly, I had nothing to lose and possibly much to gain. (They had no idea I existed.) This also prevented one person from becoming the gatekeeper, as all were told at the same time.

I will close today’s blog with this reunion story – I wrote a snail mail letter to my son, which was given to him by a search Angel that was the intermediary. (It was a closed adoption and so had to be done this way to protect privacy until release forms were signed). My son appreciated the written letter. He’s very private and so am I. Certainly, he’s glad I didn’t try to find him on the internet. This approach worked very well for us. He wrote me back. We had time to process a bit before we ever spoke on the phone. I’d keep his wife and others out of it. Go directly to him and express what you want to say with clarity and ease. I spent several months preparing mentally before I reached out. Once I did, I was ready. And fortunately, so was he.

Break The Cycle

Early on in my education regarding all things adoption (which includes foster care), I became aware of a lot of valid evidence that trauma is passed down through families. I could see how this happened in my own family.

Take my parents (both adopted) original mothers. My dad’s mother lost her own mother only 3 months after her birth and went on to endure a truly wicked step-mother. My mom’s mother lost her own mother at the age of 11. Being the oldest, she inherited younger siblings to care for, the youngest not yet one year old. Her father never remarried, which might be just as well, but I have heard now what I suspected – he was a hard man, who without his wife, didn’t know how to love. There is trauma, particularly for a daughter who loses her mother.

There are my parents who were both torn from their mothers and surrendered to adoption. My mom’s mother was exploited in her financial duress by Georgia Tann in the 1930s when social safety nets didn’t exist. After months of resisting their pressure, my dad’s mother gave in to The Salvation Army and surrendered her son to them, which eventually led to his own adoption. I’m entirely convinced that had my grandmothers had sufficient support and encouragement, they would have raised their children. It is entirely possible that had their mothers been alive, they would not have relinquished.

My parents found each other in high school. Though they both shared the backhole void of origin information as adoptees, they were not of the same perspective regarding their adoptions. My mom confided this to me because she couldn’t talk about her yearning to locate her original mother to my dad who warned her against opening a can of worms. They were good enough parents. We knew we were loved but they were strangely detached as parents. I only know this as an adult observing how other parents generally feel a long-term involvement in their children’s lives.

With me, I knew they expected me to leave as soon as I graduated from high school and so, I married and a year later had a daughter (for which I am eternally grateful). The marriage was flawed by the time I was pregnant with her and by the time she was 3 years old, I was no longer married but also unable to support us as my ex-husband refused to pay any child support (since it was my decision to leave him). Eventually, he ended up raising her. She ended up with a stay at home stepmother and for the most part, it seems to have worked out for the best – for her – but never for me. I still struggle with coming to terms with having been an absentee mother over 60 years later.

Both of my sisters gave up a child to adoption. One, considering it quite normal (and now the truth be known there was an extremely complicating factor – the father was a good friend of our dad’s), always intended to relinquish. Shocking to me was that our own mom, who struggled with having been adopted herself, pressured and guided my other sister to give up her baby for adoption – and she tried to get the support of the social safety net that existed in the late 70s, early 80s but was refused because she was sheltering with our parents while pregnant and their financial strength was used against my sister’s request for assistance. That sister also lost her first born in an ugly custody case brought by her in-laws when she divorced that child’s father.

Mostly, these children of ours are breaking the cycle and are wonderful parents. One has struggled with failed marriages but has remained solid with his own son. I hope these recent successes continue on down our family line.

Way Down South In The Land Of Cotton

It was probably a lullaby from the deep south circa 1840.

There’s a little black boy I know
Who picks the cotton from the fields
As clean and white as snow . . .

And momma sings a lullaby . . .

Don’t you fret nor cry.

Today’s topic was inspired by transracial adoption photos of a black girl in a cotton field with two large older white people. The little girl is actually depicted picking cotton in one picture. I noticed her skirt looks like an old patchwork quilt. Just because something is objectively pretty doesn’t mean you can ignore context.

My paternal adoptive grandparents lived surrounded by cotton fields and as children we loved to go out there and pick cotton. It was never a photography shoot. I grew up in El Paso Texas, on the Mexican border; and so, the slavery issues were never a dominant aspect of my life growing up (though one could argue the point that using Mexican labor was similar).

Y’all think this little girl looks happy? Her eyes are not smiling. She may be content, but many viewers doubted she is happy, especially those with adoption in their backgrounds and those most triggered, whether adopted or not, were people of color. Which is easily understood.

Some see a little girl doing what she must to survive. Adoptees have to develop special coping skills that biological/genetic kids living with their original parents can’t easily understand. Adoptees are very good at hiding their true feelings. It is noted that her smile looks forced, as though she is just doing what the photographer asks her to do.

And she may end up at odds with these people who are parenting her, when she hits her teenage or adult years because many adopted people struggle more later in life with the fact of having been adopted, than they did as children.

I really wish a black family would have adopted her.

The truth likely is that this little girl needed a loving home and was available for adoption by anyone qualified. One can question what qualifications were required.

Do these folks need to learn black history ?… yes absolutely!

The little girl appears to be healthy and thriving. The parents look proud to claim her and provide a good home and hopefully lots of love. It is known the foster care system often fails kids.

Whoever’s choice it was to do the photo shoot in a Cotton field – it was a poor choice. Giving the parents the benefit of the doubt, maybe they were just thinking of a beautiful spot for pictures of their beautiful daughter. I would prefer to assume innocence on the part of the parents and hope someone takes a minute to educate them about why the optics are horrible. The photographer should have known better. It may be a regional thing to take photos in cotton fields. Iowans do that in corn fields.

#BlackGirlsMatter