The Adoption Files – Before

Just a brief note and acknowledgment – before the event. Today, I will take part in a recorded interview for The Adoption Files Podcast by Ande Stanley (or Scott as my friend is known to me on Facebook). Just after New Year’s we had a delightful “get to know you” conversation that went on quite long because we just have so much philosophically in common (though our adoption experiences could not be more different since I am not adopted and she is and I am simply the child of two adoptees) that I sent her a friend request afterwards, which she thankfully accepted.

She has a whole list of other adoptee blogs on her WordPress site titled appropriately – Adoptee Blogs.

So, I do hope I do well and help her create something useful to the general effort. I will post an update and link once I have done the interview and have a link.

Parental Impostor Syndrome

It’s one thing to pretend when you are a child, quite another when you are a mature adult trying to pretend you are the parent (though actually you are) of your adopted child. An article in The Guardian caught my attention – “Everyone knows you’re not a real mum.”

The parental impostor syndrome some adoptive parents have – that they are faking it, and will never cut it as a parent – is seldom acknowledged. The concept of an impostor syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and not feeling good enough. There are certainly quite a lot of adoptees who have felt they were not good enough in their adoptive parents perspective.

Ranee, 52, lives in south-west London with her husband and their two adopted children. Ranee is of Sri Lankan heritage and her husband’s family are from Mauritius. Because of this, it took a long time for them to be matched with their children as many councils are keen to match the ethnic backgrounds of potential parents and children.

Ranee says, “It was as if I had fake written on my forehead.”

During that time, Ranee and her husband went through a rigorous vetting process, yet when the process was complete and they were a family with children, she felt disoriented by how much she didn’t know. “I remember walking into the playground and thinking, ‘Everyone knows you’re not a real mum,’” she says, upon taking her five-year-old to school for the first time. “It was as if I had a siren above me, or ‘fake’ written on my forehead. Just trying to talk to parents on a playdate, or wondering what other kids would eat was tricky. My children were really picky eaters, and all of this made me think I didn’t know what I was doing.”

She says she had done courses and read books to try to prepare, but nothing quite readied her for the experience of becoming a parent. “I didn’t have any mum friends and I’d gone straight from working to being a stay-at-home mum. I kept thinking, ‘Does everyone feel like this? Is this how it is?’”

Ranee, a food photographer, says now that the adoption is completed, her impostor syndrome has largely gone. “Occasionally it comes back when we’re dealing with school issues, but I now have a network of friends who have also adopted and that has helped me gain some perspective.”

As well as the fact that she and her husband went from a couple to parents of two in one day, Ranee thinks anxiety about whether she was doing things “right” played a big role in feeling like an impostor. “I sometimes felt as if there was a model parent out there, but I learned to lower my expectations, and understood that my children don’t know any different. I now subscribe to ‘good enough’ parenting. I know I will make mistakes and I have to forgive myself and not get het up.

“I used to want to run out of the playground and hide under the bed. But I’ve learned that you just have to set your own standard. Trust that you will be a great parent, and fight your children’s corner. One day you’ll fail, the next day you’ll feel less of a failure, and so on, until it normalizes.” Years later, she says, things look very different. “I have two amazing kids who are teenagers, and I know they will forge their own lives, and I just want them to be happy.”

And parenting it doesn’t get any easier with more children, because each child will have a different personality requiring different methods of parenting. My sons certainly teach me that lesson all the time. One keeps to himself a lot but will eat anything I cook. The other one is socially outgoing but a very picky eater, I say he is a purest. And there’s something about being a parent in your 50s and 60s, you don’t have the physicality of your 20s or 30s.

When I was having lots of challenges with my older child, I realized it was a cry for attention. He had “lost” me to his younger brother who understandably needed nursing and diaper changing. When I realized this, I swapped with my husband when we were out with the family and even at home, spending one-on-one time with the older boy and the problems turned around very quickly.

We think we have to live up to other people’s examples but that can make us feel inadequate. All the parenting books are suggestions but you have to invent your own way of parenting, because every child is unique. Good enough parenting is a good goal. The mistakes we make give our children space to grow into better adults, things to rebel against, and it helps them forge their personality. We love our children but what is more important is to respect them. 

Don’t let your self-doubt define you. Enjoy your own parenting style because it allows you to display your authenticity to your children and gives them permission to have their own style.

What Biology Prefers

In my all things adoption group – the post acknowledges what I also believe is a fact –

Biology programs us to prefer the children we gave birth to. You can try to be “fair” but I firmly believe biology and the subconscious takes over. This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s natural instincts. What does it say about biological connection when one says they love a stranger’s natural child the same or just as much? How do biological children in the home feel about this? Is it really possible? What are your thoughts?

I remember reading once that children often physically resemble their fathers so that the man will accept responsibility and care for the family. Of course, it doesn’t universally turn out that way. Yesterday, I was looking at an old picture of my husband’s father’s parents and marveled at how much he looked like both of them in a photo nearby. My sons each have some resemblance and some of the best qualities of their father. I carried my sons during pregnancy and nursed them at my breast for over a year. While they know the truth of their egg donor conceptions, which we have never hidden from them and even facilitated their ability to contact this woman by connecting them to the donor on 23 and Me, they would seem, to my own heart, to be as bonded to me as they ever could be. I am “Mom” to them and no one could be more their mom. I may not have been able to pass my genes on to them (though my grown daughter and grandchildren do that for me) but I am their mother biologically and I do believe that makes a difference. Honesty helps as well.

One commenter posted an article at science.org titled “Do parents favor their biological children over their adopted ones?” subtitled – Study tests the “wicked stepmother” hypothesis. My daughter remains quite fond of her deceased step-mother and yet, I also know that my paternal grandmother, who’s own mother died when she was only 3 mos old, did suffer an absolutely wicked stepmother. The article notes that “Wicked stepmothers would seem to be favored by evolutionary theory. The best way to ensure the propagation of our own genes, after all, is to take care of children who are genetically related to us—not those born to other parents.”

Even so their study found that parents did not favor a biological child over an adopted one in all instances. Researchers compared data on 135 pairs of “virtual twins”—siblings about the same age consisting of either one adopted child and one biological child or two adopted children.

What does support adoptees who feel their adoptive parents did not treat them well is this detail – adoptive parents did rate their adoptive children higher in negative traits and behaviors like arrogance and stealing. Yet, it is interesting that when it came to positive traits like conscientiousness and persistence,  they scored both adopted and biological children similarly. 

This study came to the conclusion that the strong desire to be a parent—no matter the source of a child’s genes—can override evolved, kin selection behaviors that might otherwise lead parents to invest more time and resources in their own offspring.

You Don’t Want To Parent, What To Do ?

An acquaintance is pregnant and you know they absolutely don’t want to parent that child after it is born but abortion is not option for your acquaintance. As an adoption trauma informed person, what do you suggest to this person ?

Note – decisions about pregnancy can be really complex. All-Options Talkline may be a resource – (888) 493-0092.

Deciding to not parent seems easy because of what our society has ingrained in us, but the reality is birth mothers hurt deeply their whole lives from making that decision, whether they are conscious of it or not. The same with the child, it sounds so easy to adopt out a baby because “they won’t even know” but in fact they have trauma their whole life, whether they are conscious of it or not.

For those pro-Adoption people who are also Pro-Life and believe that outlawing abortion will yield more babies for you to adopt – I have some bad news. According to The Turnaway Study, 91% women who were denied wanted abortions didn’t choose adoption. The vast majority parented their child. 

And the fact is – abortion is safer than common procedures like tonsillectomy and wisdom tooth removal. And it’s certainly much safer than going through childbirth. Far more adoptees than one would think will say “I would rather have been aborted than adopted.” 90% of American women who have abortions have them in the first trimester. I am one of those. I had an abortion in the later 1970s – after already having given birth to a daughter. At the time, she was being raised by her father and a step-mother.

In the study there was an association between abortion and mental health. But it was exactly opposite to what has been said in the popular media. It’s not that receiving an abortion was associated with worse mental health, but in the short run, being denied the abortion was – so higher anxiety, lower self-esteem, lower life satisfaction. For up until the first six months, the women who were denied fared worse. They were forced to come to terms with the fact that they were about to have a baby that they had previously felt that they weren’t able to take care of. 

What are the actual implications of giving up a living, breathing child to adoption ? Adoption is not death, but it is LOSS. The grief and trauma are life long. Birthparents cannot ever escape it. Naming that child? Loving that child? Losing that child? Living the rest of their life without their child? From a birth mother – My son is 11 years old and I have never heard him speak. I don’t know what his voice sounds like. I barely know anything about him, and it all comes through a filter. Is what his APs say actually true? I don’t know. I genuinely have no way to know if my son is being loved and cared for the way he deserves. It’s honestly terrifying. It is definitely more difficult to know the child is still out there. It’s an ambiguous grief that’s hard to understand or explain.

So the answer could be kinship! Why doesn’t anyone ever think, oh yeah, this child has family on the paternal and maternal side? At least, adoptees can then stay in their genetic family. Most adult adoptees will tell you it is better than being given to strangers to be raised. It also allows the mother time to change her perspective on parenting, have lifestyle or relationship changes while remaining in her child’s life.

In fact, I talked to an adoptee recently who didn’t know she was adopted until she was in her 30s. Attempting reunions with her birth parents yielded a mother who wasn’t interested in trying to forge a relationship but on the father’s side – it turned out that there was a paternal grandparent who did want to parent her but the birth mother had blocked it.

At least family members on either side are genetic mirrors for the child to grow up around as well as the ability to hear family stories as they are passed down. History and heritage – both matter. I know. I didn’t have either until after my adoptee parents had died and I began the search to know who my original grandparents were. Not only did I learn about my cultural heritage but I’ve been given priceless family history stories and digital photos that add value to my new sense of wholeness. That real sense of wholeness was not acquired until I was over 60 years old.

Realizing the Value of DNA Testing

Getting the results of my own DNA tests (both Ancestry and 23 and Me) did NOT bring surprise results to me – in that I knew BOTH of my parents were adoptees at the time I did the tests. What was I hoping for ? Answers to my cultural identity. A question that had plagued me since public school. What are we ? I asked my mom. We’re Americans, she answered. No, I said, what ELSE are we ? We don’t know because we were adopted, she answered.

And I did get insight into what I had yearned to know from childhood. Yet, my DNA tests did something for me that I did not anticipate. As actual genetic, biological relations were found at the two platforms, my DNA test proved to these that I actually was related to them. Me, someone they never knew existed. Though to be honest, I never knew they existed either. Building relationships with people who have decades of history with my original families (the families my parents were conceived as part of) and none involving me is slow and not earth-shattering but soul warming never-the-less.

I am pretty certain I came as a surprise to some of these – especially on my dad’s paternal line. His father’s family was located in Denmark. Several of his father’s siblings as well as his father immigrated to the United States. Unfortunately, his father never knew he had a son. More’s the pity. My dad did look remarkably like his own father and they shared an interest in boats, the ocean and fishing. They would have made wonderful friends as father and son. So, that family has been the most amazed at my existence. I originally found my grandfather’s step-granddaughter who told me quite a bit about him. And only recently, I now have email contact with one of his nephews in Denmark, who has told me something about my grandfather’s early life in that country before immigrating.

With my other 3 grandparent family lines, there was some awareness of my parent’s existence. One of the first that I met shared the same maternal grandfather with me. His daughters (my mom’s half-siblings) were aware of her existence. My cousin said to me upon my emergence into her life, My mom always wondered about your mom and wanted to have an opportunity to meet her. Sadly, I barely missed this half-aunt of mine. She died only months before I began my own search into my roots after BOTH of my parents had died only 4 months apart.

Next came cousins and an aunt on my dad’s maternal line. 23 and Me outed my cousin and she wrote me in excitement, Delores or Dolores Hempstead/Barnes is my grandmother. The aunt is her mother and she was living only 90 miles away from my dad at the time he died. He never spoke to me about being adopted except that one time after his adoptive father died and my dad was going through some papers and marveled that his original surname was Hempstead. My mom did tell me that he was not supportive of her own effort to search, warning her that she might be opening up a can of worms. That has informed me somewhat about his perspective – that the people who adopted him were his parents – end of story. We did know that my granny “got” him at the Salvation Army. There is so much more to that story that I have now been able to learn and I will always believe that the Salvation Army coerced her into surrendering him to adoption as she was unwed. I’m told she regretted losing him the rest of her life. One cousin lead me to another cousin who had the breadcrumb clue that my paternal grandmother left as to my dad’s father’s identity. A few photos and some notes written on the back of these.

Though the initial focus of my adoption related searches was my mom’s Stark family line, that one took me the longest to finally connect with the children of my grandmother’s youngest brother, who I also just missed as he had died not all that long before. I did learn early on from a woman “related by marriage” who was also a genealogist that my Stark family was Scottish. She belonged to the church across the street from the cemetery where my grandmother, her second husband and her parents are all buried. My maternal grandmother was a victim of Georgia Tann and the baby stealing and selling scandal of the Memphis Branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. My mom knew some of this background information, believed that she had been inappropriately adopted (her words for what happened to separate her from her mother) and actually tried to get her adoption file (the one I now have the complete file of, including photos of my grandmother and baby mom) but was denied it by the state of Tennessee. These second cousins (as they are my age but would be genetically my mom’s cousins) had close and fond relationships with my maternal grandmother. They gave me the warm kinds of intimate details about the kind of person she was – what my heart had yearned to know since I began my own journey.

I believe I have fulfilled my destiny to reconnect the broken threads of our family’s origins – the reason I managed to be preserved with the parents who first conceived me out of wedlock (my mom still in high school, my dad had only just started at an out of town university – high school sweethearts they had been. They did marry and remained married until death did part them).

Until I began learning more about the traumas of being adopted, it was the most natural thing in the world to me. So natural, that both of my sisters actually each gave up a baby to adoption. Thankfully, I’ve met and have contact with both of these wonderful, valuable persons – my niece and nephew. It’s impossible to know how their lives might have been different if my sisters had kept them. If my parents had never been surrendered for adoption – the miracle of it all for me personally is – I simply would not have existed. I love my life and for having one at all and with my original parents, I am grateful. So, I am also grateful I wasn’t given up for adoption – it would have been the most normal thing in the world to have happened to me.

The Future Of Adoption Reform

Informed by an article at Lavender Luz

Imagine a glorious time in the future when all adoptees can get their original birth certificates and all open adoption arrangements are codified with a contract and truly open. I certainly could go further but the realist that I am will stick with these two that would be an improvement. Won’t it be great to be finished with the hard work of adoption reform?

While changes in adoption laws and policy are necessary, these alone will not make Adoption World all better. If laws were the endpoints, then the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments would have resulted in immediate equality for formerly enslaved and free African Americans. But they didn’t. Now, even 150 years later, our society struggles with these same issues.

Reforming policy and law is one necessary step, but it’s not the last step. Not until ideas of respect, empathy, and inherent value of others also take root in people’s hearts can true and enduring change happen. There are things that we do because an external force (rule or law) makes us do it, but the other comes from values we carry within our self. It’s good to have good laws; but it’s even better when those laws are followed naturally, because they’re viewed as the right thing to do anyway.

With the desired reforms in adoption, we don’t just want to see compelled behavioral change (because I have to), we want the spirit of the changes (because it’s in line with who I want to be). In reforming adoption, how can we help people move from “because it’s a requirement” to “because it’s the right thing to do?” Some of what I do is write this blog to advocate for a reformed perspective on adoption and foster care as well as some tangential issues.

To put this in adoption terms, even though adoptive parents and birth parents may have a Post-Adoption Contact Agreement, that doesn’t always mean the agreement comes from the heart. The law says one thing, but the vibe among those in the adoption constellation may say something else. The adopted child will likely sense such a disconnect when contact is made from obligation rather than a desire for connection.

Even if the law says that an adoptee can get his original birth certificate, IF the vibe he senses from his adoptive family isn’t an open one, he may actually feel as though he’s not free to get his document. He intuits the mixed message from his adoptive parents: Yes you can, but no you may not.

I have often read about adoptees who wait until the death of their adoptive parents to begin searching for their original parents? My adoptee mom waited until the early 1990s, only to learn that her original mother was dead and believed that since her original father was so much older, he had most likely died as well (and he had died, 30 years earlier). Even if the adoptee had been legally free to start looking, they never really felt free to do so. A law opening up an adoptee’s original birth certificate would be ineffective for the adoptee, until and unless their adoptive parents have given off the vibe that frees the adoptee to access it (or if that is in the adoptive parents’ possession, actually handed it over to them on request).

Ideas start big at the macro level, but implementation needs to reach all the way to the micro level, to the minds and hearts of individuals. Fortunately, much is already being done in Adoption World to bring about such changes. It is my hope that my small effort here is some part of that change.

Looking Back Before Moving Forward

It’s typically a time of the year to reflect on everything that has happened during the last year. It’s always grounding to look back and reminisce on every moment that has stood out. Our local newspaper does this every year – the first 6 months in the issue before New Years and the last 6 month in the first issue published after New Years. It doesn’t matter whether our moments have been positive, negative, happy, sad, or a mix. Every moment we live through shapes us into the individuals that we are today.

I will probably continue to try and write a new blog every day. I learn so much doing this as I don’t constrain myself to repeating my own family’s story over and over again because that really would get boring not only for me but for any readers of my blog. I often share other stories related to adoption that I come across – usually excerpts with a link to the full article. Often I make personal comments within my blog that an article triggers me to think of.

So, yes it’s also a time to look towards the future. Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “New year, new me!” but I don’t perceive anything really new about me or anything truly new under the sun that might be shared in this blog. I never know however when someone may discover an old one in a google search or come across my blog in some random way, so I don’t really expect there will be any earth shattering changes in the content that I write about. Just pounding on many of the same points over and over again, to maybe reach someone who has become receptive to the way I am viewing adoption now – thanks to so much emotional labor shared on social media by adoptees and former foster care youth. I have NO New Year’s resolutions related to my own work here, which my daughter has referred to as my seeming mission. My goal remains trying to come up with something I have not written or shared before and to do so almost every day (I do occasionally miss one). I expect that I will just keep going because I am not ready to give it up yet.

Some foster children or newly adopted ones have been through a lot of trauma. It is reasonable to understand that the holidays may have a negative connotation for them, or they have nothing to relate enjoying a holiday to. One woman writes – I know for my adopted siblings, they were able to look at the first new year that they spent with us as a clean slate. They had lived a life that no child should live before and during foster care. Since we were planning to adopt them before my parents went to meet them, this was the first time that they had a sense of stability. I understand that this is a hard concept to grasp, especially for those who didn’t grow up in the system. Imagine not knowing where your next meal is coming from, who you’re going to be with, where you’re going to be, and if this foster family loves you and willingly keeps you. These thoughts are constantly nagging in the back of their heads, but now it’s like a breath of fresh air.

And so, to you who are foster parents, it may be difficult to not use language regarding the future of your foster kids. It is completely full of unknowns and can be scary for these kids. Put emphasis on the future they can expect with YOU. It may be helpful to reassure them that you will be there for them – while they’re in your home and that you will make sure that they are taken care of.

Acknowledging that some parts of today’s blog were assisted by – How to Celebrate New Years As a New Adoptive/Foster Family? by Emily Perez a stay-at-home mom with a BS in Elementary Education from Eastern Oregon University. When she was younger, her parents did foster care and adopted 5 children from all walks of life to become her siblings.

Being A Supportive Spouse To An Adoptee

The person described in today’s story could have been my father. The difference is that he married another adoptee. Both of my parents grew up knowing they were adopted all along. They had this in common but their perspectives on having been adopted were very different. My mom yearned to know the truth of her adoption. My dad acted content with his lot in life. I suppose that these two adoptees found each other, fell in love and had the support of one another until death did part them, kept the loneliness at bay. Still, my mom did communicate to me her feelings about having been adopted because my dad was not able to empathize with her feelings.

Today’s story –

My husband is adopted. He was adopted at birth and has always known he was adopted. That’s about as much communication as he has ever had with his parents about it. His mom told me once “I just let him know he could ask me whatever he wanted to know and that was that.” Since he’s not a very big talker, he’s never really spoke much at all about his adoption with his parents. I’ve always come from the place of it being his life experience and however he wants to go through life with it, is how I will support him.

We have 4 kids. He’s an amazing dad and husband. I often wonder if I’m being a good enough wife in supporting him. I’ve read about how much trauma even the “good” adoptions have and my heart just dies inside for my husband. He has no desire to look for his biological family and says “I have a mom and dad.” I completely support him in that. Is there anything more I can do? Of course it would be easier to just keep going on with my life and not put any thought towards his mental health, since he’s always seems fine. He’s such a people pleaser (especially for his parents, which I’ve now learned is typical with adoptees). I never want him to put on a happy face for us, if he is hurting inside and I could see him doing this.

Is it actually possible to not care at all or to not feel feelings at all about being adopted? To have a happy childhood and feel no trauma and grow up and never have any of it affect your life? Because so much of what I’ve read says otherwise.

The first response was (I get this about men as well) – It’s totally possible he had a great childhood and doesn’t have any trauma, and it’s also possible he is hiding it inside, since men are socially conditioned to be that way. It’s a tough call. I can tell you it’s possible because that’s me. I have no adoption associated trauma. I’m in therapy; my therapist has tried to “get it out of me” and I’m always open to having the discussion but she closed that door once she concluded there wasn’t any trauma to work on. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I can see you truly care about and love your husband and want what’s best for him but forcing the issue may make him drive it deeper into the closet. This is a really tough and delicate situation.

And I do agree with this perspective (BTW my parents were about 8 months old and had spent time with their original mothers before they were adopted back in the 1930s) – You can experience trauma as a newborn and not remember it. It’s not always something you feel. It can just be something that affected you and you’re not conscious of it.

This could be true of my dad as well – he could have dealt with it a long time ago and just doesn’t feel the need to bring up the past. He may be in a healthy place and bringing up that trauma back up would retraumatize him because he thought he had come to peace with it. (My dad used to caution my mom against opening up a can of worms with her own yearning.)

From a voice of experience – I am the spouse of a domestic infant adoptee. I don’t think it’s your place to push, just be supportive. My husband was “fine” until he was not. It was a very, very slow process and I saw things a long time before he discovered them on his own, things like how his behaviors, such as people pleasing and his emotional response to perceived abandonment, the way his adoptive parents treated him, etc. He slowly came out of a fog, and it has been a long and painful process. That being said, not everyone has the same experience. Additionally, if he is in a fog, its something he has to process on his own. I think it could be extremely and emotionally damaging for you to spin this into any sort of realizations (if they exist) that he isn’t emotionally or psychologically ready for. Just love him, don’t push, and support him.

Morally OK but illegal ?

An adoptee’s birth certificate replacement

Has anyone seen the recent AskReddit post where the question was something like “What’s something that’s morally ok, but illegal?” Somebody said showing adoptees their original birth certificates and the comments have made one adoptee livid. Apparently, adoptees are just horrible stalkers, biological parents deserve anonymity, and how dare we upset our adoptive parents.

Here is that adoptee’s response in the comments (with a few added remarks from my own story) –

Sealed adoption records are actually a product of the past when it was considered shameful to be born “illegitimate” aka out of wedlock. Then, it became at the adoptive parents didn’t want contact with the biological parents.

It had NOTHING to do with promised anonymity to the biological parents. At least not in the United States. This is not sperm donation that we’re talking about here. And even in sperm donation they’re moving away from the anonymous donations because people WANT to know who their biological parents are.

Plus, Ancestry DNA exists (and I will add 23 and Me – both have been helpful for me to learn my true genetic biological origins).

The adoptee writes that “I guess I’m one of those horrible adoptees that you all hate because I found my birth mother 7 years ago and we have a relationship still. She said she always wondered if I was ok. And my full brother found me via Ancestry DNA.

In my own story, my mom’s half-sibling always hoped she would turn up. Sadly it never happened. My dad’s birth father (his mother was unwed) is now known to me thanks to 23 and Me and a long chain of coincidental events.

The adoptee goes on to write – F**k closed records. There are senior citizens out there whose biological parents have been dead for a while and they still can’t legally access their records or original birth certificate. It makes no f**cking sense.

I also ran up against continued obstacles in the states of Virginia, Arizona and California.

The adoptee concludes – Adoptees should not have to be stuck with this additional life-long burden to keep everyone else comfortable. We didn’t ask to be born. The adults in the situation need to understand that if you produce a child or adopt a child, then they might want to know their biological family. That’s just the way it is. Even with records being closed. It’s not right to ask us to be skeletons in the closet.