Love What Matters

A friend wrote me yesterday after she saw my blog about her whole hearted love for her adopted grandchildren. I don’t doubt she does. I never doubted that my grandparents – all 4 of them – who adopted both of my parents, loved me as much as any grandparent ever could have. I can’t judge fairly my parents relationship with their adoptive parents. Certainly, it was our reality. And without a doubt I would not even exist had my parents not been adopted.

I will admit that at this point in my journey through life I don’t feel warm and fuzzy about adoptions – especially domestic infant adoptions from an unwed mother. I do understand that drug addiction results in children being removed from the parents and because I have experienced a spouse with a serious drug addiction, most likely accompanied by alcoholism, I do understand. I do believe that as a society, we could do a much better job of supporting people so that they might recover from addiction (not all will and that too is a reality) and to preserve their families intact but we don’t and that probably won’t dramatically improve in my lifetime.

I accept that adoption is unlikely to go away in my lifetime. I can continue to highlight those issues that I believe need reform, as I continue to learn more about the situation overall. I will admit I don’t KNOW all either. I do know that EVERY adoptee, whether they are aware of it or not, has some degree of separation wound. A feeling of abandonment and/or rejection. It is unavoidable. Sadly, some children are harmed and/or wounded by the parents who conceived them and/or the mother who gestated and birthed them. I won’t argue about that with anyone.

So this is simply an effort to clarify where I stand on the related issues.

A Sad Reality

Adoptees are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than non-adoptees are. Why is that ? Maybe because being adopted is not all unicorns and rainbows.

So today comes this sad story.

I work in animal rescue because I couldn’t handle working for the Department of Children and Families. It’s a corrupt system.

Today I took a phone call that really got to me and started a small debate between others in the office at the time.

The caller said a 26 year old adoptee had killed herself and left four cats behind. One cat was found dead with her. One cat a friend took and the other two the rescue I work in is taking. We learned these animals were without food for sometime. Meaning no one had checked up on her.

I was told the adoptive mom was a bad alcoholic, adoptive father is a prominent well known doctor. That the 26 year old suffered years of mental health issues. I told the caller we would take in the two two cats no questions asked and no surrender fee. When the caller asked me why… I responded that as an adoptee myself….

My heart breaks for any adoptee who was this upset and hurting to take her own life in front of pets who she saved and loved. I said most adoptees have trauma and pain and it seldom gets better even with the best therapy! She thanked me and I’ll meet the lady Friday with the two cats.

When I got off the phone the two other people in the office told me I cannot generalize adoptive people that way. That many adoptive people are happy! I’m like no… I’m an adoptee and while my life on the outside may look perfect and my own children are …. I cry daily and have struggled my entire life. In my teens, I wanted to die! So I told them unless they were an adoptee nothing that they could tell me would change my view!

The truth is that the lived experience of many adoptees makes those who have not experienced it, uncomfortable.

October 30th is Adoptee Remembrance Day.

Older Adoptive Parents

I read an adoptee’s story this morning. It reminded me of my adoptee mom’s experience as well. The woman wrote, “My mother did not teach my too cook or sew or quilt or any of the things she did so well. ‘Its easier to do it myself.’ When i got married at 16 to escape I had virtually no life skills.”

My mom was pregnant with me at 16. Thankfully, my dad married her (he had just started at university). He had to teach her how to cook and clean house. He was also adopted but his adoptive parents were humble and hardworking with a small business making draperies. I assume they expected him to help around the house as well.

She writes, “I was adopted by older parents- 39 and 41. By the time I joined their family who they were was pretty ingrained and they never really adjusted to having a small child or a teen.” When I had my second family with my second husband, I was 47 and 50 when my sons were born. I have seen people our age who seem much older to me than my husband and I. I guess we are both just young at heart. Certainly, for my own self, at 67 this May, some physical decline is setting in. However, we adjust. I remember thinking when I turned 60, that my youngest son will only be 20, when I turn 70. It was a sobering thought. When we told my parents we wanted to have children, my dad honestly said “I question your sanity.” Like his other saying, “You have to eat a little dirt.” it has stayed with me.

We stayed with my dad’s adoptive parents many weekends (to give our parents a break from us or simply because my grandparents really wanted to have us – though I suspect as much to save our souls by taking us to their Church of Christ on Sunday). They loved to fish and so often took us fishing with them. Mostly we just played outdoors. At home, we were outdoors a lot too. I am grateful for that actually because it instilled a love for nature in me.

The woman writes, she got her first car at 15. I believe I was 16. My parents gave me a car so I could take over the transportation services for myself and my middle sister who was 13 months younger than I am.

The woman writes, “I was the perfect child. Smart, self reliant, great grades, active in church.” I smile. I, at least, pretended to be a “good girl.” I did make good grades and I didn’t depend on my parents very much. They were a bit weirdly detached. I blame it on their adoptions.

The woman asks the rhetorical question, “Would I have been better of with my first family? Probably not.” In coming to terms with both of my parents adoptions and learning about my original grandparents, I realize I would not even exist had this not happened. My mom would have grown up in poverty in her early years, though he father eventually owned his own little grocery story, so things might have improved. I learned from the daughter of my mom’s genetic half-sibling that her mom remembered going to bed hungry and seeing the chickens under the floorboards of their shack.

I have a great deal of compassion for the woman’s who’s story I read today. Her adoptive father was a violent, functional alcoholic and other men with associated access to her sexually abused her as a child. One was a family member, another a family friend, one was part of her church, another her babysitter’s husband. All these assaults occurred between the ages of 6-16. She writes, “I told the very first time, nothing happened and I never told again. I didn’t see the point.”

She ends her piece with this – “Abortion should be legal. I am making my life now and I am happy with my husband and my ‘made’ family but at 60, I should not still be trying to over come my early life.”

Adoptees Know These

The first comment I saw on this image went something like this – Interesting how it’s “aren’t your adoptive parents enough?” AND “don’t you want to meet your REAL family?”

A more interesting one was this story – last year one of my friends’ mothers introduced me to his father and his stepfather by saying this is my husband, and this is my son’s “real” father.. I said “does he have a fake father?” Her face was priceless and she hemmed and hawed trying to clean it up.

In these modern times when effort is made to reform the whole perspective around adoption it can be hard to know what the right way to say something is. Early on, I was advised not to use “birth mother” but simply mother or if an identifier was necessary – natural or original. A mother is a mother and all of them give birth. Someone who doesn’t give birth is not necessarily a “mother” though they may be understood as such, they are more accurately a parent.

Unpacking a few more . . . the I would rather have been aborted comes up more often among adult adoptees than the general public might believe. It is hurtful to be asked, “Why would you ever want to meet someone who gave you up?” Maybe simply to answer the question – why? I know that is the question I had regarding my own parents original parents (both of my parents were adopted). Even though I can’t ask my grandparents direction because they have all died, I have learned enough to form some realistic theories about the reasons.

There are a LOT of adoptees who don’t feel “lucky” to have been adopted. When there is extreme mental damage in a parent, maybe then. Most I have encountered would not refer to themselves as “lucky”.

It is true that it isn’t possible to change the past and a complication for my own self is that if my parents were not adopted, I would not exist. I do feel lucky that my teenage mother was not sent off to have and give me up. I credit my dad’s adoptive mother for keeping me in the family. If I had been given up, I would still exist and my original parents would still have been the same people but I would have been raised by other parents and my two younger siblings may not have ever been born because our parents may not have married after such a rupture in the family unit.

Everything that happens – matters. An adoptee can feel like they had a good life (as my own mother did) and still want to know about their origins (as my own mother did). My dad seems to have been content with who his parents were and how they treated him (though the first adoptive father turned out to be an alcoholic and was kicked out of the home by my dad’s adoptive mother – she did remarry and my dad was adopted a second time when he was already 8 years old). My dad never seemed to want to know anything about his origins. I have wondered if he was afraid of what he would find out. He told my mom regarding her own desires, “you might open up a can of worms.” That is telling in my own heart.

Many adoptive parents actually do adopt to SAVE some kid from some fate worse than death which they imagine would have been the outcome otherwise. This is called saviorism and is very common among evangelical Christians.

You can interpret the rest however your heart whispers to you.

Late Discoveries

This is not as uncommon as you might believe. There are people who believe that someone is their original parent all of their lives, and suddenly, usually because someone in their family has died, they learn the truth. Today’s story is one of those . . .

My grandmother just passed away a few days ago. Yesterday my mother (grandmother’s oldest of six kids) gets a call from one of the sisters who has been taking care of things (the mother is in Colorado, sister and grandmother are in Hawaii). The sister tells my mother that my grandmother was married to another man, prior to marrying the man who we all thought was my mother’s dad.

The first husband was my mother’s actual biological father. He abandoned my grandmother, leaving her with my mom and disappeared. So the ‘grandfather ‘ we always knew, offered to marry my grandmother and tell everyone that my mom was his oldest daughter. They got married and moved to Germany. They told everyone that my mom was his daughter. And this was my mom’s life.

Somehow my mom, lived into her 60’s without ever needing a copy of her birth certificate….honestly, which I am not sure how…but yeah. Now, she needs her birth certificate and asks her mother if she has it….her mom tells her that the hospital had burned down or flooded and all the records were destroyed….

Somehow after going back and forth, my mom managed to get a copy of her birth certificate…which had what she thought was the wrong name on it. It had my great grandmother’s last name on it, my grandmother’s ‘maiden’ name….which coincidentally turns out to be also the last name of her biological father. (Apparently grandmother married a step brother? Maybe. No actual biological relationship though….because his father was not my grandmother’s father and his mother was not her mother.) My mom has a fit and somehow manages to get her birth certificate changed to my grandfather’s last name….all because that is who she has always thought she was.

Now she is questioning everything. Apparently she is not who she thought she was. Her birth certificate should not have my grandfather’s name on it. She wants to know if she is LEGALLY married to my dad…they have been ‘married’ for over 50 years.

But of course – Yes, she is legally married to the woman’s dad because she legally used her legal name when filing for her marriage certificate. Officials do ask for information on the parents, but that is to streamline county record keeping and would not make the marriage certificate null and void. The mom answered those questions to the best of her ability with the knowledge she had, she did not commit fraud and her marriage is valid.

 It is shocking to hear something like this. It takes a while to adjust and get through the emotions that any person would feel when presented with such unexpected information. It is not unusual in these kinds of circumstances to find out after one’s mother has passed. In this case, the mom at the age of 70….this grandmother would have been 92, but she passed a few days before her birthday. It is life changing and learning this is like having the rug pulled out from a person.

The sister finding out was accidental. There are three sisters. The father told the second sister in 1984 after he had been drinking too much…and she told everyone but the mother and a third sister. The third sister found out and crying, very upset, told the mother. She only told her because the second sister was threatening to tell the mother but not a nice way. Sadly, the family is a bit horrible and not terribly close.

Artificial Twinning

I didn’t know this was a thing – artificial twinning.  Sadly, it often results in the family releasing the child to a second chance adoption (meaning the first effort has now failed). “Second Chance”… does this imply that EVERY adoption is basically just temporary and the first one is just your first “chance” at your “forever” home ?

As a Gemini, the idea of twins always fascinated me.  My sister who was 13 mos younger than me was dressed like me for much of our youngest years.  Eventually, she shot up and surpassed me in height and that attempt on the part of mother and grandmother ended.  When my husband and I were utilizing reproductive technology to create our family, our first effort that produced a son came after a “vanishing twin” at the time my dad’s adoptive father died and I was 6 weeks along.  With our second son, we definitely did not want twins because we felt that would be harmful for our older son.  As it was, he was jealous and difficult in their younger years, but now they are the best of friends – thankfully.

Artificial or Virtual Twinning (as it is sometimes also called) is not a practice recommended by social workers. The conventional belief is that kids need their own spot in the birth order.  Artificial or Virtual Twinning is having two siblings, that are not biological, within 9 months of one another. There are very valid reasons not to artificially twin. Reasons like sharing the first-born-ness [or whatever the birth-order], attachment-process being interrupted, being compared to one another like twins without the “benefits” of being twins, among other things.

Sometimes artificial twinning is done by adopting a child that is close in age to the child a family already has.  Sometimes it’s done by adopting 2 children that are close in age, at the same time. The controversy about whether or not artificial twinning is a good idea rages on.  The best recommendation is that families do not adopt 2 children at the same time, unless they are biologically related (in which case, unless they are naturally twins, it would not be what this blog is about).

Parents need time and resources to learn about their new child, help them adjust, and this is most easily done one at a time. Inevitable comparisons, and all the pitfalls of that, are inherent with raising artificial twins. Adopting a child with the purpose of creating a playmate for your child is never a good idea.

Finally, letting an adult adoptee who experienced this speak –

All my brother and I had as young children was each other. At six years old, our adoptive parents divorced over dad’s alcoholism, which had resulted in domestic violence. By all appearances only being able to conceive one much older bio son and then to adopt two babies so close in age was a desperate attempt to fix an already broken marriage.

My adoptive brother and I were as different as night and day in every way possible. Being forced to tell anyone who asked that we were twins but had different birth dates caused a lot of unnecessary gossip and confusion as we got older. I still have friends from Junior High who ask me on Facebook if we were really twins. There is no simple explanation as to why I wouldn’t have been telling the truth. Our identities were so closely meshed together that our individuality often got lost.

Tragically, after our parents divorced, my brother struggled for years with some serious mental health issues. Even as youngsters, I could see that he wasn’t and couldn’t totally bond to anyone in our family. The brother I had once thought I was close to has caused me a lot of shame and embarrassment with his repetitive bizarre behavior. I have felt those forbidden feelings of abandonment from a not so perfectly ideal adoption, as well as not being able to grieve over an absent adoptive father.

My birth siblings say I am just like my late birth mother in her mannerisms – right down to her laugh. My adoptive family could have certainly been a textbook case where nurture verses nature proved to be a fantasy. From my perspective, you fail as adoptive parents – if you try to mold us into that child you couldn’t have or somebody we are not.

 

Reproductive Rights

The woman on the left is Norma McCorvey, the woman who was Jane Roe in the legal case that came to be known as Roe v Wade and made it possible for women to have an abortion.  I did not know it until this morning, but the pregnancy that caused her to seek an abortion, ended up in adoption.

Norma grew up poor and abused.  She was the daughter of a single alcoholic mother. She got into trouble frequently and at one point was sent to a reform school. She married and became pregnant at 16 but divorced before the child was born; she subsequently relinquished custody of the child to her mother. In 1967, she gave up a second child for adoption immediately after giving birth.

At the age of 22 and unwed, she was mired in addiction and poverty, she was desperate for a way out of an unwanted pregnancy.  It was her third child and she was so desperate to have an abortion, that she made up a story that she was gang raped, thinking that might legally entitle her to one.  To my own perspective, she is the sad example of the trauma a birth mother experiences as Norma repeatedly lost custody of her natural children.

Roe v Wade became law in 1973, just after I graduated from high school.  In the latter part of the 1970s, I benefited from a safe, medically induced and legal abortion.  It has surprised me how many adoptees will say they wish they had been aborted.  That tells you something about how not happy becoming an adoptee can be for many, not all, children as they become mature adults.

Roe v Wade built on earlier decisions legalizing contraception.  The right to plan wanted pregnancies (and in my own experience a wanted child is loved and treated better in general, I say that because all of my children were wanted, and my reasons for having an abortion, while haunting me most of my life, I still believe were the right ones) and the right to end unwanted ones has freed women to pursue more fulfilling lives than the old barefoot and pregnant model of married life.

When women are able to choose when and whether to have children, they are more likely to finish their education, more financially stable and less likely to remain in and endure abusive relationships.  In states that have fewer abortion restrictions, there are lower rates of maternal and infant mortality.

In 1984, Norma McCorvey revealed herself to have been Jane Roe.  This resulted in the ugly side of the Pro-Life movement as she was harassed and someone even shot at her through her window.  Even so, she was undaunted for years and remained an abortion-rights advocate.  However in the 1990s, she announced she was 100% pro-life.  One has to wonder after what she suffered, if she just wanted safety, security and peace.  She died in 2017.

Today in 2020, the right to choose is under a strong attack and given the increasingly conservative nature of our judicial system thanks to the Republican party, young women may once again only have the option of illegal and unsafe access to ending an unwanted pregnancy.  Women could be forced once again to have children against their personal desire to bear a child.

Sibling Separation

One of the impacts of adoption can be a separation of siblings.  The struggles of a mother to keep and raise her child are temporary in nature – though it may not seem that way at the time.

I believe my dad’s mom did her best to keep him but in the end, The Salvation Army’s approach did not support her intention.  She gave birth to my dad in one of their homes for unwed mothers having discovered herself pregnant due to an affair with a married man much older than her.  Therefore, she did not even seek his assistance but in her very self-sufficient way dealt with her circumstances alone.

After a period of time bonding with her son, she was released with him with the expectation that she would be able to live with a cousin geographically nearby.  I think she found little patience there.  She applied for a job with The Salvation Army and was accepted and transferred, still with my dad in tow, from San Diego California to El Paso Texas.

By the time he was 8 months old, my dad was legally the ward of The Salvation Army.  My granny went there for a child to raise (after my dad was adopted, she went there for another child to be his brother).  I don’t know what it cost her but maybe less than some of the other options.

My dad never seemed much interested in his original family.  He was actually adopted twice when my granny had to throw the abusive alcoholic she had been married to out for the well being of her sons and then met and married a different man.  My dad was devoted to them and supported them genuinely as they aged.

Unknown to my dad at the time he died, a half-sister was living 90 miles away that could have told him a lot about his mother, his other older sister and a brother.  I find it sad but that was the reality.

Sunday Morning

I woke up this morning remembering going to church with my dad after my mom died.  Growing up, my dad never went to church with us.  He worked a lot, often double shifts at Standard Oil Refinery in El Paso Texas.  After us kids left home, he started going to keep my mom company.  Somehow it fed something in him that he continued to go after he lost her.

I don’t know what caused this photo to be taken or how it ended up in the possession of my dad’s original mother.  I am intrigued by what appear to be several bed frames in the background.  My dad was born in a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers in San Diego California.  After he was born, his mother was hired as a helper by the Salvation Army and transferred to El Paso Texas.  It may be that my dad’s adoptive mother took him to visit her there.  It may be that the look on his face is a disturbed recognition of his own mother.  I’ll never know.

I know that by this point, he had been adopted for the first time.  He would be adopted a second time after my Granny kicked her first husband, an abusive alcoholic, out of her home and then married a WWII veteran.  So my dad was already 8 years old when he was adopted for the second time and had 2/3s of his name changed – again.

My dad looks healthy but not entirely happy here.  I continue to wonder what that expression on his face means.  It is serious and perhaps puzzled.

My dad simply accepted his adoption and never showed any interest in knowing about his original family.  He cautioned my adoptee mom when she was seeking a reunion for herself that she might be opening up a can of worms.  I think this epitomizes his perspective.  Maybe he was afraid of learning the truth.  I know he loved and cared for his adoptive parents.

It is a shame he didn’t know more about his origins, origins that I am fortunate to know now.  He was so much like his Danish fisherman father and they would have had a great time in a boat out on the ocean doing what came naturally to both of them.

Adoptions I Have Known

I chose this image because I like trees and Adoption is NOT the main focus.  From a perspective of balance and fairness, as it was recently pointed out to me that I might be too negative (though I don’t necessarily believe that), I thought I might comment on the adoptions that have occurred in my own family and their outcomes – briefly.

First, my mom.  Her mom did not intend to lose her.  I cannot view the exploitation, trap and pressure she faced as being in any way voluntary on my grandmother’s part.  My mom was pure and simple – taken away – from her.  Not because of any wrongdoing on my grandmother’s part.  She was a good mother doing the best that she could under difficult circumstances.  My mom was adopted by a banker and his socialite wife.  She had many opportunities that she may not have had in her original circumstances.  She was troubled at the thought she had been stolen, as she tried to understand the circumstances of her becoming adopted and was denied her own adoption file by the state of Tennessee, until they decided to open the files later on because of the scandal my mom’s adoption had been part of.

Next, my dad.  His mom was unwed but she left the Salvation Army Door of Hope in Ocean Beach California with my dad.  She went to some cousins who it appears were unwilling to help her.  So she applied for employment with the Salvation Army and was transferred to El Paso Texas with my dad in tow.  However it happened, she was convinced to give up my dad and he was adopted by the amazing woman I knew as my Granny.  She survived an abusive, alcoholic husband, divorced him, found a better man and my dad therefore ended up adopted twice and got a new name when he was already 8 years old.  He fully accepted his adoption and never showed any inclination to know more of the details.  Sadly, he had a half-sister living 90 miles from him when he died who could have shared so much with him about what his original mother was like.

Then, a niece.  My sister did not want to surrender her child to adoption but my adoptee mom convinced her that it was for the best.  It was a very secretive thing within our family.  I was told that my niece had died at birth and that never felt accurate in my own heart.  Eventually, the truth came out, she was able to reunite with us and has been a wonderful addition to our family that we love very much.  She seems to have had a good enough childhood and has become an amazing mom to her own two children.

Then, a nephew.  This is not the same sister but my youngest sister.  Understandably, adoption was the most normal thing in our family and I was close to my sister during her pregnancy.  She vetted hopeful couples.  Chose the best she was able to do with the information she received.  Her life became complicated and unfortunate.  He has been loved and his adoptive mother has always supported his desire to know his origins.  He is an EMT and a firefighter and an amazing and sweet young man.

Adoption has worked out well enough in my own family.  The results have produced good parents (at least for 3 out of the 4, the last one hasn’t married yet).  It is what it is.  We have a large extended family – extra grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – as a result.  I love them all.