Adoption Is Hard

As a society, we fail single mothers and we fail struggling families. We don’t provide the resources that would prevent the surrender of a child to adoption that we could. It’s amazing that it is next to impossible to google any articles on this issue. Most are advising hopeful adoptive families how not to experience a disrupted adoption experience. Almost everywhere I looked, the articles were pro-adoption.

The closest I found to a genuine admission “adoption is hard” was in this article that is not from an entirely un-biased entity (Catholic Charities) but it does describe accurately some of the obstacles adoptees encounter in trying to uncover their original identities.

My adoptive parents were “forward thinking” for their time and always told me that I was adopted. There was no surprise there. I was not the kid that asked a lot of questions and was content in what I knew – my birth mother was 16 and my birth father was a little older. In graduate school I decided it might be interesting to search for my birth family so I made some initial inquiries and found out in Pennsylvania it was not an easy process, for my type of adoption, to initiate a search – ADOPTION IS HARD. I let it go at the time and moved on. 

In 2016, I really wanted to know where I came from. Where did I get my green eyes, my nose, what was my ethnic heritage, did I have any similar traits to my birth mother ? So I began with the attorney who facilitated my adoption. He claimed to have no recollection of the adoption – ADOPTION IS HARD. Next I went to the courts (still called orphan court in Pennsylvania) and was told they had no records based on the little information I had – ADOPTION IS HARD. 

Like my own adoptee mother, this woman decided to try Ancestry DNA – and besides now knowing my ethnic heritage – struck out again – ADOPTION IS HARD. Pretty much matches my own mother’s experience there (though I have made much more progress since my mother’s death using Ancestry).

Yet, something a bit magical did happen for this woman. One night a Facebook message popped up on her phone. The moment she read that a woman had an Ancestry DNA match that listed me as a “close relative.” She had been searching for her sister who had been adopted for years. Turns out that this time the answer was a YES. She was that sister.

Then she began talking with her sister, her birth mother, two other sisters, and a brother (yes there are 4 siblings). Life got real. ADOPTION GOT HARD. You learn things that are HARD. You learn that your birth father wanted you to be aborted. You learn that your birth mother stood up to her own family in order to carry you to term. You learn that your birth mother, on the day you turned 18, contacted the same attorney you had, to leave her information with him “in case” she ever contacted him (yeah, clearly he lied to her in 2016). You learn once again that ADOPTION IS HARD.

She goes on to say – as she was writing, 4 months had passed since the day her world changed. “I can say that it has mostly been for the better. But it has not come without it’s hardships. My body is manifesting externally what I am processing internally in physical ways which has sent me on many trips to the doctors and multiple tests. On the flip side it is good, I am slowly getting to know the family that shares my blood. I love seeing what we have in common while also learning about our uniqueness.”

I write this blog to share the stories I encounter and continue to try to put into perspective my own parents’ adoptions. I have a desire to educate others affected by adoption about the realities. Whether these are adoptive families, people who have friends or family who have been adopted, or other adoptees, my message is ADOPTION IS HARD. It comes with trauma. Adoption comes with loss. Adoptees are the one group of the triad who have no say about adoption, the decision is made for them. Birth parents and adoptive parents alike need to respect that and understand that. This is about their lives, and their stories. 

I know it isn’t possible for me to speak for every adoptee out there. Each has their own unique story and journey. No one should ever forget that each adoptee’s story began with loss and eventually that loss is going to emerge. I know it did for my mom because she shared this with me as my also adopted dad wasn’t supportive of her efforts.

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.

A Deep Yearning

From the time my mom tried to get her adoption file out of the state of Tennessee in the early 1990s, I had a deep yearning, same as she did, to know who ? Who were my grandparents ? Actually, there was an unconscious version back in my public school days when everyone was going around saying things like – “I’m French.” or “I’m German.” When I asked my mom what are we ? She said “American.” I said I know that but what else ? She said we don’t know because both your dad and I were adopted. Later in life I would tell people that I was an Albino African because no one, including my own self, could prove any different. One birthday, my brother in law gave me a National Genographic test kit. I ran my maternal line. Turns out we (humans) all originated in Africa, at least according to that National Geographic project.

That lead to me wanting something more specific than the disappointing degree of information I got from that effort. I ordered an Ancestry DNA kit on the recommendation of a friend, only to discover my mom had already done hers and what do you know – trace amounts from Mali. There’s my African for you. My mom attempted a family tree but because the only information she could build one on was the adoptive families, she told me at one point, “I just had to quit, it wasn’t real because I was adopted, oh well.” It is so sad.

The state of Tennessee did open the adoption files for the victims of the Georgia Tann scandal less than 10 years after my mom’s futile attempt but no one told her. That is also sad because even though the state broke my mom’s heart by telling her that her mother had died some years before, they didn’t try very hard to determine the status of her father (their basis for denying her) who had already been dead for 30 years. Had my mom received her adoption file, she would have seen a black and white photo of her mom holding her as an infant – probably for the last time at Porter Leath Orphanage in Memphis, who she turned to for temporary care as she tried to get on her own two feet financially. The supervisor there betrayed my grandmother to Georgia Tann. The truth and factual details could have brought my mom a lot of inner peace. The adoption file has certainly has taken me on a surprising journey to self knowledge.

I did not know it then but it was the jumping off point to meet living descendants of my grandparents after first having the good fortune to discover in only one year’s time with persistence and determination who all 4 of my original grandparents were. This included also doing the 23 and Me test. My latest joys are communicating with the descendants in Denmark of the last grandparent I discovered, my Danish immigrant paternal grandfather. Every possible internet channel for ancestry and the inexpensive DNA testing opportunities have been used by me to achieve my own successes.

Most adoptees who do not have open adoptions with open knowledge of their origins and the circumstances of their adoptions have the same issues and desires that my mom and I experienced. The New York Times has a follow on article to Steve Inskeep’s (Op-Ed, March 28) titled “I Was Denied My Birth Story” with a “Letter to the Editor” – this time titled “For Adoptees, a Deep Yearning ‘to Know Where You Come From’.”

Activists continue to push their individual states to open adoption files for adult adoptees. It is a basic human right to know your origins and adoptees are treated like second class citizens by being denied this right in approximately half of all these United States. You can read more in this article – Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates which was updated as recently as May 15, 2019.

A Grief Deeper Than Death

For adoptees and their original families, mourning can be deeper than simply grieving the death of a loved one.  When our familial bonds are withheld from us so long, precious time is lost and never recovered.  In my mom’s case, when she sought and was denied her adoption file, the state of Tennessee told her that her original mother had died a few years earlier.  This devastated my mom and dashed all her hopes of a reunion.

With my dad, he never showed the  desire that my mom had but when he died a half-sister was living only 90 miles away and could have shared with him real impressions of the woman who gave birth to him.  When I discovered who his unwed mother’s participating lover was that conceived my dad, my dad was so much like him – sharing interests and appearance – I just knew they would have been great fishing buddies.  That was a sadness for me as well.

Today, I read the story of a man who was adopted.  His adoptive parents only admitted to his adoption when a sibling outed the fact.  They never would give him more than the tiniest bits and pieces of information to his incessant questions.  A letter his original mother wrote to him explaining her circumstances that was to be given to him upon his 18th birthday was not delivered to him until he had done an Ancestry DNA kit at the age of 30 and it was likely he was going to come into contact with his genetic relatives.

He was able to find and connect with his genetic sister through Facebook and through her be reunited with and visit with his original mother.  She died just last week after too brief of a time of acquaintance with her.  This has left him bereft for more reasons than her dying, which for anyone, regardless of the relationship they have with their parents, is admittedly a life-changing event.

His emotions are intense.  He says –

I’m angry for lack of a better word that my adoptive parents withheld this information for so long that it wound up costing me time. Time I could’ve used to get to know my biological mom better and form deeper bonds with her. I may not have known her well but I love her and I’m having a hard time navigating the complexity of everything that I’m feeling right now. My genetic sister and I have made a pact to talk often and visit with relative frequency. I simply don’t have this kind of relationship with my brother through adoption.

If you are an adoptive parent, it is beyond cruel if you behave in this manner.

What Is Enough ?

My mother doubted her worth as a human and as a mother. She never believed she was good enough. Adoption did that to her. She felt broken and torn.

My mom tried very hard to know her roots. She appealed to the state of Tennessee for her adoption file. Though her father was twenty years older than her mother and her mother had already died, she was denied because the state didn’t really try too hard to determine her father’s status. He had been dead for 30 years, when she made her attempt.

She did an Ancestry DNA test and had a profile, hoping against hope to learn some truth. At least, she had some idea of her ethnicity from that effort.  She tried to complete family trees but since they were based on persons who adopted her and adopted my dad, she quit and said to me, “It just didn’t feel real.”  Of course it didn’t.  From a genealogy perspective – it wasn’t the truth.

I now have the complete story for both – my mom and my dad. I wrote everything up in a limited edition book given to family, so that what I worked so hard to learn would not be lost with me, if I died.

There is no risk-free exposure for the children of adopted parents. I know. The wounds and damage passed down my family line and other children ended up adopted too.