Invalidating Adoptee Perceptions

Adoptive parents and even hopeful adoptive parents often say:

“I know many adoptees that don’t feel like their adoption was a bad thing, they are glad they were adopted” or “they don’t have trauma, they are fine” or “adoptees whose lives are fine are not online talking against adoption.”

One of the last emails I got from my adoptee mom before she died, she actually said “glad I was,” meaning adopted. She was lamenting how she just couldn’t finish doing the family trees on Ancestry because she knew the information just wasn’t real – for her or my dad (who was also adopted). So it was not that I believed she actually was “glad” she had been adopted but what else could she say at that point ? Neither my mom nor my dad really knew anything beyond a few names – at most – about their original parents.

I didn’t invalidate her feelings – my dad never expressed his own feelings about adoption to me. After both of my parents died, within one year, I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were, something about their stories and had some contact with some biological, genetic relations.

So those who are not adoptees, who say these kinds of things probably just miss the signs that are there but not verbalized. I know my mom dearly wanted to make contact with her first mother but the state of Tennessee denied her access (which they then gave me in 2017 – wow it doesn’t seem like 5 years already that I have felt finally “complete”). If she had been so happy about being adopted, she would not have tried so hard to accomplish a reunion.

The thinking described above is problematic because it assumes that adoptees always feel comfortable sharing their true feelings about adoption with adoptive parents. That is rarely the case.

One adoptee admits –  I spent 50 years saying I was fine adopted, never an issue and believed it. I knew I responded to things differently than others, but never equated it to being adopted. It’s very difficult for adoptees to verbalize true emotions. The changes in our brain at separation try to protect us from rejections. It’s all subconscious. I had no idea my lifetime narrative was to protect myself, until I did deep work in therapy that focused on opening those areas of the brain to process the trauma. Life changing. The processing is very hard and easily something you’d try to avoid. Once you do it though, at least for me, it was life changing. I was 50. I get so angry I didn’t do it sooner. I didn’t know I should and clearly neither did my adoptive parents because I always appeared fine to them.

They don’t have the support to speak freely about their own feelings. Instead, they say everything is fine because the trust is broken. Maybe they tried to express these feelings in the past and were rejected or judged. The fear of rejection is so ingrained. It’s just not something most would attempt to do. The adoptee may feel too fearful to tell their adoptive parent or foster parent how they truly feel. They may have received a message that feeling any other way than glad is wrong.

One adoptee says – From the outside my life looks quite successful and there are lots of people who know I’m adopted. I’m absolutely certain that there are those who would point to me as a ‘happy adoptee’. No, you idiot, I don’t know you that well or trust you enough to share my pain and trauma.

To say of any adoptee – “They don’t have trauma, they’re fine.” It’s just so very invalidating. Every adoptee will automatically have trauma, no matter how they were adopted. To me, it’s the equivalent of a racist person saying they have black friends. Just because you have black friends doesn’t mean your ideals are not racist or harmful. Adoptees can grow up having a good life while growing up but they all come into adoption with trauma.

Nancy Verrier writes in The Primal Wound: “As adults, we believe what we want to believe, and we want to believe that a child who is not causing any trouble is well-adjusted. It is important to not be lulled into believing that this child suffers no pain-that ‘my child is not having those problems.’ Adjustment often means shutting down, creating a ‘false self.'”

Which leads another adoptee to say – This was true for me well into adulthood. It was not until I was about 40 that I started processing my adoption and how adoption trauma affected my whole life. Even now, I talk about my adoption trauma to some people, but not others. If hopeful adoptive parents think that adoption trauma only happens to those “with a bad experience,” they will continue on with pursuing adoption; and then, not be able to see and address the trauma in the child for whom they are caring.

Adoptees often talk about how they feel the need to be people pleasers in order to be accepted (my mom certainly was that way and she passed that trait down to her children). An adoptee is likely to tell their adoptive parents whatever they think those parents want to hear.

Which leads a foster parent to admit that they had experienced this first-hand. She says, When we started fostering, one of my adult adoptee friends was all rainbows and unicorns about it. As our relationship grew deeper and she heard more about how I was supporting the kids’ ability to know their families and saw how we worked for family preservation, instead of keeping the kids with us, she began to tell me her complicated feelings about her own adoption, and how she felt like she couldn’t have those conversations with her adopted family.

In the interest of fairness to people who have already adopted and may think that many of my blogs are too negative. Few people with any depth of knowledge on adoption think all adoption is wrong. I now present this point of view from an adoptive parent –

I work with adoptive families. I make an effort to learn from people who have experienced adoption trauma. I do this so that I can try to help my own kids, and other adoptive families who have already adopted, to see the signs of trauma and do their best to help manage this. Do the best they can for their kids. What is upsetting for me is when the comments say “adoption is a horrible thing”. I have seen some comments that literally say ALL adoptions are awful and should never be done. Using the analogy of dating apps, saying no one should ever use a dating app because someone ended up raped, would be similar. That anyone you meet from a dating app is actually terrible. Anyone who gets married from meeting someone there is in a fog . . .

Note from the blog author – many will say of adoptees who think their adoption was good and only good that they are still in “the fog” and have not woken up – but I laugh at this because I met my husband of over 33 years through an eligibles ad in an entertainment weekly, back in the day before heavy internet usage – my mom was horrified but my parents ended up being grateful we found each other.

continuing from the paragraph before . . . That such persons will eventually realize that they are miserable. I truly hurt for the adoptees who have parents who don’t acknowledge them or have been cruel to them. It is awful and has changed my mind about many aspects of the adoption process in this country. However being an adoptive parent in itself is not a bad thing. I have seen little acknowledgment that there are birth parents who are not going to parent. And some have no family support. Is it better to put those kids into an orphanage than to adopt them into a family who loves them and tries to give them a wonderful family and childhood?

I don’t think so and here’s why. My daughter’s birth parents were on the road when she was born. They had no idea where they would be living. Her birth mom has lived in many states since then. Anyone who adopted her would have been out of state within a week after she was born. But I was told that I screwed up by adopting out of state and I should have moved (multiple times, I guess) to be near her birth mom. Not everything is black and white.

I would love to see adoptees who have had terrible effects from trauma or adoptive families who are unwilling to listen to use their experiences to help other adoptive families learn how to act, be the way they would have wanted their adoptive parents to act. I believe this would be more productive than just telling them they are awful people for wanting to raise a child. My daughter has literally yelled at me for trying to understand the perspectives of adoptees who acknowledge their trauma. I have tried to encourage her to explore the same places that I have, to see if her adoption has had negative effects on her. I really would want to help her work through that. She has seen some of those places. Her opinion is that they are toxic. I continue to expose myself because it’s important for me to know the other side, so I will be able to recognize if my kids are struggling with adoption trauma – even if they don’t see it.

I am only suggesting that it would be a lot more effective, if everything weren’t so black and white in adoptee spaces. I’m still trying to learn what I can but I do think some people can manage trauma of any kind (adoption or otherwise) with little negative effect, especially if they have loving support. I hope that’s what we are all striving for.

And all of that above received this reply, which honestly is my own opinion too, at this point – I do believe there should be no adoptions. None. Zero. I want universal healthcare, good sex education, universal basic income, easy and free abortions. And any child born to parents who are not safe should be cared for by guardians, not adoptive parents. The harm done by having your life legally altered and severed is unnecessarily extreme.

Finally just to drive home the point to end this lengthy blog –

MOST adoptees had absolutely *wonderful* adoptive parents, and that *it didn’t matter* how good their adoptive parents were, or how much of a “positive adoption experience” the adoptee had; every adoptee still has trauma. Their DNA was still literally altered by early childhood trauma. Their identity was altered without their consent. Most adoptees have been denied the very basic right of having access to their own original birth certificate.

Yes, there are some children who cannot remain with their parents. *Most of the time* those that absolutely *cannot* be with their parents (which is so unbelievably rare), have at least *one* member of their biological family that could raise them. And in the *exceptionally rare* scenario where none of that is possible, adoption STILL isn’t necessary.

If you cannot love a child, care for a child, make that child a part of your home and your family, provide financial physical and emotional support for that child, without having legal *ownership* over that child, then you have absolutely *no right* caring for that child. Full stop. There is no “not all” or “what if” that can change the fact that adoption *is not necessary* to provide care to a child.

Adoption is unethical. There is absolutely *no changing that*. Caring for a child who has no home or safe family is not a bad thing, and literally *nobody* in their right mind would say that (but consider – whether or not there *could* be a safe family for that child, if their original parents were simply provided with good support). And that is NOT all that adoption is.

Many with a depth of knowledge about adoption, would allow that adoption *only* happen for older children (and by older I mean 16+, and even that I honestly hesitate to be okay with, as it’s perfectly possible to adopt an adult). And *only if* that child is ASKING to be adopted, without being prompted in *any way* by either the foster parents or the system itself. And *only if* the child fully 100% understands what adoption means, and has been told explicitly what they will lose by being adopted. *Only then* is adoption even possibly acceptable.

Everyone, please, just stop assuming an adoptee “had a bad experience,” if they speak out against adoption. Many adoptees would be frankly pissed off that you would imply that their *wonderful* and *caring* adoptive parents were bad parents.

I will continue to believe what I now do.

Both Genders Drive Adoption

For some time now, my husband has been making use of old photos to create slide shows as a screen saver. I enjoy looking at these . . . memories. One of my current favorites is of my husband lying on his chest looking at our oldest son as a 3 month old infant lying on the bed. They are both smiling at one another. Clearly, there is a real connection between them, an energy. And it is true, while my husband does honestly love both of his sons, he does a lot of work around our farm with the older boy. They seem to be in-sync so well. Of course, the older one, now 21 years old, is more mature but over the last several years, they have replaced roofs, planted trees and both worked for the 2020 Census and could share stories each night when they got home. Just as I saw with my in-laws respect for my husband’s opinions, there is a respect on my husband’s part for each of his sons’ perspectives. It is a beautiful thing to see. For my part, I am inspired by both of them and who and how they are developing into maturity.

Becoming a father came at the right time for my husband in his own maturity. When we first married (my second marriage), he was not interested in having children. He was glad I had been there and done that – so no pressure on him. And it is also true that because I gave birth to my daughter at the age of 19, I had already known motherhood. Indeed, she has made me a grandmother twice. She was there for me each time one of my parents died (only 4 months apart) and through the challenges of being the executor of their estate, including giving me the benefit of her expertise in real estate selling and negotiating the final contract with a buyer.

Even though my early motherhood was a good experience for me, I was totally blown away when after 10 years of marriage, my husband did a 180 on me and wanted to become a father. Unfortunately, it turned out that age had produced in me secondary infertility and we had to turn to assisted reproduction and an egg donor to have our sons. 20 years ago, no one saw inexpensive DNA testing and the matching sites 23 and Me as well as Ancestry becoming so popular in use. Fortunately, we have handled the situation of having two donor conceived sons as well as any ignorant parents could (both had the same genetic sources and so, are true genetic and biological siblings). By handling the situation, I mean we have always been honest about their conceptions with our sons. They really did need to become older to understand the details. Getting their DNA tested at 23 and Me (where their egg donor also had her DNA tested) gave us the opening to fully describe the details, which does not seem to have troubled them at all. Before we had theirs tested, I also gifted my husband with a kit from 23 and Me.

For me, having lost the privilege of actually raising my daughter when she was 3 years old due to my own poverty and her father’s unwillingness to pay child support (and even so, he ended up paying for her support by raising her himself) – these second chance opportunities to prove I could mother children throughout their growing up years has been a true blessing for me. Experiencing motherhood now has healed much – including a decision to have an abortion after my daughter’s birth and the subsequent discovery that I carried the hep C virus – thanks to pre-treatment testing related to my oldest son’s conception. (BTW, this week I will finally complete, after living with this virus for over 20 years, a very expensive treatment regime which required a grant for the co-pay as well as Medicare Part D because otherwise, I still could not have afforded to have that virus treated).

All this just to share that this morning, I was reading an accusation about infertile women driving adoptions. One woman noted this – “we seem to be letting the guys off scot-free. The dudes who want a Daddy’s Little Girl or to play football with their own Mini-Me. I am not saying that childless woman are not a huge factor in the adoption industry, but I am saying that we live in a patriarchy and men also have a macho thing going on from birth … carrying on the family name, the stereotypical being the breadwinner for their very own brood instead of watching other guys’ families from the sidelines as a failure. And sometimes it isn’t the woman’s inability but the guys’ faulty minnows and that is definitely a macho & emasculating situation that they can rectify by sheer force (IVF or adoption are ways no one else will really be the wiser if they keep these secrets). They can be saviors and still be Daddy Dearest at the same time win-win.”

I know that in the case of infertility, the “blame” is statistically equal – one-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues, one-third by female reproductive issues, and one-third by both male and female reproductive issues or by unknown factors according to the National Institutes of Health. Clearly in our case, because 50% of each of our son’s DNA clearly establishes that their father’s sperm did the deed, the problem was my age. We didn’t start our efforts until I was already 46 years old.

Erasing The Mother’s Name

I was reading an article this morning in Time Magazine (the March 14/March 21 2022 issue) by Aubrey Hirsch titled “Why my children have their mom’s last name.” She describes all of the complications this has raised in their family’s lives. When I conceived my oldest son, my husband strongly wanted my name added to our son’s names and so both of my son’s have my maiden name as their middle names (which in this patrilineal society causes us not the confusion this woman and her husband’s choice has caused). What is a bit strange in our case is that both of my parent’s were adopted and so my maiden name links us not at all in genealogical terms to my family. Even trying to concoct an honest family tree at Ancestry is going to be a challenge (one that I only started but still need to complete).

My dad was given his mother’s maiden name as a surname because she was unwed at the time she gave birth and even though she knew full well who his father was (as I have since discovered in my own adoption story journey and am grateful for the breadcrumbs to my paternal grandfather’s identity that she left me) she did not name him on my dad’s original birth certificate and of course, because he was adopted, his birth certificate has the names of his adoptive parents. And because his adoptive mother later divorced the first adoptive father and remarried, my dad was adopted twice and his birth certificate as well as his first name was changed twice. It was all very patrilineal because his “new” (one could say he spent his entire life as many adoptees do living under an assumed identity) first name was the name of the adoptive father each time as well as the surname for each of these adoptive fathers. I can imagine what this might have felt like to his 8 year old self when the second one occurred.

The woman who wrote that personal essay for Time magazine laments how she has been pushing back against her children having her last name and not the father’s since they were born. Is it true that babies must take their father’s last name ? Well only if the mother identifies who the father was, I suppose, in most circumstances. Studies have shown that 95% of the time, heterosexual married couples give the baby the father’s name.

Ms Hirsch makes a good argument for her choice, she says – women do the hard work of pregnancy and childbirth. They also do the vast majority of the actual parenting (generally about twice as much). And she also points to the circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic 80% of US adults who were not working were women who were caring for children not in formal school or day care.

I agree also that our society simply does not support mothers and their children enough. Note that any attempt to pass more social supports for working parents, like paid family and medical leave, subsidized day care, and universal preschool, have stalled. It is mothers who will be shouldering the bulk of these burdens, forced to give up their jobs along with their names. And it is the male dominated society we live in that is mostly to blame. In general, women are not valued as highly as men, only make about 75% as much in the same jobs in most cases.

The issue of names shown on birth certificates is one that most adoptees are very sensitive to for understandable reasons. Even so, this woman bucked the tradition. She is proud of her family heritage and it is true that marriage erases the family connection for women 95% of the time (though some women today do keep their maiden names in marriage or hyphenate them). For this woman, her family name will be part of her genealogy and not erased as most women’s connections to the family of their birth are.

My Adoption Files Interview

Adoptee Parents

Though the podcast has been live since Feb 6th, I was only able to finish listening to my interview yesterday. I had gotten through the first 41 mins previously. Life is busy and it is long and so I do forgive anyone who doesn’t want to listen to me talk about my experience of being the child of two adoptees for an hour and a half approx. Though my satellite quality of transmission is inconsistent, it seemed to me that somehow the audio zoom file was able not to lose words but after a disruption continued where it would have been anyway. I am happy to say I was not embarrassed when I listened to it. Though most listeners would not notice my only big blub – giving the wrong part of my dad’s birth name as it relates to his father’s actual name – I can accept that as mistakes go, it wasn’t significant to the quality of listening to my interview by Ande Stanley of The Adoption Files.

For those who don’t want to listen to such a long interview, I’ll try to hit on the key or more significant points.

Though both of my parents were mid-1930s adoptees, their individual responses to having been adopted could not have been different. My mom always felt like her adoption had been, in her effort to be polite, inappropriate. She knew a bit about Georgia Tann and from what she knew and from a weird quirk in what she did NOT know (having been born in Virginia but having been adopted still technically an infant in the first year of her life from Memphis TN, how did she get there ?) she had crafted a story to explain what she was never going to be allowed to know.

I say that because she did try to get her adoption file in the early 1990s from the state of Tennessee who rejected both her initial and subsequent appeal because they could not determine the status of alive or dead for her father (who had actually been dead for 30 years by that time). Basically for $180 dollars she had the privilege of being told the mother she sincerely wish to reassure as to her outcome as an adopted child had been dead for several years. It broke her heart.

No one ever informed her that just a few years later, by the end of the 1990s, she would have been given her adoption file as Tennessee changed the law of closed and sealed adoption records for the victims of Georgia Tann (who bought and sold babies for 30 years). That is why for less money ($150) I received over 100 pages of her adoption file (which thankfully was intact though minimally inaccurate – deliberately) plus 4 black and white negatives of photos taken the last time my maternal grandmother held her baby.

Had my mom been given her adoption file, it would have cleared up misunderstandings caused by a lack of information and given her a lot of peace. She would have seen how hard her original mother fought to keep her and the obstacles against her. She would have seen how over the moon her adoptive mother was to have received her (though in life they had a difficult relationship). Though not stolen, her mother had been exploited. More importantly, my mom could have reconnected with her genetic, biological family and learned a lot of first hand impressions and lived experience regarding both of her parents.

Closed, sealed adoption records continue to be an issue that turns adoptees into second class citizens in these United States. I encountered this in Virginia, Arizona and California. I believe the main impediment is money – who has it and who stands to gain from keeping adoptees from their own valuable personal information. These parties are the adoptive parents, the adoption agencies and the legal system including adoption attorneys. They are the ones with the money to hire lobbyists to impress upon legislators the need to keep secret adoptees records. It is a big money business.

My dad was never interested in knowing his origins. I tend to believe he was afraid of what he would find out as he didn’t much like my mom searching and warned her against opening a can of worms. For $100, the Salvation Army gave me one paragraph of information, which even so gave me something important – my dad’s full name at birth and that the Salvation Army had hired and transferred my paternal grandmother from Ocean Beach CA (near San Diego) to El Paso TX with my dad in tow. I do believe they coerced her into giving him up. They had legal custody at the time he was adopted. Also, my dad was adopted twice due to his adoptive mother’s divorce and remarriage. Therefore, he experienced a name change at the age of 8 (he also was originally adopted as a infant less than one year of age).

The aspect of my story that seemed to interest Ande the most was how being the child of adoptees had affected me personally. Adoption does not only affect the adoptee but their children as well and even more so when both of the parents are adoptees. There was only a black hole of familial and medical history information beyond my two parents. Just as my mom had made up a story of being stolen from the hospital in which she was born and transported to Memphis, I had made up a story that my dad was left in a basket on the doorstep of the Salvation Army in El Paso TX by an unwed Mexican national mother because her child was mixed race with a white American father.

I readily admit that I got lucky in my own attempt to learn the truth of my parents’ adoptions. Nothing we believed due to our lack of true information has proven to be true but the truth is definitely preferable. Not all efforts at learning an adoptee’s origins are as productive or end as happily as mine with acceptance by my genetic biological relations. Persistence and determination are important. And getting one’s DNA tested can make all the difference. I had mine tested at both Ancestry and 23 and Me. Also noted in the interview however, without actual names, just finding DNA matches does not yield very much useful information as my own story shows.

In case you missed the link at the beginning of this blog (and there is so much more there than I can reasonably write for today) here it is – https://anchor.fm/ande-stanley/episodes/Interview-with-Deborah-Hart-Yemm-e1djv8e.

Weirdness

A different kind of weirdness than my weirdness . . . surprise !!

The advent of inexpensive DNA testing has brought surprises to many people today. One woman wrote –

“One of the biggest things I’m realizing today is: at least I always knew I had parents and ancestors “out there” somewhere. I knew there were people I could look for, and I knew there could be other family members too. How weird to find someone you never knew even existed? Someone that’s had a whole life without you? I might have his first grandchildren, and he never knew.” She closes with – “Adoption is a wild freaking ride.” I agree.

Another woman writes – “Ancestry DNA led me to find my half brother that my father never knew about. Its been wild for sure.” This happened for me too. It turned out in my case, the man’s grandmother was my paternal grandfather’s sister but no one in his family, including him, ever knew he had a son. 23 and Me led me to a cousin, which led me to another cousin, and it turned out that my paternal grandmother had left a breadcrumb for me as to my dad’s father’s identity in her photo album.

Here is another story – “We met my half-brother recently after our dad took an Ancestry DNA test. My half-brother was adopted almost 50 years ago. My dad never knew he existed until March of last year. We’ve since spent a couple weeks with him and his girlfriend. It’s definitely crazy to know that my half-brother existed for my entire 39 years on this planet and we never knew him until now but I’m very grateful that he wants to be involved with his birth family despite his birth/life story. I’m trying to figure out how to visit him this coming summer with my kids, his niece and nephew. What’s super crazy to me now is that while I haven’t known my half-brother very long, my kids will never know life without him. It’s been a journey of grace and compassion for everyone from our experience.”

For myself as well – thankfully !!

Artifact DNA Testing

This article in Wired actually caused me to write yesterday’s blog on the value of DNA testing. Beyond the inexpensive commercial DNA testing platforms of 23 and Me as well as Ancestry, there is another way – though it is expensive and probably not a good choice for most people. It has been used though in some paternity cases.

It was highlighted when Swiss forensic geneticists analyzed DNA recovered from postage stamps dating back to World War I to solve a century-old paternity puzzle. Renc and Arles, were the children of Dina – and maybe Xaver, or maybe not, maybe Ron was the father of Renc. Their descendants wanted to confirm or rule out that Ron was Renc’s father, as he was believed to be. So, the family offered up cheek swabs from living descendants of Dina, Renc, and Arles for DNA analysis, and some postcards that had been sent by Renc and Ron during WWI that it was hoped might hold their DNA, in the remnants of the saliva used to paste the stamps. 

Solving kinship cases is a common task in forensic genetics but this case was a little more complex than usual. The team tried to confirm the reality, but to no avail. By October 2018, they had thrown in the towel. Then, in March 2020, the family returned with more heirlooms. They had found some more old postcards that had been sent by Arles on a business tour in 1922. 

The scientists compared the DNA found under these postcards’ stamps with the DNA found on postcards sent by Renc, while he was fighting in World War I and on postwar trips. They found common Y chromosomal lineage, which meant that the two brothers shared the same father. After more than a century, the family had an end to their paternity drama: Xaver, not Ron, was Renc’s dad. 

Extracting centuries-old DNA from artifacts—a licked envelope flap, hair from an old brush—was once considered the Next Big Thing in genetic genealogy. Its promise lies in offering anybody the opportunity to gain precious insights into long-deceased ancestors and loved ones, to look further back into their family tree, and to potentially reunite with existing relatives. MyHeritage, the DNA testing company, announced in 2018 that it would be jumping into the business of commercial artifact testing.

What was once envisioned as an explosion in artifact testing has petered into more of a slow burn. A number of factors have prevented it from becoming as big as commercial DNA test kits: it’s costly, it involves tampering with or destroying potentially sentimental family heirlooms, and there is little guarantee that it will be successful.

Here’s an example why, when relying on DNA extracted from saliva, you’re taking a gamble that the sender was the one who licked the envelope flap or the stamp, which surprisingly is not always the case. There once was an old practice to wet stamps on common pads at post offices. The running joke in some artifact testing labs is that if we check all these stamps, you will see that all the children are in fact children of the mailman. LOL

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.

Colorblind Idealism

There seems to have been an evolution among some citizens in the United States to realize that racially colorblindness isn’t really the answer to racism. In the evolution of adoption and in an attempt to get some children in foster care placed in stable homes, transracial adoption was seen as the answer. As some of these adoptees have reached adulthood, they are increasingly speaking out about why growing up black in a predominantly white community and school has proven challenging, even difficult for them.

Recently The Washington Post had an article by Rachel Hatzipanagos that focuses on transracial adoptees – I know my parents love me, but they don’t love my people. A few years ago, there was a Medium piece – The Myth of Colorblindness by Rosa Perez-Isiah.

For adoptees, their adoptive parents couldn’t see and rarely talked about the racism they experienced. Classmates’ racist comments about their hair and eyes were dismissed as harmless curiosity. America’s racial dynamics were explained in the language of “colorblind” idealism. 

In her Medium piece, Perez-Isiah says – Colorblindness is the belief that we don’t see color or race, that we see people and that we are all the same. These beliefs are widely held by well intentioned people, including educators and school leaders. These are idealistic beliefs and there are a number of issues with this ideology. Colorblindness negates our diversity, race and culture because we all see color and we all have biases. When we identify as colorblind, we are suppressing our authentic views and in the process, perpetuating systemic racism. Race matters and it has impacts on opportunities, education and actual income (as well as its future potential). Colorblindness oppresses people of color. When you fail to see color, you fail to acknowledge the current narrative, a system of injustice for many non-white people.

Cross-cultural adoptions have been debated for decades. In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers took a strong stand against the adoption of Black children by White parents. Several years later, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act was passed to address the wave of Native American children being separated from their tribes and placed with White families.

The growth in transracial adoptions from foster care in recent years has far outpaced the growth in same-race adoptions and transracial adoption is now 28% of all domestic adoptions in the United States. More recently, the national conversation about systemic racism (driven by George Floyd’s death in 2020) has cast a new light on interracial adoption and prompted transracial families to confront the unspoken cultural divides in their own homes.

For adoptees, there is a transracial adoption paradox. Growing up, they experience many of the privileges that come with Whiteness because of their adoptive parents. When they then enter the school system or move out of the family home to live independently as adults later in life, they’re confronted with the reality of being perceived and treated as a racial minority. Not so subtle is the experience of white students putting their pencils in the hair of a Black student and marveling at the way the texture makes them stay in place.

When adoption agencies take on a color-evasive approach with hopeful prospective adoptive parents, they signal to these white parents that race does not need to be a significant factor in their decision-making. Then, by extension, it is no surprise that these adoptive parents might not think that the race of their adoptees is a significant factor in raising their child. Often these parents naively hope their support will make up for racial difference, even when they acknowledge there are challenges in raising a child of a different race.

From a transracial adoptee – “I believe that a lot of people think that adoption is this beautiful, magical, straightforward process. And also when they think of adoption, that they are centering around this “White savior” image and focusing on adoptive parents more than adoptees. And/or birth, biological parents — those two seem to get left out of the narrative a lot. I also believe that adoption from a birth mother, birth parent perspective can be very intense, very complex, very emotional. And I believe that we need to lean in and listen to adoptees and birth parents more.”

Today, many adoptees have their DNA tested, either at Ancestry or 23 and Me. For an adoptee that was raised white, it can be an amazing experience to discover their father is Black and see somebody that looks like them, finally a true racial mirror. One mixed race adoptee notes – “I think a lot of White people think that they have a good handle on race … and have what they would call a ‘colorblind’ kind of mentality. But I don’t think they understand that when you say the word ‘colorblind,’ what I hear is ‘I see you as White’.”

Another transracial adoptee suggests – “I think first acknowledging that your child is not White is, like, a huge step for a lot of White adoptive parents is to, like, see outside. Because a lot of parents see their child as, this is just your kid. They don’t see them in racialized terms. But in seeing them in that colorblind way, you are not protecting them. You are not preparing them to grow up and be an adult.”

Adoption is a trauma. Every adoptee has a different response to their trauma. Often it takes therapy to understand what was experienced as a pre-verbal infant and more importantly, how it continues affecting the adult adoptee. Therapy can help an adoptee get over feeling defective simply because they were given up for adoption. It can require learning that babies are placed for adoption for a number of reasons and that none of those reasons have to do with the baby or the value of that baby regardless of their skin color. The adoptee, not the adoptive parents, needs to be the center of their own life and story. Much of the narrative around adoption centers on the adoptive parents and frames their actions as selflessness and saving a child.

One Black adoptee admits –  I longed, and continue to long, to understand why I needed to be adopted, why I needed to be shipped across the country, why I couldn’t stay in the South, why I couldn’t stay with Black families, why I couldn’t have stayed with at least my biological extended family.” And though I am white and my mother was white too, this is a universal need in adoptees. My mom’s genetic, biological family was in the rural South and she was taken by train from Memphis to Nogales Arizona by her adoptive mother. For a long time, my mother believed she had been born in Memphis, a belief her adoptive mother was also led to believe by Georgia Tann, until birth certificate alterations made clear my mom had been born in Virginia which just made my mom believe she must have been stolen from her mother because things like that happened with Georgia Tann’s adoption practices.

Sadly, the saviorism of white adoptive parents is just so prevalent. Unfortunately, there is a deep-seated belief that white people can take care of Black people better. I have been learning a lot about this in overall society by reading White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad.

I end today’s blog back where I started with the issue of colorblindness – Why is the colorblind narrative popular? The Medium piece notes – it is easier to identify as colorblind than acknowledge differences that make us uncomfortable. This is easier for people to handle, especially in schools where we may lack the information and guidance to have difficult conversations about race. Another reason is simply not knowing…you don’t know what you don’t know. Many people also repeat what they’ve been taught and fail to reflect or question those beliefs. In the end, we don’t realize how harmful the myth of colorblindness can be.

Adoption is a challenging situation regardless – add in racial differences and it becomes doubly so. It takes courage and practice to shift from a colorblind to a color BRAVE ideology.

Curiosity

From an adoptee – My son recently asked to talk to my birth mother and I’m not sure how I feel about this. I don’t plan on ever having them meet, but we’ve been talking a lot about how I didn’t grow in Grammys belly and that I grew in somebody else’s belly, and I think he’s curious. I’m not sure why he wants to talk to her. I think part of me doesn’t want to hurt my adoptive parent’s feelings, and part of it is that I don’t want him to be made to feel the way I feel or felt (abandonment issues).

NPR has an article about whether curiosity is a positive or negative feeling. Curiosity is a complex emotion. Is it a painful reminder of what we don’t (yet) know ? The object of curiosity’s desire is information. Surprisingly, one of the factors that affects the balance of negative and positive is time. Curiosity arises when a person notices a gap in her knowledge. The gap induces a feeling of deficiency, which in turn motivates her to fill the gap. Curiosity comes in two flavors: deprivation — a strong but unsatisfied need to know — and interest — information-seeking that’s motivated by anticipated pleasure. When our curiosity will not be satisfied anytime soon, we focus on not knowing, on the information gap itself, and this is largely negative.

One commenter to the original post told this story of her experience. My children, 6 and 8, met my birth father’s family this summer. Long story, but they didn’t know about me and we connected via Ancestry after my birth father passed away. I met him many years ago, but he didn’t want a relationship and kept me a secret from his family. I had to explain a lot of very complicated things to my children in an age-appropriate way when we all met, but I felt strongly that they needed to know their family and learn about their grandpa they never got to meet. It was heartbreaking at times, honestly – “we had a grandpa that we never got to meet? Why didn’t he want to meet us?”

Learning about my parents origins (both were adopted) was like this for me. My grandparents were all deceased, so I will never get to know them. In my case, I was heartened however to learn that for 3 out of 4 of my grandparents, they were aware of my parents existence. Of course, their mother were but they also told their own families as did one grandfather. My parents were not secrets in these lives. However, one of my grandfathers never knew about my dad’s existence. I’ve been a bit of a surprise to his Danish and immigrant extended families as they didn’t know he ever had any children. From what I know, my dad was so much like him, they would have been marvelous fishing buddies – the pity of it all. For me, it has been interesting to know that my biological grandparents were people with lives that were taking place, while our lives were completely unknown to them or for that matter, their lives were never known to us either.

I appreciated this suggestion regarding how this woman might talk to her son about the mother’s biological mother – “I grew in her belly and not Grammy’s belly. That is a little confusing, not just for you but also for me, too. You’ve said you want to talk to her, but that feels confusing to me because I love Grammy very much and love you very much. Can you explain why you would like to talk to her? What would you like to say? Would you like to ask her questions? Could we write a letter to her with everything you want to say, and we can save it for later?” Including an interesting theory – if he’s as young as I’m imagining, his questions are likely a reflection of worries or concerns or interest for himself, not you. So he might be wondering why HE didn’t get to grow in someone else’s belly, like you did, and why he doesn’t have a biological mom. He might feel left out because you’re mom, so you’re normal for him, and not being adopted is abnormal in his little world.

I also totally get the truth of this comment (as the child of adoptee parents) – No one should pretend the adoption only affects the adoptee and not her/his children.

There is a complication – the original poster has a minimal relationship with her biological mother on Facebook. She does have major abandonment issues and her biological mother saying once – that she couldn’t wait to have grandchildren but then she said, “not your kids, your sisters.” She goes on to say, I’m certain she was just trying to protect her heart and possibly prevent losing me because of my adoptive parents. Such situations are so very complex and it isn’t always clear what the motivation for some casual remark was.

Her son said that he just wants to tell her that he likes peanut butter and jelly. One practical and realistic suggestion was – send her a one-sentence text or FB messenger message saying, “[Son who is 6 yrs old] asked about you and wanted to tell you that he likes peanut butter and jelly.” Maybe don’t tell him you’re doing this. See if/how she responds. See how you feel about her response or lack of response. And then decide what to do from there.

One woman shared her own complicated adoption situation and then suggested – I think you should be honest with your son (in an age-appropriate way) about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, in part so he knows he’s not wrong for having natural curiosity about or wanting a relationship with his biological grandparents.

Another story from experience – My daughter (12 years old at the time) decided to do a DNA test to find the “rest of her heritage.” I already knew of my biological mom and didn’t like her, but I allowed it. I thought she’d get some pie chart about her cultural background. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine she’d find my biological dad. I’m glad she did because it filled in a lot of gaps. But at the same time, I now have a lot more issues due to secondary rejection. Even so, I don’t regret it. It’s her history just as much as mine. It just sucks how badly it affects me. I’ll be fine though as I’m learning how to cope through therapy.

The Grandfathers I Never Knew

My mom’s father with her half-sisters

And I never will know my grandfathers, or my grandmothers either, because they have all died. But I’ve seen photos and heard some stories which is more than I had for over 60 years of my life.

My mom wasn’t much inclined towards this man and showed no interest in these half-siblings. She only yearned for her mother who was already dead when she pushed the state of Tennessee to give her details as an adoptee (which they still denied her). I think my mom had a pre-birth and infant sense that her own mother felt abandoned by this man with good reason. The true reasons for their separation and why he didn’t come to her aid in Memphis, I’ll never know. I have this picture thanks to my cousin, the daughter of the younger girl in this photo.

An article in Severance magazine where the aftermath of separation is often detailed by those who have experienced it is shared caught my attention for it’s headline – The Grandfather I May Never Know. I still need to actually read it (and will before I finish this blog) but I would suspect from the headline, it is still possible for the author.

In her article, Bianca Butler writes – “As a young child, I didn’t know that my mother and her twin sister (now deceased) had been adopted in 1960. I found out in 2000, when, after nearly 40 years of silence, their biological mother wrote to the twins asking to reunite.”

She describes one outcome of their reunion – “By meeting her biological mother, my mother learned her biological father’s identity and that she and her twin are of mixed-race ancestry: African American and white. Their biological mother had been a young African American college student at the University of California, Berkeley when she relinquished her twin daughters for adoption. They were born in a time in the United States when interracial unions were not only taboo but also illegal (Loving V Virginia) and when young unwed women were shamed and stigmatized—a time known as the Baby Scoop Era, from 1945 to 1973, before Roe V Wade in 1973.”

Since the suspected father of the twins denied paternity, the author decided to get her DNA tested. She goes on to share that “The Ancestry DNA test confirmed that I’m 31% Norwegian and, through the DNA matches, that I’m related to his cousins. I sent him the DNA results, but he’s still in denial and, sadly, not open to a relationship.” She admits that – “Finding biological family and taking a DNA test can bring great joy and excitement, but it can also bring rejection and disappointment. . . . It can be very emotional opening up old generational wounds that still haven’t been healed. . . . some people don’t want to be found, especially when race and adoption are factors, and I’ve had to accept that reality. “

She adds a happier note – “On a positive note, through Ancestry DNA I was amazed to connect with a cousin on my mom’s paternal side who is close to my age and open to connecting. She moved to Sacramento from Minnesota last year for graduate school, and we plan to meet. From her own ancestry research, she was able to give me more information about our shared heritage and ancestral homeland in Fresvik, Norway, which, in addition to Oslo, I hope to visit.”

This happened for me as well (thanks to DNA testing). I have contact with a cousin in Denmark now. I have learned details about my paternal grandfather’s early life. I would love to travel to Denmark and visit the family there (who never knew my grandfather ever had any children, and he probably never knew either as he was a married man and my grandmother simply handled it quietly).

I do share this perspective with the article’s author – “As an adult, I’m doing the healing work to educate myself on intergenerational trauma, loss, and abandonment that happen through adoption.”

Vagabond, I think the man with the pipe in his mouth is my paternal grandfather.