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.

Assumed Name and False Identity

Each of my parents was born with a meaningful name indicating family and personal relationships given to them by the woman who gave birth to them. In the kind of inside joke that only two adoptees could share, my dad sometimes called my mom by the name she was born under – Frances Irene.

It appears that the Frances may have come from a family that helped my grandmother when she first returned to Memphis with her two month old daughter. She probably had some connection to them before she gave birth to my mom in Virginia. When investigating my mom’s circumstances before adoption, Georgia Tann noted some vague family relationship between my grandmother and this family. I’ve been unable to track that back through Ancestry in order to prove it.

It appears my maternal grandmother was sent away from Tennessee to give birth by her father, after her lawfully wedded husband returned to Arkansas where his mother was caring for two daughters given him by his deceased first wife. Why he left her 4 mos pregnant or why he didn’t come back when informed she was in Memphis with the baby, I can never know though my heart yearns to.

Irene was the name of my maternal grandmother’s own mother who died when my grandmother was only 11 years old leaving her the woman of the house in charge of caring for her four siblings, two girls and two boys, the youngest only about a year old.

My mom’s name was changed to Julie Sue. My grandmother adopted a boy and then a girl through Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, Memphis branch. She stated in a letter to the society’s administrator that she wanted a Jill to go with her Jack. My mom’s adoptive brother was named John. So my adoptive grandmother was subtle about that heartfelt intention of hers when re-naming her children

When a person is adopted, their name is often changed by the couple that adopts them. Sometimes their date of birth and even the geographic location where they were born may be altered on the new birth certificate created for the adoptee showing the adoptive couple as their parents, as though these people gave birth to them.

It turned out the name my dad was given at birth was an important clue to his identity. My paternal grandmother named him Arthur Martin. Arthur was the man married to her aunt and she was working at their motel and restaurant at the beach in La Jolla California when she met my paternal grandfather. Unfortunately, he was also a married man. By the time she knew she was pregnant, she probably knew that marital status related to him as well. It appears he never knew he had a son.

Martin was the name of the man who fathered my dad. When I connected with a cousin who lives in Mexico, I discovered that she had my paternal grandmother’s photo albums (a real treasure trove of images). Next to a photo of my grandmother holding my dad in her lap, was the headshot of a man and she wrote his name, Martin Hansen, and boyfriend on the back.

My adoptive grandmother named my dad Thomas Patrick. The Thomas was the man she was married to when she adopted my dad. Since his birthday was only one day off from St Patrick’s Day (and that is why I never forgot his birthday), that may be the only reason for the Patrick part of his name.

However, she divorced that man and re-married and so my dad was adopted twice and his name changed again when he was already 8 years old to Gale Patrick – the Gale being her new husband’s name. It may not have been too confusing for him because he was called Pat all the years I knew him, at least.

In addition to the name changes, an adoptee is dropped into a family they were not born into but must “pretend” their whole lives they are related to. I’ve not cared all that much about names, though I like mine and now that I know about my original grandparents find a “family” connection because my paternal grandmother’s oldest sister was also named Deborah. She was hit and killed by a reckless teenage driver when she was only 3 years old.

A Delicate Balance

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

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

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

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

Some of the advice the woman here received –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming An Ancestor

Wedding Photo – Raphael Vandervort Hempstead and Mary Elizabeth Gildersleeve on April 30 1906

I’m a family historian and a family storyteller. I believe I finally did arrive at my personal destiny – that of discovering and then sharing the true origins and cultures my family was created from. It is a feeling of wholeness that I never expected to have. It is also fascinating, I suppose, simply because it is our real identity constructs. Both of my parents were adopted – with falsified birth certificates giving them identities they were not born with.

A quiet revolution is taking place for adoptees today. More and more are finding their genetic biological families, just as I did. Only a few years ago, this would not be possible but the advent of inexpensive DNA testing and matching sites like Ancestry and 23 and Me as well as social media have made what once seemed like only a dream – possible.

My parents and my in-laws are now ancestors, meaning they have died and no longer walk this earth as physical presences. My husband and I both approach our 70s. We are way to becoming an ancestor. Just yesterday, my husband went into a hours long dialog about all the choices he has made in life to arrive at this place in time with our oldest son. Too often, after our parents have died, we wish we would have asked more questions. Asking questions is not always all that easy when they are alive however and we don’t always know what to ask.

I freely share so much about my life. Someone may want to know about me. Their life might be changed by knowing that I existed. They might be empowered by knowing that they once had the same dreams I do. We’re all future dead people, and 100 years from now, someone like me will come looking for you.

Certainly, this is what adoptees are doing today. This is what I have done regarding my true family of origin. My family origins journey began in cemeteries. The cemetery in Pine Bluff Arkansas to be precise. I sat by my maternal grandfather’s grave and talked to him. Then I discovered that my mom’s half-sister had only died a few months before. Darn, I missed that opportunity to know her. But I was able to get to know her daughter thanks to something her best friend posted about my cousin’s mother on Ancestry. During one wonderful afternoon, she shared with me photos and stories from the many photo albums her mom left her. We were both sad that our mothers never got the chance to meet. Certainly, her mother always hoped my mom would show up. The state of Tennessee was not helpful, when my mom inquired. Today, it has all changed for adoptees like my mom and dad.

The photo at the top is my dad’s grandparents, sent to me by a cousin (with whom I share my paternal grandmother) who lives in Mexico, thanks to Facebook messenger.

It’s A Fundamental Human Right

I certainly understand the need to know. I believe one of the purposes that I came into this lifetime was to heal some missing family history. I believe because I was aligned with my dharma, doors opened and answers revealed themselves. That black hole void beyond my parents became whole with ancestors stretching way back and into Denmark and Scotland as well as the English and Irish.

I believe in the principle that it’s a fundamental human right to know one’s genetic identity. I remember once talking to a woman who was trying to understand why it mattered that both of my parents were adopted if they had a good life. As I tried to explain it to her, she suddenly understood. She took her own genetic ancestry for granted because she knew that if she had any reason to want to know, she could discover all the details.

Not so for many adoptees with sealed and closed records (which was the case with my parents adoptions) and not so for donor conceived people whose egg or sperm donors chose to remain anonymous – many doing it for the money – and walking away from the fact that a real living and breathing human being exists because of a choice they made. Today, inexpensive DNA testing has unlocked the truth behind many family secrets. Some learn one (or both) of the parents who raised them are not their genetic parent from a DNA test. A family friend might tell a person mourning the death of their dad at his funeral, that their father suffered from infertility and their parents used a sperm donor to conceive them.

These types of revelations can be earth shattering for some people. I’ve know of someone recently who was thrown that kind of loop. The process of coping with such a revelation is daunting and life-changing regardless. Even for my own self, learning my grandparents stories has changed my perspectives in ways I didn’t expect, when I first began the search into my own cultural and genetic origins.

There is a term for this – misattributed parentage experience (MPE). It has to do with the fact that you did not grow up knowing your genetic parent.  That word – experience – best describes the long-term effects. It is not an “event,” a one-time occurrence. The ramifications of MPE last a lifetime to some degree.  I know how it feels, trying to get to know people, who have decades of life experience that I was not present for or even aware of. It is not possible to recover that loss. One can only go forward with trying to develop a forward relationship and whatever gems of the past make themselves known are a gift.

There are 3 primary communities with MPE in their personal histories.

[1] Non-paternity event (NPE): those conceived from an extramarital affair, tryst, rape or assault, or other circumstance

[2] Assisted conception: those conceived from donor conception (DC), sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, or surrogacy

[3] Adoption: those whose adoption was hidden, orphans, individuals who’ve been in foster care or are late discovery adoptees (LDA), etc.

There are also 3 primary topics for raising awareness and developing reform efforts – education, mental health and legislation. Right To Know is an organization active on all of these fronts and issues. They are advocates for people whose genetic parent(s) is not their supportive or legal parent(s). They work to promote a better understanding of the complex intersection of genetic information, identity, and family dynamics in society at large.

Glad I Was

I almost didn’t know what to write today. It seemed as though I had said it all in the last few days. But then an exchange with my mom, not long before she died, came back into my mind. She gave me editing privileges on her Ancestry account. She had done the family tree thing but it was all based on the ancestral lines of her adoptive parents and my dad’s adoptive parents. She admitted to me she just had to quit working on it. It wasn’t real, she knew that deeply, not in the sense Ancestry is meant to record. But quickly, she added, “you know, because I was adopted. Glad I was.”

What else could she say ? She didn’t know anything but her adopted life. Scarcely knew anything beyond her parents names of Mr and Mrs J C Moore – that doesn’t tell a person very much, though it proved to be accurate. She knew her name at birth was given to her by her mother as Frances Irene. Oh, she tried. Tennessee would not give her her adoption file even though she carried a deep certainly all the way to her death that she had been “inappropriately” adopted. Such a careful way she worded that. She knew Georgia Tann was involved and she knew about the scandal. She actually learned about it when it came out in the newspapers in the 1950s while she was yet a school girl.

She was devastated to learn from the state of Tennessee that her birth mother had died. Closing the door to her ever being able to communicate with that woman who gave her the gift of life through her own body.

It is that “Glad I was.” that haunts me today. I didn’t know about adoptee fog until recently. In fact, when I first entered my all things adoption Facebook group, wow, was I ever in it !! Adoption seemed like the most natural thing in the world to me. It was so natural that both of my sisters ended up giving up children to adoption.

What I want to say clearly this morning is – Adoption is the most UN-natural way for a child to grow up. Having one’s birth certificate altered to make it appear that total strangers actually gave birth to you when they did NOT. Having your name changed to suit the desires of your adoptive parents ? It is a fantasy. A pretend life and adoptees feel it keenly, as my mom clearly did “it just wasn’t real to me”.

The thing my mom could be glad for is that she had a financially comfortable upbringing and some perks such as travel along with her adoptive mother. She also suffered some coldness and harsh judgement because her natural body structure would never be lithe and thin as my adoptive grandmother took such pains to make her own. I know, I suffered a humiliating embarrassment in a public restaurant in London from her over the sin of taking a piece of bread and putting some butter on it.

My maternal adoptive grandmother was an accomplished and phenomenal woman. I grant her that. But I am convinced she bought her children when she found she could not conceive. I am no longer a believer in adoption and until I run out of things to write about – I will continue making an argument for family preservation and an end to separating babies from their natural mothers. I will defend allowing such children who are unfortunate enough to be adopted to keep ALL the ties to their identities – their genuine birth certificate and their name (unless and until, it is their choice to change that).

The Disappointments

I can only be grateful at the good fortune I have experienced in becoming whole. Whole in the sense that after over 60 years of life, I finally know who my original grandparents were and have some contact with their genetic descendants.

It doesn’t go that well for everyone touched by adoption. It certainly did not go that way for my own mom. She so yearned to let her own original mom know that she was okay, to connect with her. When she tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee, she was denied on a technicality based upon a lack of effort on their part to determine the status of her father (who had been dead for 30 years by that time). My mom was heartbroken to learn her original mother had died. Finally, in 2017, I paid the fee I was asked to pay and got the entire file. It is a shame my mom was denied this for it would have brought her so much peace.

So today, there is this story from an adoptee – She had received her original birth certificate and was applying to receive her entire case file. It seems there is a no contact order from her original mom. The adoptee intends to respect that wish. The original mother was informed that her child was looking for her. She was asked if she wanted to provide any additional information. The answer was, no, not at this time, keep the file open. But 5 years later, the original mother placed a no contact on the file. This is, of course, a huge disappointment.

Another with such a disappointment – 20 yrs ago my biological mom did the same thing when I wanted my file. I recently found her via Ancestry. I have had communications with 2 of the 6 half siblings but not her. She will be 90 next month. I continue to pray she has a change of heart. Having a connection with her siblings is wonderful but only my biological mom can truly provide me with the information that my heart years for regarding the 1st chapter of my life.

In my case, my biological mom’s “secret” was exposed to my half siblings about 20 yrs ago. Turns out her sister had had a little too much to drink and told her nieces and nephew (who are my half siblings) at a family gathering, about me (secrets do have this tendency to out themselves). The half siblings never mentioned it to my biological mom because they were uncertain her husband knew of my existence. They knew nothing else though, not even my sex. They did not want to cause her marital problems. Her spouse passed away around the time I found her via Ancestry. That was almost 2 yrs ago now. I have met one of my half siblings in person. There are a total of 5 daughters and one son that are my half siblings. A couple of the girls are supposedly working on our mom to let go of the shame of being an unwed mother. I have no real way of knowing if that is true or if they are protecting her due to her age, trying to be respectful of this situation. I know the son is adamantly against troubling her with it. He lives with her, which makes it even tougher to have a breakthrough. Thus I may never know…

Another person shared this – “My grandfather is a vile person, however we found my mom’s adopted sibling three years ago and mom has now met every family member but him. I would personally reach out to others. I’ve loved getting to know my aunt.” I can relate to this. Getting to know my truly biological/genetic family has meant every thing to having a fully formed sense of self. I believe my maternal grandmother’s father was cruel – not to take in my grandmother and mom – which forced her exploitation by Georgia Tann. I wonder often, did he ever regret that ? I’ll never know but I have been told that just as I expected – he was a hard man.

Here is another “no contact” but finding other relatives story – My husband is also adopted (I’m adopted). He found his mom and she asked him to never contact her again. He was devastated. But he reached out and found his uncle, who absolutely does want a relationship. He’s found other family members, as well. I’m sad about it, too. His adoptive mom died when he was a teenager, so I never got to meet her. I’d like to meet his biological mom. She has a grandson now. But she doesn’t want to meet him either. That’s her choice. There really is not much we can do about that.

Finally, this sad outcome – My mom will never talk to me because her sense of reality is horribly off. My half brother and aunt do talk to me though! It’s the greatest gift I could have hoped for – after she started pretending I was dead.

Adoptees should have the human right to know about their own self. This really should supersede an original parent’s desire for no contact. She can have privacy (no contact) but should not be allowed anonymity. As an adoptee, you are entitled to know about your genetic makeup and medical history. We all should be.

Sadly, Many women live and die without ever shedding any of the oppression of the patriarchy. As you can imagine they’re more likely to be married to men who are committed to it, abusive, and demeaning. You don’t have to abide and can do anything you like – I would just suggest to a disappointed adoptee – it’s not a rejection of you – even if it feels that way.

However, knowing it in your mind and feeling it in your heart can be 2 very different things. I believe with all my heart, if these afflicted persons could overcome those feelings, they would personally be better off.

Adoption Issues On Facebook

Ten years ago, there was an article in The Guardian which the title “Facebook has changed adoption for ever.” The sub-title was “Social network sites like Facebook are changing what happens after adoption. At the click of a button, birth parents can contact their children – and vice versa – with far-reaching consequences.” I would add inexpensive DNA testing via Ancestry and 23 and Me have done as much.

The lead-in on that article noted – “Adoption is undergoing a revolution. Until recently, it has been a closely managed process, with social workers going to enormous lengths to protect children placed with adoptive families from inappropriate contact with birth relatives.” That was always the argument but never the truth. The truth was that social workers and adoption agencies were protecting the adoptive parents from the intrusion of the natural bond between the original parent and their child. There certainly have been “. . . cases of adopted young people being contacted by birth parents through Facebook. There are even more instances in which the approach is initiated by adopted young people themselves, who are curious about their birth families.” You can read that rest of that decade old perspective at the link above.

Now today, another one. This one published in Wired titled Adoption Moved to Facebook and a War Began and raising the hackles of some in my most important (though I do belong to several) adoption related support group at Facebook. The sub-title notes – As the adoption industry migrates to social media, regretful adoptees and birth mothers are confronting prospective parents with their personal pain—and anger. I do see these in my support group. In fact, adoptees are the “privileged” voices there.

This is true to the best of my own knowledge on the subject – “The adoption industry has never been very well regulated, and there is a history of certain firms engaging in unethical practices. But when agencies were the primary facilitators of adoption, they could at least perform basic vetting of birth mothers and adoptive parents and manage complex legal processes. The open marketplace of the web removed that layer of oversight.” Wired refers to people in adoption support groups as anti-adoption but then goes on to note that these are older women who, as “unwed mothers” in the 1950s and ’60s, were forced to give babies up for adoption; women whose churches still pressure them to give up children born outside of marriage; adoptees who want to overturn laws in 40 states that deny them unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. These are legitimate experiences and desires that do not in themselves constitute being anti-adoption.

However, as understanding of the deep sub- and un- conscious trauma that adoptees experience and the lifelong regret that mothers who surrendered their children to adoption as a permanent solution to a temporary situation are increasing shared openly or privately in groups that maintain anonymity, as my dominant choice does, there is a desire to limit the number of adoptions that do take place. There are recommendations for kinship guardianship whenever possible, for true efforts on the part of foster parents to assist the original parents in successfully navigating the child welfare requirements for reunification with their own children and that at the least, when adoption seems somehow the only alternative left – allowing the child to retain their original identity by NOT changing their name nor creating a new “false” birth certificate the creates the impression that the adoptive parents gave birth to that child.

These are reasonable attempts at reform.

In the movement Wired identifies are a wide range of perspectives. Some recognize the value of adoption in certain circumstances and have specific goals, like improving federal oversight, eliminating practices that are coercive to birth mothers, or giving them more time to reverse a decision to give up a child. Others see adoption as wrong most of the time – in my group it is NOT as Wired indicates “in all cases” – but there is a recognition that the natural bond between a biological mother and her child is a reality. Some are finding community and expressing feelings of anger and pain for the first time; birth mothers describe pressure, regret, and lifelong mourning for the children they gave up, while adoptees talk about their sense of estrangement and about not knowing their medical history. Certainly, poverty plays a role in children being removed from their parents and placed for adoption.

Wired does proach the topic of the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR). The article notes that TPR has been called the “civil death penalty,” because of its severity and finality. It is overwhelmingly levied against poor families. Some children are taken away from parents who abuse them horribly—and others who should be removed are not and die at the hands of abusers. Nationally, the majority of children are removed from their homes by child protective services not for abuse but neglect, which can be a more subjective state. Neglect can mean a child was left in a hot car for hours or that a child’s parent is an addict. Or it can mean that a child was alone at home while their mother worked an overnight shift or went to the store, or that there’s not enough food in the fridge. In other words, poverty can create conditions that lead to neglect, and the exigencies of poverty can also be interpreted as neglect.

My own adoption support group advocates, and some experts in child-welfare reform do as well, for helping families get what they need—rehab, food stamps, child care subsidies. We agree that should be prioritized over permanently removing children from their parents. In a 2019 paper, “A Cure Worse Than the Disease? The Impact of Removal on Children and Their Families,” Vivek Sankaran, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and his coauthors note that removing children from their homes is traumatic for both parents and children, and that standards for removal vary from state to state. In some states there must be evidence that a child is in immediate danger; in others, suspicion of neglect is sufficient cause. Some states allow a parent to appeal the removal within 24 hours; in others a parent may have to wait 10 days. As a result, the authors note, states and even individual counties have widely varying rates of removing children.

“If we eliminated poverty in this country, that would be the best abuse- and neglect-prevention program,” according to Elizabeth Bartholet, director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School.

It is true that the internet, along with widely available genetic testing, has dismantled the possibility of a truly closed adoption.  However, the truth about open adoptions is the adoptive family an easily end the relationship. Open adoptions exist at the discretion of the adopting family. They are not legally enforceable in all states, and where they are enforceable the cost of a lawyer can be prohibitive for a birth mother.

My adoption support group often recommends the Saving Our Sisters (SOS) organization to expectant mothers considering a surrender of their baby. This group seeks to persuade birth mothers that financial strain shouldn’t prevent them from keeping their children. When a woman who is having second thoughts reaches out to SOS online, the group tries to find a “sister on the ground” nearby to bring her diapers, a month’s rent, or a baby swing. In 6 years time, they helped 90 mothers and their children remain together, rather than be lost to adoption.

 

Seeking Ever More Accuracy

Years ago, the phrase NPE was coined to generally mean when the expected parent or parents weren’t.

  • NPE means nonpaternal event, also sometimes nonparental event.
  • Some folks didn’t like that term and began to use MPE, misattributed paternal event or misattributed parentage.

Of course, today, this situation could arise as a result of an adoption, a donor situation, either male or female, or the more often thought-of situation where the father isn’t who he’s presumed/believed to be based on the circumstances at hand.

There is one in my family. My sister never let on, even though I was supporting her through an unplanned, unwed pregnancy and was aware of her decision to surrender her child to adoption and was in on her thoughts as she made a decision on which hopeful adoptive parents to chose. For many years, I had a little lockbox in keeping for my nephew which I finally gave him in late 2016.

Imagine my own shock when his adoptive mother informed me that they were questioning the official paternity on his birth certificate. The DNA didn’t seem to add up. She was one of those good adoptive mothers who supported her adopted child’s search for the truth of his origins.

The actual father, proven by advanced DNA testing due to some uncertainty over which brother the father actually was, turned out to be my dad’s friend and former co-worker. What is worse is what I learned subsequently – that my sister actually did know who the father actually was. She informed him 6 months after the boy was born as though he had only just been born. Then, when the father indicated he was going to sue for custody because he never agreed to the adoption, very early in the morning on one Father’s Day, she called to tell him his son and the adoptive parents had been killed in a car accident. Imagine his father’s shock when this son turned up on his doorstep already in his 20s.

So, my sister is genuinely mentally ill. I don’t excuse this behavior even so. One can’t make these things up and it happens more often than one might think.

So, as the whole adoption related community (adoptees, original parents and adoptive parents joined by a whole host of friends and related family) seeks more accurate terminology, NPE has now been replaced by MPE – misattributed paternal event.

Inexpensive DNA testing and matching sites like Ancestry and 23 and Me are bringing truth into many adoptees lives, and in cases such as my own as the child of two adoptees, and has made all the difference in making us whole, in contact with our genetic origins and often with family members who’s lives continued to unfold, unknown to us, due to the rupture forced by adoption on the original family trees.

A Lie Or Pretend

Someone in my all things adoption group wrote – I think it’s important to recognize that adoption for all parties is literally living a lie or playing pretend. I know my mom who was adopted felt this. She had her DNA tested at Ancestry and was in the middle of creating family trees when it really hit her. Both my mom and my dad were adopted and she realized none of it was real. I now know who the real grandparents are and I do intend to complete each of my parents’ family trees, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

One woman responded – When people get so hung up on I’m real and start lecturing their kid on it I want to laugh. They look like the fool…yeah you’re real but you aren’t “the mother”. Yeah I’m the mother but I’m not raising my kid. Reality, people.

Another woman shared – It is both at different times, yes. It’s also filled with excuses and justifications for the truth. Why can’t we JUST be real about it. Addressing that I really wasn’t “chosen” by my adoptive parents didn’t send me in a tailspin. I was next on the list that fit their criteria. That’s just fact. Could have easily been some other blonde, blue-eyed toddler they ended up raising. I don’t see why anyone would think that’s hurtful. Do adoptive parents really think we don’t know we were given away and them being our parents is a crapshoot? It’s kind of obvious, yet they go through all kinds of gyrations to fluff up the simple facts.

People act like adoptees are oblivious or incapable of handling the truth. Adoptees crave the truth, it’s all they ever want. Honesty. That’s it. Of course, adoptees already know the truth and adoptive parents just need to acknowledge what the adoptee already knows.

Acknowledge and validate. The two most important things to remember.

Someone else needed to add more complex context.

There are children being raised by extended relatives or adopted after a Termination of Parental Rights (assuming good reason). Do you tell these children they are living a lie? Or do you tell them that this is not the first choice, but it is what we have and we can try to make it work. Denying the trauma is living a lie, but I don’t think the family formed afterwards necessarily is. I don’t think every family formed outside of biological relationships is living a lie or pretending.

And sadly, not every family is good for the children born into it. Here’s one such story – I was raised by a very narcissistic mother and a very hands off father except when my mother manipulated him into abusing my brother and I (including putting me in foster care for being suicidal and self harming). I don’t feel towards them the way a child should parents. I lost the woman I actually considered a mom at 12. I personally feel like being a parent is more than giving birth and doing the bare necessities for a child. My parents may have given me everything I could have needed and let me play sports and go to camps, but they severely neglected my emotionally and mentally. I found my family elsewhere in other people. Them not being blood doesn’t invalidate my experience. I personally don’t agree with infant adoption or foster to adopt, but some people who give birth, really should just not be parents.