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.

Glad I Was

The author with her parents (both adoptees) apologies for the poor quality

My mom wrote about being adopted to me in an email “glad I was” but it was half-hearted because she died never knowing why. The state of Tennessee had rejected her request for her own adoption file while breaking her heart by telling her that her original mother had died some years earlier. In beginning her quest, my mom had said, “As a mother, I would want to know what became of my child.”

It is exceedingly sad that she didn’t receive her file. Her mom’s photo, holding my mom for the last time, was in it. Had she read through it, she would have known how much her mother loved her, wanted her and fought to keep her. My mom had defined her adoption as “inappropriate” in her letters to Tennessee. She was stating her belief delicately because she couldn’t reconcile having been born in Virginia and yet adopted in Tennessee while still an infant. And my mom knew all about the scandals of Georgia Tann, who’s agency my mom was adopted from.

The truth is that in the kindest of terms, my grandmother was coerced and exploited to take her baby from her for a woman who was willing to travel from Nogales Arizona to Memphis Tennessee to fetch my mom and then return to Arizona by train with an upset baby.

That remark from my mom came as I informed her I had gotten my DNA tested at Ancestry because both of my parents were adopted I didn’t know anything about my genetic origins. I had previously participated in National Geographic’s Genographic study of my maternal line (it was a gift from my brother-in-law for my birthday). The results were vague and minimal, only telling me my maternal line came out of Africa, validating my assertion that I was an Albino African – no one, including myself, could prove otherwise. The truth is I am very European, mostly Danish, then Scottish with a healthy dose of English and Irish to top it off. My mom had a smidgeon of Mali, I have a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew and Neanderthal.

My mom surprised me by telling me that she had also done an Ancestry DNA and had attempted family trees but they were based on the adoptive families for my dad and her self. She admitted that she lost motivation – “it just wasn’t real to me” she said – and I understood. Someday I will create REAL family trees for both of my parents. It just hasn’t been a priority nor have I had the time so far.

I recently went through a long exchange with some woman I didn’t know who had included my parents in her own family tree. She was really dense and it was difficult to get through to her that the people she was saying my parents were related to – they weren’t related to. Finally, she got it and said she would correct it when she had time. I never went back to look.

Someone recently described being adopted as being forced to play a silly game of pretend. I understand. My parents had to pretend to be the natural born child of the people who adopted them. My dad’s perspective matched that. He believed once you are adopted the people who gave you birth are insignificant. Only the people who raised you mattered. The pity is – unknown to him – at the time of his death a half-sister was living 90 miles away from him in the same state of New Mexico and could have shared with him so much about his mother and the family that came of her.

DNA and Facebook – Hope for Adoptees

For the last 24 hours, I’ve been absorbed in an adoptee search story going viral on Facebook. My friend in The Netherlands alerted me, knowing it would be of interest. I can’t keep up – at the time I am writing this – there have been 3,000 comments and 60,000 shares.

It is the story of a coach and a cheerleader, never married. She went out of state to her aunt’s when she learned she was pregnant. As an adoptee, she was comfortable surrendering her child to adoption and the father was not ready to take on raising a child himself. I joined the thread when it was still early enough to connect with the adoptee doing the search.

Like my mom and my self, Ancestry isn’t always helpful, at least not quickly and not until one has more complete information (names and locations) than the minimal information the agency in California was willing to give this woman. Also, Ancestry does not have a lot of records newer than the 1940s. This woman was born in 1977. We are becoming friends because, though our stories are different, we have a lot in common.

Already, there seems to be strong evidence that the father has been identified and may have lived out his life in Eldon, MO. This is particularly interesting to me because my adoptive maternal grandmother’s family originated in that geographical area, so I do have some sense of the place. My grandmother’s father founded the town of Eugene, which is located nearby. My adoptive maternal grandmother was a double cousin to Maudie, who lived in Eldon at the time I met her. Their parents were brothers and sisters who married brothers and sisters and they grew up on farms walking distance apart.

If this man (who seems quite likely to be the father) is indeed the father, the sad news is that he has died. However, he did have another daughter during his life. A good friend of mine got a big surprise when her mother died and she found out that the man she had been told was her father – wasn’t. She has since located and reunited with a half sister and they are so much alike. This is a joy that softens the shock of her own discovery.

Like the adoptee doing this search, my mom wanted to find her own mother. By the time she made the effort with the state of Tennessee, her mother had died. That devastated my mom. Tennessee denied her the adoption file but the law had changed by the time I tried and I now have that treasure trove of information. After my mom and dad (both adoptees) died, I went on my own journey of reunion because my family still knew next to nothing about our origins. Ancestry helped me with some background information about my mom’s dad. By then, I had learned from exploring Ancestry about his children by his first wife. I visited his grave in Pine Bluff, Arkansas only to discover my mom’s youngest half-sister buried nearby. I had only missed meeting my aunt alive by 2 months.

This led me to an Ancestry page for my aunt. I sent a private message and the surprise was that it was answered by the best friend of this woman’s daughter. She put me in touch with my cousin. I did spend an entire afternoon with her. She had all of her mom’s photo albums and by the time the afternoon had ended, I felt like I had lived decades within the family.

23 and Me eventually led me to discover who my dad’s father was. His mother was unwed, he was given her surname at birth. I thought it would be impossible to ever know who he was. A cousin did 23 and Me, which put me in touch with another cousin who had my paternal grandmother’s photo albums. She had left breadcrumbs as to my grandfather’s identity there that did end up being the lucky break that revealed him.

Never think it is impossible to re-connect the threads of your identity, even when states seal adoption files and the agencies involved refuse to give you identifying information. Not all searches are successful or happy, however, reading through some of the entries on this woman’s now viral search thread on Facebook, I have been heartened to see so many adoptees have shared their own stories of how DNA brought them success with their own searches.

Being Heard

This is particularly true for adopted persons. The narrative in adoptionland is such that adoptees often refer to it as the rainbows and unicorns version of reality. If one does very much reading about the lived experience of adoptees, a very different perspective emerges. That perspective has guided this blog from its inception.

In the fall of 2017, I began to learn the stories of my original grandparents. Both of my parents were adopted and died knowing next to nothing about their true origins. They and we as their children, only knew some basic facts. The Tennessee Children’s Home and Memphis TN factored into my mom’s adoption. Her original name was Frances Irene Moore and she only knew her parents were Mr and Mrs JC Moore. Not nearly enough for her to go on.

In the 1990s, my mom saw the resurgence of interest in the Georgia Tann story. Miss Tann was directly involved in prying my mom away from her mother. My mom also learned when her adoptive mother died that she had actually been born in Virginia. Because of Georgia Tann’s reputation and because my mom could not explain to her own self how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted before the age of 1 in Tennessee, my mom believed she had at best, in her words “been adopted inappropriately” (that to the state of Tennessee as she attempted to get the adoption file I now have possession of) and privately, to me as her oldest daughter – she believed she had been stolen from her parents by deception, then transported to Tennessee. Not the actual story but not that far off the truth.

My mom was troubled by her adoption. She did want to reconnect with her original mother. Sadly, even as the state of Tennessee refused to turn over her adoption file (she was almost a decade too early in asking and when it did become possible no one alerted her that she could have it), they told her that her mother had died some years before and that totally broke my mother’s heart. She quit creating a family history at Ancestry because it was based on the families of the adoptive parents and as she said to me – that’s just not real to me, I can’t finish it. I understand – while my experiences with my adoptive grandparents are cherished and precious to me – they no longer seem “real” to me either, because I do not carry their genes.

My dad simply ignored the fact he had been adopted. His attitude was, his mother gave him up and these kind people raised him and so, they were his parents and that was that. When my mom wanted to know more, he cautioned her against opening up a can of worms. She couldn’t talk to him about it anymore and so, she talked to me about it. Sometimes adoptees even silence other adoptees because they don’t want to touch the pain hidden in their own unconscious trauma.

Just a note that my favorite adoption related community has shutdown. I have often shared stories from there because I think it is very important to make the stories based on direct experience more widely known. While there will be no more “new” stories unless the group reactivates, there is an archive that I will be able to continue to access. Even so, it’s closure leaves a hole in my own life and I’m certain in many other lives as well. I think the administrators were simply worn out. I do understand.

When To Test

I read about a situation today where the genetic parents of a toddler who has been adopted want the adoptive parents to have the child’s DNA tested so that family connections are available for that child.  This is within a diverse adoption community and the responses were diverse as well.  It is true that in getting our DNA tested we have no idea how that identifying information may be used in the future.  Many of those commenting thought it should wait until the child was old enough to consent.  Many suggested the genetic parents do the tests so that it is out there if or when the child wants it.  Some believed it would have been helpful to them to have this information while they were yet a child.

I’ve had some experiences with adoption or donor conceived and DNA testing experiences.

Both of my parents were adoptees. I’ve done both Ancestry (my mom also did this one but it didn’t help her and yet, has been invaluable to me for learning ancestral relationships and my genetic family’s movements over time) and 23 and Me. Both have helped me be accepted by genetic relatives who might have doubted me otherwise. I’ve been able to make a few “good” connections and have a better sense of some of my family thanks to stories and photos shared. As to developing relationships with people I lost over 6 decades getting to know ? It is slow going though everyone has been nice to me.

Now on another front . . . both of my sons are donor egg conceived. We’ve never hidden this aspect of their conception from them and they have met the donor on several occasions. Fortunately she has an amazingly good perspective on it all. I waited until the oldest was 18 to gift him with 23 and Me. I knew the donor had done that one and before I gifted my son, I gifted my husband. After the older one received his results, I gifted the 15 yr old as well. He is mature and there was no reason to exclude him. It is uncomfortable but the GENETIC reality that the donor is listed as their Mother. They grew in my womb, nursed at my breast for a full year and have known no one else as “mom”. They seem to have processed it well as far as I can tell. Thankfully.

The adoptive mom of my nephew did Ancestry using only initials to identify him. It turned out (and she helped him in discovering this), my sister lied about who the father was on my nephew’s birth certificate. The Ancestry DNA test was their first suspicion. The effort though came at the nephew’s desire to know. He has since met his genetic father several times. They look remarkably alike and now my nephew has certainty.

My niece (child of a different sister) was also adopted and is going through some frustrations over her DNA results though her mother has given her the name of the genetic father. It can be a complicated and confusing experience.

There is one other nephew who was raised by his paternal grandparents. My sister lost custody in court when the paternal grandparents sued to possess him. This child is of mixed heritage – both white and Hispanic. He was raised in a very Hispanic family. His DNA shows a beautiful diversity.

No solutions, simply thoughts and examples.

Family Contact Matters

I understand this as the child of two adoptees.  The adoptions for both of my parents were closed and my parents both died knowing very little about their origins or the details behind why they ended up adopted.  Since their deaths, I have been able to recover a lot of my rightful family history.  I now know of genetic relatives for each of the four grandparents.  It has been quite a journey.  It wasn’t easy (though maybe easier for me due to our unique circumstances than for many) and it required persistence and determination to see it through.

Certainly DNA testing and the two major matching sites – Ancestry as well as 23 and Me – were instrumental to my success.  Since the genetic relations I was coming into first contact with had no prior knowledge of me and I am well over 60 years old, seeing the DNA truth that I was related to them, I believe it mattered.  It is hard to refute when it is right there clear and certain.

My mom had four living half-siblings on her father’s side when she was born.  One died young of a sudden heart failure.  I barely missed getting to meet my mom’s youngest half-sister by only a few months.  I was lucky to connect with her daughter who had all of her mom’s photo albums and possession of a lot of family history, including written accounts.  One afternoon with her and I felt like I had lived my Moore family’s history.  The family photos I now have digital copies of are precious treasures.

Though my Stark family was the first I became aware of and within a month, I had visited the graves of my grandmother and her parents east of Memphis in Eads Tennessee, those living descendants were the last I finally made a good strong connection with.  The reality is that I simply can’t recover 6 decades of not living with the usual family interactions with my true genetic relatives.  All I can do is try and build relationships with whatever time each of us has left.  The personal memories of my grandmother that my mom’s cousins possessed (she was our favorite aunt, they said) made her come alive for me.

The Salvation Army was somewhat forthcoming with information about my father’s birth at one of their homes for unwed mothers in the San Diego California area just walking distance from the beach and ocean.  They were able to give me my father’s full name and the missing piece of how he got from San Diego to El Paso Texas where he was ultimately adopted.  Once I knew my grandmother’s first married name (born Hempstead including my dad, later Barnes, Timm at death) and a cousin did 23 and Me, my discoveries were off and running.  Her mother, my dad’s youngest half-sibling, was living only 90 miles away from him when he died.  Mores the pity.

I thought I’d never know who my dad’s father was since his mother was unwed but the next cousin I met who I share a grandmother with had her photo albums and she left us a breadcrumb.  Clearly she had no doubt who my dad’s father was.  His father, Rasmus Martin Hansen, was an immigrant, not yet a citizen, and married to a much older woman.  So, he probably never knew he was a father and that’s a pity because I do believe my dad and his dad would have been great friends.

I now also have contact with my Danish grandfather’s genetic relatives.  If it had not been for the pandemic, they would have had their annual reunion there in Denmark.  I haven’t heard but I would not be surprised to know it is postponed.  My relative (who I share a great-grandfather with – my dad being the only child of my grandfather) planned to make the Danish relatives aware of me.

To anyone who thinks not knowing who your true relatives are – if the adoptions were more or less good enough, happy enough and loving enough – I am here to tell you that not knowing anything about your family (including medical history) and being cut off from the people you are actually genetically related to DOES matter.  Adoption records should be UNSEALED for ALL adult adoptees at their request.  Sadly over half of these United States still withhold that information.  I know from experience as I encountered this problem in Virginia, Arizona and California.  If my mom’s adoption had not been connected to the Georgia Tann, Tennessee Children’s Home Society baby stealing and selling scandal, I would not have gotten my first breakthrough.

It Is Odd Now

Twenty years ago Genealogy was not a consideration in my own mind.  After 10 years of marriage, my childless husband decided he wanted to have children after all.  For those first ten years, he was glad I had been there and done that and there was no pressure on him to become a father.  We had seen a short news piece that said that woman who conceive at an older age live longer.

Over Margaritas in a Mexican restaurant he boldly told me that he wanted to become a father.  My mouth fell open in amazement and then I said “okay”.  So began our adventure together.  We used ovulation kits and did it faithfully as much as possible at the appropriate times.  Nothing resulted.

One day at my general practitioners office in consultation about my cholesterol with the nurse practitioner, I told her about our efforts to become parents.  She said to me, “I’m not saying you are infertile but at your age you don’t have time to waste.”  Then recommended her gynecologist to me.

I made an appointment and just before that we saw another news piece that informed us of our low odds of success at my age.  I was devastated and went to the place where I often poured my heart out to my God, the place where I had stood to marry my husband, and lamented that he married such an old woman.

At the gynecologist’s office, we saw on ultrasound that I had an egg developing, so the doctor prescribed a shot to jump start my chances.  It was the very last egg I ever produced.  When the doctor’s effort failed, he said there is a way and we rejoiced.

Thanks to advances in medical science we have two wonderful sons.  When they were conceived I knew nothing about my own genetic roots and so it was not an issue to me.  Fast forward twenty years and inexpensive DNA tests are available.  My whole family has had our DNA tested at 23 and Me.

On my page there, I see my daughter, my nephew and a whole slew of cousins.  I have also been able to discover who all 4 of my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted and died knowing next to nothing about their own origins – my mom did have her DNA tested at Ancestry, as did I, but it didn’t help her during her lifetime).

I carried my sons in my womb and they nursed at my breast.  No one could be more their mother than I am.  I’ve been with them almost every day of their lives, though I have had to be away from them occasionally.  My husband has never been away from them.  He is genetically related to them.

It is odd to wrap my own mind around the truth.  They are not related to me genetically nor to anyone else I am related to genetically.  There have been times, when in an argument with my husband, I have felt keenly he has more right to them than I do.  Even so, I love them with all of my heart.  My youngest son did lament to me that he has none of my genes but he would not exist otherwise.  The reality has to be absorbed by each of us.  In fundamental ways, nothing has changed.

Robbed Of Heritage

The symbolism in this painting calls to something very deep within me.  It is a painting by Barbara Taffet. In 1973, she reinvented herself as Maria Alquilar, a Latina artist whose fictive back story included a Sephardic Jewish father from Argentina. Drawing on her deep knowledge of world myths and spiritual traditions, filtered through her own personal mythology, she began creating idiosyncratic works inspired by the work of the California Sacramento-Davis area narrative expressionist, outsider and funk artists she admired and collected.

Adoption robs us of our actual cultural heritage.  All my life until very recently, I believed my dad was half-Mexican and my mom possibly half-African American.  They were both adoptees and for what little we knew about our familial roots, we could claim any story we wanted and not even our own selves knew whether it was true or not.

So along came inexpensive DNA testing.  Both my mom and I had ours done at Ancestry.  Later on, I had mine also tested at 23 and Me.  My mom has some Mali in her and so, I suspect slavery had something to do with that.  My dad’s dark complexion actually came by way of his Danish immigrant father.  I have learned there is some Ashkenazi Jew in me and suspect that comes via a family that lived for generations on Long Island New York.

Why does this painting call so deeply to my soul – there is that Jewish symbol and there is the Southwestern symbols as well.  There is a predator protecting it’s prey – my maternal grandmother was preyed upon by Georgia Tann, the famous baby thief of Memphis Tennessee.  And it is always about the bunnies in my household.  The angelic image at the top is more like a Jackrabbit which fits nicely with my New Mexican birth.

In many transracial adoptions, the very young child is not only cut off from their cultural heritage but loses contact with their native language.  It may be difficult to understand how disorienting that is but I get it.  It’s time to change the rules of the adoption game.

They Aren’t My Relatives

Even before I knew who my original grandparents were and something about their stories, back when I was cleaning out my deceased parent’s residence, I began to have an awareness that so much stuff my parents stored in their house as they were executors of their own adoptive parents estates, was not actually relevant to my life.  As a historian, it did pain me to send to the landfill tons of genealogy and binders full of personal recollections from a life of far flung traveling, because in reality, I’m not related to those people.

This awareness came back full force yesterday as my family has been going through an extreme phase of de-cluttering.  As I now approach my own 66th birthday, I seem to be even more able than ever to let a lot of irrelevant stuff go.

Of course, I do acknowledge those relationships that helped to shape me in my youth.  The adoptive grandparents and the aunts, uncles and cousins related to them had influence in my life and I do have fond memories of loving gestures and concern, as well as any opportunities that actually did come my way through these people.  There will always be a place in my heart for these people who chose to love and nurture my parents and because of them – for us who were the children and so were treated equally as being somehow “related”.  Though we weren’t, not really.

Now that I do know who my original grandparents were, it is these people who I think of as grandparents and there are new aunts but most of that ancestral level of relationship has already died and I’ll never be able to know them but second-hand through those who are my true cousins in a genetic sense.

While I honor and acknowledge the more direct relationships that came my way because of the adoption of my parents, the siblings and ancestors of those adoptive grandparents have lost all meaning for me.  I am simply not related to those persons and their familial history holds no interest for me any longer.

My mom belonged to Ancestry and found she had to quit working on the family trees that were based on the circumstance of having been adopted.  She said, “They just weren’t REAL to me.”  I understand.  In a short period of time, I have come to feel the same way.

If Not For DNA Testing

If not for DNA testing, I would not have revealed so much so quickly about my original family cultural roots.  Certainly, my mom being adopted in what later turned out to be a baby stealing and selling scandal gave me a quick start.  Because of that scandal, Tennessee was eventually pushed to open their sealed adoption files.  And my mom’s was rich with details even if Georgia Tann was a known liar and I did uncover some lies in that file.  Thankfully, there was enough true information that it opened up a world to me that I never expected to know nada about.  Yay !!

Both of my parents were adopted.  On my dad’s side it was trickier.  His mother had been unwed and his adoption came through The Salvation Army.  Ancestry was a big help in revealing enough details to what I already knew that The Salvation Army was then willing to reveal a tiny bit more.  23 and Me was the big breakthrough there, when a cousin received her results and contacted me to tell me we had the same grandmother.  That led me eventually to another cousin thanks to Facebook.  She had the final breadcrumb keys that my grandmother had left for me as to my dad’s father’s identity in a photo album.

Interestingly, almost a year before I received the breadcrumbs, Ancestry had identified a cousin.  He didn’t reply to my inquiry right away.  When he did, he apologized for not having a clue how we were related.  By then, I had some details about my paternal grandfather.  The man was able then to tell me that our grandparents were brother and sister.

Yes, I do believe in DNA testing and for adoptees given that half of these United States continue to refuse to unseal their adoption files, DNA matching may be the only way to learn your true cultural identity.  Today, I read another story about how this helped.  I will summarize.

The daughter of a Jewish patriarch gave birth, out of wedlock, to this person’s mother.  That fact remained a secret within the family.  This person’s mother died knowing none of this, much like both of my own parents. She was raised by another couple, just like my parents were. In the case I was reading about there wasn’t even a formal adoption or paper trail.

So it took DNA testing for this person to discover his ancestry. Thanks to that testing he discovered relatives, leading him to even more new discoveries.  That is how it was for me too.  I know of living relatives for 3 of my 4 grandparents.  With my paternal grandfather, he had no more children but he did remarry.  Thanks to Ancestry and Find-A-Grave, I came into contact with what I will call a step-cousin, who could give me some details about his life.

It is said that a recent survey showed about a quarter of the people who take these tests find some kind of surprising result.  That sometimes leads to a book about the story of those discoveries.  At the end of December, I completed the story of my own.  I am now in the process of seeking a literary agent.  May 2020 prove successful in my quest.

For more about the Jewish story I mention in my blog today, you can go to this link – https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-a-dna-test-revealed-the-family-i-never-knew-2020-01-10/