It’s my 68th birthday and besides the usual busyness amongst so much sorrow and reasons for global level concern, I’m a bit short on time too. So sharing this worthy blog from my adoptee friend, Ande –
I have been asked if I think losing a parent is the same as being adopted. No, it is not. Plenary adoption is the legal loss of identity, history, family.
Being adopted also does not mean you won’t then lose one of your Adoptive parents. Many of us do. Some to death, like I did. Others to divorce or the end of a relationship. Then, if we are able to find out who our parents are, many of us discover that they are dead, or emotionally unavailable.
People who, while still children, have lost a parent to death know that this is a pain other do not understand. The only people I have ever met who understand what that was like for me, are people who also had a parent die.
But it’s not the same as the pain of adoption.
I have lived for almost forty years with a person whose father walked away when he was a small child. I know from talking with and observing him that this loss has had a profound impact on his life. I do not in any way want to invalidate that loss. It is real, and it is painful.
It’s just not, the same. Adoption is another layer of trauma that non-adoptees do not understand. Please grant us the same respect you wish for us to show your lived experience.
April is poetry month. My friend, Ande Stanley (a late discovery adoptee) wrote a poem for her The Adoption Files WordPress blog that I think a lot of adoptees could relate to, and so I share.
My parents (both adoptees) wanted their ashes scattered on Elephant Butte Lake in New Mexico. We had to be careful because it is not recommended. Most likely against the law. The first time, my daughter and I went out with my dad to scatter my mom’s ashes. That was a wild and crazy ride for both of us in his boat with my dad !!
When my dad died only 4 months later, my aunt (my dad’s half sister by his second adoptive father), my middle sister and her daughter, as well as me and my daughter went to scatter his ashes also on the lake, as that was his wish, but we did not take my dad’s boat out that time. We just stood on a dock near their last residence. Some official came along because we didn’t have a permit to take our car into lake property (it is a state park). My sister was hiding the cremation box under her jacket. LOL We did get the deed done. My aunt took the photo below. Maybe I should not go into the story of how the crematorium stole my parents rings . . . always make certain you get them back is all I can say.
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.
So the Texas State Senator, Donna Campbell, appeared on my radar Sunday when I received an email notification from The Adoption Files blog by Ande Stanley. She writes – “One of the biggest stumbling blocks to the unrestricted access to original birth certificates in the state of Texas has been the Texas State Senator Donna Campbell – (I add, who not coincidentally is) an adoptive mother who has voted against allowing access every year since 2015.” Texas Monthly has had Senator Donna Campbell on their Worst Legislators list.
State Senator Donna Campbell as an adoptive mother shares her story in a Houston Chronical article featuring state officials that have adopted (there is a bit of an infuriating paywall but I include the link anyway). Her voice was described as breaking when she talks about promising her youngest daughter’s birth mother that she would “take good care of the baby” and calls the adoption divinely orchestrated. Pro-Life legislator Donna Campbell says also that she actually said to the birth mother, “You had a choice nine months ago, and you chose life and you will be blessed, and I will always take care of this child.” So like a politician to do double duty with their recorded statements.
It happened when she went to the hospital nursery to give a message to another doctor, and she heard people discussing a baby. “There was conversation about, ‘This baby is so cute’ — everybody wanted to take the baby home,” Campbell recalled. “They said, ‘Do you want to take the baby home?’” She said it turned out that the mother had been headed from San Antonio to Houston to find an adoption agency and went into labor in Columbus. Campbell and her husband had been talking about adoption but hadn’t moved forward on it. The decision was made quickly, and she asked to talk to the mother to thank her for the little girl she named Anna Beth after her own mother. “It happened just like that. But you know, so many others that would like to adopt, it doesn’t come that easy,” Campbell said. “This is truly divinely orchestrated.” God meant it to be – a lot of adoptive mothers will say that.
Lori Holden wrote Donna Campbell an open letter – Let’s talk – adoptive mom to adoptive mom – on the Lavender Luz website. “I understand having fears about adoption and, by extension, fears about making changes in adoption law. Change can be scary. For decades many states have had laws on the books to protect people from the humiliation of unwed pregnancy or the shame of infertility or the stigma of being born to unmarried parents. In response, we have put up walls to hide the shame and stigma and humiliation.”
“One of those walls is the practice of closing birth records for one group of people who, due to circumstances of birth, to this day do not enjoy a civil right that all other citizens in your state do. It is time to re-evaluate the existence of this wall, as so many of your Texas bipartisan colleagues in the Senate and House were eager to do at the close of the legislative session last month.”
When you say privacy I wonder if you are confusing it with secrecy, which takes simple privacy and wraps it in toxic fear and shame. Privacy is chosen, secrecy is often imposed. Secrecy exists because shame exists. With openness, by unsealing records and providing equal access for all, we can dissolve the shame and vanquish the need for secrecy. Regarding the privacy issue, accurate birth records should be kept private from the public but not secret from the parties directly involved.
As you may already realize, the Internet and advances in DNA testing have enabled birth mothers and birth fathers and their now-adult children to find each others’ identities by skirting laws that were constructed in that era of shame and secrecy. Psychotherapist Karen Caffrey, who is an adult adoptee with birth family from Texas, says, “Family genetic secrets are very soon going to be a thing of the past.”
There is more in her open letter at the link I’ve supplied.
Just a brief note and acknowledgment – before the event. Today, I will take part in a recorded interview for The Adoption Files Podcast by Ande Stanley (or Scott as my friend is known to me on Facebook). Just after New Year’s we had a delightful “get to know you” conversation that went on quite long because we just have so much philosophically in common (though our adoption experiences could not be more different since I am not adopted and she is and I am simply the child of two adoptees) that I sent her a friend request afterwards, which she thankfully accepted.
She has a whole list of other adoptee blogs on her WordPress site titled appropriately – Adoptee Blogs.
So, I do hope I do well and help her create something useful to the general effort. I will post an update and link once I have done the interview and have a link.