Human With Feelings

From a birth mother –

I have something to say and it won’t be popular in today’s day and age of “it’s my right”. I have read so many posts where people are upset that their biological mom’s are denying them. I get it. It’s painful on many levels. You want and need answers. You’re seeking roots out there in a big strange world, where some are fortunate enough to find them and some aren’t.

Today I came out of the shower to an adoption reunification program on the TV. I don’t generally watch them. As a biological mom (3/31/97), I must have faith that I’ve done the right thing for all and when the time is right the mending will begin. In this episode it was a woman and her daughter that worked side by side for years. They knew each other. When they met you could see the mother …….. She went back all those years into that pain. The loss.

Please remember – when your screaming it’s your right to just go blasting past them and blowing up another family – that your also reigniting another woman’s trauma. Whatever it may be. It was a trauma and she suffered. Especially if she’s of an older generation where the shame was so much deeper. Even in ’97, I was shamed for my decision. So imagine what it was like in the 40s 50s ……70s 80s……

I completely understand your need for answers and connection but you must also understand that these are traumatized women. They’ve suffered loss and been shamed for it. They’ve been told they deserve to be ashamed of it. In the older cases, they were forced to keep the secret to the point that it’s hard to come clean – after decades of forced lies and shame.

Yes, you have a right to find out who you are and where you come from. But you don’t have the right to traumatize her again in order to get those answers. She’s human and she also has emotions and feelings about what happened to and through her.

Challenge The Now

When we realize that adoption is born from a separation between a mother and child, we will see that it is traumatizing to all the people involved. Adoption Trauma serves as a term that explains how there are multiple losses, how the process itself is traumatic, and the impact on the mental wellbeing of the person being adopted, those who are choosing to adopt, and those who are separated. You can download an Adoption Trauma Factsheet at this site – https://www.transformadoption.com/. Share the factsheet, help raise awareness, educate your community, and support your loved ones.

When a person is adopted their life path is irrevocably altered. It is unnatural and traumatizing for them. The task is to learn how to manage this trauma so the adoptee may find their true identity. Corrupt adoption practices include fabricating adoption documents, coercive recruitment campaigns and systemic oppression of the truth. It is time to challenge the now and help adopted people learn their true identities so they may find their true purpose in life.

It is time to uncover the truth about yourself as impacted by adoption, learn where your origins began, and reveal your adoption story. In my case, both of my parents were adopted. They died knowing next to nothing about all of these aspects of their identity. I have been able to uncover a lot of it for myself, my sister and our own children. Creating a sense of our true identities now. An adoptee who is able to do this feels safer within their own self. Each of us educates ourselves as much as our personal interest and needs dictate. We seek to build a larger awareness of the truths of this practice that profits massively the adoption industry.

People who are adopted domestically in the United States have been advocating to get their original birth certificates, which have historically been sealed and amended. Efforts are being made state by state to overturn previous laws during a time adoptions were conducted in secrecy. It is vital to one’s health to have connections with one’s families of origin and also to know one’s familial medical history.

It is up to all of us to transform adoption. Now is the time we can re-define who adoptees are individually and collectively. They should not be second class citizens. They deserve their full basic human rights.

We are all pioneers in this effort seeking to transform adoption practices together.

Surrogates – Mother Infant Separation

I have wondered about this myself. A women in my all things adoption group asks the question for me and gets lots of answers.

I was adopted and I have trauma from my biological mom as well as some from the foster care system and then after getting adopted as well. I have seen a lot of people in this group mention the trauma a newborn baby automatically has when taken from the mother to be placed with a different family. I am wondering about surrogates then? If a new born baby is instantly traumatized due to the mother putting the child up for adoption, would that not be the same for a woman that is being a surrogate for another – couple or single individual ? For women who are unable to conceive, the choice seems to be either to adopt or have a surrogate. For women who can’t conceive, should they not also be allowed to be mothers ?

First response – No one dies from remaining childless. It’s selfish to intentionally create a child born into trauma. It sometimes takes as many as 3 women to make a baby. 1. One to pay for that because a woman she cares about wants a baby. 2. The biological donors and 3. The surrogate. What a boggling circumstance for the resulting child to wrap their mind around. People should just accept their infertility. The reality is that most of these women only want babies. Truth is that babies aren’t “in need” of someone else to mother them. They are in high demand and sought after by many.

Next perspective – No one is “owed” a baby or parenthood. It’s not a fatal condition if one never becomes a parent. However, if people want to be parents, there are legally free children in the foster care system. Children who need parents – though the best outcome is that they are never adopted but cared for under permanent guardianship – people to act in the role that parents would. Truth is – no one “needs” an infant.

Finally, onto the actual question – “There’s also a lot that’s ethically wrong with surrogacy beyond the babies trauma, which I think is the biggest issue. Jennifer Lahl has written and speaks out against it.” So I went looking and have linked her name to an article. She writes – “Gestational surrogacy involves impregnating a surrogate mother by implanting embryos created from the eggs of the intended mother or egg donor, and the sperm of the intended father or sperm donor. Women and newborns often do not survive gestational pregnancies, and those who do are often affected physically and psychologically.” I’m not certain about the do not survive part but that is what she wrote. You can read the rest of her article at the link in her name here.

And then a counter argument and I’m not saying this one isn’t as biased as the one above. “Couple Speaks Out Against Jennifer Lahl” courtesy of The Surrogacy Law Center. “Lahl explores the issue of third-party reproduction, focusing on several women whose experiences point to what she sees as flaws in the surrogacy process. She argues that surrogacy has become a baby-buying operation that allows wealthy couples to exploit vulnerable women, often those of lesser means.” ~ Susan Donaldson James of ABC News

Jenn and Brad Nixon of Chesterfield County in VA did their best to defeat infertility for 7 years. The Nixon’s chose to use a surrogate, or gestational carrier, after they learned Jenn’s heart problems would make it dangerous for her to get pregnant. Infertility is a disease affecting more than 7 million Americans. While Lahl highlights how affluent couples are using and exploiting surrogate services, objections to her perspective are raised by couples who have experienced infertility and are not in a wealthy income bracket.

Yet while much has been said here and maybe the answer is buried in almost 170 comments and linked responses to them, my heart already knows. Separating an infant from a gestational carrier is no different than separating an infant any time from the mother in who’s womb that baby developed. The least damaging case I know of was of a mother carrying a baby for her daughter. There will still be separation but the grandmother can be expected to remain in the baby’s life throughout at least their childhood and that might mitigate the effects significantly.

That story (which I once wrote about in this blog) is about a 51-year-old grandmother from Illinois who gave birth to her own granddaughter through surrogacy, when her daughter couldn’t conceive. Julie Loving, 51, was the gestational carrier for her daughter, Breanna Lockwood, who delivered a baby girl named Briar Juliette Lockwood. This has inspired a few other instances of grandparent surrogacy, I see.

Julie Loving with Breanna Lockwood and baby

And just adding this perspective because I think it is realistic – I don’t think the whole world must outlaw something because it creates trauma. There are traumatic things happening everywhere. BUT we can help children grow to be happier people – IF we acknowledge that trauma, respect it, be open to talking about it and hopefully maybe healing it. (And being open to the fact that it may never heal). Not all people will eventually be in touch with their trauma. Some will be and some can heal. Some will be and CAN’T heal. Life is a gamble. You will set yourself up for trouble – if you can’t even talk about it or acknowledge it exists.

The Role Of Paternity

The legacy of American militaristic adventures includes an American soldier who fathers a child with a national of another country. In the case of Korea, mixed-race children were considered as a blight upon the blood-line, unworthy of being Korean. According to the system of census taking that existed in the 1960s, in order to be entered into the family registry, the child had to be fathered by a Korean man.

Children born of foreign fathers were unable to be registered, and therefore ineligible for essential government services, such as education and medical care. From the beginning, the bureaucracy conspired to erase knowledge of them from existence.

Korean women were crucial to Korea’s struggling economy, bringing into the economy desperately needed U.S. dollars. Though prostitution was ostensibly illegal, the government not only tolerated but abetted it. U.S. military and Korean local and national government officials coordinated efforts to regulate prostitution and monitor sex workers for sexually transmitted diseases. Both countries saw the sex trade as vital to keeping the massive contingent of U.S. troops in the country contented, and these women’s presence was deemed essential to the national economy.

The government making a profit off of women’s bodies did not stop with the sex trade. When these women had babies, another business opportunity presented itself. Americans like Henry Holt and Pearl S. Buck offered to take these unwanted children away. It turned out that white couples in wealthy nations would pay money for them.

And how do the profiteers make the export of children morally palatable ? By reframing the narrative from that of poverty, prostitution and military adventurism into one of rescue and redemption. By extirpating the past, doctoring documents, and rebranding the children as orphans.

These Korean children were not orphans. They had a mother. And a father, too, though most of these men returned to America before their progeny were even born.

An article in The Korea Times describes the lies that one woman discovered were her adoption file. Her father father was not Caucasian but Mexican American and she had Native American and Latino roots. Her mother’s name was an alias, the Korean equivalent of Jane Doe.

I know somewhat how that feels. I knew that Georgia Tann did not always tell the truth about the children she was placing for adoption to the prospective adoptive parents and so it was easy for me to see where she fudged (thankfully, the actual facts had been preserved because she was not yet covering her tracks at the time).

So back to the Korean woman’s story. Decades after the first children were adopted out, the Korean court system is being forced to confront the many legal issues that have arisen due to dubious adoption practices. The country is forced to accept back adoptees who have been deported from their home countries because their adoptive parents neglected to naturalize them.

Unlike Korea’s other major exports, adoptees are human beings. Cars, phones and refrigerators do not wonder about their origins, but human beings have a deep, innate need to know from whence they come. Korean adoptees are returning to Korea to search for their family, learn about their culture and recover their identity in ever increasing numbers. They are demanding answers, reform, legal equality, and their basic human right to know our origins.

By declaring these children orphans, the Korean government sought to erase them from their national history. By these adoptees searching to know their roots, they are bringing the dark truths to light.

One could say that knowing from whence you came is the universal adoptee calling.

You can read this woman’s essay here – Rewriting The Adoption Narrative by Alice Stephens

Regardless of Why

Coming on the heels of yesterday’s blog, I encountered this article in The Guardian – My brother has two new children – and it’s making me sad. When you want to be a parent and can’t, this is a loss to be mourned, says Philippa Perry.

A woman writes – My partner is older than me and has a grown-up son. He is not keen to have more children, so I feel I’ve missed the boat. I also feel a lot of guilt and shame in my response (to my siblings having children). It is causing problems within my family because my older brother has stopped communicating with me. I’m unsure how to relate to these new children and also to my brother now. It’s constantly nagging on my mind. I feel like a terrible person and very alone.

Ms Perry replies – Reading between the lines, I wonder if there isn’t a whole lot of loss here to process. We think about mourning when we lose someone close to us: when we lose a parent or a friend everyone around us expects us to be sad or angry or confused, in denial or simply deadened for a while – wherever the journey of mourning takes us – and even if it is a hard journey, we know that unless we allow ourselves to mourn, we won’t recover our equilibrium. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has usefully charted this complex journey, and her thinking is instructive. Above all, we learn from her that the only way beyond loss is through it. When you want to be a parent and, for whatever reason, you can’t be, this is a loss and like all losses needs to be mourned.

This point is made frequently in my all things adoption group. The need to mourn infertility, rather than papering over it with adopted children.

The advice columnist goes on to note – It’s much harder, isn’t it, when the loss we experience is situational rather than personal? Often nobody notices or names it, and there is no expectation that we may have work to do. Instead of finding loving support for the process of grieving, we can lock ourselves in a silent, agonizing world in which we feel increasingly isolated.

Whether it is choice or circumstance that has led to you not having a child, you’re clearly sensing that as a loss, and I wonder whether now that those who are close to you seem to be abounding in new children, it is easier to cut off, or feel jealous, or over-rationalise, rather than having your feelings. Gaps are tough – and they’re real, at least to us. Reality is often disappointing.

You do not say why your brother isn’t speaking to you. Echoes of some long-distant childhood rivalry playing out, maybe? Or has something happened to create awkwardness. You’ll know – but I’m wondering what part you not engaging with your sadness and loss may be contributing to this awkwardness? After all, when the task of processing loss doesn’t happen in us, we find other ways of dealing with our feelings: projecting disappointment and envy on to others, rather than owning it ourselves. This makes us unhappy and creates avoidable friction with others. And, no, I don’t think you are a terrible person – just a person in pain with nowhere to place it.

Then there’s what you describe as your own loving relationship. You don’t say how long you’ve been together, nor whether there was a chance to consider having a child, but what is now encroaching is this sense of a gap. What, I wonder, would happen if you were to name it – not in terms of any “right” to have had a child, nor in terms of “blame” that the two of you aren’t having one, but simply in terms of the sense of loss and sadness it is creating in you? It’s not that he has to fix it by having a child with you, but not speaking about it may stop you keeping your relationship as “loving” as it can be. If you are not being heard and understood by him it may deny you the support you need to move forward – speaking simply about it may open up whole new ways of being fulfilled together. We might feel that if we own the disappointment and name the gaps, our feelings will become more intense and unmanageable, but more often the opposite is true. To talk about your loss will begin to process those feelings and will be, I think, the first steps to healing all of this. I don’t want you to carry that “chasm of sadness” on your own. But even in the most loving of partnerships we cannot be everything we need for each other and if your partner is more of a problem-solver – no one wants to hear the “well-you-should…” in response to their pain – you may try for extra listening and understanding from a therapist.

When you can own, then contain, your sadness I am hoping you will be able to relate to these new nephews and nieces in your life, not as reminders of what you are missing out on, but as new people to have rewarding, lifelong relationships with.

I Am Sam

I just read about this movie and have added it to our Netflix list – so I can’t personally review it yet. Netflix tells me that “After fathering a child with a homeless woman, Sam (Sean Penn) — a grown man with the mental capacity of a 7-year-old — raises the baby himself until an incident at a birthday party finds the Child Protective Services deeming him an unfit guardian. With the help of yuppie lawyer Michelle Pfeiffer, Sam attempts to regain custody of his daughter and prove that, despite his handicap, he’s a truly loving father.” Certainly, the homeless issue means something to me. And thanks to a growing awareness about the dangers of the Child Protective Services via my all things adoption group, it certainly seems like a movie I should see.

The film’s title is derived from the opening lines “I am Sam / Sam I am” of the book Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, which is read in the movie. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times reviewed it positively as a “most inviting and accessible film that turns upon a mental condition that most people would prefer not to think about.” Maybe that is why overall it was not well liked.

The first comment in my all things adoption group was – “oh my god the foster mom is a piece of shit, typical foster parent that just wants to steal the child, it’s so disgusting and sadly it’s so freaking real.” And this – “with the proper support he will 100% be the best father for her.”

Part of it was that they didn’t take the time to understand neurodivergence. How someone interacts with the world through different fandoms. I got everything Sam was trying to say right away because I’m neurodivergent and I love the Beatles. The abled neurotypicals in I Am Sam didn’t even want to try. They just tried to force their model of the world, which in this case, means deeming the disabled parent inferior by default.

Welcome to ableism 101. Even biological parents will do this with their own kids. Hiding illness, limiting contact, and/or stifling relationships. Ableism states that the disabled parent is always inferior, and a burden to their children. A hindrance to “normalcy.”

Someone else wrote this –

I have seen it. It is actually on our state’s list for alternative training for foster parents, which okay but with alternative training you simply fill out a form writing down what you learned and no one like processes or follows up wjth you to point out that people with disabilities have a right to parent and are often preyed upon by Child Protective Services (CPS).

I am usually shocked to learn that most caseworkers in my state are so unfamiliar with any rights for parents with disabilities including the right to an adult advocate. They absolutely can parent successfully, sometimes needing education or support to meet our cultural or white definition of parenting standards. That movie is controversial for many reasons including that a non-disabled actor was chosen to play someone with a disability. And absolutely, the foster parent says what the societal thoughts are that are being held against Sean Penn’s character – that only abled bodied people in mind and body or mental health are deemed capable to parent – so not true. Even convincing the child they “deserve better” than a loving, devoted father simply because he has a disability.

Another person adds the reality check – it’s actually super unrealistic cuz in real life disabled parents never get good legal representation and almost never get their kids back.

And yet another notes – it happens in real life too. CPS targets parents with disabilities and it’s hard for them to get their kids back.

Preferences

Birthmother – heroic, damned and judged. Believe me, these women have ALL of my sympathetic compassion. They are too often exploited. My preference would be that no mother who birthed a baby would ever be separated from them. That these women and their babies would be supported – if necessary in comfortable surroundings with no other demand upon them than the baby makes. Sadly, that is not the society we live in. Dominated by the search for profits – babies are taken from their birthmother and given to whoever can pay the price. This is just plain wrong.

What does it mean to attempt to move forward in a life after a woman relinquishes her baby to adoption ? For myself, though my daughter was not relinquished to adoption, she was surrendered to her father to raise, in effect – it isn’t much different. Diminished. Somehow a failure. Less than. Some kind of monster person. I’ve lived with all of those feelings.

Often in this blog, I do choose to spend a lot of my time and energy pointing out the more negative aspects of adoption as I have come to understand the institution. I feel entitled to do this because both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption. At this point, it is fair to label me as “anti-adoption” because honestly, for the most part, I am. I would like to explain what the words, anti-adoption, mean in my perspective.

I believe that it is wrong that there is profit being made in the adoption industry. The transferring of parental rights to a child, that we call adoption, is a $13 Billion dollar annual industry. Every day we hear more and more about corruption in adoption and many adoption experts agree that we need to get the profit motive out of it. There is just too much income motivation and not in the best interest of the child – most often in the interest of hopeful adoptive parents. Money matters – not the child’s welfare. In addition, the high cost of adopting makes it completely out of reach for many prospective adoptive parents. These people, in desperation, take out second mortgages or hold adoption fundraisers. I do not think of this acknowledgement regarding the influence of money as “anti-adoption.” I see this acknowledgement as looking for efforts that are pro-child welfare and not focused on turning babies into commodities.

Birthparents face a lack of follow-up services. Whoever has the prize (the baby) has won the battle. The one who gave birth no longer matters. If there are any mental health professionals involved, they are often uneducated about the long term effects of relinquishment on the birth parents. I see this as being a strong advocate for the continued support of the people directly affected by adoption, including the adoptee who never had a say in what was being done to them.

I believe that the marketing and promotional aspects of adoption need to be seriously overhauled. I do think there is something wrong with an adoption agency spending thousands of dollars in advertising or using crisis pregnancy centers to recruit mothers, simply to ask them to consider adoption as the outcome for their babies. Adoption websites must discuss both the positives and the negatives, the risks and possibilities, when providing adoption information to all of the parties involved. People should not be told what they want to hear in order to seal a deal, pay a fee, or relinquish a child. I see this perspective as demanding “truth” from the industry and honoring that spirit by demanding honest information be conveyed.

We must change adoption practices so that the expectant parents considering adoption have enough information to make an informed choice.  An agency cannot tell potential birth mothers that they are strong and courageous, promise them relationships with their children and expect them to find peace and heal.  Adoption professionals must present, however scant, the known research about the consequences of long-term grief, the true statistics regarding of adoptee outcomes, secondary infertility rates, and the legal truth about open adoption agreements (they are un-enforceable).  Adoption counseling should be from a true unbiased source and must ensure that mothers considering adoption have other real options – plans for parenting their baby and realistic bail-out, change of mind/heart time frames available.  It is wrong to ask mothers to “choose” adoption unless they do so with truthful knowledge, of their own free will and knowing the realities they will face the rest of their life related to their choice. I can not count how many birthmothers QUICKLY regret that decision to surrender their precious baby to adoption. “Informed” must be truly informed and not based on some pretty descriptive version of adoption fantasyland.

Pro-ethical accountability. I want to see children’s needs come first.  I want fathers’ rights upheld. I want legal accountability from all parties involved.  I want more than a patchwork of state laws that allow people to cross state lines, get a new license, and work around regulations.  We must restore to adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates.  Currently adult adoptees are the only classification of US citizens that are denied the right to access their original birth certificates based on the fact they were adopted.  This issue touches on their right to know their true identity. If the adoptee desires, it is normal to want know the story of their own birth. Adults should have access to their actual genetic history and genealogy, as well as their detailed medical information. Sometimes even the ability to get a passport, a driver’s license, vote or to have health insurance is dependent on true identity information (and not some made-up identity, as in adoption). The state governments are still stuck in a past created on a perception of shame, defending secrecy regarding adoption details and supporting the lies necessary to accomplish this. My perspective is anti-discrimination and in support of adoptee civil rights.

Adoption Reform as a Social Movement

Today I read a opinion that Progressives support judicial reform (including changes in the nature of policing), oppose separating children from their parents at the Mexican border, care about minorities and other marginalized communities of people and are concerned about wealth inequality. The criticism is that Progressives show no understanding when an adoptee says – The adoption system is broken. It is a multi-billion dollar industry which exploits mothers in need of aid instead of aiding them financially or emotionally, commoditizes children, separates them from their families leaving long-lasting emotional and mental scars, denies them basic human rights and needs, and then sells them to rich families. The whole system should be dismantled and rebuilt from scratch. The first 4 “supported” issues can easily be combined through the lens of the adoption system to be relatively the same. Why the lack of understanding ?

I am a progressive and I have tons of adoption in my family background. I have now spent almost 4 years intensively educating myself about everything related to the adoption industry which includes foster care. So, I know that what this adoptee was saying about the adoption system is the truth. So, next I thought – is the accusation against Progressives fair ? I did a little google search and sure enough – very little on that topic comes up. I did find one paper in the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare titled “Adoption in the US: The Emergence of a Social Movement” that I thought might be promising but I am left with mixed feelings about it because I am suspecting it won’t go far enough. It is 21 pages and I will try to find time to read it (I admit, I haven’t read it yet – it’s long, okay ?).

I do know that drop by drop of clarity into the muddy waters of the unicorns and rainbows fantasy myth about adoption IS taking place. I belong to a Facebook group that has over 6,000 members – almost all of them sharing personal stories and most are VERY reform minded. That is significant and they are not the only ones shedding light on everything related to adoption and changing hearts and minds. This group of caring individuals has certainly brought me out of the fog of believing adoption is a good thing and helped me to see the very problematic aspects it honestly entails.

Adoption is one of the few issues that seem to have strong with bipartisan support. I was shocked at how much the federal government supports adoption – when I found out my Republican Senator Roy Blunt and Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar are both the co-chairs of a committee that encourages – and legislates financial support to foster adoption.

Certainly, there is no excuse for the ignorance. If someone with a direct experience of adoption – either a birth mother who lost her child to the system or an adoptee who has learned about how the trauma of being separated from their mother has affected them and will have lifelong lasting effect on them – says the system they came from is broken, as a Progressive who cares, you should listen to them. Then, do the work of researching the issues for yourself but by all means – listen. Then, if you are truly a caring individual, find something you can do to help reform the practice. Do something about the problems that cause unwed expectant mothers to lose their child in the first place.

Leave The Door Open

Recently a commenter on my blog was making a big deal about “genetic parents” being able to opt out of their own child’s lives. This could be equated to surrendering a child to adoption and this commenter actually extended her perspective to donor egg or sperm sources. I don’t think her points of view are realistic but she is an activist in such concerns and I understand her perspectives. Like much of scientific medical advances being light years ahead of moral and ethical considerations. She thought ALL of the parents should be on a birth certificate and have full responsibility for the well-being of the children involved. As a society, we are simply not there yet.

Happily, there is a huge effort within the adoption community (made up of adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents and birth parents) to create an organic, grassroots kind of reform of the whole situation. What might such a “reformed” situation look like ? I think this story is an excellent example and so I share it with you today (I hasten to add, it is NOT my own story, because sometimes that isn’t understood in this blog).

My daughter’s parents were very distant after they made the adoption plan for her. They felt that by doing so, they had given up their rights to ask anything or to know her (this is what both of them have explained to me). Keep reaching out, keep sending photos, updates, hand and foot crafts, etc. When my adoptive daughter was almost 3 yrs old, her mother came to understand that we DID want her in our daughter’s life and that we were happy to have her here. Her dad went longer, so many years with out seeing her, he said that he was afraid of making her life harder by showing up when he finally felt ready. We talked about it and I sent a ton of links to him showing that it’s better for children to know their families, if they can. That year he brought his girlfriend and parents to her birthday party. Our little girl loved being snuggled up in her father’s arms for the afternoon. If you genuinely leave the door open and make the child’s original parents feel welcomed, there is a good chance that one day they will come through that opening.

Judging The Past By Present Values

Lily MacLeod and Gillian Shaw
~ photo by Carlos Osorio for the Toronto Star, 2012

As a Gemini, twins have always fascinated me. I have wondered if I once had a twin in utero who vanished. Having gone through assisted reproductive medical interventions, I know this happens. It happened with my older son when my pregnancy originally appeared to be twins. I really didn’t want the challenge but in my mom’s group we have several pairs of twins and one set of triplets. The father of the man I am married to was a twin. Both my father in law and his twin brother are now deceased.

The less than common occurrence of multiple births has my attention this morning after watching the documentary – Three Identical Strangers. The story tells how these men were separated at 6 mos and adopted out with strategic intent by the clinical psychiatrist, Peter Neubauer, through the cooperation of the Louise Wise adoption agency. Psychology Today did an article entitled The Truth About “Three Identical Strangers.” The article explains – Dr Viola Bernard was the chief psychiatric consultant to the Wise agency. In the late 1950s (before Dr Peter Neubauer was involved), Dr Bernard created a policy of separating identical twins when they were adopted. Dr Bernard’s intentions are described as benign. In a memo subsequently recovered, she expresses her hope that “early mothering would be less burdened and divided and the child’s developing individuality would be facilitated” by this separation. It wasn’t only the Wise agency but many other agencies that also practiced the separation of twins at the time of adoption.

The conclusion by Dr Lois Oppenheim in the Psychology Today article is – The basic premise of the film, that the triplets’ separation was a heartless scheme undertaken at the expense of the children’s well-being to enable a scientific study, is fiction. The filmmakers could have created a documentary about the complexities of the twin study, its origins and context, and the changing standards of ethical norms and lessons learned. This might have been less dramatic, but it would have made an important contribution to our understanding of gene research and parenting.

Yet, the practice of separating identical or even non-identical siblings in the adoption industry continues and the study and research of such persons continues to this day. Regarding my photo above of Lily MacLeod and Gillian Shaw, the story in The Toronto Star by Amy Dempsey tells us that the 12-year-olds were separated as babies in China but reunited after the two separate Ontario couples adopted them. When their separate/different adoptive parents made the startling discovery that their two daughters were identical twins, they vowed to raise the girls as sisters. Their situation is highly unusual: Lily and Gillian are two of only a handful of twin pairs – mostly Chinese children adopted by North American parents – who are being raised, knowing they are siblings but separately apart. For scientific researchers, the girls are yet another opportunity to study the effects of nature vs nurture in real-time. As for their families – strangers thrown together by the most unusual of circumstances – their situation explores a new kind of blended family, with unique and fascinating joys and challenges.

The Toronto Star goes beyond the story of the twin Chinese girls to note that in the late 1970s, scientists at the Minnesota Center for Twin and Adoption Research began studying what was then a new category of multiples — adopted twins who were separated at birth and reunited as adults. Dr Thomas Bouchard’s landmark paper was titled “Minnesota Study of Identical Twins Reared Apart.” The study shook the scientific community by demonstrating, across a number of traits, that twins raised apart are as similar as twins raised together. The study’s evidence of genetic influence in traits such as personality (50 per cent heritable) and intelligence (70 per cent heritable) overturned conventional ideas about parenting and teaching. And findings of genetic influence on physiological characteristics have led to new ways of fighting and preventing disease.

While I was yet pregnant with my oldest son, I chose to read a book titled Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy which had just come out in the year before. So my interest is long standing and it is little wonder that the issues continue to capture my interest. For centuries, the self-sacrificing mother who places her child’s needs and desires above her own has defined womanhood. Designed by nature for the task of rearing offspring, women are “naturally” tender, selfless and compassionate where their progeny are concerned. Those who reject childbearing or fail to nurture their offspring directly are typed as pathological, “unnatural” women. In traditional Darwinian evolutionary biology, the female of any species has evolved to produce and nurture the species; one could say it is her only role. Feminist treatises have long argued against the necessary conflation of “woman” with “mother,” and classics such as Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born have cogently argued that such altruistic maternity is a cultural construct and not a biological given.

From a review (link above) of Hrdy’s book Mother Nature – US anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy strides into the minefield, examining motherhood across cultures, historical periods, evolutionary tracts and biological species to better understand human maternity. Hrdy’s book resides in that rare space between academic disciplines (she is a professor emerita at the University of California-Davis and she has been schooled in anthropology, primatology, evolutionary theory, history and feminism). Her work can be situated somewhere between specialist treatise and popular biological science. Hrdy’s unique placement enables her to combine the best of Darwinian evolutionary biology with feminist cultural theory, without falling into the political entrapments of either camp.

Heartening for me, as a biological/genetic mother who lost physical (but not legal) custody of her daughter when she was only 3 years old, I am reminded in this review of Hrdy’s book that stay-at-home mothers are rare in the historical and evolutionary archives; community caregiving is an age-old model of childrearing. Throughout history in primate and human communities, mothering techniques involve “allomothers”: the delegation of child caretaking to other members (male and female) of the community. “Mothers have worked for as long as our species has existed, and they have depended on others to help them rear their children,” Hrdy writes. That means I was not the abject failure I believed my self to be for over 60 years but just another kind of mother. Motherhood today often includes women who have jobs and incomes of their own. Hrdy sees this as an evolutionary process to ensure long and safe lives for these mother’s child(ren). A lack of financial resources most certainly drove me to leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother, while I took a risk to see if I could earn some decent money driving an 18-wheel truck. There never was the intention to permanently abandon my child to other people. Thankfully, as adults we are happily close enough at heart and I believe love one another as fully as any mom could hope for. It is actually the lack of financial resources that is at cause for most adoptions.

In “60 Years On, Twin/Triplet Study Still Raises Questions” – an interview of Dr Leon Hoffman by Elizabeth Hlavinka for Medpage Today looks at the ethics of that study, which began in 1960 (the documents from which are sealed in the archives at Yale University until 2065). This tells me that Peter Neubauer, who died in 2008, eventually had his own qualms about the ethics of what he had perpetrated, though he is judged to have mostly been concerned with confidentiality issues that (until open adoptions began) were the rule in commercial closed adoptions (the effects of which continue to obstruct and vex adult adoptees to this day – change comes slowly). My blog today takes it title from an observation by Dr Hoffman – that the problem with a lot of “exposés” is that we judge the past by our present values.  That is an important point. He also notes that at the time of the Neubauer project, there was a prevailing belief that twins would be better off separated, if they were going to be adopted. That twins were more difficult for the mother and that it would be easier for the mother to take care of one child instead of two children. I understand. In our mom’s group, those with twins often hired au pairs to assist them in those early days.

In this interview, Dr Hoffman notes – I always tell parents of kids that I see, “How much is genetic and how much is environment?” and I always say, “It’s 100% of both,” because those two are always interacting with one another. More and more data has shown that genetic variations get very much affected by the environment. I believe this is also evident in the story about the triplets. They even admit that during that time of their own high publicity, they amplified their similarities because that is what people were curious about. It is clear that they each had unique personalities that do seem to have been affected by their adoptive parents and the differing environmental situations they were raised in. As aging adults, the two surviving individuals have very different surface appearances while retaining many similarities.

Since I have looked at mother/child separations now for several years and am against the practice of adoption generally and in favor of family preservation, I was emotionally triggered last night by thinking about the amplifying effect of separation trauma (which IS mentioned by the triplets in their documentary) as yet another separation wound for babies who grew into their humanity in the same womb. Fortunately for the children in my mom’s group, they don’t have either of those added traumas. “The twin relationship, particularly with (identical) twins, is probably the closest of human social ties,” says Nancy Segal, who is herself a twin. This is why it’s so important for multiples to grow up together. Segal, now a psychology professor at California State University, has found about 15 more sets of adopted twin children being raised by different families, most of them Chinese girls. Researchers attribute this phenomenon to China’s one-child policy, which led to the abandonment of thousands of female babies. Though China’s official adoption rules state that twins should be placed together, pairs like Lily and Gillian prove things don’t always happen that way.

I found one other article that I’m not going to say very much about. You can read the story – Stories of Twins Separated at Birth by Pamela Prindle Fierro at the VeryWell Family website. There are the two sisters – Anais Bordier and Samantha Futerman. They found each other through Facebook and YouTube. They had been raised on different continents. The article includes information about the “Jim Twins” – James Arthur Springer and James Edward Lewis who found each other at the age of 39 in 1979. And there are actually MORE stories at this link.

The important thing to learn is that every action taken, that affects another human being, has the possibility of unintended consequences and that there is always the need for a fully informed consent in the interest of human well-being. An issue with adoptees is that due to their young age, they are never able to give informed consent and therefore, their rights are never considered. This is an issue with many adoptees who feel they are treated like second-class citizens with important basic human rights withheld from them – identity and medical issues foremost. An evolving issue with donor conceptions is similar. The human being conceived in that manner had no ability to consent to the method of their conception. Realistically, none of us consents (in a human sense, but I believe we do in non-physical prior to birth as I believe we are eternal souls).