Shame

We feel shame when we violate the social norms we believe in. At such moments we feel humiliated, exposed and small and are unable to look another person straight in the eye. We want to sink into the ground and disappear. Shame makes us direct our focus inward and view our entire self in a negative light.

I came upon the powerful graphic above yesterday and felt there was more that I could personally say about it. On my Facebook profile page yesterday, I shared – I have owned up to this before. I had an abortion at the age of 23 or so – mid 1970s. I am glad it was safe and legal. I was not being reckless. I was driving an 18-wheeler with a partner. Our dispatcher didn’t get us home to where my pharmacy was in time and I ended up pregnant. Neither he nor his family were the kind of people I would be glad to have been tied to through a child today. At the time, I had breakthrough bleeding. My ex-SIL and ex-BIL had a child with serious birth defects. I just felt the pregnancy was not progressing normally. Also, to be honest – I didn’t want to commit my life to 7 more months of going it alone with no financial support. I’ve never regretted it but pro-Life propaganda has definitely haunted me. In writing this, I searched my memory for all of the reasons why I chose that course of action.

The mothers and women in my family, and to whom I am genetically related, chose other courses of action. Back in the 1930s, the mothers of both of my own parents, chose to carry their pregnancies, spent the first few precious months with their babies, and one way or another lost that first child to adoption. I wrote, and it was true, “I didn’t want to commit my life to 7 more months of going it alone with no financial support.” In some people’s minds I was simply being selfish and I will accept that judgment, though in truth I have no regrets about doing what I did and for the reasons I did it at the time.

Yet, I felt enough shame for having chosen a different path (both of my sisters carried unplanned pregnancies to term but also gave their babies up for adoption) that it was a long time before I admitted to anyone what I did earlier in life. It was my private decision which no one but the circumstances influenced. Maybe influenced in no small measure by the legality and safety of the choice at the time. Only as Roe v Wade has come under increasing opposition have I started sharing my own story of what it was like to have made that choice and my gratitude that I had it available to my own self when I felt I needed that.

The father of my own conception made it clear he would not stand by me if I chose otherwise but I don’t think that was my major motivation. In reflecting on my statement that I would have had to “go it alone” above, I also know my parents supported one of my sisters throughout the pregnancy and then, remarkable to me now that I know more about adoption in general, my own adoptee mom coerced my sister into giving up the baby she wanted to keep and then, encouraged a lie to me that the baby had died. Intuitively, I knew it had not and concocted fantastical stories about what had actually happened to the baby believing it had been stolen and taken into Mexico (my sister had delivered at a hospital in El Paso TX very near the national border). Because of this, my mom finally admitted her truth regarding the whole situation to me.

Many women bear a cross – maybe they suffer their whole lives knowing their child is out there somewhere out of their own reach. Many of these original mothers suffer a secondary infertility and never have another child. Many struggle as single mothers to keep and raise their child. Our society does nothing to help them. My sister actually sought financial support during her pregnancy but was denied it based upon our parents financial condition. It was not my parents seeking financial support but my sister and not in increase my parents financial condition either.

After I divorced the father of my first child, I had to go to work and that meant child care. When one “family style” child care that she loved at first became a tearful battle, I left work to check on her and discovered through the window of a half door, an older child bullying her and no adults in sight. I pulled her out that day. I often had to go to my mother to beg $20 to make it through to payday. She never denied me but financially it was always difficult. At the time I divorced her father, he told me he would never pay me one cent of child support because I would just party with the money. Such a horrible perception he had of my own integrity and ethics. I didn’t want to spend my life in court fighting him for it even though the judge insisted in awarding me $25/mo “in case” I changed my mind and wanted to seek an increase. I never did. Instead, I left my daughter with her paternal grandmother while I tried to build a financial nest egg for the two of us by seeing if I was capable of driving an 18 wheel truck cross-country.

I always intended to return for her and would have never given her to her father to raise but his mother did that. He remarried a woman with a child and then they had a child together. Unintended consequences of financial desperation. And now, in a sense my story has come full circle, my shame – not even listed above – is that I gave up raising my child for financial reasons. Back when she was in day care, I couldn’t hardly answer the pediatrician’s questions, because she was away from me all day. After her father and step-mother raised her, I struggled to find birthday cards for her that reflected the lack of a daily, physical relationship I had with her. There were no role models for an absentee mother back in the mid-1970s, even though the absentee father was a standard reality.

Shame. Oh yes, I am well acquainted with it. As my daughter knows, I have struggled to find peace with not having “stuck it out,” as my own mother said to me that she would have done, to do the right thing by my daughter. It is a work in process. Recently, I reflected on all the things I did right by her in the brief early years she was physically under my care. I told her, I realize that when I was mother to you, I was a good one. And the abortion ? I atoned for it, by giving up my own genetic connection to have two egg donor conceived sons (same donor both times), that my husband might be able to have the children he desired, even as we both realized I had gotten too old to conceive naturally. Even so, they are now almost 18 and 21 years old. They have proven to me that I can “mother” children 24/7 throughout their own childhoods. At least I have no shame in that. I even breastfed both until they were just over 1 year old. I also have the knowledge that I didn’t put adoption trauma onto the fetus I aborted early in that pregnancy.

The Worst Racism

Jenni White, columnist at The Federalist

I learned about Jenni White while reading White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad. White has caused a bit of a stir with her column – “The Worst Racism My Children Have Experienced Came from Black Peers.” So I went looking because I also read that she had adopted 2 daughters from Zambia.

Hamad wrote – White claimed to be raising her daughters in a house that does not see color and wrote, “Why would I raise them to identify with a specific race as if being members of the human race weren’t enough?” Hamad says, It is as if she believes that racism will disappear, if only Black people stop calling themselves Black ?

What White defined as hideous racism included their Black pastor asking her whether she was educating the girls about their culture. While she claims to be a staunch believer in Martin Luther King, her perspective is that once her daughters were brought to America, “they became Americans. Not African-Americans, not black girls.” Hamad judges that assimilation and absorption into the default that is whiteness continues to be the frame from which many white women view women of other races.

So, now I will read Jenni White’s column and share with you what I think about it. She begins with the story of McKenzie Adams, a fourth grader from US Jones Elementary School in Demopolis, Alabama, who was despondent after relentless taunting by other black children for her relationship with a white child. McKenzie hanged herself in her family’s home. White acknowledges that suicides which are the result of school bullying have risen steadily over the years, it was McKenzie’s death that spoke to her on a very personal level.

She goes on to share how she ended up adopting her daughters. “In the summer of 2005, while visiting my grandparents in the northeast, my husband and I met up with my cousin, an international teacher, and his new wife, whom he’d met while teaching in Zambia, Africa. In recounting her history, Justina told us of the very recent death of her sister and how her 21-year-old nephew was struggling to feed and care for five siblings as young as 2.”

She admits that “We knew that adopting two little girls (4 and 9) from the other side of the world into a family of two boys (4 and 2) wouldn’t be easy in terms of bonding and re-assimilating the family birth order structure, but it was the stuff like what little McKenzie Adams experienced that we didn’t see coming, and it quickly blindsided me.”

So, the Black pastor incident occurred in a grocery store. The pastor is a Black woman. The pastor talked about how important it was for White to get the girls subscriptions to “black” magazines and to make sure and watch “black” movies and TV shows so they could see and relate to people of their color. She felt that, Jenni, as a white woman, couldn’t be expected to understand the “black experience” in America. That she needed to be sure and make appropriate and relevant material accessible so the girls could better assimilate with black culture.

White responded about raising all of her kids as Americans. The pastor believed White’s thought process was unfortunate. Her “whiteness” would be unable to process the facts that her girls’ fate would always balance at the pinnacle of someone else’s prejudicial small-mindedness. The pastor felt strongly that it was up to White to make the girls aware of the discrimination that was sure to come their way.

White brings her story up to date by writing – Today, my daughters are 21 and 16. She writes that it continually shocks her that any real racism her children have encountered has come from their black contemporaries. She also admits that the 21-year-old had enough of an emotional struggle that she returned to Africa to live with her brother and finish high school. Then, the girl did come back to Oklahoma after graduation, joined the National Guard, and began college with the intention of becoming a nurse.

She goes on to describe the other girl as innately conservative and that she struggled with the constant racial politics in her college English class. The girl had been assigned to write a paper regarding disproportionate brutality by police toward black Americans. White says that her daughter is frustrated that so many black contemporaries have razzed her because her last name is White and she was adopted by a white family. When Jenni asked her how she dealt with that kind of thing, she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “What are you going to do?”

She shares a story about when a Black boy called her older daughter the n word. She told him she was in no way an “n-word.” He answered, “Hey, we’re both from Africa.” Her response to that was “I’m from Africa. You’re from Oklahoma, and I’m no ‘n-word.’” Her daughter also said that this same kid has mocked her about hanging around white kids, including her white boyfriend, who is also on the football team, as well as acting and speaking like she is “white.”

Jenni White says that she follows the Blexit movement. I had never heard of it. They are clearly against CRT (Critical Race Theory) since they indicate that on their home page and I have included their link to that document. I am not going to read all 24 pages. The document seeks to explain CRT this way – Critical Race Theorists … believe that people of color experience racism daily … that the majority of American society, or more specifically white people, have no interest in stopping this so-called oppression because it benefits white Americans. The Blexit movement claims their intention is to uplift and empower minorities to realize the American Dream. In truth, it is only that so far – a dream unrealized for most.

I’m white. I do not raise any black children and I do have strong feelings about the adoption of children of color by white adoptive parents. I really can’t judge anyone else, including Jenni White, regarding how parents decide to raise their children. It is a complex world. I grew up with no racial bias, even though I am white, because both of my parents were adoptees with no knowledge of their genetic origins. We were raised only knowing we were Americans. I used to joke that I was an Albino African because back then, even I didn’t actually know for certain. My mom did discover she had a smidgeon of genes from Mali when she had a DNA analysis done. I can agree with Jenni White’s hope – that someday differences are celebrated within the context of the whole, and not parsed out as weapons of contention and conflict.

Contemplating Death

Yesterday, I was stung on my little finger by a Red Wasp. Whether we simply collided or it came after me as I passed by the wooden post that has become nest – through a knot-hole opening into a large hollow space, I do not know. It happened so fast, I never saw it. I only felt the hot iron pain. All I could do was put a couple of ice cubes on it at the time where I was.

It brought back memories of the time when my adoptive maternal grandmother gifted me with a trip to England with her. We were going to attend a 4 week long summer session at the University of Cambridge and it was a lifetime experience that I do not regret. That morning I was stung on my middle finger also by a wasp I never saw. There was no time to do anything about it, even if we would have had some remedy.

My hand became painfully swollen over the time it took to make the transatlantic journey. My grandmother pretended not to notice my suffering and I knew better than to make a issue of it. In my dorm, not even having washcloths and towels yet, I used my socks to make compresses and by dinner time it was bearable. Last night I reflected on how it must have been for my mother growing up with such an emotionally cold woman. I do know that when she died, lots of appreciative comments about her mother came my mom’s way and simple reminders of her perfume on her clothing were bittersweet for my mother. My mom yearned for a reunion with her birth mother but she had died several years before my mom’s effort, which came months before the state of Tennessee changed its own perspectives to allow the adoptees or their descendants to have the adoption files related to the scandalous Georgia Tann. I now have that file that would have brought my mom so much peace. In my own spiritual perspective, I believe she was reunited with her birth mother after death and now knows even more than I do.

In my all things adoption group this morning I read –

I was surprised at how many adoptees truly loved their adoptive moms and were devastated when they died. Is it strange to not seem to feel much of anything? Some days I think I might be sad and then I realize it might just be residual feelings from long ago. I’m so confused and feel so cold.

A soothing comment followed – Know that your feelings, whatever they are, are valid.

The next comment was this – My adoptive mother and I were not close. I loved her, but didn’t much like her.

One honest adoptee admitted – My adoptive mom was an awful person. I only felt relief when she died. Yet another wrote – I won’t grieve, I have no relationship with my adoptive mom or adoptive dad, as cold as it sounds ill feel like a weight will be lifted from my shoulders when they pass. They still think they haven’t done anything wrong and blame me for everything

I could appreciate this perspective – I think how people grieve and process loss depends on their relationship with that person, whether it’s adoptive family, biological family, friend, coworker. If you’re close to someone and love them, you might feel sadness, a sense of loss, emotional pain. If you weren’t close to them, you might not feel much at all. None of these feelings are bad, they’re just a reflection of your relationship to that person. Not missing or grieving someone doesn’t make you any less of a person with emotions.

The original commenter went on to share – It’s sad because I could never connect with her. She had bipolar disorder and always asked me why couldn’t I just love her. She tried to live her life over through me and it seemed to suck the very soul out of me. It’s hard to love someone when it’s only one sided. It’s like we are baby dolls meant to fulfill all their dreams instead of human beings with our own destiny, personality, and dreams to explore.

Another wise perspective was this – I think every relationship is unique and one should always honor whatever they feel, or don’t feel when dealing with death. Try not to compare your experience with loss to others. This also, grieving is different for everyone, and the way you grieve (or seemingly don’t) is valid.

There is this sad story – The last few months of my moms life were difficult. She was difficult (in general). Our relationship was difficult. I had to step in and took over care the last 4 days of moms life. She had a rapid health decline. I didn’t know for sure I was adopted at that point. And I never got that moment. My adoptive mom was a broken person. The Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents book helped me see that this year. I’ve been able to see her different and with a kindness that wasn’t there before. We had a hard relationship. And it’s helped me reach some of the grief that I’ve had shoved down inside.

And yet another sad story – My adoptive mom is still alive but I feel absolutely numb towards her. I think it’s the abuse and bullying and constant threat of sending me away as a child. I had one moment once where I felt for her, it was some random moment by myself that made me realize that perhaps underneath the hurt, I did care for her, but I am unable to feel it because of how much she has hurt me.

Another perspective – As adoptees, we have *all* lost our mother, during our formative years. So when my adoptive mother died, I felt that pain of losing a mother again. My adoptive siblings don’t quite understand why I reacted so strongly (and they also don’t realize how deeply her death impacted me, because I never really showed my grief in front of them). They are all her biological children, and also much older than me. So while we all lost our mother, I was losing *another* mother. As adoptees, we have difficult relationships with our adoptive parents, and however you felt is completely understandable.

Adoption Fragility

Today’s story –

I am an adoptive parent and I will admit I have to stop myself sometimes and realize my thoughts or fears are out of fragility. My adopted son (age 6) is “star of the week” at school this week and is choosing his pictures to share with his classmates. He has chosen pictures of both biological siblings and mom, and those of us he lives with. My fragility I am afraid is coming into play because I don’t want him to be hurt by the questions others may ask. Any insight on how to help him navigate his peers in this situation? I don’t want to hold back on him sharing what he wants to share, it is his story to tell. I also don’t want him hurt.

One response was – You are assuming he will be hurt. Maybe he will, but his status as an adoptee is for life, so he has to deal with that. I’d let it happen organically and address anything that may occur, after, if he wants to. Don’t make it a big deal. Let him lead and just be aware the days after for any signs.

Similarly, Let him lead here and don’t interfere. The reactions of others is something he now gets to deal with for as long as he lives. Your role is to prepare him to answer the questions in a manner that he is comfy with.

And wise – Stop trying to stop him hurting. STOP, STOP, STOP. Just let him be. Get a grip on your emotions. YOU cannot stand that he is hurt. He will be hurt he is human.

And this recognition – none of us – whether you are a biological parent or adoptive parent – want our children to “hurt”. Sharing his truth, with you in support of his sharing (because it IS his truth), is how you provide as stable a reality as possible for him. Could it be that you do not want the “hurt”? The reality that others will know the whole truth regarding your son and his place in your life? When everyone in family’s loves and supports a child, it is a beautiful thing. Let him shine – it sounds like he has a great group of “family” cheering him on.

One often sees warnings for adoptive parents not to share a child’s adoptive status with others because it leads to bullying and people treating them differently. There’s *absolutely* a difference between an adoptive parent sharing this info and a child sharing it of their own volition. She might be trying to figure out how to make sure her child doesn’t inadvertently open themselves up for poor treatment from others, while still making sure they’re able to share their truth in a way that is comfortable to them.

Some more good advice – let him know that he can share what he wants to. Then give him words in case someone asks something he doesn’t want to share..like “hmm I don’t remember that” or “I’m not sure.”

And this honest recognition that many of us know – Kids are mean. I’d just be prepared for the fact that they could be very cruel to him. Kids used to tell me that I was adopted because my “real family” hated me, or they they’d thrown me away. It might go well or he might be in a lot of pain afterwards. I was just as cruel back, lots of “any morons can have kids” etc. It wasn’t a super productive response – so 0 out of 10 – I do not recommend him going that route.

Also, the times they are a’changing – Talk about what he feels comfortable sharing in a calm environment before he’s in the spotlight. Let him practice. Pretend you’re a classmate, so that he gets to practice his answer when someone says, “if that’s your mom, who is this?” But also know that at 6, kids may not even care. Lots of kids come from blended families or have same-gender parents, so it might not even be on a 6 year old’s radar to ask. People are in so many diverse family situations nowadays. My friend who teaches elementary school says they refer to “your adult(s)” rather than parents.

Reality – Honestly just let them ask questions and him answer. Kids are better at this than you would think. What gets bad is when adults bring shame into the situation. If you act like questions shouldn’t be asked or the answers are bad then that’s what will bring shame into it. 

And regarding transracial adoption (hinted at in the graphic above) – My girls are 17 and 19. I am white they are Black and adopted. They feared telling their story but also got really tired of kids asking why their mother was white. When my younger one was in 2nd grade she told her story. She did not have any pictures of her true family because we don’t know who they were. She came home beaming. The kids asked very tough questions and she was unflinching. She then grew up with these kids no longer wondering why her mother is white. It was behind her. IF there is no shame in being their mother, there is no shame in them being able to tell their story.

And all adoptees are not the same – Ohh, this is a hard one. I hated when kids used to ask questions. It would make me so uncomfortable. (still does haha). I would just gently remind him that he doesn’t have to answer any questions he doesn’t want to answer and that he only has to give out the details he feels like sharing! And this is true – most questions come from pure curiosity rather than mean intent.

Having an idea of what to say can help – I always told my daughter that it’s her choice what she wants to share and her choice whether or not she wants to answer questions about it, but to be prepared that people WILL ask questions. I gave her some phrases to use if she didn’t want to answer certain things such as ‘I’m not comfortable talking about that’. I had to explain to her that most people don’t understand adoption much less open adoption and they will ask invasive questions even though it may come from an innocent place. I think preparing kids for other people’s reactions is important.

It commonly happens in school these days that children are asked to do family trees which can feel awkward to an adoptee. Here’s how one family dealt with that – In kindergarten my class did family trees, and I didn’t know who my first family was. My mom helped me with practice answering questions about adoption and we made up a song about adoption to help my classmates understand. There were 3 other kids adopted in my class so my mom came in and our entire class learned about adoption, I sang my song, classmates asked me questions and mom answered the ones I deferred to her. I loved sharing my story and it made me feel comfortable and not as “different” after. I’d let your kids know it’s also okay if they don’t want to share either.

It’s okay to be cautious. Just be careful not to place your anxieties on your kid. Have a conversation about how they are feeling. Ask for them to “perform” for you since you can’t be there. Ask them how they feel about adoption, what’s something they are excited to share, if they have any questions. But mostly express that you’re excited for them to show off their WHOLE family.

What Happens When

A woman throws her baby away in a dumpster. That is what happened to the man above when he was only hours old. His mother was a drug addict. She said she couldn’t stand looking at him for whatever reason she felt that way.

When he was discovered, the police called child services who immediately put him into foster care. His foster parents took in more than 100 foster kids during their lives. He one, of only two, they ever adopted. They were nearing 70 when he came into their lives. Adopting a newborn baby wasn’t part of their plans. However, they didn’t want to leave him in the foster care system.

The poor little boy growing up in a small town where everyone knows everything was bullied in his public school days and called Dumpster Baby. He was 10 years old when his adoptive father told him his origins story. He thought: did somebody really throw me away? Am I trash or a person? It bothered him for a long time but he did overcome it. He had the love of an adoptive mother and father to assist him.

This is the kind of case where adoption makes sense to me. However, his life with these elderly adoptive parents wasn’t all roses and sunshine. His father wasn’t physically able to throw a football around, so he became fascinated with technology. He read encyclopedias cover to cover. He admits, “We grew up in an impoverished environment. We went to thrift stores; we went dumpster diving. In 1989, when I was eight, my father bought me a secondhand Macintosh, for $24 from a flea market. It didn’t work, so I opened it up and noticed some capacitors were burst. My father was a maintenance worker and had a soldering gun. I took parts from the clock radio to put in the computer. After about 50 attempts, I got it to work.”

This $24 gift and a father with some tools changed this man’s life. He goes on to say, “After that, computers were my escape. I was still being bullied and didn’t have any friends. That computer became my best friend. I was in an education program called Children Are Our Future; the director saw a gift in me and let me work in the computer lab. I’d replace hard drives and add RAM. She encouraged me to start my own business repairing computers.”

“At 12, I got my first job, working after school at the city hall as a computer technician. I helped develop an internet service protocol to tie all of the city agencies together. I pushed myself to the limit. I learned everything I could about Windows. By 14, I’d started writing code; after that, I remember sitting at a computer for two days in a row without even being hungry. I loved it.”

He is inventive and developed a tracking software for elderly people with dementia (because he had to do that find his adoptive father when he would wander off. He passed away in 2014). H also developed a meter to monitor glucose levels in diabetics via Bluetooth. Those are just 2 of over 80 custom software programs he has written. Today at 31 years old, he is the CEO of Figgers Communication. He also created the Figgers Foundation to help children in foster care all around the world. For example, this Christmas they’re buying 25,000 bicycles to give away.

He credits his adoptive parents for showing him compassion and the power of having good people around you.

Ultra-Independence as a Trauma Response

Each of my grandmother’s experienced childhood traumas and both were ultra-independent.  Independence is important but when it becomes a survival mechanism then it is a problem.  It can be detrimental when a person becomes so independent that they fail to ask for help when they really need it.

Ultra-Independence can stem from trauma growing up, possibly in a household where you had to take on a care giver role to your siblings (as my maternal grandmother did – she was 11 years old when her mom died, leaving her to care for 4 younger siblings, the youngest barely a toddler). Or a home where your parents were distant or abusive towards you (as my paternal grandmother experienced with a truly cruel step-mother and a father so grief-stricken by the death of his 3 year old daughter, run over by a car, and his wife a year later and 3 months after my grandmother was born).

There are many other causes – being bullied as a child, a failed love affair, an abusive or narcissistic lover and the death of a loved one are a few of these.

Ultra-Independent people tend to be the rulers of the family and household, they run the show, and take on all the responsibilities and decisions at home because they don’t trust others to make the correct decisions, this results in far too much responsibility on one person that can cause one to become overwhelmed and unable to cope with the pressure anymore.

They can become so used to doing everything for their self, making all the decisions, paying their own bills, fixing all the issues that arise – alone without anyone’s help – that asking for help becomes terrifying. Even admitting that they are not coping is something an Ultra-Independent person will never dream of admitting because that implies that they need others to assist them, which is out of the question.

Ultra-Independent people also tend to take on codependent relationships, as they feel their independence allows them to fix everything and therefore can fix others and it feels safer having someone need them, than a person who will try help them. A normal independent partner scares a Ultra Independent far more than having a codependent that allows them to keep their control.

To an extent Ultra-Independence becomes codependency on one’s self ………. and they will beat themselves up if they cannot fix a situation or do all the things they need done without assistance.  They can become very hard on their own self because they expect to be the super hero all the time. This can result in internal anger and disappointment.  The same kind of anger as they might feel in a co –dependent relationship. These emotions and demands put onto one’s self can eventually lead to stress and burnout.

Credit for much of the content in today’s blog comes from Ultra-Independence is a Trauma response.