Opportunistic Dependency

In life, one often learns who they must say “no” to, because to say “yes” is never a temporary response but an open door to repeated requests, that eventually cause resentment and regret. Sadly, this is often the case in families. I’ve seen it more than once as I am certain most readers here will have as well. Today’s blog is focused on the story of an adoptee reunion. The young woman is somewhat like my mom was – always knew she was adopted and though she yearned for contact with her mother, was unable to achieve that before she died. From what I have learned from my mom’s cousins about my maternal grandmother, she would not have been like the one in my story below –

I was adopted at birth and raised by a wonderful family. From birth (or old enough to understand) I was told about the adoption and what that meant, it was a closed adoption. I never thought about it much while growing up. I just knew I was adopted and the chances were low I would ever get to know them (birth parents) and I was ok with that. I know others deal with it differently, I didn’t have much of a desire to know the back story.

Fast forward to when I was 27, my husband and I were googling our birthdays and the first post I saw was from an adoption website from a birth mom trying to find her daughter. Low and behold that daughter was me! I was shocked and overwhelmed, and thought it was my duty to reach out to say thank you!

I learned she was only 13 when she had me, others choices were available and she chose life for me. On my first attempt to reach out, she needed more time. She admitted she was on drugs and didn’t want me to know her like that.

A couple years passed by and she reached out again. It has not been a happy 5 years. She constantly pesters me with – can you give me money ?, can you give me shelter ?, can you help me ? And when I kindly say no, she responds with rage. Complete and utter anger. She doesn’t want to know anything about me, just wants to exploit her relationship with me.

I’m a super kind person but I know better than to give her anything monetary. It has reached a point where the relationship is toxic and I don’t want to be a part of it any longer. When I try to break it off, she says she is suicidal and will kill herself if I don’t comply with her requests.

To be honest, I wish I had never opened the reunion box. But I did. Now I don’t know what to do. What if she kills herself ? I would feel so responsible. All of this is so so so hard on me!!! What would you do ? And could you live with that choice for the rest of your life ?

Tomorrow, I’ll share some of the advice she received from sharing her story.

Break On Through

Read this request for advice this morning –

Dear Amy: When my mother was a teenager, she gave birth to a son and put him up for adoption.

I found out about it as a child only because my grandmother became quite mean in her later years and told me about it to embarrass my mom. My mother and I never discussed it, and honestly I had pretty much forgotten about it.

Many years later, I bought one of those DNA testing kits and later got one for my mom, too. A few days ago, we both received an “ancestry sharing request” from a person the DNA service has identified as being my half brother.

I asked my mom via text (I am currently living outside the country) if she was going to respond to him, but she didn’t answer the question.

I’m not sure if I should push the topic further with her.

Also, do I have any obligation to respond to this half brother? My gut instinct is to not respond at all. I found him on Facebook and saw that his posts were all far too political and religious for me.

Thoughts?

— Wondering Half-Sibling

Amy’s response –

Wondering Half-Sibling: Based on what you report, people in your family may have a pattern of dredging up challenging topics, and then burying them again when they hit too close to the heart — or simply become too uncomfortable to face.

One of my favorite quotes is from the poet Robert Frost: “…the best way out is always through.” I take this to mean that almost any challenging situation is made better — ultimately — by going through it, rather than around it.

Yes, you could take your half brother’s social media postings as a (faint) justification to ignore him. You have the right to ignore him. But he has the right to some factual knowledge about his own biological and medical history, and you should be able to help provide that without necessarily entering into a relationship that you obviously don’t feel inclined to have.

Understand, too, that if your brother’s values and world-view are so very different from yours, he also may not wish to enter into a sibling relationship with you, either.

Yes, this would definitely reveal some very challenging truths for your mother. Given how her own mother treated him, she might not be able to face this reality. You could assume that when she and her family placed her baby for adoption, they did so with the knowledge that this chapter was closed — never dreaming that some day DNA would enable people to circumvent adoption contracts. It would be kindest if you contacted your mother (perhaps by phone, not text) and asked, gently and without judgment, if she would like to talk about this.

~ source for the above – The Washington Post

Some further thoughts from this blogger

It is true that the advent of inexpensive DNA testing has actually been a godsend for adoptees locked out of their own true origins, with original birth certificates denied them, with the truths of how they came to be adopted denied them – because the DNA tells the truth of our genes.  DNA testing has made all the difference for me as the child of two adoptees in finally knowing who all 4 of my original grandparents were and making connections with my true genetic relatives.  With over 6 decades of living robbed from us, building relationships is slow and not terribly productive with some.  With others there is definitely a heartfelt connection that I am likely much more grateful to have than they could ever understand.

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.

Addiction Is A Sad Reality

The issue of drug addiction is close to my heart because I have seen it’s effects up close and personal.  Losing physical custody of one’s child as a mother never feels like a happy outcome.  Today, I was reading the sad story of a woman who lost 3 of her children when Child Protective Services took them from her due to her addiction.

She was promised by Child Protective Services that her children were going to go into a safe home, a God fearing home, wealthy, and she knew this couple had been the foster parents for the last 2 years she was able to visit her children prior to their adoption.  She signed the adoption papers because she needed to survive the addiction. And she needed to save her children from her own self.  She believed as she recovered that her children were safe. It was a closed adoption and so she lost contact completely.

Somewhat recently she learned that her children were so severely abused by those adoptive parents for a number of years that they were taken back into the foster care system for a subsequent 2 years.  Then they were adopted a second time.  These children are now 20, 18 and 16 years old.  This woman had 2 more children as she was recovering from her addiction and she is raising them.  Though she has tried to reconnect with her older children, they rebuff her efforts.

Some of the things we do in our youth and ignorance will never free of us of the consequences of our choices.  The effects are permanent.  One can understand how these older children might blame this mom for their difficult, even painful, childhoods.  And while, it is sad that there is no happy resolution for this shattered family, it isn’t difficult to understand the damage that has been done.

She asked adoptees for advice on whether she should keep trying to reach out to these older children.  One was brutally honest (as adoptees often are if you are willing to listen).  “As an adoptee we don’t owe anyone anything, not a explanation, not a relationship, not communication not even a hello. You gave up that right. You need to respect their wishes, don’t reach out again, they know how and where they can reach out if they choose to. From what you have said they have lived a horrendous life and they as adults now deserve the right to make the decision to have any contact with you.”

The fact is – adoptees had no say in what happened to them.  They are totally within their rights to take back control when they are old enough to exert it.

A Black Hole

Until recently, my family history beyond my two parents was a black hole.  They were both adopted and died knowing next to nothing about their origins.  After more than 60 years of living, I know now what those origins are.

Most people KNOW who their parents are.  Even a parent who abandons his family may still be a known entity to his child but not someone who was adopted.  It is all unknown, unless it is a modern, more progressive and supportive adoption – which thankfully, many of them are beginning to be.

People don’t want to hear that you have no freakin’ clue to your identity.  Not knowing is both painful and unusual in our society.  It is associated with negative stereotypes such as “bastards” and “mistakes”.  You hear about “those people” but you never expect to be talking to one in the flesh.

I recently read about the child of an adoptee who’s coping mechanism with that unknown was to tell everyone he was Cuban.  Until recently, I used to tell everyone I was an “albino African” because I could have been.  There was no one to tell me I wasn’t.  Then, I got my DNA tested and finally knew I was Danish and Scottish and English and Irish, even a little Ashkenzai Jew and Neanderthal.

It is wonderful to now have a universe of genetic connections out there instead of being the product of a black hole.

Who Am I ?

“Whose tummy did I grow in ?”

Consider this.  Most of us take for granted that we grew inside our mother’s womb.  A child that has always been told they were adopted will eventually reach a point where this question will arise in their own mind.  In closed adoptions, the child will never be given an answer.  In fact, great care has been taken to erase every fact related to their beginning in life.

Georgia Tann often falsified birth certificates and original parental data so that even after records were allowed to be opened for “qualified” persons (the adoptee or their direct descendants) one had to view the information skeptically.  I am fortunate that for the most part, the information in my mom’s adoption file seems to have been accurate.

But there was fudging about the nature of her parents who were presented to my adoptive grandmother (who thought very highly of advanced education) as two unfortunate college students who were caught by pregnancy.  That was hardly the truth.  My grandmother never went to college and my grandfather was a widower 20 years older than her who had already fathered 5 children.

Adoptees in a closed adoption will have their birth certificates falsified (as both of my parents did) to appear that their adoptive parents gave birth to them when they did not.  They will have their original name changed to something the adoptive parents want.  In my dad’s case, it happened twice, because my Granny divorced the husband she was married to when she adopted my dad.  The second husband objected to my dad carrying the vanquished man’s name and so at an age of already 8 years, my dad was given a new name.

Is it any wonder that adoptees often struggle with an identity crisis ?  Many adult adoptees believe that adoption should be ended.  The children should be given guardians and keep all of their original identity information.  Much like in the case of slavery, a child is not something one owns but a human being we are privileged to protect and provide for.

Links in the Chain of Life

What about women who do NOT want to know the children they gave up for adoption, do they have the right to not have their identities revealed ?

I’ve not met one yet who would not want to know what became of their child, though everything that can be thought of does exist.  I would also wonder if it is a denial of pain long suppressed.  I do know I have felt a bit “unwanted” by one genetic relative when I turned up.  “Oh yes, I do remember hearing she had a daughter . . . ” an inconvenient truth, I suppose.

When a woman has a child, even if for whatever reason she gave that child up for adoption, it is my belief that child is still owed an identity, you owe them at least this.

Each of us wants to understand our place in the chain of life.  Closed adoptions with sealed records are like the lock up there in the middle of the links of a chain.

Does such a mother have a right to be free of the trauma of confrontation ? How about the denial of joy in knowing where they come from for the child ?

In most cases, I do not believe a confrontation with one’s now grown child would be traumatic, unless the outcome of that child is one that causes a deep regret and sense of responsibility in the original mother.

I don’t believe that anyone who conceives a child has any right to privacy from that reality.  A woman who insists on such a “right” is at the same time infringing upon the right of an adoptee.