A Tough Way To Go

From direct experience (not my own) –

He was in the foster care system from age 3-18, with a failed adoption from the ages of 4-8. This is how broken the foster care system is and how adoption is not always rainbows and butterflies. Excerpts from his story – For a portion of my life my identity was ripped from me, changed, and those who were looking for me could not find me. I was in plain sight living under a different name. After 20 years of silence, I am finally ready to tell my story.

Trigger Warning – What you’re about to read is graphic, disturbing and may be triggering.

I was adopted – Twice. In my personal opinion, I lived a better life with my second adoptive parents than I would have ever lived without them. Yes, I am thankful for the opportunities I do have because of my adoptive parents. Yes, I have chosen to see the good in my life and be grateful for everything I do have. But this is the mature, 27 year old man speaking, not the boy who endured so much trauma that causes the 27 year old man to still go to therapy on a weekly basis. Today, I am what most would consider a successful man.

I was adopted the first time at the age of 4 to what the world thought was a loving home. From the ages of 4-8, behind closed doors I was brutally beaten daily. Some nights I would be locked outside at night in the cold rainy Washington state weather nights in nothing except my underwear. I would be stabbed by forks at the dinner table to the point I was bleeding because I would gag on and throw up my food, then be forced to eat my throw up. I would be told to stick out my tongue, just for her fist to slam up under my jaw, forcing my teeth to slam together and viciously bite my tongue. I would be tucked in at night not with a warm hug or a loving kiss, but rather a hand over my face suffocating me until I stopped moving. Her eyes turned into a cold, chilling midnight black, and she would grit her teeth together and say “I will not stop until your body is done moving. Once you stop moving, I will stop.” I would be grabbed by my neck and choked and slammed to the wall with my feet dangling, my entire 30lb body off the ground and glued to the wall from my neck. She has this super strength, black eyes, and could hold me off the ground by my neck, not letting go until she was satisfied knowing she held the life of the little boy between her palms, against the wall.

I would cry when it was time to line up for the bus at the end of the day in kindergarten while all the other kids would be jumping with joy to be picked up by their parents. I would cry because of the home I knew I was going to. Kids would ask me why I was crying. It’s the end of school and I should be excited. But I wasn’t excited, I was jealous because I knew the first graders got to stay the whole day, but I only stayed half the day, and I was going back to a place worse than hell. I would be asked by not only teachers, but doctors as to why I had bruises all over my body, just to tell them they were from my siblings to avoid my abusive adopted mom from ever finding out I told anyone because I knew if I told anyone I would be brutally beaten. I can go on and on, but I’ll end it here for now because as I type this I am getting dizzy, sick and shaking.

I also had to hear the muffled cries of my brother as he would be choked, beaten and abused while fear and adrenaline would shoot through my veins as I listened to the muffled cries of my twin as I watched his body stop squirming, and almost peacefully slowly stop moving knowing I was next. I quickly learned that once the hand covered my mouth and nose, the quicker I would lay limp, the quicker she would be satisfied and leave the room. I would run away at the sound of punches, slaps, screams and terrifying, gasping cries of my sister knowing my 30lb self had no ability to protect her.

My biological mother gave me up to this family because she trusted them. At first she didn’t give me up. At the age of 3 we were taken from her because she was an alcoholic. We were placed in this home but still visited our mother often. My mother would end up signing away her rights so the family could adopt us. My mother died never knowing the truth about what she signed her rights away for and where she sent her three young children. My mother thought I was going to a home that could provide more love than she could, even though she was an Angel and nothing but comfort to me. I didn’t know what money was, nor did I care she didn’t have any. I didn’t know what drugs or alcohol was, nor did I care that she used/drank them. All I knew was what the warm motherly feeling of love, compassion and dedication was, and that is what I felt in my mothers arms, and only in my mothers arms.

I have struggled with abandonment issues and identity issues my entire life. As a young man I cheated on the mother of my daughter because if I got a glimpse of love or attention from a woman, I did not know how to turn it down. I yearned for love and affection. I dealt with losing my sister. No, she didn’t die, I was ripped away from her after the first adoption failed because the next home simply didn’t want 3 children. I would live in the same town as my sister, the only piece of my mother I had left, just to be denied the ability to see her for years at a time. I have matured immensely and have learned from my mistakes, but the trauma is still rooted deep within. I have used my childhood as motivation to stay strong and push foward to obtain a simple, successful, happy life. That’s all I’ve wanted and that’s all I work towards every day, and to make sure my children have the most loving, stable home I can possibly provide for them.

Even when the hardest part of my childhood was over and I was adopted for a second time, this time to the most amazing, most loving family I could dream of who did everything to love and protect me, I had identity issues. Not with sexual orientation, but with who I was genetically. Where I came from ancestrally. I knew nothing about ME but I lived inside me every day. I never understood why I wasn’t enough for my biological mother and father to change so they could take me back. Why was I never good enough? That’s what I asked myself every day. I asked myself this every time I was told to pack my bags and given a trash bag. I would be moving to yet another foster home. I was told I had no biological family, but I did. Dozens of biological family members existed in the very state and county I lived in, and they were looking for me. I love my second adoptive parents very much, and I am the man I am today because of them. My parents mean absolutely everything to me.

A song I associated myself with, and feel with every fiber in my body is “Concrete Angel” by Martina McBride. As a young boy, I would listen to it and it would resonate with me as if the song was specifically written about me, and just for me. There’s no reason why an 8 year old boy should hear that song and feel such a strong connection to it and understand it so perfectly, but I did. No one knew what was happening, and if I told people who knew the family, they wouldn’t believe me. Even one of my adoptive sisters who lived in the home during the abuse denies it and claims it never happened, despite it being my whole world every day living in abuse, because only my brother, sister and I were abused. But it was hidden so well, that some of my abuser’s own biological children weren’t aware – although I know one was, and unfortunately, she inherited the abuse after the adoption failed.

Christmas Gift Inequalities

Unless someone is a foster parent who also has biological children of their own, they may not be familiar with this problem. Today’s issue – How do you handle the uneven balance of gifts? My fosters will actually end up with a ton of gifts as their biological family and the agency, even my own family and myself will all be buying for them. I was thinking I wouldn’t buy my fosters as many presents as my biological children because the agency will be filling their wish lists? But what if the agency doesn’t come through? Or what if my foster teens notice I only bought them say 2 presents, while my biologicals got 5? What has worked for your family? What has been your experiences?

One respondent suggested this – Let them have more – they already have less. I let them open agency gifts and such at the parent visitation (if applicable) or as they arrive with the worker. Then the gifts from me are opened at Xmas with all of us together that morning.

Someone else said –  I understand her concern. Fostering impacts everyone in the family, especially the biological kids and uneven amounts of gifts could cause hurt feelings.

Another suggested – I’d guess it evens out with your biological children’s extended family vs foster children’s biological family ? As in, you get everyone equal presents for Christmas morning and the rest fills itself in ?

Maybe this explanation adds a bit more clarity – It is about understanding the reality of adoption and foster care. One thing that is reality is that biological children and foster care children are often treated differently, usually to the detriment of the children in foster care. This question assumes that a biological child is equal to a foster care child, therefore the number or type of gifts should be ‘equal’. There is no equality in foster care.

Another suggestion went like this – Let the agency know that you don’t need any presents from them because you’ll be doing your job fulfilling the wish lists for the children. Just to note – your biological kids haven’t experienced the trauma of being removed from their family and having to spend Christmas without them, so if we want to play tit for tat… you could always send your kids to another family to spend Christmas, so that they understand their situation better.

Also, just to note that yesterday I learned a new detail about my mom’s paternal family. His first wife died while pregnant at the beginning of a new year. The two girls (my mom’s older half-sisters) were put into foster care for a short time. I had not known that detail before but my heart aches, considering the trauma of having lost their mother, to then be separated from their father and older brothers. They were very poor and I can believe there was ample concern about his ability under those circumstances to care for young girls. Thankfully, he did find other ways to care for ALL of his children after their mother’s death by involving extended family.

This from experience – The kids in foster care in my home got more gifts than my biological son. The foster care kids didn’t get to be with their families for the holidays, a few extra gifts does not hold a candle to that loss. If it had come up with my biological son, it would have been an opportunity to talk about compassion and gratitude.

I really liked this answer from an adoptee – Everything is complicated when there are younger biological and foster care kids in the same house. Maybe try not putting so much importance on gifts and doing something together as people instead. I’d love to remember a happy Christmas seeing lights and drinking cocoa, instead of tenseness around a tree centered on who can get what.

A former foster care youth provided her direct experience – We would get a box of smellys (toiletries), a selection box of candy and some socks or something equally small in value. There is no need to be concerned about extravagant gifts from the state.

A former social worker, foster parent shared this – Communication is key. My social workers keep me posted about what has been donated, so I know what to buy or not to buy. You could ask that items not be wrapped, so you can see for yourself and make sure everyone feels equally excited and there’s no hurt feelings the day of. When the social workers ask for the wishlist, I’m also intentional about putting more affordable wishes on the list, while I purchase the “big” items or clothing that is specific to the foster child’s style in order to make sure they get things they really want. We were gifted some really amazing presents from a church for our foster son last year, so there’s the chance they could get doubles – if you don’t know what’s going to be donated until closer to Christmas day. The earlier you receive the donations the better you can plan accordingly to ensure that all foster children receive equal gifts along with your biological children. For example, children may receive different donations from the people that took on their wishlist that are more expensive than a child whose list was bought by a family with less resources. Our extended family is consistent at buying both our biological and foster children equal gifts but not all extended families do. I always give my relatives specific items that aren’t repeated on other wishlists, when they ask for what the kids would like.

Feeling Like Damaged Goods

It’s a problem I feel compassion for – from a woman who aged out of foster care . . .

I never was adopted. I almost was and then, my dad got custody. Then, I went back into foster care from the age of 13 until I turned 18. When you’re a teen in foster care, everyone knows no one wants you because you’re too old. It sucks. Like you’re just damaged goods.

Advice to hopeful adoptive parents – Maybe use your desire to reach out and get to know and/or adopt a teen.

I will say from personal experience, it’s not easy. Because for me – I was damaged goods. But I still deserved to know I had worth and was loved. Teenagers also can make choices regarding adoption and name change vs younger kids who can’t. So if you’re wanting to adopt to “be the change”, and not just because you want a baby to cuddle, then actually make real contribution to change. Help someone in foster care who is likely to turn 18 while still in the state’s care. When they look at their future, there seems to be no one there who cares.

Fear of Abandonment is Real

Stephanie Drenka and genetic family

I went looking for a topic for today’s blog and found this story by Stephanie Drenka. She writes that – “I was struck by the pervasiveness of adoptive parent-focused stories. Where were the adoptee perspectives ?” The photo is from when when she was reunited with her biological mother, two sisters, and a brother.

She notes that “abandonment issues do not end in adulthood. Though I haven’t experienced divorce, I can imagine it might be similar. If a woman’s husband leaves her, even after remarries the perfect guy, she may always deal with a persistent fear that he will leave her as well. Fear of abandonment is real, and has to be acknowledged in order to resolve it.”

I have personally witnessed this issue playing out in a loved one and it had not been resolved previously. It came out at a very inopportune time but never-the-less had to be dealt with in its extremity.

Stephanie notes – Even the most well-adapted adoptee still faces moments where the trauma resurfaces. For me, that meant small things like every time a doctor would ask me for my family medical history or now, post-reunification, not knowing when I will be able to meet my biological sister’s new baby boy. And adds – I won’t go into the trauma experienced by birth mothers and families, because that is not my story to tell. Suffice it to say, from my personal reunification experience, adoptees are not the only ones who struggle with the aftermath of adoption.

She says – I love my (adoptive) mom and dad to the moon and back. They are my role models, biggest supporters, and best friends. I feel blessed to have them in my life– but please don’t presume to tell me that I was “lucky” to be adopted. Like many adoptees, my parents told me that I was special. While meant with good intention, being chosen is a burden. It puts pressure on us to be perfect and grateful. It can be incredibly emotionally taxing and negatively effects your self esteem in the moments where you can’t live up to that perfect picture. These expectations can prolong mental illness without treatment, because it may seem like asking for help is being ungrateful.

Choosing to adopt is an expensive proposition and as Stephanie notes – one mostly related to white privilege. I agree with her stated perspective – Can you imagine if the money people spent on adoption services went instead to supporting single mothers or low-income parents? Or what if adoption profits were used to benefit adoptees themselves in the form of post-adoption services like counseling, genetic testing, mental health treatment, or birth family search costs?

She ends her own essay with this – The truth about adoption is that there is no Truth. Adoption is many different things for many different people. It is love, loss, grief, abuse, hope, despair. It can sometimes be celebrated, but should always be examined through a critical and compassionate lens.

Separations

An adoptee wrote – “I hate not belonging anywhere. I hate that I have multiple families, but also really zero. I hate needing to earn my place in people’s lives.” I could relate as I recently shared with my husband and he understood. We both come from small nuclear families and there is no extended family geographically close to us and honestly, few of those as well anywhere else.

Much of this feeling for me comes from the realization that those who were my extended family growing up aren’t really related to me. Those that are genetically biologically related to me don’t really know me, have no real history with me and though I am slowly without too much intrusion trying to build these new relationships . . . sigh. It isn’t easy.

My first family break-up was one I initiated. I divorced the man I had married just before I turned 18 and a month before I graduated from high school in April 1972. By November, more or less, I was pregnant with our first child. She remains the joy of my life and has gifted me with two grandchildren. However, finances separated me from my daughter when she was 3 years old and she was raised by her father and step-mother who gave her a yours-mine-and-ours family of siblings, sisters, just like I grew up with. It has left me with a weird sense of motherhood in regard to my daughter. One that I often struggle with but over the last decade or so, I have been able to bridge some of that gap- both with regard in my own sense of self-esteem and in a deepening relationship with my daughter, primarily since the passing of her step-mother (not that the woman was an impediment but understandably, my daughter’s heart remains seriously tied to that woman even today).

The trauma of mother/child separation lived by each of my adoptee parents (while skipping my relationship and my sisters’ relationship with our parents) passed over to my sisters and my own relationships with our biological genetic children. I seriously do believe it has proven to have been a factor. Both of my sisters gave up babies to adoptive parents and one lost her first born in court to his paternal grandparents. Sorrows all around but all us must go on the best we can.

Since learning the stories of my original grandparents, I have connected with several genetic relatives – cousins mostly and an aunt plus one who lives in Mexico with her daughter. Everyone is nice enough considering the absolutely un-natural situation our family histories have thrust us into. So really, now I find myself in this odd place of not really belonging to 4 discrete family lines (one set of grandparents were initially married and divorced after the surrender of their child to adoption and one set never married, in fact my paternal grandfather likely never knew he had a son). Happily, though a significant bit of geographical distance a factor foe me, my paternal grandfather was a Danish immigrant and I now have contact with one cousin in Denmark who has shared some information with me that I would not have but for him.

Regarding estrangement, I’ve had no direct contact with my youngest sister since 2016. In regard to looking out for her best interests, her own attorneys in the estate proceedings encouraged me to pursue a court appointed guardian/conservator for her – as both of our parents died 4 months apart and she was highly dependent upon them due to her mental illness of (likely) paranoid schizophrenia. The effects of that really destroyed my relationship with her (which had been close until our mother died and then, went seriously to hell, causing us to become estranged). I just learned the other day that the court has released her conservator. I guess she is on her own now. She survived 4 years of homelessness before reconciling uneasily with our parents. I guess the survivor in her will manage but she most likely also now believes the guardian/conservator proceedings were my own self being vindictive, for some unreasonable purpose. Sigh. I don’t miss contact with her – honestly – it was cruel and difficult being on the receiving end of her offensives after our mom died. I do wish her “well” in the sincerest meanings of that concept.

It could also be that without these great woundings I would be less vulnerable and available, less empathic and compassionate, with the people I encounter as I live my life each day. Maybe it is precisely my reaching out, in an effort to connect, that causes me to share my own personal circumstances. A sacrifice of the heart.

A Different Perspective

I found this perspective thoughtful . . .

I’m a Christian foster carer though I am not actively fostering as I have a long term child and he is my priority. To me the call from God to Foster was nothing to do with an inability to have children (and I am NOT infertile) and I don’t think it was even a calling to be honest.

We are called to stand in the gap for these children. To be a safe and loving place where they can start to unpack their trauma with help from people like me who actively want to help. Not people that want to adopt these kids and pretend that they don’t have any issues.

The goal of foster care is to get the kids out of it and back home. Unfortunately there are a lot of foster carers who actively choose to ignore that. I would love to see my country move to a model where families are supported first and children are only removed due to the absolute worst case possible, end of the line option.

Unfortunately the system is completely broken and nobody in our government wants to fix it or knows how to. Which is why focusing on finding, training and keeping excellent foster carers is so important in the meantime. There should not just be a volunteering position that anyone can do. I am so sick of the advertisements on the radio and TV saying if you have a spare bed you could save a child’s life, when it is so much deeper than that.

These kids need more than just a bit of love and to be on their way. Unfortunately that seems to be what a lot of people think they need. Trauma is so complex and the whole idea of fostering at all, really should be taken so much more seriously.

A Product Of A Product

I read an interesting thread this morning that I thought reveals some really important perspectives and so, I share this.

Things I find odd: in the decades following discovery, none of my adoptive family asked about or acknowledged the existence of my half-siblings.

Nor did they either ask how I felt about being lied to for over thirty years; lies they participated in telling. I don’t say this to shame them. I am not even naming them here. As children, they were emotionally abused in that they were told to lie to a family member, every single day. They should not have been asked to do that. I don’t fault them for remaining silent prior to my accidental discovery of my adoption. What I find completely baffling is the continued silence.

What does that say about the nature of love, respect, compassion and connection that adoption supposedly creates? You may say; most adoptees know, so your experience is an anomaly. If so, there are thousands and thousands of anomalies running around these days. There are STILL adoptive parents posting on social media who say they haven’t told the adoptee, don’t know when or if they will. In transracial adoptions, adoptive parents can’t avoid the truth of adoption, but many make a practice of dodging questions, fabricating stories, joking about the adoptee’s pain. And I add, knowing a good number in the donor conception contingent of family creating, there were many who did not ever intend to tell their children. Of course, that was in the days before inexpensive DNA testing. Oops.

I guess odd is not a strong enough word. Cruel, maybe?

There were 4 children in my family; two of those were adopted. First a biological, genetic daughter, then the adoptee girl – me – and an adoptee boy, then a biological, genetic son. My adoptee brother died when I was 13. He was 12. The oldest daughter always knew. The youngest son learnt in high school. Yep; both of those were told to lie. Apparently it was important for them to tell other friends and acquaintances that I was not their “real” sister. I, however, was never told.

What a way to set family relationships up to fail. The refusal to engage with me now “post-discovery” reveals how deep that failure goes and it does increase the pain that I felt as an adoptee to an almost unendurable level.

In their defense, I don’t think they ever learned, nor knew how to learn, how to engage emotionally in a healthy way, not just with me but with others. Some of this was the result of being raised by adult children of alcoholics and a great deal of death and dysfunction occurred in the course of our upbringing. How much of that dysfunction can be attributed to being taught to lie ? It could not have helped the circumstances.

This brings on additional sharings of a similar nature.

Thanks to a friend recognizing my now ex husband was a functional alcoholic, I got into Al-Anon. I was also fortunate to find a couple adoptee support groups at that same time and found that there is a lot of overlap!! Dysfunction doesn’t discriminate. The ex was the son of a violent alcoholic. I dated men who had drug or alcohol issues. My adoptive parents were the youngest in their pre-Depression era families and we’re definitely not what we would refer to as “healthy” today. Add adoption to the mix…

My adoptive mom’s dad was a violent alcoholic. My adoptive dad’s dad was more of a gentle alcoholic, I think. They came out of hard times. Add the pressures of infertility during a time when women’s primary role was parenthood ? So much pain and suffering.

You are right about silence being cruel. Speaking as a first mom… losing my baby to adoption at 17 years old … I was told I would go on with my life, as if nothing had happened. My family never spoke to me about it. It’s traumatizing and cruel to pretend it never happened. I’m sorry that any of us are here having this discussion but we must talk about it, if we are to heal. I was in the adoptee fog for 43 years… & now 12+ years in reunion… I won’t be silenced any longer.

And by sharing such personal thoughts about personal situations, maybe some who encounter people living with such pain will be a little kinder. Until you walk a mile in my shoes . . . seems to fit. Always give the benefit of the doubt and consider the kindest possible explanation for whatever seems “off” is also good advice.

Shame

I’m only going the summarize this article but provide you with the link because it is well worth your time to read it – I Kept My Family’s Secret For Over 60 Years. Now, I’m Finally Telling The Truth by Yvonne Liu – published in The Huffington Post.

I believe shame had a lot to do with adoption records being sealed to begin with. Closed to access by the very person – the adoptee – is the information matters most to. Early in my “adoption issues” education I encountered the issue of dumpster babies. There are also babies left in a basket. For most of my life, I thought my own father had been left in a basket on the doorstep of The Salvation Army in El Paso TX because his Mexican national mother lacked her family’s acceptance of a mixed race baby who’s father was an American national. Nothing was further from the truth but I was well in my 60s before I knew that. My father never expressed any interest in learning the truth and details of his own adoption and I believe it was because he was afraid of what he might learn. By the time I knew the truth, my dad was already deceased and knew next to nothing.

Today’s story relates to a baby left in a basket in a Hong Kong stairwell near Sai Yeung Choi Street. She was taken to St. Christopher’s Home, the largest non-government-run orphanage on the island. Officials at the orphanage named her Yeung Choi Sze, after the street where she was found.

Infertility was the shame her adoptive mother hid. That is not uncommon among adoptive mothers, especially those of Chinese descent because Confucius believed a woman’s greatest duty was to bring a son into the world. This adoptee’s mother couldn’t produce a son, much less a daughter.

In June of 1960, this baby girl from China landed at O’Hare International Airport. Her adoptive mother was disappointed in the baby she received from the beginning. She was a sick and scrawny baby, clearly malnourished. Her mother’s first reaction upon seeing her was, “Why couldn’t I have a healthy baby like everyone else?” Throughout her life, the family’s story about her was a lie – that she was born in Chicago. Every school form, all of her college and job applications, and even her medical records listed her birthplace as Illinois. 

The adoptee’s parents were never warm emotionally. From a young age, she was afraid to upset her mother, who was often emotionally volatile. Her mother showed her attention when she needed her daughter. If she dared push back on the relentless demands to refill her teapot, type her Chinese cookbook or vacuum the house, her mother would retreat to her bed, sob, and say, “You don’t love me because I’m not your real mother.” Hugging her, the adoptee would desperately proclaim her love for her adoptive mother, telling her, “You’re my only mother.” Then she would quickly and quietly fulfill her mother’s commands.

Her adoptive father was not any warmer emotionally. From her time in the third grade, she threw myself into becoming a star student in hopes of earning her father’s love and attention. After immigrating to America with $50 in his pocket, her adoptive father earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry while working as a dishwasher on the weekends. He was chronically depressed and withheld any affection from her, even though she wanted that desperately.

The adoptee won a full scholarship to attend a top MBA program and enjoyed a solid business career. She even married the nice Chinese man her mother chose for her. But for as long as her parents were alive – and even after they died – I continued to keep the family’s secret that she had been adopted. Eventually, she told her husband and children but asked them to continue keep the family’s secret. That’s how deep and dark she considered her secret shame to be. I truly believed I would carry it with me until I died. The ancient Chinese beliefs that she must have come from an immoral mother, would mean she was tainted by her origins.

In 2020, locked down by the pandemic and having just turned 61 years old, she finally began questioning why she had internalized her adoptive parents’ shame about infertility and adoption. Feelings of low self-esteem, insecurity and anxiety as well as lingering questions about identity, rejection, belonging motivated her to learn more about adoption. She did a lot of the things I did as well – read books about adoption and joined Facebook groups for adoptees. Like her, I was already in my 60s as well.

She came to realize that there was no reason to hide her truth any longer. It was time to live an authentic life. She had nothing to hide. She choose to tell her truth publicly in The New York Times. A 98-word Tiny Love Stories piece about her adoption. Then my brother (also adopted) gave her a dusty manila file he discovered during pandemic cleaning. It was labeled “Yvonne’s Adoption.” At 62 years of age, she finally read the documents her adoptive parents had deliberately kept hidden from her when they were alive. The yellowed tissue-thin papers held the truth of her beginnings.

She writes, “My heart ached for the baby who languished in that orphanage for 15 long months. Surely a caretaker would have picked up my malnourished and anemic body when I wailed. Surely someone helped me when I still couldn’t sit on my own at 9 months. Surely a hired helper gazed into my eyes as she fed me diluted Carnation formula, water and congee. I sobbed, imagining how that tiny baby must have experienced those first few months of a life that would turn out to be mine.”

For much of her childhood, she was a quiet child, afraid to be a burden. On the rare occasions when she complained or questioned her parents, they would answer, “Where would you be if we didn’t adopt you?” They never said the same thing to her adoptive brother because he fulfilled their traditional Chinese filial duty to have a son to carry on the family name.

Then, she wanted to understand, why the lies ? So she learned Chinese history, read cultural and sociology books, pored over Chinese memoirs and novels, interviewed Chinese cultural experts and people who lived in China at the time her parents had. Now she is able to recognize that her adoptive parents were a product of tradition, circumstances and time.

She was able to realize some gratitude for the circumstances of her life. Because her birth mother loved her, she left me at a busy stairwell to be found. Because she made that choice, the woman has lived a full life. She is also able to be grateful her adoptive parents chose her. She is no longer ashamed of being an adoptee.

You can read more of her writing at YvonneLiuWriter.com. She is currently writing a memoir about adoption, childhood trauma and mental health. 

Whatever Became Of ?

In Life magazine’s – Year in Pictures 1972 – in a Feature titled Whatever became of ? – I read about “Mike” and “Tammy” – twin children found by police in a Long Beach California alley on May 5 1972. As a Gemini, twins fascinate me. After national publicity, the children were identified as Tamara and Brian Woodruff. They had been abandoned by their mother and were placed in foster care. Their mother was placed under psychiatric observation.

I tried to learn more about the twins but understandably, out of privacy concerns, they disappeared from any easy ability on my part to find out. So, I looked into the topic of child abandonment. It is defined as the practice of relinquishing interests and claims over one’s offspring in an illegal way, with the intent of never resuming or reasserting guardianship. An abandoned child is referred to as a foundling (as opposed to a runaway or an orphan). Some of the effects on survivors of abandonment include feelings of guilt about being at fault for being abandoned.

The earlier in life estrangement happens, the more damaging it can be. It can impact personal development, anxiety and depression, and of course the adult relationships people get into. When that person is trying to have a sense of identity, they are dealing with a black hole where their mother should be and a really dysfunctional model of love.

In parenthood, when she holds her baby in her arms, a woman who was “abandoned” as a child might say – “I will never leave you. I will never do to you what was done to me. Mommy will always come back.” And what she is doing is self-consoling through nurturing her child.

One woman says that becoming a mother did end up being one of the most healing parts of her own journey. And much of her anger did disappear as she reflected more on all the things that had broken her mother before she ever broke that woman. She found a lot of compassion for her original mother and the path that woman had to walk through life. Even so, she says something my own mother said to me once, “as a mother myself, I know I’ll never understand the choices you made.” For this woman, in being the mom she always wished she’d had; she found healing.

I will admit this one hits home in a very personal place. So, I didn’t do it illegally. I did not intend to never have her living with me when I dropped her off at her grandmother’s house. Yet I am at fault for lack of foresight.

I struggled financially after my divorce from my daughter’s father who refused to pay child support. I was always an adventurous soul. Would wander off further and for longer than my slightly detached adoptee parents ever seemed to notice.

And so, from financial desperation, after being rejected from a good paying job with the railroad because my ex worked there, I tried TEMPORARILY leaving my daughter with my former mother-in-law, while I tried to earn a bit of money driving an 18-wheel truck.

I didn’t know it then, but that was a point of no return. My daughter would sometimes visit me, even for extended periods of time, but she would never live permanently with me again. I never thought of it at the time as having abandoned her, but I know now that regardless of my intent, I must accept responsibility for whatever emotional harms that may have done to her. I know it did emotional harm to me. I’ve never fully gotten over the outcome or my sense of guilt for it.

Thankfully, my daughter did not eliminate me from her life entirely. I did make real efforts to stay in contact with her throughout most of her childhood. There were periods of time that due to the people I was living with, it became impossible to be contact with her but as soon as it was safe, I did resume contact and she was still young enough, that it reconnected our bond with one another, even if it did not reconnect us full-time under the same roof.

Sadness remains in my mother’s heart regardless. Knowing the legal definition of child abandonment helps but does not heal my personal pain at all that I missed with my daughter.

Weirdness

A different kind of weirdness than my weirdness . . . surprise !!

The advent of inexpensive DNA testing has brought surprises to many people today. One woman wrote –

“One of the biggest things I’m realizing today is: at least I always knew I had parents and ancestors “out there” somewhere. I knew there were people I could look for, and I knew there could be other family members too. How weird to find someone you never knew even existed? Someone that’s had a whole life without you? I might have his first grandchildren, and he never knew.” She closes with – “Adoption is a wild freaking ride.” I agree.

Another woman writes – “Ancestry DNA led me to find my half brother that my father never knew about. Its been wild for sure.” This happened for me too. It turned out in my case, the man’s grandmother was my paternal grandfather’s sister but no one in his family, including him, ever knew he had a son. 23 and Me led me to a cousin, which led me to another cousin, and it turned out that my paternal grandmother had left a breadcrumb for me as to my dad’s father’s identity in her photo album.

Here is another story – “We met my half-brother recently after our dad took an Ancestry DNA test. My half-brother was adopted almost 50 years ago. My dad never knew he existed until March of last year. We’ve since spent a couple weeks with him and his girlfriend. It’s definitely crazy to know that my half-brother existed for my entire 39 years on this planet and we never knew him until now but I’m very grateful that he wants to be involved with his birth family despite his birth/life story. I’m trying to figure out how to visit him this coming summer with my kids, his niece and nephew. What’s super crazy to me now is that while I haven’t known my half-brother very long, my kids will never know life without him. It’s been a journey of grace and compassion for everyone from our experience.”

For myself as well – thankfully !!