One Story For Today

New Orleans – 2005 – Katrina

Quick take – from an adoptee of a closed adoption: This is complicated. It’s painful, it’s bittersweet. I am thankful for the outcome of a very shitty situations. I am NOT thankful all 3 parties involved suffered in various was. I AM thankful for a good childhood and for love. It DOESN’T remove the grief and pain.

BACKSTORY/ CONTEXT: I was adopted at 2 weeks old, in a closed adoption. My family never hid it. We would have a small cake every year. They would ALWAYS tell me how much my birth mother loved me. They would tell me how thankful they are to have me as a daughter. They never made me feel bad for asking questions they couldn’t always answer or verbalizing thoughts about her and her situation. which I did, ALOT. Lol Our extended family didn’t treat me differently. Of course, my parents and I had our very rough moments. No one’s perfect.

I still had emotional problems, which I found out later in life were related to adoption trauma. It was hard. It had permeated every aspect of my existence. Its confusing and painful, It still hurts.

Katrina hit 8-9 months before I could legally search for her. I was distraught for the people but for personal reasons too… The hospital I was born in, the agency. The city, my only tangible connection to her was UTTERLY DESTROYED. Were my files lost?? Did she still live there? Was she ok? Was she trapped on a roof? Is she dead? It was maddening to know answers may have been swept away in raging flood waters. I had waited my Whole Life for them.

I’ve since reconnected my my birth mom and learned the circumstances that lead to her giving me up. And OMG it tears me up inside knowing what she went through, why she didn’t keep me. All the pain and trauma she experienced. SO MUCH TRAUMA. It breaks my heart. I have ALOT OF ANGER about her treatment by many people.

Knowing that my adopted parents struggled to start a family and for 15 years they watched their siblings and friends have So Many Kids makes me sad.

I grieve the loss of biological connection. So much about how I am now makes much more sense. I talk like my birth mom. Have similar random things in life that we and my birth family share. Mu adoptive parents tried their best but didn’t really have the understanding or tools to deal with the sad things.

It is true that some adoptive parents are utter nightmares and should never have been parents.

I am thankful for WHO I ended up with. That my birth mom’s huge gamble of relinquishing her daughter for a better life worked just like she hoped. I am SO appreciative to have 3 parents who love me.

A lot of adoptive parents play the saint, throw it in their kid’s face. Feel entitled to being what THEY willingly and actively went in search of becoming. That behavior is NOT ok.

Blogger’s note – I feel guilty for lucking out (that I didn’t end up adopted when my unwed, teenage mother turned up pregnant because in my family adoption was so very normal – both parents were adoptees, so their parents were all adoptive parents). At this point in my own adoption discovery journey, I never really hope to hear that other adoptees had good experiences but I am thankful when they have had a good experience. But that’s not why I am here. I’m mostly here to deal with the hard topics and help reform continue to emerge. When the story I come across is a happy story, I’m glad to not be only a downer.

As humans, we ALL seek validation. It’s natural. With that said, tread carefully when you learn someone was adopted. Maybe let them give you THEIR perspective first before you ask what could be uncomfortable questions.

How To Answer What’s It Like

Though my mom talked to me about her being adopted, my dad never did. I didn’t have enough background foundation to ask more direct questions of my parents and since they are both deceased, that opportunity has been lost to me. Therefore, I am always interested in adoptee’s who share how it feels to have been adopted.

Some stories for a Sunday morning –

As an adoptee, I get a lot of questions about my experience and feelings toward my adoption. I have found great value in trying to understand and explain those experiences. Recently I was asked by a friend, “What is it like for you to be an adoptee during childhood ? What about as an adult, is it the same or is the experience different ?”

I have so many mixed feelings about it confusion, pain, anger, and loneliness are the primary feelings I have about it, especially when I was younger. I didn’t understand why I was so different from my family and from others. It was always a hot button for someone being a jerk to press – being unloved by my birth mother or disposable by her. I mean, the family I grew up in ? We don’t look alike, act alike or even communicate in the same ways. I was sent away during a four year period of my childhood to boarding schools and wilderness programs because they said I was “out of control.”

I just had so much anger when I was younger but now I truly believe that my adoptive parents had no idea how to handle me. I didn’t get to say things like “it’s because of my heritage,” or “it’s the Irish in me” because I really didn’t know my history. Those feeling are subsiding with age and time and my search for who I am increases yearly. I want to share those genetic connections that others share and see my quirks in another person, without seeming like I am ungrateful.

My adoptive parents are very supportive of this search but I know that it does hurt them. As a father myself, I am finally experiencing some of those things and kinds of similarities I always wanted, and it is a beautiful feeling. The feeling now is more longing, hope, and feeling lucky to be alive (I know this is not a popular thought with all adoptees but it’s how I feel), and an acceptance of my own reality as I create for my own self my life going forward. It still hurts, a lot. And it fills me with the constant fear regarding my other relationships that I might again experience being abandoned.

Blogger’s note – my father never did get that son he wanted. My parents had three daughters and so, maybe that is why my mom was more forthcoming with me, than my dad was.

Another one – I was fostered from birth and forced to become an adoptee at the age of 10 (it was a closed adoption during the Baby Scoop Era, a period in history starting after the end of World War II and ending in the early 1970s, my mother was coerced to relinquish her rights just before I turned 8 years old).

I still hold a deeply felt anger for the lies I was told and also the physical and mental abuse at the hands of the woman who was allowed to adopt me. I miss my natural mother daily – always have and always will. What I have found empowering as an adult adoptee (yes, it is part of who I am & always will be — I am an adoptee) is speaking out for others, advocating for current foster and adopted youth, so that there’s the opportunity for them to have a better childhood than the one I experienced.

I never would have thought so but doing the DNA tests and discovering living blood relatives (aside from my daughter and her family — who are descendants – and my estranged mother — I never knew of anyone) has been healing. Additionally, I’ve become very involved in building out both sides of my ancestral/heritage family tree. It has been an education in many ways, and although there is a bittersweet sadness to so much, there is also an identification of where I actually do belong within the life/death continuum and that has been an emotionally uplifting experience that has caught me off guard but in a mostly positive way. I am honoring their ancestral (genetic/genealogical) legacy, at the same time I am acknowledging my own place, while learning many things that even my mother (who hid my existence) never knew.

Blogger’s note – for my own self as well. Doing the DNA tests at Ancestry and 23 and Me have filled in the gaps that parents died never knowing. I still need to complete the “new” family trees I started for each of them with their birth identities and genetic relations at Ancestry. It just feels like the right thing to do for each of them. I now have family history. When one has grown up without that, it is difficult to describe how amazing that actually feels.

The next story – I was in the fog until I was about 20. I always knew I was adopted. And my adoptive parents did so much better than most. I always felt like the rug would be pulled out from under me. Always waiting for some big bad disaster. Always distrusting and always feeling like I was somehow “wrong.” As an adult, I have worked really hard to break the cycle of harm. But I still always feel like I have to prove something or I am not valid. And I don’t think I will ever feel like I fit in anywhere.

One last story – as a child I was very curious about my heritage, I always wondered if I had siblings. My adoptive parents gave me a good childhood, we did a lot of things and they were very loving. As I got older, I was also “out of control” and my parents didn’t know what to do. I ended up, moving out at 17 years old.

I had been living in the fog, up until last year. Now, as an adult, it’s like a rollercoaster. An unexplainable ride of emotions from good to bad and everything in between. I’ve been through my reunion. I have 4 half brothers, who I love dearly. I have no relationship with either biological parent. No romantic relationship in my life BUT it’s nice to know that I’ve consistently sabotaged most of them, due to my fear of abandonment (now I understand why). I’ve spent the last year or so really healing from my adoption trauma and it’s felt really good. I still have pain that will never go away. I struggle mostly with the desire to love my biological mother as I “should” and resenting her terribly for abandoning me (twice). She wants no relationship with me and I’m ok with that, it just makes me sad.

The Weird Joy of Reunion

Sharing the current state of reunion that one adoptee has experienced.

Change. Change can be so beautiful, but very difficult. The past six months, I started my journey to find my birth family. Not only did I find both my mother and father. I found many other family members.

When I found my parents it was extremely exciting, but honestly, it brought up so many different emotions I didn’t expect to be brought up. It was weird talking for hours with these strangers that somewhere weren’t strangers. It was even weirder loving these two people that I’ve never even met. It confused me how it could be possible. How can I love two people that I don’t know. Looking at it now, it’s so beautiful. God intended natural family to be together. It wasn’t intended for adoption to be a thing. That love I have for them is wired in me. I didn’t know I would feel that way from the start. I thought that maybe I wouldn’t even like them. Thankfully, that love just comes naturally with parents and their children.

I am lucky enough to be building a relationship with them. It has been all I wanted for almost nineteen years and now I have it. It still blows my mind that I know them. Not only do I know them, but they want to know everything about me. I couldn’t be more blessed with who they are.

So yeah, you could say my life has changed. This change has brought sadness, happiness, confusion, and about any other emotion you could think of. Memories good and bad have been brought back to life. I am so glad God chose my adoptive and biological family to love me. Through all of this, I have seen just how lucky I am to have so many people rooting for me. I am even luckier that my biological mom chose my family. I get to tell the people who made me about the people who raised me and be so proud. Although this journey has been hard for my parents, birth parents, and everyone else involved, I am so excited for my future with my entire family.

I’m Okay But

“I still think if I was given the choice to be aborted or grow up adopted, I’d choose abortion.” Those are the words of one adoptee.

The pain of having to live under the lies of adoption was just so great that never being born still seems like the better option. I loved my parents. I am forever grateful for the care and love they gave me with the best of intention. I knew they loved me but I knew they were also lying to me and that confused me. I’m grateful to be alive today but it’s not always been that way.

Now I know the TRUTH and I’m free to be me. And I think it’s marvelous. I just might be a superhero and neurodiversity is my superpower. Level up????

Many adoptees, but not all of course, feel the same way . . . Don’t believe it. Overturning Roe v Wade and creating more babies for hopeful adoptive parents will shatter the lives of those adoptees by the trauma they experience in the process.

One Huge Lifelong Question

Certainly, my mom yearned to find her original mother and I believe that both of my original grandmothers wished to find their children (both of my parents were adoptees), surrendered to adoption, once again in their lifetimes. It did not happen. All of these 6 people died without ever finding one another again.

Sharing today some excerpts from a blog by Linda Hoye titled “Where Is She? An Adoptee’s Lifelong Question.

Where is she?

No more the sound of her familiar heartbeat that lulled me to sleep and that my own synchronized with. Instead, a cacophony of strange voices and hospital sounds startles my newborn senses. Unfamiliar arms lower me into an isolette. I am alone and don’t know where I begin or end. Someone props something on a pillow beside me and touches my lips with a rubber nipple. Substitutionary sustenance. I drink. I sleep.

Then, one day, I’m dressed and wrapped and put into the arms of someone who smells of something other than this strange and lonely place. She is gentle and holds me so close I can feel her heartbeat. Days and weeks pass. I drink and sleep and grow used to her and learn to relax when she holds me while I drink from a rubber nipple until I’m milk drunk and fall asleep in her arms. But I don’t stop wondering.

Where is she?

On another day, after I’ve grown accustomed to the cuddling and playing and the belly laughs she draws from me, she is no longer there when I wake up. Instead, I look up into the soft misty eyes of another woman. The smile on her round face looks like love. She caresses my cheek and holds me so close I can hear her heartbeat. This happened with the other one too. I wonder where she is and how long this one will stay. There’s another face beside hers—a man—looking down at me and smiling too. But still, the bigger question remains:

Where is she?

A half-century later I kneel at her grave and place my hands flat on the ground. Oh, here she is. But, by now I’m too late.

And this was me too – at least at the graves of my maternal, biological, genetic relatives. Too late too meet any of them in person. Hopefully, my words as I sat down at their graves and uttered my words were heard by them in whatever that place is that they have gone. Someday, may I also visit my paternal relatives graves.

It Is Wrong To Hide The Truth

A person should not have to live to the age of 19 before knowing they were adopted. A person should not go through life being they come from a culture they did not. However, that is what happened to Melissa Guida-Richards. That was the point in her life when she learned she was not Italian at all bur a Columbian mestiza or mixed race. Melissa shares her story in a Huffington Post op-ed – My Half Siblings Found Me On 23andMe. I may never have learned the identity of my own dad’s father but for 23andMe hooking me up with cousins with the same grandmother (who I lived over 6 decades knowing nothing about).

That same 2017 year that I began to learn who my parents original parents were (both of them were adopted but at least they grew up knowing they were adopted all along), Melissa did 23andMe and learned about her cultural genetic make-up (Latina with Indigenous, Eastern Asian and some African roots with less than half of her genetic makeup from Italian or even European sources). She finally knew why she felt different from her entirely European adoptive family who came into the US straight off the boat from Italy and Portugal.

Before she knew she was adopted, she had grown up hearing stories of her adoptive father tending goats in Italy and her adoptive mother washing clothes in a stream in Portugal. She was taught to have pride in those cultures … but these were not her own birth culture. She experienced a sense of frustration over the way she had been raised. This built up inside of her until she made the decision to go into therapy when she was in college. Eventually, therapy allowed her to come to terms with some of these things, yet she was still pushing some of the others aside, finding that easier than confronting them. It takes time to grow through an evolution like this.

Like many adoptees, it took having biological children genetically related to her to give her that connection to kinship that was missing all of her life. Then, very much like what happened in my circumstances, two years after having her DNA tested by 23andMe, she received this message – “Hi, this may be weird and I don’t mean to bother you but I’m your half-sibling.” In a matter of seconds, she went from having no biological ancestors, and yet now children who were related to her, to having a sibling only a few years older than her. And she shares, what many adoptees feel when they discover biological, genetic relatives – Finally, there was someone else out there like me. After years of feeling like the broken, weird, outsider in my adoptive family, there was someone else.

Her feelings at that point, echo the anger many adoptees feel as they become mature – while her initial emotion was feeling overwhelmed with joy, she soon felt the grief. She says, How was it fair that I had no idea of this? That we, two siblings, were separated and yet adopted to the same country? Why did the world think that that was okay? Why did my adoptive parents act threatened when they found out about my sibling?

As she became acquainted with her half-sibling, she felt the novelty of experiencing actual similarities with a relative. All of her life, she had very little in common with her cousins by adoption and not surprisingly, her brother who was also an adoptee. Now this all made more sense, it had taken learning she was adopted.

She also experienced her adoptive mother withdrawing, becoming very quiet. Then, she received another message that she had yet another half-sibling who had the same original mother. It turned out that both of these half-siblings had been adopted but had been raised by the same adoptive family. Her adoptive parents lying about her adoption hurt even more. What also hurt for her was that these two half-siblings had not conveyed to her the full truth from the beginning of their making contact. They had both known about her for months, had looked at her blog, and on social media. They had decided together that it would be easier to go slow with the revelations and while the first one was open to creating a relationship with her, the other older one was not.

This whole situation felt like a betrayal to her. She says, “As adoptees I would have thought they would understand how any information about my birth family was vital to me. That hiding any part of our family would hurt me . . . since they had grown up together and knew about their adoptions since they were small, it didn’t really process for them why it felt like such a betrayal to me.” Eventually, she realized what hurt. It was one sibling protecting the other because that one wasn’t ready for a relationship with her. Their bond, from growing up together, and being biologically related, was something she could never have.

She shares some truth about adoptee reunions that I have seen more than once myself – they are often not like the movies. There’s heartbreak, anger, numbness and general confusion. People often expect an instant connection with their biological relatives because they share blood, but that can take some time or often never fully develops. I have certainly found that with my own newfound relations. They have histories together that I didn’t have with them. That gap of living different lives totally unaware of one another is very hard to fill – in fact, I have come to believe it is impossible. I am grateful for whatever relationship I can develop with each but I must keep my expectations in that regard very low.

The author arrives at this realization – My biological siblings and I may have come from the same mother, but we don’t share the same experiences. Society has pressured us to immediately connect upon meeting one another, when we barely could pick the other out from a crowd of strangers. It’s okay for reunions to be imperfect and painful because not all things in life are meant to be the way the movies portray. Having a relationship with both siblings during this (pandemic) time has filled some of the holes in my heart that adoption left. I’m beyond glad to have them in my life, and only hope that one day soon the world is a little less dangerous so we can all meet in person.

She ends with “we are still family ― flaws and all.” Yes, I totally get that sentiment.

White Tears, Brown Scars

I promised myself that I would not buy any more books this year. However, this book was mentioned in my all things adoption group as merging racial inequality and adoption. My two passions, so how could I resist ?

A reviewer admits – “I am always a bit weary of how I am received when I talk about race in feminist spaces. I fear that I might be “causing a division in the sisterhood” as journalist Ruby Hamad describes in her debut book, White Tears/Brown Scars. I am afraid of being divisive; for calling things out when most people prefer to sweep snarks or discriminations under the veneer of polite conversation. When I bring attention to a remark, I don’t do it to mark a line between me and white women (if I did, I’d be separating myself from 90% of my friends). I loved Hamad’s book for its unapologetic rigor and sharp threading of racial history in both the United States and Australia. Since its release last week, commentators have called it ‘incisive’, ‘courageous’, ‘a work of depth and scholarship,’ and ‘well researched and informative’.” 

Still from the review linked above – Racial trauma is a term used to describe the physical and psychological symptoms that people of color experience after exposure to particularly stressful experiences of racism. Similar to survivors of other types of trauma (e.g., sexual assault survivors), people of color may frequently experience fear and hyper-vigilance, self-blame, confusion, memory difficulty, shame, and guilt after experiencing racism.

The woman who posted this in my all things adoption group said – This author touches on orphan trains and adoption throughout history and connects it all back to white feminism & saviorism. It’s a tough read, but worth it.

I’ll write more after I have had a chance to read this one on my Kindle.

It’s Complicated And Confusing

Kimberly Mays with Robert Mays

Mention of a television program called Switched at Birth led me to today’s real life story and it fits with the Missing Mom theme of my blog and so I share. The 1991 American miniseries, directed by Waris Hussein, is based on the true story of Kimberly Mays and Arlena Twigg. The two babies were switched soon after birth in a Florida hospital in 1978. Today the relationships between Kim Mays and her two living mother figures remains strained. “I don’t really feel like I’ve had a mother growing up. That’s where the confusion comes from,” Kimberly has said.

It does appear that the switch was intentional. In November 1993, Patsy Webb, a nurse’s aide from the hospital where the babies had been switched, came forward, claiming that Dr. Ernest Palmer had told her to switch the ID bracelets. She refused to do it, she claimed, but told the doctor she would keep quiet, fearing that she would lose her job and health insurance if she spoke up. She said she saw the next day that the babies had been switched.

Webb decided to come forward because she was dying and she wanted to clear her conscience before she died. There were two or three people involved in the switch she has said. The one baby was very sick. While Webb didn’t make the decision, she went along with it and that made her feel like a guilty party to it.

Yet for Kim Mays, the shocking and incredibly emotional twists and turns of her childhood, have not served her life well. “I had a rough childhood,” Kim Mays said. “I lost a parent.” When her first mother died, her father remarried. Until she was 6 years old, she thought her stepmother was her mother. After 7 years of marriage, he divorced that woman and remarried again. Kim Mays now says the man who raised her, Bob Mays, was very controlling and she ran away from home several times.

When she was 15, she ended up at a YMCA shelter and then asked to live with the Twiggs (her actual genetic family and who she had “divorced” just a few months earlier through the courts). “I was going through a lot of emotion. So I ran away, and I went to the Twiggs’ house. I stayed there a year and a half to two years almost,” she said. Mays left the Twiggs two weeks before she turned 18. She got married to her first husband and they had a son together.

“Losing my mom at two, to (Bob Mays) getting remarried right away, to him divorcing her, then finding another relationship to jump into, then (learning about) the switch, and then, other stuff that occurred,” she said. “It’s a lot to process as a child. I just didn’t handle it very well at the time, unfortunately.” Nor did she handle it well after that. She and her first husband divorced and their son, now an adult, was raised by her ex-husband and his family. That is an aspect of her story that I can relate to as my own biological, genetic daughter ended up being raised by her dad and step-mother. She has had six children by four different fathers.

“I feel bad for both sides, (the) Twiggs and everyone involved,” Kim Mays said. “(Arlena – the baby she was switched with) passed away (at 9 years old) and then they poured everything into finding me, so they went through a lot.”

You can read the complete story here – Kim Mays, Switched at Birth. The entire original 20/20 series is also available at YouTube.

Who’s Real ?

It’s a conundrum, a confusing and difficult problem or question. I understand it personally. When I finally learned who my original grandparents were and met relatives who were genetically and biologically related to me, my adoptive family receded into the background.

As a child, I had grandparents who adopted my parents when they were young. They are the only grandparents I knew growing up and going through old family letters from the early 1980s that I need to finally let go of, I see how they were my personal cheerleaders as I left one kind of life I had been living and began the long and slow process of making a different kind of life for myself. I am grateful for their love and concern.

I have aunts who became more significant again in my own life after my parents died. I am grateful for their love and support.

Those of us impacted by adoption often struggle to describe our relationships with two sets of relatives. Sometimes the word “real” is used to describe those that family DNA type websites would consider as being accurately related to us. It gets cumbersome to try and define “real” from “acquired”.

The topic came up yet again in my all things adoption group. I thought this was a good response – “Everyone is real. It’s kind of a given.” Direct and to the point. Even so, it can be confusing to people who don’t know your personal family history.

We aren’t exactly playing along with our adoptive relatives but for an adoptee, the person is often too well aware that their name and their birth certificate have been falsified to change their identity – from the one they were born with to being in effect the possession of the people who adopted them. This was often done to prevent the original parents and the adoptees from ever finding each other, though with the tools available today (inexpensive DNA testing and matching websites) reunions are taking place constantly.

One adoptee admits – I had a hard time with “real” as a kid growing up. When people found out that I was adopted I was always asked, “Do you know your real parents?” “Do you have any real brothers or sisters?” “Do your adoptive parents have any real kids?” People seemed to use that word in place of biological and to my kid-brain, it felt like I was somehow less of a person because I wasn’t my adopters “real” kid.

Add to this that adoptees often honestly do feel that they don’t belong in the family they are being raised within. And quite honestly, that feeling is accurate, even though it is their reality.