The Two Most Important Days

A woman I met at a “Salon”, a week long intensive, hosted and held at the Ashland OR home of Jean Houston) recently asked me – What would you say your role is? – and then quoted Mark Twain shown in the graphic above.

This is what I replied –

Generally being a beneficial presence through any of my writing efforts.

My most recent role was re-connecting my family’s genetic threads.  Both of my parents were adopted and both died knowing next to nothing about their origins.  My mom did try to get her adoption file and was denied (which I was able to obtain in October 2017).  My dad never wanted to, which is a shame because he had a half-sister living 90 miles away when he died, who could have shared real insights with him about his mother.

My dad’s mother was unwed, so I never dared to believe I would discover who his father was but I persisted never-the-less.  In less than one year, I knew who ALL 4 of my original grandparents were and since late 2017, have made contact with at least one genetic relative for each family line.  I wrote a self published “family history” and distributed 10 copies only to relevant family members – so that what I learned and what made me whole is not lost when I die.

That was major and maybe why Life had not killed me off over some of my younger foolishness.  I lived over 6 decades of my life with a void beyond my parents and no idea of my genetic cultural heritage or family medical health information – all thanks to adoptions.

About that day I was born.  Learning about my parent’s adoption stories made me realize what a miracle it was that my high school junior unwed mother was not sent away by her banker adoptive father and socialite adoptive mother to have and give me up for adoption.  Talk about realizing how your life is a miracle and understanding that my younger sisters, my daughter and my grandchildren would not have existed if this quite plausible situation had occurred. 

I believe I have my dad’s very humble and poor (financially) adoptive parents, in particular, my Granny to credit for my own (and my family’s) preservation with my natural parents.

Now, back to my Missing Mom blog – I continue to follow adoption reform issues and foster care challenges and write something about these every single day.  Some days I write my own personal bits and pieces of the “stories” as well.  BTW, not only were both of my parents adopted but both of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption – both of these children have thankfully been reunited (as adult persons) with our family.

That’s probably more than you were expecting.  My daughter has said – it seems like you are on a mission (regarding adoption reform) and she has accurately assessed that.  It is my passion currently. 

I also share spiritual insights daily – in part by bringing forward that day’s essay from my Gazing in the Mirror blog – which has 366 entries and was written between 2012 and 2014 but is universal enough to mostly not become dated.  I also share poems by Rumi, Rilke and Hafiz as well as other spiritually oriented items on Facebook daily. 

Beyond ALL of those considerable efforts – I am a political activist through my Facebook page.  And at a heartfelt passion to be part of an effort to create a world that “works” with positive support of basic human needs for everyone.

A Deep Yearning

From the time my mom tried to get her adoption file out of the state of Tennessee in the early 1990s, I had a deep yearning, same as she did, to know who ? Who were my grandparents ? Actually, there was an unconscious version back in my public school days when everyone was going around saying things like – “I’m French.” or “I’m German.” When I asked my mom what are we ? She said “American.” I said I know that but what else ? She said we don’t know because both your dad and I were adopted. Later in life I would tell people that I was an Albino African because no one, including my own self, could prove any different. One birthday, my brother in law gave me a National Genographic test kit. I ran my maternal line. Turns out we (humans) all originated in Africa, at least according to that National Geographic project.

That lead to me wanting something more specific than the disappointing degree of information I got from that effort. I ordered an Ancestry DNA kit on the recommendation of a friend, only to discover my mom had already done hers and what do you know – trace amounts from Mali. There’s my African for you. My mom attempted a family tree but because the only information she could build one on was the adoptive families, she told me at one point, “I just had to quit, it wasn’t real because I was adopted, oh well.” It is so sad.

The state of Tennessee did open the adoption files for the victims of the Georgia Tann scandal less than 10 years after my mom’s futile attempt but no one told her. That is also sad because even though the state broke my mom’s heart by telling her that her mother had died some years before, they didn’t try very hard to determine the status of her father (their basis for denying her) who had already been dead for 30 years. Had my mom received her adoption file, she would have seen a black and white photo of her mom holding her as an infant – probably for the last time at Porter Leath Orphanage in Memphis, who she turned to for temporary care as she tried to get on her own two feet financially. The supervisor there betrayed my grandmother to Georgia Tann. The truth and factual details could have brought my mom a lot of inner peace. The adoption file has certainly has taken me on a surprising journey to self knowledge.

I did not know it then but it was the jumping off point to meet living descendants of my grandparents after first having the good fortune to discover in only one year’s time with persistence and determination who all 4 of my original grandparents were. This included also doing the 23 and Me test. My latest joys are communicating with the descendants in Denmark of the last grandparent I discovered, my Danish immigrant paternal grandfather. Every possible internet channel for ancestry and the inexpensive DNA testing opportunities have been used by me to achieve my own successes.

Most adoptees who do not have open adoptions with open knowledge of their origins and the circumstances of their adoptions have the same issues and desires that my mom and I experienced. The New York Times has a follow on article to Steve Inskeep’s (Op-Ed, March 28) titled “I Was Denied My Birth Story” with a “Letter to the Editor” – this time titled “For Adoptees, a Deep Yearning ‘to Know Where You Come From’.”

Activists continue to push their individual states to open adoption files for adult adoptees. It is a basic human right to know your origins and adoptees are treated like second class citizens by being denied this right in approximately half of all these United States. You can read more in this article – Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates which was updated as recently as May 15, 2019.

Magnolia – Again

Magnolia – 2020 Gerber Baby

I previously wrote about Magnolia in this blog.  She is recently back in the news.  On September 7, 2020, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) announced that it had named a baby called Magnolia as one of their 2020 “Angels in Adoption” honorees. Magnolia, from the San Francisco Bay Area, rose to fame in May 2020 when Gerber announced that she was the first (known) adopted Spokesbaby.

Infant adoption is not a simple story of adorable angels, even when they are cute enough to be a Gerber Baby.  The Angel award is meant to celebrate “the extraordinary efforts of individuals, couples, families, and organizations who work tirelessly to advocate for children in need of a family.”

Creating a connection between this apparently worthy, child-centered mission and adopted infants like Magnolia creates a false narrative. The truth is that there are approximately 30 waiting families for every infant voluntarily placed for adoption. It is unlikely that anyone needs to be convinced to adopt these babies. Also, these children already have a family — the family they were born to — who don’t have the resources to be able to parent their child in the way they would like.

It is true that there are approximately 100,000 youth in need of permanency in the US foster care system — but they are almost entirely older children who have experienced trauma, and there are fewer families interested in adopting them. In other words, domestic infant adoption doesn’t need a Spokesbaby — but families in poverty and foster youth without permanency do.

Obviously, it is not actually possible for Magnolia to have made extraordinary efforts to advocate for children in need of a family. It is the choices of adults (her adoptive parents, Gerber, CCAI) to cast her in this role. This highlights how the narrative is already being written and spoken for her, by individuals and organizations that want to promote infant adoption as an unqualified good. And it is deeply concerning that Magnolia, who has no voice and choice in the matter, has twice been made the literal poster child for adoption, before she can even speak in complete sentences, much less articulate her thoughts on what it means to her to be adopted.

Thanks to a Medium article from which the thoughts above were taken (because I do AGREE with every word I’ve shared as though it came from my very heart), I learned about PACT – An Adoption Alliance focused on children of color who end up adopted.

Here is their overview statement –

Pact is a non-profit organization whose mission is to serve adopted children of color. In every case, the child is always our primary client. In order to best serve children’s needs, we provide not only adoptive placement but lifelong education, support, and community for adoptees and their families on issues of adoption and race. Our goal is for every child to feel wanted honored and loved, a cherished member of a strong family with proud connections to the rich cultural heritage that is his or her birthright. We advocate for honesty and authenticity in matters of race and adoption. We strongly believe that adopted children’s and adults’ connections to birth family and birth heritage should be respected and maintained. We also strive to identify and counteract “adoptism,” an unfortunately common social prejudice that challenges the legitimacy of the choice to place a child for adoption or to build a family by adoption. Finally, as an organization committed to children of color, we feel it is essential to educate ourselves and others about the pervasive power of race and racism as they affect our children, our families, ourselves and our society.

Adoption Or Foster Care

I’ve been reading a book about one girl’s experiences in foster care to better inform myself about a system I have no experience with.  Adoption ?  Though not adopted myself nor have I given up a child to adoption, I have LOTS of experience – both parents were adoptees and both sisters gave up a child to adoption.  I also spend significant time each day within a private Facebook group that includes original parents, adoptees and former foster youth, and adoptive (or hopeful) parents.  I learn a lot there that broadens my perspectives.

Some of the major differences I am understanding – foster care does not alter the child’s identity (doesn’t change their name or birth certificate).  Foster care is less permanent or certain.  The goal in a lot of foster care is eventual reunification of the family unit.  The quality of foster care varies but a bad placement can be gotten out of.  Not all foster parents treat the foster child well nor do they really care about what is happening to the child.  Some actually do it for the money (NOT saying most or all do it for that reason).

Adoption is a PERMANENT solution to what is a temporary problem when talking about an unwed mother or a poverty situation.  Adoption does provide a more certain home environment than foster care does but the double edge sword is that if it is an awful placement, most of the time the child is simply trapped there (I’ve read enough nightmare stories to believe this).  That said, there are also “second chance” adoptions where the adoptive parents want to be rid of a troublesome child.  This is very sad for the child as it sends a debilitating message about the worth of that child.

Most of the time, adoptive parents change the child’s name and to some extent their cultural identity if it is a transracial adoption.  Some adoptive parents hide the date and/or location of the child’s birth to place an obstacle in the way of the parent/child unit reuniting.  Genetic family bonds are broken or permanently lost.  Even when such direct family is recovered later in life, so much life experience and inter-relationship is lost that it is nearly impossible to rebuild.  I understand this as I have been able to learn what my own parents could not – who my original grandparents were.  Along with learning that, I have acquired new family relationships with genetically related aunts and cousins.

I acknowledge that not all children are going to be parented by the people who gave birth to them.  This is a reality.  I would also argue that as a society we do NOT do enough to keep families intact and could do much better.  I would further add that MONEY plays a HUGE role in perpetuating the separation of mothers from their children.  That money could be better spent with less traumatic outcomes on the natural family and its supports.

When To Test

I read about a situation today where the genetic parents of a toddler who has been adopted want the adoptive parents to have the child’s DNA tested so that family connections are available for that child.  This is within a diverse adoption community and the responses were diverse as well.  It is true that in getting our DNA tested we have no idea how that identifying information may be used in the future.  Many of those commenting thought it should wait until the child was old enough to consent.  Many suggested the genetic parents do the tests so that it is out there if or when the child wants it.  Some believed it would have been helpful to them to have this information while they were yet a child.

I’ve had some experiences with adoption or donor conceived and DNA testing experiences.

Both of my parents were adoptees. I’ve done both Ancestry (my mom also did this one but it didn’t help her and yet, has been invaluable to me for learning ancestral relationships and my genetic family’s movements over time) and 23 and Me. Both have helped me be accepted by genetic relatives who might have doubted me otherwise. I’ve been able to make a few “good” connections and have a better sense of some of my family thanks to stories and photos shared. As to developing relationships with people I lost over 6 decades getting to know ? It is slow going though everyone has been nice to me.

Now on another front . . . both of my sons are donor egg conceived. We’ve never hidden this aspect of their conception from them and they have met the donor on several occasions. Fortunately she has an amazingly good perspective on it all. I waited until the oldest was 18 to gift him with 23 and Me. I knew the donor had done that one and before I gifted my son, I gifted my husband. After the older one received his results, I gifted the 15 yr old as well. He is mature and there was no reason to exclude him. It is uncomfortable but the GENETIC reality that the donor is listed as their Mother. They grew in my womb, nursed at my breast for a full year and have known no one else as “mom”. They seem to have processed it well as far as I can tell. Thankfully.

The adoptive mom of my nephew did Ancestry using only initials to identify him. It turned out (and she helped him in discovering this), my sister lied about who the father was on my nephew’s birth certificate. The Ancestry DNA test was their first suspicion. The effort though came at the nephew’s desire to know. He has since met his genetic father several times. They look remarkably alike and now my nephew has certainty.

My niece (child of a different sister) was also adopted and is going through some frustrations over her DNA results though her mother has given her the name of the genetic father. It can be a complicated and confusing experience.

There is one other nephew who was raised by his paternal grandparents. My sister lost custody in court when the paternal grandparents sued to possess him. This child is of mixed heritage – both white and Hispanic. He was raised in a very Hispanic family. His DNA shows a beautiful diversity.

No solutions, simply thoughts and examples.

Not An Uncommon Experience

I was surprised to find an adoption story in Isabel Allende’s new book A Long Petal Of The Sea.  It is a “familiar” story for me, steeped as I am in Georgia Tann lore.  It happened often that a young woman was told by Tann her baby had died when in fact it had been taken and adopted out.  My own mom believed she had been taken from her original parents by a deceptive story and then transported from Virginia to Memphis TN.

The young woman in Allende’s story is unwed and has been sent away to have her baby in secrecy at a convent.  Though initially willing to give her baby up for adoption she then announces that she will not give her baby up for adoption.  She says that she plans to raise it.  So then, she is drugged senseless, which continues for some time even after the birth.  When she is lucid again, she is told the baby died shortly after birth, strangled by the umbilical cord.

I will have to finish the book to see if that baby turns up later in the story as having actually having been adopted.  That would not surprise me in the least.

I read a rather harsh criticism of this book but as a lover of history and other cultures
with some hispanic background having grown up on the Mexican border, I am enjoying her story immensely.  It is decidedly a woman’s kind of tale.

The Better Option

There is such a thing as privilege.  It is a privilege to have enough wealth that if you can’t have a child naturally, you are able to adopt someone else’s.  Is wealth a better option than keeping a family intact ?  There are cases where a child is going to need a safer environment but no child needs to have their identity erased and cultural heritage hidden from them.

It is weird to grow up with all these relatives and then reach an age in advanced maturity when one knows who their true genetic relatives are.  Both of my parents were adopted.  That means the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were never really my relations.  It is a very weird feeling to know that with certainty now.

Of course, I acknowledge that there were these couples who provided for and raised my parents.  They were the people I knew as grandparents growing up and they were without a doubt influential in my life.  Now that I know who the real ones were, they are who I think of when I think of who my grandparents were, even though I never had the privilege of knowing them in life.

One of the expectations is that an adoptee is supposed to be grateful and acknowledge all the sacrifices their adoptive parents made to raise them.  On the adoptees part there is this lifelong requirement to live up to the expectations of the adoptive parent.  I know that my mom felt this and I know that she felt like she had failed to equal those expectations.

All parents expect something from their children but most children are quite free to ignore those parental expectations.  An adoptee often fears being returned to a no-family state if they don’t live up to the expectations of the people who purchased their very lives.

It may be hard to read but it is a real thing for those who’s roots have been cut off from underneath them.

What Defines A Mother ?

Yesterday, sitting in the waiting room of our auto mechanic with an elderly woman, somehow the subject of our children came up.  She seemed shocked to hear I gave birth to my youngest son at the age of 50.  Honesty demands that I always admit that I needed medical assistance to do that and rarely do I feel that it is anyone else’s business as to exactly what that admission means.

Yet, as I contemplated writing my essay for today, I felt that I needed to be honest about the fact that my sons are donor assisted conceptions.  We have faced the issue directly this year with 23 and Me DNA kits for each of our teenage sons.  I knew that our egg donor had hers done and it is remarkable how close we are at the genetic level – as to cultural heritage and our maternal haplogroup – without actually being related at all.

I also gifted my husband with a 23 and Me kit over a year ago and then, knowing that the honest truth must be admitted to (though we have never hidden the unique details of our sons’ conception from them and told them their story at a level they could understand at a young age, as well as have taken them to meet their donor on more than one occasion) my sons were finally old enough and mature enough to get a more detailed understanding of what makes them special.

It is difficult for me as the woman who carried these boys in my womb and nursed them at my breast for over a year to see another woman listed as their genetic mother but that is the truth of the situation at a genetic level.  It was my OB, who first made us aware of the possibility of conceiving the children my husband decided he wanted after 10 years of marriage, and we had tried and we even failed to jumpstart my very last egg with a hormonal injection, who then said – “there is another way.”  It was either end a good marriage so my husband could marry a younger woman or take a leap and do something slightly unconventional.

My older son has not expressed what his feelings are about the situation.  He was contacted by a relative of the donor at 23 and Me.  I advised him to tell her to ask the donor about it.  My younger son seemed disappointed to learn that he doesn’t have any of my DNA.  My OB once explained to me, how much the gestating mother contributes to the development of the fetus – turning on or off genes and contributing to the nutritional preferences and emotional environment.

At the time my husband and I made this choice, I didn’t know anything about the issues all adoptees contend with nor about what a separation of mother and child does to an infant.  Yet, given the reality that these fine young men would not exist in any other way, I think we did the best we could to fulfill their father’s desire to have children of his own and limit any deep wounding for our sons.  I am the only mother they have ever known since their procreation started.  And I do have a daughter and grandchildren that are genetically, as well as biologically, related to me and so, I do understand what it was that my husband was yearning for.

What Was And Never Should Be

~ 1997 ~

Growing up, I had something my parents didn’t, my real genetically related mom and dad.  I don’t know at what age I first learned that both of my parents were adopted.  It was just a fact of life and one that I never judged to be good or bad for my entire childhood.  Their adoptive parents were my grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins I acquired in that manner were just that.

Adoption was so accepted in my family that both of my sisters ended up giving up a child to adoption.  Parenting was seen as something any adult human being with good intentions could do.  So my nephew ended being raised by his paternal grandparents and my daughter ended up being raised by her dad when he remarried a woman with a daughter and they had a daughter together, thus creating a family for her that I could not give.

Though I felt a piece was missing in my life – my cultural heritage that had been passed down by those unknown people who gave my parents life – it wasn’t until my mom started investigating her own adoption – after learning in the early 1990s, the story of the scandal that surrounded Georgia Tann’s work – that I became aware that all was not as it should be in adoptionland.

By the grace of a loving energy, I have been able to discover who all 4 of my original grandparents were since my parents died.  It saddens me that they didn’t have the opportunity to know about these people themselves.  I now know of cousin and aunts that I am genetically related to.  I still cherish the family adoption brought to me as well.

What I never expected was the education I would receive along with learning my genetic roots about the damage done in the name of a profit-motivated industry taking babies from their mothers and giving them to the people who had money and could not have their own children for whatever reason.

What once was accepted and “natural” in my understanding – adoption – is now seen for the travesty it has been but thankfully, even that is changing in this world that continuously does.

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.