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.

Colorblindness and Transracial Adoption

A Facebook video led me to Melissa Guida-Richards who is an author, adoptee and mom. I think I had encountered her before in one of the many articles she has written. Then I found one in People that starts off with her story. Though I understand enough about how problematic transracial adoptions are, I also accept that they have happened and will continue to happen in our current society.

On November 18 2021, hers was the lead story in a People magazine article on – Why ‘Colorblindness’ Doesn’t Work for Transracial Adoptions — and How to Get It Right. Melissa is what is referred to as a late-discovery adoptee. Someone who didn’t know they were adopted until well into maturity.

Melissa Guida-Richards grew up in an extended family that cherished their culture and heritage as Italian and Portuguese immigrants. So as a child, she was confused when outsiders would ask her if she was Latina or “something else.” In first grade a girl told her “you’re Black. You can’t play with me.” “I’d tell them I was Italian,” Guida-Richards, 28, says. “But I would be confused. I’d come home and ask my parents and they’re like ‘You’re Italian. You’re one of us. Just ignore people.” 

She believed her parents, who also had dark hair and eyes, that her dark skin came from some past Italian origins. Then, at 19, she found documents proving not only was she adopted, but so was her brother. They were both born in Colombia – and not biological siblings. 

For years, parents who adopted children of other races might have thought the “right” thing to do was to pretend like they “didn’t see color,” and not acknowledge their children’s differences. But disregarding their children’s race could have far-reaching impact, and is the subject of her recently released book “What White Parents Should Know About Transracial Adoption.”   Guida-Richards and others, like author and international speaker on transracial adoption Rhonda Roorda, assert a colorblind attitude does not serve transracial adoptees in a world where color often defines you. 

“Many adopted children of color struggle with their identities and white parents who cling to this narrative [of “colorblindness”] are doing their children a disservice,” Guida-Richards says. “What is important for adoptive parents to realize is that their privilege will not protect their children of color as they face discrimination and racism. They need to prepare their children for a world that does see color.” 

About one-third of all adoptions between 2017 and 2019 were transracial, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  White megastars from Madonna to Angelina Jolie have adopted children of color, their photos gracing the covers of magazines. And the hit NBC series “This is Us” has put the adoption of a Black child into a white family – and his subsequent struggles impacting him into adulthood — front and center in an honest portrayal of the very real issues facing people of color in America compared to their white counterparts. 

“I think that because love was married to a colorblind policy saying we don’t see color. It has devastated many adoptees … we want to be seen,” Rhonda Roorda says. “I remember wanting to be white and dying to fit in, dying to please my parents, dying to understand the rules and the policies and the culture. It didn’t work. … We’re not seeing all of our children, we are not seeing the richness that they bring to the table.”

Guida-Richards was raised in a solidly white middle class New York suburb with limited diversity. Her father, who came to the United States from Italy at 13, told her the first Black person he ever saw was a student at his high school. “At first, they refused to even acknowledge I was Colombian, that I was a woman of color. They didn’t see me as the daughter they adopted from Colombia. They saw me as their daughter,” Guida-Richards says. “I understood that, but it left a big piece of my identity out.” Her family often emphasized that family and heritage matters, but they discouraged her from looking further into her own cultural background.

“I sat down with them and said, we need to talk about race. We need to talk about how I’m treated and how this has affected me,” Guida-Richards says. “It’s been 9 years and thankfully we are in a very good place.” While her late father came around fairly quickly, it took longer for her mom. Guida-Richards married a man whose mother was Colombian. When she became pregnant in 2016 with the first of their two children, her mom started opening up about her struggle with infertility and the decision to adopt. And she told her daughter that she was afraid that people, and even members of their family, would treat her differently if they knew she was Latina. 

“We did have prejudices that I experienced growing up in a white family who made fun of Latinos,” Guida-Richards says. “So when I found out I was Latina, I was like, how could you love me and say those things? They just wanted me to ignore that I was a woman of color and unfortunately, it’s not as easy they make it out to be.” Guida-Richards was honest with her mom about how she felt like “this big ugly secret” that her mom could only love as long as she fit into the mold. And she reminded her mother that she would soon be the grandmother to Latinos. “It took a lot of hard conversations until she understood,” Guida-Richards says. 

To help her understand her own feeling about being denied her heritage, Guida-Richards started reaching out to other adoptees, finding Facebook groups just for transracial adoption and adoptees from Colombia. “I realized that I wasn’t alone,” Guida-Richards says. “Race wasn’t addressed [growing up], so we struggled with our identity. We struggled with how to deal with racism because we weren’t prepared.” Guida-Richards eventually connected with her birth mother and her Colombian culture through both her birth mom’s family and her in-laws. “I knew a lot of Italian, I knew how to act Italian, but I had no idea what it is like to walk in the shoes of a Latina,” she says. “I just started to integrate a little bit at a time. Since my father was a chef who owned restaurants, food played a large part in my upbringing so I started with that.” 

As she started integrating the Colombian with the Italian traditions, she discovered that both her cultures tended to have a lot in common. “I’ve gotten to a place where I’m happy to be part of my adoptive family, but I’m also very happy that I have my birth family back in my life,” she says.

Adoption IS Trauma

Today’s adoptee story –

Through writing this story, I became *very* angry with my biological mother for the first time since I met her almost ten years ago now.

I’ve always known I was adopted (at birth, through Catholic Charities, not “private” adoption but also not a foster care adoption.). I had great adoptive parents, who I know loved me (but didn’t always). There were no biological children in the family. My sister was adopted at four years old (when I was six) from foster care.

Blogger’s note – adoptive parents often adopt another child to be a sibling to the first one they adopted. This was true for my mom – the Jill for the Jack they already had – as her adoptive mother actually wrote in a letter to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. This was true for my dad – who’s adoptive mother went back to The Salvation Army home for unwed mothers in El Paso TX to get a brother for him.

I always, always, always felt alone. I’d cry, when I was very young, and curl up on the couch and sob “I want to go home, why can’t you just let me go home.” I’d never known another home, but that was what I always wanted when I was very small, was to “go home.”

I always believed I was something different than my peers. I found it hard to make friends. I had no sense of my own identity. I spent my entire childhood longing for my blood kin. When I grew up and finally found them, only my mother and her younger son (who wants nothing to do with me) were alive. My older sister, my father, my older brother, all gone.

Blogger’s note – it is interesting that as a child I never connected the dots that my parents being adoptees made me “different”. I never thought about the fact that my parents were “different” from the parents of my school peers, that their parents were not also adopted, though subconsciously I knew this because I could not say to anyone what my cultural identity was (Danish, Scottish are what I have learned, along with Irish and English).

Even now, in my early forties, a part of me feels like there’s something about me not worthy of being wanted by them, not worthy of knowing them (the biological, genetic family).

I’d have rather been aborted.

Blogger’s note -This is true for many, not all adoptees, but in my all things adoption group, I’ve seen this written many times.

Great adoptive family or not, this life is not what I deserved. My biological mother doesn’t regret her choice. And part of me hates her for that, now that I’ve had some time to really process everything that’s happened since we met.

This is not a life I would wish on any person.

Adoption IS trauma.

Reunions

In the early 1990s, my mom began a process of trying to obtain her adoption file in the hopes of reuniting with her original mother.  The state of Tennessee was uncooperative but did tell her that her mother had died several years before.  My mom was devastated.

The story of Georgia Tann’s baby stealing and selling scandal of the early 1950s had re-emerged in public awareness.  There were programs on 60 Minutes and Oprah and even a movie about the woman’s life starring Mary Tyler Moore.  Tennessee was compelled by an overwhelming demand for justice to unsealed the adoption files of those directly affected by Tann’s corrupt practices but no one told my mom.

After she died in 2015, my cousin told me that it was possible to obtain the file.  She had managed to get her dad’s (my mom’s brother who was adopted from the same agency a few years before my mom was).  In October 2017, I was able to obtain this and learned the truth that we never knew about our original grandparents.

Both of my sisters surrendered babies to adoption and they have been reunited in the sense that they know us now as their biological, genetic relatives.  I have also reunited with cousins for each of my parents original family lines and so I have some sense of the complicated experience of growing up in adoptive families and then discovering the original ones.

I will be writing more generally about reunions in the coming days but this part is my own story.

Understanding

I believe one of the most surprising aspects, of finally knowing my family’s origins (both of my parents were adopted), is fully realizing the suffering and/or sacrifices my grandparents experienced that enable my own existence.  That may seem like a self-evident conclusion but it actually was not.

Not only did I finally feel whole but I was compelled to understand the realities of adoption for ALL sides of the equation.  While I may never personally know how it feels to be adopted, I have 4 adoptees to inform my perspectives for not only were my parents adopted but each of my sisters surrendered a child to adoption.

So I have two birth mothers who are very close to me as siblings and a niece and nephew who have reunited with our family, so I’ve seen that aspect as well.  I also had two pairs of adoptive parents (the grandparents I knew as such my entire childhood into early adulthood) to inform me.

Due to an adoptee group I have joined at Facebook, due to TONS of reading from all sides of the adoption triad, I am much more fully informed than I was my entire life and that has been the side effect of learning my origins.

Origin information is very important to any person who has been impacted by adoption and that is something that those not impacted seem to struggle to fully understand.  If you’ve always known where you came from, even if you were not all that interested, you can be forgiven for not knowing how truly important that is.