Real

Me in 1997 with Mom and Dad

For most of my life, this is as far back as I was able to know about my origins and my parents knew next to nothing because they were both adopted in the 1930s.  I know that my own mom thought about her original mother.  I’m certain she wondered what the woman looked like – I know now.

I don’t know about my grandmother’s interests or personality.  I once talked to a nephew of hers who said she was kind and referred to her as Aunt Lou.  I suspect my grandmother did think about her daughter from time to time. I can’t believe she didn’t and she kept that name active that was on my mom’s birth certificate, even having it put on her gravestone. That tells my own heart a lot.

I believe my grandmother would have fantasized about my mom finding her, as much as my mom fantasized about finding my grandmother.  The state of Tennessee would have sought permission from my mom’s original parents when she was seeking them, had they still been alive. That is a tragic aspect to my own family’s story.

I wonder if my mom ever considered “searching” when she became pregnant with me. She never said anything about it until the scandal of Georgia Tann re-emerged into the national consciousness in the 1990s. That is what motivated my mom to try – stories on television and in magazines about successful adoptee reunions.

I wonder if, in the 5 decades that passed between her adoption and her actual effort, those feelings of wanting to know were stuffed deep down into some kind of guarded place of forbidden knowledge ?  Was she paralyzed to some extent by a fear of rejection, disruption and disloyalty to the adoptive parents ? I believe my dad was. He wouldn’t even consider “going there” and encouraged my mom not to open that “can of worms” hidden behind the sealed adoption records.

When my mom’s adoption file arrived, I knew it’s precious nature, wanted no risk to its contents. I read each page with hungry eyes.  My mom only knew from her attempt that her parent’s names were Mr & Mrs J C Moore. At least, she knew she wasn’t illegitimate !!  With the arrival of my mom’s adoption file – I had full names – Jay Clinton (actually an error, Church was his actual middle name) Moore and Lizzie Lou Stark (her maiden name and youthful nickname to her birth name Elizabeth).

In my mom’s file were black and white negatives – my grandmother holding my mom for the last time – and my grandmother’s handwriting.  I knew she had siblings and that her mother had died when she was young. I understood why, even though my mom was born in Virginia, she was adopted in Memphis, TN – my grandmother’s family lived there. Why Virginia ? I have theories. What I do know is the Stark family immigrated in from Scotland at Virginia.

It is hard to explain the impact of having so much information after 60+ years of living for my own self and the sorrow that my mom was denied such a comforting perspective on the events that caused her to become adopted.  From there, it has been a whirlwind for me. In less than a year from receiving that file – I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were.  I was whole and it was an unmistakable feeling to know that I was – finally.

The pieces fell into place in an almost magical way. It was as though one door opening, unlocked all of the other doors. Not exactly but even so – the dominoes kept tumbling.

The first genetic relative I found was the daughter of my mom’s half-sibling, a sister who I barely missed seeing alive by only a couple of months – sadly. This cousin was able to give me so much information and share so many photos with me that I almost felt like I had experienced it all firsthand.

In reading between the lines of my mom’s adoption file as regards my grandmother, I am certain in my heart that losing my mom was heartbreaking and life changing. After all, it’s clear that she couldn’t face my mom’s father with the news. Finally, after 3 years of separation, he filed for a divorce and she did not contest it but re-married a short time later. A bit later, he re-married. At least they didn’t die alone – neither of them.

Every new piece of information I have received about my grandparents has contributed to my own self becoming more real and whole. That may sound strange if you have always known what I grew up not knowing. It has been life-changing for me.

Neither of my grandparents had any more children after my mom was lost to them. Her father already had 4 other living children (the fifth one had died before my mom was conceived). My grandmother only ever had one child – my mom.

Sometimes, I grieve on behalf of my parents and original grandparents.  The severity of the loss for each and every one of them, even if it was normal for the Great Depression and the morals of that time, is something I really can’t do anything about. Yet sometimes the tears still come in my eyes – like now as I write this.

Sometimes, I am equally aware, that these genetic relatives I have been discovering are total strangers to me. I do work at getting to know each one of them better – it is a slow process that simply can’t make up for 6 decades of life.

I am genuinely happy for what has happened unexpectedly to me in my life since the doors began to open wide. I feel a completeness that I didn’t totally realize was a missing part as the child of adoptees who knew nothing about their origins.

 

In Memoriam

I am now reading a book titled – Lost Daughters: Writing Adoption From a Place of Empowerment and Peace.  I read an essay yesterday by Susan Perry and felt such a connection with her that I was seeking to reach out to her and discovered sadly that she had died some years ago.

She is quoted as saying –

“Sealed record laws afford more rights to the dead than they do to the
living and they bind the adopted person to a lifetime restraining order.”
~ Susan Perry

Just like my paternal grandmother and paternal grandfather, she was the product of a married man and a woman not his wife.  They were both of Danish ancestry, just as my paternal grandfather was.  An immigrant, not yet a citizen, married to a woman 20+ years his senior.

Susan’s adoptive mother had no idea how often her interior thoughts had turned to her ancestors. Who were they, and what was her story ?  My own mom had similar questions.

Mrs Perry did know that her adoptive parents truly loved her, and that love
and support helped to make her the person she was in life.  I believe I can say the same about all of the adoptive parents in my own family’s lives.

Yet, our genes are some part of what makes us the person we each are as well.

It is only natural that any adoptee that reaches adulthood (if not sooner) will want to know who passed those genes down to them.

I have bumped up against sealed records in three states – Virginia, Arizona and California.  I realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have uncovered ALL of my original grandparents.  I have the DNA tests that no one saw the inexpensive cost and prevalence of even 20 years ago as well as the matching sites Ancestry.com and 23 and Me to thank for most of my own success.

So many adoptees are never that fortunate.  Sealed records are unjust and damaging to so many people.  They encourage unhealthy thinking, repression, and denial as the means for coping with life.

I wonder if, because of adoption, my own mom did not feel empowered to take charge of her own story, just as Susan wrote in her essay.

Even so, every adopted person’s journey is unique.

It is difficult for me, as the child of two adoptees, to understand why as a culture we continue to shackle adopted people to an institution that is governed by such archaic and repressive laws, when the data clearly shows that most original mothers are open to contact. Those who are not, can simply say “no”.

Once an adoptee becomes an adult – they do not need outside agents supervising their own, very personal business.

Repressive laws set the tone – either/or thinking.  There is a belief that adoptees who search are expressing disloyalty to their adoptive parents, or that the adoptee should just “be grateful” and move on.  Attitudes of this kind are hurtful and dismissive.

Here’s the TRUTH, adoptees have two sets of parents – and a unique mix of DNA and upbringing.  It is belittling and unfair to tell adoptees that they are not entitled by law to access their own original birth certificates. Every other American citizen has no such restriction.

This is institutional discrimination and there is no really good reason it exists.  Adoptee rights bills have accumulated plenty of evidence that they are beneficial for the majority of persons for whom adoption is some part of their personal story.