The What If Of It All

Michele Dawson Haber

Today, I was first attracted to a blog by this woman, Michele Dawson Haber, in which she shares imaging her father talking to her while making coffee. “What’s this? Why so many steps? Do you know the coffee we drank in the old days was just botz (mud) at the bottom of our cups? A life like yours, with such complicated coffee—Michal*, it makes me happy that you’re not struggling as I did.” *Michal (מיכל) is her Hebrew name.

I come from a long line of coffee drinkers. The pot was always prepared for the timer to begin the brewing before any inhabitants of the house woke and wanted a cup. After my mom died, I spent several quiet treasured morning drinking coffee with my dad out on their deck as we watched the dawn turn into sunrise. When I returned to my parents’ house following my dad’s death, as I walked through their kitchen, I heard him clearly say in my mind, “You miss your old dad, don’t you ?” Exactly as he would have said it in life. I admitted that I did miss him already. With my mom’s passing, . . . oh, I heard her a lot say “You’re doing really well.” many times while sitting on the toilet in the bathroom where she died in her jacuzzi tub. So much that I finally had to let her know – “enough, I don’t need to hear this any more” – and it stopped.

Yet, what really touched my heart was Michele’s piece in May 2021 in Salon about her mother’s letters – “It’s my mom’s fault I stole her letters.” I found letters like that among my parents things as I cleared out their residence after their deaths only 4 months apart. I wish I had read Michele’s piece before getting rid of my parents’ love letters to each other that my mom treasured enough to keep for over 50 years. Just before I began that work, I had read a piece by a woman who’s mother had destroyed her love letters from her father. The mother had said these were private between your father and I – and for that reason only, I let the letters go after having coincidentally read only one but a very relevant one – as though my mom reached out from beyond the grave to make certain I at least saw that one.

Michele writes in her personal essay for Salon – “I felt guilt wash over me. The debates with my two sisters over whether it was ethical to steal her letters replayed in my mind. In the end, we decided that the information in those letters belonged not only to our mother, but also to me and my older sister.” But I had not and so chose a different course based upon someone else’s story. Michele goes on to say, “the question of privacy continued to gnaw at me. I knew that if I had asked my mother 20 or even 10 years ago for permission to read the letters she would have said, ‘Are you kidding? No way. What’s in those letters is none of your business.’ And so I did what I always do when faced with a conundrum: I researched. In her book The Secret Life of Families (subtitled How Secrets Shape Our Relationships and When and How to Tell the Truth), Dr. Evan Imber-Black distinguished secrecy from privacy. A secret, she wrote, is information withheld that “impacts another’s life choices, decision-making capacity and well-being.” Conversely, if a piece of information is truly private, then knowing it has no impact on another’s physical or emotional health. 

Michele goes on to share, “In my fantasy argument with my mother, I would say that her secrecy about my biological father did impact my well-being, that depriving me of my genetic heritage handicapped my ability to shape a strong identity.” I agree with her reasoning on this one.

I had read one note (not even a letter) from my mom to a friend, stressing about how my father might react to learning she was pregnant. She had conceived me out of wedlock as a 16 yr old Junior in high school. My dad had just started at the U of NM at Las Cruces and it appears they wrote each other almost every day, though mostly these were the letters she received from my dad, except the note I read. I remember when I figured out that I had been conceived out of wedlock and how in my heart (though only for a few months) I turned against my mom because of that. I didn’t want her to touch me, such as take my hand. Hopefully, she thought only that I was asserting some independence because I was growing up. It was just all those “nice girls don’t do that” lectures she had given me. As a grown woman now, I know that she didn’t want me to make the same mistake. I hastened to get married with a month yet to graduating from high school even though I was not pregnant. My parents supported me and we had the fully formal church wedding and reception in my parents’ back yard. I suspect my parents were afraid I might turn up pregnant like my mom did and so did not discourage me from a marriage that lasted long enough to conceive a child 4 months after I married and then ended in divorce when she was only 3 years old.

Finding that letter further softened my feelings about my conception because I could clearly feel my mom’s emotions and concerns before my dad knew he would become a father. Anyway, this long story shorter. I didn’t keep the letters but sent them to the local landfill along with other items my mom had kept from their many journeys – souvenir booklets and the like. Reading Michele’s story makes me regret that all over again, and I have felt that regret before.

After my dad died, I learned from my cousin, who’s father was my mom’s adoptive brother, that it was possible to get the adoption file that the state of Tennessee had denied my mom in the early 1990s. It is a pity they didn’t let her have that because it would have brought her so much peace. My own journey to rediscover my original grandparents (both of my parents were adopted) only took me about year after my dad’s death; and then, I knew who ALL 4 of them were and something about my ancestors. What I didn’t expect was gaining cousins and an aunt. Even though I am very happy to now have family that I am biologically and genetically related to – I will also admit how difficult it is to create relationships with people who have decades of history lived that I was not any part of. Thankfully, they have all been kind in acknowledging me (and sometimes the DNA makes it difficult for them not to).

Do read the links above to Michele’s stories. I’ve made this blog long enough that I am not going to include any more excerpts beyond the coffee bit and some of her thoughts about personal letters.

The Tragic Story of Lizzie Lou and Frances Irene

My grandmother with her second husband

I’m realizing a day late that yesterday would have been my maternal grandmother’s birthday. Her father died on Christmas Day in 1953, one year before I was born to his first grandchild, who he never even knew. I can imagine Christmas was not the usual kind of holiday for my Stark family but then I don’t really know. My mom was adopted away from them when she was 7 months old.

Relinquishing a child has lifelong consequences for women and for adoptees. Between 13–20% of birth mothers do not go on to have other children. For those in an era of birth control, a few may consciously feel that to have another child would be to betray the first child which they lost to adoption. For many, and especially in my grandmother’s generation, there was either no known reason for infertility or something about their life circumstances precluded having more children.

After receiving the adoption file from the state of Tennessee that they had previously denied my mother, only breaking her heart and motivation to search by informing her that her birth mother had died several years before, it took me forever to make real contact with one of my grandmother’s remaining family members – this one is a niece. She would actually be my mom’s cousin, that same generation of descendants. She is the warmest person and gave to me the gift my heart was yearning for, some intimate, personal memories of my grandmother along with this picture of her with her second husband.

In some belated post-Christmas communication with her today, I felt compelled to correct the seeming misperception that my mom was the child of the couple in this blog. Here was my reply –

My grandmother never had another child. My mom was her only child (and this is not uncommon among women who lose their first child in such a tragic manner). Her father appeared to have abandoned them, at least to my grandmother’s perception of events, though a super flood on the Mississippi River in early 1937 must have been a factor. My cousin that shares him as a grandfather with me, believes he cared deeply about family. So why did he not come to Memphis to rescue the two of them ? There is no one alive now that can answer that question for me and so, there it sits forever unanswered. Of course, once Georgia Tann knew about the precarious situation my mom and grandmother were in, she swooped in to acquire yet another human being to sell. Awful but a definite truth of it all. I am happy that my grandmother found happiness with her second husband after the divorce between her and my maternal grandfather occurred (and it didn’t happen until 3 years after they first married and my mom was already permanently beyond the reach of her original family). 

She later corrected that “seeming” misperception, of course, she knew my mom was not this man’s child.

It is a tragic story. Why my grandfather left her after only 4 months of marriage, causing her to be sent away to Virginia to have my mom, there is no one left alive to tell me. Why my grandfather didn’t respond to the letter from the Juvenile Court at Memphis when my grandmother came back with her baby, there is no one left alive to tell me. My grandmother was so desperate to find a way to stop my mom’s adoption that she called Georgia Tann’s office 4 days after being pressured into signing the surrender papers, under a threat of having Tann’s good friend, Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, declare my grandmother an unfit mother (which she absolutely was not !!). Then, she took a train to New Orleans to prove to Miss Tann that she did have friends there who would take the two of them in resolving at least the issue of stability, even if only temporarily. Everything she tried to do, including taking my mom to Porter Leath orphanage for temporary care – FAILED tragically.

I have all of my original grandparent’s birthdates on my yearly calendar now. I wasn’t able to know them in life but I don’t forget them in death. Maybe someday in the nonphysical realm to which my grandparents (and adoptee parents) have all gone, I will meet them once again and receive the answers my heart cannot acquire in life.

Reuniting His Birth Parents

Karen and Roger Caldwell

Such an irresistible story, I just had to share it today. The story is “old” but still sweet. The baby that tore two Kentucky teen-agers apart 25 years ago united them in marriage in August of 1991. Mark Kitts officiated at the wedding. His adoptee effort to reunite with his birth parents prompted them to speak to each other again for the first time since his mother learned she was pregnant.

“I’ve always been in love with him,” Karen Caldwell said of her high school sweetheart and now husband, Roger Caldwell. “I’ve never been in love with anyone else.” Karen Waterfill was a 15-year-old Western High School cheerleader in 1966. Roger Caldwell was an honor student and a basketball player at the same high school but by then a freshman at the University of Kentucky.

This is so much like the story of my parents. My mom was a junior in high school and my dad was a freshman at the U of NM at Las Cruces when I took up residence in her womb. My story turned out happier (I believe) than their son Mark Kitts, though he has no complaints. My parents were also high school sweethearts – both of them adoptees – and they remained married for over 50 years until death did part them.

Karen was sent away to a Lexington home for unwed mothers. On Sept 11 1966, she gave birth to a boy. I will always be forever grateful that this didn’t happen to me and my own parents. It could have so easily been my story as well as that was the norm in the mid-1950s. “I remember him crying, but I never got to hold him,” Karen said. The baby was adopted within a week.

A few months after the birth, Roger Caldwell, who did not know the child’s birth date or sex, married another woman, joined the Air Force and left town. But he told his wife, whom he divorced in 1988 after they raised two children together, that he really loved someone else. Karen eventually would say the same thing to two husbands. About six months after the baby was born, Karen returned to the home to ask about him. They would tell her only that he had been adopted by “good people.”

This is so much like what happened to my mom’s mother with Georgia Tann who wouldn’t tell her anything about who adopted my mom or where she went.

Mark’s adoptive parents were Gene and Linda Kitts of Lexington, who adopted their second son, a baby they named Mark. In all, the Kittses, who lived in Louisville when this story was published, eventually had six children — five of whom are adopted and three of whom have found their birth parents. It was a search that the Kittses supported. Linda Kitts said that she often wondered about the women who gave birth to her children.

John Ellis was a mutual friend of the Caldwells in high school. Karen and Roger each quizzed Ellis about how the other was doing. Roger occasionally drove by Karen’s house, hoping she would be outside. Karen got dressed to go to the visitation after Roger’s mother died, but then changed her mind.

When Mark’s wife Dee-dee became pregnant, he start thinking about his own birth. He obtained a court order for the state to attempt to locate his birth mother. Karen Williams was married and living in Frankfort. She eventually agreed to meet Mark Kitts and to see whether Roger Caldwell would meet him as well.

They agreed to meet and discuss Mark’s request. So. Roger came to Kentucky and picked Karen up. The couple cried and talked, then began seeing each other every day. Their relationship went so smoothly that when they met Mark, he thought, “Wow, this is odd. This couple really gets along well.” Karen said it was like giving birth to Mark all over again. Only this time Roger was by her side.

Karen Caldwell also had a 22-year-old daughter and a grandchild living in Frankfort but she quit her job in Kentucky to marry Roger and move to Tennessee. Karen filed for divorce — something she says she had been considering anyway — and then Roger asked her to marry him. Three days after the divorce became final, Mark officiated at the couple’s wedding in Covington, Kentucky.

Mark said, “I’ve been very happy with my life. I don’t wish it was different. We’re trying to build a relationship on the future, not the past.”

 

Regret from a Birth Father

Why I relinquished a son to adoption,
and why I never would again
~ Ridghaus

Today’s blog is thanks to a sharing by Amber Moore Jimerson. You can read the full, original story there. I have edited and condensed it for this blog.

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was relinquishing my son to an adoptive couple. I would not find the words for the feelings surrounding my decision, until I experienced more life, had other children, left Evangelicalism, and discovered my own adoption story.

I had taken a job working for a Christian church in a neighboring state. Then, I received a phone call from Angie, my ex-fiancé’s best friend: “Becky is pregnant.” So, I left the job and returned to Becky in Kansas with hopes of reconciliation. Growing up in an abusive, alcoholic family, I wanted something better than I had, something more stable. I wanted to give our child a chance at the happiness neither of us had growing up. Despite a sincere effort, I couldn’t stay in the relationship, even for the benefit of this unborn child. After a month, we broke up again.

Back at my home church, the youth pastor’s wife contacted us to say that her sister, Colleen, and husband Brian, were looking to adopt. Colleen brought a hopefulness edged with caution; she’d experienced several miscarriages and a couple of adoption attempts which fell through. That first meeting and subsequent meetings went well, and we felt moderately comfortable about them raising our child.

I chose adoption because God could redeem our “sin” as joy for this stable couple. I chose adoption because they paid the medical bills. I chose adoption for a clean slate. Except, over time, I learned there is no clean slate. A couple wants to experience parenthood, and they will look into the eyes of the crisis couple and convince them to relinquish their child because parenting is tough. “Please give your child to us because we want one, and it will be too difficult for you.” Separation creates trauma, and trauma rewires the brain.

Brian left Christian ministry and the family when his adopted son Zach turned 11. A stable family is only a momentary snapshot. Brian leaving couldn’t be anticipated, but nevertheless that negated a reason I chose to give him up.

The clincher – when Zach turned sixteen, I found out that I had been adopted. It turned out to be unexpectedly important to meet my own biological family. My mother’s voice sounded like a song I’d always known and never heard. Watching my father shift tools easily from right to left and back to right handedness brought to mind a moment when I was 11 and my adoptive father asked, “how do you do that?” I had no idea that what I’d done was unusual.

I was reminded of a line from Ron Nydam’s book “Adoptees Come of Age” – “Adoptees are always re-creating the circumstances of their relinquishment.” My biological identity is a part of my identity, one part among others, and its importance to me took place by affirming that I came from somewhere, from someone, who did things kinda like I did them and who looked a bit like me.

Early spring 2011 when Zach turned 21, I asked him, “If you’ve ever wondered the question as to whether I’d do it again, I wouldn’t.” Zach replied, “I think I’ve always wanted to know, but I couldn’t find the words to ask.”

I chose to relinquish my first son into adoption over temporary pressures, largely financial, some cultural, Christian mindsets and expectations, and a general concern I wouldn’t be able to escape the poor parenting models I received. The backward glance has greater clarity.

I have told my children that if any of them were ever in my previous situation of facing an unplanned pregnancy, I’d want them to come to me. He had relinquished a son at age 19, and then later, at the age of 35, learned that he himself had been relinquished and adopted. He would want his children to tell him. He would tell them that they have his complete support and that he’d never let them adopt away one of their own children.

Kinship Adoption

Jamie Foxx with Grandmother Talley

Jamie Foxx was born Eric Marlon Bishop (1967) in Terrell, Texas, to Louise Annette Talley and Darrell Bishop, who worked as a stockbroker and had later changed his name to Shahid Abdula. His mother was an adopted child. At just 7 months old, he was is abandoned by both his parents, leaving him to be raised and officially adopted by his maternal grandparents, Mark and Esther Talley. His grandmother had a profound impact on her adopted son and Foxx credits her as being inspirational.

“My grandmother was 60 years old when she adopted me. She ran a nursery school and had a library in the house. She saw me reading early, saw I was smart and believed I was born to achieve truly special things,” Foxx said of his grandmother. He has said that he had a very rigid upbringing that placed him in the Boy Scouts and the church choir and started piano lessons at the age of three at his grandmother’s insistence. Although strict, Estelle undeniably provided Jamie with a loving and nurturing home and was an incredible support to him. He was appreciative that his grandmother was there to give him the care and support he needed to become successful in life but, that never stopped him from wondering about his biological parents and why they left him. It was a constant struggle to comprehend that they never reached out to him. Jamie was only seventeen when his grandfather, Mark Talley, died. Estelle Talley died in October 2004 at the age of ninety-five.

Foxx had difficulty forgiving his birth father, seemingly unable to put his grievances with the man to rest, despite attempts at reconciliation. Foxx did successfully reconcile with his biological mother and also developed a bond with her husband, George Dixon, the stepfather who Foxx refers to as his “pops”. It was interesting to find our that Foxx’s grandparents had also adopted his birthmother. I have long noted that adoption tends to run in families. That is certainly true in my family.

His relationship with his birth mother has progressed quite far since the days when she was unable to care for him. She has been living together with Foxx in the same house for quite a while along with his stepfather. His relationship with his stepfather was an inspiration for the character of Walter McMillian in the movie Just Mercy. His father was incarcerated unjustly for 7 years. It was this that sparked the beginning of their living arrangement. He sent his father a letter while he was in prison promising to rescue him from the situation he was in when he was finally released from prison. That is a promise he has kept even though his mother, Louise and Georg had divorced. They both continue to live with him today.

Dadication

Every week I pass a billboard with the image of a father with his baby in a carrier. The text reads Dadication. Today’s story is an example of how a young father feels.

My ex-girlfriend and I split up. She’s 34wks pregnant. She wanted an abortion in the beginning but then decided she couldn’t go through with it. So she decided to go the adoption route. I can’t let that happen, I want to keep my baby girl. I’m only 22 years old. I know I’m young but I know that a lot of people parent young.

My dilemma is that she has a family picked out and everything. I’ve been trying to find a lawyer who can help but on a restaurant dishwasher’s pay, I don’t exactly make a lot. I think I only have about 2 weeks to stop the adoption because she’s having blood pressure problems. There is talk of delivering my baby girl early. My ex puts this couple on a pedestal and it makes me wanna puke. How can she just give our baby away ? Our own flesh and blood.

I’m pretty sure it’s out of spite because I don’t want a relationship with her. I tried explaining we could co-parent or I would even take full custody if she wanted and raise her by myself…. I WANT to be a Dad. I don’t want my baby with some random couple when I’m perfectly capable of raising her…. Do I have a leg to stand on??? Or am I gonna lose my daughter because I’m a broke piece of shit? (my ex’s opinion of me) She loves rubbing it in my face that I have nothing to raise a baby with, like supplies but I’m gonna do my best somehow, if only I can find a way to show who-ever CPS/Judge/Doctor that I am capable of keeping my daughter, without her mom.

First comment – Being broke doesn’t mean you deserve to lose your baby – but they will try to tell you that. Adoption counselors, family members, many people will tell you that your baby is better off with a family with more money or more stuff. Just know that your baby doesn’t need much, especially starting out, and she needs you more than anything. Don’t give up. Contact a lawyer who will give a free consultation, see if you can petition the court, if your state has a birth father registry then put your name on it. A putative father registry lets the state know about your intention to parent. It can be put in the court record to prevent her from the adoption. Putative means that paternity isn’t proven yet. Paternity can be “proven” in typically three ways: marriage at the time of birth, DNA or by affidavit legitimation.

Another one writes – get an order for paternity to be proven as soon as the baby is born. She may place the baby in their home in the meantime but don’t give up on your perfect little girl. Poverty is a short term problem if you’re working towards a future. Even the best looking parents can divorce and end up in the worst situation!!! Please fight for your baby girl! Inform the adoptive parents that you DO NOT want them to adopt your baby. As a last ditch effort, could you pretend to reconcile with her long enough to get the paternity affidavit signed at birth ? I don’t want you too to get abused. I just know that these hopeful adoptive parents are going to fight you for your baby. 

Here is a link on Putative Father Rights. From that link – Every state has a provision for fathers to voluntarily acknowledge paternity or the possibility of paternity of a child born outside of a marriage. The Federal Social Security Act requires states to have in place procedures for mothers and putative fathers to acknowledge paternity of a child, including a hospital-based program for the voluntary acknowledgment of paternity that focuses on the period immediately before or after the birth of the child. The procedures must include that, before they can sign an affidavit of paternity, the mother and putative father will be given notice of the alternatives and legal consequences that arise from signing the acknowledgment.

True Grace

Amanda Gruendell with Grace

This is a very different kind of infertility and donation story but I love the happy ending. I hope you will too. The story comes courtesy of The Guardian and Kate Graham, as told to her by Amanda Gruendell.

Amanda was diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome meaning that she had been born without a uterus. She did have functioning ovaries. “Couldn’t I have a uterus transplant?” she asked her doctor, only to be told that she’d be lucky to see the procedure developed in her lifetime.

She was also going through a rough patch. In 2006, I met a loving man who knew about my condition from the outset; we married three years later. I desperately wanted to be a mother, but our attempts at surrogacy and adoption failed. The relentless stress of infertility contributed to the end of our marriage. Her mom was also going through cancer treatments.

In 2014, she read about the world’s first successful uterus transplant in Sweden. The following year, a friend called her to tell her that a clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, was running the first American trial into the procedure. It would involve putting an embryo in the new uterus with the hope of creating a pregnancy.

Amanda brushed the idea off at first: there were only going to be 10 participants, and she knew many deserving women would be trying to join. Cleveland was also miles away from where she was living in Arizona. Then, a week later, she woke up thinking, “What do I have to lose?”

When the clinic called to give her more information, she started shaking. She knew the process would be long and unpredictable. First, an embryo would have to be created through in vitro fertilization using her eggs. Since she was single, she would have to use donor sperm. The embryos would then be frozen, while she waited for a uterus match from a deceased donor. If a suitable one was found and the operation successful, she would then have the embryo implanted.

That was when John showed up in her life. Actually he was one of her oldest friends and became her rock. By June 2017, they were engaged to be married. The delayed IVF (an infection caused a failed transplant in another trial participant) became a blessing. John and Amanda created their embryos a year later, just before their wedding.

Though her mother’s cancer had been improving, in 2019, it returned. She was slipping in and out of consciousness. Once when she woke, she told Amanda that she’d met her daughter in a dream. She said she was called Grace and looked just like Amanda.

A week later the call came: There was a match. Of course, she is grateful to the donor and her family, even as she knows what it is like to lose a loved one – her mother had died eight days later.

A month after the operation, at age 36, Amanda had her first period ever. Five months later, her embryo was implanted. When she took a pregnancy test and saw the second line, indicating a positive result, she admits that it just didn’t feel real.

In March 2021, Grace was born. When the doctor held her up, Amanda grabbed her; she couldn’t wait another second. Finally holding her daughter was more magical than she’d ever dreamed it would be.

Amanda says, “As I watch her today, all gummy smiles and blowing raspberries, I think back to that 17-year-old girl at the doctor’s office, and the devastation she felt. Now, there is joy. And that’s what the Cleveland clinic, my organ donor and her family did for me. I’ll be grateful to them all for ever.”

To Walk A Fine Line

Today’s story is about finding one’s way in unusual situations without any role models or rules to guide you.

My husband and I divorced about 25 yrs ago and he basically disappeared and didn’t keep visitation or support our 4 children. About 15 yrs ago he just showed up with a 1 yr old, said he wanted to introduce his baby to his other siblings (our 4 were about grown by then). The baby was a sweet heart and well all adored him, met the mother and she was a sweetheart too.

Both of the parents were dealing with addiction issues and the baby ended up staying with me and my 2 children who were still living at home at the time. Once the baby was old enough for Prekindergarten, I went to court and got guardianship but wanted both parents to have extensive visitation rights. At first the dad, my ex, visited often. The mom kinda came and went depending on her own issues. However the visits kept getting less and less.

Neither has visited in the past 9 yrs. I send the mom updates on her Facebook messenger but she has never responded. I’ve always struggled with what to tell him. I usually just say, “your mom and dad loved you very much but sometimes adults just have issues that takes them away from the things they love and hopefully one day they’ll be able to get it all straightened out.”

He is 16 now and has social media and can reach out to them and I make sure to tell him every so often that he can reach out to them any time and I’ll help in anyway he feels comfortable with or I’ll refrain from being involved at all, if he’s more comfortable with that.

I’ve never adopted him nor terminated their parental rights and the first visitation order we did years ago still stands. I’ve fielded questions for years from people who said, “Why don’t you adopt?”, but it just never felt “right” for me to cut off their parental rights (even if at times I didn’t feel they deserved them).

He has called me mom for years, he asked if he could when he was about 5, I told him he could call me whatever he felt comfortable with. I’ve spent the last 14 yrs second guessing myself and I’m sure I’ve done stuff wrong and surely he has trauma. I just try to be honest without criticism toward his parents, although his older siblings will sometimes let a mouth full fly about their (and his) dad.

Sometimes I feel that he may think I don’t love him as a son because I didn’t adopt him. It’s just hard knowing what was right. He has a maternal uncle who he sees regularly and he gets to see all his maternal family at Christmas, birthdays, holidays , etc. But unfortunately his mom is not in contact with her family at all, so he still doesn’t see her.

I’d take any advice/ideas on how to make sure I’m not adding to his trauma.

One response was this –

I think you did everything perfectly. I would somehow bring up that you love him as a son though and that you just didn’t want to erase his past. Mention if he feels the need when he’s older, you two can discuss it then. If he is an adult and still wishes to be adopted by you, then it was his choice and that’s what matters most, giving him a voice, and loving him.

Assumed Name and False Identity

Each of my parents was born with a meaningful name indicating family and personal relationships given to them by the woman who gave birth to them. In the kind of inside joke that only two adoptees could share, my dad sometimes called my mom by the name she was born under – Frances Irene.

It appears that the Frances may have come from a family that helped my grandmother when she first returned to Memphis with her two month old daughter. She probably had some connection to them before she gave birth to my mom in Virginia. When investigating my mom’s circumstances before adoption, Georgia Tann noted some vague family relationship between my grandmother and this family. I’ve been unable to track that back through Ancestry in order to prove it.

It appears my maternal grandmother was sent away from Tennessee to give birth by her father, after her lawfully wedded husband returned to Arkansas where his mother was caring for two daughters given him by his deceased first wife. Why he left her 4 mos pregnant or why he didn’t come back when informed she was in Memphis with the baby, I can never know though my heart yearns to.

Irene was the name of my maternal grandmother’s own mother who died when my grandmother was only 11 years old leaving her the woman of the house in charge of caring for her four siblings, two girls and two boys, the youngest only about a year old.

My mom’s name was changed to Julie Sue. My grandmother adopted a boy and then a girl through Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, Memphis branch. She stated in a letter to the society’s administrator that she wanted a Jill to go with her Jack. My mom’s adoptive brother was named John. So my adoptive grandmother was subtle about that heartfelt intention of hers when re-naming her children

When a person is adopted, their name is often changed by the couple that adopts them. Sometimes their date of birth and even the geographic location where they were born may be altered on the new birth certificate created for the adoptee showing the adoptive couple as their parents, as though these people gave birth to them.

It turned out the name my dad was given at birth was an important clue to his identity. My paternal grandmother named him Arthur Martin. Arthur was the man married to her aunt and she was working at their motel and restaurant at the beach in La Jolla California when she met my paternal grandfather. Unfortunately, he was also a married man. By the time she knew she was pregnant, she probably knew that marital status related to him as well. It appears he never knew he had a son.

Martin was the name of the man who fathered my dad. When I connected with a cousin who lives in Mexico, I discovered that she had my paternal grandmother’s photo albums (a real treasure trove of images). Next to a photo of my grandmother holding my dad in her lap, was the headshot of a man and she wrote his name, Martin Hansen, and boyfriend on the back.

My adoptive grandmother named my dad Thomas Patrick. The Thomas was the man she was married to when she adopted my dad. Since his birthday was only one day off from St Patrick’s Day (and that is why I never forgot his birthday), that may be the only reason for the Patrick part of his name.

However, she divorced that man and re-married and so my dad was adopted twice and his name changed again when he was already 8 years old to Gale Patrick – the Gale being her new husband’s name. It may not have been too confusing for him because he was called Pat all the years I knew him, at least.

In addition to the name changes, an adoptee is dropped into a family they were not born into but must “pretend” their whole lives they are related to. I’ve not cared all that much about names, though I like mine and now that I know about my original grandparents find a “family” connection because my paternal grandmother’s oldest sister was also named Deborah. She was hit and killed by a reckless teenage driver when she was only 3 years old.

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.