Surprising Reunions

Holly Shearer and Benjamin Hulleberg

Benjamin’s birth mother, Holly, was only 15 when she gave birth to him. When she was 6 months into her pregnancy, she began to search for adoptive parents for her baby. She feared that she would not be able to provide adequately for him.

Benjamin was given up to Angela and Brian Hulleberg on the day he was born, which just happened to be Thanksgiving Day in 2001. His adoption was never hidden from him and his adoptive parents talked to him about his biological mother.

Like many adoptees, including my own adoptee mom, Benjamin had always had a deep desire to meet his birth mother. He searched for her for many years. He’d written letters to adoption agencies of Utah, had his DNA tested and registered with the adoption registry. Nothing came of his efforts.

Like many birth mothers, Holly cared deeply about the baby she had given up for adoption and did a google search which found him on Facebook. 2 days before his 20th birthday, she took a risk to message him on Facebook – “You don’t know me but 20 years ago I made the hardest decision of my life and placed my beautiful little baby up for adoption with a beautiful family.”

Like many birth mothers, she was concerned about disrupting her son’s life, yet she simply wanted him to know that she had thought about him every day of his life. So she admitted that she finally found the courage to send him a message. She simply wanted to wish him a happy birthday.

When Benjamin saw the message, of course he wanted to meet her right away. So, they planned to have dinner and agreed that both of their families should be there to support them. On National Adoption Day, his wish became a reality. He discovered he had 2 half-siblings and that he was actually working at the same hospital that his birth mother worked at.

His mother is a medical assistant at the heart center at HCA Healthcare’s St. Mark’s Hospital. Hulleberg volunteered at the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. She notes that “Every morning, I would come in through the women’s pavilion to come into work. So, I passed right by the NICU every single day. We parked in the same garage, could have been on the same floor, had no idea that we were so close.”

After their reunion, Benjamin moved in with his mother, Holly. He also shares a coffee break with her each day before his shift in the NICU. He will leave soon to attend school in another Utah town.

~ today’s story courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Who Even Am I Anymore

A journal for processing various experiences for adoptees including late discovery, to donor conceived, and for those who discover a non-parental event and misattributed paternal event.

Between 6 and 10 percent of people who order mail-in DNA kits are shocked to discover Misattributed Parentage. Others may learn the truth without saliva; their lives are turned upside down by unexpected phone calls, social media messages, or files left behind by an older generation.

The effects of a DNA-Discovery can be life altering and identity shattering. Without a precedent for this brand new global phenomenon, the world is scrambling to catch up, finding itself short on resources to address this kind of trauma.

Who Even Am I Anymore is the first process journal of its kind, specifically designed for a community of people that grows larger each year. Eve Sturges used her experience as an NPE, a licensed psychotherapist, and host of the podcast Everything’s Relative to craft thoughtful questions for this uniquely existential journey. Designed to be used by individuals or in groups, with a therapist or without, this resource offers itself as a compass to those who find themselves unexpectedly lost at sea.

One reviewer writes –
I am a Late Discovery Adoptee and experienced years later via DNA test that my biological dad was not my biological dad. Eve asks just the right questions. I loved these writing prompts. They give me the opportunity to reflect, write it all out and heal from the act of writing.

Another one writes –
As an NPE (non-parental event) it truly helped me to get through and process the feelings from the trauma of finding out my dad isn’t my dad.

You can learn more about Eve Sturges at her website.

Both Genders Drive Adoption

For some time now, my husband has been making use of old photos to create slide shows as a screen saver. I enjoy looking at these . . . memories. One of my current favorites is of my husband lying on his chest looking at our oldest son as a 3 month old infant lying on the bed. They are both smiling at one another. Clearly, there is a real connection between them, an energy. And it is true, while my husband does honestly love both of his sons, he does a lot of work around our farm with the older boy. They seem to be in-sync so well. Of course, the older one, now 21 years old, is more mature but over the last several years, they have replaced roofs, planted trees and both worked for the 2020 Census and could share stories each night when they got home. Just as I saw with my in-laws respect for my husband’s opinions, there is a respect on my husband’s part for each of his sons’ perspectives. It is a beautiful thing to see. For my part, I am inspired by both of them and who and how they are developing into maturity.

Becoming a father came at the right time for my husband in his own maturity. When we first married (my second marriage), he was not interested in having children. He was glad I had been there and done that – so no pressure on him. And it is also true that because I gave birth to my daughter at the age of 19, I had already known motherhood. Indeed, she has made me a grandmother twice. She was there for me each time one of my parents died (only 4 months apart) and through the challenges of being the executor of their estate, including giving me the benefit of her expertise in real estate selling and negotiating the final contract with a buyer.

Even though my early motherhood was a good experience for me, I was totally blown away when after 10 years of marriage, my husband did a 180 on me and wanted to become a father. Unfortunately, it turned out that age had produced in me secondary infertility and we had to turn to assisted reproduction and an egg donor to have our sons. 20 years ago, no one saw inexpensive DNA testing and the matching sites 23 and Me as well as Ancestry becoming so popular in use. Fortunately, we have handled the situation of having two donor conceived sons as well as any ignorant parents could (both had the same genetic sources and so, are true genetic and biological siblings). By handling the situation, I mean we have always been honest about their conceptions with our sons. They really did need to become older to understand the details. Getting their DNA tested at 23 and Me (where their egg donor also had her DNA tested) gave us the opening to fully describe the details, which does not seem to have troubled them at all. Before we had theirs tested, I also gifted my husband with a kit from 23 and Me.

For me, having lost the privilege of actually raising my daughter when she was 3 years old due to my own poverty and her father’s unwillingness to pay child support (and even so, he ended up paying for her support by raising her himself) – these second chance opportunities to prove I could mother children throughout their growing up years has been a true blessing for me. Experiencing motherhood now has healed much – including a decision to have an abortion after my daughter’s birth and the subsequent discovery that I carried the hep C virus – thanks to pre-treatment testing related to my oldest son’s conception. (BTW, this week I will finally complete, after living with this virus for over 20 years, a very expensive treatment regime which required a grant for the co-pay as well as Medicare Part D because otherwise, I still could not have afforded to have that virus treated).

All this just to share that this morning, I was reading an accusation about infertile women driving adoptions. One woman noted this – “we seem to be letting the guys off scot-free. The dudes who want a Daddy’s Little Girl or to play football with their own Mini-Me. I am not saying that childless woman are not a huge factor in the adoption industry, but I am saying that we live in a patriarchy and men also have a macho thing going on from birth … carrying on the family name, the stereotypical being the breadwinner for their very own brood instead of watching other guys’ families from the sidelines as a failure. And sometimes it isn’t the woman’s inability but the guys’ faulty minnows and that is definitely a macho & emasculating situation that they can rectify by sheer force (IVF or adoption are ways no one else will really be the wiser if they keep these secrets). They can be saviors and still be Daddy Dearest at the same time win-win.”

I know that in the case of infertility, the “blame” is statistically equal – one-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues, one-third by female reproductive issues, and one-third by both male and female reproductive issues or by unknown factors according to the National Institutes of Health. Clearly in our case, because 50% of each of our son’s DNA clearly establishes that their father’s sperm did the deed, the problem was my age. We didn’t start our efforts until I was already 46 years old.

My Adoption Files Interview

Adoptee Parents

Though the podcast has been live since Feb 6th, I was only able to finish listening to my interview yesterday. I had gotten through the first 41 mins previously. Life is busy and it is long and so I do forgive anyone who doesn’t want to listen to me talk about my experience of being the child of two adoptees for an hour and a half approx. Though my satellite quality of transmission is inconsistent, it seemed to me that somehow the audio zoom file was able not to lose words but after a disruption continued where it would have been anyway. I am happy to say I was not embarrassed when I listened to it. Though most listeners would not notice my only big blub – giving the wrong part of my dad’s birth name as it relates to his father’s actual name – I can accept that as mistakes go, it wasn’t significant to the quality of listening to my interview by Ande Stanley of The Adoption Files.

For those who don’t want to listen to such a long interview, I’ll try to hit on the key or more significant points.

Though both of my parents were mid-1930s adoptees, their individual responses to having been adopted could not have been different. My mom always felt like her adoption had been, in her effort to be polite, inappropriate. She knew a bit about Georgia Tann and from what she knew and from a weird quirk in what she did NOT know (having been born in Virginia but having been adopted still technically an infant in the first year of her life from Memphis TN, how did she get there ?) she had crafted a story to explain what she was never going to be allowed to know.

I say that because she did try to get her adoption file in the early 1990s from the state of Tennessee who rejected both her initial and subsequent appeal because they could not determine the status of alive or dead for her father (who had actually been dead for 30 years by that time). Basically for $180 dollars she had the privilege of being told the mother she sincerely wish to reassure as to her outcome as an adopted child had been dead for several years. It broke her heart.

No one ever informed her that just a few years later, by the end of the 1990s, she would have been given her adoption file as Tennessee changed the law of closed and sealed adoption records for the victims of Georgia Tann (who bought and sold babies for 30 years). That is why for less money ($150) I received over 100 pages of her adoption file (which thankfully was intact though minimally inaccurate – deliberately) plus 4 black and white negatives of photos taken the last time my maternal grandmother held her baby.

Had my mom been given her adoption file, it would have cleared up misunderstandings caused by a lack of information and given her a lot of peace. She would have seen how hard her original mother fought to keep her and the obstacles against her. She would have seen how over the moon her adoptive mother was to have received her (though in life they had a difficult relationship). Though not stolen, her mother had been exploited. More importantly, my mom could have reconnected with her genetic, biological family and learned a lot of first hand impressions and lived experience regarding both of her parents.

Closed, sealed adoption records continue to be an issue that turns adoptees into second class citizens in these United States. I encountered this in Virginia, Arizona and California. I believe the main impediment is money – who has it and who stands to gain from keeping adoptees from their own valuable personal information. These parties are the adoptive parents, the adoption agencies and the legal system including adoption attorneys. They are the ones with the money to hire lobbyists to impress upon legislators the need to keep secret adoptees records. It is a big money business.

My dad was never interested in knowing his origins. I tend to believe he was afraid of what he would find out as he didn’t much like my mom searching and warned her against opening a can of worms. For $100, the Salvation Army gave me one paragraph of information, which even so gave me something important – my dad’s full name at birth and that the Salvation Army had hired and transferred my paternal grandmother from Ocean Beach CA (near San Diego) to El Paso TX with my dad in tow. I do believe they coerced her into giving him up. They had legal custody at the time he was adopted. Also, my dad was adopted twice due to his adoptive mother’s divorce and remarriage. Therefore, he experienced a name change at the age of 8 (he also was originally adopted as a infant less than one year of age).

The aspect of my story that seemed to interest Ande the most was how being the child of adoptees had affected me personally. Adoption does not only affect the adoptee but their children as well and even more so when both of the parents are adoptees. There was only a black hole of familial and medical history information beyond my two parents. Just as my mom had made up a story of being stolen from the hospital in which she was born and transported to Memphis, I had made up a story that my dad was left in a basket on the doorstep of the Salvation Army in El Paso TX by an unwed Mexican national mother because her child was mixed race with a white American father.

I readily admit that I got lucky in my own attempt to learn the truth of my parents’ adoptions. Nothing we believed due to our lack of true information has proven to be true but the truth is definitely preferable. Not all efforts at learning an adoptee’s origins are as productive or end as happily as mine with acceptance by my genetic biological relations. Persistence and determination are important. And getting one’s DNA tested can make all the difference. I had mine tested at both Ancestry and 23 and Me. Also noted in the interview however, without actual names, just finding DNA matches does not yield very much useful information as my own story shows.

In case you missed the link at the beginning of this blog (and there is so much more there than I can reasonably write for today) here it is – https://anchor.fm/ande-stanley/episodes/Interview-with-Deborah-Hart-Yemm-e1djv8e.

It Was Divinely Orchestrated

Texas State Senator Donna Campbell

So the Texas State Senator, Donna Campbell, appeared on my radar Sunday when I received an email notification from The Adoption Files blog by Ande Stanley. She writes – “One of the biggest stumbling blocks to the unrestricted access to original birth certificates in the state of Texas has been the Texas State Senator Donna Campbell – (I add, who not coincidentally is) an adoptive mother who has voted against allowing access every year since 2015.” Texas Monthly has had Senator Donna Campbell on their Worst Legislators list.

State Senator Donna Campbell as an adoptive mother shares her story in a Houston Chronical article featuring state officials that have adopted (there is a bit of an infuriating paywall but I include the link anyway). Her voice was described as breaking when she talks about promising her youngest daughter’s birth mother that she would “take good care of the baby” and calls the adoption divinely orchestrated. Pro-Life legislator Donna Campbell says also that she actually said to the birth mother, “You had a choice nine months ago, and you chose life and you will be blessed, and I will always take care of this child.” So like a politician to do double duty with their recorded statements.

It happened when she went to the hospital nursery to give a message to another doctor, and she heard people discussing a baby. “There was conversation about, ‘This baby is so cute’ — everybody wanted to take the baby home,” Campbell recalled. “They said, ‘Do you want to take the baby home?’” She said it turned out that the mother had been headed from San Antonio to Houston to find an adoption agency and went into labor in Columbus. Campbell and her husband had been talking about adoption but hadn’t moved forward on it. The decision was made quickly, and she asked to talk to the mother to thank her for the little girl she named Anna Beth after her own mother. “It happened just like that. But you know, so many others that would like to adopt, it doesn’t come that easy,” Campbell said. “This is truly divinely orchestrated.” God meant it to be – a lot of adoptive mothers will say that.

Lori Holden wrote Donna Campbell an open letter – Let’s talk – adoptive mom to adoptive mom – on the Lavender Luz website. “I understand having fears about adoption and, by extension, fears about making changes in adoption law. Change can be scary. For decades many states have had laws on the books to protect people from the humiliation of unwed pregnancy or the shame of infertility or the stigma of being born to unmarried parents. In response, we have put up walls to hide the shame and stigma and humiliation.”

“One of those walls is the practice of closing birth records for one group of people who, due to circumstances of birth, to this day do not enjoy a civil right that all other citizens in your state do. It is time to re-evaluate the existence of this wall, as so many of your Texas bipartisan colleagues in the Senate and House were eager to do at the close of the legislative session last month.”

When you say privacy I wonder if you are confusing it with secrecy,  which takes simple privacy and wraps it in toxic fear and shame. Privacy is chosen, secrecy is often imposed. Secrecy exists because shame exists. With openness, by unsealing records and providing equal access for all, we can dissolve the shame and  vanquish the need for secrecy. Regarding the privacy issue, accurate birth records should be kept private from the public but not secret from the parties directly involved.

As you may already realize, the Internet and advances in DNA testing have enabled birth mothers and birth fathers and their now-adult children to find each others’ identities by skirting laws that were constructed in that era of shame and secrecy. Psychotherapist Karen Caffrey, who is an adult adoptee with birth family from Texas, says, “Family genetic secrets are very soon going to be a thing of the past.”

There is more in her open letter at the link I’ve supplied.

Sad Story With Triggers

Liu Xuezhou

Trigger Warning: Content contains explicit details about suicide and suicidal thoughts.

When Liu Xuezhou‘s story first went viral last month, it brought together people from all corners of the internet — and the world. On December 6, the 17-year-old shared a video on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, where he asked the public for help in finding his biological family. Amazingly, thousands of strangers joined forces, and before long, the teen was able to connect with his birth parents. But instead of finding some closure and peace in the reunion, Liu was heartbroken when they both shunned him. Tragically, it appears the experience was so devastating that Liu took his own life over the weekend, Chinese media reported.

The teen was in the dark about his exact birth date, as his adoptive parents only knew that he was born sometime between 2004 and 2006 in Hebei, a province in northern China. He was purportedly sold by his parents as a baby. His biological mother has disputed this saying it was complicated. At some point during the adoption process, Zhang said that the “middleman” who transferred Liu to his adoptive parents insisted on giving them money for the child. The child was “sold” for $4,200 – most of which went to the middleman.

When Liu was just 4 years old, his adoptive parents both died on the same day in a freak accident. Over the years, he was passed from relative to relative, never truly calling any one place his home. To make matters even worse, he reportedly struggled financially for most of that time. After his story went viral, the teen shared that he’d taken on a part-time job to help pay for his schooling and was living in a run-down home, where he was barely scraping by.

Detectives were quickly able to track down Liu’s biological father using DNA testing, and the two were finally able to meet just weeks after the teen initially shared his story. The pair met up in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei. Though the boy hoped he could go and live with his father. The man told his son that he simply couldn’t because he was already raising another family of his own.

Then, the teen found his biological mother in Inner Mongolia and arranged to meet with her in person, with the same hopes to be taken in. Her reason was also that she’d started a family of her own and simply “wanted a peaceful life.” 

At first his parents pooled some money together and sent him on a vacation to Sanya, a city on Hainan Island. But when he continued to ask them for help with finding a new place to stay, they reportedly refused. In fact, his mom even blocked his phone number and social media accounts, essentially cutting him off from all contact with her. Both parents claimed Liu asked them to buy a house for him and that they were poor when they gave him up and were still too poor to do anything of that sort. Liu claims he was merely asking for money to help cover his rent.

Having been “abandoned twice by his biological parents,” which had deeply affected him – it was the subsequent cyberbullying that made things even worse.  The 17-year-old reportedly died from an overdose of antidepressants. His aunt confirmed his death with local media outlets, sharing he was found early Monday morning and immediately rushed to a hospital in Sanya, China, before he was pronounced dead.

This story highlights the very real and dangerous nature of child trafficking, which sadly occurs all over the world but is particularly egregious in China. Under Chinese law, child trafficking can be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. But even so, the nation remains ranked as one of the world’s worst countries for human trafficking.

Uprooted

This kind of discovery is happening more and more often with the advent of inexpensive DNA testing. I belong to a circle of mom’s who all gave birth in a 4 month period of time in 2004. We have pretty much stayed in contact – at least a majority of us. At one point, way back when, our group ended up divided on the common question for those who conceived via Assisted Reproductive Technology over whether we would tell our children the truth or hide it. Some definitely chose that second path, my husband and I did not. I am grateful for that choice.

It’s not as though we’ve ever made this a big issue in our household and I’ve not made it a public issue locally as well (in the early days I received some hints of questions seeking to know). One of the strategies early on was to let our children tell if that was their choice and not make that choice for them. Only recently, have I become more outspoken about our family’s origins because – gee, I will be 68 this coming May and I have two sons, one that is almost 18 and one who will be 21 this February.

There is another strategy that we owe it to other woman who could be deceived by our having given birth at advanced ages that they have all the time in the world – as I believed in my 40s when my husband decided he wanted to be a father after all after 10 years of marriage. He was always glad I had “been there and done that” so no pressure on him to parent, as I do have one daughter who is now soon to be in her 50s and she has gifted me with two grandchildren. Then we learned how low the odds of that actually happening were due to my own advanced age. A nurse practitioner recommended her own fertility doctor saying “you don’t have time to waste.” He is the first one who told us that there was “a way” and that way for us was via egg donation.

We have stayed in contact with our donor since day one. Facebook makes that easier today. The boys have met her in person more than once but distance limits that contact. I do show them pictures from her FB page from time to time. When she tested with 23 and Me, I gifted my husband with a kit, and then when my oldest son turned 18, I gave him one, and rather than wait for the youngest one to turn 18, went ahead and gave him a kit.

Doing this also allowed us to tell our boys, now that they are older, all of the reasons that we chose to do what we did. Also to emphasize that they simply would not exist or be who they are any other way. There is no “if only” things had been different. And that no one could be more of a mother to them than I am and it is clear by their behavior towards me that I am precisely that to them even with this complete knowledge.

While it is decidedly strange to see another woman listed as their mother at 23 and Me after having carried their pregnancies in my womb and breastfeeding each of them for a year, as well as being in their lives 24/7, I do not regret making private message access to her available to them if they so choose.

I understand the yearning for truth about our genetics. Both of my parents were adoptees who died 4 months apart, still basically ignorant of their origins. My mom did try to get her adoption file (a file I now have complete possession of) in the early 1990s. Within a year of my dad’s death, I had identified all 4 of my original grandparents and have contact with some cousins and a couple of surviving aunts.

There are very real and serious issues with donor sperm. It has produced a lot of children with the same genetic paternity and has existed under a protection of privacy. Unlike egg donation which we are aware that our donor went through a painful process as well as a fraught experience with powerful drugs, it is relatively easy and painless to donate sperm, as my own husband did in order to give birth to genetically, biologically related sons (our sons do have the same maternity and paternity and so are 100% siblings). Some egg donors were also promised privacy in the early days of assisted reproduction.

Here is some information about the book, Uprooted, that I have featured today (but which I have not read) –

By his forties, Peter J. Boni was an accomplished CEO, with a specialty in navigating high-tech companies out of hot water. Just before his fiftieth birthday, Peter’s seventy-five-year-old mother unveiled a bombshell: His deceased father was not his biological, genetic father. Peter was conceived in 1945 via an anonymous sperm donor. The emotional upheaval upon learning that he was “misattributed” rekindled traumas long past and fueled his relentless research to find his genealogy. Over two decades, he gained an encyclopedic knowledge of the scientific, legal, and sociological history of reproductive technology as well as its practices, advances, and consequences. Through twenty-first century DNA analysis, Peter finally quenched his thirst for his origin.

​In Uprooted, Peter J. Boni intimately shares his personal odyssey and acquired expertise to spotlight the free market methods of gamete distribution that conceives dozens, sometimes hundreds, of unknowing half-siblings from a single donor. This thought-provoking book reveals the inner workings—and secrets—of the multibillion-dollar fertility industry, resulting in a richly detailed account of an ethical aspect of reproductive science that, until now, has not been so thoroughly explored.

The Audiobook and ebook have been available since January 4 2022. The print book is to be released tomorrow on January 25 2022.

Weirdness

A different kind of weirdness than my weirdness . . . surprise !!

The advent of inexpensive DNA testing has brought surprises to many people today. One woman wrote –

“One of the biggest things I’m realizing today is: at least I always knew I had parents and ancestors “out there” somewhere. I knew there were people I could look for, and I knew there could be other family members too. How weird to find someone you never knew even existed? Someone that’s had a whole life without you? I might have his first grandchildren, and he never knew.” She closes with – “Adoption is a wild freaking ride.” I agree.

Another woman writes – “Ancestry DNA led me to find my half brother that my father never knew about. Its been wild for sure.” This happened for me too. It turned out in my case, the man’s grandmother was my paternal grandfather’s sister but no one in his family, including him, ever knew he had a son. 23 and Me led me to a cousin, which led me to another cousin, and it turned out that my paternal grandmother had left a breadcrumb for me as to my dad’s father’s identity in her photo album.

Here is another story – “We met my half-brother recently after our dad took an Ancestry DNA test. My half-brother was adopted almost 50 years ago. My dad never knew he existed until March of last year. We’ve since spent a couple weeks with him and his girlfriend. It’s definitely crazy to know that my half-brother existed for my entire 39 years on this planet and we never knew him until now but I’m very grateful that he wants to be involved with his birth family despite his birth/life story. I’m trying to figure out how to visit him this coming summer with my kids, his niece and nephew. What’s super crazy to me now is that while I haven’t known my half-brother very long, my kids will never know life without him. It’s been a journey of grace and compassion for everyone from our experience.”

For myself as well – thankfully !!

Realizing the Value of DNA Testing

Getting the results of my own DNA tests (both Ancestry and 23 and Me) did NOT bring surprise results to me – in that I knew BOTH of my parents were adoptees at the time I did the tests. What was I hoping for ? Answers to my cultural identity. A question that had plagued me since public school. What are we ? I asked my mom. We’re Americans, she answered. No, I said, what ELSE are we ? We don’t know because we were adopted, she answered.

And I did get insight into what I had yearned to know from childhood. Yet, my DNA tests did something for me that I did not anticipate. As actual genetic, biological relations were found at the two platforms, my DNA test proved to these that I actually was related to them. Me, someone they never knew existed. Though to be honest, I never knew they existed either. Building relationships with people who have decades of history with my original families (the families my parents were conceived as part of) and none involving me is slow and not earth-shattering but soul warming never-the-less.

I am pretty certain I came as a surprise to some of these – especially on my dad’s paternal line. His father’s family was located in Denmark. Several of his father’s siblings as well as his father immigrated to the United States. Unfortunately, his father never knew he had a son. More’s the pity. My dad did look remarkably like his own father and they shared an interest in boats, the ocean and fishing. They would have made wonderful friends as father and son. So, that family has been the most amazed at my existence. I originally found my grandfather’s step-granddaughter who told me quite a bit about him. And only recently, I now have email contact with one of his nephews in Denmark, who has told me something about my grandfather’s early life in that country before immigrating.

With my other 3 grandparent family lines, there was some awareness of my parent’s existence. One of the first that I met shared the same maternal grandfather with me. His daughters (my mom’s half-siblings) were aware of her existence. My cousin said to me upon my emergence into her life, My mom always wondered about your mom and wanted to have an opportunity to meet her. Sadly, I barely missed this half-aunt of mine. She died only months before I began my own search into my roots after BOTH of my parents had died only 4 months apart.

Next came cousins and an aunt on my dad’s maternal line. 23 and Me outed my cousin and she wrote me in excitement, Delores or Dolores Hempstead/Barnes is my grandmother. The aunt is her mother and she was living only 90 miles away from my dad at the time he died. He never spoke to me about being adopted except that one time after his adoptive father died and my dad was going through some papers and marveled that his original surname was Hempstead. My mom did tell me that he was not supportive of her own effort to search, warning her that she might be opening up a can of worms. That has informed me somewhat about his perspective – that the people who adopted him were his parents – end of story. We did know that my granny “got” him at the Salvation Army. There is so much more to that story that I have now been able to learn and I will always believe that the Salvation Army coerced her into surrendering him to adoption as she was unwed. I’m told she regretted losing him the rest of her life. One cousin lead me to another cousin who had the breadcrumb clue that my paternal grandmother left as to my dad’s father’s identity. A few photos and some notes written on the back of these.

Though the initial focus of my adoption related searches was my mom’s Stark family line, that one took me the longest to finally connect with the children of my grandmother’s youngest brother, who I also just missed as he had died not all that long before. I did learn early on from a woman “related by marriage” who was also a genealogist that my Stark family was Scottish. She belonged to the church across the street from the cemetery where my grandmother, her second husband and her parents are all buried. My maternal grandmother was a victim of Georgia Tann and the baby stealing and selling scandal of the Memphis Branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. My mom knew some of this background information, believed that she had been inappropriately adopted (her words for what happened to separate her from her mother) and actually tried to get her adoption file (the one I now have the complete file of, including photos of my grandmother and baby mom) but was denied it by the state of Tennessee. These second cousins (as they are my age but would be genetically my mom’s cousins) had close and fond relationships with my maternal grandmother. They gave me the warm kinds of intimate details about the kind of person she was – what my heart had yearned to know since I began my own journey.

I believe I have fulfilled my destiny to reconnect the broken threads of our family’s origins – the reason I managed to be preserved with the parents who first conceived me out of wedlock (my mom still in high school, my dad had only just started at an out of town university – high school sweethearts they had been. They did marry and remained married until death did part them).

Until I began learning more about the traumas of being adopted, it was the most natural thing in the world to me. So natural, that both of my sisters actually each gave up a baby to adoption. Thankfully, I’ve met and have contact with both of these wonderful, valuable persons – my niece and nephew. It’s impossible to know how their lives might have been different if my sisters had kept them. If my parents had never been surrendered for adoption – the miracle of it all for me personally is – I simply would not have existed. I love my life and for having one at all and with my original parents, I am grateful. So, I am also grateful I wasn’t given up for adoption – it would have been the most normal thing in the world to have happened to me.

Colorblind Idealism

There seems to have been an evolution among some citizens in the United States to realize that racially colorblindness isn’t really the answer to racism. In the evolution of adoption and in an attempt to get some children in foster care placed in stable homes, transracial adoption was seen as the answer. As some of these adoptees have reached adulthood, they are increasingly speaking out about why growing up black in a predominantly white community and school has proven challenging, even difficult for them.

Recently The Washington Post had an article by Rachel Hatzipanagos that focuses on transracial adoptees – I know my parents love me, but they don’t love my people. A few years ago, there was a Medium piece – The Myth of Colorblindness by Rosa Perez-Isiah.

For adoptees, their adoptive parents couldn’t see and rarely talked about the racism they experienced. Classmates’ racist comments about their hair and eyes were dismissed as harmless curiosity. America’s racial dynamics were explained in the language of “colorblind” idealism. 

In her Medium piece, Perez-Isiah says – Colorblindness is the belief that we don’t see color or race, that we see people and that we are all the same. These beliefs are widely held by well intentioned people, including educators and school leaders. These are idealistic beliefs and there are a number of issues with this ideology. Colorblindness negates our diversity, race and culture because we all see color and we all have biases. When we identify as colorblind, we are suppressing our authentic views and in the process, perpetuating systemic racism. Race matters and it has impacts on opportunities, education and actual income (as well as its future potential). Colorblindness oppresses people of color. When you fail to see color, you fail to acknowledge the current narrative, a system of injustice for many non-white people.

Cross-cultural adoptions have been debated for decades. In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers took a strong stand against the adoption of Black children by White parents. Several years later, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act was passed to address the wave of Native American children being separated from their tribes and placed with White families.

The growth in transracial adoptions from foster care in recent years has far outpaced the growth in same-race adoptions and transracial adoption is now 28% of all domestic adoptions in the United States. More recently, the national conversation about systemic racism (driven by George Floyd’s death in 2020) has cast a new light on interracial adoption and prompted transracial families to confront the unspoken cultural divides in their own homes.

For adoptees, there is a transracial adoption paradox. Growing up, they experience many of the privileges that come with Whiteness because of their adoptive parents. When they then enter the school system or move out of the family home to live independently as adults later in life, they’re confronted with the reality of being perceived and treated as a racial minority. Not so subtle is the experience of white students putting their pencils in the hair of a Black student and marveling at the way the texture makes them stay in place.

When adoption agencies take on a color-evasive approach with hopeful prospective adoptive parents, they signal to these white parents that race does not need to be a significant factor in their decision-making. Then, by extension, it is no surprise that these adoptive parents might not think that the race of their adoptees is a significant factor in raising their child. Often these parents naively hope their support will make up for racial difference, even when they acknowledge there are challenges in raising a child of a different race.

From a transracial adoptee – “I believe that a lot of people think that adoption is this beautiful, magical, straightforward process. And also when they think of adoption, that they are centering around this “White savior” image and focusing on adoptive parents more than adoptees. And/or birth, biological parents — those two seem to get left out of the narrative a lot. I also believe that adoption from a birth mother, birth parent perspective can be very intense, very complex, very emotional. And I believe that we need to lean in and listen to adoptees and birth parents more.”

Today, many adoptees have their DNA tested, either at Ancestry or 23 and Me. For an adoptee that was raised white, it can be an amazing experience to discover their father is Black and see somebody that looks like them, finally a true racial mirror. One mixed race adoptee notes – “I think a lot of White people think that they have a good handle on race … and have what they would call a ‘colorblind’ kind of mentality. But I don’t think they understand that when you say the word ‘colorblind,’ what I hear is ‘I see you as White’.”

Another transracial adoptee suggests – “I think first acknowledging that your child is not White is, like, a huge step for a lot of White adoptive parents is to, like, see outside. Because a lot of parents see their child as, this is just your kid. They don’t see them in racialized terms. But in seeing them in that colorblind way, you are not protecting them. You are not preparing them to grow up and be an adult.”

Adoption is a trauma. Every adoptee has a different response to their trauma. Often it takes therapy to understand what was experienced as a pre-verbal infant and more importantly, how it continues affecting the adult adoptee. Therapy can help an adoptee get over feeling defective simply because they were given up for adoption. It can require learning that babies are placed for adoption for a number of reasons and that none of those reasons have to do with the baby or the value of that baby regardless of their skin color. The adoptee, not the adoptive parents, needs to be the center of their own life and story. Much of the narrative around adoption centers on the adoptive parents and frames their actions as selflessness and saving a child.

One Black adoptee admits –  I longed, and continue to long, to understand why I needed to be adopted, why I needed to be shipped across the country, why I couldn’t stay in the South, why I couldn’t stay with Black families, why I couldn’t have stayed with at least my biological extended family.” And though I am white and my mother was white too, this is a universal need in adoptees. My mom’s genetic, biological family was in the rural South and she was taken by train from Memphis to Nogales Arizona by her adoptive mother. For a long time, my mother believed she had been born in Memphis, a belief her adoptive mother was also led to believe by Georgia Tann, until birth certificate alterations made clear my mom had been born in Virginia which just made my mom believe she must have been stolen from her mother because things like that happened with Georgia Tann’s adoption practices.

Sadly, the saviorism of white adoptive parents is just so prevalent. Unfortunately, there is a deep-seated belief that white people can take care of Black people better. I have been learning a lot about this in overall society by reading White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad.

I end today’s blog back where I started with the issue of colorblindness – Why is the colorblind narrative popular? The Medium piece notes – it is easier to identify as colorblind than acknowledge differences that make us uncomfortable. This is easier for people to handle, especially in schools where we may lack the information and guidance to have difficult conversations about race. Another reason is simply not knowing…you don’t know what you don’t know. Many people also repeat what they’ve been taught and fail to reflect or question those beliefs. In the end, we don’t realize how harmful the myth of colorblindness can be.

Adoption is a challenging situation regardless – add in racial differences and it becomes doubly so. It takes courage and practice to shift from a colorblind to a color BRAVE ideology.