Actually Birth Mother Fits

Me and my Sons in 2009

I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic recently and having learned that today is National Sons Day, I decided it was appropriate for me to just go ahead and write about my thoughts.

In adoption circles, “birth mother” is no longer the preferred term for a woman who gives up her child to be adopted by strangers never to see that child again. These women increasingly prefer first or natural mother for their role in their birthed children’s lives. For many, some kind of reunion takes place after the child has reached an age of maturity. Such reunions are becoming common place. Some are happy and others are heart-breaking.

When I embarked on my journey to discover my own genetic roots back in 2017, I really didn’t know much about adoption. In fact, it was the most natural thing in the world for me and my sisters because both of our parents were adopted. They really had almost no idea of where they came from and varied from one to the other regarding how they felt about the situation. Now I know what my parents didn’t know the day they died, I know who their parents were and a bit about each one of them.

Back in 1998, when my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary, he surprised me with the announcement that he wanted to become a father after all. I had become a mother in 1973 within my first marriage. He had always been glad I had been there, done that, no pressure on him. Now he was instigating the unthinkable and it proved to be almost undoable as well. We tried all of the advice and used ovulation predictors but could not achieve success. A nurse practitioner in my GPs office referred me to her own OBGYN who delivered the good and bad news to us. I had an egg developing that would prove to be my very last. He gave me a shot of something or other to give it a boost but to no avail. At that same initial meeting he told us there was another way for us to become parents – donor eggs.

We found our donor and everything was simply agreements between the three of us. The first son was the only successful pregnancy out of 4 that the doctor tried to assist that year. We had no idea he had so little experience. We also never anticipated that inexpensive DNA testing would come along or prove so popular and accessible. While still in the maternity ward, recovering from a necessary c-section due to me being positive for hepC to prevent transmission to my baby, my husband was already saying – “Let’s do it again.” We had some leftover embryos and tried that but it failed.

We weren’t certain our previous donor would agree to “do it again” but to our undying gratitude she did and we were by then at a very experienced clinic in Las Vegas with a doctor who’s reputation for success was very reassuring and we did – succeed. We now have two sons that are fully genetic and biological siblings and they are wonderfully close and appreciative of each other. Each one has some of my husband’s traits but each one is also very individualistic. The older one has an artist’s soul and has gifted us with many dvds starring himself and his brother as reminders of their childhood days. The younger one turns out to have a genius IQ and a natural aptitude for composing music and takes to all things computer oriented like a fish in water.

Thankfully, we never hid the boys method of conception from them but we never made a big deal about it either. We have visited with the donor on more than one occasion but distance and financial constraints have prevented us from getting together for quite a few years now. Enter Facebook. Thanks to social media I remain in contact with her and the events that take place with her and my son’s half siblings born to her. I show my sons photos of them when appropriate.

One day, I discovered she was doing 23 and Me. I had also done that DNA testing as had my daughter and my nephew and assorted relatives from my original grandparents that I have since made contact with. So that year, I gifted my husband with a 23 and Me kit. Then with the older son turning 18, I gifted him with a kit and decided to go ahead and gift the younger one as well, so that all was reconnected on a genetic basis. This also allowed us to reiterate the boy’s conception stories to them now that they were mature enough to understand them fully.

So, this brings a unique circumstance into all of our lives. At 23 and Me, the egg donor is shown as the boys “mother”. Neither myself nor my daughter nor any other genetic relatives of mine are shown as related to my sons. Only the younger one has expressed any sadness that we are not genetically related but the truth is, they simply would not exist nor be who they are any other way and they have a happy life as near as I am able to judge that. We have a happy family as well. Generally, I’m not very public about this because I don’t want people to be cruel to my sons but it is the truth and I am able and willing to face that. The egg donor is available now to each boy privately via the messaging system at 23 and Me, if the boys want that, and I’ve told them both she is willing to receive any contact they wish to initiate. She has always shown a caring perspective about them, while understanding with phenomenal clarity about her limited role in their lives.

So where does that leave me as their mother ? Birth mother fits pretty well because by golly I carried each boy in my womb for 9 months and they each nursed at my breast for just over a year. We have never been separated as mother and child such as occurs in adoption. I am the only “mother” they have ever known and I love hearing them refer to me as “mom”. We are very close, I do believe, though the older one is now 20 and forging a bit of independence. We did not fully foresee all of the ramifications of our decision to conceive them at the time we made that decision – we were not inclined to adopt someone else’s baby – and so, we used the only method available to us and I am grateful we were successful because from what I know only about half of all couples who try this method are successful.

While I may not have been fully aware of all the effects of our decision, having these two boys has been a tremendous gift. When my genetic, biological daughter was only 3 years old, I was forced by financial hardship to allow her to be raised by her dad, who subsequently remarried a woman with a daughter and together they had yet another daughter. My daughter has half and step siblings in a yours mine and ours family. I was unable to give her a family life during her childhood and by the time I married this husband she was well along into high school. Never-the-less we are as close as most mothers and daughters may be but without very much childhood history, which I recognize I have lost and can never regain.

I considered myself a failure as a mother and though I’ve done a lot of soul searching over the years, I still do feel that way in regard to my lack of mothering her. I failed her and the effects have been somewhat similar to what adoptees experience within her own life. I am grateful she doesn’t hate me for it. She seems to understand the situation I found myself in at the time. What these boys have given me is proof that I am not a failure as a mother and for that I will always be grateful. It is my hope my sons will always be grateful for the life they have. Some donor conceived persons struggle with their reality. I understand this now, though I didn’t know then what I know now about so many of the messy complications of life.

The Grandfathers I Never Knew

My mom’s father with her half-sisters

And I never will know my grandfathers, or my grandmothers either, because they have all died. But I’ve seen photos and heard some stories which is more than I had for over 60 years of my life.

My mom wasn’t much inclined towards this man and showed no interest in these half-siblings. She only yearned for her mother who was already dead when she pushed the state of Tennessee to give her details as an adoptee (which they still denied her). I think my mom had a pre-birth and infant sense that her own mother felt abandoned by this man with good reason. The true reasons for their separation and why he didn’t come to her aid in Memphis, I’ll never know. I have this picture thanks to my cousin, the daughter of the younger girl in this photo.

An article in Severance magazine where the aftermath of separation is often detailed by those who have experienced it is shared caught my attention for it’s headline – The Grandfather I May Never Know. I still need to actually read it (and will before I finish this blog) but I would suspect from the headline, it is still possible for the author.

In her article, Bianca Butler writes – “As a young child, I didn’t know that my mother and her twin sister (now deceased) had been adopted in 1960. I found out in 2000, when, after nearly 40 years of silence, their biological mother wrote to the twins asking to reunite.”

She describes one outcome of their reunion – “By meeting her biological mother, my mother learned her biological father’s identity and that she and her twin are of mixed-race ancestry: African American and white. Their biological mother had been a young African American college student at the University of California, Berkeley when she relinquished her twin daughters for adoption. They were born in a time in the United States when interracial unions were not only taboo but also illegal (Loving V Virginia) and when young unwed women were shamed and stigmatized—a time known as the Baby Scoop Era, from 1945 to 1973, before Roe V Wade in 1973.”

Since the suspected father of the twins denied paternity, the author decided to get her DNA tested. She goes on to share that “The Ancestry DNA test confirmed that I’m 31% Norwegian and, through the DNA matches, that I’m related to his cousins. I sent him the DNA results, but he’s still in denial and, sadly, not open to a relationship.” She admits that – “Finding biological family and taking a DNA test can bring great joy and excitement, but it can also bring rejection and disappointment. . . . It can be very emotional opening up old generational wounds that still haven’t been healed. . . . some people don’t want to be found, especially when race and adoption are factors, and I’ve had to accept that reality. “

She adds a happier note – “On a positive note, through Ancestry DNA I was amazed to connect with a cousin on my mom’s paternal side who is close to my age and open to connecting. She moved to Sacramento from Minnesota last year for graduate school, and we plan to meet. From her own ancestry research, she was able to give me more information about our shared heritage and ancestral homeland in Fresvik, Norway, which, in addition to Oslo, I hope to visit.”

This happened for me as well (thanks to DNA testing). I have contact with a cousin in Denmark now. I have learned details about my paternal grandfather’s early life. I would love to travel to Denmark and visit the family there (who never knew my grandfather ever had any children, and he probably never knew either as he was a married man and my grandmother simply handled it quietly).

I do share this perspective with the article’s author – “As an adult, I’m doing the healing work to educate myself on intergenerational trauma, loss, and abandonment that happen through adoption.”

Vagabond, I think the man with the pipe in his mouth is my paternal grandfather.

4 Fathers ?

Sam Wise (Sean Astin)

I don’t often follow Facebook teasers and I hate when they are a long slog and this one was but I couldn’t resist. I was a fan of Patty Duke’s growing up. I never knew about her son until now and I didn’t know he played Sam Wise in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy but I am also a fan of that story, wherever I find a version of it.

Back in the day before inexpensive DNA testing, Patty Duke became pregnant and never really knew for certain who her son’s father was. In the 1990s, he had a DNA test done. There were 3 likely possibilities – John Astin, Desi Arnaz Jr or Michael Tell (the one finally proven).

Sean Astin explains it this way. “If you want to know who I am, John Astin is my father, [and] Michael Tell is my biological father.” Sean has maintained good relationships with all three of the men who had been in the running as candidates for his biological dad’s identity. He says that “Desi is like my godfather. I have such a powerful love bond with this man. He’s a gorgeous human being.”

John Astin says of Sean, “We’re very close. We have a good time together.” 

But why did I say 4 ? Patty married Michael Pearce just a year after her divorce from John in 1985. Sean would have been 15 years old at that time. So, he formed a relationship with his new stepfather, who he refers to as Papa Mike.

I guess I was drawn to this story, not only because I am fond of both celebrities involved but because until very recently, my paternal grandfather was also a mystery (though to be fair, my paternal grandmother always did know who my dad’s actual biological father was – even though that man never knew about my dad. It was quite a surprise to my biological, genetic paternal grandfather’s relatives when I turned up. Thankfully, DNA testing has been the “proof”).

It’s A Fundamental Human Right

I certainly understand the need to know. I believe one of the purposes that I came into this lifetime was to heal some missing family history. I believe because I was aligned with my dharma, doors opened and answers revealed themselves. That black hole void beyond my parents became whole with ancestors stretching way back and into Denmark and Scotland as well as the English and Irish.

I believe in the principle that it’s a fundamental human right to know one’s genetic identity. I remember once talking to a woman who was trying to understand why it mattered that both of my parents were adopted if they had a good life. As I tried to explain it to her, she suddenly understood. She took her own genetic ancestry for granted because she knew that if she had any reason to want to know, she could discover all the details.

Not so for many adoptees with sealed and closed records (which was the case with my parents adoptions) and not so for donor conceived people whose egg or sperm donors chose to remain anonymous – many doing it for the money – and walking away from the fact that a real living and breathing human being exists because of a choice they made. Today, inexpensive DNA testing has unlocked the truth behind many family secrets. Some learn one (or both) of the parents who raised them are not their genetic parent from a DNA test. A family friend might tell a person mourning the death of their dad at his funeral, that their father suffered from infertility and their parents used a sperm donor to conceive them.

These types of revelations can be earth shattering for some people. I’ve know of someone recently who was thrown that kind of loop. The process of coping with such a revelation is daunting and life-changing regardless. Even for my own self, learning my grandparents stories has changed my perspectives in ways I didn’t expect, when I first began the search into my own cultural and genetic origins.

There is a term for this – misattributed parentage experience (MPE). It has to do with the fact that you did not grow up knowing your genetic parent.  That word – experience – best describes the long-term effects. It is not an “event,” a one-time occurrence. The ramifications of MPE last a lifetime to some degree.  I know how it feels, trying to get to know people, who have decades of life experience that I was not present for or even aware of. It is not possible to recover that loss. One can only go forward with trying to develop a forward relationship and whatever gems of the past make themselves known are a gift.

There are 3 primary communities with MPE in their personal histories.

[1] Non-paternity event (NPE): those conceived from an extramarital affair, tryst, rape or assault, or other circumstance

[2] Assisted conception: those conceived from donor conception (DC), sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, or surrogacy

[3] Adoption: those whose adoption was hidden, orphans, individuals who’ve been in foster care or are late discovery adoptees (LDA), etc.

There are also 3 primary topics for raising awareness and developing reform efforts – education, mental health and legislation. Right To Know is an organization active on all of these fronts and issues. They are advocates for people whose genetic parent(s) is not their supportive or legal parent(s). They work to promote a better understanding of the complex intersection of genetic information, identity, and family dynamics in society at large.

The Ideal Perspective ?

The most common experience from those I have witnessed is a lifetime of regret on the part of the birth mother. That is why my all things adoption group encourages expectant mothers to at least try and parent their newborn for some significant period of time before giving their precious baby up for adoption.

On the other side are voices trying to convince expectant mothers that the BEST thing they can do for their baby is let them go. And so today, I saw this description of that mindset . . .

This is from a “Bravelove testimony”. Although this perspective is from an adoptee testimony, it could have just as easily come from adoptive parent testimonies, birth mother testimonies or adoption professional testimonies. It is often seen as the desired perspective that adoptees should hold of their adoptions. It is often praised as a perspective showing love and respect for birthmothers, yet to me, it is reducing women who are birthmothers to the decision they made and dismissing them as complex people who were dealing with complex situations.

“A birth mother has three options. She can choose to have an abortion, and I wouldn’t be here right now. She can give birth, but choose to say “no this is my child and I don’t care what kind of life she has, she is mine and I’m not going to let her go,” and be totally selfish, but my birth mom chose the most selfless option. And probably the hardest; to carry me for nine months, give birth to me through all that pain and suffering and then look me in the eyes” and say “I love you so much I can’t keep you.”

Some version of the above, maybe not so direct but with similar implications, is often seen as the ideal attitude for an adoptee to have in order to “come to terms” with their adoptions.

I have reversed my own thinking about adoption (both of my parents were adoptees and both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption). I’ve done my best to understand the history of adoption and my grandmothers who surrendered their babies in the 1930s as well as how the thinking about adoption has changed over time, fewer births due to Roe v Wade, more open instead of closed adoptions, the advent of inexpensive DNA testing and matching sites opening up a whole new wave of reunions between adoptees and their birth parents. It appears to me no matter how good of a job adoptive parents did in raising a child, no matter what kind of wealth supported amenities they were able to offer (private school, horseback riding or ballet lessons, etc) adoptees and their birth parents seem to yearn for one thing throughout their lifetimes – to be reunited. This says something powerful to me about the whole push to separate women from their babies. When those adopting are evangelical Christians (whether the good people adopting believing they are doing some kind of saving grace for any unwanted child are motivated by that or not) the leadership of that religious persuasion is seeing adoption as taking the children of heathens and converting them to the faith.

I never did think that the choice a woman makes – to surrender her child or not – was selfish or selfless. All birth mothers are simply human beings who were doing the best they could under whatever circumstances they were dealing with. Each one has my own sympathetic compassion for the effects of that decision on the remainder of their lifetimes.

Unreasonable Fears

I remember worrying the first time we visited our egg donor after our oldest son was born. We were there to try a second time with her to conceive a sibling for our son (spoiler alert – we succeeded). As his gestational, biological but not genetic mom, I was worried about how I was going to feel when she interacted with him. That turned out to be an unreasonable fear on my part because it was clear that she had ZERO confusion about what her role in our family was. She had 3 genetically related biological children already. She has always been interested in the boys but from a distance, never initiating contact with them. They are linked to her as their genetic mother at 23 and Me and so they have an avenue of contact without concerns about my monitoring any such interaction.

The truth is, no matter the reassurances prospective adoptive parents were once given and regardless of the continued practice in half these United States of maintaining sealed records and denying adult adoptees the right to their own origin information, it is a whole new ballgame now. Inexpensive DNA and social networking platforms now make it possible for adoptees to discover and reach out to their original, natural families. Adoptive parents best get over it. Therefore, today I share a piece from Slate because the advice this nervous adoptive parent receives is spot on. I will excerpt the original question (my asides in parentheses) but share the response in full. If you want to read the entire piece – you can go to this link – I’m Devastated My Daughter Secretly Contacted Her Birth Mother.

Dear Care and Feeding, Apparently, when our adopted daughter went through our files a few months ago looking for her Social Security number, she found some adoption records with her biological mom’s name and a little bit of info, and she used it to find her on Facebook. We did a closed adoption and have never had contact with the woman.

I didn’t think she cared who her bio parents were, or about being adopted. (Truth – adoptees always care, even if it isn’t apparent.) She and her biological mother have been talking for about three months, but she hadn’t told me because she was afraid we wouldn’t approve or we would think it was a rejection of us. (And her instincts appear to have been correct.)

They’re planning to meet at a coffee shop, and from the messages, bio mom sounds very eager to meet my daughter. I know I should be happy that they’ve been reunited, but I can’t help feeling hurt and rejected, like I’m not enough for her. I am terrified that this woman might try to take over my role in her life and become her mother figure in adulthood. I’m also apprehensive because my daughter has kept their relationship a secret. It worries me that they have been talking behind my back.

The main reason I’m writing is because my daughter is now wanting to involve me in the in-person reunion, and her bio mom wants to meet me too (we never met when I picked my daughter up from the hospital). I don’t want to go. I chose a closed adoption for a reason. 

The response –

Dear Tale of Two Moms, I understand how hard this is for you. If you chose a closed adoption because you didn’t want the bio mom involved in your life in any way, and you’ve spent 17 years certain that your daughter “didn’t care” that she was adopted or have any curiosity about her biological parents, this development must make you feel that your world is tilting on its axis. I’m hoping you can take a breath and think this through clearly, setting all of your own feelings aside for a moment.

Your daughter is offering you the chance to participate in something that’s important to her. Is she making that offer because she truly wants you and her bio mom to get to know each other? Maybe—maybe simply sitting with the two of you will be helpful to her and bring her a sense of wholeness or resolution that she is seeking as she enters adulthood. Or maybe she is asking you to join her simply because she wants you to feel included, to make it clear to you that her desire to meet her bio mom is not a rejection of you. Or how about this? Maybe she’s nervous about this meeting and wants to be able to lean on her mom. Or—for all you know—maybe she’s acceding to the bio mom’s wishes: The woman who gave her up for adoption would like to know who has been the mother to this child. To reassure herself that she did the right thing all those years ago—and/or to have the chance to thank you. And the daughter you raised is kind and generous enough to want to help her do that.

No matter which one of these possibilities is true—and all of them may be true—you should brave this meeting. It’s the right thing to do. Will there be tension? I suspect this is up to you.

And please try to let go of your distress about your daughter keeping her correspondence with her bio mom a secret from you, and talking to her “behind your back.” She did so because she feared you wouldn’t approve or would feel rejected—and she was right, wasn’t she? You don’t approve; you do feel rejected. Your terror, as you describe it, that the woman will take over your role in your daughter’s life is something for you to work out (I hope with the help of a therapist, because it sounds like you are having a very rough time with this). You can’t pretend any longer that your daughter’s adoption at birth isn’t a part of her life story.

And I will remind you, too, that the amount of love we all have available to give is not finite. If it turns out that your daughter and her bio mom do develop a real, ongoing relationship at this point, it does not take anything away from you; it gives your child one more person to love and to be loved by. I’m not suggesting that jealousy and envy—and insecurity—are easy to rise above. What I’m suggesting is that for your daughter’s sake, you make every effort. And if, in the end, nothing comes of this reunion except that your daughter is able to satisfy her curiosity about where she comes from, I hope you’ll make an effort to understand and support her in that too. For that matter, if things “get complicated” and go awry, as you also fear, and your daughter ends up heartbroken, your job will be to support her through that too. Because you are her mom, and that’s what moms do.

Against The Odds

A little over 20 years ago, after 10 years of marriage, my husband decided he wanted to become a father after all. True, he had been glad I had already given birth to a daughter, so there was no pressure on him because I had already been there, done that. Imagine my surprise when over a couple of Margaritas at a Mexican restaurant, he told me “I’ve been thinking” and my mouth actually dropped open in utter amazement. When I recovered from my own shock, I said OK.

We had seen a news clip that women who conceive at an older age live longer. I was 44 years old at the time. My GPs nurse practitioner during a counseling session over my cholesterol levels learned I was trying to conceive (we’d been doing all the usual things – timing intercourse, ovulation predictors and pregnancy tests – to no avail). She said to me, “I’m not saying you are infertile but at your age, you have no time to waste” and referred me to her own fertility specialist who was also an OB.

The night before our appointment, we saw another news clip that indicated my chances of conceiving were technically zero due to my age. I remember going to the place alongside the perennial stream that flows past our house to the gravel bar where I married my husband. Hugging our witness tree, I cried because my husband married a woman too old to give him what he was now wanting.

At the doctor’s office, we saw the very last egg in my ovary on ultrasound. The doctor gave us some kind of shot to give it a boost but it failed to produce a pregnancy. While we were there, he said to us – there is another way – and described donor egg technology to us. We utilized a website for matching couples with women volunteering to donate their fertile eggs. We selected one that my husband noted, one of her answers matched my own philosophies in life. She turned out to be a good choice. A mother with 3 children already of her own. She has donated to at least one other couple we know of but we do not know the outcome of that effort for not all assisted reproductive technology efforts succeed. In my online cycle group, only about 50% did.

The doctor in the town our donor was living in at that time did 4 procedures that year with only one success – ours.

Having now learned about the way an infant bonds with its mother in the womb, I’m grateful we rejected adoption as our means to becoming parents. Our donor subsequently donated a second time to help us conceive our second son. Therefore, our two sons are fully genetically and biologically the same – and yet very different people. They have their natural father as a mirror as well. Each of them is some part but not wholly the same as their dad. I marvel that I must love my husband a lot to want 3 of him – though of course, as I just acknowledged that is not 100% the truth.

At some point I became aware of a woman in my Mothers Via Egg Donation online support community who was researching a book. It is titled Creating Life Against The Odds – The Journey From Infertility To Parenthood. The author is Ilona Laszlo Higgins MD FACOG. For contributing our experience to her research, I was given a signed copy of her book. She wrote in the title page – “To Deborah and Stephen who undertook this special journey to bring Simeon and Treston into their lives! With love, Lonny”

Today, my oldest son celebrates his 20th birthday. I have referred to him as my savior because it was in trying to conceive him that I discovered I was positive for hepatitis C. Otherwise, I may have destroyed my liver without ever knowing this virus was there by drinking too many alcoholic based drinks. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since learning about it.

I had to fight with the doctors at the hospital where my c-section took place 20 years ago today to be allowed to breastfeed my son. The lactation consultants there came to my defense. I nursed him for over a year (and at 18 months, each boy tested negative for the hepC virus). When he was about 3 months old, we embarked on a long journey that eventually caused us to traverse through about half of these United States in the Eastern part of the continent. I nursed him in public everywhere we went and to be honest, I had the right kind of clothes to do so with subtlety.

I share all of this to encourage women struggling with any kind of infertility to consider this method. Your baby will be born to the woman in who’s womb the baby grew, who’s heartbeat and internal processes has been the background noise of its development, who’s voice the baby has always known. This is all every baby that is born desires in life – to be with its natural mother. My sons do not have my genes but in every other way, no other person is more their mother than I am.

Not long ago, I read an essay by a woman with a great attitude. She was donor conceived. She accepts that she would simply not be who and how she is any other way. It is my hope that my sons will also understand their origins with that clarity of acceptance. It isn’t all that different than my own self understanding that if both of my parents had not been given up for adoption, I would not exist.

Sometimes the honest truth is the best. We have always been truthful with our sons without making a big issue about their conception. With the advent of inexpensive DNA testing, I’m glad we chose the path often referred to in donor conception support groups as “tell”. Their donor did 23 and Me. Then, I gifted my husband with a kit, then my oldest son with a kit and finally my youngest son with a kit. The youngest one was only slightly disappointed that he didn’t have any of my genes. But I am still “Mom” to him and we remain very close at heart – where it truly does matter.

Cultural Displacement

I was over the age of 60 when I began to learn about my own genetic/cultural heritage. I have a lot of Danish, some Scottish, a lot of English and some Irish. I got excited when my husband showed a piece of woven textile to me that was odd in shape. He had picked it up long before he met me at a second hand shop when he was living briefly in Denmark at a Peace College. Of course, I fell in love with it and claimed it as my own and guessed and then with google images proved it is a shawl. Probably homemade but someone who wasn’t wealthy. As I draped it over my shoulders, I did feel warmer.

I learned about my Scottish heritage all the way back to an incident with the King of England who was saved from an aggressive animal attack and so named the family Stark. Christmas two years ago, my husband gave me a Pendleton Black Watch plaid wood shirt. I love that it connects me to my roots. My dad’s maternal great-grandmother was full blooded Irish. He was born one day off St Patrick’s Day. His natural mother didn’t name him Patrick but his adoptive mother did and he really did love beer.

When someone has NOT been robbed of their genetic/cultural heritage by adoption, they struggle to understand why it matters so much to one who has. I used to tell people I was an albino African because who could prove differently ? including my own self. I once did the National Genographic DNA test for my maternal line and sure enough we originated in African – actually because ALL human beings did. Our appearance and various genetic characteristics developed over time due to environmental factors.

Today, in my all things adoption group, I read this –

I’m part of a couple DNA test related groups, and there is a pretty outspoken group of people who think that if you’re only learning about your genetic heritage as an adult, and weren’t raised in it, you don’t get to claim it. Basically, the thought process is that if you weren’t raised in a culture, then trying to join it later in life is similar to appropriation.

I’m usually the only displaced adoptee/former foster care youth in these conversations and generally get ignored. I don’t consider myself a person of color on account of being very white, but I’m half Iranian, and was hidden from my birth father because my birth mother was convinced he would steal me and “go back to his country”, so a lot of my experiences are very much based in racism.

So, in my case I get “well you weren’t raised Iranian so what makes you think that you can claim it as your culture”. And on one hand I get it, because it’s not like I grew up with immigrant parents like I would have had I been raised by my birth father. I didn’t grow up speaking Farsi or experiencing any of it. So my ‘claim’ to any of it will always be bastardized because I’m only able to absorb what I can and integrate it into my life. But it feeds into an imposter syndrome that adoptees already deal with.

An adoptive father who is white replied – in general culture is more complicated than this. Heritage still makes up part of who you are, whether you know about it or not. As does DNA.

Someone else wrote – I have found similar issues in some (not all) groups on anti-racism and cultural appropriation. Some people have a huge lack of knowledge about the experience of transracial or transethnic adoptees or others with unknown or misattributed parentage (I am donor conceived and am half of a completely different ethnicity than I thought).

Then there is this heart-felt account –  I still struggle with this. I’m half black and I have the worst imposter syndrome because I was raised by white people and I pass relatively well (I’ll get clocked as mixed or not quite white often, but I would never be seen as straight up black). I think how you claim culture depends on if it’s… ok? For lack of a better word? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to claim your culture that was taken from you, and it’s not fair to claim otherwise. But on the other hand if you’re not going to respect the culture and engage in it in a meaningful respectful way, I could see why people would be upset about that. But in reality I think they’re talking more about people who found out they’re 5% Native American, who have white biological parents and who want to start claiming Native status, than they are about people like us. I still call myself mixed instead of black because I don’t present as black (even though all of my black friends and family say it’s fine and that I AM black and I SHOULD claim it since it’s a part of me). It’s a really difficult conversation though, with a lot of nuance and in this case, I feel like adoptees should be able to claim whatever heritage feels like the best fit and this applies especially to trans-racial adoptees.

I 100% agree with this perspective based on my own experiences shared above – There’s a difference between stealing something and taking back something that was stolen from you.

And yet another perspective – I’m not adopted, but I found out as an adult I’m a lot more Jewish than I was told, and much to the identity crisis of my brothers, we aren’t as Italian as we thought. For me, I use it as a bonding thing with my stepfather and a few Jewish friends that I participate with in some cultural activities, but I don’t feel I can claim ownership of it because I’m so far removed from the family that was Jewish (they are all long passed away). Everyone I’ve opened up to about my DNA test has been welcoming, and I want to learn and respect the culture, but I doubt I’ll ever confidently claim it as my own.

To which this response was received – Someone with a maternal Jewish line is as much Jewish as any other, whether he was raised Jewish or found out after retirement (it happens!).

Another sad experience was this one – I struggle with my identity a lot, both race & ethnicity. But, fuck them! I was raised in a white family. My adoptive parents did their best to raise me around my culture (I’m Paraguayan). But racist fucks (my adoptive brothers included) helped to push me away from my culture and make me feel very unwelcome in this country. It’s definitely not appropriation to reconnect with a culture you were TAKEN from without your consent.

Though my own experiences are far different, I can seriously relate to this one !! I grew up White on the Mexican border. A true minority there.

I’m a half-adoptee, daughter of a fatherless woman, granddaughter of a fatherless woman, great granddaughter of an adoptee. My whole maternal line is very fractured and we have no idea who or what we are. Until recently, when my mom DNA tested and came back with significant percentages (like, 20ish) of Black and “Eastern European”. My grandmother responded to this news with “oh, he told me he was Black and Gypsy but I thought he was kidding, he just looked Indian.” My mother has an unusual hair texture and features for a White woman, as well as the pigment condition vitiligo. Being part Black and Romani answered so much for us. As to me: I reconnected with my genetic father at 23. Apparently his mother was an enrolled Choctaw woman! So now, I’m a few shades of White, Black, Romani and American Indigenous. Nearly 50% of me is nonwhite. I have never in my life felt a part of Whiteness, nor have I felt like Whiteness wanted me. The culture, the appearances, never. I got bullied for being “ugly” most of my life, I’m pale as snow but I don’t look like other White people. I can see now that the reason I was bullied by White, Black, and Brown folks all the same pretty much came down to “Well you don’t look like us, but you don’t look like them either”. So now I’m adrift, a mixed breed without enough claim to anything to belong anywhere. My only mirror is my mother and grandmothers.

This is also how it feels to be an adoptee with DNA testing now so inexpensive and accessible – I have found out recently (I’m 67) that I’m 52% Italian. Funny thing is I’ve always been enamored with the Italian ethnicity. If someone said to me that I have appropriated any culture, I would tell them to fuck off. All my life I had to pretend I was someone, something else. I’ll be damned but I’m not taking any shit from anyone about cultural appropriation. I had to live in a culture that was not mine from the beginning.

Another one – It isn’t cultural appropriation to connect back with what you were taken from. Slaves were taken from their country to this one. Then they had kids here and sold off and forced into American/Western customs. Them wanting to explore their ancestry and know where they came from and reverse the damage of colonizers isn’t appropriation. It’s normal to want to undo the brainwashing.

I have a good friend who recently discovered her father wasn’t who she had been told all of her life he was and that she is half-Puerto Rican. As I read this next one, I thought of my friend –

There’s a difference between race and ethnicity. Race has more to do with if you’re white passing or not. You can’t claim to be a race you aren’t. Your ethnicity is something that can’t be seen unless you get a test done. For example, also displaced and white. My biological father is Puerto Rican and Spanish but I’m white, just with a Latino background. I absolutely think being connected to your roots will bring you healing. I was disconnected from them and am currently trying to get in touch. It’s very hard and I know for me, I always felt like there were missing pieces. I’m in the same boat as you. I don’t think it’s appropriation.

A Reunion That Came Almost Too Late

David Rosenberg and Margaret Katz

50 years after the unwed teenage mother gave birth in a maternity home and lost her son to adoption through the Louise Wise agency, mother and son finally were reunited not long before David died of thyroid cancer. She was a victim of the baby scoop era. Their story really isn’t all that remarkable to anyone who has been deeply researching all things adoption for any length of time.

However, thanks to a new book – American Baby: A Mother, A Child, And The Shadow History Of Adoption by journalist Gabrielle Glaser recently published, their story joins legions of others who have endured similar trajectories. And like many others, the revelations they were hoping for came by way of inexpensive, publicly available DNA testing. In this case, 23 and Me.

The journalist was working on an article about kidney transplants in 2007 when she met David Rosenberg. He admitted to her that that one reason he’d agreed to media coverage was his dream that “somewhere on the vast internet,” a young Jewish woman who’d given up a baby for adoption in 1961 would see his picture, “his black eyes, his thick, strong hands, cleft chin, and broad smile” — and recognize her son. Even so, it would be another 7 years before his dream came true.

There was a woman, Margaret Katz, who had a matching dream of finding the son she lost in 1961, when she was a 16 year old and rather than let her marry her high school sweetheart, her parents sent her away to a maternity home on Staten Island. These stories hit “close” to home for me personally. My mom was that 16 year old unwed mother. Her high school sweetheart was my dad. They have both passed away. I sincerely believe that if my dad’s humble adoptive parents had not intervened to encourage him to forgo his dreams of a college diploma (which he had only just embarked upon) and marry her, I would have been adopted similarly. In learning about the stories of both of my parents, both of whom were adopted, the surprising realization for me has been the miracle I was not given up, that my mom wasn’t sent away by her banker dad and socialite mother to have and give me up.

Many people have heard about the Georgia Tann scandal involving the Tennessee Children’s Home in Memphis Tennessee. She was involved in my mom’s adoption. Some people may have been aware that The Salvation Army was known for its own homes for unwed mothers. My dad was born at their Door of Hope in Ocean Beach, a suburb of San Diego, California. Some people are aware of the role that Catholic Charities has played in the adoption – for profit – industry. Some may have watched the old movie, Blossoms in the Dust, about Edna Gladney who also became renown for facilitating adoptions.

In the case of David and Margaret and the new book, it is the Louise Wise agency – which I have had less awareness of except – oh yes, there were the relatively recent revelations known as “Three Identical Strangers,” about triplets separated at birth as part of a nature vs nurture study. Louise Wise is notorious for the medical and psychological analyses, hare-brained experiments on newborns, that she is pilloried for today. In the meantime, having separated the baby from the mother (who wasn’t even allowed to hold him after his birth), these infants were kept in foster care for months, while the agency extracted money from hopeful adoptive parents, who had to pay to remain on waiting lists. 

Many adoption agencies lied, as I now know Georgia Tann did in the case of my mother. They would often obscure the race of a baby. (Since most white couples wanted white babies, biracial children often languished in foster care till adulthood.) They lied about how they came by a baby (if they had snatched the baby from a Native American reservation, for instance). They also embellished the biographies of the baby’s birth parents. And this is what happened in my own mother’s case – where her poverty stricken parents were presented as unfortunate college students who got caught by pregnancy for having sex before marriage (all of that untrue and they were married but separated).

In the case of this new book’s story, Louise Wise wrote that Margaret was a gifted scholar who wanted to continue her studies at a prestigious science school (untrue), and that George was a fair-skinned, freckled college student (he was swarthy and still in high school). Couples who couldn’t conceive were so desperate for a child that they didn’t ask questions.  Also true of my own mother’s financially comfortable parents when they adopted her, only to later discover what they were told and some of the information in the surrender papers was contradictory. By then she had been in their home for a couple of years and they were not going to give her up, though they lacked complete peace of mind about her pre-adoption circumstances.

I don’t know if I will actually read this new book. I’m certain it is a good one and it is easy to find rather detailed reviews simply by doing a Google search. I’ve just read so many and I have more or less moved on from that intensive research period I went through myself, as I learned my own parents pre-adoption stories.

23 & Me Does It Again

Today’s story from an adoptee (not me) –

Just found some family members through 23 and me, and posted about it to a moms group that I’m in. One of these moms is cautioning me that it might be too upsetting for them to find out about me. I thought that group was supposed to be there for support for me? I guess that can’t really happen anywhere except among fellow adoptees have been told their whole life that their very existence might bother someone. I’m so done with that. My existence is amazing and wonderful and if it bothers anyone else that’s not my fault. I am treading lightly and my note to them was very sweet and sensitive I think. If they have signed up for 23 and me that, they know what might come. They don’t have to have their family tree public.

I am shaking and feel like crying now honestly. I’m so done with people lecturing me about how important everyone else’s feelings are. Wasn’t that what my whole life was about? Shame and secrets? Wasn’t that what caused the 20 years of connecting with my birth mom to be partly wonderful and partly stressful? I wasn’t even invited to her own memorial service. My own birth mom that I was close to, I thought, for 20 years. Connection and truth should not be traumatizing. If it is, the trauma was caused by other people and there is healing that is possible. That’s the energy and vibe I feel and I’m not going to march into somebody’s house screaming who I am, either literally or energetically.

I do have concern about how they will emotionally feel and let them decide how and when to talk to other family members if they ever do. Or not. That’s their choice as well. But I do think I have a right to know who I am and I’m very excited to at least know the names of some of my relatives in my ancestry a lot more.

Thank you for having this group (an all things adoption and foster care and not of the rainbows and unicorns sunshine always variety on Facebook) because I know that the adoptees feelings and experience is centered and of primary importance. They always talk about adoption helping the baby so much and how grateful we are supposed to be. We’re supposed to be grateful for being told our whole lives that we should be careful how everyone feels? And worship only the adoptive parents in this triad? Nope. Everyone in this experience deserves their feelings and thoughts to be fully 100% honored. There is no competition. I’m just sick of people making this like a competition for feelings.

Trying to focus to get ready to go to a job interview now and it’s pretty challenging with all of this on my mind but mostly I am very excited. (Oh, and I might’ve actually gone to school with one of my 2nd cousins….!)