DNA Matters

My apologies for not writing blogs recently. I’ve been out of it with an illness for 5 days (that’s how long since I last shared a blog).

Over the course of my becoming informed, one aspect I had not considered the importance of is genetic mirroring. Really, I should have known sooner. When my niece found us (she was given up for adoption by my sister shortly after birth), she was troubled the most by body image issues. In that situation, she and my mom discovered they had something in common. Our family’s natural genetic inheritance came from stocky, big boned women. Both my mom and my niece were adopted by thin, stylish women. It is only natural, they were never going to look like their adoptive mothers.

Today, I read this –

Something that makes me so mad as an adoptee is when people say “biology doesn’t matter” or “DNA doesn’t make a family” or any other version of that statement. Yes, to an extent we create our own family, and we can choose who to have in our life. But do you know how f***ing PRIVILEGED you (general you) sound when you say “DNA doesn’t matter?” It doesn’t matter to you because you have the choice whether or not to have your biological family in your life. But for adoptees, former foster youth, and donor conceived persons, we don’t have a choice. DNA and biology mean so much more to us BECAUSE we were robbed of it as children, when we had no say in the matter.

It’s also really easy for you to say “biology/DNA doesn’t matter” when you have never had to worry that the pain in your breast could be breast cancer in your early 30s, because you know nothing about your family medical history; or when you have never had to worry about what hereditary diseases you may be passing on to your own children; or when you’ve never had to put “adopted, history unknown” on an intake form for a doctor’s appointment. It’s easy to say “it doesn’t matter” when you’ve never had your children ask why none of their cousins look anything like them. It’s easy to say “it doesn’t matter” when you aren’t having to explain for the thousandth time how your siblings could be so much older than you. It’s easy to say “it doesn’t matter” when you don’t have people asking if you’re actually your mother’s grandchild when you’re standing up at her funeral, because you’re so much younger than all her other children. It’s easy to say “it doesn’t matter” when you’ve never felt like a stranger in your own family.

So please, next time you find yourself about to say “DNA doesn’t matter,” think about how that sounds to people like us, who didn’t get to choose whether we grew up with biological connections. It f***ing hurts when people are telling us that the one thing we can’t have, and the one thing we want more than anything else, “doesn’t matter.” Trust me: DNA MATTERS. And if you didn’t have access to your own genetic mirrors, you would realize that.

It helped my niece when she understood that her body was exactly as her genes intended it to be. Among the many ways adoptees are expected to be something they are not, it is to fulfill some idea the adoptive mother has that she can remake the child’s physical presentation into what she wants it to be. Clearly not a realistic expectation but you would be surprised at how common it is.

When I saw the photo of my maternal grandmother holding my mom for the last time at surrender, I understood that her Scottish farm girl body was the whole reason we were built like we were. Learning who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted) has brought me so much peace with my appearance. Too bad my parents never had that opportunity. Seeing people who look like you, because they share many of the same genes makes such a difference in a person’s life. Seeing how much my paternal aunt looks like my dad or how much my dad not only looks remarkably like his father but they even shared the same interests in life, somehow – these all make everything make so much natural sense.

My sons are donor conceived. At the time we chose that path to parenthood, inexpensive DNA testing was not a reality. Fortunately, being as ignorant as we were about issues I’m so much more informed about now, somehow we still made all the best choices given our circumstances. Our egg donor is known to us – not intimately but well enough. Of course, the boys have had their father as an important male genetic mirror. However, from the beginning, I could see the donor in my sons faces and especially similarities with her biological children. It always made me smile as a reminder of the gift she gave us. Fortunately for the boys, they are 100% genetically related.

Recently, the oldest half-sibling got married and the youngest was the best man. Though my sons are fully informed about their origins and the reason they were conceived in the manner they were, I literally forced them to look at photos of these half-brothers and current photos of the egg donor. One seems more interested than the other but I made them look anyway. True we have been in the donor’s presence more than once but not of her children. But time passes. I want them to know what these people look like – at least. They have direct access to her and the one that recently married through 23 and Me without my involvement – if they want to communicate privately. So far, they don’t seem to need or want that but its there if they did.

I know families in my personal donor conceived circle (we’ve been collected together as a mutual support group of 20 families for 18 years now) who made other choices not to be honest with their conceived children. I won’t judge their own choices but I have been forever grateful we have handled our own choices the way that we have – with total transparency and honesty. It was so much more important than we ever imagined at the time we were doing what felt ethical and correct to us at the time.

Argentina’s Courageous Abuelas

Abuelas (Grandmothers) de Plaza de Mayo is a non-governmental organization formed in 1977. Their grandchildren disappeared. Many babies were kidnapped with their parents, some after their parents were killed, and others were born in clandestine detention centers where their mothers were taken after having been sequestered at different states of their pregnancies.

The grandmothers note that from the moment that their children (often with their grandchild still in the womb) disappeared, they have visited every court, office, orphanage, day care center, and so on, trying to locate them. They have appeared before the courts, the successive military governments, the Supreme Court, and the ecclesiastical hierarchies, never obtaining a positive result. They eventually directed their claims to international organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States. All to no avail.

These disappeared children were deprived of their identity, their religion, and their right to live with their family, in other words, all of the rights that are nationally and internationally recognized as their universal human rights. Beginning in 1997, the grandmothers began an informational campaign seeking to draw the attention of young people (of an approximate age range of what their grandchildren would be at that time) who may have had doubts regarding their true identity to the Abuelas organization. Happily, they have had some positive results.

The grandmothers wish to make it clear that their grandchildren have not been abandoned and inform them that they have the right to recover their roots and their history. They wish for these victims to know that they have relatives who are constantly engaged in searching for them.

Over 3 decades, the grandmothers located 120 of the disappeared children, including 4 found by governmental commissions and 2 located by CLAMOR, the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the Southern Cone. The estimated number of children kidnapped is approximately 500. Widespread DNA testing is now making it possible to locate more of these children who could have been sent out for adoption to any country anywhere in the world.

Some of the recovered children are already living with their legitimate families and have become perfectly integrated. Others are still living with the families that have raised them, but are in close contact with their true grandmothers and relatives. By being a part of two families, the children have recovered their identity. Sadly, there are a large number of disappeared children whose identities were completely annulled. In those cases, the grandmothers are using modern science to prove that they are members of a particular family. They continue to rely on support from the scientific community in the field of genetics, hematology, morphology, and others to accomplish their goal.

Thwarted Father

I had never heard this legal term – Thwarted Father. However, there has been the occurrence of one in my own family. I thought I was “close” to my youngest sister when she became pregnant out of wedlock. It was always her intention to give her baby up for adoption and she sent me packages from prospective adoptive parents for my opinion about each. She also lied to me about who the father was. She lied about who the father was on her baby’s birth certificate.

Fast forward many years. Just before our dad died, my nephew’s adoptive mother contacted me. I had to share with her that my nephew’s mother actually is severely mentally ill (most likely paranoid schizophrenia but medical privacy laws have prevented our family from actually knowing her diagnosis – so this is experientially on my part but it is clear her mind operates in an entirely different way – which surprisingly I sort of understand as a kind of limbo – in this world we collectively share in common but not in exactly the same world that most people agree is a reality, using that last term rather loosely).

The DNA was just not adding up. I will always feel deeply grateful to my nephew’s adoptive mother for her willingness to go the extra mile for him to have accurate identity information. She hired a private investigator and eventually the DNA was narrowed down to two men who were brothers and who as it turns out my sister had had sexual relations with. Paternity tests of an advanced nature then determined which man was the father. Interestingly, he had only been with my sister sexually once. And she seduced him – according to the story – when she opened the door to him (he was there to drop papers off for our dad who was his friend), she dropped the towel covering her naked body. From a cousin there is an indication that my sister was sexually assaulted by her riding coach when she was only middle school age. While their interactions may have been consensual, at that age, I would not term it informed consent.

My nephew was a mature young adult by then. Certainly, it was awkward for my sister because she was very close with our dad. However, there is a dark side to this story. She knew. About 6 months after her baby was born and already adopted, she sent a newborn photo of her son to the father and told him. He threatened to sue for custody. On Father’s Day, she called his house very early in the morning to inform him the adoptive parents and the baby had been killed in a car accident. Imagine his surprise and his anger at having been thwarted from having a relationship with his son. They do try to build a relationship now. It is always hard to make up for all that was lost – in fact – it is never possible.

What exactly do ‘thwarted fathers’ get? Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch.  Well unless you consider the scripted ridicule.  And then they get ‘deadbeat’, ‘loser’, ‘serial impregnator’, ‘sperm donor’, etc…

According to the Meriam Webster dictionary, to thwart is to:

  1.  run counter to so as to effectively oppose or baffle : contravene
  2.  oppose successfully :  defeat the hopes or aspirations of
  3.  pass through or across

In the case of adopted individuals – a “Thwarted Father” means he was effectively opposed, that the adoptive couple effectively violated his rights, even if unknowingly.  It means his hopes and aspirations of being a father were defeated. He was passed. His child stolen from him with a trickery of the law. And I would add, a deliberate falsehood.

At this time, my nephew and myself as well (and his natural, biological/genetic father) all keep ourselves out of the awareness of my sister. It pains my own heart that it must be so but she refuses to accept treatment, as is her right. However, it is upsetting to be in direct contact with her. So we each, for our own well-being, chose not to have contact with her.

Welcome to June when we turn some of our attention to fathers. They deserve a bit, don’t you think ? With my two sons, I would be totally lost in trying to raise them without their dad in their lives. I know single moms who do a good job of it and maybe I would too – if I had to. Let’s just say, I’m grateful that I do not have to test that possibility in reality.

Judging The Past By Present Values

Lily MacLeod and Gillian Shaw
~ photo by Carlos Osorio for the Toronto Star, 2012

As a Gemini, twins have always fascinated me. I have wondered if I once had a twin in utero who vanished. Having gone through assisted reproductive medical interventions, I know this happens. It happened with my older son when my pregnancy originally appeared to be twins. I really didn’t want the challenge but in my mom’s group we have several pairs of twins and one set of triplets. The father of the man I am married to was a twin. Both my father in law and his twin brother are now deceased.

The less than common occurrence of multiple births has my attention this morning after watching the documentary – Three Identical Strangers. The story tells how these men were separated at 6 mos and adopted out with strategic intent by the clinical psychiatrist, Peter Neubauer, through the cooperation of the Louise Wise adoption agency. Psychology Today did an article entitled The Truth About “Three Identical Strangers.” The article explains – Dr Viola Bernard was the chief psychiatric consultant to the Wise agency. In the late 1950s (before Dr Peter Neubauer was involved), Dr Bernard created a policy of separating identical twins when they were adopted. Dr Bernard’s intentions are described as benign. In a memo subsequently recovered, she expresses her hope that “early mothering would be less burdened and divided and the child’s developing individuality would be facilitated” by this separation. It wasn’t only the Wise agency but many other agencies that also practiced the separation of twins at the time of adoption.

The conclusion by Dr Lois Oppenheim in the Psychology Today article is – The basic premise of the film, that the triplets’ separation was a heartless scheme undertaken at the expense of the children’s well-being to enable a scientific study, is fiction. The filmmakers could have created a documentary about the complexities of the twin study, its origins and context, and the changing standards of ethical norms and lessons learned. This might have been less dramatic, but it would have made an important contribution to our understanding of gene research and parenting.

Yet, the practice of separating identical or even non-identical siblings in the adoption industry continues and the study and research of such persons continues to this day. Regarding my photo above of Lily MacLeod and Gillian Shaw, the story in The Toronto Star by Amy Dempsey tells us that the 12-year-olds were separated as babies in China but reunited after the two separate Ontario couples adopted them. When their separate/different adoptive parents made the startling discovery that their two daughters were identical twins, they vowed to raise the girls as sisters. Their situation is highly unusual: Lily and Gillian are two of only a handful of twin pairs – mostly Chinese children adopted by North American parents – who are being raised, knowing they are siblings but separately apart. For scientific researchers, the girls are yet another opportunity to study the effects of nature vs nurture in real-time. As for their families – strangers thrown together by the most unusual of circumstances – their situation explores a new kind of blended family, with unique and fascinating joys and challenges.

The Toronto Star goes beyond the story of the twin Chinese girls to note that in the late 1970s, scientists at the Minnesota Center for Twin and Adoption Research began studying what was then a new category of multiples — adopted twins who were separated at birth and reunited as adults. Dr Thomas Bouchard’s landmark paper was titled “Minnesota Study of Identical Twins Reared Apart.” The study shook the scientific community by demonstrating, across a number of traits, that twins raised apart are as similar as twins raised together. The study’s evidence of genetic influence in traits such as personality (50 per cent heritable) and intelligence (70 per cent heritable) overturned conventional ideas about parenting and teaching. And findings of genetic influence on physiological characteristics have led to new ways of fighting and preventing disease.

While I was yet pregnant with my oldest son, I chose to read a book titled Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy which had just come out in the year before. So my interest is long standing and it is little wonder that the issues continue to capture my interest. For centuries, the self-sacrificing mother who places her child’s needs and desires above her own has defined womanhood. Designed by nature for the task of rearing offspring, women are “naturally” tender, selfless and compassionate where their progeny are concerned. Those who reject childbearing or fail to nurture their offspring directly are typed as pathological, “unnatural” women. In traditional Darwinian evolutionary biology, the female of any species has evolved to produce and nurture the species; one could say it is her only role. Feminist treatises have long argued against the necessary conflation of “woman” with “mother,” and classics such as Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born have cogently argued that such altruistic maternity is a cultural construct and not a biological given.

From a review (link above) of Hrdy’s book Mother Nature – US anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy strides into the minefield, examining motherhood across cultures, historical periods, evolutionary tracts and biological species to better understand human maternity. Hrdy’s book resides in that rare space between academic disciplines (she is a professor emerita at the University of California-Davis and she has been schooled in anthropology, primatology, evolutionary theory, history and feminism). Her work can be situated somewhere between specialist treatise and popular biological science. Hrdy’s unique placement enables her to combine the best of Darwinian evolutionary biology with feminist cultural theory, without falling into the political entrapments of either camp.

Heartening for me, as a biological/genetic mother who lost physical (but not legal) custody of her daughter when she was only 3 years old, I am reminded in this review of Hrdy’s book that stay-at-home mothers are rare in the historical and evolutionary archives; community caregiving is an age-old model of childrearing. Throughout history in primate and human communities, mothering techniques involve “allomothers”: the delegation of child caretaking to other members (male and female) of the community. “Mothers have worked for as long as our species has existed, and they have depended on others to help them rear their children,” Hrdy writes. That means I was not the abject failure I believed my self to be for over 60 years but just another kind of mother. Motherhood today often includes women who have jobs and incomes of their own. Hrdy sees this as an evolutionary process to ensure long and safe lives for these mother’s child(ren). A lack of financial resources most certainly drove me to leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother, while I took a risk to see if I could earn some decent money driving an 18-wheel truck. There never was the intention to permanently abandon my child to other people. Thankfully, as adults we are happily close enough at heart and I believe love one another as fully as any mom could hope for. It is actually the lack of financial resources that is at cause for most adoptions.

In “60 Years On, Twin/Triplet Study Still Raises Questions” – an interview of Dr Leon Hoffman by Elizabeth Hlavinka for Medpage Today looks at the ethics of that study, which began in 1960 (the documents from which are sealed in the archives at Yale University until 2065). This tells me that Peter Neubauer, who died in 2008, eventually had his own qualms about the ethics of what he had perpetrated, though he is judged to have mostly been concerned with confidentiality issues that (until open adoptions began) were the rule in commercial closed adoptions (the effects of which continue to obstruct and vex adult adoptees to this day – change comes slowly). My blog today takes it title from an observation by Dr Hoffman – that the problem with a lot of “exposés” is that we judge the past by our present values.  That is an important point. He also notes that at the time of the Neubauer project, there was a prevailing belief that twins would be better off separated, if they were going to be adopted. That twins were more difficult for the mother and that it would be easier for the mother to take care of one child instead of two children. I understand. In our mom’s group, those with twins often hired au pairs to assist them in those early days.

In this interview, Dr Hoffman notes – I always tell parents of kids that I see, “How much is genetic and how much is environment?” and I always say, “It’s 100% of both,” because those two are always interacting with one another. More and more data has shown that genetic variations get very much affected by the environment. I believe this is also evident in the story about the triplets. They even admit that during that time of their own high publicity, they amplified their similarities because that is what people were curious about. It is clear that they each had unique personalities that do seem to have been affected by their adoptive parents and the differing environmental situations they were raised in. As aging adults, the two surviving individuals have very different surface appearances while retaining many similarities.

Since I have looked at mother/child separations now for several years and am against the practice of adoption generally and in favor of family preservation, I was emotionally triggered last night by thinking about the amplifying effect of separation trauma (which IS mentioned by the triplets in their documentary) as yet another separation wound for babies who grew into their humanity in the same womb. Fortunately for the children in my mom’s group, they don’t have either of those added traumas. “The twin relationship, particularly with (identical) twins, is probably the closest of human social ties,” says Nancy Segal, who is herself a twin. This is why it’s so important for multiples to grow up together. Segal, now a psychology professor at California State University, has found about 15 more sets of adopted twin children being raised by different families, most of them Chinese girls. Researchers attribute this phenomenon to China’s one-child policy, which led to the abandonment of thousands of female babies. Though China’s official adoption rules state that twins should be placed together, pairs like Lily and Gillian prove things don’t always happen that way.

I found one other article that I’m not going to say very much about. You can read the story – Stories of Twins Separated at Birth by Pamela Prindle Fierro at the VeryWell Family website. There are the two sisters – Anais Bordier and Samantha Futerman. They found each other through Facebook and YouTube. They had been raised on different continents. The article includes information about the “Jim Twins” – James Arthur Springer and James Edward Lewis who found each other at the age of 39 in 1979. And there are actually MORE stories at this link.

The important thing to learn is that every action taken, that affects another human being, has the possibility of unintended consequences and that there is always the need for a fully informed consent in the interest of human well-being. An issue with adoptees is that due to their young age, they are never able to give informed consent and therefore, their rights are never considered. This is an issue with many adoptees who feel they are treated like second-class citizens with important basic human rights withheld from them – identity and medical issues foremost. An evolving issue with donor conceptions is similar. The human being conceived in that manner had no ability to consent to the method of their conception. Realistically, none of us consents (in a human sense, but I believe we do in non-physical prior to birth as I believe we are eternal souls).

Epigenetics At Work

Adoption does not just negatively affect the adoptee emotionally. Adoption affects their children … for life! You know, the hopeful adoptive parent’s and adoptive parent’s future grandchildren! It has nothing to do with how great an adoptive parent you are to that child. Separation trauma is imprinted in our brains and that experience changes our DNA.

So if that trauma from being separated from your mother, then later in life resulted in you having anxiety, bouts of depression, anger issues or any other mental health challenge, rest assured you likely passed these traits onto your kids.

Adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents: This is NOT ok. It is NOT ok to screw up future generations, just because you want to build your family but can’t you can’t conceive naturally, are infertile. That is some serious selfish crap.

Your choices affect not only your adopted kids, but their children – your grandchildren, even your great grandchildren. These issues are not coming from their biological genetic family – as so many adoptive parents prefer to project the causes onto other people. They are coming directly from the act of adoption. You, the adoptive parents, contributed to this in a very big way. You bear responsibility.

Sit with that.

Rant aside – here’s an example –

My grandfather was “adopted” but I put it in quotation marks because he didn’t know that he was adopted until after his adoptive parents passed and my father was a young adult. Our family does *not* talk about it. But my brother and cousin and I all have a difficult time with believing in relationship permanence. We constantly expect relationships to just pull a 180 on us, despite not being able to point to any particular extreme example of this in our own lives. Alternatively, my grandmother and uncles grew up in a group home. She later went on to teach there. When I think of my “heritage” that’s usually the first place that comes to mind. Those were the people at my family reunions who could tell me what my grandmother and great uncles were like and if I was like them. There’s no one to do that for my grandad because his entire community and a family betrayed him. When people ask me about the origins of my last name, I don’t know what to say because “I don’t know, they were some random awful people that found my grandfather and then lied to him for his whole life” is not the answer people are wanting to hear.

Another person had this comment –

Adoption trauma snakes its way through both the biological families and the adoptive families! ADDRESSING this truth is minimized and rarely talked about – except in adoption loss circles! I’ve been in reunion for 18 years – lived adoption loss for 50 years! I know what I am describing!!!!!The loss of a newborn baby to an agency, which then hands the baby to complete strangers is heinous! Heinous! The families affected by the loss of myself as a newborn babe are broken. Words to process the loss are hard to find. Generational affects are serious – tragic.

A more graphic description – I feel the darkness of adoption loss, coercion and money exchange for a newborn babe creates a ”creepy crawly rash of the mind” inside any person involved in the failure to protect the sanctity of the mother/child primal bond. To deal with that ugly rash – to hide it – to pretend it’s not there – to fully look at and accept what the loss of a child’s mother means to satisfy the need to feel normal (gotta have a babeeeee) would take more courage than most people can muster. Falling on the floor courage – the darkness is heavy. The rash can not be seen. The truth cannot surface. To witness the fall to the floor? Can’t unsee it – ever! Life changing. Instead….pretending adoption is just grand – best – needed – soothes that itchy rash but cannot heal the source of it.

Another story – my parent was adopted in a step-parent adoption (yet raised by biological mom), and their adoptive parent did absolutely everything to keep the other biological parent and half-siblings connected… and before this was a societal discussion. It could certainly be described as the closest to “ideal” an adoption can get. Although, there was literal abandonment on several occasions by my biological grandfather — who was adopted in a closed infant adoption. (My parent was their first child, and first biological connection.) By the time I was born, I grew up with biological and adoptive grandparents in equal measure. I just had two sets of grandparents. But I always felt something was off. I always felt “different” from my cousins (from my parent’s half-siblings), like something was wrong, but everything was fine….? It’s hard to describe even now. Learning about the effects has allowed me to understand my parent’s experience so much better and see parts of them more clearly than I did before. I showed me the ways that adoption trauma had snaked through my family and impacted my life and nervous system even though I had no first hand experience with it. And I can see the impacts even down to my daughter (who is 3 generations removed from the original trauma).The impact of generational trauma should not be underestimated!

Why It Can’t Satisfy

For my family’s movie last night, I chose the only one in our dvd library that has a story centered on the mother. AI and robotics are already a part of our modern time and the the movie – AI Artificial Intelligence released in 2001 – envisions where that world may be headed. The movie credits the short story – Supertoys Last All Summer Long – by author Brian Aldiss. SPOILER ALERT (if there is anyone who would want to see the movie and actually still has not).

When one considers possible alternatives to adoption for couples experiencing the emotional pain of infertility and longing for a child’s love, which is what motivates them to take another woman’s child to raise as their own, a sentient child robot might appear to offer that solace. However, at least in the imaginings of this movie, there is made the point about all of the ways a robotic child, no matter how life like and responsive, will never be the same as a child a woman gives birth to.

A robotic (mecha in the movie) child will never grow old, cannot share in the family meal. The parents will age and eventually die, what becomes of such a frozen in time child ? That is an early question that the sentient robot child asks early on which reveals a fear many children have and not without reason that their parents may die and leave them orphaned.

When the mother’s comatose biological child awakens from a long coma and starts down the long road of recovery, there is a clear sibling jealousy between the two forms of children. Eventually, the issues become so serious, the mother abandons the child in the forest (this blog’s image is from that scene). Like Pinocchio in the story his adoptive mother reads to him, David wants to become “real” so that he can regain his mother’s love. This abandonment, rejection and the desire for reunion is at the heart of many adoptee stories.

The movie does a good job of conveying the complexities of creating such a child substitute. In the movie, climate change has first drown the coastal cities of Earth, wrecking such destruction that after a long period of suffering that ends humanity, the Earth enters another ice age. After 2,000 years, an alien race that is a sophisticated blend of sentient, powerful beings arrives and discovers the frozen robotic child in a thawing world.

For only one day, these powerful beings are able to observe human mother/child interactions drawn from the memory banks of the robotic child and are also able to recreate his long-deceased mother from a lock of hair once taken from her and saved by the supertoy Teddy bear that accompanies the robotic child on his quest to become real so his mother can love him or at the least, so he can feel loved by her again. As his mother falls asleep at the end of the one day granted the android child, she tells David that she has always loved him and this is the moment he had been seeking throughout his quest. David is able to go to sleep next to his recreated mother at the end of the movie, having satisfied his quest, and allow his own robotic self to enter a kind of permanent sleep state lying beside her in her bed, holding her hand.

And this is why this can’t actually be the love that drives couples to adopt someone else’s child . . .

Are Mothers Ever Strangers ?

How is it a woman whom grows HER baby in HER body for 40 weeks, shares DNA, blood supply, HER body nourishes and GROWS HER baby, she then births HER baby, breastfeeds HER baby the first 4 days of life and hands HER baby off to strangers and a year later she is a supposed STRANGER TO HER BABY??? Are mothers ever really strangers?????

There was a story where a woman had a baby. Like 6 months later she passed away. But she was an organ donor. She donated her heart. They put the baby on the recipient’s chest and the baby remembered her heart beat. I think a face may be strange but baby’s do remember their mom’s heart beat

My biological mom is a complete stranger to me – even after meeting her and seeing her a handful of times over the years. It’s also extremely weird and uncomfortable seeing her and her family in public.

I was raised by my biological mother. We have no bond or attachment, I wish her health and happiness but really just like I do for everybody else.

I did not breastfeed (though I wanted to), but my first visit with my son was two weeks after I left the hospital without him. He was always better with me…didn’t cry, or fuss, etc. When he was six months old, the adoptive parent got angry with me (it was actually the adoptive mother) and withheld visits for three months. Birth father got involved and they agreed to stop withholding visits (though they did this repeatedly throughout my child’s life), and I went to see him with the birth father. He didn’t want anything to do with me. I knew in my heart that there was something else going on, so I asked birth father to wait in the living room and I took him to his bedroom, where he came alive and couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. It was the presence of birth father he objected to. Me, he remembered. Still, each time they withheld visits, or moved to a different state, I had to re-establish my relationship with him. He never forgot who I was, though. And I always sent him cards and gifts on our special holidays, no matter where they lived. They did, at least, give those to him, as far as I know. I haven’t seen him since his high school graduation in 2016, but I just finished putting together his Easter box (formerly known as a basket)…later than usual because my mother in law passed away, but full of t-shirts and childhood favorites like action figures. They didn’t have Baby Yoda when he was little.

My biological mom is definitely a stranger, she doesn’t know me, she’s not part of my life or my children’s lives. I don’t have a mom.

My biological mother is and will always be a stranger, she never had any intention of knowing me despite having the chance to rectify that during reunion. Not every “mother” wants to be a mother to all of their children. I really hate the idea that all biological parents are supposedly wonderful caring human beings, some of them are simply trash.

In my experience, no. My mom was never a stranger. I felt recognition to the depth of my being when we met face to face. I am literally made of her.

My biological mother feels like a stranger to me. She does not feel that I am a stranger to her. It’s a very uncomfortable dynamic.

The above received this reply – I expect that is what my son is probably going through now. Does it make you uncomfortable when she sends you cards, gifts or money? I have not stopped this with my son, and maybe he is too kind to tell me to stop.

Which received this clarification – I may not be the best person to ask. Everything my birth mother does makes me uncomfortable but that has more to do with the way she has behaved during my adult life than anything. She sent me 30 roses on my 30th birthday and I literally felt nauseated. It didn’t have to be that way though. I did not feel that way when we first met. I think my advice would be to make sure that you’re dealing with your own trauma and not putting it on your son. My birth mothers emotional needs from our relationship were so great that there was no room for me to have any needs or boundaries. Her need for me to heal her felt smothering. I couldn’t do that for her and it wasn’t my responsibility to try. Otherwise, I think it probably would have been nice to get cards and gifts. My birth father has been respectful of boundaries from the start and genuinely cared about my well-being and I love getting gifts from him. I think the fact that you’re even asking the question is a sign that you’re looking out for his needs and being respectful! I don’t mean to minimize the trauma or suggest that you should just be able to get over it in any way. Just that it’s worth working thru with a therapist on your own so that your relationship with your son isn’t the only place you’re looking for healing.

I think there’s definitely something to the idea that some birth mothers may feel more connected to the adoptee than vice versa. When we met I had spent most of my 22 years not really thinking about her, while she had thought of me every day, carried me for 9 months, gone thru labor, etc. From the start, it felt like there was just so much more emotion on her side than mine. I was mildly curious about my DNA but happy with my life. She felt her life was ruined and needed me to fill this huge hole in her heart. It’s a challenging dynamic.

I just want my surrendered son to be…well. We were very close until he got to be around sixteen. I have been thinking of him every minute of every day for all of his life, and I know it cannot be the same for him, so I have been doing my best with guesswork about boundaries. I suppose it is good for him that he lives so far away from me.

Not a stranger but an associate really. I’m made of her but we don’t have that bond since we were separated a week after I was born. We’ve been in reunion for 10 years but I don’t feel like I know her. Still a mystery.

My husband was abandoned by his mom at a young age and she is definitely a stranger to him. He saw her a few times growing up. He also had a very unsuccessful reunion.

Meeting my biological mom was actually what ripped me out of the adoptee fog. I was expecting to have this “knowing” of her. I wasn’t prepared for how much of a stranger she felt like. I didn’t recognize myself in her at all. It shut me down in our reunion for several years, while I went through deep identity work and trauma healing. The second meeting we had was two years ago when I flew to her and was able to meet my extended family. I started to recognize myself in them. Then we were leaving the family farm, when I noticed our shadows side by side as we walked. We have an identical walk. It finally clicked in and my body and spirit remembered her .I really feel that I had to bury my unconscious memories of her in order to survive as a child. I had to give into the fantasy that is adoption. It was so buried inside of me, but it was there waiting for me to do the healing work needed to remember.

Stranger and “legal stranger” are much different…or should be.

My birth mother is definitely a stranger, and probably will stay that way cause she doesn’t really seem interested in building a relationship. I’m just a dirty little secret from her past that she hoped to leave in the past.

I am no longer a secret! Biological half-siblings and I are connected via Ancestry and my biological mother knows it. And still she refuses a relationship. To which another adoptee noted – Mine doesn’t want my half-sisters to know about me, yet but I’m hoping if I keep in touch, she’ll change her mind. I really want a relationship with them at least.

It is definitely a paradox – Our original mothers will always be our first profound human connection. Very familiar, yet as an adoptee she is a stranger. It’s hard to explain to someone not touched by adoption.

A Life in the Shadow

Actors – Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot and Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks

On Friday night, my husband and I watched The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on dvd. It is one of those occasional unexpected finds that impacts me deeply. Oprah Winfrey plays Deborah Lacks in the movie based upon the book. Since my name is Deborah, I connected with this powerful, at times tragic, portrayal of Henrietta’s daughter. Since the title of my blog is Missing Mom and that is what drove Deborah, who lost her mom at such a young age and who she was always missing, needing the truth about her, felt somewhat like I how felt about my missing grandparents (both of my parents were adopted). So, I am happy to share Deborah’s story here. I highly recommend either the book or the movie.

The only surviving daughter and fourth child of David Day Lacks and Henrietta Lacks, Deborah “Dale” Lacks Pullum spent most of her early life wondering what happened to her beautiful mother and worrying about what it could mean for her own life and identity. Day was Henrietta’s first cousin, neither had living mothers and were being raised by grandparents who had them sleeping in the same bedroom. No wonder by the age of 14, Henrietta was pregnant. Day married her 6 years later when she was 20.

It is hard for Rebecca Skloot, an independent science writer, to gain Deborah’s trust given her early life of familial abuse, followed by the general disregard of the scientific community for Henrietta’s family. Deborah’s need to connect with her mother’s story is intensified by her difficult childhood and a non-existent relationship with her father, whose lack of attention has disastrous effects on her emotional life:

After Henrietta’s death, Ethel and Galen move in with Day to “help take care of the children.” But Ethel always had a hatred for Henrietta because Galen was attracted to her, and she transferred that with gusto to the children. She forces them to work the farm all day without food or drink and beats them if they disobey. In spite of Deborah’s protests, Galen sexually molests her as often as he can.

Despite the beatings by both of these guardians and the molesting by Galen, Deborah felt closer to Galen than she ever had felt with her father. When he wasn’t hitting or molesting her, Galen showered her with attention and gifts. He bought her pretty clothes, and took her for ice cream. In those moments, Deborah pretended he was her father, and she felt like a regular little girl.

Enter Lawrence’s (who was Henrietta’s oldest son) wife, Bobbette. She insists that they take in and raise the younger Lacks siblings to get them out of the clutches of the abusive Ethel and Galen. Bobbette makes it pretty darn clear that if that couple ever touches Henrietta’s kids again, she’s going to open up a can of ??? on them.

In Henrietta’s absence, Bobbette also acts as a mentor and inspiration to young Deborah. She tells her to stay in school because that’s what will get her success in life. She also encourages her to fight off the advances of her boy cousins because, she said, “That’s uncalled for.” She warns Deborah about the dangers of first cousins having children together.

Deborah reads articles about HeLa cells (named after an abbreviation of Henrietta Lacks name) with a dictionary in hand and learns to use the Internet to make sense of her mother’s immortal life. Her brothers don’t understand her need to pursue something that has been so hurtful to them. Deborah is quite clear in her mission: “All this stuff I’m learning,’ she said, ‘it make me realize that I did have a mother, and all the tragedy she went through. It hurts but I wanna know more, just like I wanna know about my sister (her sister Elsie had defects that eventually institutionalized her, where she later died young). It make me feel closer to them, but I do miss them. I wish they were here.”

The need to know and to be in control of her past is always stronger for Deborah than the need to forget her past and protect herself from future harm.

Her older brother, Lawrence, never stopped taking care of Deborah. He put $6,000 on his credit card to pay for her funeral. She died less than a year before the book, written by author Rebecca Skloot, about her mother was published.

“Henrietta had been chosen by the Lord to become an immortal being. The immortality of Henrietta’s cells had something to do with her telomeres and how HPV interacted with her DNA.”

Not Your Usual Adoption Story

Possible Triggers. Warning. Difficult Content.

An adopted woman, Christine Marie Salley’s search for her biological parents in 2018, utilizing DNA and a private investigator, has led to the identification of two bodies found buried in a remote part of the Mojave Desert in 1980.

The body of a woman, previously known as “Jane Doe 10,” has now been identified as Pamela Dianne Duffey. She was born on April 6, 1959 and estimated to be 20 years old at the time of her death. The body of a man, previously known as “John Doe 29,” has now been identified as being William Everette Lane, who was born on May 23, 1960. The victims have now been linked to an incarcerated Mississippi man, Howard Neal, age 68. The case is among the oldest cold cases the Sheriff’s Department has dealt with.

Both of the victims were estimated to have been dead for six to eight months when they were discovered. The bodies in San Bernardino County were initially discovered in November 1980 about five miles east of the town of Ludlow and a little more than a quarter-mile south of U.S. Highway 66. Ludlow is off Interstate 40 in a remote area between Barstow and Needles. Neither victim was wearing any clothing nor had any identifying information on them. An autopsy was performed and it was determined that both died of a combination of a gunshot wound and blunt force trauma. Attempts to identify the two with available resources at the time of the autopsy were unsuccessful.

In December 2018, the private investigator submitted Salley’s DNA to GEDmatch DNA and a child/parent match was indicated between Salley and Duffey’s body. Salley then learned that before her mother was considered missing, she reportedly knew and traveled with a man known as “Digger Lane,” a former Virginia prison inmate who was released in either late 1979 or early 1980. A DNA sample from Lane’s mother in Jacksonville, Florida, positively identified the male victim as Lane. Christine Marie Salley provided sheriff’s investigators with adoption paperwork and additional DNA samples.

Prior to the positive identification of the bodies, sheriff’s investigators were aware that Howard Neal, age 68, and his family previously lived in Ludlow, California and had moved to Mississippi shortly after the killings. Investigators made several attempts to interview him, however, they were not successful in securing a meeting with him until August 2017. Both of the now identified victims are believed to have been murdered by Neal. He is currently incarcerated in Mississippi for the 1981 rape and murder of his 13-year-old niece and her 12-year-old friend, as well as the murder of his brother.

In an interview, Neal provided “very little” information but gave accounts of picking up a woman hitchhiker, who left her daughter behind (one wonders what happened next in this situation, news accounts don’t answer that obvious question), and a man he described as being a “hippie.” When he tried to make advances on the woman, an argument ensued that resulted in the fatal shooting of the man. Neal then sexually assaulted the woman and also killed her. Afterwards he took the bodies to an isolated part of the desert, dug a shallow grave and buried the two.

Neal was initially sentenced to death in 1982 for the previously mentioned familial murders. His lawyer filed an appeal based on Neal’s mental status in 1990. His death sentence was commuted after he was found to be “borderline mentally challenged” following an IQ test. Neal is currently serving three life sentences.

Denial of Paternity

Today’s sticky situation . . .

We have four children, they are all siblings via mom. They are four of her six children.

Child 1&2 are adopted via foster care. Child 3 & 4 we have full custody/guardianship. Mom stated father for child 4 was transient. She didn’t want child with him or his family and wished for this child to be with siblings and have access to her (mom). Her fiancée has claimed this child and child has his last name. He is not the biological father, nor is he listed on the bc due to hospital staff interference. But mom calls him dad to the child.

We had a visit with mom & fiancée over the weekend. She disclosed that her and fiancée broke up recently and during this break she reached out to child 4’s dad and informed him of this child. He denied the child and said he is infertile and a baby is not possible.

We feel very perplexed – do we personally reach out to dad? We had decided before that this was mom’s call – her child, her choice. She values the sibling relationship a lot – and we do have contact with her oldest two children. And contact with the mom regularly. She had feared that if the dad knew, he would take the baby and never let the child see mom or the child’s siblings.

Now that dad has been informed, what is best for this child? Is it best for us to reach out to him? Is it best to leave it and allow the child to decide when she is older (and when is that age?) if she wants to pursue contact and a relationship? We never want to withhold a child from a parent or keep a parent from parenting. We also don’t want to go against mom’s wishes or break apart siblings.

Now some advice . . .

The suspected dad isn’t about to pop up and make trouble. Just leave it for now. Let mom manage this how she sees fit unless it becomes necessary to intervene. If he’s denying the child to her, and isn’t interested in the child, then it should be the mom that communicates the reality to the child in question. It isn’t your place to take matters into your own hands. You can let the mom know that he can reach out to you, if he desires to. Is this man afraid he will be saddled with child support ? That is often a big disincentive to involvement.

That said, any child deserves to know who their biological father is, especially if there aren’t any safety issues as to why they shouldn’t. Maybe after he has some time to cool off and calm down, he would be willing to do a paternity test. It is easy to understand that he is right to be angry and irritated. A child that is potentially of him was purposely kept from him. Ask mom for basic information, so you have it for the child.

Finally this, Are you willing to pay for a DNA test ? If so, I’d reach out and offer to pay for that, so he can have peace of mind (and your child can know). You can do cheek swabs by mail without meeting up. If you’re not willing/ able to pay, I would leave it alone for now but save any information you can acquire for your child as they grow up.