What Biology Prefers

In my all things adoption group – the post acknowledges what I also believe is a fact –

Biology programs us to prefer the children we gave birth to. You can try to be “fair” but I firmly believe biology and the subconscious takes over. This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s natural instincts. What does it say about biological connection when one says they love a stranger’s natural child the same or just as much? How do biological children in the home feel about this? Is it really possible? What are your thoughts?

I remember reading once that children often physically resemble their fathers so that the man will accept responsibility and care for the family. Of course, it doesn’t universally turn out that way. Yesterday, I was looking at an old picture of my husband’s father’s parents and marveled at how much he looked like both of them in a photo nearby. My sons each have some resemblance and some of the best qualities of their father. I carried my sons during pregnancy and nursed them at my breast for over a year. While they know the truth of their egg donor conceptions, which we have never hidden from them and even facilitated their ability to contact this woman by connecting them to the donor on 23 and Me, they would seem, to my own heart, to be as bonded to me as they ever could be. I am “Mom” to them and no one could be more their mom. I may not have been able to pass my genes on to them (though my grown daughter and grandchildren do that for me) but I am their mother biologically and I do believe that makes a difference. Honesty helps as well.

One commenter posted an article at science.org titled “Do parents favor their biological children over their adopted ones?” subtitled – Study tests the “wicked stepmother” hypothesis. My daughter remains quite fond of her deceased step-mother and yet, I also know that my paternal grandmother, who’s own mother died when she was only 3 mos old, did suffer an absolutely wicked stepmother. The article notes that “Wicked stepmothers would seem to be favored by evolutionary theory. The best way to ensure the propagation of our own genes, after all, is to take care of children who are genetically related to us—not those born to other parents.”

Even so their study found that parents did not favor a biological child over an adopted one in all instances. Researchers compared data on 135 pairs of “virtual twins”—siblings about the same age consisting of either one adopted child and one biological child or two adopted children.

What does support adoptees who feel their adoptive parents did not treat them well is this detail – adoptive parents did rate their adoptive children higher in negative traits and behaviors like arrogance and stealing. Yet, it is interesting that when it came to positive traits like conscientiousness and persistence,  they scored both adopted and biological children similarly. 

This study came to the conclusion that the strong desire to be a parent—no matter the source of a child’s genes—can override evolved, kin selection behaviors that might otherwise lead parents to invest more time and resources in their own offspring.

A Basic Human Right to Know

Most U.S. citizens raised by their biological parents never question whether the information on their birth certificates is accurate. With the evolution of adoption and alternate means of conceiving a child, “accurate” is an increasingly subjective term.

Is the purpose of a birth certificate to portray a biological account of a person’s birth parents, or is it an account of one’s “legal” parents — the ones responsible for raising them?

The US Census Bureau created Birth Certificates in the beginning of the 20th Century as a means of tracking the effects of disease and urban environments on mortality rates. The task of issuing birth certificates was transferred to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. In 1946, the recording births was decentralized into today’s varied state systems (and in reality, based on my parents births in the 1930s, this existed well before the 1940s). This has caused there to be 50 different sets of regulations concerning how, when, why and if access to original birth certificate information can be obtained.

The document has become an important (if not our sole) means of identification when we obtain anything from a driver’s license to a passport. It is an indispensable tool for genealogical researchers.

For adoptees as well as donor-conceived persons, there is oftentimes a clear distinction between one’s genetic parents, those with whom you share DNA, and one’s legal parents, the ones who have rights and responsibilities attached to their parenthood, and most-times, the ones who are raising them.

Our birth certificate practices concerning non-biological parents began with adoption. In the mid-20th Century, there was rising concern that adopted children’s birth certificates read “illegitimate.” In response, states began to issue adoptees amended birth certificates, listing the adoptive parents as if they were the genetic parents, thus hiding the shame of the child’s illegitimacy and the adoptive parents’ infertility. The originals containing the biological parents’ names were sealed and not available to anyone (including the adoptee) except by court order. The new birth certificates showed no indication that they had been amended, which gave adoptive parents an easy way to not tell their children of their adoption. In about half of the US states (including large population ones like California and Virginia as I personally found with my two parents adoptions), adoptees original birth certificates remain sealed.

Women who use donor eggs to become pregnant are listed as mothers on birth certificates. When our donor informed me she had her DNA tested at 23 and Me, I made the decision to provide my children with the information and private access to her (with her consent) that DNA testing and that site’s design make possible. It is unsettling to see someone else listed as my two sons “mother” even though they grew in my womb, nursed at my breast and have been cared for and nurtured by me 24/7 for almost every day of their entire lives. Yet, I knew this was the proper path to establish for my own children their personal reality.

There are a whole host of concerns raised by adoptees and the donor-conceived, including the right to identity, ongoing medical history, biological heritage, and the right to know their genetic parents and I for one believe these issues are valid and should receive transparent answers.

The US Surgeon General reports 96% of Americans believe that knowing their family history is important. It certainly has made a world of difference for me as the offspring of two adoptees. I suppose this has given me a broader perspective on the importance of a person knowing from where their genes originated. The United Nations has acknowledged the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations.

I believe that all people have a moral right to know the truth about their personal history. Where the state has custody of relevant information it has a duty not to collude in deceiving or depriving individuals of such information. Growth, responsibility, and respect for self and others develop best in lives that are rooted in truth.

There has been a recommendation made that the Standard US Birth Certificate be revised to expand upon the “two parent only” format to include categories for Legal Parents, Genetic Parents and Surrogates. In the case of adoptees, the child’s birth name and parentage should be recorded along with his or her legal/adoptive name.

The time for birth certificate reform is now. Unfortunately for many, it should have happened decades ago.

Finding Empathy

Gabrielle Union, daughter Kaavia
and husband Dwayne Wade

I will admit that I have become generally against surrogacy as part of my own journey to understand adoption as it has manifested in my own family. However, in reading Gabrielle Union’s beautifully written essay in Time magazine – Hard Truths – I ended up feeling a definite empathy for her situation and believe the outcome to have been perfect for the situation.

Within my spiritual philosophy it is believed, as also is stated in Hindu Scripture, that “Mind, being impelled by a desire to create, performs the work of creation by giving form to Itself.” Some of my ability to empathize may have also arisen from experiencing secondary infertility in attempting to conceive my oldest son. I believe that Assisted Reproduction is a knowledge granted to man by Mind and so, many children are today being created using these medical techniques. This is a fact of modern life.

Gabrielle suffers from adenomyosis in which endometrial tissue exists within and grows into the uterine wall. Adenomyosis occurs most often late in the childbearing years. So in reading the Time magazine article I found poignant her experience of multiple miscarriages and various medical interventions in her many attempts to conceive. Many women then turn to adoption and it is often noted that the infertility itself must be dealt with in therapy before even considering adoption because an adopted child will never be that child you would have conceived and carried through a pregnancy to birth.

My objection to surrogacy is my awareness of how the developing fetus begins bonding with the gestational mother during pregnancy. Gabrielle writes of her awareness of this disconnect with clarity – “the question lingers in my mind: I will always wonder if Kaav would love me more if I had carried her. Would our bond be even tighter? I will never know . . .” She goes on to admit that when she met her daughter, they met “as strangers, the sound of my voice and my heartbeat foreign to her. It’s a pain that has dimmed but remains present in my fears that I was not, and never will be, enough.” She ends her essay with “If I am telling the fullness of our stories, of our three lives together, I must tell the truths I live with.” It seems healthy and realistic to my own understandings.

As the mother of donor conceived sons, I can understand the complex feelings. I can remember distinctly feeling less entitlement to my sons than my husband since it was his sperm that created them. I am also aware of adoptee trauma from that separation from their natural mother. Both of my parents were with their natural mothers for some months before they were surrendered for adoption. I think I see this issue in a couple of photos I have managed to obtain from their early years.

My mom held by a nurse from the orphanage she had been left in for “temporary care,” while my grandmother tried to get on her feet. My mom appears to be looking at
her mother in this photo.
I notice this expression on my baby dad’s face.
I wonder if my grandmother was there and was
he puzzling about her presence ? I can’t know
but it has caused me to ponder.

I will add that Union’s surrogate was of a different race. Another issue with surrogates is that they often become emotionally attached to the baby growing in them. Gabrielle describes her surrogate and the surrogate’s husband as “free spirit” people. She says at the time she met her surrogate in person, “The first thing I noticed was a nose ring. Oh, I thought, she’s a cool-ass white girl.” The surrogate wasn’t bothered at all – there was an excitement to her voice when she said, “This is such a trip. I have your book on hold at four different libraries.” She must have been referring to Gabrielle’s first collection of essays, We’re Going to Need More Wine, which sparked powerful conversations by examining topics such as power, color, gender, feminism, and fame through her stories.

Carrie Thornton, Dey Street’s (the publisher) VP and Editorial Director says of the new book, You Got Anything Stronger?, that it is “a book that tugs at the heart, feels relatable, and . . . you see her for exactly who she is. . . ” I would agree having read this story.

I Admit I Am Old School

This not the first time it has come up. I am doing my best to recognize changing norms and find a good level of acceptance within my self. For one thing, among those changing norms is a recognition of the trauma that every adoptee experiences. Another is same sex couples and the frequent desire of these couples to go beyond marriage to parenting. There I do struggle with having grown up with a certain kind of mindset that believes optimal for children growing up is having both a male and female role model. I am also realistic enough to know that isn’t always possible. We have several single mothers in my mom’s group. Some chose to enter into pregnancy without a male partner and some became widows after their children were born. In both cases the children do seem to be thriving and I am a witness to that fact.

Today the question was asked in my all things adoption group – What are your thoughts about the Buttigieg’s impending adoption? I didn’t know about it until I saw that. So I went looking and see that this male same sex couple is at least enlightened enough to have been seeking “a baby who had been abandoned or surrendered at short notice”. Yet, we are talking about an infant it would appear. I once had a discussion with a friend who was good friends with a male same sex couple who was raising a little girl who they had via a surrogate. I expressed my reservations about that situation honestly. I have less concern about a female same sex couple where one contributes the egg and the other carries the pregnancy. There is still the issue of the child being donor conceived and how some sperm donors have fathered a multitude of genetically related children.

I am glad my boys have their father as a male role model. I am glad they have me as a female role model. There are a lot of gender issues in our modern society. There is toxic male culture but my boys are home schooled so they aren’t exposed to very much of that in their daily life. It’s enough that they have witnessed me have to push back on some of that at home. Thankfully, my husband is for the most part respectful, appreciative and considerate of me. With over 30 years of marriage completed, there are bound to be moments that aren’t sterling.

In these days of gender equality, marriage equality and equal employment opportunities, it might seem odd to even contemplate discussing the topic of a male parent versus a female parent. Undoubtedly many well-adjusted children are raised in single gender families making the equality of parenting question seem out-dated and narrow-minded. I do understand this.

However, there are a number of ‘experts’ who agree that the influence of both a female and a male are vital for proper child development. This diversity give the child a broader, richer experience of interactions. I found an article that shares the perspectives of Dr Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School who notes that females and males parent very differently.

If you are at all interested, you can read about his perspectives in this article – Do Children Need a Male and Female Parent? “Need” is probably too strong a concept given the realities. I would say in a perfect world . . . but this isn’t . . . is it ? So adoptions still continue to happen today. They probably always will but reforms in the practice are still possible and adoptees are leading the charge to make reforms possible – keeping genetic and identity information intact – even after an adoption.

Strong male/female influences can be created through other family members such as an aunt or uncle, grandfather or grandmother. In an imperfect world this is a reasonable alternative method of supplying male or female role models in single sex households.

Leave The Door Open

Recently a commenter on my blog was making a big deal about “genetic parents” being able to opt out of their own child’s lives. This could be equated to surrendering a child to adoption and this commenter actually extended her perspective to donor egg or sperm sources. I don’t think her points of view are realistic but she is an activist in such concerns and I understand her perspectives. Like much of scientific medical advances being light years ahead of moral and ethical considerations. She thought ALL of the parents should be on a birth certificate and have full responsibility for the well-being of the children involved. As a society, we are simply not there yet.

Happily, there is a huge effort within the adoption community (made up of adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents and birth parents) to create an organic, grassroots kind of reform of the whole situation. What might such a “reformed” situation look like ? I think this story is an excellent example and so I share it with you today (I hasten to add, it is NOT my own story, because sometimes that isn’t understood in this blog).

My daughter’s parents were very distant after they made the adoption plan for her. They felt that by doing so, they had given up their rights to ask anything or to know her (this is what both of them have explained to me). Keep reaching out, keep sending photos, updates, hand and foot crafts, etc. When my adoptive daughter was almost 3 yrs old, her mother came to understand that we DID want her in our daughter’s life and that we were happy to have her here. Her dad went longer, so many years with out seeing her, he said that he was afraid of making her life harder by showing up when he finally felt ready. We talked about it and I sent a ton of links to him showing that it’s better for children to know their families, if they can. That year he brought his girlfriend and parents to her birthday party. Our little girl loved being snuggled up in her father’s arms for the afternoon. If you genuinely leave the door open and make the child’s original parents feel welcomed, there is a good chance that one day they will come through that opening.

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).

A Lifetime Of Regret

The Maiden of Sorrow painting by Tyler Robbins

In a discussion about a same-sex couple (two females) who wanted a family and were seeking perspectives on donor conceived vs adoption, a woman who gave up her baby at birth was strongly defending her choice as best for the child. This kind of denial is not uncommon. Truth is that many women who surrender their child at birth spend the rest of their lifetime in sorrow. Not even getting into the trauma that EVERY baby suffers at a preverbal, subconscious level due to that separation. Today’s story is from a woman who surrendered her child.

I’m a Birth mother. When I placed my daughter for adoption I lost the only good thing in my life. She was my joy. My reason for living.

I spent the next decade deeply suicidal and one of the things I heard a lot from people was that “suicide is selfish because it takes one person’s pain and passes it on to ten others.” These days I can’t help but think how much this statement applies to adoption too.

When I hear hopeful adoptive parents talk about the anguish infertility caused them and how they’re pursuing adoption now because they NEED to be a mother, I wonder if they realize they’re doing exactly this. They are trying to take away their pain of not having a baby by passing that pain onto the birth mother, father, child, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins instead.

I have spent years in agony over the loss of my daughter, crying and begging god to change what happened. I’ve watched others get pregnant and wondered why they were worthy of motherhood and I wasn’t. I’ve felt the need to be a mother because I was a mother. But I am a mother without a child now.

The future which hopeful adoptive parents were unwilling to live (a life without children) has become my reality instead. Do hopeful adoptive parents or those who have already adopted realize – they are transferring their pain onto others, when they accept somebody else’s baby to fulfill their dreams ? What makes the pain spread through suicide so obviously selfish but the pain spread through adoption so widely acceptable ?

The first response was empathetic – you’re making perfect sense. Except the pain that leads people to suicide and the pain of having a child and losing it are both astronomically greater than any pain felt by never having children. So that makes adoption exceptionally selfish. I’m sorry for the pain you have been through. You did not deserve any of it. Saying a prayer for you.

It is frequently said in my all things adoption group that adoption is a permanent decision to a temporary solution. Society really needs to wake up to the harm of commercializing babies for profit and support struggling mothers and/or families better so children do not need to be taken from the family they were born into.

There are some adoptive mothers who finally realize that their infertility was at least psychologically caused by feeling their own mothers didn’t love them, even though there may have also been a physical component. If a woman is not whole in mind and emotions, any child brought into this life will have flawed parenting. There is also often a religious component to adoption. Some feel that God is punishing them with infertility and though some kind of twisted logic believe that adopting a child will get them back God’s good graces. So many don’t want to heal, they refuse to even admit they need to. And it’s their children and their children’s true mothers who carry the burden of their lack of awareness regarding their true issues.

Regarding a relinquishment of one’s babies and suicide came this comment –

I am an adoptee. My Mom died by suicide because her pain was too much to bear from losing two children to adoption.

I have been saying much of the same thing in regards to suicide. It’s not selfish or cowardly or a crime. I have also been saying that hopeful adoptive parents or those who have already adopted are transferring their pain. Most do not heal before adopting. Adoptive parents are wrongly revered by our society. Nobody thinks to question them or ask them anything. Sadly, adoption is usually option B and adoptive parents do not heal nor research the topic before getting their wallets out.

Fact is – adoption is big business. A for profit business. So if there were no adoptive parents, the money to be made selling babies would decrease. Sadly, adoption is socially acceptable, romanticized, sensationalized and is thought by many to be beautiful, rainbows etc. Adoptive parents are viewed as heroes and altruistic.

Suicide is stigmatized and people are afraid to discuss it and truly do not understand it. Our society has a hard time sitting in discomfort and looking at other people’s pain. That is why suicide is quickly labeled as selfish. In reality, society is selfish for not asking why the pain was so heavy. Even the words used around suicide make it seem like a crime or a choice. (committed suicide, killed oneself, took their own life). We are the selfish ones. We need to be talking about this. Not to mention the high suicide attempt rates and suicides among adoptees, as well as their original moms. Nobody is going to physically die because they can’t have a baby but many adoptees and moms are dying from the grief, trauma and loss that is the truth of adoption and family separation.

Every day, my effort here is to change the narrative about who adoptees are, about their stories, about the importance of keeping families together. Mine is one small voice but those who share my perspectives are legion. So the effort at reform begins with changing the narrative – adoption is NOT a “selfless” act but a “selfish” act. There is so much pain in adoption. I wish more people were aware of (and cared about!!!) the devastating consequences.

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.

Speaking For And Over

Straight up – I am NOT adopted but both of my parents were and each of my sisters gave up a child to adoption, who I have been blessed to reconnect with in their late teen/early adulthood. I have learned the most from belonging in an all things adoption group where the voices of adoptees are privileged over all others, though there are original parents and adoptive parents (including those hoping to adopt and foster parents) and the rare oddball like me who belongs but doesn’t fit any of the usual categories. Now that I have dealt with my place in the adoption triad as it is often called, I’ll go on into today’s blog topic.

An adoptee writes – There needs to be a name for the bigotry of attacking, marginalizing and discrediting the voices of adoptees, donor conceived folk and former foster youth. I’m exhausted by the relentless online barrage from people who think they can speak for or over us based on the nature of our birth and/or conception and call us angry, broken and other hateful tropes.

This may shock you that anyone would be so inconsiderate and thoughtless but I will assure you, people are often clueless, especially about adoption. In fact, I was clueless before I entered this group about 3 years ago. I grew up thinking adoption was the most natural things in the world. Of course I would, given my family background. As a child, I thought my parents were orphans. They died knowing very little beyond some vague name related to their origins and their original parents. After they died, through effort, persistence and a lot of lucky, within a year I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were. My parents were adopted in the dark ages of the Great Depression, sealed adoption records, changed identities on their original birth certificates and in some cases even their actual birthdate was changed.

Now, on to some of the comments regarding my adoptee perspective above . . .

One commenter noted this truth – Many of the people who push adoption are anti-abortion but I call them “forced birthers”. Forced birthers want their baby mills to produce. To which another responded – Pregnancy and birth are expensive and a lot of women turn to abortion because they don’t want a child and its the most financially responsible choice for themselves. Another one noted – I had a bunch of particularly bigoted recipient parents call me prolife because I said donor conceived people had rights. But saying adoptees, donor conceived people and former foster youth have rights is not the same as saying embryos have rights and I’m absolutely pro choice. So frustrating how things are twisted.

Someone else offered this interesting exercise – It helps to do train of thought free association… anti-adoption-truth-sayer, hard truth silencer, kidnapper sympathizer, rainbows and unicorns narrative, adoptee-phobe, foster youth-phobe, trauma denier, child trafficking supporter, baby objectifier, baby snatcher, willful ignorance, privilege/entitlement, keeping one’s blinders on, cognitive dissonance, rose-colored glasses, saviorist, virtue signaling, oppressor, crush, gag, hush, censor, suppress, repress, hide, mask, bully, harass, gaslighting… Really I think gaslighting is what is going on…Definition – Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation; gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs. As I continue to think about this… it’s basically “separation trauma gaslighting”…

One noted that she hates the term ‘recipient parent’ because she doesn’t like the idea of adoptees being viewed as gifts. She suggests an “individual who feels entitled to another person’s child”. 

And someone else acknowledged it is conception discrimination.

Yet another said – What is a term that can be used to describe genetic identity seekers? Or people who don’t like to be separated from their genetic family? I think we need a word that encapsulates who we are. Then we could add an anti-, -ism, or -phobia for the opposite side of that concept.

Another one pointed out – Home wrecker is such a strong emotive world, and everyone immediately knows what it means. Maybe Family wreckers or some other similar term?

One woman speaking for her own interests says, I like using words like advocate and mentor to describe myself at this point in my life. I advocate for family safety and preservation and transparency and accountability within the human services systems in our country. I have also been thinking of what to call this movement for adoptee dignity, and the advocates who are tirelessly speaking out about these issues. And your blogger likes this perspective because that is what I think of in regard to myself and what I do in this blog.

An adoptee who has encountered these behaviors says, When someone comments that I should be grateful, sometimes I will tell them to check their privilege. I also like obscurantist, which means deliberately preventing the facts or full details of something from becoming known.

Another noted that this would be a form of childism. The child is objectified, and there is a hierarchy of value placed on them by adults based on many factors including: the circumstances of their birth, how they came to be placed with their non-biological family, how well-treated and accepted they are by the family they were raised by, whether or not they aged out of the foster care system, etc. Childism may be too broad and not specific enough.

And maybe this is the bottom line – I think the most important thing we can do is change the conversation. I think we just need to keep going. Even when our comments get erased or we get thrown out of the conversation just keep commenting. If enough of us keep commenting on the posts with our view I think we can change the conversation.

And on the speaking out side of things, one wrote – I like using terms like fragility and privilege to get people’s attention and get them talking about why they have the views they have so I can knock them down a peg or two. I keep links handy, peer-reviewed studies/articles, etc. and drop them in when relevant.