Without My Brother

When I first saw this image, I thought of my Aunt Daisy. I don’t think she knew about my dad until after her mother had died. Her older sister did. My cousin, who is the daughter of that older sister is how I came by pictures of my grandmother holding my dad and one of him when he was a toddler.

When my Aunt Daisy’s daughter discovered me thanks to 23 and Me, her first question was – is your dad still alive ? Sadly I had to tell her no. In fact my Aunt Daisy was living only 90 miles away from my dad in the very same state at the time he died. Such a pity. I see him in her photos.

I am told my paternal grandmother never really got over “losing” my dad to adoption. It certainly wasn’t her intention to give him up. His father was a married man, still un-naturalized as a citizen at the time my dad was conceived, having immigrated from Denmark. I would guess my grandmother never told him – IF she even was still in contact with him at the time. But without a doubt, she did know who his father was and it is thanks to her own effort to leave us breadcrumbs that I know who my dad’s father was. She quietly handled her pregnancy through the Salvation Army home for unwed mothers at Ocean Beach CA. It was such an appropriate birth. My dad, a Pisces, the son of a Danish fisherman, who himself was in love with fishing and the ocean. Their resemblance to one another makes it unmistakable and lately, my reconnecting with Danish relatives still living in Denmark due to our shared genes is the proof, that didn’t exist back in the day. She obtained employment with the Salvation Army and migrated with my dad in tow to El Paso Texas, where she was pressured to give him up for adoption at 8 months old.

My slightly increased risk of breast cancer probably comes from my paternal grandmother. The day she was due to be released from the hospital after surgery for breast cancer, she suffered a fatal heart attack. I have a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew which I suspect comes from my paternal side – if not my grandmother, then my Danish grandfather.

It still amazes me that after over 60 years totally clueless in the dark, I know so much about my family origins. Never would I have predicted that such a possibility would actually become real.

Abortion Prevents Adoptions

I once had an abortion. The timing of my pregnancy was all wrong (and significant drug use was taking place), the father to be all wrong (not interested), the progression of the pregnancy was all wrong (see drug use above) as breakthrough bleeding was occurring. My sister-in-law gave birth to a son with severe birth defects. While I cannot know if her desperate attempts to hide her high school, out of wedlock, pregnancy played a role, it could have. I know when my first husband discovered I was pregnant at a time when he had an active case of hepatitis (most likely also drug related) he feared our child would be compromised. I stuck with that pregnancy and she is as close to perfect as any of us are (we do all have our individual health related challenges in life).

So, I was grateful for the ability to have a safe and clean, medically provided, mental health counseling included before the procedure, abortion at Reproductive Services in El Paso Texas in the mid-1970s. Honestly, it has haunted me. Not because I think it was the wrong decision but because abortion is such a contentious issue. For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone I had had one.

I am old enough now that whether abortion was outlawed or not, it would not affect me personally. I am wise enough to think, instead of trying to control women’s bodies, men could choose to control their own. For one by not promiscuously pursuing sex. Young men could be given vasectomies that are reversible when they become mature enough to be responsible as fathers. That’s a winning option in my perspective.

I loved the passion in Paxton Smith’s speech because I see my own self when I was that age. I have always been an outspoken person. I loved to debate the boys in my Algebra class in high school (I also had a coach for Geometry class who made it more understandable). I gave impassioned speeches at pep rallies on occasion. I am still outspoken as anyone who follows my Facebook page surely knows. Paxton has said the most meaningful reactions to her speech have come from concerned fathers who fear for their own daughters’ futures.

Paxton Smith had pre-written a speech on how TV and media have shaped her worldview, which had been approved by school administrators. But when it came time to address the graduating class of Lake Highlands high, she switched course. Her nervous emotions are plain to see before they reach that level of impassioned anger. I recognize how that feels.

Texas’s new “heartbeat” measure ranks among the most extreme abortion bans in the US, blocking the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy – before many women and girls even know they’re pregnant. The bill, due to come into force in September, doesn’t include exceptions for rape or incest and allows private citizens to enforce its provisions through what could be a torrent of expensive and time-consuming lawsuits.

Abortion or Pro-Life issues are the hot button for evangelical Christians. It is not lost on me, what the Salvation Army in El Paso Texas told me when I was researching my dad’s adoption through them – they had to close down their homes for unwed mothers (a method of channeling infants to prospective adoptive parents) after Roe v Wade passed because there were simply not enough clients to keep the enterprise going. Another factor is the societal acceptance of single mothers – I know more than one who is doing a fantastic job raising their children – both genders included in this number. I don’t know if the Salvation Army took “donations” from prospective adoptive parents in exchange for infants but it would not surprise me if they did. Adoption is a lucrative business at any level of charitable intent.

Evangelical Christians are very interested in taking heathen babies and converting them to the faith. True, it may simply be emotional, adorable baby feelings that they think causes them to be against abortion and Pro-Life. However, just like Mitch McConnell’s nefarious agenda for our government’s institutions, the powers that be in the Christian hierarchy seek to increase the number of the faithful in part through adoption.

Why I Celebrate

Birthday Hat, created by my husband

My 67th birthday comes up in 2 days now. The image here is from early in my marriage, before our sons were born. We will celebrate 33 years this June.

There is so much I am grateful for but first and foremost it is that I was not given up for adoption. I could have so easily been lost to this family I grew up within. My mom was a 16 yr old high school student in El Paso TX who found herself pregnant with me and unwed. My dad had just started at the U of NM at Las Cruces that year. They are both deceased now. When I was cleaning out my parents belongings to ready their house for sale, I discovered that my mom had kept every love letter she got from my dad during that time. I also found a note where she was worried about telling him she was pregnant.

Both my mom and dad were adopted. That is why I think it is a miracle I was not given up. My mom’s adoptive parents were well to do, had made a lucky early investment in Circle K just as the stores were beginning and on top of that my adoptive grandfather was a bank vice president. My adoptive grandmother was a socialite. I believe it was actually my dad’s adoptive parents who were always poor, entrepreneurial sorts who made custom draperies for a living, that preserved me in the family and supported my dad in marrying my mom.

Because I was preserved my two sisters were born. Maybe they would have been or maybe my parents would have gone their separate ways but that is not what happened so it is a moot point. I believe I have now fulfilled my destiny in this life. Within a year of my parents deaths (they died 4 mos apart after more than 50 years of marriage), I had uncovered who my original grandparents were. I have met or made contact with an aunt and some cousins for each branch of my grandparents families. I am the only link between them because the four of them went their separate ways.

My maternal grandmother remarried but never had any other children. My maternal grandfather also remarried but didn’t have any more children with his third wife. Yes, he and my grandmother were married at the time she conceived my mom. It will always be a mystery why he left her 4 mos pregnant and why after being sent from Tennessee to Virginia to have (and probably expected to give up) my mom, he didn’t respond when she returned to Memphis and tried to reach him. Her desperation led to Georgia Tann getting her hands on my mom . . .

My paternal grandmother had a hard life growing up. My dad was conceived with the assistance of a Danish immigrant who was married to a much older woman. He probably never even knew about my dad. My grandmother simply handled it as the self-resourceful woman she was. She did remarry twice and had 3 other children. At the time my dad died, her last child (my aunt) was living only 90 miles away, totally unknown to my dad.

I celebrate that I am alive and I am happy to have now become whole in ways my parents (who died knowing next to nothing about their origins) never were. I had to wait over 60 years before that happened for me. It is true that, if my parents had not been given up for adoption, I would simply not exist at all. Even so, there is much wrong about the practice of adoption (I write about that here all the time) . . . including that the state of Tennessee denied my mother access to her own adoption file in the early 90s. No one told her when the law was changed for the victims of Georgia Tann to be given access but because of that law, I now possess all of the documents in her adoption file. In her file there were black and white pictures of my maternal grandmother holding my mom for the last time at Porter-Leath Orphanage. It was to that storied and respected institution that my grandmother, in desperation, turned for temporary care of her precious baby girl. The superintendent there betrayed my grandmother by alerting Georgia Tann to my mom’s existence.

At the Dorchester in London
thanks to a trip with my adoptive maternal grandmother

Moving Around

I didn’t grow up in a military family but I went to school right next to Ft Bliss in El Paso TX and so throughout my public school years, there were military families in the mix. Sometimes, I’d become very close friends with someone, only to have them leave as their family was moved to another location. So, there was a sense of loss in that.

Today’s question was whether an active military upbringing is in the best interest of an adopted child given adoptee abandonment issues and a military move every 4 years or a parent deploying here and there.

One adoptee shared this surprising but understandable answer – The moving every three years was hard, but I also felt like I had the opportunity to reinvent my entire identity every time I went to a new school. I think the instability felt comfortable and normal to me. As an adult I can see how messed up that is, but as a kid it just felt like what life is. Don’t get deeply attached to anything or anyplace because it’s never permanent.

With racial issued focused for many people this year, I found this sharing interesting –

She is an adoptive parent who has moved location 3 times and moved house 5 times in three years (only the first move was intentional… I found a way to move us to the Caribbean – a decision driven by what we thought would be best for the kids for issues related to race – and it was awesome until the dual hurricanes Irma and Maria decided we should be in Miami instead and then Covid brought us full circle back to where we started in Virginia) – I can attest to the reality that the strain of frequent moving is an additional burden on an Adoptee’s trauma load that can be quite difficult. However, it’s also true that structure, and knowing what to expect, can be very supportive of kids who have trauma histories, and the expectation of knowing the moves come every 3 years and that the moves are part of a shared culture could have an ameliorative affect or at least teach tools for processing and managing trauma. I will say that the tools our kids have learned over the last 3 years with all the moves have been good “practice” for delving deeper into the more primal, bigger “T” trauma of adoption. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the moves are a “safer” kind of training wheel for handling and processing trauma – and then those tools can then be turned on to the bigger traumas that all adoptees are trying to manage. However, it’s risky to add to that trauma load with frequent moves if the adoptive parents are in denial about or ignorant of (or worse) the toxicity of adoption itself.

And there is also this perspective –

I am an adoptive parent and a military spouse. I just wanted to mention that the military has provided phenomenal therapies and medical care. Our now 7 year old was diagnosed with intractable epilepsy at 15 months and the military medical system was willing to send her anywhere she needed to go to get her to the correct specialists. They were willing to relocate my husband to another base, if needed to get her the medical care she required. Most employers would not. Now, it’s set up that he can’t be stationed anywhere that doesn’t have a medical team to meet her needs. She also has access to a neuropsychologist who minored in adoption and separation trauma.

The military started putting a lot of emphasis on children’s behavioral health back in the 90s with Operation Desert Shield/Storm and have done an amazing job of “normalizing” behavioral health for children and adolescents. Today, almost every school district around a military base has a Military Family Life Counselor on staff. I’m not saying this makes military life “ok”. I’m just putting an aspect of resources available out there that aren’t currently being considered in this thread.

No More

No more lies, no more shame, no more hiding.
I’m done with that already.

When my parents died, our family history was full of stories that weren’t true.

My mom was stolen from her parents at the hospital where she was born in Virginia by a nurse in cahoots with the baby stealing and selling Georgia Tann.

Not true.  It was the only way my mom could explain how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted as an infant at Memphis.  The only fact she really had to go on was the scandal that was Georgia Tann at the head of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society branch at Memphis.

My dad was left on the doorstep of the Salvation Army in a basket in El Paso Texas by a Mexican woman because his father was Anglo and he was conceived out of wedlock.

Partially true.  He was conceived out of wedlock and he was adopted from the Salvation Army in El Paso Texas.  He wasn’t Mexican, he was half Danish and his father was dark complected.  His mother was English/Irish not Mexican.

I was an Albino African.

Okay, so I really didn’t believe that one but I did say it on numerous occasions because I didn’t know what I was, so no one, not even myself could deny it.

Now I know the truth.  To find out that you are not who you think you are is mind blowing.  Your world tilts on its axis and nothing is ever the same again.  Even the simple act of looking in the mirror changes.  It brings a whole other element into the equation of my identity.  I am grateful to finally be “whole” after 6 decades of uncertainty.

Adoption is a strange thing that does strange things to the people affected by it.  It doesn’t matter what angle you are coming from – there’s shame and secrecy involved.  That much proved to be true.

Door of Hope

 

On this day in 1935, my dad was born in a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers called the Door of Hope in Ocean Beach, a suburb of San Diego.  The building still stands.  I believe it is some kind of restaurant/bar at the moment.

My grandmother was a self-reliant person.  She had to be.  She grew up without her natural mother who died when she was only 3 mos old.  On a visit to California at about the age of 15 (when her family visited relatives living there), she refused to return home.  Until then she had been enslaved by her step-mother in a Rayon factory in Asheville North Carolina.

My dad’s father was a much older man married to an even older woman who was a private nurse by profession.  I doubt my grandmother knew the man was married when she started seeing him in La Jolla CA.  She most likely knew it by the time she knew she was pregnant.  It is just a likely he never knew he had become a father.

What is clear is that my grandmother didn’t run around with every Tom, Dick and Harry.  She clearly knew who my father’s dad was and although she gave my dad her maiden surname, she left us breadcrumbs as to his father’s identity – both in how she named my dad after the man as well as placing a head shot of the man with his name on the back right next to a photo of her holding my dad.

They are seated on the front porch of another Salvation Army home for unwed mother’s that she was hired at in El Paso Texas.  That is how my dad got there and eventually was adopted from there when he was about 8 mos old.

Note on image –

In 1915, the Door of Hope, a home for unwed mothers, was built on a 10-acre site in Ocean Beach’s Collier Park. Initially operated by the Sand Diego Rescue Mission, it was taken over by the Salvation Army in 1931. In 1962, the Door of Hope moved to a much larger facility in Kearny Mesa.