I Try To Stay Humble

Before I began to know who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted) – adoption was the most natural thing in the world. How could it not be ? It was so natural both of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption. So, in only the last 3+ years, my perspective has changed a lot. I see the impacts of adoption has passed down my family line, ultimately robbing all three of my parents daughter’s of the ability to parent. Though I did not give my daughter up for adoption, finding myself unable to support myself and her financially, I allowed her father and step-mother to raise her without intrusion from me. To be honest, I didn’t think I was important as a mother. I thought that a child only needed one or the other parent to be properly cared for. Sadly, decades later, I learned that situation was not as perfect as I had believed. My sister closest to me in age actually lost custody of her first born son to her former in-laws when she divorced their son. He has suffered the most damage of all of our children and is currently estranged from his mother’s family, viewing us all as the source of his ongoing emotional and mental pain. I love him dearly and wish it wasn’t so but it is not in my control nor my sisters.

I realize that not every adoptee has the same experience. We are all individuals with individual life circumstances. Right and Wrong, Better and Worse – such exactness doesn’t exist. Everyone heals in different ways. We all begin where we begin. I began where I was when I started learning some of the hard truths and realities about the adoption industry as it operates for profit in this country. I also know that the adoption practices of the 1930s when my parents were adopted are not the same overall in 2021. There are only a few truly closed adoptions now and many “open” adoptions. I put the “open” into quotation marks because all too often, the woman who gives birth and surrenders her baby for adoption because she doesn’t feel capable of parenting, just as I didn’t feel capable in my early 20s, discovers that the “open” part is unenforceable and the adoptive parents renege on that promise.

Those of us, myself included, have become activists for reforms going forward. Society has not caught up with us yet. Certainly, there are situations where the best interest of the child is to place them in a safe family structure where they can be sufficiently provided for. No one, no matter how ardently they wish for reform, would say otherwise. The best interests of the child NEVER includes robbing them of their identity or knowledge of their origins. In the best of circumstances, I believe, adoptive parents are placeholders for the original parents and extended biological family until their adoptive child reaches maturity. Ideally, that child grows up with a full awareness and exposure to the personalities of their original parents.

Any parent, eventually reaches a point in the maturing of their child, when it is time to allow that child to be totally independent in their life choices, even if they continue to live with their parents and be financially supported by them. It is a gradual process for most of us and some of us are never 100% separated from our parents until they die. Then, regardless, we must be able to stand on our own two feet, live from our own values and make of the life that our parents – whether it was one set with a mother and a father or two sets of mothers and fathers (whether by adoption or due to divorce) – made possible for us as human beings. I do try not to judge but I do try to remain authentic in my own perspectives, values and beliefs. Those I share as honestly as I can in this blog with as much humility as I have the growth and self-development to embody.

The Two Most Important Days

A woman I met at a “Salon”, a week long intensive, hosted and held at the Ashland OR home of Jean Houston) recently asked me – What would you say your role is? – and then quoted Mark Twain shown in the graphic above.

This is what I replied –

Generally being a beneficial presence through any of my writing efforts.

My most recent role was re-connecting my family’s genetic threads.  Both of my parents were adopted and both died knowing next to nothing about their origins.  My mom did try to get her adoption file and was denied (which I was able to obtain in October 2017).  My dad never wanted to, which is a shame because he had a half-sister living 90 miles away when he died, who could have shared real insights with him about his mother.

My dad’s mother was unwed, so I never dared to believe I would discover who his father was but I persisted never-the-less.  In less than one year, I knew who ALL 4 of my original grandparents were and since late 2017, have made contact with at least one genetic relative for each family line.  I wrote a self published “family history” and distributed 10 copies only to relevant family members – so that what I learned and what made me whole is not lost when I die.

That was major and maybe why Life had not killed me off over some of my younger foolishness.  I lived over 6 decades of my life with a void beyond my parents and no idea of my genetic cultural heritage or family medical health information – all thanks to adoptions.

About that day I was born.  Learning about my parent’s adoption stories made me realize what a miracle it was that my high school junior unwed mother was not sent away by her banker adoptive father and socialite adoptive mother to have and give me up for adoption.  Talk about realizing how your life is a miracle and understanding that my younger sisters, my daughter and my grandchildren would not have existed if this quite plausible situation had occurred. 

I believe I have my dad’s very humble and poor (financially) adoptive parents, in particular, my Granny to credit for my own (and my family’s) preservation with my natural parents.

Now, back to my Missing Mom blog – I continue to follow adoption reform issues and foster care challenges and write something about these every single day.  Some days I write my own personal bits and pieces of the “stories” as well.  BTW, not only were both of my parents adopted but both of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption – both of these children have thankfully been reunited (as adult persons) with our family.

That’s probably more than you were expecting.  My daughter has said – it seems like you are on a mission (regarding adoption reform) and she has accurately assessed that.  It is my passion currently. 

I also share spiritual insights daily – in part by bringing forward that day’s essay from my Gazing in the Mirror blog – which has 366 entries and was written between 2012 and 2014 but is universal enough to mostly not become dated.  I also share poems by Rumi, Rilke and Hafiz as well as other spiritually oriented items on Facebook daily. 

Beyond ALL of those considerable efforts – I am a political activist through my Facebook page.  And at a heartfelt passion to be part of an effort to create a world that “works” with positive support of basic human needs for everyone.

Hopes & Wishes

For some time now, I’ve been writing these adoption related blogs every day. I don’t think I have missed many, if I’ve even missed any. I often wonder what there is left to say . . . and then something arises and off my fingers go to type up a new one.

I know my perspectives have grown since I started writing these. A lot of credit for that goes to my all things adoption Facebook group – where I often find stories and perspectives to pass along here without revealing any sensitive or private details. I hope that by sharing these, my readers also find their perspectives broadening along the way.

When I first joined that group, it wasn’t long before one of the members called me out on my unicorns and rainbows happy perspectives on adoption. It hurt at the time but it was an important wake up call and I do believe I have emerged entirely from what is known as adoptionland fog.

Because both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption, what is actually a VERY UN-NATURAL practice seemed entirely normal to me. Yet, now that I know who my grandparents are – I’ve added their birthdates to my annual birthday calendar – because I wasn’t able to acknowledge them in their lifetimes. It matters to me.

I now think of my adoptive grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins as placeholders for the real thing I lacked. This isn’t a judgement of them. They probably all viewed it as natural to our lives as I did but it really isn’t. I don’t even think of them as related to me anymore. But I do have a history with them and have felt their love and concern over the years, especially during my own childhood.

And adoptionland IS changing slowly but surely, one family at a time. In my all things adoption group, expectant mothers are often encouraged and even financially supported to the best of our ability (such as with Amazon gift registries) to keep their babies. It is more of a walk the walk than simply talk the talk group and I am proud of that.

Adoptees and former foster care youth are PRIVILEGED voices in that group, as they should be for they have the direct experience to open the minds and hearts of the public in general. Many people who have already adopted are learning to be more sensitive and to do the already reality situation better, including honesty, truthfulness and attempts to keep their adopted children connected to their biological/genetic families and at times, even culture (when that is different than the adoptive parents’ own culture).

My hope and certainly my wish is for our society to be more supportive of struggling families in EVERY WAY POSSIBLE and to see adoption no longer a choice that couples realizing infertility feel privileged to make – taking some other family’s baby to pretend that child was born to them.

A change it is a comin’ and I am grateful to be part of that. Happy New Year.

Baby God and DNA

DNA testing has helped a lot of adoptees finally know the truth about their origins. Today, a review of a documentary titled Baby God caught my attention.

Cathy Holm was newly married at age 22, settling into a new home in Las Vegas, Nevada, and struggling to start a family. It was the early 1960s, and infertility was a largely taboo topic; devoid of options, she looked up a doctor listed as a “fertility specialist” in the phonebook. Dr Quincy Fortier, a respected obstetrician who opened Las Vega’s first women’s hospital, had a record of helping couples achieve a viable pregnancy, and promised to inseminate Holm with a sample of her husband’s sperm.

Decades later, in March 2018, Holm’s daughter, Wendi Babst, bought an ancestry kit to celebrate her retirement as a detective in the Clackamas county, Oregon, sheriff’s office. Like many Americans, Babst was hoping to glean a comprehensive picture of her genealogy, but she was unnerved by her DNA test results: numerous close matches, despite no known first cousins or half-siblings, and the repetition of a name she hadn’t heard of, Fortier.

The database unmasked, with detached clarity, a dark secret hidden in plain sight for decades: the physician once named Nevada’s doctor of the year, who died in 2006 at age 94, had impregnated numerous patients with his own sperm, unbeknownst to the women or their families. The decades-long fertility fraud scheme, unspooled in the HBO documentary Baby God, left a swath of families – 26 children as of this writing, spanning 40 years of the doctor’s treatments – shocked at long-obscured medical betrayal, unmoored from assumptions of family history and stumbling over the most essential questions of identity. Who are you, when half your DNA is not what you thought?

What was once the work of combing through records – birth certificates, death certificates, hospital archives – DNA testing sometimes becomes an inadvertent Pandora’s box of secrets. It even happened in my own family. A father named on the birth certificate turned out to be a lie as my youngest sister hid the awkward reality of how and by whom she became impregnated. It took ancestry that didn’t add up with the lie and private investigation and DNA testing to prove who the real father was. In my own marital relationship, we used assisted reproduction to have our sons. Thank goodness, DNA testing through 23 and Me has proven that their dad is the dad we thought they have.

Before inexpensive DNA made it possible to uncover one’s relations, there was a phenomenon of fertility fraud performed by at least two dozen American doctors. Though Dr Quincy Fortier never lost his medical license (he died in 2006), he did acknowledge his paternity of four children who were part of a quietly settled lawsuit in his will, and left open the possibility that more biological children would later be revealed.

A cavalier, brash attitudes toward sex and reproduction seems to have been one manifestation of widespread attitudes toward female fertility: a “doctor knows best” attitude, belief that women don’t need to know, the end justifies the means, all coupled with the lack of frozen sperm (which didn’t become common practice until the 1980s). Looking for answers from the legal system for this kind of fertility fraud is kind of misguided because it’s always been illegal. It’s battery, it’s malpractice, bottom line – you can’t put something in someone’s body without their consent.

The documentary Baby God premieres on HBO tonight (December 2nd).

Some From Foster to Adopt Thoughts

The image is NOT the person who’s thoughts I will share today but it is not uncommon that people who foster end up adopting one of their foster care children. And so, here’s the story for today.

I’m a foster parent and have adopted from foster care. I’ve been in this (adoption related) group for a bit and I have been trying to learn and listen to all of you. I absolutely hate the toxic positivity and saviorism in the adoption world and the lack of understanding about trauma and the systemic issues that cause removals and adoptions that can largely be prevented. This needs to stop. However, I’m not understanding what you would suggest current foster parents do?

We didn’t go into foster care in order to adopt, we went into it to prevent family separations. We have always been active in helping the parents, in anyway that we can, get their kids back and keep a relationship with them. We have only adopted in cases that were extremely abusive and dangerous to the kids.

I don’t understand what your solution for these kids would be besides adoption? Kids that themselves have chosen not to continue a relationship with their family. Kids that say they want a new family. I see people in this group say to do permanent guardianship, but how is that not treating them as less than your other kids? Not letting them call you mom/dad if they want and not legally being a member of the family.

My kids were old enough to understand what happened and they asked for us to adopt them. They wanted to heal and have a safe and stable family. I’m in no way a savior or a hero or anything close to that for adopting. I just want to be there for these kids. I’m open minded, I want to hear from the adopted adults on their thoughts, which is why I joined this group. I want to do what’s best for them now and for their future and I have no desire to erase their history or original family from them.

So in response, not in regard to this specific situation, but from the big picture point of view came these important perspectives –

The solution is actually really simple. Address the reasons kids end up in care. Neglect is the number one reason and usually stems from addiction. So, tackle addiction with better programs that work that are not just accessible to the rich. Better social supports so families are not struggling. We need to reduce removals.

Guardianship has been practiced forever. Families have raised kids not their own since the dawn of time. It does not require legally severing a child’s identity. It does not require falsifying documentation. You can love and care for a child without that. They don’t need your last name to feel loved and cared for. It’s literally just paperwork. Adoption is not necessary.

A good adoption story (they exist, in fact, it can be said that both of my parents who were adopted, had good lives) does not make children being removed from their parents ok. Families need to be helped BEFORE they get to a point of their kids being removed. As a society, we need to truly care about family preservation.  Society needs to wake up enough to stop seeing adoption and foster care as something that saves children. Until that awareness becomes common, nothing about foster care or adoption will change.

Adoptees may never feel a sense of belonging to their adoptive family because it’s not their family. That may be hard for people who believe in adoption to accept but it is the obvious reality. If there were less foster/adoptive homes, the system would have to change. A change in what qualifies for removal, a change in what it takes to get kids home. All the money now wasted on foster homes could go back into social programs to help families.

If you want to help families, get out of the foster system if you are a part of it. Start working with local shelters and other organizations that help struggling families avoid Child Protective Services. Join programs that help foster youth aging out. Be an ally to parents caught up in the system. It’s a warped system that profits off of the destruction of families.  It is also that simple.

Meanwhile In Another Reality

Imagine the dominant social narrative surrounding adoption was flipped – that it was viewed negatively by society (media, public, social policy, etc) with no saviorism or birth mom/adoptive parent platitudes like brave or selfless.

Imagine it was considered a socially unacceptable way to build a family or to fulfill a deep wish or right to experience parenting and people seeking to adopt were viewed as selfish.

This radical change came about as the catastrophic effect on children caused by relinquishment, and subsequent adoption became common knowledge.  And that clear understanding developed societal beliefs that deliberately perpetrating adoption was as unpalatable as the current “anti” adoption movement is viewed by proponents.

Instead, society truly became child-centered – where the child’s needs are put first. One that does not permit ownership, name you as parents nor replace the birth certificates, allow name changes, or any family severance. It is also socially unacceptable to brag about your adopted child, or even share their story.  It is instead as embarrassing as it is to admit you are not raising your own birthed child (I know that one way too intimately).

Then other options (like guardianship) would be the default route for permanence when  strangers are needed to care for children who are not able to live with their natural family for safety reasons.  We can and should imagine “better”.  That is why adoptees and original mothers are speaking out about the deep wounds that giving up children for adoption has caused for them.

Facilitating The Search

The more enlightened adoptive parents are prepared from the beginning for their child’s curiosity about their original parents and even a desire to know these people in person.

How does an adoptive parent lay the groundwork for this to occur?

In my own immediate family, each of my sisters gave up a child to adoption. Both of these children, a niece and a nephew, have had support from their adoptive parents to experience a reunion with their roots.

Many begin when the child is very young to admit to the adoption. Even a safe haven baby can someday use inexpensive DNA to locate related persons who might be able to lead them back to their original family. That has certainly worked for me with my own cousins and an aunt (both of my parents were adopted).

Whether this hurts the adoptive parent should not prevent any adoptee from knowing their true origins and as much of their birth story as is possible so that they understand what led to their relinquishment.

Let your adopted child know that you will do everything you can to help them if they want your assistance.

Never pretend you are the only family or parents. Accept the reality and know that family matters at lot and that adoption doesn’t magically make the other family disappear.

Your adopted child will appreciate your reassurance. You do not need to pressure them to reach out to their original family. The choice to do so must be their own.

Normalize these feelings by letting them know that you would want to know if you were an adopted child.

A Strange Club

I finished reading Before and After yesterday. I don’t think Lisa Wingate expected to open this door when she wrote her bestselling fictional novel based upon the horrors of Georgia Tann’s methods of operating an adoption agency – separating children from their original families purely for profit.

However, as she embarked on book tours across the country, the sheer number of real lives impacted by Georgia Tann made themselves evident.  I believe the reunion in Memphis that the new book is based upon was an effort on Wingate’s part to repay the living victims, many of whom are descendants of those directly impacted, for a good story that made her even more successful than she was before (she had written quite a few books before this phenomenal story).

In the Afterward chapter of Before and After, a story about Georgia Tann adoptees and their remarkable reunion in Memphis –

“We need to be given peace and

freed of the misery that comes

from not knowing,

and allowed to live with the truth

before we pass from this world.”

~ Letter from a TCHS adoptee

to her unknown birth family

The reunion proved that people are interested in hearing what the adoptees and their descendants have to say, that strangers care about this long-ago miscarriage of justice.

Countless families have a connection to the horror of Tann and those movers and shakers of Memphis who let her operate until 1950. This is a story that doesn’t have an ending. It never will. For thousands of families, tens of thousands of lives, it will always be a part of their history.

There’s fear of the unknown. My adoptee father had that and he wasn’t a Tann baby.  The Salvation Army separated him from his unwed, poverty stricken mother.

Many, if not most, adoptees hunger for their personal information – their medical history in particular.

Being a Tann victim is like being a member of a strange club. Those who’s lives are somehow a part of the the Tennessee Children’s Home Society story.  There is a shared experience with all of those who’s lives have been impacted by this.

For many of us (myself included) there is a feeling of kinship when we find our long ago “lost” family members. Not all reunions go happy but mine have.

What I took away from reading this book is that there is a universal aspect to the experience of most adoptees. Though the Georgia Tann/TCHS story was a particularly bad scandal, the effects on the Tann adoptees is so very similar to the wounds and trauma that every adoptee experiences (even the ones who aren’t aware it is there – that is my own opinion about it but from exposure to a diversity of adoptees, I don’t believe I’m far wrong).

Before We Were Yours (the fictional account) is a fast and engaging read.  Before and After is a bit more tedious but the real story of real impacts on real people.  I recommend both books.

Each Small Death

. . . is just a season where a part of us is shed to make way for a new one. ~ Jonas Ellison

This quote captured something in my heart.  When I was already into my 60s, I lost first my mom and then 4 months later, my dad, to the normal processes of life that end in one’s death.  When they died, none of us knew who their original parents were.  They were both adopted and their adoptive parents were also dead.

Turns out my original grandparents were all dead as well.

But there is “new” life in me because I now know so much more about my authentic family history.  I know there is a lot of Danish in me because of my paternal grandfather who was an immigrant.  And there is a good deal of Scottish in me because of my maternal grandmother.

On my paternal grandmother’s side is a long history that includes an ancestor who wrote a journal that is still in print.  It is considered to be one of the best records of early colonial life in New London Connecticut spanning a 47 year period from 1711 to 1758.  Yes, before our Revolutionary War.  His home is on the national register and a museum now.

That leaves my maternal grandfather.  His own grandfather was 2nd Lieutenant in the Confederate Army from 1861 through 1864. He fought in the battles of Shiloh, Chattanooga and Spring Hill, as well as other less notable engagements.  There are actually Confederate connections on my maternal grandmother’s side as well.  Not that I take any real pride in that, it just is the honest truth.

All of this is “new” to me.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to know about these people but learning about them and meeting some living descendants has made me whole again.  Even though it was too late for my parents, losing them opened up the path for me to know these things about my family history.

All that to say, if you are in a similar circumstance by all means push ahead.  Inexpensive DNA testing and the matching sites that include 23 and Me as well as Ancestry are making it possible for many people who’s past was clouded by adoption to finally know who and from where their roots are grounded in reality.

 

In Defense Of

I do believe in all the reforms I have previously written about – retaining identity and family history information, not changing names or birth dates and not listing adoptive parents as the original parent.  Beyond that is a consideration for guardianship rather than permanent adoption.

All that said, from direct experience, adoptive parents have been a part of my own family’s life in positive ways.  First of all – my grandparents by adopting each of my parents.  On each side, they were a positive influence on my life and the lives of my siblings as well as on my parent’s lives.  They were good people who meant well.  What we now know about the wounds suffered by adoptees was not known at the time they took possession of my parents.

My mom’s adoptive parents modeled financial security for us and affirmed the value of advanced education.  My dad’s adoptive parents modeled faith and uncompromising personal values for us.  My dad’s adoptive parents may even have been responsible for keeping my parents together by getting married and preventing me from being given up when my teenage mother found herself pregnant.  I am grateful for that much.

Each of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption and these two children are fine adults.  In one case, my niece is showing us what a good and consistent mother she can be.  Even though she has been reunited with my family, she has remained steadfast in her appreciation for the people who raised her.

My nephew could not be a higher quality person.  His adoptive mother has gone the extra mile to answer the identity questions that evolved as he matured.  It appears that even my sister either didn’t know who his actual father was or chose to name the person who had the financial resources to help her make what has proven to be a quality choice as a substitute mother.  Given my sister’s very evident mental illness, it is for the best that she didn’t try to raise him.

All that to say, while I remain firmly of the opinion that there are better ways to provide for the welfare of children than adoption, it is not that the adoptive parents in my own family’s life were to blame.  It was naive ignorance and the intention to do good – which all of them have.