You Don’t Want To Parent, What To Do ?

An acquaintance is pregnant and you know they absolutely don’t want to parent that child after it is born but abortion is not option for your acquaintance. As an adoption trauma informed person, what do you suggest to this person ?

Note – decisions about pregnancy can be really complex. All-Options Talkline may be a resource – (888) 493-0092.

Deciding to not parent seems easy because of what our society has ingrained in us, but the reality is birth mothers hurt deeply their whole lives from making that decision, whether they are conscious of it or not. The same with the child, it sounds so easy to adopt out a baby because “they won’t even know” but in fact they have trauma their whole life, whether they are conscious of it or not.

For those pro-Adoption people who are also Pro-Life and believe that outlawing abortion will yield more babies for you to adopt – I have some bad news. According to The Turnaway Study, 91% women who were denied wanted abortions didn’t choose adoption. The vast majority parented their child. 

And the fact is – abortion is safer than common procedures like tonsillectomy and wisdom tooth removal. And it’s certainly much safer than going through childbirth. Far more adoptees than one would think will say “I would rather have been aborted than adopted.” 90% of American women who have abortions have them in the first trimester. I am one of those. I had an abortion in the later 1970s – after already having given birth to a daughter. At the time, she was being raised by her father and a step-mother.

In the study there was an association between abortion and mental health. But it was exactly opposite to what has been said in the popular media. It’s not that receiving an abortion was associated with worse mental health, but in the short run, being denied the abortion was – so higher anxiety, lower self-esteem, lower life satisfaction. For up until the first six months, the women who were denied fared worse. They were forced to come to terms with the fact that they were about to have a baby that they had previously felt that they weren’t able to take care of. 

What are the actual implications of giving up a living, breathing child to adoption ? Adoption is not death, but it is LOSS. The grief and trauma are life long. Birthparents cannot ever escape it. Naming that child? Loving that child? Losing that child? Living the rest of their life without their child? From a birth mother – My son is 11 years old and I have never heard him speak. I don’t know what his voice sounds like. I barely know anything about him, and it all comes through a filter. Is what his APs say actually true? I don’t know. I genuinely have no way to know if my son is being loved and cared for the way he deserves. It’s honestly terrifying. It is definitely more difficult to know the child is still out there. It’s an ambiguous grief that’s hard to understand or explain.

So the answer could be kinship! Why doesn’t anyone ever think, oh yeah, this child has family on the paternal and maternal side? At least, adoptees can then stay in their genetic family. Most adult adoptees will tell you it is better than being given to strangers to be raised. It also allows the mother time to change her perspective on parenting, have lifestyle or relationship changes while remaining in her child’s life.

In fact, I talked to an adoptee recently who didn’t know she was adopted until she was in her 30s. Attempting reunions with her birth parents yielded a mother who wasn’t interested in trying to forge a relationship but on the father’s side – it turned out that there was a paternal grandparent who did want to parent her but the birth mother had blocked it.

At least family members on either side are genetic mirrors for the child to grow up around as well as the ability to hear family stories as they are passed down. History and heritage – both matter. I know. I didn’t have either until after my adoptee parents had died and I began the search to know who my original grandparents were. Not only did I learn about my cultural heritage but I’ve been given priceless family history stories and digital photos that add value to my new sense of wholeness. That real sense of wholeness was not acquired until I was over 60 years old.

Glad I Was

1997 with my adoptee parents, apologies for the blurry quality

With Thanksgiving on my mind, I was remembering an email from my mom in which she told me she had to stop doing a family tree on Ancestry because it just wasn’t “real.” Both of my parents were adopted. Then, she added “glad I was” but that never really seemed genuine to me and the more I’ve learned about adoption and the trauma of separating a baby from its mother, the more I doubt she sincerely was grateful that it had happened, yet that was the reality and there was no way to change that. In a weird way though, I learned to be grateful that both of my parents had been adopted because otherwise, I would not exist and I am grateful for the life I have lived.

Learning my parents’ origin stories (they both died clueless), which was also my own ancestors’ stories brought with it a deep sense of gratitude for me, that I had not been given up for adoption when my mom discovered she was pregnant with me. By the ways of that time in history (early 1950s), she should have been sent away to have and give me up, only to return to her high school in time to graduate (she was a junior at the time of my conception and birth). The photo I have at the top of my blog are the pictures I now have of each of my original grandmothers holding one or the other of my parents as infants.

I continue to be grateful that I grew up with the parents who conceived me and then raised me throughout my childhood. I’ve heard many adoptees say that having biological, genetic children of their own made them fully aware of what being adopted had taken from them. At least, my parents had each other. I do continue to credit my dad’s adoptive parents with preserving me in our family. They were also a source of financial support for my parents during my earliest years. First, giving them space in their own home and me a dresser drawer bassinet. Then, an apartment in their multi-family building until my dad had saved up enough and was earning enough working shifts (and sometimes two shifts in a row) at an oil refinery to buy a house for our family.

In 2014, I experienced the last Thanksgiving with my parents. I knew their health was declining but I still expected to have yet another Thanksgiving with them in 2015. However, my mother passed away in late September and my father only 4 months later. They had been high school sweethearts and had been married over 50 years. My dad just didn’t find life worth continuing on with after his wife died. I knew that in the days after her death but then he sucked it up and tried. One morning, he simply didn’t wake up. He died peacefully with a bit of a smile on his face. I think he must have seen my mom waiting for him to join her.

That last Thanksgiving with my parents

The Grandfathers I Never Knew

My mom’s father with her half-sisters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Family Contact Matters

I understand this as the child of two adoptees.  The adoptions for both of my parents were closed and my parents both died knowing very little about their origins or the details behind why they ended up adopted.  Since their deaths, I have been able to recover a lot of my rightful family history.  I now know of genetic relatives for each of the four grandparents.  It has been quite a journey.  It wasn’t easy (though maybe easier for me due to our unique circumstances than for many) and it required persistence and determination to see it through.

Certainly DNA testing and the two major matching sites – Ancestry as well as 23 and Me – were instrumental to my success.  Since the genetic relations I was coming into first contact with had no prior knowledge of me and I am well over 60 years old, seeing the DNA truth that I was related to them, I believe it mattered.  It is hard to refute when it is right there clear and certain.

My mom had four living half-siblings on her father’s side when she was born.  One died young of a sudden heart failure.  I barely missed getting to meet my mom’s youngest half-sister by only a few months.  I was lucky to connect with her daughter who had all of her mom’s photo albums and possession of a lot of family history, including written accounts.  One afternoon with her and I felt like I had lived my Moore family’s history.  The family photos I now have digital copies of are precious treasures.

Though my Stark family was the first I became aware of and within a month, I had visited the graves of my grandmother and her parents east of Memphis in Eads Tennessee, those living descendants were the last I finally made a good strong connection with.  The reality is that I simply can’t recover 6 decades of not living with the usual family interactions with my true genetic relatives.  All I can do is try and build relationships with whatever time each of us has left.  The personal memories of my grandmother that my mom’s cousins possessed (she was our favorite aunt, they said) made her come alive for me.

The Salvation Army was somewhat forthcoming with information about my father’s birth at one of their homes for unwed mothers in the San Diego California area just walking distance from the beach and ocean.  They were able to give me my father’s full name and the missing piece of how he got from San Diego to El Paso Texas where he was ultimately adopted.  Once I knew my grandmother’s first married name (born Hempstead including my dad, later Barnes, Timm at death) and a cousin did 23 and Me, my discoveries were off and running.  Her mother, my dad’s youngest half-sibling, was living only 90 miles away from him when he died.  Mores the pity.

I thought I’d never know who my dad’s father was since his mother was unwed but the next cousin I met who I share a grandmother with had her photo albums and she left us a breadcrumb.  Clearly she had no doubt who my dad’s father was.  His father, Rasmus Martin Hansen, was an immigrant, not yet a citizen, and married to a much older woman.  So, he probably never knew he was a father and that’s a pity because I do believe my dad and his dad would have been great friends.

I now also have contact with my Danish grandfather’s genetic relatives.  If it had not been for the pandemic, they would have had their annual reunion there in Denmark.  I haven’t heard but I would not be surprised to know it is postponed.  My relative (who I share a great-grandfather with – my dad being the only child of my grandfather) planned to make the Danish relatives aware of me.

To anyone who thinks not knowing who your true relatives are – if the adoptions were more or less good enough, happy enough and loving enough – I am here to tell you that not knowing anything about your family (including medical history) and being cut off from the people you are actually genetically related to DOES matter.  Adoption records should be UNSEALED for ALL adult adoptees at their request.  Sadly over half of these United States still withhold that information.  I know from experience as I encountered this problem in Virginia, Arizona and California.  If my mom’s adoption had not been connected to the Georgia Tann, Tennessee Children’s Home Society baby stealing and selling scandal, I would not have gotten my first breakthrough.

A Sad Holiday

For many adoptees, Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday.  For many children in Foster Care it is the pits of unhappy reminders.

All my life, Mother’s Day has been a happy one.  When we were young, we made my mom breakfast in bed.  When I had my oldest son in 2001, that next Spring during the month of May in celebration of Mother’s Day, I began a family tradition of taking my children out among the Wild Azaleas that are at the peak of their annual blooming for “see how you grow” photos.  It is cherished by me that we have not missed a single year with my oldest son now 19 years old.

Truth be told, it was my mom’s adoptive mother who started the tradition.  She had grown up in Missouri.  Her childhood location is some distance to the west but is very similar in rural wildness to where I live.  One year she came to visit me before our sons were born and I took her on hikes around our farm.  She cherished the experience because it brought back memories of her own childhood in Missouri.

When she learned the Azaleas were blooming, one morning she dressed up (though she was always fully dressed with jewelry and make-up before breakfast).  She chose a pink blouse to wear and a spot to sit framed by the Azaleas blooming all around her.  Later during that visit, she took me to see her own childhood home and I was surprised to see her farmhouse was very much like our own.  We were fortunate because the owner of that house allowed us to go inside and my grandmother shared with me what remained the same and what had changed over time.

As an adoptee, my mom yearned to have a reunion with her own mother.  She knew that Georgia Tann played a prominent role in her own adoption story.  When news of the scandal resurfaced in the early 1990s, she contacted Denny Glad who lived in Memphis and helped the victims of Georgia Tann’s questionable adoption methods.  My mom learned about her from watching a 60 Minutes special about the scandal that had aired on TV around that time.

Adoption records were still sealed in Tennessee as my mom tried without success to learn about her origins.  Devastating news was delivered to my mom that her mother had died several years earlier and they would not release her adoption file because the status of her father, twenty years my grandmother’s age, could not be determined (in truth he had been dead 30 years but the state didn’t try very hard at all).

Mrs Glad was instrumental in getting adoption records opened late in the 1990s for Tann’s victims but no one ever told my mom.  My mom died believing she had been stolen based on anecdotal stories she read or heard.  That wasn’t far from the truth but in reality Tann’s network of suppliers made her aware of my mom and my grandmother, through only the best motivations of a caring mom, got trapped.

Since my mom was deceased before I began to learn so much about adoption overall, I can’t ask her the questions that weigh heavily on my own heart about how she honestly felt about a lot of the issues related to her adoption.  She didn’t speak about it to anyone else in our family beyond acknowledging that she had been adopted.  That is, except with me and with me her feelings about it were definitely conflicted.