A Deep Yearning

From the time my mom tried to get her adoption file out of the state of Tennessee in the early 1990s, I had a deep yearning, same as she did, to know who ? Who were my grandparents ? Actually, there was an unconscious version back in my public school days when everyone was going around saying things like – “I’m French.” or “I’m German.” When I asked my mom what are we ? She said “American.” I said I know that but what else ? She said we don’t know because both your dad and I were adopted. Later in life I would tell people that I was an Albino African because no one, including my own self, could prove any different. One birthday, my brother in law gave me a National Genographic test kit. I ran my maternal line. Turns out we (humans) all originated in Africa, at least according to that National Geographic project.

That lead to me wanting something more specific than the disappointing degree of information I got from that effort. I ordered an Ancestry DNA kit on the recommendation of a friend, only to discover my mom had already done hers and what do you know – trace amounts from Mali. There’s my African for you. My mom attempted a family tree but because the only information she could build one on was the adoptive families, she told me at one point, “I just had to quit, it wasn’t real because I was adopted, oh well.” It is so sad.

The state of Tennessee did open the adoption files for the victims of the Georgia Tann scandal less than 10 years after my mom’s futile attempt but no one told her. That is also sad because even though the state broke my mom’s heart by telling her that her mother had died some years before, they didn’t try very hard to determine the status of her father (their basis for denying her) who had already been dead for 30 years. Had my mom received her adoption file, she would have seen a black and white photo of her mom holding her as an infant – probably for the last time at Porter Leath Orphanage in Memphis, who she turned to for temporary care as she tried to get on her own two feet financially. The supervisor there betrayed my grandmother to Georgia Tann. The truth and factual details could have brought my mom a lot of inner peace. The adoption file has certainly has taken me on a surprising journey to self knowledge.

I did not know it then but it was the jumping off point to meet living descendants of my grandparents after first having the good fortune to discover in only one year’s time with persistence and determination who all 4 of my original grandparents were. This included also doing the 23 and Me test. My latest joys are communicating with the descendants in Denmark of the last grandparent I discovered, my Danish immigrant paternal grandfather. Every possible internet channel for ancestry and the inexpensive DNA testing opportunities have been used by me to achieve my own successes.

Most adoptees who do not have open adoptions with open knowledge of their origins and the circumstances of their adoptions have the same issues and desires that my mom and I experienced. The New York Times has a follow on article to Steve Inskeep’s (Op-Ed, March 28) titled “I Was Denied My Birth Story” with a “Letter to the Editor” – this time titled “For Adoptees, a Deep Yearning ‘to Know Where You Come From’.”

Activists continue to push their individual states to open adoption files for adult adoptees. It is a basic human right to know your origins and adoptees are treated like second class citizens by being denied this right in approximately half of all these United States. You can read more in this article – Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates which was updated as recently as May 15, 2019.

23 & Me Does It Again

Today’s story from an adoptee (not me) –

Just found some family members through 23 and me, and posted about it to a moms group that I’m in. One of these moms is cautioning me that it might be too upsetting for them to find out about me. I thought that group was supposed to be there for support for me? I guess that can’t really happen anywhere except among fellow adoptees have been told their whole life that their very existence might bother someone. I’m so done with that. My existence is amazing and wonderful and if it bothers anyone else that’s not my fault. I am treading lightly and my note to them was very sweet and sensitive I think. If they have signed up for 23 and me that, they know what might come. They don’t have to have their family tree public.

I am shaking and feel like crying now honestly. I’m so done with people lecturing me about how important everyone else’s feelings are. Wasn’t that what my whole life was about? Shame and secrets? Wasn’t that what caused the 20 years of connecting with my birth mom to be partly wonderful and partly stressful? I wasn’t even invited to her own memorial service. My own birth mom that I was close to, I thought, for 20 years. Connection and truth should not be traumatizing. If it is, the trauma was caused by other people and there is healing that is possible. That’s the energy and vibe I feel and I’m not going to march into somebody’s house screaming who I am, either literally or energetically.

I do have concern about how they will emotionally feel and let them decide how and when to talk to other family members if they ever do. Or not. That’s their choice as well. But I do think I have a right to know who I am and I’m very excited to at least know the names of some of my relatives in my ancestry a lot more.

Thank you for having this group (an all things adoption and foster care and not of the rainbows and unicorns sunshine always variety on Facebook) because I know that the adoptees feelings and experience is centered and of primary importance. They always talk about adoption helping the baby so much and how grateful we are supposed to be. We’re supposed to be grateful for being told our whole lives that we should be careful how everyone feels? And worship only the adoptive parents in this triad? Nope. Everyone in this experience deserves their feelings and thoughts to be fully 100% honored. There is no competition. I’m just sick of people making this like a competition for feelings.

Trying to focus to get ready to go to a job interview now and it’s pretty challenging with all of this on my mind but mostly I am very excited. (Oh, and I might’ve actually gone to school with one of my 2nd cousins….!)

Acceptance

My adoptee mom shared with me before she died that she had to stop working on the family tree at Ancestry that she had been creating from the lineage of the adoptive parents (my dad was also an adoptee).  She said “It just wasn’t real to me.  I am adopted.”  Then she added, “Glad I was.” because she had reached a place of acceptance that she would never know her origins and whether having been adopted was actually a “good” thing or not.

Acceptance is a phase of grieving.  My mom grieved that her original mother had died before her search began.  Arriving at acceptance can feel lighter, more balanced and has the ability to realize what all of our experiences have brought to us.

Adoptees will likely struggle with what it means to belong to two families.  Coming to terms with that, could also make comfortable – duality, complexity and ambiguity.  An adoptee may be able to see both/and rather than either/or.

What will always be true is that an adoptee can never be not adopted. That’s a given.

Adoption can add an element of compassion.  There is no getting around the reality that the adoptee was given up.  Taken in by strangers. There are consequences to both.

Healing can happen when an adoptee can accept that what happened, happened. This was their fate. They were surrendered by one mother and raised by a different one.  An adoptee can’t avoid the pain that is part of that experience.

Platitudes such as “everything happens for a reason” or “it’s all part of God’s plan” are not helpful.  Nor are attitudes that an adult adoptee should simply “move on” or “get over it” or “stop dwelling in the past”.  These are not helpful either. The past is an adoptee’s history, their identity, their connection to a concept of family.

Babies adopted shortly after birth experience a trauma so early in life that there is no “before” the trauma to return to.  Consider that.  Add to it the pain adoptees experience by being mostly invalidated by society.

So better words don’t include a non-adoptee’s judgement of what would have been better or worse.  A simple acknowledgement of fact is enough.  Adoption can’t be undone.

Even so, an adoptee can know that they are also a survivor with those kinds of strengths and gifts. The adoption system is deeply flawed.  Seeking to reform it is a worthy outcome for having gone through the experience.

It Wasn’t Real To Me

My mom had her DNA tested at Ancestry because she hoped to find some of her original family.  Since she had a membership, she started creating a family tree but all she could base it on were the adoptive families (both of my parents were adoptees).

Eventually, wanting to know my own heritage, I got my DNA tested.  I didn’t even know at the time she had done hers.  I think she was always a bit apologetic about wanting to know her origins because my dad was not supportive.  He warned her she might be opening a can of worms if she learned anything.

My dad had this idea that once you are adopted, your original family ceases to exist and the adoptive family is all you should be concerned with.  Sadly, he died with a half-sibling living only 90 miles away from him.  She could have told him so much about his original mother.

When my mom and I compared notes about our Ancestry DNA results, she told me regarding the family tree, “I just had to quit, it wasn’t real to me.”  I do understand.

I haven’t had time to get all of the work done but I did start new family trees for each of my parents and I am recording their bloodline information along with their names at birth and a recognition that they died under an assumed name given to them by their adoptive parents.

I loved my adoptive grandparents and my aunts and uncles and cousins through them.  I’ve not lost anything, I gained a whole world based on truth.  My family tree is an orchard, not so simple as the conventional ones are to complete.