Folksong by Cory Goodrich

corygoodrich.com

This is not my personal story but I do know at least one friend for whom it IS their story as well and so, I have become more interested in NPEs.

Cory Goodrich is a NPE or the recipient of a non-paternity event. This is when someone who is presumed to be an individual’s father is NOT in fact the biological father. This presumption may be on the part of the individual, the parents, or the attending midwife, physician or nurse.

“I’ve always questioned so many things about my family and my life throughout the years, and also about my own mother, who always seemed to be holding back,” Goodrich said.

“I finally decided to ask myself the questions: If a family tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to see it, do I even exist?” I do love this tree related quote !!

A promotional description paragraph sums up the book, Folksong by Cory Goodrich.

“It’s a story about the father who took her in, the father who took her away, the father who gave her away, and her 89-year-old mother, whose broken heart finally gave out while still protecting the secret to Goodrich’s identity. Sifting through the remnants of a life captured in letters and old Polaroids, Goodrich discovers a secret that sets her on a journey with life-altering consequences. In the era of Ancestry.com, DNA testing, and social media, Goodrich was able to gather together just enough pieces of a puzzle locked away for over 50 years to clearly make out the unfathomable image it depicted. Goodrich reminds that while things aren’t always what they seem, stunning fortitude and unexpected legacy can rise from the disorganized ashes of a toppled identity.”

Goodrich says, “I describe ‘Folksong’ as a memoir of love and longing, an ode to self-discovery, an emotional ballad of grief and forgiveness, and a heart-stirring look at the lengths to which a family will go to protect themselves and each other.”

Sometimes, a few breadcrumbs are all you need, as I discovered during my own family roots journey. Since my dad’s mom was unwed and she didn’t name his father on his birth certificate, I thought I’d never be able to know who my paternal grandfather was. I will admit that getting my DNA tested at Ancestry and some intriguing “hints” of some people I seemed to related to – actually were – right on target. When I finally had a last name for my paternal grandfather, the man I once contacted through Ancestry, who finally months later, wrote me – I wish I could help but none of the names you have given me seem related to me. Then, I gave him the new name – mystery solved – my grandfather was his grandmother’s brother.

Disclaimer – I have not read this book. Still I would recommend it to anyone feels they may also be a NPE.

The deception with tact, just what are you trying to say?

You’ve got a blank face, which irritates

You see dimensions in two

State your case with black or white

But when one little cross leads to

You run for cover so discreet, why don’t they

Do what they say, say what you mean

You told me something wrong, I know I listen too long but then

One thing leads to another

~ partial lyrics from The Fixx song One Thing Leads to Another

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

Adoption Fragility

Today’s story –

I am an adoptive parent and I will admit I have to stop myself sometimes and realize my thoughts or fears are out of fragility. My adopted son (age 6) is “star of the week” at school this week and is choosing his pictures to share with his classmates. He has chosen pictures of both biological siblings and mom, and those of us he lives with. My fragility I am afraid is coming into play because I don’t want him to be hurt by the questions others may ask. Any insight on how to help him navigate his peers in this situation? I don’t want to hold back on him sharing what he wants to share, it is his story to tell. I also don’t want him hurt.

One response was – You are assuming he will be hurt. Maybe he will, but his status as an adoptee is for life, so he has to deal with that. I’d let it happen organically and address anything that may occur, after, if he wants to. Don’t make it a big deal. Let him lead and just be aware the days after for any signs.

Similarly, Let him lead here and don’t interfere. The reactions of others is something he now gets to deal with for as long as he lives. Your role is to prepare him to answer the questions in a manner that he is comfy with.

And wise – Stop trying to stop him hurting. STOP, STOP, STOP. Just let him be. Get a grip on your emotions. YOU cannot stand that he is hurt. He will be hurt he is human.

And this recognition – none of us – whether you are a biological parent or adoptive parent – want our children to “hurt”. Sharing his truth, with you in support of his sharing (because it IS his truth), is how you provide as stable a reality as possible for him. Could it be that you do not want the “hurt”? The reality that others will know the whole truth regarding your son and his place in your life? When everyone in family’s loves and supports a child, it is a beautiful thing. Let him shine – it sounds like he has a great group of “family” cheering him on.

One often sees warnings for adoptive parents not to share a child’s adoptive status with others because it leads to bullying and people treating them differently. There’s *absolutely* a difference between an adoptive parent sharing this info and a child sharing it of their own volition. She might be trying to figure out how to make sure her child doesn’t inadvertently open themselves up for poor treatment from others, while still making sure they’re able to share their truth in a way that is comfortable to them.

Some more good advice – let him know that he can share what he wants to. Then give him words in case someone asks something he doesn’t want to share..like “hmm I don’t remember that” or “I’m not sure.”

And this honest recognition that many of us know – Kids are mean. I’d just be prepared for the fact that they could be very cruel to him. Kids used to tell me that I was adopted because my “real family” hated me, or they they’d thrown me away. It might go well or he might be in a lot of pain afterwards. I was just as cruel back, lots of “any morons can have kids” etc. It wasn’t a super productive response – so 0 out of 10 – I do not recommend him going that route.

Also, the times they are a’changing – Talk about what he feels comfortable sharing in a calm environment before he’s in the spotlight. Let him practice. Pretend you’re a classmate, so that he gets to practice his answer when someone says, “if that’s your mom, who is this?” But also know that at 6, kids may not even care. Lots of kids come from blended families or have same-gender parents, so it might not even be on a 6 year old’s radar to ask. People are in so many diverse family situations nowadays. My friend who teaches elementary school says they refer to “your adult(s)” rather than parents.

Reality – Honestly just let them ask questions and him answer. Kids are better at this than you would think. What gets bad is when adults bring shame into the situation. If you act like questions shouldn’t be asked or the answers are bad then that’s what will bring shame into it. 

And regarding transracial adoption (hinted at in the graphic above) – My girls are 17 and 19. I am white they are Black and adopted. They feared telling their story but also got really tired of kids asking why their mother was white. When my younger one was in 2nd grade she told her story. She did not have any pictures of her true family because we don’t know who they were. She came home beaming. The kids asked very tough questions and she was unflinching. She then grew up with these kids no longer wondering why her mother is white. It was behind her. IF there is no shame in being their mother, there is no shame in them being able to tell their story.

And all adoptees are not the same – Ohh, this is a hard one. I hated when kids used to ask questions. It would make me so uncomfortable. (still does haha). I would just gently remind him that he doesn’t have to answer any questions he doesn’t want to answer and that he only has to give out the details he feels like sharing! And this is true – most questions come from pure curiosity rather than mean intent.

Having an idea of what to say can help – I always told my daughter that it’s her choice what she wants to share and her choice whether or not she wants to answer questions about it, but to be prepared that people WILL ask questions. I gave her some phrases to use if she didn’t want to answer certain things such as ‘I’m not comfortable talking about that’. I had to explain to her that most people don’t understand adoption much less open adoption and they will ask invasive questions even though it may come from an innocent place. I think preparing kids for other people’s reactions is important.

It commonly happens in school these days that children are asked to do family trees which can feel awkward to an adoptee. Here’s how one family dealt with that – In kindergarten my class did family trees, and I didn’t know who my first family was. My mom helped me with practice answering questions about adoption and we made up a song about adoption to help my classmates understand. There were 3 other kids adopted in my class so my mom came in and our entire class learned about adoption, I sang my song, classmates asked me questions and mom answered the ones I deferred to her. I loved sharing my story and it made me feel comfortable and not as “different” after. I’d let your kids know it’s also okay if they don’t want to share either.

It’s okay to be cautious. Just be careful not to place your anxieties on your kid. Have a conversation about how they are feeling. Ask for them to “perform” for you since you can’t be there. Ask them how they feel about adoption, what’s something they are excited to share, if they have any questions. But mostly express that you’re excited for them to show off their WHOLE family.

A Lie Or Pretend

Someone in my all things adoption group wrote – I think it’s important to recognize that adoption for all parties is literally living a lie or playing pretend. I know my mom who was adopted felt this. She had her DNA tested at Ancestry and was in the middle of creating family trees when it really hit her. Both my mom and my dad were adopted and she realized none of it was real. I now know who the real grandparents are and I do intend to complete each of my parents’ family trees, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

One woman responded – When people get so hung up on I’m real and start lecturing their kid on it I want to laugh. They look like the fool…yeah you’re real but you aren’t “the mother”. Yeah I’m the mother but I’m not raising my kid. Reality, people.

Another woman shared – It is both at different times, yes. It’s also filled with excuses and justifications for the truth. Why can’t we JUST be real about it. Addressing that I really wasn’t “chosen” by my adoptive parents didn’t send me in a tailspin. I was next on the list that fit their criteria. That’s just fact. Could have easily been some other blonde, blue-eyed toddler they ended up raising. I don’t see why anyone would think that’s hurtful. Do adoptive parents really think we don’t know we were given away and them being our parents is a crapshoot? It’s kind of obvious, yet they go through all kinds of gyrations to fluff up the simple facts.

People act like adoptees are oblivious or incapable of handling the truth. Adoptees crave the truth, it’s all they ever want. Honesty. That’s it. Of course, adoptees already know the truth and adoptive parents just need to acknowledge what the adoptee already knows.

Acknowledge and validate. The two most important things to remember.

Someone else needed to add more complex context.

There are children being raised by extended relatives or adopted after a Termination of Parental Rights (assuming good reason). Do you tell these children they are living a lie? Or do you tell them that this is not the first choice, but it is what we have and we can try to make it work. Denying the trauma is living a lie, but I don’t think the family formed afterwards necessarily is. I don’t think every family formed outside of biological relationships is living a lie or pretending.

And sadly, not every family is good for the children born into it. Here’s one such story – I was raised by a very narcissistic mother and a very hands off father except when my mother manipulated him into abusing my brother and I (including putting me in foster care for being suicidal and self harming). I don’t feel towards them the way a child should parents. I lost the woman I actually considered a mom at 12. I personally feel like being a parent is more than giving birth and doing the bare necessities for a child. My parents may have given me everything I could have needed and let me play sports and go to camps, but they severely neglected my emotionally and mentally. I found my family elsewhere in other people. Them not being blood doesn’t invalidate my experience. I personally don’t agree with infant adoption or foster to adopt, but some people who give birth, really should just not be parents.

Glad I Was

The author with her parents (both adoptees) apologies for the poor quality

My mom wrote about being adopted to me in an email “glad I was” but it was half-hearted because she died never knowing why. The state of Tennessee had rejected her request for her own adoption file while breaking her heart by telling her that her original mother had died some years earlier. In beginning her quest, my mom had said, “As a mother, I would want to know what became of my child.”

It is exceedingly sad that she didn’t receive her file. Her mom’s photo, holding my mom for the last time, was in it. Had she read through it, she would have known how much her mother loved her, wanted her and fought to keep her. My mom had defined her adoption as “inappropriate” in her letters to Tennessee. She was stating her belief delicately because she couldn’t reconcile having been born in Virginia and yet adopted in Tennessee while still an infant. And my mom knew all about the scandals of Georgia Tann, who’s agency my mom was adopted from.

The truth is that in the kindest of terms, my grandmother was coerced and exploited to take her baby from her for a woman who was willing to travel from Nogales Arizona to Memphis Tennessee to fetch my mom and then return to Arizona by train with an upset baby.

That remark from my mom came as I informed her I had gotten my DNA tested at Ancestry because both of my parents were adopted I didn’t know anything about my genetic origins. I had previously participated in National Geographic’s Genographic study of my maternal line (it was a gift from my brother-in-law for my birthday). The results were vague and minimal, only telling me my maternal line came out of Africa, validating my assertion that I was an Albino African – no one, including myself, could prove otherwise. The truth is I am very European, mostly Danish, then Scottish with a healthy dose of English and Irish to top it off. My mom had a smidgeon of Mali, I have a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew and Neanderthal.

My mom surprised me by telling me that she had also done an Ancestry DNA and had attempted family trees but they were based on the adoptive families for my dad and her self. She admitted that she lost motivation – “it just wasn’t real to me” she said – and I understood. Someday I will create REAL family trees for both of my parents. It just hasn’t been a priority nor have I had the time so far.

I recently went through a long exchange with some woman I didn’t know who had included my parents in her own family tree. She was really dense and it was difficult to get through to her that the people she was saying my parents were related to – they weren’t related to. Finally, she got it and said she would correct it when she had time. I never went back to look.

Someone recently described being adopted as being forced to play a silly game of pretend. I understand. My parents had to pretend to be the natural born child of the people who adopted them. My dad’s perspective matched that. He believed once you are adopted the people who gave you birth are insignificant. Only the people who raised you mattered. The pity is – unknown to him – at the time of his death a half-sister was living 90 miles away from him in the same state of New Mexico and could have shared with him so much about his mother and the family that came of her.

Not Real

This is complicated.  It is weird growing up knowing your grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins are not really related to you.  That is what it is like when BOTH of your parents were adopted.  Adoptees experience adoption as individually as any two people experience reality.

My mom had to stop creating the family trees on Ancestry because she said to me, it just isn’t real.  She somewhat hollowly said she was glad she was adopted but I knew from long years as her confidant that wasn’t totally true.  She was glad that as a Georgia Tann baby she didn’t end up in worse circumstances.  She ended up in a wealthy home with privileges.

So much so, that when she conceived me with a boy that came from very humble beginnings, her parents really felt disappointed that she had married below her class.  My adoptive grandparents never shared family holidays until I was well into maturity and then I only remember one occasion when the 3 of them were all present for one Thanksgiving (my mom’s adoptive father having died long before that time).

While my adoptive grandparents certainly played their roles for real and had an enormous impact on all of our lives, now that I know the truth of who my parent’s original parents were, that is who I think of when I think about my grandparents, even though I had no in life real experiences with them.

At my age, it is not uncommon for one’s parents to have died and if that is so, one’s grandparents have also died.  It’s not that I think those adoptive aunts, uncles and cousins are not really “good” people – they are.

Yet, now that I have cousins and one aunt who are genetically related to me, I’m all about slowly without a lot of force, experiencing their lives and all that unfolds in any human life as a way that I can become better acquainted.  To build familial relationships with people that share some of my genetic DNA during whatever time we have left in this world.

What Is Enough ?

My mother doubted her worth as a human and as a mother. She never believed she was good enough. Adoption did that to her. She felt broken and torn.

My mom tried very hard to know her roots. She appealed to the state of Tennessee for her adoption file. Though her father was twenty years older than her mother and her mother had already died, she was denied because the state didn’t really try too hard to determine her father’s status. He had been dead for 30 years, when she made her attempt.

She did an Ancestry DNA test and had a profile, hoping against hope to learn some truth. At least, she had some idea of her ethnicity from that effort.  She tried to complete family trees but since they were based on persons who adopted her and adopted my dad, she quit and said to me, “It just didn’t feel real.”  Of course it didn’t.  From a genealogy perspective – it wasn’t the truth.

I now have the complete story for both – my mom and my dad. I wrote everything up in a limited edition book given to family, so that what I worked so hard to learn would not be lost with me, if I died.

There is no risk-free exposure for the children of adopted parents. I know. The wounds and damage passed down my family line and other children ended up adopted too.

To Whom Do You Belong ?

My mom was fiercely an individual, even though to all surface appearances – she was passive and submissive. I think I am, in a lot of ways, like her.

Even though she was appreciative and showed responsibility towards her adoptive mother as she aged and needed assistance, my mom knew clearly that she did not “belong” to that family.

She had to give up creating a family tree at Ancestry based upon both hers and my dad’s adoptive families because she knew clearly it was NOT “real” in the sense of genetic lineage.

Though my own work to recover each of my parents true family trees remains incomplete, I do intend to do that and thread them back into the identities I grew up with.

Most genetically based sites do not fully allow for complex relationships such as adoptive or reproductive assistance kinds of familial relationships; but because of my parents, I do recognize that DNA matters.

So in answer to the question, who do you belong to ?, I believe that both my mom and I would answer – our souls, that which created this physical lifetimes experience.

 

Preserving Stuff For The Future

My husband has a rare surname and before we had our oldest son the details of his family tree began to be filled in and he was able to trace his family back to the 1400s.  I was a bit envious of that because I didn’t know my own.  His mother took an interest in her husband’s grandmother receiving a gravestone because she was unmarked in a pauper’s grave.  The result includes an oval image of her and a listing of genealogy.  Our oldest son in named after her husband.

I suppose I value family heritage so much because my own was a black hole, a void, beyond my parents who were both adopted.  After I was certain who all four of my original grandparents actually were, I wrote a family saga following their stories down to my parents and through a brief summary of my self and my sisters’ lives and children.  Someday, I’ll complete honest family trees for myself on Ancestry.

My mom did some pretty complete family trees at Ancestry from the adoptive grandparents lines but she had to quit because it just wasn’t real to her.  Ancestry is about DNA and our family does not have those families DNA.  It once took several messages from me to finally convince a woman there that I wasn’t related to her, that yes he was my dad but no we were not related.  He was adopted.  I want to set the record straight in my lifetime.

When I wrote up and printed 10 copies of that family saga, I was in effect saying – “This is who I was, please remember me and know I loved you enough even before you were born to want this information accessible to you.”  There is information about the ancestor’s family lines, important places and events as well as old family photos I have obtained from genetic cousins.  I didn’t want our family history lost again, if I should pass away soon.

When we discover an honest connection to a genetic relation, like I found with my Aunt Deborah who died young, it is an exciting moment – or how my paternal grandfather loved the sea and fishing, just like my Pisces born dad who took his first breath at Ocean Beach CA and loved all those things too.

For much of an adult adoptees’ life, questions such as those posed to my parents about their own birth or earliest moments on Earth, can only be answered with “I don’t know, I’m adopted.” Before I knew anything, that is what I answered when medical history questions asked about my grandparents. “We don’t know, we were both adopted.” is how my mom answered me, when I asked what our heritage was – from what countries did our family descend ?

For most people, asking questions about appearance related to heredity or about various skills or interests are simply casual and thoughtless conversation starters but to an adoptee, each question of that sort is a reminder of what they don’t know about their own self.

An adoptee doesn’t know if something about their own self was learned from their adoptive parents, inherited from their original parents or is unique to them somehow – there is a huge chunk of information missing from the equation – if their adoption was closed and they have not yet reunited with original family.