Leave The Door Open

Recently a commenter on my blog was making a big deal about “genetic parents” being able to opt out of their own child’s lives. This could be equated to surrendering a child to adoption and this commenter actually extended her perspective to donor egg or sperm sources. I don’t think her points of view are realistic but she is an activist in such concerns and I understand her perspectives. Like much of scientific medical advances being light years ahead of moral and ethical considerations. She thought ALL of the parents should be on a birth certificate and have full responsibility for the well-being of the children involved. As a society, we are simply not there yet.

Happily, there is a huge effort within the adoption community (made up of adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents and birth parents) to create an organic, grassroots kind of reform of the whole situation. What might such a “reformed” situation look like ? I think this story is an excellent example and so I share it with you today (I hasten to add, it is NOT my own story, because sometimes that isn’t understood in this blog).

My daughter’s parents were very distant after they made the adoption plan for her. They felt that by doing so, they had given up their rights to ask anything or to know her (this is what both of them have explained to me). Keep reaching out, keep sending photos, updates, hand and foot crafts, etc. When my adoptive daughter was almost 3 yrs old, her mother came to understand that we DID want her in our daughter’s life and that we were happy to have her here. Her dad went longer, so many years with out seeing her, he said that he was afraid of making her life harder by showing up when he finally felt ready. We talked about it and I sent a ton of links to him showing that it’s better for children to know their families, if they can. That year he brought his girlfriend and parents to her birthday party. Our little girl loved being snuggled up in her father’s arms for the afternoon. If you genuinely leave the door open and make the child’s original parents feel welcomed, there is a good chance that one day they will come through that opening.

Denial of Paternity

Today’s sticky situation . . .

We have four children, they are all siblings via mom. They are four of her six children.

Child 1&2 are adopted via foster care. Child 3 & 4 we have full custody/guardianship. Mom stated father for child 4 was transient. She didn’t want child with him or his family and wished for this child to be with siblings and have access to her (mom). Her fiancée has claimed this child and child has his last name. He is not the biological father, nor is he listed on the bc due to hospital staff interference. But mom calls him dad to the child.

We had a visit with mom & fiancée over the weekend. She disclosed that her and fiancée broke up recently and during this break she reached out to child 4’s dad and informed him of this child. He denied the child and said he is infertile and a baby is not possible.

We feel very perplexed – do we personally reach out to dad? We had decided before that this was mom’s call – her child, her choice. She values the sibling relationship a lot – and we do have contact with her oldest two children. And contact with the mom regularly. She had feared that if the dad knew, he would take the baby and never let the child see mom or the child’s siblings.

Now that dad has been informed, what is best for this child? Is it best for us to reach out to him? Is it best to leave it and allow the child to decide when she is older (and when is that age?) if she wants to pursue contact and a relationship? We never want to withhold a child from a parent or keep a parent from parenting. We also don’t want to go against mom’s wishes or break apart siblings.

Now some advice . . .

The suspected dad isn’t about to pop up and make trouble. Just leave it for now. Let mom manage this how she sees fit unless it becomes necessary to intervene. If he’s denying the child to her, and isn’t interested in the child, then it should be the mom that communicates the reality to the child in question. It isn’t your place to take matters into your own hands. You can let the mom know that he can reach out to you, if he desires to. Is this man afraid he will be saddled with child support ? That is often a big disincentive to involvement.

That said, any child deserves to know who their biological father is, especially if there aren’t any safety issues as to why they shouldn’t. Maybe after he has some time to cool off and calm down, he would be willing to do a paternity test. It is easy to understand that he is right to be angry and irritated. A child that is potentially of him was purposely kept from him. Ask mom for basic information, so you have it for the child.

Finally this, Are you willing to pay for a DNA test ? If so, I’d reach out and offer to pay for that, so he can have peace of mind (and your child can know). You can do cheek swabs by mail without meeting up. If you’re not willing/ able to pay, I would leave it alone for now but save any information you can acquire for your child as they grow up.

A Disconnect

I’ve been reading about infant development lately in a book titled Healing the Split – Integrating Spirit Into Our Understanding of the Mentally Ill by John E Nelson MD. I often reflect on my own mothering of my daughter at the age of 19. Though the love was never lacking, I was not as good of a mother for her as I might have been, had I know how to be a good mother.

I believe some of that comes of the slight disconnect in my own parents as regards their parenting of us. It is not their fault, they were both adopted. Oh, they were good parents, not abusive, and we knew they loved us but there was something missing in them and it affected their parenting of us.

What was missing in my parents were their natural mothers, who carried them in their wombs and gave birth to them, may have breastfed them. I know that was true with my dad. I don’t have a record of that for my mom. She was taken to an orphanage for temporary care by her own financially desperate mother and put on a formula. My dad was allowed to stay with his mother and continue to nurse for some months as he accompanied her when she was employed by the Salvation Army, through who’s home for unwed mothers she had given birth to him.

I was reflecting on this as I sat out on the deck overlooking the field at my writer’s retreat. I was bundled up in a cozy jacket as the temperature is not more than the mid-30s and drinking warm tea.

I was thinking about how my mom took my bottle from me at 13 months to give to my newborn younger sister. My mom intended no harm, she didn’t know better. We can’t do better than we know how.

So, as I was drinking the warm tea, I imagined mothering myself. I imagined being warm and cozy in the soft embrace of my mother, drinking in the warm, nourishing liquid.

In that moment, I forgave my mom and had to extend that forgiveness to myself. I can acknowledge that I might have done better if I had know how to do better and in realizing that, I can acknowledge that my own mother would have done better had she known how to do better.

My late life sons (born when I was 47 and 50 years old) have benefitted from having a better mother in me. Certainly, I did have previous experience when the first boy was born and I had a huge amount of support from my in-laws who came every day for the first 4 months and only stopped when my husband begged me to ask them to back off.

My husband was always a good and nurturing co-parent as he did not become a father until he was personally ready to commit to that responsibility. When the second boy was born, he doubled down on the attention he gave the older boy, that he suffer less from the loss of attention of his mother, due to a newborn in the house.

It was a situation that I had to rectify when the younger boy was about 2 or 3 and the older one about 6 as he was acting out a lot to get my attention. With sufficient attention from me, that behavior quickly ceased and the younger boy benefitted from having more dad time.

Hindsight doesn’t replace ignorance but ignorance is not willful neglect.

Married Men !!

A woman asked for advice regarding this situation –

Advice needed for revealing an unplanned pregnancy with a married man at the worst time in your life, and facing judgment and disappointment from others. Is it better to get it over with or hide as long as possible? I know it was wrong, and I deserve the judgment thrown my way.

The good news is that this woman is determined to parent her child.

I responded with this –

I would never say you “deserve” any ill effects. I do not know the entire story. My parents were both adopted. My dad’s mother was unwed. She had an affair with a much older man who was an immigrant, not yet naturalized though he did become a citizen later on. I doubt she knew he was married when she first started seeing him. In my younger days the same situation (though not a pregnancy) happened to me. His disloyalty to his marriage was entirely 100% his issue as far as I am concerned in EVERY case of this.

I do NOT recommend my self-sufficient grandmother’s solution to you. She went to a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers. She never told my dad’s father. I do share this with you because since I discovered who that man was (something I never thought was going to be possible since he was un-named but my wonderful grandmother left me breadcrumbs in her photo album which a cousin I discovered happily shared with me) – my dad was so very much like him – in appearance and interests. What good friends they might have been. It is a sadness for my own self that they never had the chance.

I wish you good resolutions. My heart’s mind will hold you gently for the best outcome. HUGS !!

Another person responded – People are going to judge no matter what. So do whatever gives you less stress and more peace.  I would encourage you to tell him so you at least figure out where he’s at and don’t have to guess or wonder.

Someone else added – The father should know about his child, but I don’t see why anybody else has to know who the father is.

And another reminded her – He deserves to know. But you have the ultimate decision. Don’t let him talk you out of keeping the baby or into adoption. He can chose not to parent the child.

Someone else added – I would recommend disclosing it to those who need to know (in this case, the father). The fear of all the possible reactions can be debilitating. Better to just be upfront and tell him. It isn’t really other people’s business to know who the father is unless you wish to disclose it. I don’t see why you need to volunteer his marital status to your friends and family. Your child has a right to know who his/her father is. Acquaintances do not.

My favorite was what this woman shared – This is me! I told my baby daddy. I have a wonderful 16 year old whose father decided he would be involved about 7 years ago. I have been open and honest about his beginnings and have no shame. People will think what they will and I can’t control that. My son is an honor student, lettered in lacrosse in 9th grade and plays high school hockey. I’m bursting with pride about this kid! Have your baby and celebrate your child loud and proud!

Does Gender Make A Difference ?

My dad as a toddler.  I believe this photo may have been taken at the Salvation Army home in El Paso Texas at least a couple of years after my dad was adopted.  His original mother was probably still working there at this time.  This photo came from her own album, even though he was adopted at 8 months of age.  I do know that my Granny went back to them to adopt a baby brother for my dad and so this may have been when she went there to get my Uncle Buddy.

The look on his face leads me to reflect on what it might possibly mean.  His original mother was fond of taking photographs and so it may be that she actually took this photo.  Did he recognize her now ?  There is no way to know really.

What I do know is that my mom and my dad, both adoptees, responded to that fact of their very lives differently.  It never seemed to matter much to my dad.  His adoptive mother was the prime source of security for him and the reason he was adopted.  She actually kicked my dad’s first adoptive father out of the house for abusive behavior.  My nephew says my Granny (what we called this woman growing up) said he was hurting one of the boys and she threw him out the window.  Whatever the truth was, she was that feisty, and he died young because his liver was too damaged by alcohol.

My dad was actually adopted twice.  At the age of 8, he was adopted again by my Granny’s new husband and he was a good man and they stayed married until death did part them.

When my mom wanted to search for her original family, my dad warned her against it saying she might be opening up a can of worms.  I believe that statement represents his thoughts about his own adoption.  Preparing for this blog, I went looking to see if gender makes a difference in one’s feelings about having been adopted.  At least one story I found seems to indicate as much.  He said, “I still do not wish to find my biological parents, but I am thankful every day for the love and the sacrifice they made for me,” even though he now has biological children of his own.

Maybe it is because mothers have a different kind of relationship with their children than fathers do.  My mom once explained her effort to find her mother this way, “As a mother, I would want to know what happened to my child.”  My mom really seemed to have zero interest in her father.

 

Sad And Heartbreaking

I find myself in such an awkward position.  I have come to see that adoption is not the happy, rosy picture the industry wishes to paint because it is so lucrative.  Even so, but for adoption, I would not even exist.  What a quandary.

So to get real – adoption is never about the child who becomes an adoptee.  This is the reality.  As difficult as it may be to accept and understand.

Certainly, I am anti unethical adoption.  My mom’s adoption was unethical.  My maternal grandmother was pressured and exploited in a difficult situation that to her unending sorrow resulted in losing the baby girl she fought so hard to keep.  It wasn’t her fault.  She was a victim of Georgia Tann who was a master at the art of separating mothers from their children.

Even though my existence is decidedly an effect of two adoptions (both of my parents were), that does not mean that I cannot see the problems with adoption – especially for the child who is forever wounded in a deep place and may not even know what the actual source of their emotional pain is.

So, it is not positive or beautiful to take another women’s child.  Period.  There has to be a better way and that is to provide for a family to remain intact.

And there is also the issue of the father.  Yes, some are unconcerned about the child they helped to create.  It may also be true that others that never get a chance.  I believe my dad’s father never even knew he existed.  Since he was married, my dad’s mother probably simply never told him and handled it herself.  My dad was so much like his father that I believe they would have been great friends.  It wasn’t her plan initially to give my dad away, though at 8 months, she let him go for adoption.

Everything about the act of adoption is sad and heartbreaking – for the adoptee certainly – but I also believe for the natural, original parents as well.

When Dad’s Are Moms

 

My Maternal Grandfather with my Mom’s Half-Sisters

Both of my original grandmothers lost their own mothers at a young age.  My maternal grandmother lost her mother at age 11 and my paternal grandmother lost her mother at 3 months of age.

Therefore, their fathers were faced with children to raise without the children’s own mother present in their lives.  I believe my maternal grandmother became the “little mama” to her four younger siblings.  Her father never remarried.  My paternal grandmother had an older sister living.  Eventually, their dad remarried.

Regardless of the cultural expectations of their time in history, these fathers were faced with a daunting task.  There are many like them even today.

My paternal great-grandfather holding my paternal grandmother with her sister seated nearby.

Fathers and Daughters

My great-grandfather, Raphael,
holds his infant daughter, my grandmother Dolores,
with her sister, Eleanor, seated nearby

My grandmother’s mother died when she was only 3 months old.  It is said that when the mother dies, a good indicator of where the father-daughter relationship will ultimately end up is what kind of relationship they had developed, when the death occurs.

The mother’s absence can change the way a father relates to his daughter. This period can affect a daughter’s feelings of security and self-worth as well as her ability to form satisfying relationships as an adult.

There is a lot I cannot know about such things.  These circumstances happened so many years ago and we were cut-off by adoption from our original families.  I know that he remarried and the step-mother was not kind.  I know that they moved to Asheville, North Carolina, when she was a young girl and they put her to work in the rayon mills.

I know they went out to California to visit Raphael’s elderly father Austin who lived nearby his daughter, Laura.  My great-grandfather would have been, at least in part, influenced by his own identifications with his parents.  Certainly, Austin seemed important to Raphael in adulthood.  I’ve no indication what his relationship with his mother was like.  Did he have any memories about how his father treated his mother ?

Austin seems to have been closer to his daughter, Laura, than to Raphael.  If my great-grandfather didn’t have any comfortable memories to draw on, then he may have lacked a firm bedrock for relating to his daughter.  I have discovered through Ancestry that he was of an advance age when he still living with his parents.

What I do know at this point is that my grandmother Dolores’ home life was so unhappy, that she refused to go back to North Carolina with her family and they dis-owned her over it.  It seems that her Aunt Laura and her girl cousins were important to her going forward in California.

 

Fair Responsibility

The way things are going, it seems like this idea would be fair, if at least this was the law of the land. My mom’s mother lost her when she was exploited by Georgia Tann, because my mom’s father did not take financial responsibility for her life. There is no other perspective I can see as valid. I think he was a good and kind man but why did he abandon them ? That is a question I will never have an answer for.

Though unwed, the married man who impregnated my paternal grandmother did not take any responsibility for his existence either.  I don’t know that the man ever knew he was a father, though my grandmother was clear enough about it to give my dad his father’s middle name and keep a head shot photo of the man with his name and the word “boyfriend” next to a photo of her with my dad on her lap.

People who are pro-life are usually only pro-birth.  They don’t consider either the prolonged gestation, during which a woman may not be able to work, nor the life-long commitment that having a child entails.  Condemning a woman and her children to poverty is not being a supporter of life that has any good qualities beyond love (and of course, love is very important) but that it is okay for them to starve and not have shelter or clothing.

Regardless of the personal hell they will live through, that baby must be born.  The new Jim Crow ?

The Ties That Bind

 

This movie never fails to bring me to the verge of happy tears at the ending as the family is reunited by the music they all share, though differently.

We own the dvd but I had not seen it in some time, certainly not since I began to discover my family origins.  The child knows that he has parents out there and remains convinced the music will help him find them and it does in a very beautiful way.

I also finished reading Dani Shapiro’s – Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love yesterday.  She discovers thanks to inexpensive DNA testing that the father that raised her was not her biological father.  Turns out she was donor conceived.

When she discovers her biological father all of the unanswered questions of her life are explained in their similarities.

There are many variations of children who are separated in one way or another from their genetic roots.  We cannot dismiss the validity of those ties because they do bind the person.