Uprooted

This kind of discovery is happening more and more often with the advent of inexpensive DNA testing. I belong to a circle of mom’s who all gave birth in a 4 month period of time in 2004. We have pretty much stayed in contact – at least a majority of us. At one point, way back when, our group ended up divided on the common question for those who conceived via Assisted Reproductive Technology over whether we would tell our children the truth or hide it. Some definitely chose that second path, my husband and I did not. I am grateful for that choice.

It’s not as though we’ve ever made this a big issue in our household and I’ve not made it a public issue locally as well (in the early days I received some hints of questions seeking to know). One of the strategies early on was to let our children tell if that was their choice and not make that choice for them. Only recently, have I become more outspoken about our family’s origins because – gee, I will be 68 this coming May and I have two sons, one that is almost 18 and one who will be 21 this February.

There is another strategy that we owe it to other woman who could be deceived by our having given birth at advanced ages that they have all the time in the world – as I believed in my 40s when my husband decided he wanted to be a father after all after 10 years of marriage. He was always glad I had “been there and done that” so no pressure on him to parent, as I do have one daughter who is now soon to be in her 50s and she has gifted me with two grandchildren. Then we learned how low the odds of that actually happening were due to my own advanced age. A nurse practitioner recommended her own fertility doctor saying “you don’t have time to waste.” He is the first one who told us that there was “a way” and that way for us was via egg donation.

We have stayed in contact with our donor since day one. Facebook makes that easier today. The boys have met her in person more than once but distance limits that contact. I do show them pictures from her FB page from time to time. When she tested with 23 and Me, I gifted my husband with a kit, and then when my oldest son turned 18, I gave him one, and rather than wait for the youngest one to turn 18, went ahead and gave him a kit.

Doing this also allowed us to tell our boys, now that they are older, all of the reasons that we chose to do what we did. Also to emphasize that they simply would not exist or be who they are any other way. There is no “if only” things had been different. And that no one could be more of a mother to them than I am and it is clear by their behavior towards me that I am precisely that to them even with this complete knowledge.

While it is decidedly strange to see another woman listed as their mother at 23 and Me after having carried their pregnancies in my womb and breastfeeding each of them for a year, as well as being in their lives 24/7, I do not regret making private message access to her available to them if they so choose.

I understand the yearning for truth about our genetics. Both of my parents were adoptees who died 4 months apart, still basically ignorant of their origins. My mom did try to get her adoption file (a file I now have complete possession of) in the early 1990s. Within a year of my dad’s death, I had identified all 4 of my original grandparents and have contact with some cousins and a couple of surviving aunts.

There are very real and serious issues with donor sperm. It has produced a lot of children with the same genetic paternity and has existed under a protection of privacy. Unlike egg donation which we are aware that our donor went through a painful process as well as a fraught experience with powerful drugs, it is relatively easy and painless to donate sperm, as my own husband did in order to give birth to genetically, biologically related sons (our sons do have the same maternity and paternity and so are 100% siblings). Some egg donors were also promised privacy in the early days of assisted reproduction.

Here is some information about the book, Uprooted, that I have featured today (but which I have not read) –

By his forties, Peter J. Boni was an accomplished CEO, with a specialty in navigating high-tech companies out of hot water. Just before his fiftieth birthday, Peter’s seventy-five-year-old mother unveiled a bombshell: His deceased father was not his biological, genetic father. Peter was conceived in 1945 via an anonymous sperm donor. The emotional upheaval upon learning that he was “misattributed” rekindled traumas long past and fueled his relentless research to find his genealogy. Over two decades, he gained an encyclopedic knowledge of the scientific, legal, and sociological history of reproductive technology as well as its practices, advances, and consequences. Through twenty-first century DNA analysis, Peter finally quenched his thirst for his origin.

​In Uprooted, Peter J. Boni intimately shares his personal odyssey and acquired expertise to spotlight the free market methods of gamete distribution that conceives dozens, sometimes hundreds, of unknowing half-siblings from a single donor. This thought-provoking book reveals the inner workings—and secrets—of the multibillion-dollar fertility industry, resulting in a richly detailed account of an ethical aspect of reproductive science that, until now, has not been so thoroughly explored.

The Audiobook and ebook have been available since January 4 2022. The print book is to be released tomorrow on January 25 2022.

Who’s Surname ?

My dad was given his mother’s surname when he was born at an unwed mother’s home run by the Salvation Army in San Diego CA. His father was a married man. It does not appear he even ever knew he had a son. More’s the pity because I believe they would have been great fishing buddies. It was the mid-1930s and so, that is how it was done – if the father was not involved. This would have made it difficult for me to discover who his father was, if I had not found my cousin (we have the same grandmother). Clearly, my grandmother knew who my dad’s father was because of the middle name she gave him and a head shot photo of the man with his name written on the back. Thanks to that photo, I was able to confirm who my dad’s father was. And inexpensive DNA testing also helped !!

Today’s story is a bit different but along similar lines.

I’m an adoptee who is 6 months pregnant. Father and I are no longer in a relationship but on really good terms. I’ll never keep this baby from him. Here is my dilemma. I don’t want this baby to have his last name and he’s insistent on it. He can be listed on the birth certificate and have his paternal rights without having to have his last name. I’m adamant about this. I want her to have my last name as does my 6 year old (with a different father.) Am I wrong? I’m also considering my 6 year old and think it’s best she has the same last name as him.

A few more details – dad is insistent on it because he is much older, in his late 50’s. He has a married daughter who no longer has his last name. His son has 2 daughters and doesn’t plan on having more children. Mom doesn’t want to have a hyphenated last name because she feels it would cause too much aggravation for the child as she grows up.

One adoptee said – As someone whose parents never married, I’m glad I was given my mom’s last name. I gave my son my last name and his dad didn’t stay around. He wouldn’t have had anyone else in his life with that last name. IF I ever marry I won’t change my name because my son has it.

And of course, today the choice of one’s name is so fluid and open to personal interpretation. The social mores regarding names has changed so much and for the better I believe. Someone else notes that – In the United States, they put mom’s last name on the crib card that they have the baby in at the hospital. You fill out the birth certificate while at the hospital also. You don’t have to say anything out loud if you don’t want to. Just put what YOU decide and leave it at that.

Which reminds me – when I had my daughter (in those days one didn’t know the sex of their baby until it was born), the father and I had not agreed on a name. Later, he announced to me what he told the hospital staff her name was to be without ever consulting me. I hasten to add, I really love her name but the origin of it ?, let us just say I refused to tell her and told her, “ask your dad.”

Another person shares her experience of having her mother’s last name – The only time it was ever annoying was, as a kid, whenever a grown adult would ask me, still a child, why I didn’t have my Dad’s last name. Even then, the name didn’t bother me. People being both nosy and close-minded about it bothered me. And I find nowadays, most people either don’t care, or don’t see a reason to question why a child has whatever last name they have.

I really LOVE this response – The notion that children should be named after the men in the first place is based on the sexist notion that women and children are chattel. Think of all the things named after men in the world and then, tell me a single thing that deserves to be named after a woman more than a child. We’re independent women, and keeping the patriarchal name chain going isn’t necessary anymore.

And then there is this real life example – my daughter, age 13, has her biological dad’s last name…he only sees her a couple times a year, (his choice, he lives 5 min away). My husband of 11 years has raised her and been her “daddy” as long as she can remember…she hates that she has her biological dad’s last name! She is the only one in our home with that last name and she hates it. She has even said she wished, at the least, she had my family’s last name. She has no close people with the same last name. Also, the other thing she is dealing with right now in middle school…she has several older cousins with the same last name, including one girl that is only 1 year older…they both have red hair. So everyone is always assuming they are sisters…which wouldn’t be a big deal, except the other girl doesn’t even acknowledge her, she turns her nose up at her. So my daughter hates it when people assume they are sisters. It makes her uncomfortable. She has been asking for several years if she could change it to match the rest of us, I tell her that she can when she is older.

Someone else notes – You both have strong feelings on the matter, and reasonable points. Even if I think there’s some patriarchy mixed in his feelings. I’m saying, if possible, find a way to compromise or bend in another area so he feels heard and included.

And I smile when I see her next suggestion – Why doesn’t he take your name?

I found this to be the best argument – The baby should have the name of the person who will have more custody, because a lot of times I ran in to issues because my sons have their father’s last name and not mine. Many times I had to bring extra paperwork. So if you will be doing all the paper work ie – doctors, schooling, sports/arts/camp stuff – it should be yours.

Finally, it was also pointed out by someone who handled name changes as one of their tasks at a courthouse – the mother should give the baby her last name. The mass majority of minor child name changes she did over a four year period were because the child was given the father’s last name and then stopped being present in the child’s life, stopped paying child support, etc.

In order to do a name change on a minor (probably in most states), a signed and notarized consent is required from both parents. And if one of the parents is deceased, then signed and notarized consent was required from both of that person’s parents. If consent couldn’t be obtained, then proof of service had to be presented to the Court and then, the Court would have a deputy attempt to serve the parent with notice of a court hearing. Most of the time, the father would show up for the hearing or would send a letter denying consent to the name change. When that happened, the case would be dismissed. It is in you and your child’s best interests for the child to have your last name. If circumstances change between you and the father later on, it will be a lot easier to do a name change because it’s a guarantee all parties will be in favor of it.

Preferences

Birthmother – heroic, damned and judged. Believe me, these women have ALL of my sympathetic compassion. They are too often exploited. My preference would be that no mother who birthed a baby would ever be separated from them. That these women and their babies would be supported – if necessary in comfortable surroundings with no other demand upon them than the baby makes. Sadly, that is not the society we live in. Dominated by the search for profits – babies are taken from their birthmother and given to whoever can pay the price. This is just plain wrong.

What does it mean to attempt to move forward in a life after a woman relinquishes her baby to adoption ? For myself, though my daughter was not relinquished to adoption, she was surrendered to her father to raise, in effect – it isn’t much different. Diminished. Somehow a failure. Less than. Some kind of monster person. I’ve lived with all of those feelings.

Often in this blog, I do choose to spend a lot of my time and energy pointing out the more negative aspects of adoption as I have come to understand the institution. I feel entitled to do this because both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption. At this point, it is fair to label me as “anti-adoption” because honestly, for the most part, I am. I would like to explain what the words, anti-adoption, mean in my perspective.

I believe that it is wrong that there is profit being made in the adoption industry. The transferring of parental rights to a child, that we call adoption, is a $13 Billion dollar annual industry. Every day we hear more and more about corruption in adoption and many adoption experts agree that we need to get the profit motive out of it. There is just too much income motivation and not in the best interest of the child – most often in the interest of hopeful adoptive parents. Money matters – not the child’s welfare. In addition, the high cost of adopting makes it completely out of reach for many prospective adoptive parents. These people, in desperation, take out second mortgages or hold adoption fundraisers. I do not think of this acknowledgement regarding the influence of money as “anti-adoption.” I see this acknowledgement as looking for efforts that are pro-child welfare and not focused on turning babies into commodities.

Birthparents face a lack of follow-up services. Whoever has the prize (the baby) has won the battle. The one who gave birth no longer matters. If there are any mental health professionals involved, they are often uneducated about the long term effects of relinquishment on the birth parents. I see this as being a strong advocate for the continued support of the people directly affected by adoption, including the adoptee who never had a say in what was being done to them.

I believe that the marketing and promotional aspects of adoption need to be seriously overhauled. I do think there is something wrong with an adoption agency spending thousands of dollars in advertising or using crisis pregnancy centers to recruit mothers, simply to ask them to consider adoption as the outcome for their babies. Adoption websites must discuss both the positives and the negatives, the risks and possibilities, when providing adoption information to all of the parties involved. People should not be told what they want to hear in order to seal a deal, pay a fee, or relinquish a child. I see this perspective as demanding “truth” from the industry and honoring that spirit by demanding honest information be conveyed.

We must change adoption practices so that the expectant parents considering adoption have enough information to make an informed choice.  An agency cannot tell potential birth mothers that they are strong and courageous, promise them relationships with their children and expect them to find peace and heal.  Adoption professionals must present, however scant, the known research about the consequences of long-term grief, the true statistics regarding of adoptee outcomes, secondary infertility rates, and the legal truth about open adoption agreements (they are un-enforceable).  Adoption counseling should be from a true unbiased source and must ensure that mothers considering adoption have other real options – plans for parenting their baby and realistic bail-out, change of mind/heart time frames available.  It is wrong to ask mothers to “choose” adoption unless they do so with truthful knowledge, of their own free will and knowing the realities they will face the rest of their life related to their choice. I can not count how many birthmothers QUICKLY regret that decision to surrender their precious baby to adoption. “Informed” must be truly informed and not based on some pretty descriptive version of adoption fantasyland.

Pro-ethical accountability. I want to see children’s needs come first.  I want fathers’ rights upheld. I want legal accountability from all parties involved.  I want more than a patchwork of state laws that allow people to cross state lines, get a new license, and work around regulations.  We must restore to adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates.  Currently adult adoptees are the only classification of US citizens that are denied the right to access their original birth certificates based on the fact they were adopted.  This issue touches on their right to know their true identity. If the adoptee desires, it is normal to want know the story of their own birth. Adults should have access to their actual genetic history and genealogy, as well as their detailed medical information. Sometimes even the ability to get a passport, a driver’s license, vote or to have health insurance is dependent on true identity information (and not some made-up identity, as in adoption). The state governments are still stuck in a past created on a perception of shame, defending secrecy regarding adoption details and supporting the lies necessary to accomplish this. My perspective is anti-discrimination and in support of adoptee civil rights.

They Aren’t My Relatives

Even before I knew who my original grandparents were and something about their stories, back when I was cleaning out my deceased parent’s residence, I began to have an awareness that so much stuff my parents stored in their house as they were executors of their own adoptive parents estates, was not actually relevant to my life.  As a historian, it did pain me to send to the landfill tons of genealogy and binders full of personal recollections from a life of far flung traveling, because in reality, I’m not related to those people.

This awareness came back full force yesterday as my family has been going through an extreme phase of de-cluttering.  As I now approach my own 66th birthday, I seem to be even more able than ever to let a lot of irrelevant stuff go.

Of course, I do acknowledge those relationships that helped to shape me in my youth.  The adoptive grandparents and the aunts, uncles and cousins related to them had influence in my life and I do have fond memories of loving gestures and concern, as well as any opportunities that actually did come my way through these people.  There will always be a place in my heart for these people who chose to love and nurture my parents and because of them – for us who were the children and so were treated equally as being somehow “related”.  Though we weren’t, not really.

Now that I do know who my original grandparents were, it is these people who I think of as grandparents and there are new aunts but most of that ancestral level of relationship has already died and I’ll never be able to know them but second-hand through those who are my true cousins in a genetic sense.

While I honor and acknowledge the more direct relationships that came my way because of the adoption of my parents, the siblings and ancestors of those adoptive grandparents have lost all meaning for me.  I am simply not related to those persons and their familial history holds no interest for me any longer.

My mom belonged to Ancestry and found she had to quit working on the family trees that were based on the circumstance of having been adopted.  She said, “They just weren’t REAL to me.”  I understand.  In a short period of time, I have come to feel the same way.

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.

You Should Be Grateful

Of all the unreasonable expectations people tend to put upon an adoptee, the demand that they be grateful for having been adopted is perhaps one of the most painful.

Do you realize ?

The adoptee lost their complete family in one foul swoop.  They lost their mother, perhaps as soon as the day they were born.  They also lost their identity, background information, heritage, genealogy, birth certificate, familiarities, equal rights, similarities, health information and a knowledge of where their inherited traits came from.

Adoption is the only trauma for which the traumatized are told by society that they should be grateful for it’s occurrence.  Compassion that it happened to a person is a better expectation.

Ancestors – I Didn’t Have Any

I once wrote an essay with that title.  That was before I discovered my ancestors.  I lived for over 60 years not knowing because both of my parents were adopted.

It may be that you don’t know who your ancestors were because you simply aren’t interested in it.  That’s fine.  You are NOT prevented from finding out about them if you want to.  An adoptee often is.  My parents were.

I envied the long line of ancestors that we had found when we studied my husband’s genealogy.

Turns out, I had an ancestor who’s home in New London Connecticut is on the National Register and is a museum.  His diary which is still in print, written between September 1711 and November 1758, is considered one of the best glimpses into Colonial life.  His name was Joshua Hempstead and my paternal grandmother descended from him.

On my maternal grandmother’s side were the Scotch ancestors that were honored with the surname Stark, which means strong, for having saved King James from a raging bull.  They came to the United States by way of Virginia early enough to fight in the Revolutionary War.

I didn’t know that my dad’s father was a new immigrant to this country from Denmark. That he loved the sea, fishing and boats, just like my dad did.  My dad died without ever knowing he came by that preference naturally.

I love history. My husband and I started our marriage sharing a love of history. I grew up not knowing these true tales of my ancestors.  Sadly, my parents died knowing nothing about them either. At least, I have that knowledge now and have shared it with my immediate family.

The old black and white, sometimes blurry, photos that have come my way are my people and knowing my true family tree is like a shiny new treasure.  Every glimpse into some new detail is an exciting thrill.  Even when I don’t know much more than a name, it is valuable to me simply because it really is mine.

Adoption does not negate nor does it create genetic relatedness.  Adoption does not make the family of origins cease to exist.  Adopted individuals ALL came from real, actual people, who came from real, actual ancestors, ad infinitum.  I didn’t have that continuum that so many people not touched by adoption do not realize even matters.

No human being deserves to have their family history annihilated simply because people outside that family cared for and raised them.

There Are Worse Things Than Adoption

Warning – this is not an easy story to contemplate.

38 years after the event, a combination of DNA and genetic genealogy located the woman who in some confused and frightened state, gave birth to a baby in her apartment, and then dumped the living baby with the placenta still attached into a ditch in freezing weather in Sioux Falls SD when she was 19 years old.

The baby was found about 24 hrs later by a man test driving a car.  The coroner ruled that the boy lived for about two hours before freezing and bleeding to death.

The woman did go on to marry the baby’s father who seems to have been unaware of either her pregnancy or the birth.  She and her husband have two living adult children.

Haunted by this story, I did think “there are worse things than having been adopted.”  This man would have been 38 years old.  What kind of life might he have had?  Would the outcome have been different if this young, single mother had had the encouragement and support that would have made her willing to keep and raise the boy?