It’s A Fundamental Human Right

I certainly understand the need to know. I believe one of the purposes that I came into this lifetime was to heal some missing family history. I believe because I was aligned with my dharma, doors opened and answers revealed themselves. That black hole void beyond my parents became whole with ancestors stretching way back and into Denmark and Scotland as well as the English and Irish.

I believe in the principle that it’s a fundamental human right to know one’s genetic identity. I remember once talking to a woman who was trying to understand why it mattered that both of my parents were adopted if they had a good life. As I tried to explain it to her, she suddenly understood. She took her own genetic ancestry for granted because she knew that if she had any reason to want to know, she could discover all the details.

Not so for many adoptees with sealed and closed records (which was the case with my parents adoptions) and not so for donor conceived people whose egg or sperm donors chose to remain anonymous – many doing it for the money – and walking away from the fact that a real living and breathing human being exists because of a choice they made. Today, inexpensive DNA testing has unlocked the truth behind many family secrets. Some learn one (or both) of the parents who raised them are not their genetic parent from a DNA test. A family friend might tell a person mourning the death of their dad at his funeral, that their father suffered from infertility and their parents used a sperm donor to conceive them.

These types of revelations can be earth shattering for some people. I’ve know of someone recently who was thrown that kind of loop. The process of coping with such a revelation is daunting and life-changing regardless. Even for my own self, learning my grandparents stories has changed my perspectives in ways I didn’t expect, when I first began the search into my own cultural and genetic origins.

There is a term for this – misattributed parentage experience (MPE). It has to do with the fact that you did not grow up knowing your genetic parent.  That word – experience – best describes the long-term effects. It is not an “event,” a one-time occurrence. The ramifications of MPE last a lifetime to some degree.  I know how it feels, trying to get to know people, who have decades of life experience that I was not present for or even aware of. It is not possible to recover that loss. One can only go forward with trying to develop a forward relationship and whatever gems of the past make themselves known are a gift.

There are 3 primary communities with MPE in their personal histories.

[1] Non-paternity event (NPE): those conceived from an extramarital affair, tryst, rape or assault, or other circumstance

[2] Assisted conception: those conceived from donor conception (DC), sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, or surrogacy

[3] Adoption: those whose adoption was hidden, orphans, individuals who’ve been in foster care or are late discovery adoptees (LDA), etc.

There are also 3 primary topics for raising awareness and developing reform efforts – education, mental health and legislation. Right To Know is an organization active on all of these fronts and issues. They are advocates for people whose genetic parent(s) is not their supportive or legal parent(s). They work to promote a better understanding of the complex intersection of genetic information, identity, and family dynamics in society at large.

The Two Most Important Days

A woman I met at a “Salon”, a week long intensive, hosted and held at the Ashland OR home of Jean Houston) recently asked me – What would you say your role is? – and then quoted Mark Twain shown in the graphic above.

This is what I replied –

Generally being a beneficial presence through any of my writing efforts.

My most recent role was re-connecting my family’s genetic threads.  Both of my parents were adopted and both died knowing next to nothing about their origins.  My mom did try to get her adoption file and was denied (which I was able to obtain in October 2017).  My dad never wanted to, which is a shame because he had a half-sister living 90 miles away when he died, who could have shared real insights with him about his mother.

My dad’s mother was unwed, so I never dared to believe I would discover who his father was but I persisted never-the-less.  In less than one year, I knew who ALL 4 of my original grandparents were and since late 2017, have made contact with at least one genetic relative for each family line.  I wrote a self published “family history” and distributed 10 copies only to relevant family members – so that what I learned and what made me whole is not lost when I die.

That was major and maybe why Life had not killed me off over some of my younger foolishness.  I lived over 6 decades of my life with a void beyond my parents and no idea of my genetic cultural heritage or family medical health information – all thanks to adoptions.

About that day I was born.  Learning about my parent’s adoption stories made me realize what a miracle it was that my high school junior unwed mother was not sent away by her banker adoptive father and socialite adoptive mother to have and give me up for adoption.  Talk about realizing how your life is a miracle and understanding that my younger sisters, my daughter and my grandchildren would not have existed if this quite plausible situation had occurred. 

I believe I have my dad’s very humble and poor (financially) adoptive parents, in particular, my Granny to credit for my own (and my family’s) preservation with my natural parents.

Now, back to my Missing Mom blog – I continue to follow adoption reform issues and foster care challenges and write something about these every single day.  Some days I write my own personal bits and pieces of the “stories” as well.  BTW, not only were both of my parents adopted but both of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption – both of these children have thankfully been reunited (as adult persons) with our family.

That’s probably more than you were expecting.  My daughter has said – it seems like you are on a mission (regarding adoption reform) and she has accurately assessed that.  It is my passion currently. 

I also share spiritual insights daily – in part by bringing forward that day’s essay from my Gazing in the Mirror blog – which has 366 entries and was written between 2012 and 2014 but is universal enough to mostly not become dated.  I also share poems by Rumi, Rilke and Hafiz as well as other spiritually oriented items on Facebook daily. 

Beyond ALL of those considerable efforts – I am a political activist through my Facebook page.  And at a heartfelt passion to be part of an effort to create a world that “works” with positive support of basic human needs for everyone.

Is A “Foster Only” Home Acceptable ?

Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends

When my sons were young, this was a favorite cartoon in my family. Both of my sons had stuffed animals that were imaginary friends and they did mature out of it. In the cartoon, when this happens the imaginary friends are taken into a foster home.

Sadly, though there are MANY foster homes in real life. And there is a lot of abuse in the system. Today’s story is about attitude. A foster parent was posting publicly that she’s not willing to adopt the children currently in her home if they needed that, and that she believes it is totally fine to foster while being unwilling to adopt. I disagree completely because I feel that if a child has no possible route to return to their family and consents to adoption, they should not have to experience another loss, another transition etc. Basically I feel like foster parents need to be open to what the child and their family end up needing, and that taking a placement of a child KNOWING that if reunification cannot be achieved you will be disrupting that child, is wrong.

Obviously there are special situations (a child not wanting to be adopted by you, a child needing to move to be in an adoptive home with their siblings) but that’s not what this lady was talking about, she was talking about having a child in foster care long term, them needing an adoptive home, and refusing to be that home for that child resulting in their team needing to search for other options for them. I also feel like this happens a lot to kids who have (or are perceived to have) challenging behaviors, or older kids, so it’s not like they have all these other great options if an adoptive home is needed because most people who adopt waiting kids in foster care discriminate against kids with behavioral needs or older kids.

Basically, do you think being a “foster only” home is acceptable ?

And now some comments and perspectives.

ALL foster homes should be foster only when reunification is still on the table. Too many foster carers foster for the wrong reasons and sabotage renunciation. We need to go back to the old days when foster homes weren’t even allowed to adopt. Foster parents should be willing to give a child a safe place for whatever amount of time is needed, whatever the outcome. They’re supposed to be part of the team that helps the natural family work through it all. Foster only homes result in higher reunification rates and successful efforts. Eliminating foster only homes would feed the predatory foster to adopt system. No child *needs* adoption. Generally adoption is for the adults. Children need stable homes, but not the erasure of their genetic identity.

From an adoptive parent’s perspective – Why is adoption the end goal? Why can’t they remain in foster care? Why does termination of parental rights have to happen? It’s plausible to think that not having adoption available would reduce terminations and potentially give parents more time. But Child Protective Services is so quick to be done with cases and push adoption that parents aren’t given a fair chance. Very few terminations are actually needed. Maybe the state needs to help make it easier for kinship to take kids. Provide them the money foster carers receive. Why are you so set on adoption being the end result? I think that’s something you need to sit with. There are so many other options. And we can’t just settle for termination and adoption. Without adoption being in place parents rights can be reinstated later down the road if the child is still needing permanency. You feel like it wouldn’t be good for the kid, but several former foster youth have stated the exact opposite.

There was offered this example from real life – a person who has fostered 3 babies/toddlers in the last 3-4 years. They were not reunified with their parents. One went to an extended family member. The other two were placed for adoption through Child Protective Services. This person has 5 children of her own. Three are still at home. She doesn’t want to raise another child for 18 years. But she does feel strongly about providing a safe place for children – while their parents work their plan. Her position is hard for some to understand. People ask her how she can “just give them up after 8 months or a year in her home” and she simply says – “they were never meant to be here forever.”

When To Test

I read about a situation today where the genetic parents of a toddler who has been adopted want the adoptive parents to have the child’s DNA tested so that family connections are available for that child.  This is within a diverse adoption community and the responses were diverse as well.  It is true that in getting our DNA tested we have no idea how that identifying information may be used in the future.  Many of those commenting thought it should wait until the child was old enough to consent.  Many suggested the genetic parents do the tests so that it is out there if or when the child wants it.  Some believed it would have been helpful to them to have this information while they were yet a child.

I’ve had some experiences with adoption or donor conceived and DNA testing experiences.

Both of my parents were adoptees. I’ve done both Ancestry (my mom also did this one but it didn’t help her and yet, has been invaluable to me for learning ancestral relationships and my genetic family’s movements over time) and 23 and Me. Both have helped me be accepted by genetic relatives who might have doubted me otherwise. I’ve been able to make a few “good” connections and have a better sense of some of my family thanks to stories and photos shared. As to developing relationships with people I lost over 6 decades getting to know ? It is slow going though everyone has been nice to me.

Now on another front . . . both of my sons are donor egg conceived. We’ve never hidden this aspect of their conception from them and they have met the donor on several occasions. Fortunately she has an amazingly good perspective on it all. I waited until the oldest was 18 to gift him with 23 and Me. I knew the donor had done that one and before I gifted my son, I gifted my husband. After the older one received his results, I gifted the 15 yr old as well. He is mature and there was no reason to exclude him. It is uncomfortable but the GENETIC reality that the donor is listed as their Mother. They grew in my womb, nursed at my breast for a full year and have known no one else as “mom”. They seem to have processed it well as far as I can tell. Thankfully.

The adoptive mom of my nephew did Ancestry using only initials to identify him. It turned out (and she helped him in discovering this), my sister lied about who the father was on my nephew’s birth certificate. The Ancestry DNA test was their first suspicion. The effort though came at the nephew’s desire to know. He has since met his genetic father several times. They look remarkably alike and now my nephew has certainty.

My niece (child of a different sister) was also adopted and is going through some frustrations over her DNA results though her mother has given her the name of the genetic father. It can be a complicated and confusing experience.

There is one other nephew who was raised by his paternal grandparents. My sister lost custody in court when the paternal grandparents sued to possess him. This child is of mixed heritage – both white and Hispanic. He was raised in a very Hispanic family. His DNA shows a beautiful diversity.

No solutions, simply thoughts and examples.

When An Adoptee Becomes A Mother

Adoption is a lifelong process, and becoming a parent adds a layer of complexity as it causes adoptees to revisit, or consider for the first time, the losses that go along with adoption.

This can be surprising for adoptees that were comfortable with their family situation for a couple of decades.  I do remember (since both of my parents were adopted) that we had no medical history at the doctor’s office but we knew there was an explanation – adoption.

Adoption can be a delicate subject. The spectrum of the adoptee experience is vast, and the conversation often feels dominated by adoptive parents who have deeply ingrained fears about losing their child or children.  This is why I focus more on the adoptee and the original parents who usually have a diminished voice in society.

Feelings and issues are bound to come up when adoptees become parents themselves. Questions arise about family and cultural histories, medical concerns and the role of identity in the parenting experience. An adoptee frequently wonders, “Who am I, really?”

One adoptee shared this – “If there was a part of me that yearned for something – a hole that was difficult to fill – I didn’t connect that with being adopted. I struggled with anxiety and trust, and that worsened as I grew into adulthood. But I was certain I wanted to have biological kids — to create them, to grow them, to birth them. I didn’t know why I needed that, or why I was lonely and struggled to trust others. I just knew I needed to fill this hole, to find this missing piece.”

I have felt this with each of my three biological children – it is an emotional response when I see my baby for the first time, feeling a definite bond to that child. It is a tidal wave, taller and more powerful than falling in love. When an adoptee experiences this it is much more – like they had missed something their entire life but didn’t realized what it was until that moment.  The adoptee may even wonder if their mother felt something like that for them.  Or if she didn’t.  What did that say about their worthiness to be loved ?  I wonder if my adoptee mother had these sudden realizations.  She is deceased now and I can’t ask her about it.

An adoptee may struggle with how their own original mother could carry them for nine months and then simply let them go – permanently.

For many adoptee moms, this grief is new, something they don’t understand until they become pregnant themselves. New ways of thinking about their adoption often heighten the myriad emotions experienced during pregnancy and birth.

All adoption is rooted in trauma. Being separated from your original family, and from the woman who you grew inside of, is trauma. The baby does miss that heartbeat, that smell, that undeniable bond. For an adoptee during a pregnancy, it may feel quite novel to realize they are about to meet their very first blood relative.  Adoptees often experience an added layer of appreciation and gratitude for as well as an added connection to their children.

 

Surrogacy Is A Separation

I have known of two cases of surrogacy directly.  Both utilized donor eggs.  One was a mother who was being treated for cancer.  She did die when the twins were about 2 years old and the father, who was directly their genetic father, remarried.  The other one is a family member.  The wife takes a lot of drugs to manage her mental health issues.  They had a lot of failures but did eventually succeed and the little boy is now 5 year old and I am happy for my brother in law that he could be a father.

I didn’t question the practice at all until I began to discover my own genetic roots (both of my parents were adopted).  As part of that journey, I began to learn a lot of things about infant development. No matter how you spin it, babies are being separated from the woman they’ve shared a home with for 9 months. The woman whose body nurtured and cradled them. They know her scent, her heartbeat. That’s who they know. And they are born and handed to someone who smells different, some stranger they don’t know.

There have also been cases where a surrogate mother became so bonded with the infant in her womb that it took a court case to separate them and contracts between a couple and a surrogate are much more explicit now about what is being done and for whom.

It hasn’t been all that long since The Handmaid’s Tale was making current news and the forcing of women to complete a pregnancy they don’t want for the purpose of handing their baby over to a prospective adoptive couple, often with undertones of evangelical Christianity seeking to convert the world to their philosophies, is very real even now.

One woman commenting on this situation admitted, “I seriously considered being a gestational carrier (their baby in my body, not my biological child) and when I learned about adoption trauma I knew I could never do it. How awful to take a baby from their only life connection. It’s cruel. It only serves to gratify the adults’ needs.”

Forever Family ?

One adoptee wrote –

Does “forever family” rub you the wrong way?

I cringe EVERYTIME I hear it. So many of us were told this mythical thing exists, but then turns out we were always on some sort of weird job interview where there are no rules and the requirements of the job change depending on the mood of the boss, the boss’ family, or the boss’ pets.

I don’t think I ever had a “forever family”? Did you? Do you now?

When I finally became aware of my true biological, genetic family relations something dissolved in my feelings toward the members of my “family” that were only that due to adoption.

Does that mean I love the deceased grandparents LESS who were present in my life growing up ?  No, it doesn’t mean that.  I cherish my memories of the times I spent with them.  They always treated us genuinely and from a sense of loving us.

Does that mean that my aunts, uncles and cousins by adoption don’t seem quite as real to me anymore ?  That is true, though I acknowledge their humanity and that they are ALL of them good people.

Learning the truth about my parents adoptions and original family and re-connecting with the genetic/biological family I never knew all my life has meant more to me than I can possible convey to you in these brief blogs.

At the same time, there is this sad effect – I don’t feel like I belong to any of them.  Truth.  The adoptive family is no longer real family.  The real family I have no life experience with and can only try to go forward with 6 decades missing.

No – family is not forever.  My parents and my in-laws and my grandparents are all deceased now.  Divorces have happened, children have grown up in different families, cousins have always been distant anyway.  Where does one find family ?  Only in those people who we sense are able to accept us just as we are no matter what.

Who Is My Mother ?

It is a complicated world we live in.  For many children, one of those complicated things is defining who their mother is.  For decades, since adoption became fashionable, this can be a hard question for a child to answer.  Other children are challenged for other reasons.  When I first told my youngest son his conception story that involves an egg donor, he asked me if she was his mother.  I did my best to explain in age appropriate terms.  At some point, in discussing this reality of my sons’ existence, the older one asked if he was supposed to be grateful.  We answered, no but we are.  When we did 23 and Me and the egg donor was identified as their mother, my youngest son lamented he did not have my genes.  Sometimes reality is complicated.

For an adoptee, this can be a confusing question, especially when the child is very young and the only mother they know is the one that is present with them.  In this modern age, some children have two mothers or in the case of two fathers, may have been born by surrogate.  It is not an easy question for a lot of children to answer.  With divorce being such a common occurrence, many children end up with step mothers.

As the source of nurturing, comforting, sustaining and unconditional love, it is no wonder a child will love their mother.  Yet, for many children defining who the mother is can be confusing.

Even though every human being truly has only one mother, for many children with non-traditional forms of “Mom”, they should NOT have to correct an erroneous identification and say a primary caregiver is not their mom.  This puts the child in too difficult of a situation.  An adult can make it even more confusing for the child by trying to be accurately correct.

With big feelings what’s best is to validate and reflect the child’s feelings, and be a safe person for them to share their thoughts and feelings with.  If you are not the woman who actually carried and birthed that child but are the one who is there for them in that role, day after day, let the child decide what they should call you and deal with the reality that their life is complex.

Robbed Of Heritage

The symbolism in this painting calls to something very deep within me.  It is a painting by Barbara Taffet. In 1973, she reinvented herself as Maria Alquilar, a Latina artist whose fictive back story included a Sephardic Jewish father from Argentina. Drawing on her deep knowledge of world myths and spiritual traditions, filtered through her own personal mythology, she began creating idiosyncratic works inspired by the work of the California Sacramento-Davis area narrative expressionist, outsider and funk artists she admired and collected.

Adoption robs us of our actual cultural heritage.  All my life until very recently, I believed my dad was half-Mexican and my mom possibly half-African American.  They were both adoptees and for what little we knew about our familial roots, we could claim any story we wanted and not even our own selves knew whether it was true or not.

So along came inexpensive DNA testing.  Both my mom and I had ours done at Ancestry.  Later on, I had mine also tested at 23 and Me.  My mom has some Mali in her and so, I suspect slavery had something to do with that.  My dad’s dark complexion actually came by way of his Danish immigrant father.  I have learned there is some Ashkenazi Jew in me and suspect that comes via a family that lived for generations on Long Island New York.

Why does this painting call so deeply to my soul – there is that Jewish symbol and there is the Southwestern symbols as well.  There is a predator protecting it’s prey – my maternal grandmother was preyed upon by Georgia Tann, the famous baby thief of Memphis Tennessee.  And it is always about the bunnies in my household.  The angelic image at the top is more like a Jackrabbit which fits nicely with my New Mexican birth.

In many transracial adoptions, the very young child is not only cut off from their cultural heritage but loses contact with their native language.  It may be difficult to understand how disorienting that is but I get it.  It’s time to change the rules of the adoption game.

A Black Hole

Until recently, my family history beyond my two parents was a black hole.  They were both adopted and died knowing next to nothing about their origins.  After more than 60 years of living, I know now what those origins are.

Most people KNOW who their parents are.  Even a parent who abandons his family may still be a known entity to his child but not someone who was adopted.  It is all unknown, unless it is a modern, more progressive and supportive adoption – which thankfully, many of them are beginning to be.

People don’t want to hear that you have no freakin’ clue to your identity.  Not knowing is both painful and unusual in our society.  It is associated with negative stereotypes such as “bastards” and “mistakes”.  You hear about “those people” but you never expect to be talking to one in the flesh.

I recently read about the child of an adoptee who’s coping mechanism with that unknown was to tell everyone he was Cuban.  Until recently, I used to tell everyone I was an “albino African” because I could have been.  There was no one to tell me I wasn’t.  Then, I got my DNA tested and finally knew I was Danish and Scottish and English and Irish, even a little Ashkenzai Jew and Neanderthal.

It is wonderful to now have a universe of genetic connections out there instead of being the product of a black hole.