Separations

An adoptee wrote – “I hate not belonging anywhere. I hate that I have multiple families, but also really zero. I hate needing to earn my place in people’s lives.” I could relate as I recently shared with my husband and he understood. We both come from small nuclear families and there is no extended family geographically close to us and honestly, few of those as well anywhere else.

Much of this feeling for me comes from the realization that those who were my extended family growing up aren’t really related to me. Those that are genetically biologically related to me don’t really know me, have no real history with me and though I am slowly without too much intrusion trying to build these new relationships . . . sigh. It isn’t easy.

My first family break-up was one I initiated. I divorced the man I had married just before I turned 18 and a month before I graduated from high school in April 1972. By November, more or less, I was pregnant with our first child. She remains the joy of my life and has gifted me with two grandchildren. However, finances separated me from my daughter when she was 3 years old and she was raised by her father and step-mother who gave her a yours-mine-and-ours family of siblings, sisters, just like I grew up with. It has left me with a weird sense of motherhood in regard to my daughter. One that I often struggle with but over the last decade or so, I have been able to bridge some of that gap- both with regard in my own sense of self-esteem and in a deepening relationship with my daughter, primarily since the passing of her step-mother (not that the woman was an impediment but understandably, my daughter’s heart remains seriously tied to that woman even today).

The trauma of mother/child separation lived by each of my adoptee parents (while skipping my relationship and my sisters’ relationship with our parents) passed over to my sisters and my own relationships with our biological genetic children. I seriously do believe it has proven to have been a factor. Both of my sisters gave up babies to adoptive parents and one lost her first born in court to his paternal grandparents. Sorrows all around but all us must go on the best we can.

Since learning the stories of my original grandparents, I have connected with several genetic relatives – cousins mostly and an aunt plus one who lives in Mexico with her daughter. Everyone is nice enough considering the absolutely un-natural situation our family histories have thrust us into. So really, now I find myself in this odd place of not really belonging to 4 discrete family lines (one set of grandparents were initially married and divorced after the surrender of their child to adoption and one set never married, in fact my paternal grandfather likely never knew he had a son). Happily, though a significant bit of geographical distance a factor foe me, my paternal grandfather was a Danish immigrant and I now have contact with one cousin in Denmark who has shared some information with me that I would not have but for him.

Regarding estrangement, I’ve had no direct contact with my youngest sister since 2016. In regard to looking out for her best interests, her own attorneys in the estate proceedings encouraged me to pursue a court appointed guardian/conservator for her – as both of our parents died 4 months apart and she was highly dependent upon them due to her mental illness of (likely) paranoid schizophrenia. The effects of that really destroyed my relationship with her (which had been close until our mother died and then, went seriously to hell, causing us to become estranged). I just learned the other day that the court has released her conservator. I guess she is on her own now. She survived 4 years of homelessness before reconciling uneasily with our parents. I guess the survivor in her will manage but she most likely also now believes the guardian/conservator proceedings were my own self being vindictive, for some unreasonable purpose. Sigh. I don’t miss contact with her – honestly – it was cruel and difficult being on the receiving end of her offensives after our mom died. I do wish her “well” in the sincerest meanings of that concept.

It could also be that without these great woundings I would be less vulnerable and available, less empathic and compassionate, with the people I encounter as I live my life each day. Maybe it is precisely my reaching out, in an effort to connect, that causes me to share my own personal circumstances. A sacrifice of the heart.

Who’s Real ?

It’s a conundrum, a confusing and difficult problem or question. I understand it personally. When I finally learned who my original grandparents were and met relatives who were genetically and biologically related to me, my adoptive family receded into the background.

As a child, I had grandparents who adopted my parents when they were young. They are the only grandparents I knew growing up and going through old family letters from the early 1980s that I need to finally let go of, I see how they were my personal cheerleaders as I left one kind of life I had been living and began the long and slow process of making a different kind of life for myself. I am grateful for their love and concern.

I have aunts who became more significant again in my own life after my parents died. I am grateful for their love and support.

Those of us impacted by adoption often struggle to describe our relationships with two sets of relatives. Sometimes the word “real” is used to describe those that family DNA type websites would consider as being accurately related to us. It gets cumbersome to try and define “real” from “acquired”.

The topic came up yet again in my all things adoption group. I thought this was a good response – “Everyone is real. It’s kind of a given.” Direct and to the point. Even so, it can be confusing to people who don’t know your personal family history.

We aren’t exactly playing along with our adoptive relatives but for an adoptee, the person is often too well aware that their name and their birth certificate have been falsified to change their identity – from the one they were born with to being in effect the possession of the people who adopted them. This was often done to prevent the original parents and the adoptees from ever finding each other, though with the tools available today (inexpensive DNA testing and matching websites) reunions are taking place constantly.

One adoptee admits – I had a hard time with “real” as a kid growing up. When people found out that I was adopted I was always asked, “Do you know your real parents?” “Do you have any real brothers or sisters?” “Do your adoptive parents have any real kids?” People seemed to use that word in place of biological and to my kid-brain, it felt like I was somehow less of a person because I wasn’t my adopters “real” kid.

Add to this that adoptees often honestly do feel that they don’t belong in the family they are being raised within. And quite honestly, that feeling is accurate, even though it is their reality.

23 & Me Does It Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Willing Helper

I had not thought of Little Orphan Annie in a very long time.  I did know that there was a Broadway musical created around the character.  As a schoolgirl, I read the comic in our daily local newspaper.

Also growing up, I thought my parents were orphans because they were adopted.  I don’t know what they thought growing up about why they had been adopted.  But my parents were not orphans.  Unknown to me and maybe unknown to them (though my mom did know that she had some family once she was well into adulthood), there were people out there, living ordinary lives, as unaware of me as I was of them.  Only they were actually my true genetic relatives.

Many foster parents and some adoptive parents who adopt an older child come to think of them as the help.  Willing or not, they are put to work to ease the burdens of those providing for them.

Short on time today, so until tomorrow, these are just a few thoughts that came up as I was reminded of that cartoon I used to read long ago.  I’ve not seen the Broadway musical, only aware of it and mostly of the song Tomorrow.

 

 

Family Contact Matters

I understand this as the child of two adoptees.  The adoptions for both of my parents were closed and my parents both died knowing very little about their origins or the details behind why they ended up adopted.  Since their deaths, I have been able to recover a lot of my rightful family history.  I now know of genetic relatives for each of the four grandparents.  It has been quite a journey.  It wasn’t easy (though maybe easier for me due to our unique circumstances than for many) and it required persistence and determination to see it through.

Certainly DNA testing and the two major matching sites – Ancestry as well as 23 and Me – were instrumental to my success.  Since the genetic relations I was coming into first contact with had no prior knowledge of me and I am well over 60 years old, seeing the DNA truth that I was related to them, I believe it mattered.  It is hard to refute when it is right there clear and certain.

My mom had four living half-siblings on her father’s side when she was born.  One died young of a sudden heart failure.  I barely missed getting to meet my mom’s youngest half-sister by only a few months.  I was lucky to connect with her daughter who had all of her mom’s photo albums and possession of a lot of family history, including written accounts.  One afternoon with her and I felt like I had lived my Moore family’s history.  The family photos I now have digital copies of are precious treasures.

Though my Stark family was the first I became aware of and within a month, I had visited the graves of my grandmother and her parents east of Memphis in Eads Tennessee, those living descendants were the last I finally made a good strong connection with.  The reality is that I simply can’t recover 6 decades of not living with the usual family interactions with my true genetic relatives.  All I can do is try and build relationships with whatever time each of us has left.  The personal memories of my grandmother that my mom’s cousins possessed (she was our favorite aunt, they said) made her come alive for me.

The Salvation Army was somewhat forthcoming with information about my father’s birth at one of their homes for unwed mothers in the San Diego California area just walking distance from the beach and ocean.  They were able to give me my father’s full name and the missing piece of how he got from San Diego to El Paso Texas where he was ultimately adopted.  Once I knew my grandmother’s first married name (born Hempstead including my dad, later Barnes, Timm at death) and a cousin did 23 and Me, my discoveries were off and running.  Her mother, my dad’s youngest half-sibling, was living only 90 miles away from him when he died.  Mores the pity.

I thought I’d never know who my dad’s father was since his mother was unwed but the next cousin I met who I share a grandmother with had her photo albums and she left us a breadcrumb.  Clearly she had no doubt who my dad’s father was.  His father, Rasmus Martin Hansen, was an immigrant, not yet a citizen, and married to a much older woman.  So, he probably never knew he was a father and that’s a pity because I do believe my dad and his dad would have been great friends.

I now also have contact with my Danish grandfather’s genetic relatives.  If it had not been for the pandemic, they would have had their annual reunion there in Denmark.  I haven’t heard but I would not be surprised to know it is postponed.  My relative (who I share a great-grandfather with – my dad being the only child of my grandfather) planned to make the Danish relatives aware of me.

To anyone who thinks not knowing who your true relatives are – if the adoptions were more or less good enough, happy enough and loving enough – I am here to tell you that not knowing anything about your family (including medical history) and being cut off from the people you are actually genetically related to DOES matter.  Adoption records should be UNSEALED for ALL adult adoptees at their request.  Sadly over half of these United States still withhold that information.  I know from experience as I encountered this problem in Virginia, Arizona and California.  If my mom’s adoption had not been connected to the Georgia Tann, Tennessee Children’s Home Society baby stealing and selling scandal, I would not have gotten my first breakthrough.

Clueless Questions

Quite a long time ago, I learned not to ask potentially embarrassing questions.  In fact, I rarely ask what could be defined as a “personal” question.  If someone wants to tell me about whatever, it is their prerogative not my right.

So I was reading about some of the clueless questions adoptees sometimes receive –

Where are your real parents ?

Couldn’t your parents have their own kids ?

Are your adoptive parents angry you reunited ?

“Was your birth mother on drugs ?”

In the book The Declassified Adoptee, she gives those who just have to know better ways of asking these kinds of questions.  She suggests that “Good questions are strengths first, person first.  They consider the feelings of the person answering a question first, above the necessity for information.”

She adds “It is ALWAYS important to validate an adoptee’s membership within ALL of the families that she identifies with.”

As the child of two adoptees, who after 6 decades of life, has only recently discovered my biological, genetic relations (mostly cousins and one aunt), I get it.  I love the adoptive families I grew up with and have shared life experiences with.  I love that I now know people who share my DNA.  I love them all, differently, for different reasons but love is love.