Adoption Does NOT Make It All Better

I was reading about one of the common sticky situations that often appear in my all things adoption group. This part really got my attention – “Everyone is like ‘this is going to be so great!’ and I am just feeling like… yes and no. They will be safe, but adoption doesn’t just make it all better.”

The standard narrative in society is to celebrate and be joyful when anyone adopts. Truth is the yes and no part is probably closest to being the truth for the adoptee themselves.

Today would have been my mom’s birthday but she died back in 2015. She never was entirely comfortable with how she ended up adopted. Trying to be polite, she would say she was inappropriately adopted. Since Tennessee rejected her effort to get her adoption file (a file that I now possess in its complete form), she really couldn’t know for certain. She did know that Georgia Tann had been involved in her adoption in 1937. She knew something about the scandals surrounding Georgia Tann’s placement of children and she had a had time reconciling the fact that she was born in Virginia but adopted at less than 1 year old in Memphis Tennessee.

I will forever be disappointed that Tennessee promised my mom to do everything in their power to determine if her original parents were alive but only sent an inquiry to the Arkansas Driver’s License Bureau who could find no record of her natural father. No wonder, he had been dead for 30 years at that point and was buried in Arkansas. Could they have at least checked Social Security death records ? But they did not.

Instead, they broke my mom’s heart by telling her that her natural mother had died several years earlier. My mom had to have seen some of the many adoptee/mom reunions on TV in the early 1990s when she was seeking to obtain her adoption file. All Tennessee gave her for the $180 she paid them was a NO and heartbreak. That I cannot forgive Tennessee because having seen her adoption file, I know in my heart that how hard her mother was fighting to keep her when up against a master baby thief would have been important to her.

Even so, in her moment of accepting all that would never be, she said she was glad she was adopted. I never truly believed that she was – glad. Being adopted was not “better,” just different. However, if she had not been adopted, she would not have had me. It causes in me conflicting feelings because I am glad that I am alive and that I had my mom (and my dad) in my childhood growing up and until death did us part. I can hope that my mom and her mom had that reunion after death that many people believe in.

The Exploitation Problem

What could be wrong with a couple who has experienced infertility and has the financial means adopting the baby of an unwed mother ? Many people would see nothing wrong with this.

The problem is that behind this happily ever after scenario is a great deal of exploitation. In both of my parents’ adoptions, this was a definite factor, even though my mom’s parents were married. There is a great deal of money changing hands in the domestic infant adoption industry.

So, let’s consider domestic infant adoption. Only a newborn baby will do for these adoptive parents. They desire to only adopt a newborn baby. Let us judge this as selfishness. Maybe you as the hopeful adoptive parent just want to have the baby “experience.” Maybe you believe you’re getting a “blank slate” (that was what Georgia Tann who was involved in my mom’s adoption would tell her prospective parents). The truth is babies are NOT blank slates. Maybe you want the “as if born to” parenting experience (being there at the very beginning and you as parents being the only ones the child will ever know). Maybe you think this is as close as you can get to having your “own” child.

Some reality checks –

1. You are NOT needed. There are over 100 hopeful adoptive parents/singles/couples for every ONE newborn baby that is available to adopt. These babies are in high demand and sought after. They won’t age out of foster care, if you don’t adopt them. Furthermore, they have biological genetic families. Contrary to popular belief, there are very few women who just don’t want their kids. Imagine the desperation, fear and poverty you must live in to give away your own child. Adoption rates have gone down drastically over the last year. Why? Because families have received so much more financial help and resources due to COVID. With help and support, even more mothers are parenting their own children.

2. If you’re a hopeful adoptive parent glad that “support” from the government is stopping to increase your odds of getting a baby – you are not adopting because you are a good person.

3. If you’re praying for a woman to feel desperate enough to give you her baby – you are not adopting because you are a good person.

4. If you match pre-birth with a pregnant woman and coerce and manipulate her during her pregnancy – your desperation is showing and you are not adopting because you are a good person.

5. Agencies are a for profit business and often are not at all ethical. Know this, if you’re paying thousands of dollars to adopt through an agency – you are not adopting because you are a good person. You are adopting because you have the money to do so (or have raised the money through a Go Fund Me or other such platform).

6. A standard adoption practice is for the hopeful adoptive parents to be present in the delivery or hospital room. The agencies tell the birth mother that “this is just how it’s done.” Know this – it’s done to make it harder for the mom to change her mind, when she sees her child. If you’re there breathing down her neck while she is giving birth and in that moment when she first meets HER child – you are attempting rob her of the only precious moment with her baby that she may ever have. And maybe she WILL change her mind and her baby will be glad that she did.

7. If you make her feel guilty for wanting to keep her baby, the same way the agency will – you are exploiting her. If you employ an agency to call Child Protective Services on her (mind you, just standard adoption practice) when she wavers regarding giving her baby up to you, just to scare her into going forward – you are exploiting her.

8. So, the mom has changed her mind and is going to keep and parent her baby. Then, you fight against her decision by using the legal system or the agency does it on your behalf – you are exploiting her.

9. If the father is not on board with the adoption and his rights are being completely ignored – you are exploiting the father.

If any of this is true of your circumstances – you are guilty of exploiting a difficult time in someone’s life. A situation that will likely change for the better given time. You will leave a baby with lifelong trauma from sundering that child from its original family.

The Stories We Tell

I do beg to differ with Mr Twain. When you don’t know, you make up stories to fill in the gaps. Before I knew the truth of my adoptee parent’s origins – I thought both of my parents must be mixed race – my mom was black and white and my dad was Mexican and white. Neither one of those turns out to be true.

My mom wouldn’t explain how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted at 6 months old in Memphis. She did know that Georgia Tann was in the baby stealing and selling market. My mom died still not knowing the truth because Tennessee couldn’t provide whether her dad was alive when she wanted her file (though he had already been dead 30 years by that time).

My mom’s story went this way. She was born to illiterate parents in Virginia. A nurse at the hospital was in cahoots with Georgia Tann. She gave my mom’s parents papers to sign that they couldn’t read. She said the nursery was too crowded and so they needed to move my mom. When her mother was released and went to retrieve her – she was gone. In my mom’s polite language with the Tennessee officials (though she believed firmly she had been stolen), she referred to her adoption as inappropriate.

Truth was my maternal grandmother was exploited by Georgia Tann in her desperate financial situation. She was married. I have a story about my maternal grandfather. His first wife died almost 9 months pregnant in the dead of winter with the baby still in her womb. I have thought consciously or not, he was concerned because he was WPA, the children from his deceased wife were in Arkansas, his job in Memphis had ended and he went back to Arkansas. He was insecure as to his living conditions there and so didn’t take my grandmother at 4 mos pregnant, also due to deliver in the dead of winter with him. My cousin who has the same grandfather does not believe he was the kind of man to abandon his family that way. I can’t know – no one left living to tell me. My mom didn’t feel close to him and maybe that is because her own mother felt abandoned.

My dad was adopted from the Salvation Army. When his adoptive parents died, he found a letter copy to the Texas requesting the altered birth certificate that mentioned his mother’s name as Delores. Growing up on the Mexican border in El Paso TX, until I finally knew better, my story about my dad was that his mother was Mexican and his father white. Her family would not accept a mixed race baby so she took him into El Paso and left him on the doorstep of the Salvation Army with a note to please take care of her baby. Understandable given the circumstances but still not true.

This is a common experience for people with adoption in their family histories. Making up stories to fill in the gaps. Knowing the truth is preferable – even if the story was a very pretty and exciting one (as some I’ve heard about are).

It Isn’t Fair

It could happen to anyone . . . today’s tragic story.

I am being forced to sign an adoption agreement tomorrow. With it comes a gag order. I won’t be able to speak to my experiences as much after that. My kids were in foster care because of my ex. I’ve been ruled fit however the children have been bad mouthed so much by the fosters that they are unwilling to return home. It’s this or I have to go to trial and lose any hope of contact with them. I am only doing this at their request and at the last possible minute. I always wanted my children. I always loved and supported and kept them safe. It’s not my fault I’m poor and the system is abusive. I fought hard for almost 10 years and it was never going to be good enough for the department. I’m beyond destroyed.

I submitted yesterday. I had to go in open court today and sign and consent. The judge was patronizing. The kids refusing to come home would mean I would just by default lose in court. I asked for therapy and assessments but because the kids’ therapists said that it wouldn’t be in the kids best interest, the social worker refused and the judge refused to allow it. Anyway, an assessment would have come out against reunification. They argued that however it happened, they were damaged now so we just have to make the best of it.

As the blog author, I relate to this comment –  I cannot imagine the anguish you are experiencing. I am so sorry that this is happening, has happened and unfortunately, will happen again- to someone else.

In fact, I believe that my mom ended up adopted because Georgia Tann threatened to have her declared unfit because she wasn’t able to find a way to provide financially for her self and her baby quickly enough. Tann’s good friend, Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, was certain to have done it if she was requested to.

Realizing the Value of DNA Testing

Getting the results of my own DNA tests (both Ancestry and 23 and Me) did NOT bring surprise results to me – in that I knew BOTH of my parents were adoptees at the time I did the tests. What was I hoping for ? Answers to my cultural identity. A question that had plagued me since public school. What are we ? I asked my mom. We’re Americans, she answered. No, I said, what ELSE are we ? We don’t know because we were adopted, she answered.

And I did get insight into what I had yearned to know from childhood. Yet, my DNA tests did something for me that I did not anticipate. As actual genetic, biological relations were found at the two platforms, my DNA test proved to these that I actually was related to them. Me, someone they never knew existed. Though to be honest, I never knew they existed either. Building relationships with people who have decades of history with my original families (the families my parents were conceived as part of) and none involving me is slow and not earth-shattering but soul warming never-the-less.

I am pretty certain I came as a surprise to some of these – especially on my dad’s paternal line. His father’s family was located in Denmark. Several of his father’s siblings as well as his father immigrated to the United States. Unfortunately, his father never knew he had a son. More’s the pity. My dad did look remarkably like his own father and they shared an interest in boats, the ocean and fishing. They would have made wonderful friends as father and son. So, that family has been the most amazed at my existence. I originally found my grandfather’s step-granddaughter who told me quite a bit about him. And only recently, I now have email contact with one of his nephews in Denmark, who has told me something about my grandfather’s early life in that country before immigrating.

With my other 3 grandparent family lines, there was some awareness of my parent’s existence. One of the first that I met shared the same maternal grandfather with me. His daughters (my mom’s half-siblings) were aware of her existence. My cousin said to me upon my emergence into her life, My mom always wondered about your mom and wanted to have an opportunity to meet her. Sadly, I barely missed this half-aunt of mine. She died only months before I began my own search into my roots after BOTH of my parents had died only 4 months apart.

Next came cousins and an aunt on my dad’s maternal line. 23 and Me outed my cousin and she wrote me in excitement, Delores or Dolores Hempstead/Barnes is my grandmother. The aunt is her mother and she was living only 90 miles away from my dad at the time he died. He never spoke to me about being adopted except that one time after his adoptive father died and my dad was going through some papers and marveled that his original surname was Hempstead. My mom did tell me that he was not supportive of her own effort to search, warning her that she might be opening up a can of worms. That has informed me somewhat about his perspective – that the people who adopted him were his parents – end of story. We did know that my granny “got” him at the Salvation Army. There is so much more to that story that I have now been able to learn and I will always believe that the Salvation Army coerced her into surrendering him to adoption as she was unwed. I’m told she regretted losing him the rest of her life. One cousin lead me to another cousin who had the breadcrumb clue that my paternal grandmother left as to my dad’s father’s identity. A few photos and some notes written on the back of these.

Though the initial focus of my adoption related searches was my mom’s Stark family line, that one took me the longest to finally connect with the children of my grandmother’s youngest brother, who I also just missed as he had died not all that long before. I did learn early on from a woman “related by marriage” who was also a genealogist that my Stark family was Scottish. She belonged to the church across the street from the cemetery where my grandmother, her second husband and her parents are all buried. My maternal grandmother was a victim of Georgia Tann and the baby stealing and selling scandal of the Memphis Branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. My mom knew some of this background information, believed that she had been inappropriately adopted (her words for what happened to separate her from her mother) and actually tried to get her adoption file (the one I now have the complete file of, including photos of my grandmother and baby mom) but was denied it by the state of Tennessee. These second cousins (as they are my age but would be genetically my mom’s cousins) had close and fond relationships with my maternal grandmother. They gave me the warm kinds of intimate details about the kind of person she was – what my heart had yearned to know since I began my own journey.

I believe I have fulfilled my destiny to reconnect the broken threads of our family’s origins – the reason I managed to be preserved with the parents who first conceived me out of wedlock (my mom still in high school, my dad had only just started at an out of town university – high school sweethearts they had been. They did marry and remained married until death did part them).

Until I began learning more about the traumas of being adopted, it was the most natural thing in the world to me. So natural, that both of my sisters actually each gave up a baby to adoption. Thankfully, I’ve met and have contact with both of these wonderful, valuable persons – my niece and nephew. It’s impossible to know how their lives might have been different if my sisters had kept them. If my parents had never been surrendered for adoption – the miracle of it all for me personally is – I simply would not have existed. I love my life and for having one at all and with my original parents, I am grateful. So, I am also grateful I wasn’t given up for adoption – it would have been the most normal thing in the world to have happened to me.

The Tragic Story of Lizzie Lou and Frances Irene

My grandmother with her second husband

I’m realizing a day late that yesterday would have been my maternal grandmother’s birthday. Her father died on Christmas Day in 1953, one year before I was born to his first grandchild, who he never even knew. I can imagine Christmas was not the usual kind of holiday for my Stark family but then I don’t really know. My mom was adopted away from them when she was 7 months old.

Relinquishing a child has lifelong consequences for women and for adoptees. Between 13–20% of birth mothers do not go on to have other children. For those in an era of birth control, a few may consciously feel that to have another child would be to betray the first child which they lost to adoption. For many, and especially in my grandmother’s generation, there was either no known reason for infertility or something about their life circumstances precluded having more children.

After receiving the adoption file from the state of Tennessee that they had previously denied my mother, only breaking her heart and motivation to search by informing her that her birth mother had died several years before, it took me forever to make real contact with one of my grandmother’s remaining family members – this one is a niece. She would actually be my mom’s cousin, that same generation of descendants. She is the warmest person and gave to me the gift my heart was yearning for, some intimate, personal memories of my grandmother along with this picture of her with her second husband.

In some belated post-Christmas communication with her today, I felt compelled to correct the seeming misperception that my mom was the child of the couple in this blog. Here was my reply –

My grandmother never had another child. My mom was her only child (and this is not uncommon among women who lose their first child in such a tragic manner). Her father appeared to have abandoned them, at least to my grandmother’s perception of events, though a super flood on the Mississippi River in early 1937 must have been a factor. My cousin that shares him as a grandfather with me, believes he cared deeply about family. So why did he not come to Memphis to rescue the two of them ? There is no one alive now that can answer that question for me and so, there it sits forever unanswered. Of course, once Georgia Tann knew about the precarious situation my mom and grandmother were in, she swooped in to acquire yet another human being to sell. Awful but a definite truth of it all. I am happy that my grandmother found happiness with her second husband after the divorce between her and my maternal grandfather occurred (and it didn’t happen until 3 years after they first married and my mom was already permanently beyond the reach of her original family). 

She later corrected that “seeming” misperception, of course, she knew my mom was not this man’s child.

It is a tragic story. Why my grandfather left her after only 4 months of marriage, causing her to be sent away to Virginia to have my mom, there is no one left alive to tell me. Why my grandfather didn’t respond to the letter from the Juvenile Court at Memphis when my grandmother came back with her baby, there is no one left alive to tell me. My grandmother was so desperate to find a way to stop my mom’s adoption that she called Georgia Tann’s office 4 days after being pressured into signing the surrender papers, under a threat of having Tann’s good friend, Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, declare my grandmother an unfit mother (which she absolutely was not !!). Then, she took a train to New Orleans to prove to Miss Tann that she did have friends there who would take the two of them in resolving at least the issue of stability, even if only temporarily. Everything she tried to do, including taking my mom to Porter Leath orphanage for temporary care – FAILED tragically.

I have all of my original grandparent’s birthdates on my yearly calendar now. I wasn’t able to know them in life but I don’t forget them in death. Maybe someday in the nonphysical realm to which my grandparents (and adoptee parents) have all gone, I will meet them once again and receive the answers my heart cannot acquire in life.

It Really Is NOT Fair

Anne Rudig writes “I’d like to know who my parents are.” in The Guardian. My adoptee mom wanted to know as well but was thwarted by the state of Tennessee at the time she tried. After her death, I discovered that the state of Tennessee had changed its laws for the victims of Georgia Tann’s unscrupulous practices. I tried to get my mom’s original birth certificate from Virginia and my dad’s (also an adoptee) from California and in both cases – the answer was NO without a court order and that means an expensive attorney and no guarantee of success. Fortunately, I found other ways to get my own desire fulfilled.

Anne goes on to say, “Like countless other adoptees in the US, outdated laws mean I still don’t know my parent’s names, ethnicities and medical histories.” The medical information was part of my own mother’s concerns as she had a condition that the doctors were having a difficulty diagnosing. Until I learned something about my grandparents I always had to say, I don’t know because my parents were both adopted. I only knew what showed up in their lives. Now I know my paternal grandmother had surgery for breast cancer.

Anne has had similar experiences – The medical history on my side of the family is solid white space. Each time I encounter a new doctor, the conversation is pretty much the same. “I see you have no family history for major illnesses – cancer, heart disease, stroke. That’s great.” “No, I have no family history.” Then follows an awkward moment as confusion travels across the physician’s face. I break the silence between us. “I was adopted.”

I read Anne encountered the same difficulties with the state of California that I did – “In some private and all closed adoptions the original birth certificate is sealed by the state of California. The only way to see it is to hire a lawyer and petition the court with a ‘very good reason’ to unseal. When I asked a clerk in Marin County, California, he couldn’t give an example of what a good reason might be, but he did say that wanting to know my origins wasn’t one of them.”

She goes on to say – “At the age of 69, I am not allowed to see my original birth certificate or know the basic facts of my origin. The names of my original parents, their ethnicities, vocations, countries of origin, ages, places of residence, and attending physician – all remain hidden. I want the date of my birth confirmed. I want to know where I came from. I want to know my original mother’s name. My adoptive parents are long gone. My original ones have likely passed too. Who is this law protecting, and from what?

In fact, I tried to make the same argument without success. All of my adoptive grandparents were dead and both of my parents were dead and yes, it was likely my original grandparents were dead too. Eventually, I came to the conclusion it is about money – about the state having to hire extra people to vet and dig up the records and copy them, etc for the descendants and/or still living adoptees. It’s about tax money and where it gets spent.

Anne asks – So why are states still sealing adoptees’ birth certificates? Sealed birth certificates obliterate our identity and origins – the exact things most people take for granted. The goal of closed adoptions is to turn the adopted child into a blank slate, ready for fresh imprint. But no baby is a blank slate. We all come with history, ancestry, fathers and mothers. And many of us don’t want to search; we just want to know.

My first husband and I conceived in the early 70s and didn’t know the sex of our baby until it was born. Still, we seemed somehow convinced we would have a son and when the baby we had turned out to be a daughter, we were surprised. I remember the nurses had to tell me 3 times that this baby was my daughter.

Anne shares – an over-eager sonogram technician led us to believe I was carrying a boy. While my pregnancy progressed, we selected a handful of boys’ names. In the delivery room, my doctor announced, “You have a beautiful baby girl.” My husband looked confused. “You’d better check on that.” So, when our daughter arrived there was a white space on her birth certificate, where her name should have been. We spent a week trying out names for her. 

Anne ends her essay with this truth – Sealed birth certificates were meant to protect adoptive parents from the embarrassment of infertility, the original mother from the shame of unwed pregnancy, and the child from the label of illegitimacy. None of this is necessary anymore, nor does it justify hiding personal information from adoptees. Forty-one states still restrict access to birth certificates through laws that date back as far as the 1930s. (blogger’s note – my parents were mid-1930s adoptees.) It’s time to repeal them. If not for me, then for my children, and perhaps theirs – and for all the children who will be adopted in the future.

Colorblind Idealism

There seems to have been an evolution among some citizens in the United States to realize that racially colorblindness isn’t really the answer to racism. In the evolution of adoption and in an attempt to get some children in foster care placed in stable homes, transracial adoption was seen as the answer. As some of these adoptees have reached adulthood, they are increasingly speaking out about why growing up black in a predominantly white community and school has proven challenging, even difficult for them.

Recently The Washington Post had an article by Rachel Hatzipanagos that focuses on transracial adoptees – I know my parents love me, but they don’t love my people. A few years ago, there was a Medium piece – The Myth of Colorblindness by Rosa Perez-Isiah.

For adoptees, their adoptive parents couldn’t see and rarely talked about the racism they experienced. Classmates’ racist comments about their hair and eyes were dismissed as harmless curiosity. America’s racial dynamics were explained in the language of “colorblind” idealism. 

In her Medium piece, Perez-Isiah says – Colorblindness is the belief that we don’t see color or race, that we see people and that we are all the same. These beliefs are widely held by well intentioned people, including educators and school leaders. These are idealistic beliefs and there are a number of issues with this ideology. Colorblindness negates our diversity, race and culture because we all see color and we all have biases. When we identify as colorblind, we are suppressing our authentic views and in the process, perpetuating systemic racism. Race matters and it has impacts on opportunities, education and actual income (as well as its future potential). Colorblindness oppresses people of color. When you fail to see color, you fail to acknowledge the current narrative, a system of injustice for many non-white people.

Cross-cultural adoptions have been debated for decades. In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers took a strong stand against the adoption of Black children by White parents. Several years later, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act was passed to address the wave of Native American children being separated from their tribes and placed with White families.

The growth in transracial adoptions from foster care in recent years has far outpaced the growth in same-race adoptions and transracial adoption is now 28% of all domestic adoptions in the United States. More recently, the national conversation about systemic racism (driven by George Floyd’s death in 2020) has cast a new light on interracial adoption and prompted transracial families to confront the unspoken cultural divides in their own homes.

For adoptees, there is a transracial adoption paradox. Growing up, they experience many of the privileges that come with Whiteness because of their adoptive parents. When they then enter the school system or move out of the family home to live independently as adults later in life, they’re confronted with the reality of being perceived and treated as a racial minority. Not so subtle is the experience of white students putting their pencils in the hair of a Black student and marveling at the way the texture makes them stay in place.

When adoption agencies take on a color-evasive approach with hopeful prospective adoptive parents, they signal to these white parents that race does not need to be a significant factor in their decision-making. Then, by extension, it is no surprise that these adoptive parents might not think that the race of their adoptees is a significant factor in raising their child. Often these parents naively hope their support will make up for racial difference, even when they acknowledge there are challenges in raising a child of a different race.

From a transracial adoptee – “I believe that a lot of people think that adoption is this beautiful, magical, straightforward process. And also when they think of adoption, that they are centering around this “White savior” image and focusing on adoptive parents more than adoptees. And/or birth, biological parents — those two seem to get left out of the narrative a lot. I also believe that adoption from a birth mother, birth parent perspective can be very intense, very complex, very emotional. And I believe that we need to lean in and listen to adoptees and birth parents more.”

Today, many adoptees have their DNA tested, either at Ancestry or 23 and Me. For an adoptee that was raised white, it can be an amazing experience to discover their father is Black and see somebody that looks like them, finally a true racial mirror. One mixed race adoptee notes – “I think a lot of White people think that they have a good handle on race … and have what they would call a ‘colorblind’ kind of mentality. But I don’t think they understand that when you say the word ‘colorblind,’ what I hear is ‘I see you as White’.”

Another transracial adoptee suggests – “I think first acknowledging that your child is not White is, like, a huge step for a lot of White adoptive parents is to, like, see outside. Because a lot of parents see their child as, this is just your kid. They don’t see them in racialized terms. But in seeing them in that colorblind way, you are not protecting them. You are not preparing them to grow up and be an adult.”

Adoption is a trauma. Every adoptee has a different response to their trauma. Often it takes therapy to understand what was experienced as a pre-verbal infant and more importantly, how it continues affecting the adult adoptee. Therapy can help an adoptee get over feeling defective simply because they were given up for adoption. It can require learning that babies are placed for adoption for a number of reasons and that none of those reasons have to do with the baby or the value of that baby regardless of their skin color. The adoptee, not the adoptive parents, needs to be the center of their own life and story. Much of the narrative around adoption centers on the adoptive parents and frames their actions as selflessness and saving a child.

One Black adoptee admits –  I longed, and continue to long, to understand why I needed to be adopted, why I needed to be shipped across the country, why I couldn’t stay in the South, why I couldn’t stay with Black families, why I couldn’t have stayed with at least my biological extended family.” And though I am white and my mother was white too, this is a universal need in adoptees. My mom’s genetic, biological family was in the rural South and she was taken by train from Memphis to Nogales Arizona by her adoptive mother. For a long time, my mother believed she had been born in Memphis, a belief her adoptive mother was also led to believe by Georgia Tann, until birth certificate alterations made clear my mom had been born in Virginia which just made my mom believe she must have been stolen from her mother because things like that happened with Georgia Tann’s adoption practices.

Sadly, the saviorism of white adoptive parents is just so prevalent. Unfortunately, there is a deep-seated belief that white people can take care of Black people better. I have been learning a lot about this in overall society by reading White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad.

I end today’s blog back where I started with the issue of colorblindness – Why is the colorblind narrative popular? The Medium piece notes – it is easier to identify as colorblind than acknowledge differences that make us uncomfortable. This is easier for people to handle, especially in schools where we may lack the information and guidance to have difficult conversations about race. Another reason is simply not knowing…you don’t know what you don’t know. Many people also repeat what they’ve been taught and fail to reflect or question those beliefs. In the end, we don’t realize how harmful the myth of colorblindness can be.

Adoption is a challenging situation regardless – add in racial differences and it becomes doubly so. It takes courage and practice to shift from a colorblind to a color BRAVE ideology.

Christmas Themed Adoption Ads

The image I have used is modern but back in the day, Georgia Tann discovered that many hopeful adoptive parents would respond to getting a baby for Christmas.

“Yours for the asking! 
George wants to play catch but needs a Daddy to complete Team “Catch this ball, Daddy!” 
How would YOU like to have this handsome five-year-old play “catch” with you? 
How would you like his chubby arms to slip around your neck and give you a bearlike hug? 
His name is George and he may be yours for the asking, if you hurry along your request to the Christmas Baby Editor of the Press-Scimitar. In co-operation with Miss Georgia Tann of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, The Press-Scimitar will place 25 babies for adoption this Christmas.” 

Recently, one of my “The Baby Thief” blogs (there have been 3 actually but one has gotten an amazing number of views that I am not accustomed to receiving) about Georgia Tann has been getting renewed attention. You can read it here – https://missingmom.home.blog/2019/03/06/the-baby-thief/.

This reminded me that Tann originally discovered that advertising sells babies for her. And knowing how over the top some hopeful adoptive parents are about publicizing their efforts I went looking a bit for something that would convey that in the context of Christmas, since we are now in that season.

My thanks to unearthedmemphis.com for the examples of Tann’s use of advertising.

ChildWelfare.gov has an article titled “Use of Advertising and Facilitators in Adoptive Placements.” They note that in private or independent adoptions (without agency involvement), (hopeful, prospective adoptive) parents may choose to advertise their interest in adopting. Birth parents also may advertise their interest in placing their children for adoption. In an effort to protect the interests of all parties, especially children, and
to avoid the possibility of an illegal placement, many States have enacted laws that either prohibit or regulate the use of advertising.

Advertising is defined as the publication in any public medium, either print or electronic, of an interest in adopting a child or if a specific child is available for adoption. Public media include newspapers, periodicals, radio, television, telephone book listings, the internet, billboards, or print fliers. Approximately 33 States currently have laws that in some way limit or regulate the use of advertising in adoptive placement.

You can learn more about the specifics at the ChildWelfare.gov link above.

Reuniting His Birth Parents

Karen and Roger Caldwell

Such an irresistible story, I just had to share it today. The story is “old” but still sweet. The baby that tore two Kentucky teen-agers apart 25 years ago united them in marriage in August of 1991. Mark Kitts officiated at the wedding. His adoptee effort to reunite with his birth parents prompted them to speak to each other again for the first time since his mother learned she was pregnant.

“I’ve always been in love with him,” Karen Caldwell said of her high school sweetheart and now husband, Roger Caldwell. “I’ve never been in love with anyone else.” Karen Waterfill was a 15-year-old Western High School cheerleader in 1966. Roger Caldwell was an honor student and a basketball player at the same high school but by then a freshman at the University of Kentucky.

This is so much like the story of my parents. My mom was a junior in high school and my dad was a freshman at the U of NM at Las Cruces when I took up residence in her womb. My story turned out happier (I believe) than their son Mark Kitts, though he has no complaints. My parents were also high school sweethearts – both of them adoptees – and they remained married for over 50 years until death did part them.

Karen was sent away to a Lexington home for unwed mothers. On Sept 11 1966, she gave birth to a boy. I will always be forever grateful that this didn’t happen to me and my own parents. It could have so easily been my story as well as that was the norm in the mid-1950s. “I remember him crying, but I never got to hold him,” Karen said. The baby was adopted within a week.

A few months after the birth, Roger Caldwell, who did not know the child’s birth date or sex, married another woman, joined the Air Force and left town. But he told his wife, whom he divorced in 1988 after they raised two children together, that he really loved someone else. Karen eventually would say the same thing to two husbands. About six months after the baby was born, Karen returned to the home to ask about him. They would tell her only that he had been adopted by “good people.”

This is so much like what happened to my mom’s mother with Georgia Tann who wouldn’t tell her anything about who adopted my mom or where she went.

Mark’s adoptive parents were Gene and Linda Kitts of Lexington, who adopted their second son, a baby they named Mark. In all, the Kittses, who lived in Louisville when this story was published, eventually had six children — five of whom are adopted and three of whom have found their birth parents. It was a search that the Kittses supported. Linda Kitts said that she often wondered about the women who gave birth to her children.

John Ellis was a mutual friend of the Caldwells in high school. Karen and Roger each quizzed Ellis about how the other was doing. Roger occasionally drove by Karen’s house, hoping she would be outside. Karen got dressed to go to the visitation after Roger’s mother died, but then changed her mind.

When Mark’s wife Dee-dee became pregnant, he start thinking about his own birth. He obtained a court order for the state to attempt to locate his birth mother. Karen Williams was married and living in Frankfort. She eventually agreed to meet Mark Kitts and to see whether Roger Caldwell would meet him as well.

They agreed to meet and discuss Mark’s request. So. Roger came to Kentucky and picked Karen up. The couple cried and talked, then began seeing each other every day. Their relationship went so smoothly that when they met Mark, he thought, “Wow, this is odd. This couple really gets along well.” Karen said it was like giving birth to Mark all over again. Only this time Roger was by her side.

Karen Caldwell also had a 22-year-old daughter and a grandchild living in Frankfort but she quit her job in Kentucky to marry Roger and move to Tennessee. Karen filed for divorce — something she says she had been considering anyway — and then Roger asked her to marry him. Three days after the divorce became final, Mark officiated at the couple’s wedding in Covington, Kentucky.

Mark said, “I’ve been very happy with my life. I don’t wish it was different. We’re trying to build a relationship on the future, not the past.”