Blue Bayou

At the Cannes Film Festival in July, a journalist from the Netherlands thanked the director and star Justin Chon for his movie, which centers on a Korean American adoptee. Chon isn’t actually adopted like his subject, Louisiana bayou-bred Anthony LeBlanc, whom he plays in the movie. The film premieres Sept 17th.

LeBlanc is a tattoo artist with a criminal record. Like many adoptees in the real world, LeBlanc was never naturalized and risks being sent to a country he barely knows, prompting questions around citizenship, belonging, family — and who gets to be considered American. 

Chon said his Korean heritage and the experiences of friends in his immediate community in part compelled him to examine the issues surrounding international adoption. The practice began during wartime “babylifts” after World War II and subsequent conflicts when the U.S. asserted its power in part by “rescuing” orphans from communism to demonstrate its goodwill.

In 1955, the practice was further formalized when an evangelical couple, Henry and Bertha Holt, successfully advocated for the right to adopt Korean “war orphans” through an act of Congress. The couple later launched Holt International Children’s Services, the first large-scale international adoption organization. Foreign born babies those adopted by US parents before 2000 weren’t automatically granted citizenship. 

Chon said that to bring the sort of tenderness and care the subject deserved, he first pored over research and news articles about similar cases. One of the most publicized was the deportation of Adam Crapser, who was adopted from South Korea. He endured abuse and later abandonment by two sets of adoptive parents, none of whom filed for his citizenship. Crapser, who had several arrests on his record, was deported in 2016. 

Variety wrote in a review that “Justin Chon’s Blunt-Force Melodrama Takes on the Injustices of America’s Immigration System.” The system is the system, and its rules and loopholes exist to punish more than they protect. The movie holds little back as it rails against the cruelties and hypocrisies of American immigration law to stirring effect. 

At the film’s outset, it’s clear LeBlanc has turned his life around from rough beginnings. Having spent his childhood passed from one adoptive and foster family to another, and having endured a stint in prison for motorcycle theft, he has finally found emotional stability in the home he shares with Kathy and Jessie, her daughter from a previous relationship, who regards him adoringly as her true dad. 

“Where are you really from?” It’s an invasive question that’s awfully familiar to people of color, one that intrudes its way into our everyday lives. Though it can have innocent intentions, it’s often hostile and only works to invalidate your livelihood. You don’t really belong here, is the true meaning that lurks under that query. As the closing titles inform us, tens of thousands of adoptees have been deported from the United States, thanks to an exploited loophole in a law that only protects children born after 1983. 

What Blue Bayou does wonderfully in quiet moments is illustrate that being Asian is not a one-size-fits-all identity but a vast tapestry of different cultures. I’ve not seen this movie yet, of course, but I think I would like to. New Orleans holds a special place in my heart. My maternal grandmother went there to try to convince Georgia Tann to give her baby girl back to her but it failed and my mom was taken to Nogales Arizona by her adoptive mother.

My Maternal Adoptive Grandmother

1989 among the Missouri Azaleas

I spent the afternoon yesterday reading through a thick stack of letters that I wrote to my grandmother. When my grandmother died, for whatever reason, when my mom found these, she thought to send them to me. I wondered why but now I understand. My grandmother adopted my mom from Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society’s Memphis branch. I find it amazing that she kept all of these letters from me but they are very detailed about my marriage in the early days, what living in Missouri was like for me and what we were doing to promote our home-based business than I would have imagined. I wonder that I had that much time to write so much to her but then, there is only one, maybe two, in any given month and not even one for every month.

I could have been given up for adoption as my mom conceived me when she was only a junior in high school and not wed. My dad had graduated from the same high school the year before and had only just started attending the University of New Mexico at Las Cruces. I tend to credit his parents (he was adopted also) for preserving me in the family but as everyone who would know is now deceased, it is only a guess on my part. That is the reason I was born in Las Cruces and not El Paso Texas where my sisters were born.

I had the good fortune to chose to be born on this grandmother’s wedding anniversary. In January back in 1994, I acknowledged a memory she shared with me in a letter from her (I haven’t kept most, if any of hers to me). It was a “special memory” of hers about the sunlight shining upon me while she held me in her arms and some beautiful thought she had at that moment. It seems to have been a sign from God meant just for her and since I too believe in signs of that sort, I understood. I am now married to the man that I am because I received a physical, unmistakable sign to give him a bit more attention than I might have otherwise. Of course, discernment is very important when it comes to trusting the signs one notices.

In fact, it is quite clear in re-reading these very old letters from the early 1990s, that I was closer to this grandmother in my spiritual understandings than anyone else in my family. My dad’s parents were very conservative, traditional Church of Christ adherents. My mom was very much Episcopal and my dad wasn’t at all a church goer until all of us girls had left the home and then, he said to me that he went to “keep my mom company.” After she died, when I was there helping him with life in general, I went with him because he continued to go to their little church alone or with my youngest sister who was assisting him so he could remain in his home.

These letters are full of the most amazing details of my early marriage and life here in Missouri. I could share these things with this grandmother because she grew up in Missouri in a house much like the one I live in and an environment that is very similar. In one letter, I write – “I truly love the woods, hills and streams of my home here in the Missouri Ozarks. Knowing that you grew up nearby gives me the feeling that I came back home.” (I had grown up in the desert of El Paso Texas, where my grandmother spent most of her own life and where she eventually passed away.) I also shared a lot with her about our efforts to promote and grow our fledgling business.

When I found this thick packet, I wondered why my mom sent it to me and didn’t simply throw it away. I don’t know if she bothered to read all of these letters or not – I can’t ask her since she died in Sept of 2015 – but I’m glad to have them today. Only a few of them can I even bear to throw away but the details of our early business are as precious as gold and I hope we can preserve them in protective sleeves in a binder. Maybe someday, our sons will enjoy reading about our adventures before we decided to become their parents.

Assumed Name and False Identity

Each of my parents was born with a meaningful name indicating family and personal relationships given to them by the woman who gave birth to them. In the kind of inside joke that only two adoptees could share, my dad sometimes called my mom by the name she was born under – Frances Irene.

It appears that the Frances may have come from a family that helped my grandmother when she first returned to Memphis with her two month old daughter. She probably had some connection to them before she gave birth to my mom in Virginia. When investigating my mom’s circumstances before adoption, Georgia Tann noted some vague family relationship between my grandmother and this family. I’ve been unable to track that back through Ancestry in order to prove it.

It appears my maternal grandmother was sent away from Tennessee to give birth by her father, after her lawfully wedded husband returned to Arkansas where his mother was caring for two daughters given him by his deceased first wife. Why he left her 4 mos pregnant or why he didn’t come back when informed she was in Memphis with the baby, I can never know though my heart yearns to.

Irene was the name of my maternal grandmother’s own mother who died when my grandmother was only 11 years old leaving her the woman of the house in charge of caring for her four siblings, two girls and two boys, the youngest only about a year old.

My mom’s name was changed to Julie Sue. My grandmother adopted a boy and then a girl through Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, Memphis branch. She stated in a letter to the society’s administrator that she wanted a Jill to go with her Jack. My mom’s adoptive brother was named John. So my adoptive grandmother was subtle about that heartfelt intention of hers when re-naming her children

When a person is adopted, their name is often changed by the couple that adopts them. Sometimes their date of birth and even the geographic location where they were born may be altered on the new birth certificate created for the adoptee showing the adoptive couple as their parents, as though these people gave birth to them.

It turned out the name my dad was given at birth was an important clue to his identity. My paternal grandmother named him Arthur Martin. Arthur was the man married to her aunt and she was working at their motel and restaurant at the beach in La Jolla California when she met my paternal grandfather. Unfortunately, he was also a married man. By the time she knew she was pregnant, she probably knew that marital status related to him as well. It appears he never knew he had a son.

Martin was the name of the man who fathered my dad. When I connected with a cousin who lives in Mexico, I discovered that she had my paternal grandmother’s photo albums (a real treasure trove of images). Next to a photo of my grandmother holding my dad in her lap, was the headshot of a man and she wrote his name, Martin Hansen, and boyfriend on the back.

My adoptive grandmother named my dad Thomas Patrick. The Thomas was the man she was married to when she adopted my dad. Since his birthday was only one day off from St Patrick’s Day (and that is why I never forgot his birthday), that may be the only reason for the Patrick part of his name.

However, she divorced that man and re-married and so my dad was adopted twice and his name changed again when he was already 8 years old to Gale Patrick – the Gale being her new husband’s name. It may not have been too confusing for him because he was called Pat all the years I knew him, at least.

In addition to the name changes, an adoptee is dropped into a family they were not born into but must “pretend” their whole lives they are related to. I’ve not cared all that much about names, though I like mine and now that I know about my original grandparents find a “family” connection because my paternal grandmother’s oldest sister was also named Deborah. She was hit and killed by a reckless teenage driver when she was only 3 years old.

Glad I Was

I’m not adopted but both my mom and dad were.

Many times, adoptees will say, “I am glad I was adopted.”

My mom wrote about her adoption that to me in an email – “Glad I was.” I don’t believe she meant it. She had been denied her adoption file by the state of Tennessee. She believed she had been stolen from her parents and while it turns out that wasn’t exactly true, Georgia Tann did exploit my grandmother – that is clear from my mom’s adoption file that I now possess. My mom was heartbroken when all Tennessee offered her was the news her mother had died several years before. She wanted that reunion. Their excuse was that they could not determine the status of her father. They didn’t try very hard. He had been dead for 30 years when they checked to see if he had a current Arkansas driver’s license.

No 2 adoptees feel the same way about their adoptions. My dad did not have that burning desire that my mom did but I think he was afraid of opening up a potential can of worms (he used those words with my mom when she wanted to search). It’s a pity. He could have met his half-sister living only 90 miles away from him when he died. She could have told him a lot about his mother.

The feelings that an adoptee has are complicated. At times they may be angry. Other times they may feel sad. They may feel blessed. My mom’s adoptive parents were wealthy. Their financial resources afforded her, us as her children and even her grandchildren opportunities we probably would not have had if they had not adopted my mom. I know a bit about my mom’s original parents now (and not as much as I wish I knew). Even so, poverty and humble circumstances would have been my mom’s life had her parents remained together.

My dad’s mom was unwed and she also had a hard life. Really from the age of 3 months when her mother died. She was resilient and self-sufficient. She simply took care of her pregnancy. My dad wasn’t adopted until he was 8 months old. He remained with her all that time but she had him in a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers and then later, lacking resources to keep a roof over their heads or food in their bellies, applied for employment with the Salvation Army and traveled from California to El Paso Texas with my dad in tow. I’m fairly certain they pressured her to give him up. She worked there for 5 years.

Only an adoptee can tell you what being adopted was like. My parents never talked about it. I only remember my mom mentioning it to me once when I was a child and wanted to know what nationality we were and she couldn’t answer me. However, when I was in my mid-30s, she wanted to search for her original mother and my dad was not supportive. So, I became her confidant.

No adoptee escapes separation trauma from not being raised by their original mother. Often they are haunted by feelings of abandonment and rejection, desperately seeking love – sometimes in the wrong places. Fortunately for me, my parents found each other and stayed together for over 50 years – from teenage years until death did them part. I can not deny that but for their adoptions, I would simply not exist. I love life and so I am grateful for that much. My adoptive grandparents were all influential in my growing up years.

The Role Of Paternity

The legacy of American militaristic adventures includes an American soldier who fathers a child with a national of another country. In the case of Korea, mixed-race children were considered as a blight upon the blood-line, unworthy of being Korean. According to the system of census taking that existed in the 1960s, in order to be entered into the family registry, the child had to be fathered by a Korean man.

Children born of foreign fathers were unable to be registered, and therefore ineligible for essential government services, such as education and medical care. From the beginning, the bureaucracy conspired to erase knowledge of them from existence.

Korean women were crucial to Korea’s struggling economy, bringing into the economy desperately needed U.S. dollars. Though prostitution was ostensibly illegal, the government not only tolerated but abetted it. U.S. military and Korean local and national government officials coordinated efforts to regulate prostitution and monitor sex workers for sexually transmitted diseases. Both countries saw the sex trade as vital to keeping the massive contingent of U.S. troops in the country contented, and these women’s presence was deemed essential to the national economy.

The government making a profit off of women’s bodies did not stop with the sex trade. When these women had babies, another business opportunity presented itself. Americans like Henry Holt and Pearl S. Buck offered to take these unwanted children away. It turned out that white couples in wealthy nations would pay money for them.

And how do the profiteers make the export of children morally palatable ? By reframing the narrative from that of poverty, prostitution and military adventurism into one of rescue and redemption. By extirpating the past, doctoring documents, and rebranding the children as orphans.

These Korean children were not orphans. They had a mother. And a father, too, though most of these men returned to America before their progeny were even born.

An article in The Korea Times describes the lies that one woman discovered were her adoption file. Her father father was not Caucasian but Mexican American and she had Native American and Latino roots. Her mother’s name was an alias, the Korean equivalent of Jane Doe.

I know somewhat how that feels. I knew that Georgia Tann did not always tell the truth about the children she was placing for adoption to the prospective adoptive parents and so it was easy for me to see where she fudged (thankfully, the actual facts had been preserved because she was not yet covering her tracks at the time).

So back to the Korean woman’s story. Decades after the first children were adopted out, the Korean court system is being forced to confront the many legal issues that have arisen due to dubious adoption practices. The country is forced to accept back adoptees who have been deported from their home countries because their adoptive parents neglected to naturalize them.

Unlike Korea’s other major exports, adoptees are human beings. Cars, phones and refrigerators do not wonder about their origins, but human beings have a deep, innate need to know from whence they come. Korean adoptees are returning to Korea to search for their family, learn about their culture and recover their identity in ever increasing numbers. They are demanding answers, reform, legal equality, and their basic human right to know our origins.

By declaring these children orphans, the Korean government sought to erase them from their national history. By these adoptees searching to know their roots, they are bringing the dark truths to light.

One could say that knowing from whence you came is the universal adoptee calling.

You can read this woman’s essay here – Rewriting The Adoption Narrative by Alice Stephens

Contemplating Death

Yesterday, I was stung on my little finger by a Red Wasp. Whether we simply collided or it came after me as I passed by the wooden post that has become nest – through a knot-hole opening into a large hollow space, I do not know. It happened so fast, I never saw it. I only felt the hot iron pain. All I could do was put a couple of ice cubes on it at the time where I was.

It brought back memories of the time when my adoptive maternal grandmother gifted me with a trip to England with her. We were going to attend a 4 week long summer session at the University of Cambridge and it was a lifetime experience that I do not regret. That morning I was stung on my middle finger also by a wasp I never saw. There was no time to do anything about it, even if we would have had some remedy.

My hand became painfully swollen over the time it took to make the transatlantic journey. My grandmother pretended not to notice my suffering and I knew better than to make a issue of it. In my dorm, not even having washcloths and towels yet, I used my socks to make compresses and by dinner time it was bearable. Last night I reflected on how it must have been for my mother growing up with such an emotionally cold woman. I do know that when she died, lots of appreciative comments about her mother came my mom’s way and simple reminders of her perfume on her clothing were bittersweet for my mother. My mom yearned for a reunion with her birth mother but she had died several years before my mom’s effort, which came months before the state of Tennessee changed its own perspectives to allow the adoptees or their descendants to have the adoption files related to the scandalous Georgia Tann. I now have that file that would have brought my mom so much peace. In my own spiritual perspective, I believe she was reunited with her birth mother after death and now knows even more than I do.

In my all things adoption group this morning I read –

I was surprised at how many adoptees truly loved their adoptive moms and were devastated when they died. Is it strange to not seem to feel much of anything? Some days I think I might be sad and then I realize it might just be residual feelings from long ago. I’m so confused and feel so cold.

A soothing comment followed – Know that your feelings, whatever they are, are valid.

The next comment was this – My adoptive mother and I were not close. I loved her, but didn’t much like her.

One honest adoptee admitted – My adoptive mom was an awful person. I only felt relief when she died. Yet another wrote – I won’t grieve, I have no relationship with my adoptive mom or adoptive dad, as cold as it sounds ill feel like a weight will be lifted from my shoulders when they pass. They still think they haven’t done anything wrong and blame me for everything

I could appreciate this perspective – I think how people grieve and process loss depends on their relationship with that person, whether it’s adoptive family, biological family, friend, coworker. If you’re close to someone and love them, you might feel sadness, a sense of loss, emotional pain. If you weren’t close to them, you might not feel much at all. None of these feelings are bad, they’re just a reflection of your relationship to that person. Not missing or grieving someone doesn’t make you any less of a person with emotions.

The original commenter went on to share – It’s sad because I could never connect with her. She had bipolar disorder and always asked me why couldn’t I just love her. She tried to live her life over through me and it seemed to suck the very soul out of me. It’s hard to love someone when it’s only one sided. It’s like we are baby dolls meant to fulfill all their dreams instead of human beings with our own destiny, personality, and dreams to explore.

Another wise perspective was this – I think every relationship is unique and one should always honor whatever they feel, or don’t feel when dealing with death. Try not to compare your experience with loss to others. This also, grieving is different for everyone, and the way you grieve (or seemingly don’t) is valid.

There is this sad story – The last few months of my moms life were difficult. She was difficult (in general). Our relationship was difficult. I had to step in and took over care the last 4 days of moms life. She had a rapid health decline. I didn’t know for sure I was adopted at that point. And I never got that moment. My adoptive mom was a broken person. The Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents book helped me see that this year. I’ve been able to see her different and with a kindness that wasn’t there before. We had a hard relationship. And it’s helped me reach some of the grief that I’ve had shoved down inside.

And yet another sad story – My adoptive mom is still alive but I feel absolutely numb towards her. I think it’s the abuse and bullying and constant threat of sending me away as a child. I had one moment once where I felt for her, it was some random moment by myself that made me realize that perhaps underneath the hurt, I did care for her, but I am unable to feel it because of how much she has hurt me.

Another perspective – As adoptees, we have *all* lost our mother, during our formative years. So when my adoptive mother died, I felt that pain of losing a mother again. My adoptive siblings don’t quite understand why I reacted so strongly (and they also don’t realize how deeply her death impacted me, because I never really showed my grief in front of them). They are all her biological children, and also much older than me. So while we all lost our mother, I was losing *another* mother. As adoptees, we have difficult relationships with our adoptive parents, and however you felt is completely understandable.

Your Baby Never Comes Back

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this book here before. The cover is certainly familiar but it has come back up for me today. Someone who has read it says – It focuses on international adoption and Christian international adoption in particular rather than a more general look at adoption. But it’s a very interesting deep dive into that corner. You would particularly be fascinated, I think, by the way this myth of “millions of orphans” was created.

The New Republic published an article by Kathryn Joyce back in 2015 titled – “Do You Understand That Your Baby Goes Away and Never Comes Back?” Now you know where the title of my blog today comes from. The byline is – “Adoption is embraced in the Marshall Islands, but in the Ozarks, it means something very different. The tragic consequences of cultural misunderstanding.” Guess what ? I do live in the Ozarks. I may have even read this article back in my early days of becoming aware of all things related to adoption.

Springdale Arkansas is home to a large Marshallese population. The Koshiba’s lost their child in a method similar to some of Georgia Tann’s techniques. After a draining all-nighter in labor, an unfamiliar woman shows up in the hospital room with relinquishment papers. The father signs them without reading them deeply and the mother is still too groggy but signs them too. Barely making it with 3 children already, the couple had hoped to receive a big enough tax refund to fly the mother’s sister in from the Marshall Islands for childcare that would allow for both husband and wife to work and provide for their family.

So in March 2014, the mother pregnant once again, the couple had decided to place their unborn baby for adoption. They already had three children to care for, and both had other children from previous relationships living with extended family. The stories that circulated among the Marshallese in Springdale made U.S. adoption sound not dissimilar to customs back home: The adoptive parents would call and send pictures regularly; the biological parents would have the right to reclaim their children if need be; and the children would return to their birth parents when they turned 18. They’d also heard that Marshallese women who placed their babies for adoption in the United States were paid around $10,000.

The hurried nature of the exchange at the hospital left the parents without contact information about the adoptive parents so they could check on their baby from time to time. When the adoption agency would not cooperate with her wishes, the mother called the police. She says the police called the adoption attorney. That is when the mother first learned that she wasn’t entitled to any information. It turns out, she “willingly” entered into a closed adoption. Closed adoption is the default form of adoption in Arkansas. Adoption records are sealed; no identifying information about either birth or adoptive parents is shared and the parties can only contact each other through their agency or attorney. 

The article is long but worth reading. I’ll let you decide if that is something you wish to pursue.

Glad I Was

I almost didn’t know what to write today. It seemed as though I had said it all in the last few days. But then an exchange with my mom, not long before she died, came back into my mind. She gave me editing privileges on her Ancestry account. She had done the family tree thing but it was all based on the ancestral lines of her adoptive parents and my dad’s adoptive parents. She admitted to me she just had to quit working on it. It wasn’t real, she knew that deeply, not in the sense Ancestry is meant to record. But quickly, she added, “you know, because I was adopted. Glad I was.”

What else could she say ? She didn’t know anything but her adopted life. Scarcely knew anything beyond her parents names of Mr and Mrs J C Moore – that doesn’t tell a person very much, though it proved to be accurate. She knew her name at birth was given to her by her mother as Frances Irene. Oh, she tried. Tennessee would not give her her adoption file even though she carried a deep certainly all the way to her death that she had been “inappropriately” adopted. Such a careful way she worded that. She knew Georgia Tann was involved and she knew about the scandal. She actually learned about it when it came out in the newspapers in the 1950s while she was yet a school girl.

She was devastated to learn from the state of Tennessee that her birth mother had died. Closing the door to her ever being able to communicate with that woman who gave her the gift of life through her own body.

It is that “Glad I was.” that haunts me today. I didn’t know about adoptee fog until recently. In fact, when I first entered my all things adoption Facebook group, wow, was I ever in it !! Adoption seemed like the most natural thing in the world to me. It was so natural that both of my sisters ended up giving up children to adoption.

What I want to say clearly this morning is – Adoption is the most UN-natural way for a child to grow up. Having one’s birth certificate altered to make it appear that total strangers actually gave birth to you when they did NOT. Having your name changed to suit the desires of your adoptive parents ? It is a fantasy. A pretend life and adoptees feel it keenly, as my mom clearly did “it just wasn’t real to me”.

The thing my mom could be glad for is that she had a financially comfortable upbringing and some perks such as travel along with her adoptive mother. She also suffered some coldness and harsh judgement because her natural body structure would never be lithe and thin as my adoptive grandmother took such pains to make her own. I know, I suffered a humiliating embarrassment in a public restaurant in London from her over the sin of taking a piece of bread and putting some butter on it.

My maternal adoptive grandmother was an accomplished and phenomenal woman. I grant her that. But I am convinced she bought her children when she found she could not conceive. I am no longer a believer in adoption and until I run out of things to write about – I will continue making an argument for family preservation and an end to separating babies from their natural mothers. I will defend allowing such children who are unfortunate enough to be adopted to keep ALL the ties to their identities – their genuine birth certificate and their name (unless and until, it is their choice to change that).

Secondary Infertility

Thinking about my birthday as the day I separated from my mother understandably led me to think that my mom was separated from her mother twice – when she was born and at approx 6 mos old when she was taken by Georgia Tann for adoption. My grandmother tried to get my mom back 4 days after the papers were signed but was blocked in her efforts by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. My maternal grandmother never had another child, though she doted immensely on her two nieces. I’m certain that she must of thought of my mom when she was with them. Though they called her Aunt Lou and even though I have seen in a communication post-surrender from my grandmother to Georgia Tann pleading for the photograph taken the last time she was with my mom (which I happily now possess), she signed her name Elizabeth.

However on my mom’s birth certificate she is named as Lizzie Lou Stark and she appears by that name in many of my mom’s adoption file papers, she seems to have dropped Lizzie and simply went by Lou. I’ve always called her by the double name – Lizzie Lou – and I am told she was a fun person. But she never had another child.

In learning about all things adoption (huge interest since there are 4 adoptions in my immediate birth family – both of my parents, a niece and a nephew were all adopted), I have learned that secondary infertility after relinquishing a baby is not all that uncommon.

Secondary Infertility and Birth Mothers by Isabel Andrews – Abstract in Psychoanalytic Inquiry (there is a paywall if you care to read further) –

Relinquishing a child has had lifelong consequences for women and for adoptees. This article explores a little-discussed aspect—secondary infertility, birth mothers who did not have other children. To my knowledge, this is the first study to research the incidence of secondary infertility and its impact on the women concerned. I discovered that between 13–20% of birth mothers do not go on to have other children. For a few, this is a conscious decision; however, for the majority there was either no known reason for infertility or their life circumstances foisted it on them, i.e., lack of suitable partner. Relinquishing their child has meant losing their only opportunity to parent a birth child, and that has bought tremendous anguish. Women considering relinquishing a child need to be made aware that secondary infertility is a real and present possibility.

The Declassified Adoptee wrote a blog about it that you can read – Should Secondary Infertility Rates of Birth Mothers be Disclosed in Adoption Counseling? – in which she refers to the article I linked above. The blogger writes – “Andrews was extremely respectful to mothers and recognized the deep loss that many of these mothers feel and expressed it eloquently in her article.”

Nancy Verrier who’s book The Primal Wound I have read, is referenced with this note – Andrews read that 40-60% of mothers who have lost children to adoption did not go on to have other children – that prompted Andrews to conduct this study.  She too found that 40-60% of the original mothers seeking support from Adoption Jigsaw did not go on to have other children and wanted to determine if this percentage was accurate.  She conducted a study that recorded (1) secondary infertility of original mothers seeking support from Adoption Jigsaw (2) secondary infertility reported from data recorded during the search and reunions conducted through Adoption Jigsaw and (3) information that was returned on questionnaires sent out to original mothers.

Andrews feels that in society, original mothers may not necessarily be regarded as being “mother” to the children they relinquished for adoption which may cause a more profound feeling of loss if they have not experienced motherhood and parenting by having more children. My mom’s cousins when I was finally able to communicate with them did indicate a knowledge that my grandmother had given up a child for adoption. It is true she signed the surrender papers. However, reading between the lines in the approx 100 pages I received as her file, it is clear my grandmother was exploited for her desperation caused by poverty and a lack of familial support to offset that.

Losing a baby is one of life’s greatest traumas; losing a baby to adoption is just as traumatic, if not more so.  When a baby dies, the parents receive enormous support, love, and understanding,  A funeral is held, cards, flowers, and visits recognize their devastation.  When a mother or couple lose a baby to adoption, particularly in the past, there is no recognition of birth, and thus none of loss” (Andrews, 2010, p. 91).

This current pregnancy (in which surrender is being considered) may be a mother’s only opportunity to parent and it is unethical, as is so often done in counseling, to tell her she is guaranteed to be able to parent other children in the future. (Amanda Woolston, June 26 2010, in her blog)

Why I Celebrate

Birthday Hat, created by my husband

My 67th birthday comes up in 2 days now. The image here is from early in my marriage, before our sons were born. We will celebrate 33 years this June.

There is so much I am grateful for but first and foremost it is that I was not given up for adoption. I could have so easily been lost to this family I grew up within. My mom was a 16 yr old high school student in El Paso TX who found herself pregnant with me and unwed. My dad had just started at the U of NM at Las Cruces that year. They are both deceased now. When I was cleaning out my parents belongings to ready their house for sale, I discovered that my mom had kept every love letter she got from my dad during that time. I also found a note where she was worried about telling him she was pregnant.

Both my mom and dad were adopted. That is why I think it is a miracle I was not given up. My mom’s adoptive parents were well to do, had made a lucky early investment in Circle K just as the stores were beginning and on top of that my adoptive grandfather was a bank vice president. My adoptive grandmother was a socialite. I believe it was actually my dad’s adoptive parents who were always poor, entrepreneurial sorts who made custom draperies for a living, that preserved me in the family and supported my dad in marrying my mom.

Because I was preserved my two sisters were born. Maybe they would have been or maybe my parents would have gone their separate ways but that is not what happened so it is a moot point. I believe I have now fulfilled my destiny in this life. Within a year of my parents deaths (they died 4 mos apart after more than 50 years of marriage), I had uncovered who my original grandparents were. I have met or made contact with an aunt and some cousins for each branch of my grandparents families. I am the only link between them because the four of them went their separate ways.

My maternal grandmother remarried but never had any other children. My maternal grandfather also remarried but didn’t have any more children with his third wife. Yes, he and my grandmother were married at the time she conceived my mom. It will always be a mystery why he left her 4 mos pregnant and why after being sent from Tennessee to Virginia to have (and probably expected to give up) my mom, he didn’t respond when she returned to Memphis and tried to reach him. Her desperation led to Georgia Tann getting her hands on my mom . . .

My paternal grandmother had a hard life growing up. My dad was conceived with the assistance of a Danish immigrant who was married to a much older woman. He probably never even knew about my dad. My grandmother simply handled it as the self-resourceful woman she was. She did remarry twice and had 3 other children. At the time my dad died, her last child (my aunt) was living only 90 miles away, totally unknown to my dad.

I celebrate that I am alive and I am happy to have now become whole in ways my parents (who died knowing next to nothing about their origins) never were. I had to wait over 60 years before that happened for me. It is true that, if my parents had not been given up for adoption, I would simply not exist at all. Even so, there is much wrong about the practice of adoption (I write about that here all the time) . . . including that the state of Tennessee denied my mother access to her own adoption file in the early 90s. No one told her when the law was changed for the victims of Georgia Tann to be given access but because of that law, I now possess all of the documents in her adoption file. In her file there were black and white pictures of my maternal grandmother holding my mom for the last time at Porter-Leath Orphanage. It was to that storied and respected institution that my grandmother, in desperation, turned for temporary care of her precious baby girl. The superintendent there betrayed my grandmother by alerting Georgia Tann to my mom’s existence.

At the Dorchester in London
thanks to a trip with my adoptive maternal grandmother