The Warmth of Home and Family

This blog is mostly about adoption and sometimes foster care. Today it is Christmas and not every child is in a stable home with emotional and physical supports nor is every family functional and happy.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a stable and loving family. We didn’t have a lot, were not wealthy but my parents made what we did have stretch as far as they could. Grocery day was always exciting because by then we had run out of “fun” stuff to eat and we could be certain my mom would bring home some treat. One of my favorites was Chocolate Eclairs (I almost bought some the last time I went to the grocery store simply for sentimental reasons).

My parents made Christmas morning a wonderland of presents and our excitement was hard to contain until they finally woke up. I believe my husband’s family was much the same. When we had our sons late in life, while they were little, we wanted to give them the feeling of that same kind of surprising magic – going to bed with an empty tree and waking up to a wonderland of presents. We’d get up in the wee hours of the night, I would stage the previously wrapped and hidden gifts on our basement stairs and my husband would creep down and get them.

We live in a one-room cabin of a farmhouse. We have one big room that is bedroom (two king-size platform mattresses side by side), our entertainment center (when the boys were young the floor was always covered in toys like trains and building blocks), as well as our office for the home-based business that has supported us. The Christmas tree has always been between the beds and the office space. I’m not certain one or the other boys never woke up while their dad was placing gifts or hanging stockings but as they got older they at least pretended for their own self interests.

We have been struggling financially the last few years, maybe not quite a decade, but the boys are older now (17 and 20) and when finances got really tight, they began to notice fewer and fewer presents under the tree. Finally, we came clean about the fun game of Santa that parents play. We began to buy quality gifts and only a few. Now it has gotten to where there are only token gifts and some stuff for the stockings but we are all happy with that.

To be honest, we spent way too much money and bought way too much stuff. For awhile, we cleaned out some of the things the boys had outgrown and took it to a woman’s and children’s domestic violence shelter that serves our region. Then, came Trump and we live in a very conservative, solidly Republican, sparsely populated county. We have now for the last year or two, taken no longer needed clothing and all the excess stuff that the boys only unwrapped and never looked at again, to a predominantly Black and poverty stricken area of North St Louis. My husband’s mother was once a social worker for the St Louis Public Schools doing everything she could to help Black children stay in school. So my husband honors his mother’s memory (we lost her in 2009) by choosing this avenue of giving.

These things we bought way too much of, that sat on a shelf un-used, were high quality and educational because our sons are schooled at home. We had a huge library of children’s books that we have given many of these books away (we’ve kept the best of the lot, stored now on a high shelf in our library in case one or both boys someday have children of their own – we are not optimistic they will – many young people are now choosing not to have children – one can never say never but we will never pressure them in that direction).

All I really want to say today is that my Christmas Wish is that all children had the stable, secure and loving home we have given our sons and that my husband and I had growing up. I think my parents got pretty lucky with the adoptive parents they had (both my mom and my dad were adopted). It is a sadness that not every child has that warmth of family to give them security.

Kept In The Dark

It’s hard to believe that adoptive parents agreeing to an open adoption would do this but apparently they will. Today’s story.

I just found out that my bio family was reaching out to me for years giving me gift and letters – which I didn’t receive. I went my whole life feeling rejected by my biological family, so I never searched. In May, I started my search. I found my family and I’m so happy and excited. Only to find out, I was wanted the whole time and my adoption was supposed to be “open.” I’m 27 now and I’m so upset that I went so long feeling like I wasn’t wanted. I feel like I’ve lost so much time with my biological family. I also haven’t told my family that I know this information now. I’m not sure if it’s even worth mentioning, since they were keeping me from them this whole time? I’m meeting my aunt and cousin in a few weeks and I’m so excited.

She adds this – My biological family sent me gifts my whole life and most recently they sent me a letter to reconnect when I turned 21…my adoptive parent just told me about this letter 2 months ago… I didn’t look for them only because I felt rejected by them. Had I known, I would have started looking for them when I turned 18.

One suggestion to this woman was to bring her lifetime’s photo albums. Make copies of the photos to leave with her aunt and cousin. This is an incredibly thoughtful gift in a situation like this. I remember when I met my cousin. We are related through our maternal grandfather. During her afternoon with me, she went through every one of the many photo albums her deceased mother had left her (her mother was my deceased mother’s half-sibling). I used my phone to photograph all of the photos she thought significant enough to tell me something about. By the time the afternoon was over, I felt as though I had lived the decades within this branch of my family that I had missed. Oh, the stories. I wish I had been recording everything she told me !!

From another side of this equation – I’m a birth mom who has tried keeping in contact with my kids (aged 13,12,11 now) within our open adoption but the adoptive parents haven’t ever followed their own guidelines that we agreed to, even from year one. There has been 0 responses from them in 3 years period. I still write every month and have asked how to send gifts and such with no reply. Your story makes me hopeful that, when the time is right (they turn 18), I’ll be able to reach out and have some sort of relationship with my children. It also makes me sad to realize they might be feeling the same rejection you have, when that is so definitely not the case.

Someone suggested to her that she keep copies of her letters – so they can read her words when there is a reunion.

Here’s another example – a similar thing happened with me and my daughter… They did give her the gifts I sent the few times I could emotionally pull myself together enough to do it. They never, ever sent the photos and letters they were supposed to, unless I hounded the social worker to hound them (clearly an emotionally exhausting and traumatizing effort. To top it off, my daughter was told and still believes that they sent me pictures and letters. Every year, they went through the motions of preparing these things, often with my daughter’s help, but never bothered to mail them to me – Ever.

Some honesty about reunions from an adoptee – Reunion is one of the hardest things I’ve had to navigate as the cognitive dissonance of mixed opposing emotions is a complex beast with no real resolution. Regarding your adoptive family, my advice is do not share with them if you feel you are emotionally not in a place to handle the response. Wait until you can have that difficult conversation whilst keeping yourself safe. This may take some time. (I told mine after the reunion.) I didn’t bring gifts when meeting my biological family, but I did take photos of me at different ages, and a loooong list of questions. The best advice I was given was to start the relationship the way I intend to continue it. Emotional openness and honesty are what I value most, as unmet or misinterpreted expectations can be kryptonite to such new fragile bonds. Remember, it’s your life and they are YOUR family, and we don’t owe anyone else anything.

Another birth mother horror story – I reunited with my son when he was 27. I found out that NONE of the letters I wrote him were forwarded (I can’t say whether it was his adoptive parents, my own mother or the agency at fault). His adoptive parents even disposed of the only gift I was ever able to give him – a small teddy bear that I sent with him to his adoptive home. I was livid when I found out he didn’t have or even recall the teddy bear and texted his adoptive mother myself. I refused to involve our son in this, but we had a semi-open adoption. I got letters and photos for the first 5 years. In those letters, she mentioned the teddy bear often, and the bear was stationed on his dresser in early photos – like it was important. Now, she recalls none of this, and even when I sent her the picture as a “reminder,” she gaslighted the entire exchange. I tried to reach out a few times after that, as it seemed important to our son, but eventually got brushed off enough that I gave up. She really made it evident that I wasn’t worth her time, even though I met her for dinner once thinking that it would be a good thing for our son. In retrospect, it was just a 3 hour grilling session to gauge my intentions and the dynamics between me and our son since our reunion. I would say tread cautiously and remember that there may be many people playing puppet with your truths. I will never know who decided that my son wouldn’t get my letters. I was a minor and trusted my mother to forward them to the agency, as they played middle man. I often wonder if my mother actually did. Were my letters screened like an inmate and deemed inappropriate. (I wasn’t the typical rainbow birthmom…I expressed my grief, love and regret often). Did these letter ever make it to their final destination, at which point the adoptive mother nixed them? I’ll never know, just as you may never know. I’ve accepted that I will never know the entire truth as to why my letters never reached him.

Another reunion story from an adoptee – I reunited with my Dad’s family when I was about 28/29. I brought things because I was traveling. I found out that I was wanted by his family and it’s a lot to unpack. Give yourself grace. I would say tell your adoptive family but maybe give yourself some time to process everything you want to say, so you can be in a safe place emotionally to handle their reactions. If they don’t react well, you will be strong enough in that moment to respond however you need to.

From a perspective of fairness, I will add this one from an adoptive parent – I want to be able to do better as an adoptive mom and not cause our child this pain some day. I want this child to have a connection with her roots and biological family but how can we get to a place were we can feel relaxed about the safety of this child and all the trauma she has already endured from her biological family? Her mom just asked to be able to write letters but I haven’t given her an answer, all I can think about is – all the emotions that will be stirred up and all the trauma and feelings this child has had to endure through 5 years of therapy. How can we allow this child to have contact with her biological family, when the fear is so big that she will be hurt again?

And the response to that one ?

Know your place and it isn’t first! As an adoptee I can tell you – iF my adoptive parents had hid ONE thing about my adoption EVER, no matter how much I loved them, I would have removed them from my life! As a adoptive parent, it’s not your job to be a savior, decide what information you wish to share or not share. You cannot love away an adoptee’s trauma, pain, and hurt! We adoptees all have first families and need age appropriate knowledge. I counted, in your one paragraph post the words“ I, my, we” used nine times. Nine! Biological family and roots was used four times. And not once in a positive manner!! Repeat not once did you say anything positive about your daughter’s DNA family. Mom was used once and her wishes you’ve tossed to the curb. Then you used “our daughter.” NO, she came from someone else’s body, sperm, and DNA. Your savior complex is screaming loud and clear. Now please understand I am also a biological mother and an adoptive mother and your way of thinking is wrong. You need to read The Primal Wound, The Body Keeps Score, and Being Adopted, the Lifelong Search for Self. They are not easy reads but you are now raising an adoptee. You need to unpack everything you believe about adoption, understand your fears and fragile thoughts come from being a second mother, and no, an adoptive parent is NEVER a savior.

 

Are Mothers Ever Strangers ?

How is it a woman whom grows HER baby in HER body for 40 weeks, shares DNA, blood supply, HER body nourishes and GROWS HER baby, she then births HER baby, breastfeeds HER baby the first 4 days of life and hands HER baby off to strangers and a year later she is a supposed STRANGER TO HER BABY??? Are mothers ever really strangers?????

There was a story where a woman had a baby. Like 6 months later she passed away. But she was an organ donor. She donated her heart. They put the baby on the recipient’s chest and the baby remembered her heart beat. I think a face may be strange but baby’s do remember their mom’s heart beat

My biological mom is a complete stranger to me – even after meeting her and seeing her a handful of times over the years. It’s also extremely weird and uncomfortable seeing her and her family in public.

I was raised by my biological mother. We have no bond or attachment, I wish her health and happiness but really just like I do for everybody else.

I did not breastfeed (though I wanted to), but my first visit with my son was two weeks after I left the hospital without him. He was always better with me…didn’t cry, or fuss, etc. When he was six months old, the adoptive parent got angry with me (it was actually the adoptive mother) and withheld visits for three months. Birth father got involved and they agreed to stop withholding visits (though they did this repeatedly throughout my child’s life), and I went to see him with the birth father. He didn’t want anything to do with me. I knew in my heart that there was something else going on, so I asked birth father to wait in the living room and I took him to his bedroom, where he came alive and couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. It was the presence of birth father he objected to. Me, he remembered. Still, each time they withheld visits, or moved to a different state, I had to re-establish my relationship with him. He never forgot who I was, though. And I always sent him cards and gifts on our special holidays, no matter where they lived. They did, at least, give those to him, as far as I know. I haven’t seen him since his high school graduation in 2016, but I just finished putting together his Easter box (formerly known as a basket)…later than usual because my mother in law passed away, but full of t-shirts and childhood favorites like action figures. They didn’t have Baby Yoda when he was little.

My biological mom is definitely a stranger, she doesn’t know me, she’s not part of my life or my children’s lives. I don’t have a mom.

My biological mother is and will always be a stranger, she never had any intention of knowing me despite having the chance to rectify that during reunion. Not every “mother” wants to be a mother to all of their children. I really hate the idea that all biological parents are supposedly wonderful caring human beings, some of them are simply trash.

In my experience, no. My mom was never a stranger. I felt recognition to the depth of my being when we met face to face. I am literally made of her.

My biological mother feels like a stranger to me. She does not feel that I am a stranger to her. It’s a very uncomfortable dynamic.

The above received this reply – I expect that is what my son is probably going through now. Does it make you uncomfortable when she sends you cards, gifts or money? I have not stopped this with my son, and maybe he is too kind to tell me to stop.

Which received this clarification – I may not be the best person to ask. Everything my birth mother does makes me uncomfortable but that has more to do with the way she has behaved during my adult life than anything. She sent me 30 roses on my 30th birthday and I literally felt nauseated. It didn’t have to be that way though. I did not feel that way when we first met. I think my advice would be to make sure that you’re dealing with your own trauma and not putting it on your son. My birth mothers emotional needs from our relationship were so great that there was no room for me to have any needs or boundaries. Her need for me to heal her felt smothering. I couldn’t do that for her and it wasn’t my responsibility to try. Otherwise, I think it probably would have been nice to get cards and gifts. My birth father has been respectful of boundaries from the start and genuinely cared about my well-being and I love getting gifts from him. I think the fact that you’re even asking the question is a sign that you’re looking out for his needs and being respectful! I don’t mean to minimize the trauma or suggest that you should just be able to get over it in any way. Just that it’s worth working thru with a therapist on your own so that your relationship with your son isn’t the only place you’re looking for healing.

I think there’s definitely something to the idea that some birth mothers may feel more connected to the adoptee than vice versa. When we met I had spent most of my 22 years not really thinking about her, while she had thought of me every day, carried me for 9 months, gone thru labor, etc. From the start, it felt like there was just so much more emotion on her side than mine. I was mildly curious about my DNA but happy with my life. She felt her life was ruined and needed me to fill this huge hole in her heart. It’s a challenging dynamic.

I just want my surrendered son to be…well. We were very close until he got to be around sixteen. I have been thinking of him every minute of every day for all of his life, and I know it cannot be the same for him, so I have been doing my best with guesswork about boundaries. I suppose it is good for him that he lives so far away from me.

Not a stranger but an associate really. I’m made of her but we don’t have that bond since we were separated a week after I was born. We’ve been in reunion for 10 years but I don’t feel like I know her. Still a mystery.

My husband was abandoned by his mom at a young age and she is definitely a stranger to him. He saw her a few times growing up. He also had a very unsuccessful reunion.

Meeting my biological mom was actually what ripped me out of the adoptee fog. I was expecting to have this “knowing” of her. I wasn’t prepared for how much of a stranger she felt like. I didn’t recognize myself in her at all. It shut me down in our reunion for several years, while I went through deep identity work and trauma healing. The second meeting we had was two years ago when I flew to her and was able to meet my extended family. I started to recognize myself in them. Then we were leaving the family farm, when I noticed our shadows side by side as we walked. We have an identical walk. It finally clicked in and my body and spirit remembered her .I really feel that I had to bury my unconscious memories of her in order to survive as a child. I had to give into the fantasy that is adoption. It was so buried inside of me, but it was there waiting for me to do the healing work needed to remember.

Stranger and “legal stranger” are much different…or should be.

My birth mother is definitely a stranger, and probably will stay that way cause she doesn’t really seem interested in building a relationship. I’m just a dirty little secret from her past that she hoped to leave in the past.

I am no longer a secret! Biological half-siblings and I are connected via Ancestry and my biological mother knows it. And still she refuses a relationship. To which another adoptee noted – Mine doesn’t want my half-sisters to know about me, yet but I’m hoping if I keep in touch, she’ll change her mind. I really want a relationship with them at least.

It is definitely a paradox – Our original mothers will always be our first profound human connection. Very familiar, yet as an adoptee she is a stranger. It’s hard to explain to someone not touched by adoption.

Disrupted

Perspectives from a thwarted adoption . . . .

“Just experienced a disrupted adoption. Mom changed her mind after signing the paperwork. I will forever treasure the few days I had with that little girl and hope her and her mama stay safe on their journey to independence. I’m sure I looked like a crazy lady walking through the Dallas/Fort Worth airport carrying a diaper bag, car seat, and duffle bag of baby items with no baby, just sobbing on and off. TSA definitely gave me some weird looks when I got randomly selected to have all my luggage searched and I just kept crying as they took items out. Luckily the winter storm and rolling blackouts in Texas meant there were fewer than normal people at the airport to witness my sob-athon.”

The most obvious question is – Why wouldn’t she just give all that stuff to mom?

The most obvious answer is – They’re expensive and she wants them for the “next time”. 

What does a genuinely nice reactions look like ?

One couple went to Target and bought mom and baby boy everything they could possibly need and gave these to the mom with a card congratulating her and expressing their understanding related to her decision. They had that little boy’s needs set for his entire first year. They were really respectful of mom’s decision and didn’t try to talk her out of it in anyway. PS this was a black couple, comfortable financially but not wealthy, and they always behaved well and offered things if mom chose to parent.

And to treat the hopeful adoptive mom in this story with consideration – her being sad is understandable. I think its ok to be sad, even if the baby wasn’t hers in the first place. She wished them well and doesn’t seem to have been angry. She never referred to the baby as “hers”, no display of entitlement nor was she angry.

It is so easy to criticize and judge. Every one of us needs to reach into our hearts for a sincere understanding of the place other people are seeing things from. Often their personal experiences are coloring their perceptions.

The Gift Of My Parents’ Adoptions

If they were still living, today my parents would have celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary. Their anniversary was always special to me because I was already there the day they married. My high school junior mom was pregnant with me. I believe I have my dad’s adoptive parents to thank that my mom’s adoptive parents didn’t send her away to have and give me up. Just the fact that they got married in a church that my dad’s parents attended – the Church of Christ – and not in the church my mom’s parents attended – Episcopalian – speaks volumes to me.

I don’t think I would realize just how fortunate I am, if I had not learned the stories of my parents’ adoptions. When I was in junior high, I realized that there was only 7 months between my parents wedding and my birth. I was angry with my mom about that for a very long time and wouldn’t let her touch me. Strange I wasn’t as angry at my dad. I was a child and as a girl I had gotten all those good girl lectures and though I don’t remember it clearly now, it was probably my mom delivering them and why I blamed her and not him. I was probably only troubled by the perceived hypocrisy.

But they did love each other very much. They stayed married for just over 60 years. My mom died 20 days before their 61st wedding anniversary. At first, I didn’t think my dad would be able to carry on but somehow he mustered a bit of will to try. However, he died only 4 months after she did. That is how much not having her in his life anymore just made life no longer worth living. Not that he committed suicide but on New Year’s Eve he had a stroke. He came out of the hospital not believing it until he read the discharge papers. Then on the morning of February 3rd, he simply stopped breathing and let it all go with a slight smile on his face after a good night’s sleep.

Realizing the conventional norms in the early 1950s when my mom became pregnant with me (often referred to as the Baby Scoop era due to the high rate of babies surrendered to adoption) while researching all things related to adoption as I began to learn what my parents died still not knowing – who their original parents were as well as reuniting with cousins and one aunt – made me appreciate that I did not become another victim.

If my parents had not been adopted, I simply would not exist, nor would my two sisters. Our children, my parents’ grandchildren, would not exist. Though the circumstances that led to my parents’ adoptions were far from perfect, I can now say they were imperfectly perfect for my own self. My sense of wholeness has been restored. My sense of identity has been returned to me. And so much wisdom about all things adoption and foster care have made themselves known to me and that would never have occurred but for the gift (to me) of my parents having been adopted.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

I continue to unwrap the gift I have received late in life of knowledge about my natural grandparents, meeting my genetic relatives and understanding the impacts of adoption on my entire family.  It is a gift that has not stopped giving to me more and more each day.

One year ago, I completed a family history as a gift to 9 of my relatives.  Having recovered our unknown genetic history and having some additional family stories I felt were worth saving, I self published it economically in a spiral bound book.  If something ended my life, I did not want the knowledge lost again.

Over the last year, I’ve been retelling the story of finding my original grandparents but soon realized I could not convey an accurate understanding of the final miracle in that journey without delving into something I did not cover at all in the family history.  That is my journey as executor of my deceased parents estates and having to contend with a brilliant but delusional sister.  It certainly adds an element of tension, uncertainty and conflict.  Truth be told, two parts of my on-going story have only revealed themselves this last November.

Even so, I’ve decided I am now “complete” with a version that I hope will be commercially published and bring some modest amount of revenue into my family’s financial support while opening a door for me to publish whatever comes next (I have a couple of ideas in progress – one has waited 5 years for me to have the time to take the rough draft into a finished form).

May your own heart be warmed with the love of knowing family.  No family is perfect and often they vex us and yet, they truly polish us into stars of shining light for others to be inspired by.  May all your holidays be bright.