Processing Grief

From my all things adoption group –

Posting for a friend who does not have Facebook. We are both adoptive parents. Her adopted daughter is 7 years old. My friend just found out that her adopted daughter’s mother passed away before Christmas. It was a fluke that she even found out as they did not have regular contact. Her adopted daughter has experienced 2 great losses this year (biological grandmother and adoptive grandmother) and is still struggling with these. They are very open about her adoption and biological family but her adopted daughter does not want to engage in any conversations about her adoption, so they tread carefully between offering information and following her lead.

The question is… when and how should they approach the conversation about her mother passing away. The adoptive mother and her husband have a bit of a different view. She feels sooner than later is best but also acknowledges the fact that their adopted daughter is already struggling with lots of grief and loss (naturally) and some other new challenges that have recently popped up. Her husband thinks they should wait until the adopted daughter asks about her mom but she doesn’t feel that’s appropriate. I would love to be able to offer some specific information and ideas, if possible. Though I told her about this group, she asked that I post this on her behalf.

First response was this – Her husband is 100% wrong. This child needs a therapist and a safe space, if she doesn’t have one already. They need to tell her.

From an adoptee – Life doesn’t operate at a pace that is necessarily easy for any of us. We can’t control that. But the thing that all parents can control is whether or not they prove to their children that they are reliable and transparent. I understand, wanting to protect this child- but it’s not going hurt any less to find out later. It would just complicate the issue with a lot of questions about the delay. I would treat this in the same way that any other death was treated. She has recently learned about two people dying, why should her first mother’s death not be an immediate conversation ?

From another adoptee – Transparency is extremely important in building and maintaining trust between adoptees and their adoptive parents. Further delaying this information can damage this trust.

Desaparecidos Of Argentina

Today’s blog is thanks to an article in The Guardian, LINK>Adopted by their parents’ enemies: tracing the stolen children of Argentina’s ‘dirty war.’

Back in the 1970s, after a military coup in Argentina, at least 500 newborns were taken from their parents while in captivity and given to military couples to raise as their own. Today, Russia is accused of doing something similar with children taken from Ukraine. Jorge Videla, was known as the “Hitler of the Pampa,” after the 1976 coup. Two years ago, the Argentinian government sent hundreds of DNA testing kits to its consulates around the world in an effort to put names to unidentified victims and to find the children of the disappeared, known as desaparecidos. Many of these children are still living today but unaware of their true identity. The Abuelas de Playa de Mayo is a human rights organization whose mission is to find the children who were illegally adopted during those years. (I wrote about these Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in a blog some time ago.)

One of those children is now a 45-year-old banker living in London. His name is Javier Penino Viñas, and his biological parents, Cecilia Viñas and Hugo Penino, were abducted in 1977. Javier was illegally adopted by Jorge Vildoza (a high-ranking Argentinian navy officer) and his wife, Ana María Grimaldos. When asked to appear in court, Vildoza fled the country in a panic, taking the child with him. “After the Videla regime, there was a democratic transition, and in that period the trials against the military began,” says Javier. “My adoptive father was quite high up in the navy, and the family knew that the transition to democracy was starting to cause problems for anyone in the military. That’s when we moved to Paraguay and ended up changing our identities.”

Some experts say that behind the illegal military adoptions was a quasi-Catholic belief that, while the parents of the children were irredeemable sinners who deserved to die, killing their newborn children would be a sin. However, the Argentinian historian Fabricio Laino believes there was a more cynical logic at work. “The military were convinced they could ‘save’ and ‘reform’ these children. They wanted to redeem them from families who, according to them, would surely have raised them in a subversive environment.”

Baltasar Garzón is a former Spanish judge and human rights activist. He believes that “The appropriation of children, as well as rape, has always been aimed at humiliating and subduing the enemy. Taking away the enemy’s child was a bargaining chip.” They change a person’s life by taking them out of their environment and away from their biological family. The method used in Argentina was especially perverse. A pregnant woman was held in captivity until she gave birth. Then her baby was taken away from her. After torturing her, she was killed and effectively made to disappear.

Therefore for decades, hundreds of children have been raised by the same people who were responsible for the torture and death of their biological parents. After the return to democracy, members of the military fled with their adoptive families – often to countries where extradition was prohibited.

It could be that the taking of Ukrainian children is due to a similar intention by Putin. To, in effect, change these children’s lives by taking them out of their environment and away from their biological family. Then placing them with a Russian family on Russian soil. Time will tell the true extent of such efforts and hopefully reveal the number of children affected. War is such a hideous exercise. My wish is that these children ultimately find their way back to family in Ukraine.

To Separate Or Not

An interesting question from an adoptive parent showed up today – two children had to be removed from their natural parents. They have the same mother but different fathers. Each father has a sister willing to care for both kids until they can be returned to their parents. Is it better to keep the children together with one aunt ? In that case, one child will be related to the aunt caring for them but the other not – biologically. Or is it better to separate the children, in order to prioritize having each child be cared for by an aunt who they are biologically related to ?

Under these unfortunate and traumatic circumstances, is it better to be in the same home with your sibling, if you are being cared for by your sibling’s aunt (who is not biologically related to you) ? Or is it better to be in a separate home from your sibling, so that both of you are cared for by an aunt you are biologically related to, even if it means not living with your sibling ?

The originator of these question is one of the aunts. If placed with her, the toddlers will also be placed with their two older brothers. This she feels is an important aspect for all 4 of the kids. She does not want the kids separated but she does not know if being cared for by an only indirectly related adult matters, if that keeps the siblings together. She notes that their goal is reunification. The other aunt and this woman do not live near each other. If they are separated, their sibling contact will not be as often as might be desirable. Either aunt relocating is not an option. These kids are toddlers, so not old enough to establish their opinion. Their parents have not expressed a preference in this situation.

A response from a domestic infant adoptee – If the siblings get along, keep them together. Make sure they have opportunities to spend time with other family members as well. These siblings staying together should be your top priority.

Another adoptee shared – this actually happened to my nieces and they both ended up with the oldest one’s aunt and it worked well for them. I think it’s best to keep siblings together whenever possible UNLESS the relative would treat the non-biological child differently or keep them from seeing their family.

A former foster parent notes – in my experience it was best to keep siblings together. Sometimes the county would split up siblings and it was so hard for the kids to understand why they can’t be together. They missed each other. Are the toddlers more familiar with one of you, than the other ? They should go to the one they are most familiar with-in my opinion. (Response was that they are familiar with both aunts equally.) They are already being ripped from their home, their parents and everything they know (even if it wasn’t ideal, it was still what they know), so please don’t take them from each other.

A former foster care youth says – from experience, sibling separation is torture on top of trauma. Siblings are truly the only ones who are going through the same situation and having that support is invaluable. They can visit the other aunt.

Another adoptive parent to foster care siblings suggests – is it possible to do a shared custody – one aunt becomes primary home and the other aunt has lots of phone calls, takes care of the kids for long weekends, helps if there is an emergency, is a place that kids also know well as their extended family.

Another affirmed – I grew up in this exact situation, but it was my grandmothers. I am thankful for their supportive friendship that gave me stability. Always welcome at either house, open communication, always invited to things. At least once a week in Elementary School, my brother and I would get picked up by the grandma we didn’t live with, would have dinner at her house, she took me to dance class, I spent weekends and breaks with her. One took guardianship of me as a teen, so that she could make medical appointments for me since I lived with her. Absolutely a great solution.

The one who originally posed the questions confirmed – this is currently how we live. I’m one of the aunts and I have the toddlers’ two older siblings and what you describe is the relationship that we have with their immediate and extended family. The other aunt will be part of this village, without a doubt.

Tragic

Angel and her Grandmother

Hers is a clear case of all that is wrong with foster care and the family court system. Monica Dunning, Angel’s grandmother, had successfully completed the foster parenting classes and background checks to become a licensed kinship foster care home. Dunning was seeking to be named her granddaughter’s guardian.

Angel’s mother died in a car crash on Halloween 2016. Dunning said that Angel was placed into child protective services in Tennessee the very next day because of a “no contact” order with her father. Dunning said her daughter was divorced from Ahearn at the time of her death. Allegations of domestic violence led to the court order that prevented him from seeing Angel. The girl passed through eight to ten foster homes in Tennessee over the next few years. Instead of being placed with her grandmother, Angel’s father was awarded custody of her on May 3, 2021.

“It’s heartbreaking that I feel like me and my family were absolutely robbed from the time that my daughter passed away. We just, we had very, very limited contact. And there was absolutely no reason why she couldn’t have come here,” Dunning said. After her father gained custody, she was no longer aware of Angel’s whereabouts until she got the call on October 18th that let her know that her granddaughter was dead. 

A third-party caller claiming to be Rachel Hollifield’s aunt said in the 911 call that for the past year her niece had repeatedly tried to run away from Leonard. She was not sure what triggered the shooting incident. The woman’s aunt told the dispatcher – she heard a scream in the house followed by gunshots and then it got silent while she was on the phone.

In his Georgia home, Leonard Ahearn first killed his daughter, Angel Ahearn, who had just turned 12. Then he shot Rachel Hollifield, his girlfriend, in the hand. Finally, he turned the gun on himself. Angel died at the scene. Leonard and Hollifield were transported to a hospital. Leonard later died from his injuries. Hollifield is expected to recover. 

Dunning was particularly frustrated because she had invested time and money to undergo the process to authorize her to care for Angel, in a home where Angel would have been safe. She said it seemed as if the officials in charge of Angel’s case “would place [Angel] with anybody” but her maternal grandmother.

Funeral Anxiety

Today’s story (not my own) –

I’m an adoptee who didn’t find out I was adopted until I was 24…I turned 40 in May (major trauma obviously, but that’s for another time). I’ve met my birth mother, maternal grandmother, birth father, and a couple (not all) of my siblings. Novel made short, my birth grandma died last Thursday. Her celebration of life is set for next Friday and I am struggling really fucking hard as to what to do.

Yes, I knew (?) and loved her. I THINK I want to be there. But I also don’t want to be the proverbial long lost child/grandchild/sibling who comes waltzing in. I have so much guilt, I’ve carried it since I first met my birth mom (another long story). It’s such a tricky relationship, on all sides, and I hate this. I wish more than anything I had someone to just tell me what to do; to hop on that flight and do this, or to stay home as I am so sick and conflicted already that it wouldn’t be well for my mental health. My birth mother has always made me feel horribly guilty. My adopted mother does the same. So I just kind of keep all of the moms at arms length for the sake of my mental health. My Granny was different. I only saw her a literal handful of times, but she was strong and kind and she validated me. Now that she’s gone, I don’t know what I want anymore.

It’s just weird. It’s a weird place. Being adopted is weird period, and I mostly despise it.

One response from another adoptee – I wouldn’t want to miss it and regret it. Family events are hard for me because biological family is all gathering, and it is a painful reminder of all the family events I was not a part of. You aren’t obligated to stay. If you feel it’s too much to handle, you could leave at any time. I’d check into nearby coffee shops/diner/regular shops that are in walking distance in case I needed an early escape. I didn’t know my maternal grandma for long but I did spend her last moments with her in the hospital. I am glad I did.

Someone else suggested exit strategies – Opps-forgot my sweater in the car. (5 min break). Tylenol is in the car too. How forgetful. Sigh. Need some caffeine to stop this headache. (Walk to coffee shop, 20 min break) Oh no, I cleared the day but work really needs me to resolve an issue. Can we catch up in a couple of hours over dinner? Also, if it would be helpful, bring a support person who can just listen to you (and serve as a buffer if you need one).

Another adoptee points out that funerals are for the living. Do what’s going to bring YOU peace and screw what anyone else thinks. Don’t overcomplicate your decision with the intricacies of your relationships with your birth family. Either you want to be there for YOU or you don’t. I hope you find peace in whatever decision you make.

Another asked – Would you regret it if you stayed home? Would you later look back and think you should’ve gone? Go with the option that leaves you little to no regret. You deserve to be there, this is your family and I’m sure you’re very wanted. The original poster answered – I’m truly not sure if I would regret it. She’s already been cremated, so I could always go on my own time, alone, and save myself some chaos. It’s just a tricky relationship with my birth mother …odd at best. I’m putting it very nicely, too.  I don’t like feeling manipulated.  It’s been rocky, and then some.

The Incubator

I’ve made my feelings about gestational surrogacy clear before and so this blog should come as no surprise to anyone. My main objection is the bonding that takes place in utero and how the infant is then taken from the mother that the baby identifies itself with at birth. The photo is blatantly clear.

The paternal grandmother’s post about this reads –

“My son and his wife were trying to have children only to find out that she could not bear children or she could possibly die during childbirth. They looked into surrogacy and, through a friend, they found Joy. She already has two boys of her own and wanted to do something special for someone else. And special it was.

My son froze five sperm and his wife froze five eggs that were genetically tested to make sure there were no defects. They had to go through a surrogacy company and found Joy to be a perfect match – low and behold she only lived an hour away!

Joy gave us our beautiful granddaughter. Since she was already a perfect match, she agreed to become pregnant, yet again, and just recently gave them another precious gift – our grandson. She also pumped breast milk for months for each baby!

Her name says it all – JOY. She is truly a JOY to our family!”

I will give Joy credit for going above and beyond reasonable expectations and I understand the joy that becoming a family offers. I’m not dismissing the value and importance of any of this. Never-the-less, I am still NOT a fan of gestational surrogacy.

The Fathers’ Rights Movement

Approximately 46 years ago, my daughter ended up in the non-legally mandated custody of her father. When we divorced, I explained it to my 3 yr old daughter – you still have a mother who loves you and a father who loves you, we just aren’t going to be all living together again. As a bit of a feminist, I truly believed BOTH parents are important and I still believe that. As a mom, with what I have learned about in utero bonding, I do lean towards mothers in the early years more than it did then. I never intended for my ex-husband to raise our daughter. I didn’t leave her with him when I went in search of a method to make enough money to support the two of us. I left her with her paternal grandmother who had cared for her from 3 months of age while I went to work. But that is how she ended up being raised by her father and a step mother. Was it perfect ? No but I didn’t have a better option to offer her at that time either.

I recently donated to a legal fund through my all things adoption group for a birth father seeking custody of his soon to be born (may have already been born) child. His mother is assisting him. The birth mother has decided unilaterally to adopt out her baby to a wealthy couple and has cut off communication with the father. I just feel that a birth father with his mother’s support (much like my own daughter had) is better off there than with strangers who want to adopt her.

I had never heard of the Fathers’ Rights Movement before today. I know with my two sons how critical their father is in their lives as a genetic mirror for them. I am glad to be their mother and I know my nurturing of them matters. I am glad to have discovered, after feeling like a failure with my own daughter, that I am capable of being a “good enough” mother.

There has to be a good middle ground that supports the rights of BOTH parents. That is my view. My dad’s father likely never knew about his son. They would have been great fishing buddies. I don’t know what his reaction may have been had my paternal grandmother told him she was pregnant. He was married and as the self-reliant woman she was, she simply handled the situation.

So, I am simply sharing my new found knowledge of this organization for anyone who might need their support. The Fathers’ Rights Movement.

Poor Choice in Men

I found this movie uncomfortable but sadly, it is all too true of many modern American women. I’ve written before about the value of grandmothers in the raising of children and this movie was partly about that. However, what was sad and depressing was the poor choice in men that the main character, Deb, consistently made.

First, it was an affair with a married man. I wish I could say that this was an uncommon situation but I remember more than one in my early 20s after I was first divorced from the father of my oldest child, my precious daughter. This woman also has a precious daughter, unfortunately, she goes missing without a trace after leaving her 1 year old son in her mother’s care to go out for the night. I never felt at fault for the man’s behavior. He was going to do, what he was going to do, regardless of who he did it with.

So at the beginning of this movie, Deb is having an affair with a married man. Later on, she has a live in partner who dominates and then, physically abuses her. After he leaves and she spends a significant amount of time focused on getting some advanced education and a better paying job and receives a great deal of respect for what she accomplishes for her workers in her management role there. Then, she seems to have found happiness with yet another man who appears to be of a higher quality than all of the others before him. She eventually catches him cheating on her, just as the first man she was with cheated on his own wife.

Sigh. I give her endurance and persistence to improve to be a credit of having a supportive family – her mother and sister, who is in a stable marriage, live right across the street from her in a middle class suburban neighborhood. They are the stabilizing factor in both this woman’s and her maturing grandson’s lives. Yet, if they had not been there, it is likely the boy would have ended up in foster care. His good outcome can be seen as a direct outcome of that family support, rather than if he had been permanently severed from the family he was born into, even though in this story his mother never returns into any of their lives (though I hoped until the very end of this movie that she would).

My dad used to say all of his daughters always brought home sick puppies. I can see, if my own life had not taken a better turn when I met my husband – with whom I will celebrate 34 years of marriage this month, my life may not have been happier single on the path I was on before meeting him. The only redeeming factor for me was discovering the value of applying metaphysics to my basic needs and discovering how much personal influence I actually have over the outcomes of my own life. We all can exercise personal empowerment over the circumstances and situations of our own lives.

Broken Family Threads

It is said that it is Black History Month, though many of my friends chafe at that and say it is ALWAYS black history. I understand. Imani Perry’s book South To America has been getting some buzz and as I writer I notice those things.

Yesterday, I read an essay adapted from her book published in Time Magazine’s Feb 14 – Feb 21 2022 issue titled “The Way Home.” It is about her effort to reconnect with a grandmother in Maryland who she is able to know very little about. Was her name Easter Lowe or Esther Watkins ? Was she born in Maryland or Georgia, was she 101 years old or 91.

I realized as I read how much I could relate to her journey to Maryland which is described in the article. Her attempt to get some insight into unknowable people. I recognized my own “roots” journey, often fraught with disappointment and too little too slowly. I am fortunate to know what I know now. Though the African American experience of slavery is not mine, I know how it feels not to know anything about where one came from (both of my parents were adoptees). At one time, I used to tell people I was an albino African because no one could prove me wrong, not even myself. Now I finally do know better.

Slavery was not exactly in my family history but in a way it was. My paternal grandmother was put to work in the Rayon mills in Asheville NC at a young age. She was not allowed to keep her own earnings and was probably expected to do a lot of other chores in the home. Her mother died when she was only 3 mos old and she had to live with a decidedly evil step-mother (from a story I heard about her being tied to a tree in a thunderstorm). She was a run-away slave. When her family visited her grandfather and her aunt in La Jolla California, she refused to return to Asheville and her slave labor there.

Poverty and the Great Depression was likely the cause of both of my grandmothers being separated from their babies. There really was not any family support for them. My maternal grandmother also lost her mother at the age of 11. She also escaped harsh conditions with her widowed father who was a sharecropper. She ran away to Memphis where she met and married my mom’s birth father.

Though I am not black and my family wasn’t enslaved, I can relate to Imani Perry’s story because in very real ways it is my story too. I didn’t grow up with a strong white supremacist’s identity. I was in the minority in Hispanic El Paso Texas and anyway, we didn’t have a clue to our ethnicity. Even so, I do recognize now that being white has put me in a class of advantages and I’ve worked very hard at educating myself by reading every anti-racist type book that has come my way. I celebrate the contributions of Black, African Americans to the diversity and vibrancy of the country of my own birth.

Argentina’s Courageous Abuelas

Abuelas (Grandmothers) de Plaza de Mayo is a non-governmental organization formed in 1977. Their grandchildren disappeared. Many babies were kidnapped with their parents, some after their parents were killed, and others were born in clandestine detention centers where their mothers were taken after having been sequestered at different states of their pregnancies.

The grandmothers note that from the moment that their children (often with their grandchild still in the womb) disappeared, they have visited every court, office, orphanage, day care center, and so on, trying to locate them. They have appeared before the courts, the successive military governments, the Supreme Court, and the ecclesiastical hierarchies, never obtaining a positive result. They eventually directed their claims to international organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States. All to no avail.

These disappeared children were deprived of their identity, their religion, and their right to live with their family, in other words, all of the rights that are nationally and internationally recognized as their universal human rights. Beginning in 1997, the grandmothers began an informational campaign seeking to draw the attention of young people (of an approximate age range of what their grandchildren would be at that time) who may have had doubts regarding their true identity to the Abuelas organization. Happily, they have had some positive results.

The grandmothers wish to make it clear that their grandchildren have not been abandoned and inform them that they have the right to recover their roots and their history. They wish for these victims to know that they have relatives who are constantly engaged in searching for them.

Over 3 decades, the grandmothers located 120 of the disappeared children, including 4 found by governmental commissions and 2 located by CLAMOR, the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the Southern Cone. The estimated number of children kidnapped is approximately 500. Widespread DNA testing is now making it possible to locate more of these children who could have been sent out for adoption to any country anywhere in the world.

Some of the recovered children are already living with their legitimate families and have become perfectly integrated. Others are still living with the families that have raised them, but are in close contact with their true grandmothers and relatives. By being a part of two families, the children have recovered their identity. Sadly, there are a large number of disappeared children whose identities were completely annulled. In those cases, the grandmothers are using modern science to prove that they are members of a particular family. They continue to rely on support from the scientific community in the field of genetics, hematology, morphology, and others to accomplish their goal.