What Was Lost

From Alex Haley’s Roots – orally passed down family lineage and baby naming ritual

From an article about the series in LINK>The New Yorker that speaks to my heart, being the child of two adoptees who was robbed of knowing my genetic grandparents –

“The desire to know who we are helps to explain the second of two pulls we ordinarily feel toward grandparents. The first attraction, and the one that as children we understand more clearly, is toward something easeful, generous, and amusing about grandparents, and about the way they handle us when we are around. They can be a wonderful escape from the stringent regimes of parents, with their endless admonitions about how we should behave. Grandparents allow us to grow; they like to watch us obeying something inside ourselves—something that we know only vaguely but that is completely familiar to them. Long retired from the strenuous business of shaping their children, our parents, they are often ready to coddle and indulge us, to refresh themselves in our youthful curiosities, and to enjoy our affections. They are also ready to talk a lot—about the past, about when they were young, about their own parents and grandparents. At such times, they look at us with something mildly searching and wistful in their eyes, hoping, no doubt, to see some early and fugitive version of themselves. We understand this only later, when we become aware of the second pull that these old people were exerting upon us all along; we realize that in listening to their talk we, too, were listening for some earlier and fugitive echoes of ourselves. We were drawn to them for the odds and ends of their memory, without which we would be less whole, or, at the least, left to invent a greater portion of ourselves.”

I actually have no memory of my adoptive grandparents trying to talk with me when I was a child about their own past, their youth and families. There was once though after I was well into my adulthood, when my adoptive maternal grandmother came to visit me in Missouri. She grew up here and we found her childhood home in Eugene and our great luck was that the owner allowed us to come inside. My grandmother shared with me what had changed in the house and me told stories about what it was like growing up there. We went by the cemetery where many of her own relations were buried. Memorable was a story about traveling by wagon over the Gasconade River to buy supplies in some larger town.

I certainly invented stories about my own “roots” as we knew nothing. My dad was half Mexican, left on the doorstep of the Salvation Army. True, my adoptive paternal “Granny” did obtain him there. His birth mother was working there but the Salvation Army had taken legal possession of him (as shown in his adoption papers). Thanking that wonderful Granny of mine for writing his birth mother’s name in the margin of her request for Texas to issue a new birth certificate for him. That amended birth certificate had to come from California, as he was born at the Door of Hope home for unwed mothers in Ocean Beach (near San Diego).

Turns out his dark complexion came from his Danish immigrant father who was not yet a citizen and was a married man. Sadly, he never knew he had a son. I did hear stories from my dad about how he almost starved to death in Magdalena New Mexico where his adoptive parents and an aunt and uncle (she was one of my Granny’s sisters) were trying to strike it rich by digging a mine there. About the time the adults went to town for supplies and my dad brought the cow into the cabin to milk it as it was very cold and snowing. My dad shot rabbits for food.

My invented story about my mom was that she was half Black. Not true at all, though she did have a smidgeon of Mali genes in her, most likely from the paternal line’s ownership of a few slaves. I saw that detail in a will. The deceased deeded the slaves by name to surviving family members. It was found in a binder lent to me by a family historian that I met near Memphis TN, where my mom was adopted. Neither her mom nor her dad were Black.

My heart sorrows for what my genetic grandparents might have been able to tell me.

Certainly, my adoptive grandparents had a HUGE influence on me. Their culture became some part of my parents (the adoptees); and through my parents, my self as well. Not minimizing how important our close relationships with these people during our growing up years was. Just so much was also lost and there is truly no way to fully recover that.

Which Would You Prefer ?

A question in my all things adoption group –

We were asked would we consider being a kinship placement for our great-niece. She is 9 years old, and lives 12 hours away. We may be the only stable kinship placement for her.

[1] Would you prefer to be closer to home with strangers and the possibility to see grandparents who you know well more often?

[2] Be with family that loves you but don’t know you as well, and not see grandparents as often?

Response from an adoptee – I’d want to go with kinship who’s committed to (and follows through) with maintaining my distant relationships with friends and grandparents. I’d want to know I’d have a voice in when I’d get to see them (not just when it’s convenient for my guardians), and that it’d be on a regular basis (preferably quarterly). However, this is SUPER personal, and my answer comes from my history of not having a single genetic relative in my childhood

Response from a birth mother (the mother in question has NOT had her parental rights terminated and the child has been in the state’s care for 2 months) –  if I was already feeling defeated in this situation my child moving 10 hours from me would make me less motivated. And it would affect visitation. If rights are terminated or they opt to close the case with a temporary relative guardianship, then I would step in. Or as a former foster care youth – if more than 2 years passed I’d crave stability and wouldn’t care anymore about how close I was to a mom who wasn’t trying to see me anyways. But at only 2 months in care, it’s too short of a time to know how things will play out.

And this – I wouldn’t trust adoptive parents/strangers to keep up the kinship relationship, even if they were local. I doubt they’d have much incentive to continue to allow her to see her grandparents regularly, and there’s little recourse if the legal rights are cut off. From this experience – I was adopted by my great-uncle as an infant, but didn’t know about the kinship relationship until adulthood – and if my adoptive parents wouldn’t even tell me about my kinship relationship, how likely is it that strangers would maintain relationships? I’m grateful that I had/still have the kinship relationships (despite them not telling me), and I wouldn’t have had that, if I didn’t happen to grow up with them.

Jennifer Teege’s Horrifying Discovery

Jennifer Teege (B&W photo of Amon Goeth)

When Jennifer Teege, a German-Nigerian woman, randomly picked up a library book off a shelf, her life changed forever. Recognizing images of her mother and grandmother in the book, she discovered a horrifying fact that no one had ever shared with her: Her grandfather was Amon Goeth, the vicious Nazi commandant depicted by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List, a man known and despised the world over.

Although raised in an orphanage and eventually adopted, Teege had some contact with her biological mother and grandmother as a child. Yet neither revealed that Teege’s grandfather was the Nazi “butcher of Plaszów,” executed for crimes against humanity in 1946. The more Teege reads about Amon Goeth, the more certain she becomes: If her grandfather had met her—a black woman—he would have killed her.

Teege’s discovery sends her, at age 38, into a severe depression. My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past details her quest to unearth and fully comprehend her family’s haunted history. Her research takes her to Krakow—to the sites of the Jewish ghetto her grandfather “cleared” in 1943 and the Plaszów concentration camp he then commanded—and back to Israel, where she herself once attended college, learned fluent Hebrew and formed lasting friendships. Teege struggles to reconnect with her estranged mother, and to accept that her beloved grandmother once lived in luxury as Goeth’s mistress at Plaszów.

Ultimately, Teege’s resolute search for the truth leads her, step by step, to the possibility of her own liberation. The chronicle of her struggle with her haunted past unfolds in her memoir My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me, co-written with journalist Nikola Sellmair and newly translated from German.

Teege visits her grandparents’ house in the Płaszów neighborhood of Krakow, Poland. It is the only dilapidated house on quiet Heltmana Street. And she writes – there is a coldness that creeps into your bones. And a stench. 

Over a year has gone by since I first found the book about my mother in the library. Since then I have read everything I could find about my grandfather and the Nazi era. I am haunted by the thought of him, I think about him constantly. Do I see him as a grandfather or as a historical character? He is both to me: Płaszów commandant Amon Goeth and my grandfather.

When I was young I was very interested in the Holocaust. I went on a school trip from Munich to the Dachau concentration camp, and I devoured one book about the Nazi era after another, such as When Hitler Stole Pink RabbitA Square of Sky and Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. I saw the world through Anne Frank’s eyes; I felt her fear but also her optimism and her hope.

You can read the entire piece my blog came from in – my Jewish Detroit. I have a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew in my DNA and have always felt drawn to Jewish culture. I would like to read her book sometime. Also because I am interested in learning more about the experience of Black people. In the USA, we have much to learn and white supremacy is a threat, slavery still exists only now the plantations have been replaced by prisons.

Kinship Adoption

Jamie Foxx with Grandmother Talley

Jamie Foxx was born Eric Marlon Bishop (1967) in Terrell, Texas, to Louise Annette Talley and Darrell Bishop, who worked as a stockbroker and had later changed his name to Shahid Abdula. His mother was an adopted child. At just 7 months old, he was is abandoned by both his parents, leaving him to be raised and officially adopted by his maternal grandparents, Mark and Esther Talley. His grandmother had a profound impact on her adopted son and Foxx credits her as being inspirational.

“My grandmother was 60 years old when she adopted me. She ran a nursery school and had a library in the house. She saw me reading early, saw I was smart and believed I was born to achieve truly special things,” Foxx said of his grandmother. He has said that he had a very rigid upbringing that placed him in the Boy Scouts and the church choir and started piano lessons at the age of three at his grandmother’s insistence. Although strict, Estelle undeniably provided Jamie with a loving and nurturing home and was an incredible support to him. He was appreciative that his grandmother was there to give him the care and support he needed to become successful in life but, that never stopped him from wondering about his biological parents and why they left him. It was a constant struggle to comprehend that they never reached out to him. Jamie was only seventeen when his grandfather, Mark Talley, died. Estelle Talley died in October 2004 at the age of ninety-five.

Foxx had difficulty forgiving his birth father, seemingly unable to put his grievances with the man to rest, despite attempts at reconciliation. Foxx did successfully reconcile with his biological mother and also developed a bond with her husband, George Dixon, the stepfather who Foxx refers to as his “pops”. It was interesting to find our that Foxx’s grandparents had also adopted his birthmother. I have long noted that adoption tends to run in families. That is certainly true in my family.

His relationship with his birth mother has progressed quite far since the days when she was unable to care for him. She has been living together with Foxx in the same house for quite a while along with his stepfather. His relationship with his stepfather was an inspiration for the character of Walter McMillian in the movie Just Mercy. His father was incarcerated unjustly for 7 years. It was this that sparked the beginning of their living arrangement. He sent his father a letter while he was in prison promising to rescue him from the situation he was in when he was finally released from prison. That is a promise he has kept even though his mother, Louise and Georg had divorced. They both continue to live with him today.

Adoption Is NOT Needed

Today’s story –

I’m tired of having to explain this to prospective adopters. Adoption is NOT needed to give a child a “good” life.

I am Latina, and in my culture, aunts and uncles as well as grandparents step up to help raise each other’s children. Even in cases where there is no poverty nor struggle. My parents were middle-class average Joe’s, yet my aunt and grandma still raised me. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I am not an adoptee nor mother but I am a foster parent. My job is to help reunite infants, toddlers, and grade schoolers with their natural families. I get a lot of hate from other foster parents and adoptive parents for saying this, but adoption simply isn’t necessary.

I became a close family friend to some of the families that I have helped to be reunited, and they are all doing so well. All they needed was a little bit of help. I will go as far as to hire a lawyer to fight family separation. I love these kids, and what’s best for them is to be with their own families. Imagine if we had a mentorship-type program where women helped struggling mothers parent their own child, instead of taking their child away from them. Friends don’t let friends give away their babies.

Also, that $30,000-60,0000 that is spent to adopt an infant would go a long way to helping these parents to keep and raise their own children. I have yet to see a mother who genuinely did not want her child, just a mother who is struggling or has low self-esteem. If that is the case, then build her up. No excuses why you cannot do this. In lots of cultures, like mine, everyone helps to raise each other’s kids without anyone taking them away their own parents and erasing their identity.

The Pain of Family Feuds

I’ll let this story from my all things adoption group speak for itself.

I’m an adoptee that was adopted by my maternal grandparents at birth, my birth mom has always been in my life at different times and in different ways, our relationship now is very rocky, and I never saw much of my dad growing up.

When I was 6, my grandparents cut off all contact with my dad’s family. For years they told me that it wasn’t safe, or that they had no interest in seeing me, which wasn’t true – my grandparents actively threw out letters and cards from them.

I used to beg to see my family, when I was a young teen I started sneaking out to see my aunt, then my grandparents found out. I was grounded and stopped from leaving the house. I grew up remembering and loving these people who lived literally two miles away but missing out on a childhood with them.

I grew up with no racial mirrors and felt like I did something wrong to these people that I had fun memories with as a kid. One time I saw my aunt across a store and begged my grandma to say hi, but my grandma dragged me out of the store and said it wasn’t safe.

4 years ago, I reunified with my dad’s family locally and have an amazing relationship with them, and flew to California to see my uncle and meet my cousins for the first time, and eventually flew to New York. I was greeted with open arms, but it doesn’t make up for the 20 year gap of not having these people in my life. These are people I should’ve grown up with!

My aunt lives close to me and we talk, but I feel like a stranger in her house. I feel like I don’t belong here. My uncle is in town to visit with his kids, and I’ve been here all day, and decided to stay the night…for the first time at 28 years old, I’m spending the night with my aunt – something that most kids did growing up.

It’s 3 AM and I’m laying on her couch, unable to sleep because I don’t feel like I belong here, even though they treat me like we were never apart. I don’t know what the point of this post is…it’s just complicated, not many people understand my complex adoption trauma or seem to think that it’s somehow “less” because I was adopted by my grandparents, I should just shut up and be grateful for that.

I still feel like I’m in the fog. My grandparents have both died, and I have a hard time wrapping my thoughts and emotions around the trauma that two people I loved very much even so caused. I’m just trying to live with it.

Who’s Real ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s NOT Better

We teach our children to keep themselves safe from strangers.

Why do we as a society think it’s better to give a child away to strangers than to offer emotional, financial, and logistical support to the child’s first families in order to allow them to parent? Why is it seen as a good thing to permanently separate a child from their first family (in the absence of abuse)? What’s with the racist, classist belief that adoptive parents are more likely to raise healthy happy children, when all statistical evidence from studies on abuse in adoptive homes contradicts it?

There is a reason adoptees represent a larger percentage of people needing mental health treatment or committing suicide. There is a higher incidence of cancer, gut, and other diseases caused by toxic levels of years of cortisol. Birth moms, due to separation from their babies, tend to die 20 years sooner than mothers who remain with their children.

Complex Traumatic Stress – an over activated fight flight body response.

That child taken from its mother will try to save that child but has no power to help that child. That child is born with a “mom-operating system”. This never shuts down (cue adoptee reunions, if you doubt this).

Allowing complete strangers to raise a child is dangerous to that child.

So why is adoption promoted and not family preservation ? Because there is a ton of money to be made in selling children (which is what adoption actually is in most cases) but no money, only expense coming out of tax dollars, in keeping a family together.

Adoption is trauma. There’s no way around it. Even if you were to be the most incredible adoptive parent in the entire world, the trauma and hurt isn’t negated. Society needs to try to understand why the mom feels she can’t parent her child and give that mom the support she needs. You can love a child without taking them away from their parents.

This is true in infant adoptions, where altering birth certificates is standard procedure. The procedure may be different with a teen who has been in the foster care system for years and without being coerced, asks to be adopted. However, even then legal guardianship is still the best case procedure.

The truth about adoption trauma may be hard to accept because most people have been spoon fed what society wants us to believe about adoption. the difference between a viewpoint (for profit adoption narrative) and lived experiences (adoptees) can cause cognitive dissonance.

So to say, “…adopting a child can be a good option…” is actually an admission that adoption isn’t always good, and actually for anyone involved. Surprisingly, adoptive parents do not often have the happily ever after experience they bought into. So their “lived” experience as well because the traumatized child is more difficult to parent than a biological, genetic child – and most parents would admit that isn’t always easy either. Add in that layer of adoption and it is exponentially harder (check it out with some trauma informed therapist who works on adoption issues).

While it is true that some adoptees will tell you that they had good outcomes, I’ve read significantly more horror stories than happy outcomes… That is because I spend time in a space where it is safe for an adoptee to honestly express their own truth. Yes, there are cases where the biological family could have been as much (or even more) of a nightmare as an abusive adoptive family. The answer is to try and treat the issues in the biological, genetic family – addiction, poverty, poor parenting role models, etc.

And on the issue of mother/child separations – this story is indicative.

My grandmother started caring for me full time the day after I was born. I didn’t really spend time with my parents until I was 3-4 years old. I feel the trauma from that and its not even close to what someone who has been adopted must feel….I just remember feeling so strongly that all I wanted was to be with my mom when I was little. My grandmother is an amazing woman but its not the same. I still experience extreme anxiety and went through really bad PPD after I gave birth bceause I couldn’t understand why my mom couldn’t be there for me when I was that little. Anyway, my story isn’t really important I’m only trying to illustrate how deep the trauma goes when you’re separated as a child from your birth parents.

Just for good measure – what is the mainstream narrative ?

1) first is the idea that biological parents are incapable of parenting and don’t deserve to parent their own children, 2) that those saviors, the grace of willing adopters stepping forward, have prevented an abortion, or abuse, or neglect, or abandonment, and of course 3) that anyone who adopts will simply provide a “Better Life” and a “Forever Family” for these poor unwanted souls. These things are not the truth for the majority of people who end up adopted. These are the myths of the adoption industry.

Regardless of varying lived experiences – every single adoptee has experienced a traumatic loss: the separation from their mother.

And wrapping up – What is missing?

Better mental health services, care and protection for pregnant women, support for families and their communities could really improve many families’ situations. In many cases, it could do more that – actually enable them to parent adequately by most average standards.

No person should have their true identity and family erased for the rest of their life, simply in order to be cared for in a safe, loving, secure home during their childhood.

Adoption, at its core, is a legal construct that transfers ownership of a person. This is done by cancelling the adopted persons birth certificate and issuing a new one, falsely stating the adoptive parents (not actually related ie strangers) are the biological parents, and replacing the adoptee’s name and identity with a new false one.

If this sounds way to close to slavery, you are not mistaken.

The legal construct forces legal recognition and legitimacy of biological falsification for the adopted person’s lifetime, and that of all their descendants, and erases all legal ties and rights to their own family (parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins etc). All without the adopted person’s consent. Ask me, I know, I’m one of those descendants.

Moving a child to a “loving stable home” is not best if the adoptive parents seek to erase the birth parents 100% and “love the child AS IF it is their own.” (Say this sentence… “I’m going to love this a cat AS IF it is a dog.”) This will convey the idea.

It’s ridiculous isn’t it? “as if” is the Adoptive Parent theme song. Adoptive parents think they can buy an infant, and nurture it into becoming something it’s not— but this belief only causes more trauma to the child. The bottom line is this – it is ALWAYS unsafe for a child to be their authentic self in an adoptive home. The love received is conditional but the child must pretend to be something they are not in order to keep that love flowing.

I don’t really want to be redundant – there will be another blog tomorrow and the next day . . . in the meantime, my family history attracted to me this video (yep, adoption would appear to have been a “family tradition” in my own family of birth – but it also appears that our children may have broken the cycle with their own children – thankfully !!).

Joni Mitchell’s Daughter

Joni Mitchell reunion in 1997
with Kilauren Gibb

Adoptee reunions with their birth parents happen almost daily it seems to me in the adoption related groups that I am a member of. My adoptee mom wanted such a reunion but sadly hers never happened (when she tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee, while denying her that information which would have brought her so much peace, they told her that her mother had died several years earlier).

This morning I’ve been tracking down the story of the daughter that Joni Mitchell gave up for adoption because she wrote song lyrics about that experience in Little Green a song on her album Blue which is 50 years old today.

~ lyrics

Born with the moon in cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who’ve made her

Little green, be a gypsy dancer
He went to California
Hearing that everything’s warmer there
So you write him a letter and say, “her eyes are blue.”
He sends you a poem and she’s lost to you
Little green, he’s a non-conformer

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green

Like the nights when the northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed

Little green, have a happy ending
Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow

Just a little green
Like the nights when the northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Both mother and daughter were searching for each other when a series of coincidences finally brought the two of them together. It would be a very typical adoptee search and reunion with her birth mother if her mother had not been so famous. Most adoptees do not have to deal with that kind of media frenzy. It would be a typical adoptee reunion with her birth mother leads to a reunion with her birth father but for all of the fame involved. And it would be a typical adoptive parent anxiety about losing the child they raised if not for all the media frenzy that followed. On Joni Mitchell’s own website you can read the details in Joni’s Secret: Mother And Child Reunion and fully appreciate the complications.

My all things adoption group seeks to encourage young, unwed mothers like Joni Mitchell was to keep and raise their children. This is because, like Joni, adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Joni’s problems were poverty and the baby’s father being unready to parent and so abandoning them. Within 3 years, Mitchell had a recording contract, a house and a car, and could have raised her child but it was too late by then. The adoption was closed and so when the daughter began her search, she was only given non-identifying information, which is typical as well.

Things actually went surprisingly well considering it was way back in 1997 when the reunion occurred. Like my good luck in uncovering my own original grandparents, something of their stories and connecting with biological/genetic cousins and an aunt, it was as though one door opens and the pieces begin falling into place. And as like attracts like and as intentions seek to fully fulfill the desire that gave birth to them, sometimes in the adoption world we get lucky.

It is somewhat interesting and all too typical that the adopted person also has their own struggles that somewhat mirror their birth parent. Kilauren claims that she did not find out she was adopted until she was 27. “She knew when she was a teenager,” her adoptive mother, Ida Gibb says. “Her friends told her. But maybe the full significance didn’t sink in.” Kilauren’s adoptive father, David Gibb says, “The mistake we made was in trying to say she’s not adopted, that she’s one of us and let’s forget the whole thing and put it away somewhere, because we wanted her to be part of the family.” Then he adds: “People are born. They are a life. They belong to nobody.”

Kilauren’s biological parents, Joni Mitchell and Brad MacMath, were both art students in Calgary when she was conceived. They moved to Toronto during the pregnancy and discussed settling down but as he says, “We were not communicating.” and he moved from Canada to California. Mitchell says her main concern at the time was to conceal her pregnancy from her parents. And what would her parents have done ? Mitchell’s mother, Myrtle Anderson says, “If we had known she was expecting a baby, we would have helped. I’m sure we would have encouraged her to keep the baby, but we didn’t know anything about it until several years later when she and Chuck (Mitchell) separated and she was home and told us about it.”

Like many birth mothers, Joni Mitchell regretted losing her child for 30 years before the reunion finally occurred. Like many birth mothers, she might see a couple with a daughter about the age hers would have been at that time. Toronto music manager Bernie Fiedler who was a friend of Mitchell’s remembers being with her at the Mariposa Folk Festival about four years after Kilauren’s birth. “There was a couple with a little girl wanting to speak to Joni. We went over and talked to the girl, who must have been 4 or 5, and afterwards Joni turned to me and said: ‘That could be my daughter.’ I will never forget that. She was obviously suffering tremendously.” Kilauren (at the age of 32) ended up separated from the father of the son she is raising. Broken relationships seem more common with adoptees, and often with their biological parents as well, than within the overall population in general.

The thing about adoption is that it changes trajectories. Joni Mitchell may not have become as famous as she did had she kept and raised her daughter. Her daughter’s life would have been different had she not been raised in the well to do home that she was. Both mother and daughter suffered and that is always the case (whether acknowledged or unconscious) when that separation takes place. It is always the case as well, that no matter how loving the adoptive parents are or how good of a childhood that adopted child has, a yearning to be made whole again is universal. Not all reunions go well and this one has been bumpy like many of these are.

Typically, the adoptive parents feared this as well. Losing Kilauren to her birth mother “was our greatest fear,” her adoptive mother Ida Gibb said. “It was a nightmare that this would happen to us when she was little and when she was a teenager. Now, it is easier to take. But it’s still hard.”

Leave The Door Open

Recently a commenter on my blog was making a big deal about “genetic parents” being able to opt out of their own child’s lives. This could be equated to surrendering a child to adoption and this commenter actually extended her perspective to donor egg or sperm sources. I don’t think her points of view are realistic but she is an activist in such concerns and I understand her perspectives. Like much of scientific medical advances being light years ahead of moral and ethical considerations. She thought ALL of the parents should be on a birth certificate and have full responsibility for the well-being of the children involved. As a society, we are simply not there yet.

Happily, there is a huge effort within the adoption community (made up of adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents and birth parents) to create an organic, grassroots kind of reform of the whole situation. What might such a “reformed” situation look like ? I think this story is an excellent example and so I share it with you today (I hasten to add, it is NOT my own story, because sometimes that isn’t understood in this blog).

My daughter’s parents were very distant after they made the adoption plan for her. They felt that by doing so, they had given up their rights to ask anything or to know her (this is what both of them have explained to me). Keep reaching out, keep sending photos, updates, hand and foot crafts, etc. When my adoptive daughter was almost 3 yrs old, her mother came to understand that we DID want her in our daughter’s life and that we were happy to have her here. Her dad went longer, so many years with out seeing her, he said that he was afraid of making her life harder by showing up when he finally felt ready. We talked about it and I sent a ton of links to him showing that it’s better for children to know their families, if they can. That year he brought his girlfriend and parents to her birthday party. Our little girl loved being snuggled up in her father’s arms for the afternoon. If you genuinely leave the door open and make the child’s original parents feel welcomed, there is a good chance that one day they will come through that opening.