23 & Me Does It Again

Today’s story from an adoptee (not me) –

Just found some family members through 23 and me, and posted about it to a moms group that I’m in. One of these moms is cautioning me that it might be too upsetting for them to find out about me. I thought that group was supposed to be there for support for me? I guess that can’t really happen anywhere except among fellow adoptees have been told their whole life that their very existence might bother someone. I’m so done with that. My existence is amazing and wonderful and if it bothers anyone else that’s not my fault. I am treading lightly and my note to them was very sweet and sensitive I think. If they have signed up for 23 and me that, they know what might come. They don’t have to have their family tree public.

I am shaking and feel like crying now honestly. I’m so done with people lecturing me about how important everyone else’s feelings are. Wasn’t that what my whole life was about? Shame and secrets? Wasn’t that what caused the 20 years of connecting with my birth mom to be partly wonderful and partly stressful? I wasn’t even invited to her own memorial service. My own birth mom that I was close to, I thought, for 20 years. Connection and truth should not be traumatizing. If it is, the trauma was caused by other people and there is healing that is possible. That’s the energy and vibe I feel and I’m not going to march into somebody’s house screaming who I am, either literally or energetically.

I do have concern about how they will emotionally feel and let them decide how and when to talk to other family members if they ever do. Or not. That’s their choice as well. But I do think I have a right to know who I am and I’m very excited to at least know the names of some of my relatives in my ancestry a lot more.

Thank you for having this group (an all things adoption and foster care and not of the rainbows and unicorns sunshine always variety on Facebook) because I know that the adoptees feelings and experience is centered and of primary importance. They always talk about adoption helping the baby so much and how grateful we are supposed to be. We’re supposed to be grateful for being told our whole lives that we should be careful how everyone feels? And worship only the adoptive parents in this triad? Nope. Everyone in this experience deserves their feelings and thoughts to be fully 100% honored. There is no competition. I’m just sick of people making this like a competition for feelings.

Trying to focus to get ready to go to a job interview now and it’s pretty challenging with all of this on my mind but mostly I am very excited. (Oh, and I might’ve actually gone to school with one of my 2nd cousins….!)

Dear Adopted Child

Dear Adopted Child,

I see so many letters addressed to birth parents and hopeful/ adoptive parents. Again you’re left out. The most import part of this equation and yet you’re continuously left out.

I really fucked up, I went against nature, I altered your brain chemistry, and I’d go as far to say committed and act against humanity. Yet I am the one likely to get sympathy. While you internally struggle. People will mourn for me and chastise you for being “ungrateful.”

I reached out to the agency, I allowed them to strip your birth father of his rights, and I chose your parents. I allowed the opinions of strangers to seep in and convince me that I was not good enough. I knew in my gut that I was making the wrong decision, that this didn’t feel right. I selfishly thought of myself. How could I possibly be a single mother of two if your father left me? How could I provide the life you should have? As if the quality of life is measured in what physical possessions one owns. At the end of the day I selfishly said I was putting you first, when really cowardly I was putting myself.

When we found out your gender, I felt ecstatic and devastated. A girl, what I had always wanted. Yet I couldn’t find the courage to keep. I knew it was wrong when your adoptive parents did a gender reveal. I chose not to speak up, as if offending them would suddenly make myself undesirable. I broke down at home and doctors appointments. Instead of viewing that as a sign that I was making the wrong choice I got prescribed anti depressants.

At your birth I asked your adoptive parents to be there. When I checked in I begrudgingly asked if the hospital had my adoption plan. There were so many times I could of said no. I could of not chose this path to take. I let them whisk you away after birth, I let your adoptive parents keep you in their room. I could’ve demanded you be brought back to me, thrown a fit that this wasn’t right or acceptable. I chose to selfishly crumple into myself, to say that our pain was worth it so two strangers could be happy. I didn’t advocate for us, for you.

I signed the paperwork, I didn’t make a peep during my revocation period, I congratulated your adoptive parents on the down fall of our family. I let them strip you of your names. I let you become a legal stranger to us.

Nothing can undo what I’ve done, or the choices I made. At the end of the day I’ve caused your pain. Your trauma was hand delivered to you by me. I’m sorry.

I can’t rectify this wrong, nothing I say or do can fully heal it. I can promise I won’t leave you again, and that everyday I’m learning, I’m listening to grown adoptees so I can be the me you will need.

With Regrets,

The Furious First Mom

A Different Story

Maybe you are here to be uncomfortable and dig deeper. When you find yourself uncomfortable, that is a sign you need to consider what I share here more realistically.  Triggers tell us where our issues are.

The fact that society has crafted adoption as this great, positive, wonderful thing for everyone adopted as well as those who adopt is the very core of my concern with adoption. It’s the very reason adoptees can’t speak freely in general society without being dubbed ungrateful or hateful or negative. It’s the very reason expecting moms feel unworthy to parent their own child.

Adoption isn’t negative or positive. It’s complex. It’s not simple at all. How someone feels at 5 may not be how they feel at 13 or 30. It is not wrong to fight to change the narrative as I seek to do here everyday

It is not wrong to want those that cannot be raised by their parents to have the tools and the right to understand how adoption works, what it means for them now and in the future.

There is no shortage of places you can go to hear how great adoption is.  I am here to be as real about adoption as I have developed the ability to understand something that is rampant in my family’s life even though not as directly my own experience as others in my family.  Even so, I wasn’t able to raise my own daughter and she grew into an adult guided by others and with no small amount of shame and guilt in my own self to deal with for not being a “better” mother to her.

If you want a space where adoptees will tell you how wonderful their adoption was and how grateful they are because that feels really validating to you – then there are other places that will do that for you.  Don’t expect to find much of that here.

Adoptees can have a loving and caring adoptive family and still not believe adoption is the answer. No one’s story is identical to another’s. I try not to say that here.  I certainly don’t expect a one size fits all explanation of all things adoption.  In fact, that is why I can always find something new to write about this  topic every day.  Each adoptee and/or former foster care youth will have a different viewpoint about their own story.  This is as it should be. I certainly know this. There are a variety of “stories” and a variety of “outcomes” among my own family members who have been impacted by adoption.  Bottom line – there is no single story.

With my own blog I seek to educate my readers on the harder parts of adoption, not the rainbow and unicorn fantasy parts (even if those are actually mostly true for the one experiencing it as such).  You can find plenty of happily ever after stories related to adoption if you only go looking for them.  My own daughter said to me once – you seem to be on a mission – and I didn’t deny that.  After over 6 decades in the dark about something so immediate and personal as adoption is in my own family, I came out of what is often referred to as the fog.  It is the concepts and beliefs that society puts out there about adoption.

Being uncomfortable isn’t bad thing. That includes adoptees too. If you never allow yourself to be uncomfortable, you miss learning about a larger reality.  Pushing through discomfort and emotional reactions can yield any one of us so much personal growth and character development.

What Should Never Be

One might think this only happens in third world countries, children without a stable home being taken in for the free labor they can provide but it happens here in the US too and often through the foster care system.

Read an account this morning about a woman who wants to foster a teen in order to have a live-in babysitter for her younger biological children.   She also expects help with the housework, other chores, as well as help for her business that is baking and selling cookies.  Probably looks at it as another avenue of revenue (foster care stipends) as well.

She expects so much gratitude that the foster care teen now has a roof over their head that they will not require payment for all of the work she expects for free from the unfortunate teen.  And after the teen turns 18 and ages out of the foster care system ?  She’ll simply sign up for another one.

The woman was dumb enough to put her sister down for a reference.  Here’s why that part –

The reference sister is 8 years younger than this cold calculating woman described above.  For two years, the younger sister lived with her older sister and her husband and the two kids, a boy and a girl, who she does describe as typical siblings, mostly no trouble at all but squabble sometimes as siblings always do.

Living with her older sister permanently damaged their relationship.  She felt that her older sister only saw her as free labor, money (forced to hand over half her pay from a small, part time job) and babysitting.  She describes feeling taken advantage of and says those years were HELL.  And even so, she does still babysit for her sister sometimes but does control the amount of time she is willing to give now that she has moved out.

So, I know that children in third world countries are often exploited as domestic labor and I can even understand some expectations in a foster home of at least not contributing to extra household work for the family by keeping picked up after one’s self.  I have read about situations so bad, that the foster parents actually put a lock on the refrigerator and pantry shelves, severely controlling the amount of food a foster child is able to consumed.

Maybe the system is not always broken and there are genuinely caring people doing this for the right reasons but it does seem from all the stories I come across that there are a lot of opportunistic and exploitative people taking in youth with nowhere decent or safe to go and sometimes the unsafe and awful conditions are actually in that foster home.

Who’s Right Is It ?

It is a sad truth that adoptees are often treated as second class citizens and denied their basic human right to know the details of their identity.

Today, I read about an adoptee struggling with her original mother’s insistence on keeping the original father’s identity a secret from her.  In the course of having DNA testing, she located some cousins and has now identified her father.  Stalking him online, she has relieved herself of a serious concern.  As an adoptee, the extreme secrecy made her worry that there was something wrong with her DNA. She wondered if her conception might be related to incest and this concern caused her to worry about having children.

The original mother seems to be a difficult relationship.  For one thing, she thinks this daughter should thank her for giving birth to her. The nun who facilitated the adoption, has commented to this woman that her mother’s life would have been easier if she’d chosen abortion. The time frame was after Roe v Wade.  I remember hearing from my nephew’s adoptive mother that my youngest sister who gave him up for adoption once wrote them when the boy was in his teens, she expressed being hurt that they did not thank her for what she had done for them.  They were quite mystified by this.

Yet, this woman knows that according to her original mother, that the mother has been tormented by what she did in surrendering this child to adoption for 22 years.  This is really not surprising.  When it comes to our children, surrender or abortion, can cause lifelong regrets for one reason or another.  It is always fraught.

Where it has gotten weird and where the relationship between mother and daughter has broken down is the mother’s refusal to reveal the father (she said it was a one night stand and because my nephew’s conception was a similar event, I know these things do happen).  Even when offered extreme “protections” such as being asked if this mother would put the name of the woman’s original father in a safe deposit box, give the key to an attorney and sign a contract with her that she could only access it in the case that she was incapacitated and the woman needed this information for a life and death medical reason for herself or her family – the original mother simply said, “No”.

Her mother’s repeated statements that she loves her ring hollow, even insulting, when this mother appears to be willing to literally let her daughter die before divulging the name of her original father. Oh, the harm secrets do.  It seems the woman came from a wealthy family who never was told about the birth of this daughter.

The original mother became a bit unglued – she accused her daughter of trying to get her family’s money (she claims that she doesn’t need or want it), of trying to get her thrown in jail for perjuring herself regarding knowing who the original father is, which would rob her of raising her sons (the woman notes – we’re well beyond the statute of limitations, and of course I’m not trying to get her thrown in jail), and has told the nun who facilitated the adoption (and who seems to be mediating the complications even now), that this woman withheld her personal medical history from her mother so she can’t give it to her sons (yet, the woman did give her mother a detailed medical history), among other things.

Admittedly, it’s been a tough road for her after a happy childhood with adoptive parents that never lied to her and gave her love and a family life.  She has been able to discover that her original father is a normal, healthy person with a normal-looking healthy family (including half brothers related to her).  She feels like a huge weight of uncertainty has now been lifted from her shoulders. Even so, she is extremely hesitant to contact him.

And she is sickened by being someone’s dirty secret. She feels she would be complicit in the lie if she allows who her father is to remain a secret. Yes, being an adoptee is painful, traumatic and never easy.  Just in case you thought walking away from an unwanted pregnancy would free you. It never does.

Reactive Attachment Disorder

I read this today –

So I have a story that those in adoption fantasy land will call an unpopular opinion.

Story time

So about 2 years ago, my adoptive mother handed me all the paperwork she had on my and my older sister’s adoption. This turned out to be the record of how I ended up with my adoptive family.

I found out that I had been in and out of foster care from 3 months old. I was placed with my adoptive family at 3 yrs and adopted at 5.

This led me to do some digging and sort through the trauma.  I came across Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). After being in groups and researching for myself I found that it is primarily foster and adoptive children that have it (that was even pointed out in some articles).

So here is my unpopular opinion, children with RAD are really just hurting because you took their whole life away and now you think these should be happy with you. News flash, you’d have RAD too if your whole entire life was tossed aside like trash and you were told to be grateful. These kids don’t know how to process what is happening, teach them how to process these big emotions in a healthy way, don’t assume they think you saved them (sorry – they will never see it that way).

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

NOTE – Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a condition in which an infant or young child does not form a secure, healthy emotional bond with his or her primary caretakers (parental figures). Children with RAD often have trouble managing their emotions. They struggle to form meaningful connections with other people.

Grief That Never Ends

Ferera Swan goes on to say –

Adoptees are often challenged to defend our perspectives on adoption, our very lived experiences invalidated by those who have never lived a day of adoption in their life. This very interaction is a reinforcement of our trauma, yet people wonder why so many adoptees come across as “angry”. Not only have we lost our mother, we’re now being challenged to explain all the mechanics of how it can possibly still affect us just as profoundly as adults—even when the research on maternal separation is crystal clear.

In general, the public tends to reduce this experience to mere “emotions or feelings” adoptees have about adoption, when a significant part of our trauma also involves what happens on a biological, neurological, and developmental level as a result of maternal separation. Just because most people can’t authentically fathom this kind of loss doesn’t mean our trauma isn’t real or valid.

Instead of attempting to compare our loss with other things—nothing compares to losing your mother—or listing all the reasons why you think we should be grateful (that’s not what grief has ever been about), please have the courage to listen to what we have to say.

She says in a comment –

You are absolutely welcome to share any of my public posts. I’m so sorry that your relatives have approached your trauma in such dismissive, harmful and hurtful ways. I can relate to severing ties with those who prefer our silence—we learn a lot about our relationships when we begin speaking our truths.

A commentor had said –

It will be interesting to see how many of my relatives respond with memes about gratitude and the importance of growing up and getting over things. Sometimes the responses are about unconditional love (which has been weaponized in my family). at least a few will pass it by without any comment, because pretending unpleasant things don’t exist is another favorite tactic. Maybe someone will pause to think. I have broken with a number of people in the last couple of years. I finally stopped being so afraid of rejection that I remained silent.

Finally, one commentor noted –

The laws of secrecy and lies that punish a child for the benefit of the adults is ridiculous when we become of age.

Adoptees are treated like second class citizens who have less human rights that most people take for granted.  Time for a total change in how we care for vulnerable and at risk children.  And mothers should receive full support to remain with their babies whenever possible.

You can keep up with Ferera Swan at her website – fereraswan.com/swanproject/heartbroken-infants

Second Chances

I not talking about what is known as second chance adoptions as sad as that reality is.  I’m talking about the second chance life gave me and I hope those who have suffered their own failures at parenting will take heart.

This Sunday, we will go out into the forest among the Wild Azaleas and make a photo of myself with the two boys I am lucky to have in my own life.  We have done this every year without fail since the older boy was born.  You see, when I was young, I gave birth to a daughter who was and remains very dear to me.  Yet, I struggled to support us and in doing so, inadvertently lost the opportunity to parent her and have her in my life during her childhood.  I remember as the years went by looking for birthday cards for “my daughter” and that causing despair because they did not describe the unique kind of relationship I had with her.  Thankfully, we are close and I am grateful for that much.

When I remarried late in life and after 10 years of being with my husband who never wanted to have children – he changed his mind.  Over Margaritas at a Mexican restaurant he announced to me that he actually did want to become a father and it wasn’t easy for us because I was too old to conceive without medical assistance.  To conceive, I had to accept the loss of my genetic connection to my sons.  They would not exist any other way and they would not be who they are otherwise.

Yet, they grew in my womb and nursed at my breast.  I have been in their lives 24/7 with a few minor exceptions.  Parenting boys has been challenging because I grew up the oldest of three girls.  I was unprepared for the boisterous behavior of male children and through it was far from perfect – they and I survived it.  I was told as I struggled in their younger time that boys are more difficult when young and girls more difficult in puberty.  I don’t know if that is true but the boys are a joy and easy to live with now.  Whatever has caused that blessing, I am grateful.

I am also grateful to know I can actually parent.  It is a life-long sorrow that I lost that time with my daughter.  Children don’t stop growing and you can’t recover what is lost in your absence.  Happy Mother’s Day to all moms.

When An Adoptee Becomes A Mother

Adoption is a lifelong process, and becoming a parent adds a layer of complexity as it causes adoptees to revisit, or consider for the first time, the losses that go along with adoption.

This can be surprising for adoptees that were comfortable with their family situation for a couple of decades.  I do remember (since both of my parents were adopted) that we had no medical history at the doctor’s office but we knew there was an explanation – adoption.

Adoption can be a delicate subject. The spectrum of the adoptee experience is vast, and the conversation often feels dominated by adoptive parents who have deeply ingrained fears about losing their child or children.  This is why I focus more on the adoptee and the original parents who usually have a diminished voice in society.

Feelings and issues are bound to come up when adoptees become parents themselves. Questions arise about family and cultural histories, medical concerns and the role of identity in the parenting experience. An adoptee frequently wonders, “Who am I, really?”

One adoptee shared this – “If there was a part of me that yearned for something – a hole that was difficult to fill – I didn’t connect that with being adopted. I struggled with anxiety and trust, and that worsened as I grew into adulthood. But I was certain I wanted to have biological kids — to create them, to grow them, to birth them. I didn’t know why I needed that, or why I was lonely and struggled to trust others. I just knew I needed to fill this hole, to find this missing piece.”

I have felt this with each of my three biological children – it is an emotional response when I see my baby for the first time, feeling a definite bond to that child. It is a tidal wave, taller and more powerful than falling in love. When an adoptee experiences this it is much more – like they had missed something their entire life but didn’t realized what it was until that moment.  The adoptee may even wonder if their mother felt something like that for them.  Or if she didn’t.  What did that say about their worthiness to be loved ?  I wonder if my adoptee mother had these sudden realizations.  She is deceased now and I can’t ask her about it.

An adoptee may struggle with how their own original mother could carry them for nine months and then simply let them go – permanently.

For many adoptee moms, this grief is new, something they don’t understand until they become pregnant themselves. New ways of thinking about their adoption often heighten the myriad emotions experienced during pregnancy and birth.

All adoption is rooted in trauma. Being separated from your original family, and from the woman who you grew inside of, is trauma. The baby does miss that heartbeat, that smell, that undeniable bond. For an adoptee during a pregnancy, it may feel quite novel to realize they are about to meet their very first blood relative.  Adoptees often experience an added layer of appreciation and gratitude for as well as an added connection to their children.

 

In The Fog

When I first started learning about all of the impacts and issues surrounding the practice of adoption, I didn’t know what this concept really was like.  Both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption, adoption was the most natural thing in my life.  I really didn’t see a problem with it and while this concept more commonly refers to the adoptee who discovers the reality and “wakes up”, what I didn’t expect was that as the child of adoptees, I too was in the fog.  And I have woken up as well and that is the purpose of this blog, to share these new understandings with whoever is moved to come and read these little daily observations.

Learning about adoption trauma can be a big surprise for someone like me.  For the adoptee, this can prove to be a nagging feeling that you didn’t know how to name.  This concept answered your question as to what it was.  For some, their love and/or gratitude for their adoptive parents can make them not want to learn about adoption trauma, even though generally speaking, it affects every adoptee to some degree, whether consciously or unconsciously.

“Happy” may not be the right word to describe coming out of the fog. It’s more accurately about being able to authentically traverse and articulate the variety of effects that adoption had on your life, good or bad, but the bad often does far outweigh the good.  In my case, it is a sorrow that for over 60 years I did not know about my own biological/genetic relatives.  Now I do have some contact but it is like being slightly removed and an outsider no matter how kind they are to me directly.

It can be easy to be judgmental.  Rationally, you may know your original mother was struggling and yet still find it impossible to understand that she could ever give up her children.  In my own life, I lost physical custody of my daughter, even though that was not my intention but that I was struggling financially was the reality.  Seeking to find a way to support us, I left her with her paternal grandmother temporarily.  That decision with the expectation that it was temporary became permanent and I can never get back the years I lost.  My mom told me of her perspective on my situation – she would have just toughed it out.  Maybe true but then she coerced one of my sisters to give up her own child.  I guess my mom’s fog was quite thick.

In the end, I lost my daughter to my ex-husband and a step-mother.  He had refused to pay child support but ended up paying to support our daughter.  I ended up paying a steep price to gain that support.  I have never stopped grieving and have tried to come to terms with it, through accepting that it is simply our reality.  So much damage is done when a mother is separated from her child, no matter why or how.