Losing Mom to Domestic Femicide

Not my usual adoption related story but adoption does come in at the end. Definitely a “Missing Mom” story. It isn’t a blog I really feel good about writing and yet, I believe this cautionary tale is important. Andy Borowitz, who generally writes satire, brought my attention to this story his wife has been investigating – The Murderer’s Little Boy by Olivia Gentile. <– You can read the sad details at this link. As a woman (as I am sure is not unusual for many women), I have been afraid at times due to some response by my romantic partner or spouse (I’ve been married more than once). It is a dangerous world and very dangerous for women, who have been described as the “weaker” sex and not without reason. I grew up in Texas and I apologize for feeling at this point like I have to say – “because Texas”. The state seems to me today to hate women in general – to be very misogynistic.

Losing a mother to domestic femicide is “the most horrific trauma that children can experience,” said Peter Jaffe, the child psychologist. Afterward, they are vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, dissociation, attachment difficulties, behavioral problems, and many other issues. To heal, Jaffe said, they need a caregiver who engages with them appropriately and truthfully about the murder, helps them mourn and honor their mother, and enrolls them in long-term trauma therapy. 

This is very much like the trauma and behavioral impacts that a lot of adoptees suffer from.

Far more children whose fathers kill their mothers are placed with maternal than with paternal kin, research suggests, though exact numbers aren’t known. No laws specify which side of the family is preferable, but in all custody cases, judges are supposed to address the child’s “best interest.” Paternal relatives must be carefully screened, Jaffe said. Since abuse is often intergenerational, the family’s entire history should be reviewed. Furthermore, anyone who enabled the killer’s abuse, remains aligned with him, intends to keep him in the child’s life, or “tries to wipe out the maternal family in the same way the perpetrator wiped out the mother” is presumptively unfit.

His maternal grandmother was forced to file a lawsuit to get visitation rights from the paternal side. Filed on March 15, 2017, she argued that as R.’s grandmother, she had standing to seek custody because the child’s present circumstances could “significantly impair” his emotional development. Her suit failed but she appealed.

Finally, in April 2018, 15 months after she last saw R., a panel from the First Court of Appeals convened a hearing on the maternal grandmother’s pleas. In their questions, the three judges seemed to convey concern for the boy’s welfare. Wasn’t it potentially harmful for R. to be raised by a man whose son had confessed to killing his mother? Wasn’t it worrisome that his father could see R. whenever the grandfather allowed him to? 

The judges ordered the parties into mediation, specifying that the mediator be from Houston, not Galveston County where the paternal kin were prominent. The resulting agreement, signed in July 2018, affirmed the maternal grandmother’s standing to pursue custody and gave her two mornings a month with R. as the case continued. Yet the deal stipulated that the visits be supervised by the paternal grandfather or by someone he chose, and it barred the grandmother from discussing R.’s mother or half-brother with him or showing him their pictures. 

Fearing an acquittal due to complicating circumstances, prosecutors made a deal with the murderer. At trial, he would have faced up to 99 years in prison for murder. Under his plea agreement, signed on November 25, 2019, he received 30 years for murder and 20 for tampering, with the sentences running concurrently. He’ll be eligible for parole in 2033.

The custody trial was scheduled for April 2020. But in a new twist to this story, in March, the paternal grandfather obtained another delay: he wanted to adopt R. and had obtained his murderer son’s willingness to cede his own parental rights. The maternal grandmother asked the court to stop the adoption. Her luck now was that there is a new Judge Kerri Foley. She appointed an attorney, Genevieve McGarvey, as a neutral assistant in the adoption case. Later, Foley added McGarvey to the custody case, too. For the first time in four years, an official was tasked with helping the court advance R.’s best interest. 

At a hearing in September 2020, McGarvey testified that R. wasn’t in trauma therapy and needed it “desperately.” She added, “[H]e’s got to talk about his mother more.” And he appeared to miss his half-brother profoundly. “The first thing he ever says when I see him is, ‘How’s J.?’ ‘Do you know J.?’”

Foley halted the adoption case until after the custody trial. But the trial has been repeatedly delayed and won’t happen until this summer at the earliest. Tired of waiting, his maternal grandmother filed a motion on February 2 demanding temporary joint custody in the meantime. A hearing is scheduled for March 21.

Judge Foley recently granted the grandmother longer visits with R., and she’s now allowed to bring his half-brother. But she wants the standard access granted to Texans who don’t reside with their kids: two to three weekends per month, alternating holidays and school breaks, and 30 days in summer.

Understandably the grandmother wants to protect R. She wants to get him into trauma therapy, and she wants to participate in decisions about his medical care and education. Recently, he has bounced from school to school and struggled. She wants to talk freely with him about his mother, whom he remembers and misses. And she wants to terminate his father’s rights and bar him from contacting R.—either from prison or upon his release. 

Even if the grandmother prevails at trial, her struggle won’t be over, since joint custody could be meaningless if the paternal grandfather’s adoption goes through. The grandmother is determined to continue to fight for her grandson.  “R. has never wavered in his desire to see us or just surrendered to the horror of circumstances,” she said. If he won’t give up, how could she? 

Some organizations with links also mentioned in the article –

National Safe Parents Coalition who advocates for evidence-based policies which put child safety and risks at the forefront of child custody decisions.

Kayden’s Law – requires an evidentiary hearing during child custody proceedings to vet allegations—new or old—of abuse. Though ACLU opposed it but it has now been included in the Federal Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act which President Joe Biden signed on Wednesday, March 16, 2022.

Respond Against Violence providing “The Strangulation Supplement,” a tool for first responders and investigators to better guide them in investigations and to help capture cases involving strangulation that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. These tools are available upon request to law enforcement, forensic nurses, and EMS, as well as tools for pediatric cases and bathtub fatality cases.

Fairy Tales

Today’s story – I have been trying to become a mom for four years. I have had four miscarriages, five IVF cycles and more surgeries than I care to count, and I just keep getting older. As I come to grips with the likelihood that my husband and I may not be able to have biological children, I thought that adoption could be a beautiful way to have a family, but I definitely don’t want anyone to be exploited or hurt as a result.

An honest response – I am sorry for your loss suffering from infertility. I’m sorry the adoption industry preys upon your grief and got your hopes up about adoption being some kind of beautiful alternative to having your own child. I’m certain you didn’t mean to be self-centered about it. You’re just trying to work through it. You have been told adoption could soothe your pain.

Unfortunately the sweet serendipitous miracle situation you hope for is the same as 40+ other couples desire. You all want a guilt free, uncomplicated scenario. That’s the fairy tale the adoption industry would like to sell you. But it is inherently extremely complicated and painful for children who are used this way. There is no way around it. Obtaining a stranger’s kid will not fix the hole left in your heart from infertility. I’m so sorry.

Being Infertile While Black

I actually learned about the book in my image while reading another woman’s story of the disappointments and heartbreak of going through failure after failure after failure in assisted reproduction cycles. The essay’s author mentions Emily Bernard’s book Black is the Body, in which she describes her own reproductive struggles, and how she felt like a failure for not being able to conceive. No matter how much she tried, she could not conceive (she ended up adopting). And though my blog today is not about that book, so often, one thing leads to another and there I find adoption. Infertility is a common thread that very often leads to adoption. In my all things adoption group they often counsel women to confront their grief related to infertility before adopting. An adopted child will never be the child you could not conceive naturally and not coming to grips with that will bring a problematic relationship with your adopted child who regardless may never feel like they were good enough to meet your expectations even if you did not go through infertility first.

You can read Edna Bonhomme‘s entire essay in The Guardian about her experience of infertility in search of Black Motherhood. “For women from Black, working-class families like mine, to have children – countering the forces that tried to destroy us – can be a powerful political act.” That perspective really made sense to me but was one I would have never considered, if I had not read Edna’s essay. I will share some other excerpts I jotted down.

“Infertility damages mental health in many ways, and the clinical depression and anxiety disorders that occur after failed IVF attempts can have long term negative consequences. Some people offered unwanted counsel: ‘Why don’t you adopt?’ I had to accept that some people will never get pregnant, no matter how hard they try. (As a writer) It is more challenging to tell a story about fertility treatment that ends in childlessness.”

“One friend and confidante, who struggled for nearly 10 years to conceive, told me how she had been ready to adopt right before she became pregnant. I have to rationalize that my body, like all bodies, is complex, and there is no simple answer for why I cannot get pregnant. In the closing lines of a story such as this, one might assume the denouement brings a child: it doesn’t. Unfortunately, it ends here.”

I had expected this essay to end in an adoption but another thing I often read in my all things adoption group is not everyone has to have children. It would appear that is where Edna ended up – in an acceptance of nature as it is for her Black body.

One Huge Lifelong Question

Certainly, my mom yearned to find her original mother and I believe that both of my original grandmothers wished to find their children (both of my parents were adoptees), surrendered to adoption, once again in their lifetimes. It did not happen. All of these 6 people died without ever finding one another again.

Sharing today some excerpts from a blog by Linda Hoye titled “Where Is She? An Adoptee’s Lifelong Question.

Where is she?

No more the sound of her familiar heartbeat that lulled me to sleep and that my own synchronized with. Instead, a cacophony of strange voices and hospital sounds startles my newborn senses. Unfamiliar arms lower me into an isolette. I am alone and don’t know where I begin or end. Someone props something on a pillow beside me and touches my lips with a rubber nipple. Substitutionary sustenance. I drink. I sleep.

Then, one day, I’m dressed and wrapped and put into the arms of someone who smells of something other than this strange and lonely place. She is gentle and holds me so close I can feel her heartbeat. Days and weeks pass. I drink and sleep and grow used to her and learn to relax when she holds me while I drink from a rubber nipple until I’m milk drunk and fall asleep in her arms. But I don’t stop wondering.

Where is she?

On another day, after I’ve grown accustomed to the cuddling and playing and the belly laughs she draws from me, she is no longer there when I wake up. Instead, I look up into the soft misty eyes of another woman. The smile on her round face looks like love. She caresses my cheek and holds me so close I can hear her heartbeat. This happened with the other one too. I wonder where she is and how long this one will stay. There’s another face beside hers—a man—looking down at me and smiling too. But still, the bigger question remains:

Where is she?

A half-century later I kneel at her grave and place my hands flat on the ground. Oh, here she is. But, by now I’m too late.

And this was me too – at least at the graves of my maternal, biological, genetic relatives. Too late too meet any of them in person. Hopefully, my words as I sat down at their graves and uttered my words were heard by them in whatever that place is that they have gone. Someday, may I also visit my paternal relatives graves.

Caught In The Middle

Some circumstances in life are just plain hard to judge. I understand the point of view of this adoptive mother, even so, where is the compassionate middle ground. I haven’t decided. Here is one adoptive mother’s point of view –

I had to discuss with my son’s biological mom that there are boundaries and if she wanted to be involved in any way then she needed to understand them and honor them. My son is MY son, not hers. We came up with a special name that we refer to her as. Never mom. Also we discussed social media. She is never to address him as her son. He is not her son. She is to call him by his given name. I understand that biological moms have to deal with the emotional aspect but so do the adoptive moms. She is no longer his mother. A mother is far more than giving birth. A mother raises you and puts you first. I am very close with his biological mom. I have a great relationship with her for my son’s sake and it was a surrender. She was not forced in any way. But she is not his mother any longer. I am. I accept her role in his life as a special person who loves him. But I am his mother, not her. And she understands and respects that. She is thankful that I allow her to be a part of our family. I didn’t take his mom away from him. She took her role as mom away from herself including by making bad choices and choosing drugs over parenting. I’m his mom and will always be. She will always be a special person in his life but never his mom. Advice to other adoptive moms – set boundaries and don’t let biological moms walk all over you. Let them know their role in the family now.

The person who revealed this mindset commented – I find this very sad and very controlling. What if the child decided one day to call his birth mom “mom” ? She can’t call him her son ? This is sad. Birth parents grieve too. They hurt too. Even parents from foster care. They grieve. They lost their child. I wish we can offer empathy to birth parents especially from foster care instead of looking down on them and using innocent children to hurt them and the child.

I do feel that putting a child in the middle of this situation isn’t fair to the child. The same kind of thing happens very often in divorce. I remember trying to walk that difficult middle ground. “You still have a mother who loves you. And you still have a father who loves you. But we are not going to all live together anymore.” Life is complicated enough. So how to simplify the situation suggested above ?

I do agree with this perspective – “I’m sure the only reason the biological mother agrees with this is so she can have something to do with her son. There is a difference between a ‘mom’ and a ‘mother’ but it is ultimately up to the child to decide how to view each one of these women. Not the biological mom or the adoptive mom.” These two should not be playing their own issues off with the child caught in the middle.

Someone else disagreed and I do see this point as well – No difference between a mother and mom to me. I have two moms and two mothers. Same difference. It’s not confusing. I see no reason to distinguish a difference or set them apart.

And in fact, this is a valid point – If it wasn’t for the biological mom, the adoptive mom wouldn’t even have her son in the first place. I don’t give a damn if the biological mother’s rights where legally severed, she is still his mom at the end of the day and always will be the woman who gave birth to him.

I am still seeking what I sense is an important middle ground. I understand the need for the adoptive mother to be the final say in most of what happens in this child’s life, to maintain her parental authority to make decisions – at least for a minor child. Yet, emotions and feelings are less clear. I believe that most children actually are capable of keeping the two women in a separate yet proper perspective. My heart tells me that is the truth.

What I am sensing is a possessiveness, an ownership of one person over the love of another person, by putting the magical role of motherhood into the middle of this situation. As the divorced mother of a daughter who’s step-mother married her father and so, the two of them raised my daughter, I already understand what a difficult balancing act these situations are. I did attempt to put my daughter’s feelings and interests ahead of my own. My daughter and I have discussed how similar her childhood was to that of someone who was adopted.

Folksong by Cory Goodrich

corygoodrich.com

This is not my personal story but I do know at least one friend for whom it IS their story as well and so, I have become more interested in NPEs.

Cory Goodrich is a NPE or the recipient of a non-paternity event. This is when someone who is presumed to be an individual’s father is NOT in fact the biological father. This presumption may be on the part of the individual, the parents, or the attending midwife, physician or nurse.

“I’ve always questioned so many things about my family and my life throughout the years, and also about my own mother, who always seemed to be holding back,” Goodrich said.

“I finally decided to ask myself the questions: If a family tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to see it, do I even exist?” I do love this tree related quote !!

A promotional description paragraph sums up the book, Folksong by Cory Goodrich.

“It’s a story about the father who took her in, the father who took her away, the father who gave her away, and her 89-year-old mother, whose broken heart finally gave out while still protecting the secret to Goodrich’s identity. Sifting through the remnants of a life captured in letters and old Polaroids, Goodrich discovers a secret that sets her on a journey with life-altering consequences. In the era of Ancestry.com, DNA testing, and social media, Goodrich was able to gather together just enough pieces of a puzzle locked away for over 50 years to clearly make out the unfathomable image it depicted. Goodrich reminds that while things aren’t always what they seem, stunning fortitude and unexpected legacy can rise from the disorganized ashes of a toppled identity.”

Goodrich says, “I describe ‘Folksong’ as a memoir of love and longing, an ode to self-discovery, an emotional ballad of grief and forgiveness, and a heart-stirring look at the lengths to which a family will go to protect themselves and each other.”

Sometimes, a few breadcrumbs are all you need, as I discovered during my own family roots journey. Since my dad’s mom was unwed and she didn’t name his father on his birth certificate, I thought I’d never be able to know who my paternal grandfather was. I will admit that getting my DNA tested at Ancestry and some intriguing “hints” of some people I seemed to related to – actually were – right on target. When I finally had a last name for my paternal grandfather, the man I once contacted through Ancestry, who finally months later, wrote me – I wish I could help but none of the names you have given me seem related to me. Then, I gave him the new name – mystery solved – my grandfather was his grandmother’s brother.

Disclaimer – I have not read this book. Still I would recommend it to anyone feels they may also be a NPE.

The deception with tact, just what are you trying to say?

You’ve got a blank face, which irritates

You see dimensions in two

State your case with black or white

But when one little cross leads to

You run for cover so discreet, why don’t they

Do what they say, say what you mean

You told me something wrong, I know I listen too long but then

One thing leads to another

~ partial lyrics from The Fixx song One Thing Leads to Another

Abortion or Adoption is NOT an Equal Choice

It will be some time before the Supreme Court rules on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization but there are quite a few perspectives turning up in the news already. Both Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Justice Brett Kavanaugh have gotten a lot of attention for their questions during the oral arguments. Forgive me the long blog but I am passionate about both the issue of legal abortion and curtailing the number of babies who end up adopted. And forgive me this too but I do believe there is an element among the Evangelicals of indoctrinating children who would not have been otherwise raised in the Christian religion into their belief system. Basically, conversion of the heathen masses.

Justice Barrett was perhaps the most clueless but as an adoptive mother her perspective should not surprise. NPR had a good feature on this – Why ‘Abortion Or Adoption’ Is Not An Equal Choice – and hence my blog title. Justice Barrett said, I have a question about the safe haven laws. NPR’s Ailsa Chang comments – Safe haven laws are essentially laws that allow someone to terminate parental rights to a child by relinquishing that child for adoption. (Blogger’s note – this is not entirely my understanding but I’ll leave it stand.)

Justice Barrett continued, “In all 50 states, you can terminate parental rights by relinquishing a child, and I think the shortest period might have been 48 hours if I’m remembering the data correctly.” Chang interjects, “Justice Barrett, who adopted two of her own seven children, wanted to know, isn’t adoption an alternative to abortion?” Barrett continued, “Both Roe and Casey emphasized the burdens of parenting and the obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy. Why don’t the safe haven laws take care of that problem? It seems to me that it focuses the burden…”

Gretchen Sisson, a sociologist at the University of California at San Francisco, was also commenting on this program and said, “It’s very interesting that Justice Coney Barrett focuses specifically on the safe haven laws because this usage is extraordinarily rare. . . her broader argument about the termination of parental rights is still somewhat surprising because what we have found is that most of them do not end up choosing to place the infant for adoption.”

Another guest is “Bri” (not her actual name but used for privacy). Chang explains, Bri “had a baby and relinquished it for adoption seven years ago. It was a decision that still weighs on her to this day.” I think Bri’s perspective is accurate, “The suggestion that abortion isn’t needed because adoption is there makes it seem like this casual thing, like taking off a sweater and giving it to someone else and just forgetting about it or moving on. And that’s not what it is. It’s this huge event that you do to yourself and your child, and it changes you.” Chang adds, “For many people who don’t wish to have a child, it doesn’t come down to some binary choice between adoption or abortion. These are not equivalent options.” I agree. 

The numbers are shocking. There are around 18,000 to 20,000 private domestic adoptions per year, and these are the adoptions in which a woman makes the decision during or immediately after her pregnancy to terminate her parental rights and place that child for adoption. The number of people who choose to get an abortion is about 900,000 per year. If you look back pre Roe v. Wade, there were more illegal abortions happening than there were adoptions happening. And this is when the adoption rate was at its peak and abortions were completely illegal. There were still more abortions than there were adoptions. Adoption is a very hard decision and it has a lot of adverse outcomes. We see a lot of grief, a lot of mourning, a lot of trauma for the women who go through relinquishments. And that has not really changed even as the context of adoption practice has changed over the years. There is also data that suggests that, in some cases, it is a medically riskier to carry a pregnancy full-term and deliver that baby than to have an abortion, in early stages of pregnancy.

The bottom line is – this isn’t a choice between having an abortion or giving the baby up for adoption, but actually the choice is whether to abort, terminate the pregnancy, or whether the mother has the resources to parent. Many single women faced with an unplanned pregnancy will still chose to parent their baby IF given the support, encouragement and resources to do so. Unfortunately, the selfish elements of our system of government and overall society do not choose to do so. Adoption is often a derailment of parenting plans due to a lack of financial resources, familial support and/or partner support. And when parenting feels precarious or untenable, adoption becomes the solution that they then turn to.

Slate has an article with a similar focus – While Hearing the Case that Could Overturn Roe, Amy Coney Barrett Suggests Adoption Could Obviate the Need for Abortion Anyway. They note that 3 of the Justices, Chief Justice John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, while listening to arguments about Texas’ notorious SB 8 last month, demonstrated some hesitation about overturning Roe and further dismantling the inherent legitimacy of the highest court in the land. Also note that Chief Justice Roberts has two adopted children and Justice Clarence Thomas has an adopted child as well. Looks like the adoptive parents side of the argument is well represented !!

As part of Justice Barrett’s argument which I have already shared, she goes on to note, “There is without question an infringement on bodily autonomy, for which we have another context like vaccines. . . . so it seems to me that the choice would be between the ability to get an abortion at 23 weeks, or the state requiring the woman to go 15, 16 weeks more, and then terminate parental rights at the conclusion.” The lawyer for Jackson Women’s Health points out that adoption has existed since Roe was first decided and  that pregnancy and birth in particular have dramatic effects on a woman’s health, also that the choice to give a child up for adoption is its own burden, not something to lightly suggest is easy. I agree.

One of the main arguments the state of Mississippi is making in this case is that pregnancy, and parenthood by extension, is no longer burdensome because of many economic and social developments that make pregnancy safer and parenting easier. (And I also agree that they are wrong.) “Numerous laws enacted since Roe—addressing pregnancy discrimination, requiring leave time, assisting with childcare, and more—facilitate the ability of women to pursue both career success and a rich family life,” Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch wrote. It is shocking to hear this claim from Fitch, whose state refuses to enact laws that would grant basic protections and security to new and expectant mothers. In fact, Mississippi remains a dangerous and difficult place to bear, birth, and raise a child for lower-income parents.

The Supreme Court can only embrace Fitch’s fantastical thinking by denying the brutal reality. At every stage of pregnancy, life is difficult for Mississippians who are not wealthy. The state’s maternal mortality rate is substantially higher than the national average, and its infant mortality rate is the highest in the nation. And the racial disparities are staggering. Black mothers die at about three times the rate of white mothers. While Black infants only make up 43 percent of births, they are more than half of the premature births and nearly 60 percent of the infant deaths. Black infants also experience birth defects at four times the rate of white infants.

Be sure to click on the other link embedded (also in Slate) that takes you to an earlier article from September – Mississippi Claims Its Abortion Ban Will “Empower” Women – In reality, it could kill them by Jonathan Allen and Mark Joseph Stern.

As to Justice Kavanaugh, it appears he is opportunistic and has never been honest with the American people, especially during his confirmation hearings. Verdict has an article titled – Justice Kavanaugh’s Misdirection Plays in the Mississippi Abortion Case. Basically it comes down to his definition of “settled law” (as applied to Roe v Wade) and “precedent on precedent” (as applied to Casey). And each seems to have been intentionally misleading during his confirmation hearings.

Those statements seemed designed to reassure senators and the public that he would not vote to eliminate the abortion right. By “settled law,” Kavanaugh apparently meant only that the Supreme Court had not yet overruled Roe and Casey, leaving open the possibility that the Supreme Court could unsettle the law by doing so. As for “precedent on precedent,” the phrase perhaps sounded like a kind of extra-strength precedent, but all Kavanaugh really meant was that the Casey decision included a discussion about precedent (in addition to its discussion of abortion). It was thus a precedent about, or, if you will, on, precedent.

All the linked articles contain additional details and context. What seems clear, depending on how the Supreme Court rules, is that there may be MORE babies for hopeful prospective parents to adopt. The supply of humans for the profit of more than one entity involved in the business of adoption has been severely limited. When I was researching my dad’s adoption, which was related to The Salvation Army, they admitted to me they had to close most of their unwed mothers homes because the demand went down sharply with the legalization of abortion in the Roe v Wade decision.

Adoption Is A Loss

You Don’t Just Lose Someone Once

You lose them over and over,

sometimes many times a day.

When the loss, momentarily forgotten,

creeps up, and attacks you from behind.

Fresh waves of grief as the realisation hits home,

they are gone.

Again.

You don’t just lose someone once,

you lose them every time you open your eyes to a new dawn,

and as you awaken,

so does your memory,

so does the jolting bolt of lightning that rips into your heart,

they are gone.

Again.

Losing someone is a journey,

not a one-off.

There is no end to the loss,

there is only a learned skill on how to stay afloat,

when it washes over.

Be kind to those who are sailing this stormy sea,

they have a journey ahead of them,

and a daily shock to the system each time they realise,

they are gone,

Again.

You don’t just lose someone once,

you lose them every day,

for a lifetime.

~ Thanks to Donna Ashworth and The Family Preservation Project

It Is Wrong To Hide The Truth

A person should not have to live to the age of 19 before knowing they were adopted. A person should not go through life being they come from a culture they did not. However, that is what happened to Melissa Guida-Richards. That was the point in her life when she learned she was not Italian at all bur a Columbian mestiza or mixed race. Melissa shares her story in a Huffington Post op-ed – My Half Siblings Found Me On 23andMe. I may never have learned the identity of my own dad’s father but for 23andMe hooking me up with cousins with the same grandmother (who I lived over 6 decades knowing nothing about).

That same 2017 year that I began to learn who my parents original parents were (both of them were adopted but at least they grew up knowing they were adopted all along), Melissa did 23andMe and learned about her cultural genetic make-up (Latina with Indigenous, Eastern Asian and some African roots with less than half of her genetic makeup from Italian or even European sources). She finally knew why she felt different from her entirely European adoptive family who came into the US straight off the boat from Italy and Portugal.

Before she knew she was adopted, she had grown up hearing stories of her adoptive father tending goats in Italy and her adoptive mother washing clothes in a stream in Portugal. She was taught to have pride in those cultures … but these were not her own birth culture. She experienced a sense of frustration over the way she had been raised. This built up inside of her until she made the decision to go into therapy when she was in college. Eventually, therapy allowed her to come to terms with some of these things, yet she was still pushing some of the others aside, finding that easier than confronting them. It takes time to grow through an evolution like this.

Like many adoptees, it took having biological children genetically related to her to give her that connection to kinship that was missing all of her life. Then, very much like what happened in my circumstances, two years after having her DNA tested by 23andMe, she received this message – “Hi, this may be weird and I don’t mean to bother you but I’m your half-sibling.” In a matter of seconds, she went from having no biological ancestors, and yet now children who were related to her, to having a sibling only a few years older than her. And she shares, what many adoptees feel when they discover biological, genetic relatives – Finally, there was someone else out there like me. After years of feeling like the broken, weird, outsider in my adoptive family, there was someone else.

Her feelings at that point, echo the anger many adoptees feel as they become mature – while her initial emotion was feeling overwhelmed with joy, she soon felt the grief. She says, How was it fair that I had no idea of this? That we, two siblings, were separated and yet adopted to the same country? Why did the world think that that was okay? Why did my adoptive parents act threatened when they found out about my sibling?

As she became acquainted with her half-sibling, she felt the novelty of experiencing actual similarities with a relative. All of her life, she had very little in common with her cousins by adoption and not surprisingly, her brother who was also an adoptee. Now this all made more sense, it had taken learning she was adopted.

She also experienced her adoptive mother withdrawing, becoming very quiet. Then, she received another message that she had yet another half-sibling who had the same original mother. It turned out that both of these half-siblings had been adopted but had been raised by the same adoptive family. Her adoptive parents lying about her adoption hurt even more. What also hurt for her was that these two half-siblings had not conveyed to her the full truth from the beginning of their making contact. They had both known about her for months, had looked at her blog, and on social media. They had decided together that it would be easier to go slow with the revelations and while the first one was open to creating a relationship with her, the other older one was not.

This whole situation felt like a betrayal to her. She says, “As adoptees I would have thought they would understand how any information about my birth family was vital to me. That hiding any part of our family would hurt me . . . since they had grown up together and knew about their adoptions since they were small, it didn’t really process for them why it felt like such a betrayal to me.” Eventually, she realized what hurt. It was one sibling protecting the other because that one wasn’t ready for a relationship with her. Their bond, from growing up together, and being biologically related, was something she could never have.

She shares some truth about adoptee reunions that I have seen more than once myself – they are often not like the movies. There’s heartbreak, anger, numbness and general confusion. People often expect an instant connection with their biological relatives because they share blood, but that can take some time or often never fully develops. I have certainly found that with my own newfound relations. They have histories together that I didn’t have with them. That gap of living different lives totally unaware of one another is very hard to fill – in fact, I have come to believe it is impossible. I am grateful for whatever relationship I can develop with each but I must keep my expectations in that regard very low.

The author arrives at this realization – My biological siblings and I may have come from the same mother, but we don’t share the same experiences. Society has pressured us to immediately connect upon meeting one another, when we barely could pick the other out from a crowd of strangers. It’s okay for reunions to be imperfect and painful because not all things in life are meant to be the way the movies portray. Having a relationship with both siblings during this (pandemic) time has filled some of the holes in my heart that adoption left. I’m beyond glad to have them in my life, and only hope that one day soon the world is a little less dangerous so we can all meet in person.

She ends with “we are still family ― flaws and all.” Yes, I totally get that sentiment.