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.

How To Open Communication

Life happens and then you scramble to make the best of the situation. Today’s story.

We were foster parents advocating for reunification with each placement. Knowing what we know now, we would find other ways to support family reunification. With our last placement, relatives were contacted weekly for months according to the social worker, but did not want to take placement of the child nor have any communication with us. Then, mom tragically passed away while fighting hard to regain custody of her child. We were told that if we didn’t want to pursue adoption, the child would be placed in additional foster homes until a permanent placement was found. We loved him so much and ultimately decided to adopt as we couldn’t imagine him bouncing from home to home until he found permanency. We know he clearly has living relatives including a half-sibling who he has never met at the aunt and uncle’s choosing. This half-sibling lives with them. We know our son would value these irreplaceable connections with family, but we as adoptive parents don’t know if it is our place to initiate them – especially since the aunt and uncle don’t seem to be interested in contact at this point. The social worker did provide us with their phone number and our contact information was given to them months ago. Do we reach out? Give the aunt and uncle space to come to us? Wait until our son is older and let him decide? Adoptees, what would you have wanted adoptive parents to do?

The first response came from an adoptee – Call them. Talk with them, verify the information you’ve been told, set up times to talk or see each other. Keep trying, even if they aren’t responsive. This child has already lost so much, he needs his family connections honored.

Some further information on this situation – we had been told by a third party not to contact them as they were very hurt by the situation with his mom and that they were not ready to have a relationship or contact. However, I have never personally spoken to the family, and agree that the foster care agency could have said one thing when the family actually said another. I would love for nothing more than my for my son to have these family connections and family mirrors. My biggest fear is that I don’t want to cause more pain or sever the relationship further if they indeed were not ready and I seem disrespectful for not following their wishes. I know they are on social media Maybe being honest and saying all that might be the best approach when initiating contact?

Another adoptee responds to this with – A third party told my biological dad’s family the same thing (biological dad died when I was a baby). They stayed away based on the fact that they knew they had no power and the information said third party had given them. My adoptive parents never reached out to them because the same third party had told them that my biological family didn’t care about me. I didn’t have them as family as a child (and honestly I STILL don’t have a real family relationship with them) as a result. Suffice to say, it has literally ruined that part of my life.

An adoptive parent shares – I had a very similar situation with my son. Child Protective Services case worker told me they contacted his siblings adoptive parent twice and that they wanted no contact. After my son’s adoption finalized, I just decided I had to reach out anyway – the adoptive parent on the other end started to cry when I told her who I am. She said she is so glad I found her number, and that all Child Protective Services had asked was whether they would be a placement resource! She had never told Child Protective Services that they didn’t want contact. The result? These two brothers have a close relationship and see each other several times a month, sometimes multiple times a week. Definitely call.

Bottom line – Until you hear it with your own ears (or see it with your eyes, etc), I would not trust what the system says someone else says.

The Grandfathers I Never Knew

My mom’s father with her half-sisters

And I never will know my grandfathers, or my grandmothers either, because they have all died. But I’ve seen photos and heard some stories which is more than I had for over 60 years of my life.

My mom wasn’t much inclined towards this man and showed no interest in these half-siblings. She only yearned for her mother who was already dead when she pushed the state of Tennessee to give her details as an adoptee (which they still denied her). I think my mom had a pre-birth and infant sense that her own mother felt abandoned by this man with good reason. The true reasons for their separation and why he didn’t come to her aid in Memphis, I’ll never know. I have this picture thanks to my cousin, the daughter of the younger girl in this photo.

An article in Severance magazine where the aftermath of separation is often detailed by those who have experienced it is shared caught my attention for it’s headline – The Grandfather I May Never Know. I still need to actually read it (and will before I finish this blog) but I would suspect from the headline, it is still possible for the author.

In her article, Bianca Butler writes – “As a young child, I didn’t know that my mother and her twin sister (now deceased) had been adopted in 1960. I found out in 2000, when, after nearly 40 years of silence, their biological mother wrote to the twins asking to reunite.”

She describes one outcome of their reunion – “By meeting her biological mother, my mother learned her biological father’s identity and that she and her twin are of mixed-race ancestry: African American and white. Their biological mother had been a young African American college student at the University of California, Berkeley when she relinquished her twin daughters for adoption. They were born in a time in the United States when interracial unions were not only taboo but also illegal (Loving V Virginia) and when young unwed women were shamed and stigmatized—a time known as the Baby Scoop Era, from 1945 to 1973, before Roe V Wade in 1973.”

Since the suspected father of the twins denied paternity, the author decided to get her DNA tested. She goes on to share that “The Ancestry DNA test confirmed that I’m 31% Norwegian and, through the DNA matches, that I’m related to his cousins. I sent him the DNA results, but he’s still in denial and, sadly, not open to a relationship.” She admits that – “Finding biological family and taking a DNA test can bring great joy and excitement, but it can also bring rejection and disappointment. . . . It can be very emotional opening up old generational wounds that still haven’t been healed. . . . some people don’t want to be found, especially when race and adoption are factors, and I’ve had to accept that reality. “

She adds a happier note – “On a positive note, through Ancestry DNA I was amazed to connect with a cousin on my mom’s paternal side who is close to my age and open to connecting. She moved to Sacramento from Minnesota last year for graduate school, and we plan to meet. From her own ancestry research, she was able to give me more information about our shared heritage and ancestral homeland in Fresvik, Norway, which, in addition to Oslo, I hope to visit.”

This happened for me as well (thanks to DNA testing). I have contact with a cousin in Denmark now. I have learned details about my paternal grandfather’s early life. I would love to travel to Denmark and visit the family there (who never knew my grandfather ever had any children, and he probably never knew either as he was a married man and my grandmother simply handled it quietly).

I do share this perspective with the article’s author – “As an adult, I’m doing the healing work to educate myself on intergenerational trauma, loss, and abandonment that happen through adoption.”

Vagabond, I think the man with the pipe in his mouth is my paternal grandfather.

Without My Brother

When I first saw this image, I thought of my Aunt Daisy. I don’t think she knew about my dad until after her mother had died. Her older sister did. My cousin, who is the daughter of that older sister is how I came by pictures of my grandmother holding my dad and one of him when he was a toddler.

When my Aunt Daisy’s daughter discovered me thanks to 23 and Me, her first question was – is your dad still alive ? Sadly I had to tell her no. In fact my Aunt Daisy was living only 90 miles away from my dad in the very same state at the time he died. Such a pity. I see him in her photos.

I am told my paternal grandmother never really got over “losing” my dad to adoption. It certainly wasn’t her intention to give him up. His father was a married man, still un-naturalized as a citizen at the time my dad was conceived, having immigrated from Denmark. I would guess my grandmother never told him – IF she even was still in contact with him at the time. But without a doubt, she did know who his father was and it is thanks to her own effort to leave us breadcrumbs that I know who my dad’s father was. She quietly handled her pregnancy through the Salvation Army home for unwed mothers at Ocean Beach CA. It was such an appropriate birth. My dad, a Pisces, the son of a Danish fisherman, who himself was in love with fishing and the ocean. Their resemblance to one another makes it unmistakable and lately, my reconnecting with Danish relatives still living in Denmark due to our shared genes is the proof, that didn’t exist back in the day. She obtained employment with the Salvation Army and migrated with my dad in tow to El Paso Texas, where she was pressured to give him up for adoption at 8 months old.

My slightly increased risk of breast cancer probably comes from my paternal grandmother. The day she was due to be released from the hospital after surgery for breast cancer, she suffered a fatal heart attack. I have a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew which I suspect comes from my paternal side – if not my grandmother, then my Danish grandfather.

It still amazes me that after over 60 years totally clueless in the dark, I know so much about my family origins. Never would I have predicted that such a possibility would actually become real.

Are Mothers Ever Strangers ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baby God and DNA

DNA testing has helped a lot of adoptees finally know the truth about their origins. Today, a review of a documentary titled Baby God caught my attention.

Cathy Holm was newly married at age 22, settling into a new home in Las Vegas, Nevada, and struggling to start a family. It was the early 1960s, and infertility was a largely taboo topic; devoid of options, she looked up a doctor listed as a “fertility specialist” in the phonebook. Dr Quincy Fortier, a respected obstetrician who opened Las Vega’s first women’s hospital, had a record of helping couples achieve a viable pregnancy, and promised to inseminate Holm with a sample of her husband’s sperm.

Decades later, in March 2018, Holm’s daughter, Wendi Babst, bought an ancestry kit to celebrate her retirement as a detective in the Clackamas county, Oregon, sheriff’s office. Like many Americans, Babst was hoping to glean a comprehensive picture of her genealogy, but she was unnerved by her DNA test results: numerous close matches, despite no known first cousins or half-siblings, and the repetition of a name she hadn’t heard of, Fortier.

The database unmasked, with detached clarity, a dark secret hidden in plain sight for decades: the physician once named Nevada’s doctor of the year, who died in 2006 at age 94, had impregnated numerous patients with his own sperm, unbeknownst to the women or their families. The decades-long fertility fraud scheme, unspooled in the HBO documentary Baby God, left a swath of families – 26 children as of this writing, spanning 40 years of the doctor’s treatments – shocked at long-obscured medical betrayal, unmoored from assumptions of family history and stumbling over the most essential questions of identity. Who are you, when half your DNA is not what you thought?

What was once the work of combing through records – birth certificates, death certificates, hospital archives – DNA testing sometimes becomes an inadvertent Pandora’s box of secrets. It even happened in my own family. A father named on the birth certificate turned out to be a lie as my youngest sister hid the awkward reality of how and by whom she became impregnated. It took ancestry that didn’t add up with the lie and private investigation and DNA testing to prove who the real father was. In my own marital relationship, we used assisted reproduction to have our sons. Thank goodness, DNA testing through 23 and Me has proven that their dad is the dad we thought they have.

Before inexpensive DNA made it possible to uncover one’s relations, there was a phenomenon of fertility fraud performed by at least two dozen American doctors. Though Dr Quincy Fortier never lost his medical license (he died in 2006), he did acknowledge his paternity of four children who were part of a quietly settled lawsuit in his will, and left open the possibility that more biological children would later be revealed.

A cavalier, brash attitudes toward sex and reproduction seems to have been one manifestation of widespread attitudes toward female fertility: a “doctor knows best” attitude, belief that women don’t need to know, the end justifies the means, all coupled with the lack of frozen sperm (which didn’t become common practice until the 1980s). Looking for answers from the legal system for this kind of fertility fraud is kind of misguided because it’s always been illegal. It’s battery, it’s malpractice, bottom line – you can’t put something in someone’s body without their consent.

The documentary Baby God premieres on HBO tonight (December 2nd).

Complicated Family Dynamics

In a family mix of biological and adopted siblings, how does an adoptee answer the question – how many brothers and sisters do you have?

Do you say only the number of siblings who you grew up with in the same home? What if some were adopted into different families, but you had contact with them?

What if there are some bio siblings that you never met, but you know they’re out there? Does it matter if some are “half” siblings or step-siblings?

Does your answer vary depending on who you’re talking to?

One interesting response to these questions was – I only have bios, 2 half on each side. Typically I just say I have 4 siblings but it can depend on the situation and who I am talking to. Sometimes (if I’m up for getting into the story) I’ll say I’m an only child but I have 4 siblings.

An adult adoptee answered – it depends on the situation. I grew up with one brother, also adopted, but so far have found out that I am one of 11 children, including all my half siblings…though there could be more I don’t know about yet. I mostly answer I grew up the youngest of 2 as it saves me getting further questions.

Another person answered – I have 8 siblings. No further explanation needed unless additional questions are asked. Then it’s just my truth. I always share that way. It is the truth of my story and feels amazing to be able to tell it. I have 8 siblings, 3 I grew up with in my adopted family, 3 I met 4 years ago and 2 I never met yet.

And then there is this – Even as an adult I don’t know what to say. It really depends who I’m talking to. It used to be easy when I only had one brother, also adopted, who I grew up with. In addition to him, I’ve found I also have a full sister, full brother, half brother, and two half sisters, kind of. To complicate things more my oldest sibling is only a half sister because she did a DNA test and discovered that my birth dad, who raised her and was married to her mom, isn’t her biological father. We also think my birth dad got someone else pregnant before meeting my birth mom, so there is likely to be another sibling out there.

There are many more but just to give you an idea of the complicated family dynamics that adoptees must navigate. In my mom’s case, she had one brother who was also adopted.  After she died, I discovered that she was her mother’s only child but the 6th child her father procreated.  My dad likewise had only one brother who was also adopted but had 3 half-siblings through his original mother but was the only child of his father.  My daughter grew up in a yours, mine and ours family with her dad and step-mother but she also has two non-genetically related younger brothers due to my second marriage.

The Self Missing A Part

I keep this image of my dad with his adoptive parents within sight of my computer.

This is how my dad was – my adopted mother is my mother, the other one simply doesn’t exist.

He never realized that a whole part of himself was missing.

One of my dad’s half-siblings lived only 90 miles away from him in the same state at the time he died, totally unaware that someone who could have shared with him what his original mother was like was close at hand.

Does the father even know ?  This was a question my step-cousin asked of me when I finally nailed down who my dad’s father was (his mother was unwed and his father a married man).  I don’t believe my dad’s Danish immigrant father did, because by the time she knew she was pregnant, she probably also knew he was married.

My Granny was a force in my life.  I believe she intervened so that my parents married when my high school age mom discovered she was pregnant.  She also intervened when I was in a dangerous romantic relationship, opening the way for me to meet the man I’ve been married to for over 30 years now.