A Product Of A Product

I read an interesting thread this morning that I thought reveals some really important perspectives and so, I share this.

Things I find odd: in the decades following discovery, none of my adoptive family asked about or acknowledged the existence of my half-siblings.

Nor did they either ask how I felt about being lied to for over thirty years; lies they participated in telling. I don’t say this to shame them. I am not even naming them here. As children, they were emotionally abused in that they were told to lie to a family member, every single day. They should not have been asked to do that. I don’t fault them for remaining silent prior to my accidental discovery of my adoption. What I find completely baffling is the continued silence.

What does that say about the nature of love, respect, compassion and connection that adoption supposedly creates? You may say; most adoptees know, so your experience is an anomaly. If so, there are thousands and thousands of anomalies running around these days. There are STILL adoptive parents posting on social media who say they haven’t told the adoptee, don’t know when or if they will. In transracial adoptions, adoptive parents can’t avoid the truth of adoption, but many make a practice of dodging questions, fabricating stories, joking about the adoptee’s pain. And I add, knowing a good number in the donor conception contingent of family creating, there were many who did not ever intend to tell their children. Of course, that was in the days before inexpensive DNA testing. Oops.

I guess odd is not a strong enough word. Cruel, maybe?

There were 4 children in my family; two of those were adopted. First a biological, genetic daughter, then the adoptee girl – me – and an adoptee boy, then a biological, genetic son. My adoptee brother died when I was 13. He was 12. The oldest daughter always knew. The youngest son learnt in high school. Yep; both of those were told to lie. Apparently it was important for them to tell other friends and acquaintances that I was not their “real” sister. I, however, was never told.

What a way to set family relationships up to fail. The refusal to engage with me now “post-discovery” reveals how deep that failure goes and it does increase the pain that I felt as an adoptee to an almost unendurable level.

In their defense, I don’t think they ever learned, nor knew how to learn, how to engage emotionally in a healthy way, not just with me but with others. Some of this was the result of being raised by adult children of alcoholics and a great deal of death and dysfunction occurred in the course of our upbringing. How much of that dysfunction can be attributed to being taught to lie ? It could not have helped the circumstances.

This brings on additional sharings of a similar nature.

Thanks to a friend recognizing my now ex husband was a functional alcoholic, I got into Al-Anon. I was also fortunate to find a couple adoptee support groups at that same time and found that there is a lot of overlap!! Dysfunction doesn’t discriminate. The ex was the son of a violent alcoholic. I dated men who had drug or alcohol issues. My adoptive parents were the youngest in their pre-Depression era families and we’re definitely not what we would refer to as “healthy” today. Add adoption to the mix…

My adoptive mom’s dad was a violent alcoholic. My adoptive dad’s dad was more of a gentle alcoholic, I think. They came out of hard times. Add the pressures of infertility during a time when women’s primary role was parenthood ? So much pain and suffering.

You are right about silence being cruel. Speaking as a first mom… losing my baby to adoption at 17 years old … I was told I would go on with my life, as if nothing had happened. My family never spoke to me about it. It’s traumatizing and cruel to pretend it never happened. I’m sorry that any of us are here having this discussion but we must talk about it, if we are to heal. I was in the adoptee fog for 43 years… & now 12+ years in reunion… I won’t be silenced any longer.

And by sharing such personal thoughts about personal situations, maybe some who encounter people living with such pain will be a little kinder. Until you walk a mile in my shoes . . . seems to fit. Always give the benefit of the doubt and consider the kindest possible explanation for whatever seems “off” is also good advice.

Hard Times Don’t Come Around No More

Both of my parents were Great Depression babies – born 1935 and 1937. For that fact alone, it isn’t a wonder they both ended up adopted, though the reasons are much more complicated than that. But certainly, financial hardship in the lives of my two original grandmothers is the key factor.

So this is on my mind this morning after watching Angela’s Ashes on dvd last night and being reminded of the song – Hard Times Don’t Come Around No More written by Stephen Foster and published in 1854. Some of the lyrics – While we all sup sorrow with the poor, Many a days you have lingered around my cabin door, There are frail forms fainting at the door, Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say, There’s a pale weeping maiden who toils her life away, With a worn heart whose better days are o’er: Though her voice would be merry, ’tis sighing all the day, Oh! Hard times come again no more.

So what was it like in the 1930s ?, was a question on my mind this morning. The Great Depression was the worst economic downturn in modern history at the time it occurred. It profoundly affected the daily life of American families in ways large and small. The bleakest point was about 1933 or 34.

The life of a child in the 1930s was very different than a child’s life today. With the Great Depression, children and their families were greatly impacted—millions lived in poverty and had very little to eat, let alone money to spare for entertainment. Times were tough everywhere, and an additional mouth to feed was a burden. Certainly, I believe that both of my grandmothers encountered this mind set when they were seeking aid with their newborn babies.

Food was scarce for a lot of families and many children suffered from malnutrition. As we were watching children die in Angela’s Ashes my husband said, it is the lack of nutrition that makes it impossible for them to fight off diseases.

My maternal grandmother’s childhood family did live on a farm that was not ravaged by the Dust Bowl being west of Memphis in the rural countryside. They probably did grow a variety of crops and raised small amounts of livestock to survive. During the Depression, casseroles and meals like creamed chipped beef on toast, chili, macaroni and cheese, and creamed chicken on biscuits were popular. Jello was actually considered a cheap protein source (had to believe it would be viewed as that – one serving only has 1.6 grams of protein and the equivalent of 4-1/2 tsp of sugar !!) But Jello still found its way into many cookbooks during the Depression. Potlucks were often organized by churches to share food and provide a cheap form of social entertainment. The board games Scrabble and Monopoly were introduced during the 1930s. Both of which my own family has played recently.

Economic struggle caused mothers to leave the home for work and children to leave school for work as a breakdown in child labor law enforcement occurred. My paternal grandmother was put to work in the Rayon mills in Asheville NC to help support her family. A quarter of the US workforce was unemployed. Those that were lucky enough to have steady employment often saw their wages cut or their hours reduced to part-time. With record unemployment, children competed for jobs with their elders to help contribute to their family’s income, often forgoing further schooling. Many children were technically self-employed, collecting junk to sell or doing odd jobs for neighbors.

The stress of financial strain took a psychological toll—especially on men who were suddenly unable to provide for their families. The national suicide rate rose to an all-time high in 1933. Marriages became strained, though many couples could not afford to separate. Some men deserted their families out of embarrassment or frustration: This was sometimes called a “poor man’s divorce.” So, was this what my paternal grandfather chose when faced with yet another child on the way ? Is this why he failed to show up for my grandmother and mom when they returned to Memphis after her birth in Virginia (where she was sent away to avoid embarrassment for her father, even though she really was a married woman).

Disadvantaged families couldn’t afford much for their children, so most of their clothes were cast offs and children often went barefoot. Most middle-income boys wore t-shirts with overalls and girls wore blouses and plain dresses. Both would have one pair of shoes and an outfit for special occasions. The Depression-era motto was: “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.” I definitely saw these effects in the lives of my in-laws (both born in 1921) and on my dad’s adoptive parents.

Reunion Can Be A Wonderful, Wonderful Thing

It has become very common these days for adoptees to search for their original families and more often than not they are surprisingly successful. One note about today’s story – the word “reserve” refers to Canadian aboriginal reserves. It is a system of reserves that serve as physical and spiritual homelands for many of the First Nations (Indian) peoples of Canada. In 2011 some 360,600 people lived on reserves in Canada, of which 324,780 claimed some form of aboriginal identity.

Today’s story – I Found Her

For years I’ve wondered who my birth mother was, I would day dream about the indigenous life I would live if I was with my birth mom. I would be a different me. I was just a baby when they took us from her, both me and my brother. I was only 18 months when I was adopted and my brother was 4.

Today I was doing some research about my old last name and I found someone on LinkedIn that had my reserve in their bio and had the same last name. I emailed them, and found their Facebook page. They added me as a friend and promised to help me find out who my birth mother was. This person turned out to be my cousin. I took my original last name and filtered the friend’s list for girls with my original last name. I sent out a default message to all of them stating who I was and what I wanted to accomplish. “Please help me find my birth mom.”

Most agreed to help me. I had a sense that I was getting close. Then, I got a message from this lady who I knew was the right age, lived in the right reserve, had the right look. There was just a feeling about her that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. She messaged me – “I know who your mom is. Call me.” And gave me her number. I called and she said, “I’m your mom.”

I couldn’t believe it and I started to cry with her. She told about how she was going through a hard time and couldn’t parent me and my brother. I also found out I have other siblings who I am trying to get in contact with. I’ve talked to my aunt who raised two of my siblings. My aunt got a call from my cousin telling her who I was and after that I got a call from my aunt. She told me she could have kept me and she felt guilty for sending me into foster care, instead of raising me with my other siblings. Of course, I’m hurt.

I won’t give away this chance to recover my wholeness. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. My mom has invited me to her house for coffee tomorrow. I’m feeling so weird about it. I am also meeting my aunt and cousins. This is unbelievable, the family I never had is coming back to me. I hunted for a long time and never got anywhere with the adoption agency, or the reserve itself. No one could tell me who I was until my biological mom said it herself. I’m still in shock.

It’s so much for my 22 year old brain to comprehend, that this is really happening. I can’t believe my messages got to the right people, and now I’m getting messages from my cousins that they are excited to meet me. I want this first meeting to go ok. My heart is beating so fast, it’s like something I can’t even comprehend. I found her !! I will always know who my birth mother is now. She can’t hurt me, because she can’t hold secret from me the information about who my original family is anymore. I think she was shocked that I messaged her.

Coincidentally, just yesterday I got this notification from an adoptee, Ashley Billings, who I follow – “What If I’m Never Found”. She ends with these thoughts – “We all want a fairy tale ending like we see in movies. Reality is that my story could be the farthest thing from a happy ending. I have always pictured big dramatic meetings for my birth parents in my head when I truly have no idea what the situation could be. I know all I can do is pray and trust that God has a plan for my adoption story.”