My first awareness of the impacts of adoption on my parents was the Georgia Tann, Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal. There are a huge number of adoptees that have been impacted by what happened in Memphis.
So, the only “anger” I was aware of was related to criminal behavior in adoption practices. I thought that was what the anger was about.
As I have revealed my origins, my original four grandparents (both of my parents were adopted), I have also become involved in more generalized adoptee groups. I have begun to learn what the issues are and also about how those issues affect not only the adopted child, but the original parents as well as the people who adopt and raise these children.
It has finally coalesced for my own self to be about identity. It was a lack of identity beyond my two parents that troubled me in my middle school years. It is interesting that the issue of not knowing where one originated troubles adoptees almost universally, while many people who have no adoption impact in their own families seem to not even care about who their ancestors were.
I think it is because the adoptee KNOWS that they don’t know. While any other person not affected by adoption “knows” that if they ever became interested, someone in their family line could clue them in.
There are some descendants who I am grateful have embraced me and my need to know. Others seem dismissive or reluctant to welcome in “the stranger”. I simply have to accept that I have been given some gifts of identity that some adoptees are still struggling to obtain.
Sealed adoption records which began as early as the late 1920s have done a lot of harm to an adoptee’s ability to know where they come from. Unbelievably about half of these United States still refuse to open the records to adult adoptees. This is simply wrong. No other citizen of this country is denied knowledge of their origins.
This is an actual homework assignment. Now, imagine you were adopted. How do you answer these questions in a classroom where most of the other children were not adopted ?
One of the reforms most mentioned in the adoptee community is the importance of a child keeping the name they were given at birth. My mother, really cared about her birth name, once she learned what it was. My father discovered his birth name when his adoptive parents died and was surprised by it.
Changing a child’s name after adopting them is taking away their legitimate identity in an effort to pass them off as having come directly from you – as though you gave birth to them. In fact, adoptee’s birth certificates are changed to further the false story of their origins.
Certainly, in a more morally judgmental time, the idea was that adoptees were bastards who needed to be protected from the cruelty of being outed. Now single mothers give birth to children intentionally. Times have changed and so should how we protect and nurture a child who’s parents are just not ready to be fully supportive of them.
Every child has a right to their authentic identity and to their actual conception and origins stories. The time is now for a good reform.
Of all the unreasonable expectations people tend to put upon an adoptee, the demand that they be grateful for having been adopted is perhaps one of the most painful.
Do you realize ?
The adoptee lost their complete family in one foul swoop. They lost their mother, perhaps as soon as the day they were born. They also lost their identity, background information, heritage, genealogy, birth certificate, familiarities, equal rights, similarities, health information and a knowledge of where their inherited traits came from.
Adoption is the only trauma for which the traumatized are told by society that they should be grateful for it’s occurrence. Compassion that it happened to a person is a better expectation.
Social workers believed that to save children they had to deny them information about their past. To help them, they unintentionally hurt them.
Some social workers believed that keeping adoptees’ identities secret allowed the adoptee to make a clean break with their past. Secrecy protected adoptive parents from intrusion by birth relatives. It protected the privacy of single mothers.
In the early 1950s, social workers believed that closed adoption worked. A social worker’s effectiveness was measured by how many unmarried mothers she could persuade to surrender their children – with a goal to persuade all of them.
Social workers believed that after surrender, the mother would simply go on with her childless life as though nothing had happened.
It was believed that “normal, healthy” adoptees would have NO curiosity about their roots.
All these things that social workers once believed turned out to be not true.
“It’s not as easy as everyone thinks, growing up and never knowing the truth about yourself.” And it isn’t easy for the child of two adoptees because the feeling is the same – there is an emptiness, a void, a gap in the family history story and it hurts somehow in some deep place that is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t felt this.
Once the adoptee had her mother’s name, finding her turned out to be remarkably easy. Her mother’s first words to her daughter were: “I always thought you’d find me.” I believe this is what my maternal grandmother thought. However, for my mom and her mother, it never came to pass.
Some adoptive mothers will feel threatened by the relationship an adoptee begins to develop with their natural mother. The best outcome is for the child to be able to have a relationship with both mothers. Knowledge means no longer being troubled by unanswered questions. Feeling whole, having a past, a new peaceful tranquility with who one is.
Generally speaking, adoptees and birth mothers both have to suppress, in polite society, the feelings that are ripping them up inside. A natural mother who has relinquished her child is supposed to hide her grief and act like nothing is wrong – and especially TELL NO ONE.
The secrecy is suffocating. It is time for that to end.
I think because my parents were both adoptees and I spent most of my life with no idea of my heritage or our family’s origins, I am particularly sensitive to the need to know. Most people take what they know about such things for granted. Adoptees are grateful when they are able to gain such information, since so very often they encounter only obstacles, sealed records, hidden identities and struggle with a lack of family medical history when they have unusual health challenges.
So I have gifted my husband and both of my sons with 23 and Me kits. I want them to have a clear and honest understanding of their own origins. For me personally, it isn’t the most comfortable situation but as my own family history indicates, it is important and I understand that.
Inexpensive DNA and the matching sites of 23 and Me as well as Ancestry do out family secrets now and even 20 years ago this was not an obvious risk to keeping secret children conceived in novel ways made possible by advances in reproductive science nor does it keep secret the relationships of adoptees to their true genetic relatives.
I think it is all for the good because genetics is now proving that DNA has more influence than previously believed. A book – Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are by Robert Plomin – makes a persuasive case for the primacy of genes over environment in shaping our individual personalities. The genetic influence is great even in areas we’d hitherto assumed were almost entirely environmental.
So, you may need to reconsider those “secrets” you thought possible to keep from your children because chances are, they will know the truth for themselves eventually and if they didn’t hear it from you, they will likely feel they were deceived.
This morning I was reading, repeatedly, the sad stories of mothers who gave birth and were denied an opportunity to hold their newborn babies because they had made a decision to surrender their child for adoption. I suppose some psychologist at some time decided this was a wise course of action – though totally misguided in reality.
Then, I read a story about a woman who surrendered a daughter 17 years ago and now she has shown up as a match at Ancestry because this young woman had her DNA checked. My adoptee mom tried this too without any real results but she was so ahead of her time.
The availability of inexpensive DNA testing has been a large measure of my own success in discovering ALL 4 of my original grandparents (both of my parents were adoptees). It has played an interesting role in my own life as well. I have two children conceived with the help of a donor egg as I had passed reproductive age when my husband wanted to have children (we married with him being happy I’d been there, done that, no pressure on him).
Because of my own unique heritage, I have now given to each of my sons DNA test kits for 23 and Me. I also gave my husband one. It is a bittersweet decision because our donor has also had her DNA tested. Though my children grew in my womb and nursed at my breast and have known only my own self as their mother for decades, at 23 and Me it now shows that another woman is their mother. We are a brave new world of people but there is nothing un-natural or unusual about my children.
My donor said to me, “Who would have thought this could happen 20 years ago?” and that is the truth. Families touched by “adoption” of some sort are legion now and the tools to reconnect all the threads of our existence are within easy reach of every one of us.
I prefer reality to fantasy and live with the truths.
I chose this image because I like trees and Adoption is NOT the main focus. From a perspective of balance and fairness, as it was recently pointed out to me that I might be too negative (though I don’t necessarily believe that), I thought I might comment on the adoptions that have occurred in my own family and their outcomes – briefly.
First, my mom. Her mom did not intend to lose her. I cannot view the exploitation, trap and pressure she faced as being in any way voluntary on my grandmother’s part. My mom was pure and simple – taken away – from her. Not because of any wrongdoing on my grandmother’s part. She was a good mother doing the best that she could under difficult circumstances. My mom was adopted by a banker and his socialite wife. She had many opportunities that she may not have had in her original circumstances. She was troubled at the thought she had been stolen, as she tried to understand the circumstances of her becoming adopted and was denied her own adoption file by the state of Tennessee, until they decided to open the files later on because of the scandal my mom’s adoption had been part of.
Next, my dad. His mom was unwed but she left the Salvation Army Door of Hope in Ocean Beach California with my dad. She went to some cousins who it appears were unwilling to help her. So she applied for employment with the Salvation Army and was transferred to El Paso Texas with my dad in tow. However it happened, she was convinced to give up my dad and he was adopted by the amazing woman I knew as my Granny. She survived an abusive, alcoholic husband, divorced him, found a better man and my dad therefore ended up adopted twice and got a new name when he was already 8 years old. He fully accepted his adoption and never showed any inclination to know more of the details. Sadly, he had a half-sister living 90 miles from him when he died who could have shared so much with him about what his original mother was like.
Then, a niece. My sister did not want to surrender her child to adoption but my adoptee mom convinced her that it was for the best. It was a very secretive thing within our family. I was told that my niece had died at birth and that never felt accurate in my own heart. Eventually, the truth came out, she was able to reunite with us and has been a wonderful addition to our family that we love very much. She seems to have had a good enough childhood and has become an amazing mom to her own two children.
Then, a nephew. This is not the same sister but my youngest sister. Understandably, adoption was the most normal thing in our family and I was close to my sister during her pregnancy. She vetted hopeful couples. Chose the best she was able to do with the information she received. Her life became complicated and unfortunate. He has been loved and his adoptive mother has always supported his desire to know his origins. He is an EMT and a firefighter and an amazing and sweet young man.
Adoption has worked out well enough in my own family. The results have produced good parents (at least for 3 out of the 4, the last one hasn’t married yet). It is what it is. We have a large extended family – extra grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – as a result. I love them all.
Wendy’s Dave Thomas
I don’t eat fast food and so I wasn’t aware of the huge push for adoption that Wendy’s is a part of. It turns out that the founder, Dave Thomas, was himself an adoptee. To the extent that his foundation seeks to move children out of foster care, I suppose that is somewhat commendable.
Images of waiting children the foundation uses in it’s promotions play into the “rescue the child” attitude so prevalent in adoption marketing. There is a strong emotional pull to pick up this lonely child. Many prospective adoptive parents begin from a “missionary” mindset which is why an adoptive mindset is also prevalent among Christians. They expect the child to be forever grateful and well-behaved – after all the adoptive parents have “saved” a child from squalor.
No adoptee wants to be pitied or made to feel that they are getting a handout or are some kind of charity case. It’s demoralizing.
Adoptive parents often find that the child has complex issues they didn’t expect. They are surprised that the child is often angry or resentful. There are other complicated emotions as well – rejection, abandonment, confusion, fear, isolation . . . the list goes on.
The best advice for anyone who seeks to get involved in such a situation is always respect the child as a full person. Don’t take away their name or identity. Don’t falsify their birth certificate. If there is any opportunity for them to be reunified with their original family, do your best to support and encourage that.
My mom had her DNA tested at Ancestry because she hoped to find some of her original family. Since she had a membership, she started creating a family tree but all she could base it on were the adoptive families (both of my parents were adoptees).
Eventually, wanting to know my own heritage, I got my DNA tested. I didn’t even know at the time she had done hers. I think she was always a bit apologetic about wanting to know her origins because my dad was not supportive. He warned her she might be opening a can of worms if she learned anything.
My dad had this idea that once you are adopted, your original family ceases to exist and the adoptive family is all you should be concerned with. Sadly, he died with a half-sibling living only 90 miles away from him. She could have told him so much about his original mother.
When my mom and I compared notes about our Ancestry DNA results, she told me regarding the family tree, “I just had to quit, it wasn’t real to me.” I do understand.
I haven’t had time to get all of the work done but I did start new family trees for each of my parents and I am recording their bloodline information along with their names at birth and a recognition that they died under an assumed name given to them by their adoptive parents.
I loved my adoptive grandparents and my aunts and uncles and cousins through them. I’ve not lost anything, I gained a whole world based on truth. My family tree is an orchard, not so simple as the conventional ones are to complete.