It’s Not Easy Being Adopted

“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.

Secrets

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.

The Blessings Of DNA

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.

Adoptions I Have Known

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.

It’s NOT A Rescue Mission

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.

It Wasn’t Real To Me

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.

Making Lemonade

So the worst has already happened and circumstances, situations, etc have separated a mother and her child.  Now what ?

Family reunification recognizes a shared genetic connection and shared family history.

Though I spent over 60 years in total ignorance of my family’s true origins and heritage, learning about it now has made all of the difference in my sense of wholeness.

It may be that some children will be better supported by “substitute” parents than their original parents are able to accomplish.  I will not deny that.  But for, I would not even exist.  That is a fact I can’t get around and so even though I’ve become very informed about the effects and impacts of adoption on any adoptee, I still know that it is the reality within my family and the outcomes have thankfully been good for each of those children who ended up with adoptive parents.

I now have aunts and cousins who share that genetic connection with me.  While I can’t ever know the family history first hand, these have been able to share with me details of family characteristics over time.  It is better than having nothing.

Forbidden Words

One can be human and do really bad/evil things.  This is a sad truth of reality and society.  There is a sickness in men, sadly.  It is as old as humankind and it takes what it wants whether the object of its passion is willing or not.  We give that behavior names, rape, incest.

It becomes complicated when that bad behavior results in the conception of a child.  In abortion language there is often an exception for this situation that allows a women to take away the physical memory embodied as a fetus and go on with her life.  Of course, she will never forget regardless.

Some of these “results” end up being adopted.  Some adoptees have such an unfortunate experience that they wish they had been aborted but not all adoptees feel that way.  In fact, there is no one size fits all when it comes to adoption experiences.

Perpetrators are real people with real problems who do something that healthy people cannot justify. They may have stressors in their life. These may cause them to act out in inappropriate and inexcusable ways. Pretending that men who commit rape are born broken and inhuman takes away the responsibility they should still bear for their actions.

Anyone conceived in rape or incest must embrace their own inherent self-worth and insist upon their human rights.  Know this – what any ancestor did whenever they did that whether it is directly related to a subsequent person or not – this is not who we are individually.

At one time, such an event would have labeled the result a bad seed with flawed genes.  While it is true, we inherit much from our genetic foundation, we also have the free will to make of our own selves what we will.

The #MeToo movement is an effort to bring sexual violence out into the light of awareness so that we can begin to understand how such things happen and why such behavior is wrong and how all of us can do better.

This is not a blog for or against abortion.  It is a plea to give all people, including adoptees regardless of their origin story, human rights – dignity, heritage, truth.

Always A Child

My Mom After Adoption

Children grow up into adults.  That is their only real occupation through almost 20 years of life.  Some children have to grow up early.  My mom gave birth to me at the age of 16.  I married at the age of 18 and had my first child at 19.

When I look at my 18 year old son, I can’t imagine him married with a child.  He is intelligent and has an abundance of common sense but as his mother, he is still a bit of a child to me, though the maturing is obviously taking hold and he spends much of his daily waking life doing men’s work with his dad on our farm.

There is a subset of humanity that is never allowed to grow up – adoptees.  Certainly, they pile on the years and mature, just like any other human being but society and governmental agencies treat them as though they were still a child.

Why do I say this ?  Because they are denied rights that any other citizen takes for granted.  When their adoption is decreed by a court of law, their identity is stolen away from them.  Often, their name is changed and their original birth certificate is amended to make it appear that their adoptive parents actually gave birth to them.  Sometimes, even the place where they were born is changed.

Then, when they become an adult at 18 or 21 years of age and because they know they were adopted (or for some who were never told the truth and take a DNA test and receive the unpleasant and sudden surprise that they do not derive their origins from the people they believed were the source), when they attempt to learn the truth of their identity, origins and heritage – they are denied the very normal and simple human right of knowing who they really are.

It is time for the LIES to end and for ALL states in this country (United States of America) to open their files to the adults who were once a child that was adopted by strangers to raise as their own.

Human Dignity

It has been amazing for me to learn how adoptees are treated as somehow LESS THAN other citizens in this country.

It isn’t a wonder to me that adult adoptees simply want self-determination and autonomy.  They yearn for a respectful and inclusive definition of family – where their inclusively defined (original and adoptive) family is seen as a strength rather than
a weakness.  It isn’t too much to ask that they be allowed transparency and truth.

Policies related to adopted person should be based on evidence and best practices that are healthy for adult adoptees and respectful of their human rights. They wish to be treated with dignity and as having human worth.

How is it that adoptees never have a say within the adoption system ?  That they are not considered the “owners” of their own birth experience.

A child’s human rights include –
the preservation of their biological family whenever possible, information related to their heritage and identifying family information that will provide accurate medical health histories.

At a minimum, there should be unrestricted adult adoptee access to their own original birth certificates.

It is mystifying to me that there is such a lack of support for an adoptee to make sense of their personal diversity.  I believe that is because in a predominantly non-adopted society, people simply don’t understand how it feels, how vexing this hidden and/or false identity is for a mature person.

My mom was offered the most minimal non-identifying information from her adoption file, often referred to as the “censored records”.  It was of no practical use to her and why is it that the powers that be do not honor a citizen’s right to information that is personally their own ?

Just recently the state of New York finally decided to do what is just and fair by adult adoptees.  Too many states continue to hide behind bureaucratic policies that I judge to be no more than bureaucratic laziness.