Shame

We feel shame when we violate the social norms we believe in. At such moments we feel humiliated, exposed and small and are unable to look another person straight in the eye. We want to sink into the ground and disappear. Shame makes us direct our focus inward and view our entire self in a negative light.

I came upon the powerful graphic above yesterday and felt there was more that I could personally say about it. On my Facebook profile page yesterday, I shared – I have owned up to this before. I had an abortion at the age of 23 or so – mid 1970s. I am glad it was safe and legal. I was not being reckless. I was driving an 18-wheeler with a partner. Our dispatcher didn’t get us home to where my pharmacy was in time and I ended up pregnant. Neither he nor his family were the kind of people I would be glad to have been tied to through a child today. At the time, I had breakthrough bleeding. My ex-SIL and ex-BIL had a child with serious birth defects. I just felt the pregnancy was not progressing normally. Also, to be honest – I didn’t want to commit my life to 7 more months of going it alone with no financial support. I’ve never regretted it but pro-Life propaganda has definitely haunted me. In writing this, I searched my memory for all of the reasons why I chose that course of action.

The mothers and women in my family, and to whom I am genetically related, chose other courses of action. Back in the 1930s, the mothers of both of my own parents, chose to carry their pregnancies, spent the first few precious months with their babies, and one way or another lost that first child to adoption. I wrote, and it was true, “I didn’t want to commit my life to 7 more months of going it alone with no financial support.” In some people’s minds I was simply being selfish and I will accept that judgment, though in truth I have no regrets about doing what I did and for the reasons I did it at the time.

Yet, I felt enough shame for having chosen a different path (both of my sisters carried unplanned pregnancies to term but also gave their babies up for adoption) that it was a long time before I admitted to anyone what I did earlier in life. It was my private decision which no one but the circumstances influenced. Maybe influenced in no small measure by the legality and safety of the choice at the time. Only as Roe v Wade has come under increasing opposition have I started sharing my own story of what it was like to have made that choice and my gratitude that I had it available to my own self when I felt I needed that.

The father of my own conception made it clear he would not stand by me if I chose otherwise but I don’t think that was my major motivation. In reflecting on my statement that I would have had to “go it alone” above, I also know my parents supported one of my sisters throughout the pregnancy and then, remarkable to me now that I know more about adoption in general, my own adoptee mom coerced my sister into giving up the baby she wanted to keep and then, encouraged a lie to me that the baby had died. Intuitively, I knew it had not and concocted fantastical stories about what had actually happened to the baby believing it had been stolen and taken into Mexico (my sister had delivered at a hospital in El Paso TX very near the national border). Because of this, my mom finally admitted her truth regarding the whole situation to me.

Many women bear a cross – maybe they suffer their whole lives knowing their child is out there somewhere out of their own reach. Many of these original mothers suffer a secondary infertility and never have another child. Many struggle as single mothers to keep and raise their child. Our society does nothing to help them. My sister actually sought financial support during her pregnancy but was denied it based upon our parents financial condition. It was not my parents seeking financial support but my sister and not in increase my parents financial condition either.

After I divorced the father of my first child, I had to go to work and that meant child care. When one “family style” child care that she loved at first became a tearful battle, I left work to check on her and discovered through the window of a half door, an older child bullying her and no adults in sight. I pulled her out that day. I often had to go to my mother to beg $20 to make it through to payday. She never denied me but financially it was always difficult. At the time I divorced her father, he told me he would never pay me one cent of child support because I would just party with the money. Such a horrible perception he had of my own integrity and ethics. I didn’t want to spend my life in court fighting him for it even though the judge insisted in awarding me $25/mo “in case” I changed my mind and wanted to seek an increase. I never did. Instead, I left my daughter with her paternal grandmother while I tried to build a financial nest egg for the two of us by seeing if I was capable of driving an 18 wheel truck cross-country.

I always intended to return for her and would have never given her to her father to raise but his mother did that. He remarried a woman with a child and then they had a child together. Unintended consequences of financial desperation. And now, in a sense my story has come full circle, my shame – not even listed above – is that I gave up raising my child for financial reasons. Back when she was in day care, I couldn’t hardly answer the pediatrician’s questions, because she was away from me all day. After her father and step-mother raised her, I struggled to find birthday cards for her that reflected the lack of a daily, physical relationship I had with her. There were no role models for an absentee mother back in the mid-1970s, even though the absentee father was a standard reality.

Shame. Oh yes, I am well acquainted with it. As my daughter knows, I have struggled to find peace with not having “stuck it out,” as my own mother said to me that she would have done, to do the right thing by my daughter. It is a work in process. Recently, I reflected on all the things I did right by her in the brief early years she was physically under my care. I told her, I realize that when I was mother to you, I was a good one. And the abortion ? I atoned for it, by giving up my own genetic connection to have two egg donor conceived sons (same donor both times), that my husband might be able to have the children he desired, even as we both realized I had gotten too old to conceive naturally. Even so, they are now almost 18 and 21 years old. They have proven to me that I can “mother” children 24/7 throughout their own childhoods. At least I have no shame in that. I even breastfed both until they were just over 1 year old. I also have the knowledge that I didn’t put adoption trauma onto the fetus I aborted early in that pregnancy.

It Was Divinely Orchestrated

Texas State Senator Donna Campbell

So the Texas State Senator, Donna Campbell, appeared on my radar Sunday when I received an email notification from The Adoption Files blog by Ande Stanley. She writes – “One of the biggest stumbling blocks to the unrestricted access to original birth certificates in the state of Texas has been the Texas State Senator Donna Campbell – (I add, who not coincidentally is) an adoptive mother who has voted against allowing access every year since 2015.” Texas Monthly has had Senator Donna Campbell on their Worst Legislators list.

State Senator Donna Campbell as an adoptive mother shares her story in a Houston Chronical article featuring state officials that have adopted (there is a bit of an infuriating paywall but I include the link anyway). Her voice was described as breaking when she talks about promising her youngest daughter’s birth mother that she would “take good care of the baby” and calls the adoption divinely orchestrated. Pro-Life legislator Donna Campbell says also that she actually said to the birth mother, “You had a choice nine months ago, and you chose life and you will be blessed, and I will always take care of this child.” So like a politician to do double duty with their recorded statements.

It happened when she went to the hospital nursery to give a message to another doctor, and she heard people discussing a baby. “There was conversation about, ‘This baby is so cute’ — everybody wanted to take the baby home,” Campbell recalled. “They said, ‘Do you want to take the baby home?’” She said it turned out that the mother had been headed from San Antonio to Houston to find an adoption agency and went into labor in Columbus. Campbell and her husband had been talking about adoption but hadn’t moved forward on it. The decision was made quickly, and she asked to talk to the mother to thank her for the little girl she named Anna Beth after her own mother. “It happened just like that. But you know, so many others that would like to adopt, it doesn’t come that easy,” Campbell said. “This is truly divinely orchestrated.” God meant it to be – a lot of adoptive mothers will say that.

Lori Holden wrote Donna Campbell an open letter – Let’s talk – adoptive mom to adoptive mom – on the Lavender Luz website. “I understand having fears about adoption and, by extension, fears about making changes in adoption law. Change can be scary. For decades many states have had laws on the books to protect people from the humiliation of unwed pregnancy or the shame of infertility or the stigma of being born to unmarried parents. In response, we have put up walls to hide the shame and stigma and humiliation.”

“One of those walls is the practice of closing birth records for one group of people who, due to circumstances of birth, to this day do not enjoy a civil right that all other citizens in your state do. It is time to re-evaluate the existence of this wall, as so many of your Texas bipartisan colleagues in the Senate and House were eager to do at the close of the legislative session last month.”

When you say privacy I wonder if you are confusing it with secrecy,  which takes simple privacy and wraps it in toxic fear and shame. Privacy is chosen, secrecy is often imposed. Secrecy exists because shame exists. With openness, by unsealing records and providing equal access for all, we can dissolve the shame and  vanquish the need for secrecy. Regarding the privacy issue, accurate birth records should be kept private from the public but not secret from the parties directly involved.

As you may already realize, the Internet and advances in DNA testing have enabled birth mothers and birth fathers and their now-adult children to find each others’ identities by skirting laws that were constructed in that era of shame and secrecy. Psychotherapist Karen Caffrey, who is an adult adoptee with birth family from Texas, says, “Family genetic secrets are very soon going to be a thing of the past.”

There is more in her open letter at the link I’ve supplied.

What Is Safe ?

Disclaimer – Not the twins in today’s story

I have twin girls, their biological father raped me. That’s how I became pregnant. He’s been fighting for shared custody. The courts are wondering how I would feel about my girls having supervised visitation with him once a month with a 3rd party. I am trying to put my daughters needs above my own. They do have his DNA. I’m worried that if I don’t allow visitation, I will be stripping my daughters from their blood, but at the same time I’ll be putting them at risk of abuse from a man who abused me. I’m unsure what to do, I know my gut is telling me to keep my young children away from him at all costs but reading some of the experiences of adoptees causes me not to want to cause them trauma by being kept away from their biological family member. We have court on Monday to decide what should happen. I’m trying to think on both sides but honestly my trauma (Former Foster Care Youth) is pushing me very far one way and I’m not sure what the best decision for the children is. Currently I have 100% custody and placement. This wouldn’t change. He would just have court ordered supervised visitation once a month organized by Child Protective Services.

Some comments – DNA matters yes but not like this. Trauma aside he is a sexually violent human being and should go nowhere near those girls or you ever again.

One says this – All children have a right to their story. Of course, this truth will come out much later but it should be in a therapeutic way. Given that I would say in court – “No. I want my children to always trust that I will keep them safe and away from abusive people. I cannot agree to send them into the arms of a dangerous man. I want to be healthy for my children and I would like you to stop asking me to send my children to my abuser.”

Another recommended – You do have a dilemma going forward. I’d reach out to a professional regarding the children. A therapist with experience in the area of rape/trauma/absent parent.

One speaks from experience – As a child of incest and rape I lived daily with my abusers. Your having to be around him is traumatic for you and the fact that he has that history, I do not agree with him being around minor children. I can’t even believe a court system would allow this. These children deserve to be kids. When they’re old enough to understand how they came into this world, it should be solely their choice regarding whether to pursue a relationship.

Someone else writes – Keep them away from him if at all possible. Sometimes abusive men try to obtain custody of the children as a way to further humiliate or abuse the mother. Sometimes they fight for full custody, just to dump the parental responsibilities onto the mother. It’s just a game with them and getting their rights on paper. It’s not about the mother/child bond that’s certain.

Yet another writes – Keep them away. I’m big on family preservation and father’s rights but no child should ever be around a rapist. Please protect your girls.

Yet another shares from experience – A family member of mine found out this is how they were conceived. They have connected with their siblings from their sperm donor (some do refer to a father with whom they have no connection this way), and have a good relationship. They only met the guy once. That was enough. I would say, be honest with your children – when they are older but protect them in their youth.

Someone asks – Did he serve time for your rape? if no..nothing has changed. To which the woman responds – 6 months probation.

Another suggestion – Would put your mind at ease more or help, if there was a relative you were comfortable with supervising contact (one of his siblings, grandparents on that side, a cousin)? Someone who can represent the father’s side of the family and reassure the judge that you want the girls to know their heritage but still need to protect them from him? Also, is there any risk to him moving forward from supervised visits? If so, not sure that’s a risk you would want to take. For example, if he did 5 years of supervised visits with no issues, wouldn’t he ask for more time and unsupervised? He would have a length of time and proof that he is capable of parenting and that’s not something I would want to risk. So also something to consider now.

And this one is definitely a cautionary tale – I’m a former foster care youth and adoptee. My biological father raped my first mother. She kept me from him for years, then later encouraged a relationship with him. He raped me, too. Obviously, that can’t happen with a truly supervised visitation. However, he will keep pushing for more, asking for more, and could eventually get unsupervised. This is an instance where keeping your child safe from a biological parent is *actually* a valid concern and not just a made up worry.

Another cautionary tale – I was forced to allow visits with my rapist and my son is now in a psych facility because of the trauma.

Yet another noted – He will use your daughters. As bait for his next victims, or as his victims, as a screen to convince the world that he’s a respectable guy, or as tools to destroy your sense of safety and well being. Any man who will not respect your body won’t respect any female body.

Someone else writes that they are a former foster care youth and incest survivor. Their father is a rapist. My thought is nooooooooo – keep that man away from your babies, he’s not a safe person.

An adoptee adds – No. He’s an actual verified REAL safety concern. Keep him FAR away from your babies. I know it’s hard because you want to truly do what’s best for them and not what your own personal trauma tells you to do (and that makes you second guess yourself)… But you’re doing the right thing in keeping them safe.

Maybe all of this is enough – never trust anyone who has been inclined to rape a woman.

Finding Out About One’s Self

My mom’s search for her natural mother could be explained this way – it had something to do with finding out about herself, and it had something to do with trying to explain to herself what had happened to her.  I’m certain at some deep level she just wanted to know why.

My mother believed she had been inappropriately adopted. She made a need for her medical history the excuse for her search and certainly she had some chronic health issues, including one very mysterious and unexplained issue.  It is also possible another mysterious unexplained reason was why she had been separated from her mother. Only her mother could tell her the truth about that.  It was not to be.  Her mother had already died when the state of Tennessee denied her attempt to be given her adoption records.

Fast forward almost 30 years, my mom has died but now I am able to receive those records that had been denied her.  Through reading between the lines of all the considerable amount of information the state of Tennessee released to me – my mother was not wrong.

She had been inappropriately adopted, just not in the manner she had tried to explain it all to her own self (that her supposed illiterate parents signed papers without knowing what they actually were – surrender papers – at the hospital in Virginia).  The actual truth that became abundantly clear was that my grandmother had become trapped and then exploited by Georgia Tann – the notorious baby seller.

My grandmother never had another child.  I believe she was devastated to have lost the child that might have kept her marriage to my mom’s father intact.  I believe my grandmother died of a broken heart.