Not A “New” Life

This comment came up in a discussion about how adoptive parents change the name of their adoptee when the adoption is finalized. One woman commented – “Nothing wrong with that, we started using his new name too to get him used to it. New life, new name.” She was quickly corrected – “I need you to fucking not. Adoption isn’t a “new life”, it’s a continuation of the life they are already living. This comment is insensitive at best.” This one had started new childcare job. She is a domestic infant adoptee. One child in her class is in the process of being adopted and that X is their legal name and Y is the name the adoptive parents have chosen to change it to. This child isn’t an infant, so the childcare workers are basically having to train the child to respond to a new name.

I will admit, I did a little sleuthing into the one who made the insensitive comment but could find nothing definite except that she is relatively new in the all things adoption group. There are some interesting photos but nothing certain as to her status in adoptionland but her comment seems to indicate an adoption there.

Lacking that, I looked for some context and found this recent (Oct 2022) article in The Atlantic LINK>Adoption Is Not a Fairy-Tale Ending, with the subtitle – It’s a complicated beginning. While maybe not perfectly what I was looking for, I did see how it begins – In America, popular narratives about adoption tend to focus on happy endings. Poor mothers who were predestined to give their children away for a “better life”; unwanted kids turned into chosen ones; made-for-television reunions years later. Since childhood, these story lines about the industry of infant adoptions had gradually seeped into my subconscious from movies, books, and the news.

The author, Erika Hayasaki, notes – researching a book on identical twins raised in radically different circumstances, the reality of adoption is far more complicated than some might think—and, as many adoptees and scholars have argued, deserving of a more clear-eyed appraisal across American culture. Her book, Somewhere Sisters, chronicles identical twins Isabella and Hà were born in Vietnam in 1998, and their mother struggled to care for them. Isabella (born Loan) was adopted by a wealthy, white American family that gave her a new name and raised her in the suburbs of Chicago. Hà was adopted by a biological aunt and her partner, and grew up in a rural village in Vietnam with sporadic electricity and frequent monsoons.

Twins have always fascinated me. I was born a Gemini and have always wondered what happened to my twin. When I was a child, my 13 month younger sister and I were often dressed alike and sometimes people thought we were twins. When my daughter was preschool age, she used to claim we were twins. I suppose I’ve had at least two surrogate twins in my life. I digress.

The author discovered that when reunions with birth families do happen, they aren’t always happy; they can be painful, confusing, or traumatic. Adoptees who are parents, lawyers, educators, or activists are challenging the rosy image of adoption that stubbornly persists in our culture. Children are not offered up for adoption in a vacuum. Many of them “are available because of certain, very strategic political policies.” Often the reasons for removing children from their parents comes under the heading of “neglect.” Throughout adoption history, this broad category has encompassed homelessness, poor hygiene, absent parents, and drug abuse in some instances, or simply leaving a child with caregivers outside the nuclear family.

A happily ever story after adoption often comes at the cost of forsaking everything that came before. The process, known in the adoptee community as coming out of the fog, refers to when an adoptee starts to see beyond the narrative about fate and question their true feelings about the adoption system, and how it has impacted their relationships, personalities, and identity formation. As the child of two adoptees, I also had my moment of coming out of the fog because adoption had seemed like the most natural thing to me until I was over 50, both of my parents had died and I began to discover my families true origins.

For me, coming out of the fog was, and continues to be, a process that involves simultaneously holding my adoptive grandparent’s love and good intentions in my heart’s memories alongside all the ways that adoption robbed me of what, for most people, is almost an unconsidered common reality. There are all of these contradictory realities within one’s experience of belonging to a family created by adoptions. The duality of that space can be hard for those without such a background to reasonably understand.

Michele Tafoya Pro-Choice Adoptive Mom

Michele Tafoya with son, Tyler and daughter, Olivia

Michele Tafoya was on the panel discussion for Real Time with Bill Maher last Friday night when she admitted to two details about herself. She is pro-Choice and she adopted her daughter from Columbia. She said she was grateful Olivia’s mother had not aborted her. The panel discussion on abortion was honest, diverse and varied, though remaining pro-Choice throughout.

Today, I learned that Michele and I share some things in common. We both discovered the female age factor while trying to conceive. Her husband, Mark Vandersall, is seven years younger. She says after the second miscarriage, “I remember apologizing to my husband, because I felt responsible. I’m seven years older than he is, so I felt like my age was a factor. And it was — the science will tell you. There are biological reasons for it, and it’s as simple as that.” I remember crying at my wedding site, regretting that my husband married such an old woman that when he wanted children, it was no longer possible for me.

At Michele’s suggestion, the couple pursued infertility treatment, and in vitro fertilization. Tafoya managed one good embryo during the first in vitro process. Incredibly, the embryo split and the couple was excited to be expecting identical twins. Then she lost the twins. The heartbreak was devastating for both her and her husband. So, in the spring of 2005, they began exploring donor eggs.

I have a friend in St Louis who had a similar experience as Tafoya of receiving the surprise news of a positive pregnancy after I sent her to see my own Gynecologist. I remember her having me rub her pregnant belly when I was trying to conceive our second son “for luck.” I guess it worked. Her son is right in the middle age between my two sons.

While in Hawaii on business, Michele felt overly exhausted. When she returned home to Minnesota from her trip, she took a pregnancy test. It was positive. Later that year, Tafoya and her husband welcomed a miracle, their baby boy. The pair decided they wanted to have more children and so adopted an infant girl from Colombia. This Mother’s Day her son is 16 and her daughter is 12. 

 

Folkeregister

I’ve been reading a book titled Healing the Split – Integrating Spirit Into Our Understanding of the Mentally Ill by John E Nelson MD. My youngest sister is affected by a chronic and profound mental illness, likely paranoid schizophrenia based upon her expression of this challenging condition. Therefore, I want to understand this as much as possible.

So imagine my surprise at encountering the portion I will share with you in today’s blog. When I learned the identity of my dad’s father, I discovered he was a Danish immigrant, not yet a citizen though he would become one in the 1940s and he was married (not to my dad’s mother). With that discovery, I remain forever interested in anything to do with Denmark. I am fortunate as well to now have a direct link to a cousin in this family who lives in Denmark.

The Folkeregister, is a Danish registry containing detailed birth, family history, health records and circumstances of death for virtually every person in that country. Researchers used this resource in an attempt to separate the effects of genetic endowment from the tribulations of childhood.

Therefore, the researchers started their study looking at entire generations of people with mental problems, then cross-referenced their results with dozens of traits. To isolate inherited traits from environmentally induced ones, they focused on children adopted at birth and raised by families unrelated to the natural parents. They readily determined that children adopted from families of schizophrenic parents are more likely to become schizophrenic than children adopted from non-schizophrenic parents – no matter the circumstances of their upbringing.

But when researchers compared identical and fraternal twins who were separated at birth and raised in foster homes. they found the unexpected. The concordance for schizophrenia between identical twins is less than 50%. Identical twins have exactly the same genetic structure from conception. We would expect 100% concordance – if genes are the ONLY cause of schizophrenia. Clearly, genetic influence is powerful but other forces are involved. There are indications that ongoing genetic mutations create new genetic expressions of schizophrenia.

Not all psychotic ASCs (Altered States of Consciousness) reflect genetic abnormalities or primary brain disorders. What is inherited is a predisposition for idiosyncratic thinking and for developing psychotic ASCs when under stress. If genes do predispose some people to schizophrenia, what is the final trigger that pushes the person over that edge or boundary ? We know that family and social environments profoundly affect a growing brain, which changes throughout life. So the outcome of genetic predispositions to certain ASCs might be entirely different from family to family and culture to culture.

So both good news and cautionary expectations when one has this presented in their family line.