It Really Was That Bad

Today’s story –

I was adopted from foster care when I was 12. I was adopted into the same home as one of my biological sisters. Being adopted was the only way I could stay with my younger sister, so I consented. I knew my first family, as I lived with them to the age of ten. Having to leave them, especially my siblings, destroyed me.

Nearly as bad was the family I ended up with. My adoptive mom berated me constantly, and could be very cruel. I was told that my sister and I weren’t wanted, and that’s why my mother kept her other (three younger) kids but gave us up. That we were lucky that she chose us. The day of the adoption she told me that my life now was between her and Jesus.

I have a good relationship with my biological mom and stepdad, and their kids. I love them, and they love me back with a kind of enthusiasm that I never experienced in my adoptive home. Awhile back, my adoptive mom sent me a message, trying to apologize. It was painful, but it made me know for sure that things were as bad as I thought they were.

From the adoptive mom –

A couple of years ago we sat in the livingroom and I made an attempt at making an amends with you. I thought if I had stopped drinking and stayed sober, then the past was the past.

At the beginning, when you moved into our home, I made a feeble attempt at reaching out to you. You cringed and would not trust me, would not call me mom. You already had a mom and I had not even showed I was a safe person. I couldn’t and didn’t listen to your silent pain.

I know I verbally and emotionally abused you. You went to therapy but it didn’t work and I was glad because I did not want my neglect to be exposed. I knew I was guilty for causing the demons that haunted you.

At the height of your anorexia, you were hospitalized and yet I was jealous of you. I know I was insane. It was my own mental illness more than the alcoholism.

I just wanted to tell you that I am so ashamed of not giving you the childhood you deserved. It was my loss, I never really got to know you. I take none of the credit for your strength.

Genetic Mirroring

People often see what they expect to see. It is natural to expect to see some resemblance among family members. I remember comments flowing from my adoptive maternal grandmother to the staff of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society about how much alike the two children, one boy and one girl, she adopted from them looked like “real” brothers and sisters, ie had a family resemblance.

Today, someone in my all things adoption group wrote –

A frequent occurrence throughout my childhood was that someone would stop and tell my to my adoptive mother how much I look like her. Now, I’ve seen pictures of moms and daughters, who look like each other. But me?? I don’t look much like my mother, aside from dark hair and pale skin and glasses. I can’t see my features in anyone, or in my mind’s eye even. I may have connected with a biological uncle and I’m looking through his friend’s pictures and I can’t see me anywhere. I don’t know what I look like well enough to try to compare. I’m about to take a selfie to try to help myself out. I usually think about genetic mirroring more in the context of TransRacial Adoptees (which I am not), so this is really messing with me.

One response, totally mystified, writes – Why did this happen to me too??? My mom is white and I’m native with dark skin and dark hair.. she is white with light skin and blue eyes, like why did people say that….

I have seen this said of husbands and wives, who obviously are not genetically related, that they grow to be more alike in appearance the longer they are married. So one comment noted – Children will take on the facial expressions of their caretakers, which can make them appear more like adoptive parents than they would otherwise. I believe that this is possible. Genetically, often mannerisms and personality traits are more similar among biological family members.

So, I do agree with this person’s perspective and experience – People will see things, if they think they have to. I remember my adoptive father telling someone I was his son, when they asked who I was. I couldn’t be more different than him and this guy squinted his eyes and looked at me for a while before saying, yeah I see the resemblance.

I do look like my brother who is a biological child of my adoptive dad and stepmom. I’m the adoptee. We are 17 years apart. I helped raise him and he also mimics me a lot. I’ve heard everything from jokes that my adoptive dad had an affair and adopted me so my adoptive mom wouldn’t suspect, people laughing their asses off when they say we look alike and I reply I’m adopted, then finding out – it’s true – and of course, that’s awkward… or adoptive mom getting jealous and trying to find traits to pretend we look alike and “it’s just the same”. To me it is messed up because they fail to acknowledge my difference. They’re trying to fit the square peg into the round hole with all they have, instead of celebrating my differences.

Celebrating our individuality and differences. Isn’t that what we all should always be trying to do ?

My Unorthodox Life

This program is being discussed in my all things adoption group this morning. It is said that “The whole storyline was so upsetting. The adoptive family is awful.” And also this, “One of the characters is looking for his “birth person” and is scared to hurt his adoptive mom by calling her his birth mother. Adoptive mom says stuff like “I thought I’d be dead when you start looking” or “Can’t you ask your private investigator to ask questions to her rather than make contact?”. So much insecurity, jealousy and emotional blackmail.

One adoptee notes – My adoptive mom did the exact same thing . As if it’s about HER “trauma“ (which honestly is self inflicted).

And there is this about the show – The adoptive mom also got pregnant shortly after adopting, and begs him to not change his name, even though she falsified his birth certificate! She’s like “I want you to stay happy,” when he is obviously depressed, tormented, hasn’t dated anyone in years, etc. The biological son (his brother by adoption) is calling him an idiot for doing it because “we have the best parents in the world” and “you’re the one who started this problem.” Then hangs up the phone on him. They are doing all they can to sabotage any reunion. His poor birth mom. He doesn’t even pick up on the fact she wanted to keep him.

I haven’t see this one but last night we suffered through A Serious Man – written, produced, edited and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. All we could figure out by the end of the movie was that it was the Coen’s revenge on their Jewish upbringing. I kept thinking – if I was Jewish, it might make sense. There is no adoption thread in that movie.

In my mom’s group, there are more than the usual number of Jewish people. So, I have been exposed to some of their experience. The one that stands out large for me is the mom who had famously large breasts and then developed breast cancer. She had boy/girl twins the same age as my youngest son. Though she had a great attitude going into the experience, she died rather quickly. I was somewhat impressed by the way her Jewish community was there for the whole family throughout that ordeal.

My paternal grandmother died of a heart attack the day she was to be released from the hospital following breast cancer surgery. She was originally from Long Island NY and my understanding is that there are a lot of Jewish people there. I have a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew. I suspect I may have gotten that from her. Another mom in my mom’s group lives in the town on Long Island with the same name as the surname of my paternal grandmother – Hempstead. The family goes way back with historically significant sites in New London, Connecticut (a diary covering a period of 47 years from Sept 1711 to November 1758 by an ancestor, Joshua Hempstead, is still in print).

Heal Yourself First

Couples need to heal from their infertility and come to grips with not being able to conceive a child before inflicting themselves on a traumatized adoptee. Much of what you will read in today’s blog comes from an adoptee writing on this issue – The Importance of Fully Grieving Infertility. I have chosen what I share here selectively and have added my own thoughts as well. You can read the original blog at the link.

Receiving a diagnosis of infertility is a devastating loss. It’s natural to feel angry, sad, disappointed or a combination of a bunch of different feelings. You may want to start the process of becoming a parent through other means as soon as possible, in an effort to fill that aching, empty space in your heart.

Please don’t start the process of adopting a child until you have fully grieved your infertility, let go of your initial dream of having a biological child, and are truly ready to adopt.

Why? Because, when you pursue adoption, your infertility journey will affect more than just you.

Adoption is not a solution for infertility. Pretending it is — without doing the hard, personal work — will just set you and your future adopted child up for failure.

You’ve probably heard it time and time again from your infertility counselors and adoption professionals. But I think you should hear it from an adoptee — someone who will be forever changed if you are unable to move forward from your losses.

As an adoptee, I’ve watched infertility take its toll on my parents, friends and family members. Even just having seen the effects secondhand, it’s clear that this is often a diagnosis that causes lasting emotional and psychological damage.

About 1 in 8 couples will struggle with infertility. That’s a lot of people walking around with a lot of pain in their hearts.

This is a loss, and as such, you may experience the stages of grief. As hard as it is to believe, this is actually a good thing, because it means you are processing your loss and are on the road to the final stage: acceptance. And only once you feel acceptance should you start considering adoption.

If you don’t resolve your experience with infertility, it could cause serious mental, emotional and physical harm to yourself and to those around you. You may start to resent your partner, your emotions might develop into depression, you risk not feeling able to find happiness because of the lingering hopes and dreams of “maybe we’ll still get pregnant,” and all of that stress can take a toll on your physical health.

Unresolved issues can affect all of your relationships — the relationship with your partner, with yourself, with your friends (who all seem to easily have children) and eventually, upon your adopted child. Moving forward into adoption under these circumstances may feel like you are “settling” for your “second-choice” way to build your family, and that’s not fair to the child you may adopt.

I don’t write this blog to promote adoption (I think it is all around a harmful choice). So I can hope that adoption isn’t your own answer for building your family. I do know that you staying stuck in grief isn’t good for you or the ones you love either. You may ultimately decide to live child-free. What is important here is seeking a good quality of life by working through your feelings and letting the unproductive perspectives go. 

Adopting a child does not fix anything. There is no replacement for your original dream of conceiving and giving birth to a biological child. When you’re an adoptee, viewing the world’s preoccupation with having biological children is hard. It’s probably hard for couples who discover they are infertile. That is one of the reasons it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that you will never have a biological child. It is unfair and unrealistic to believe any infertile, potential adoptive set of parents will no longer experience grief over not having biological children after they adopt. One of the reasons I don’t believe adoptions are actually a good thing. Honestly (and adoption is ALL over my own birth family – both of my parents were adopted and each of my sisters gave up children to adoption – I wouldn’t exist but for my parents’ adoptions and even so . . . my perspective has changed over the last several years, obviously).

Another Rejection Of Me

For many adoptees, simply the fact that their original family is not raising them is a rejection. That is why this story really touched my heart.

I’m an adoptee that’s been recently reunited with my first mom and her side of the family. They have been so welcoming and want a relationship with me, and it’s been so great getting to know them. Unfortunately my adoptive family isn’t taking it well. I’m just so sad that they can’t be more supportive and are taking it personally. I’m not surprised at all by my adoptive parents reacting this way, but my one safe person (my adoptive paternal aunt) is also taking it badly. I wish I could just have the joy of reunion without the overwhelming guilt. Their rejection of my biological family feels like another rejection of me. I so wish they could share in my happiness. They say they can somewhat understand my curiosity about who my biological family is but they don’t understand why I want to have a relationship with them. My biological family on the other hand has expressed wanting to meet my adoptive family and it breaks my heart that the feeling isn’t mutual. I hope they have a change of heart, but in the meantime I am grieving.

Unrealistic Expectations

I am really short on time today. I will tell the story without the comments. When my own daughter was a toddler, my childcare choice of a private home modeling themselves on a family structure went from my daughter LOVING to go to being tearful at being left there. It troubled me so much, I left work and went back only to see a larger boy bullying her through the window in the half door. I removed her that very moment. I found a woman with one daughter who was seeking a “companion” for that daughter. Never did my daughter get better care, rested and well fed and happy when I picked her up each day.

Here’s the story from a jealous adoptive mother without additional comments today due to time constraints.

“Those of you who have adopted and are working moms, I need input. We found a great person to do childcare for us. She lives nearby and doesn’t charge a lot. She is a great mom to her kids and loves our little girl.

The problem that we are struggling with is that our little girl loves her a little too much. She is so excited to see her and gives her BIG hugs that we do not typically receive…

I know this sounds like jealousy, but being adoptive parents, it is so hard to see this affection given to others when you do not get the same in return. She is only 9 months old and has been with us since she was 2 weeks old, so we have no doubt she cares for us and knows we are her parents, but we are debating on her going to another friend who is more of a grandmother figure than a mother figure.

We know that this other person would care for her very well and she would be just as loved there. I would just blow this off as being ridiculous, but my husband feels the same way. He wants her to go with this other person even though it is further for us to drive and more of a hassle.

What would you do? Are we being ridiculously selfish and we should just be happy that she loves her childcare person so much? I thought that here I would at least get some understanding, my heart is hurting.”

OK – just one comment in response with which I agree (I also had several “mom” friends with twins who had nannies when their children were preschool).

She needs to be grateful that her daughter loves who takes care of her. My crew loves our nanny of seven years. She like family. I’m glad my kids have such a strong bond with someone else.

A Life in the Shadow

Actors – Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot and Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks

On Friday night, my husband and I watched The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on dvd. It is one of those occasional unexpected finds that impacts me deeply. Oprah Winfrey plays Deborah Lacks in the movie based upon the book. Since my name is Deborah, I connected with this powerful, at times tragic, portrayal of Henrietta’s daughter. Since the title of my blog is Missing Mom and that is what drove Deborah, who lost her mom at such a young age and who she was always missing, needing the truth about her, felt somewhat like I how felt about my missing grandparents (both of my parents were adopted). So, I am happy to share Deborah’s story here. I highly recommend either the book or the movie.

The only surviving daughter and fourth child of David Day Lacks and Henrietta Lacks, Deborah “Dale” Lacks Pullum spent most of her early life wondering what happened to her beautiful mother and worrying about what it could mean for her own life and identity. Day was Henrietta’s first cousin, neither had living mothers and were being raised by grandparents who had them sleeping in the same bedroom. No wonder by the age of 14, Henrietta was pregnant. Day married her 6 years later when she was 20.

It is hard for Rebecca Skloot, an independent science writer, to gain Deborah’s trust given her early life of familial abuse, followed by the general disregard of the scientific community for Henrietta’s family. Deborah’s need to connect with her mother’s story is intensified by her difficult childhood and a non-existent relationship with her father, whose lack of attention has disastrous effects on her emotional life:

After Henrietta’s death, Ethel and Galen move in with Day to “help take care of the children.” But Ethel always had a hatred for Henrietta because Galen was attracted to her, and she transferred that with gusto to the children. She forces them to work the farm all day without food or drink and beats them if they disobey. In spite of Deborah’s protests, Galen sexually molests her as often as he can.

Despite the beatings by both of these guardians and the molesting by Galen, Deborah felt closer to Galen than she ever had felt with her father. When he wasn’t hitting or molesting her, Galen showered her with attention and gifts. He bought her pretty clothes, and took her for ice cream. In those moments, Deborah pretended he was her father, and she felt like a regular little girl.

Enter Lawrence’s (who was Henrietta’s oldest son) wife, Bobbette. She insists that they take in and raise the younger Lacks siblings to get them out of the clutches of the abusive Ethel and Galen. Bobbette makes it pretty darn clear that if that couple ever touches Henrietta’s kids again, she’s going to open up a can of ??? on them.

In Henrietta’s absence, Bobbette also acts as a mentor and inspiration to young Deborah. She tells her to stay in school because that’s what will get her success in life. She also encourages her to fight off the advances of her boy cousins because, she said, “That’s uncalled for.” She warns Deborah about the dangers of first cousins having children together.

Deborah reads articles about HeLa cells (named after an abbreviation of Henrietta Lacks name) with a dictionary in hand and learns to use the Internet to make sense of her mother’s immortal life. Her brothers don’t understand her need to pursue something that has been so hurtful to them. Deborah is quite clear in her mission: “All this stuff I’m learning,’ she said, ‘it make me realize that I did have a mother, and all the tragedy she went through. It hurts but I wanna know more, just like I wanna know about my sister (her sister Elsie had defects that eventually institutionalized her, where she later died young). It make me feel closer to them, but I do miss them. I wish they were here.”

The need to know and to be in control of her past is always stronger for Deborah than the need to forget her past and protect herself from future harm.

Her older brother, Lawrence, never stopped taking care of Deborah. He put $6,000 on his credit card to pay for her funeral. She died less than a year before the book, written by author Rebecca Skloot, about her mother was published.

“Henrietta had been chosen by the Lord to become an immortal being. The immortality of Henrietta’s cells had something to do with her telomeres and how HPV interacted with her DNA.”

Unreasonable Fears

I remember worrying the first time we visited our egg donor after our oldest son was born. We were there to try a second time with her to conceive a sibling for our son (spoiler alert – we succeeded). As his gestational, biological but not genetic mom, I was worried about how I was going to feel when she interacted with him. That turned out to be an unreasonable fear on my part because it was clear that she had ZERO confusion about what her role in our family was. She had 3 genetically related biological children already. She has always been interested in the boys but from a distance, never initiating contact with them. They are linked to her as their genetic mother at 23 and Me and so they have an avenue of contact without concerns about my monitoring any such interaction.

The truth is, no matter the reassurances prospective adoptive parents were once given and regardless of the continued practice in half these United States of maintaining sealed records and denying adult adoptees the right to their own origin information, it is a whole new ballgame now. Inexpensive DNA and social networking platforms now make it possible for adoptees to discover and reach out to their original, natural families. Adoptive parents best get over it. Therefore, today I share a piece from Slate because the advice this nervous adoptive parent receives is spot on. I will excerpt the original question (my asides in parentheses) but share the response in full. If you want to read the entire piece – you can go to this link – I’m Devastated My Daughter Secretly Contacted Her Birth Mother.

Dear Care and Feeding, Apparently, when our adopted daughter went through our files a few months ago looking for her Social Security number, she found some adoption records with her biological mom’s name and a little bit of info, and she used it to find her on Facebook. We did a closed adoption and have never had contact with the woman.

I didn’t think she cared who her bio parents were, or about being adopted. (Truth – adoptees always care, even if it isn’t apparent.) She and her biological mother have been talking for about three months, but she hadn’t told me because she was afraid we wouldn’t approve or we would think it was a rejection of us. (And her instincts appear to have been correct.)

They’re planning to meet at a coffee shop, and from the messages, bio mom sounds very eager to meet my daughter. I know I should be happy that they’ve been reunited, but I can’t help feeling hurt and rejected, like I’m not enough for her. I am terrified that this woman might try to take over my role in her life and become her mother figure in adulthood. I’m also apprehensive because my daughter has kept their relationship a secret. It worries me that they have been talking behind my back.

The main reason I’m writing is because my daughter is now wanting to involve me in the in-person reunion, and her bio mom wants to meet me too (we never met when I picked my daughter up from the hospital). I don’t want to go. I chose a closed adoption for a reason. 

The response –

Dear Tale of Two Moms, I understand how hard this is for you. If you chose a closed adoption because you didn’t want the bio mom involved in your life in any way, and you’ve spent 17 years certain that your daughter “didn’t care” that she was adopted or have any curiosity about her biological parents, this development must make you feel that your world is tilting on its axis. I’m hoping you can take a breath and think this through clearly, setting all of your own feelings aside for a moment.

Your daughter is offering you the chance to participate in something that’s important to her. Is she making that offer because she truly wants you and her bio mom to get to know each other? Maybe—maybe simply sitting with the two of you will be helpful to her and bring her a sense of wholeness or resolution that she is seeking as she enters adulthood. Or maybe she is asking you to join her simply because she wants you to feel included, to make it clear to you that her desire to meet her bio mom is not a rejection of you. Or how about this? Maybe she’s nervous about this meeting and wants to be able to lean on her mom. Or—for all you know—maybe she’s acceding to the bio mom’s wishes: The woman who gave her up for adoption would like to know who has been the mother to this child. To reassure herself that she did the right thing all those years ago—and/or to have the chance to thank you. And the daughter you raised is kind and generous enough to want to help her do that.

No matter which one of these possibilities is true—and all of them may be true—you should brave this meeting. It’s the right thing to do. Will there be tension? I suspect this is up to you.

And please try to let go of your distress about your daughter keeping her correspondence with her bio mom a secret from you, and talking to her “behind your back.” She did so because she feared you wouldn’t approve or would feel rejected—and she was right, wasn’t she? You don’t approve; you do feel rejected. Your terror, as you describe it, that the woman will take over your role in your daughter’s life is something for you to work out (I hope with the help of a therapist, because it sounds like you are having a very rough time with this). You can’t pretend any longer that your daughter’s adoption at birth isn’t a part of her life story.

And I will remind you, too, that the amount of love we all have available to give is not finite. If it turns out that your daughter and her bio mom do develop a real, ongoing relationship at this point, it does not take anything away from you; it gives your child one more person to love and to be loved by. I’m not suggesting that jealousy and envy—and insecurity—are easy to rise above. What I’m suggesting is that for your daughter’s sake, you make every effort. And if, in the end, nothing comes of this reunion except that your daughter is able to satisfy her curiosity about where she comes from, I hope you’ll make an effort to understand and support her in that too. For that matter, if things “get complicated” and go awry, as you also fear, and your daughter ends up heartbroken, your job will be to support her through that too. Because you are her mom, and that’s what moms do.

Every Single Day

Today’s true adoptee story . . . .

Today, my sister flies up to Philadelphia to meet her biological dad and half-siblings for the first time. I am SO excited and happy for her. At the same time, I am sad and jealous.

My biological mom has zero desire to meet me or get to know me. My biological dad claims he had no idea I existed and that it’s impossible for him to have a daughter. He got really mad when my half-brothers brought it up to him.

I am okay with my adoption most days, but today, I am angry.

I hate that there were so many secrets. I hate that I was a secret. I hate that I might never know the truth about my birth and adoption. I hate that no one in my biological family wants to get to know me or meet me.

I hate that I can’t tell my kids who they look like on my family side. I hate that I don’t feel like I belong in my adopted family or my biological family. I hate that everyone thinks it’s so wonderful that I was adopted.

I hate that my adoption was closed. I hate that I am not allowed to have a copy of my own birth certificate. I hate that everyone says that DNA doesn’t matter and love is the only thing that makes a family.

I hate that I have abandonment issues, and I fear that everyone I meet will eventually leave me or be taken away from me.

I hate that my biological mom kept my brothers and not me.

I hate that I am expected to be grateful. I hate that everyone thinks my biological mom did this amazing selfless thing by essentially abandoning me.

Most of all, I hate that I subconsciously think about the fact that I am adopted every single day of my life.

A Change Of Heart

Mother and Daughter

Even under the best intentions, when choosing a semi-closed adoption plan, even after years of contact – emotions can change. So it was, when the relinquished daughter turned 18 and enrolled in college, that a problem set in. It was a blind-sided moment for the birth mother. At her blog site, Her View From Home, under the subcategory, Motherhood – Adrian Collins tells the entire story of occasional in-person contacts, until the hammer came down.

Suddenly, the adoptive parents were no longer supportive of her daughter’s relationship with her birth parents. She’d been instructed to choose between her birth family and her adoptive family. There was no in-between or chance of negotiation. Of course, after so many years, on the cusp of maturity, this baffled Collins. She immediately got on the phone, pleading with them to consider all of them a vital part of their daughter’s life. They wouldn’t budge. Instead, they hurled insults at her.

They accused her of conniving to steal their daughter. They questioned her motives and tore at her character. They jabbed at her most vulnerable spots as a birth mom. And as she sat flabbergasted, all she could think was – “What have I done to deserve this?”  Then, of all things, the adoptive mother even belittled her adopted daughter. Collins admits, “my voice escalated into shouts of, Why can’t you just love her?!” 

The vindictiveness amazes me. Days later, her adoptive parents removed all financial support from their daughter and said they regretted the adoption. They turned their backs on her and disowned her. Collins felt betrayed. She had entrusted her daughter to them, and now they’d abandoned her. The pain of watching her daughter endure this loss was almost as unbearable as the day Collins had left the hospital without her. 

It was her husband (and also the girl’s original birth father) who brought up the idea of re-adoption. “We can take care of you,” he told her.  Since she was already 18, she only needed to give her consent for an adult adoption to take place. In essence, her own birth parents became their daughter’s legal parents once again. Adult adoption is somewhat common between some kinds of parents and foster or stepchildren. It is rare when this occurs between birth parents and their biological/genetic child. They didn’t pressure their daughter in the least and only assured her that their only motive for an adult adoption was to extend even more love to her.

In spite of Collins own doubts about building a strong relationship with the daughter she did not raise, she says – when she looked at her daughter just before the adoption hearing in court – she realized her heart had been fastened to her daughter’s ever since she had carried her in her womb. She had promised to give her daughter the best life possible and she was always willing to do whatever it took to make that happen. True, she wasn’t able to provide that for her daughter at birth. Now, she was happy at a chance to take care of her daughter as an adult. When their names were called to enter the courtroom, she turned to her daughter and smiled. Her daughter smiled back.

She admits – I’ve spent time in reflection about my decision to make an adoption plan. Did everything turn out as planned? Absolutely not. Would things have fared better if I’d kept my daughter in the first place? I can’t say. Sometimes we have to take steps of faith without seeing the whole picture. We can only do what we think is best at a particular time in life.

If we do the best we can, we really can’t get it wrong. That is my own belief. The All That Is uses everything that humans do to make it right – maybe it takes a long time for the right to come out – and even if I don’t live long enough to see that – I do believe it does turn out in the long run. My own “adoption reunion journey” proved as much to me. The whole situation of both of my parents being adopted wasn’t perfect from my own perspective but I would not be alive if it had not happened. I have said before, and I say it again now – it was imperfectly perfect. Sometimes, that is as good as it gets.