It Is Wrong To Hide The Truth

A person should not have to live to the age of 19 before knowing they were adopted. A person should not go through life being they come from a culture they did not. However, that is what happened to Melissa Guida-Richards. That was the point in her life when she learned she was not Italian at all bur a Columbian mestiza or mixed race. Melissa shares her story in a Huffington Post op-ed – My Half Siblings Found Me On 23andMe. I may never have learned the identity of my own dad’s father but for 23andMe hooking me up with cousins with the same grandmother (who I lived over 6 decades knowing nothing about).

That same 2017 year that I began to learn who my parents original parents were (both of them were adopted but at least they grew up knowing they were adopted all along), Melissa did 23andMe and learned about her cultural genetic make-up (Latina with Indigenous, Eastern Asian and some African roots with less than half of her genetic makeup from Italian or even European sources). She finally knew why she felt different from her entirely European adoptive family who came into the US straight off the boat from Italy and Portugal.

Before she knew she was adopted, she had grown up hearing stories of her adoptive father tending goats in Italy and her adoptive mother washing clothes in a stream in Portugal. She was taught to have pride in those cultures … but these were not her own birth culture. She experienced a sense of frustration over the way she had been raised. This built up inside of her until she made the decision to go into therapy when she was in college. Eventually, therapy allowed her to come to terms with some of these things, yet she was still pushing some of the others aside, finding that easier than confronting them. It takes time to grow through an evolution like this.

Like many adoptees, it took having biological children genetically related to her to give her that connection to kinship that was missing all of her life. Then, very much like what happened in my circumstances, two years after having her DNA tested by 23andMe, she received this message – “Hi, this may be weird and I don’t mean to bother you but I’m your half-sibling.” In a matter of seconds, she went from having no biological ancestors, and yet now children who were related to her, to having a sibling only a few years older than her. And she shares, what many adoptees feel when they discover biological, genetic relatives – Finally, there was someone else out there like me. After years of feeling like the broken, weird, outsider in my adoptive family, there was someone else.

Her feelings at that point, echo the anger many adoptees feel as they become mature – while her initial emotion was feeling overwhelmed with joy, she soon felt the grief. She says, How was it fair that I had no idea of this? That we, two siblings, were separated and yet adopted to the same country? Why did the world think that that was okay? Why did my adoptive parents act threatened when they found out about my sibling?

As she became acquainted with her half-sibling, she felt the novelty of experiencing actual similarities with a relative. All of her life, she had very little in common with her cousins by adoption and not surprisingly, her brother who was also an adoptee. Now this all made more sense, it had taken learning she was adopted.

She also experienced her adoptive mother withdrawing, becoming very quiet. Then, she received another message that she had yet another half-sibling who had the same original mother. It turned out that both of these half-siblings had been adopted but had been raised by the same adoptive family. Her adoptive parents lying about her adoption hurt even more. What also hurt for her was that these two half-siblings had not conveyed to her the full truth from the beginning of their making contact. They had both known about her for months, had looked at her blog, and on social media. They had decided together that it would be easier to go slow with the revelations and while the first one was open to creating a relationship with her, the other older one was not.

This whole situation felt like a betrayal to her. She says, “As adoptees I would have thought they would understand how any information about my birth family was vital to me. That hiding any part of our family would hurt me . . . since they had grown up together and knew about their adoptions since they were small, it didn’t really process for them why it felt like such a betrayal to me.” Eventually, she realized what hurt. It was one sibling protecting the other because that one wasn’t ready for a relationship with her. Their bond, from growing up together, and being biologically related, was something she could never have.

She shares some truth about adoptee reunions that I have seen more than once myself – they are often not like the movies. There’s heartbreak, anger, numbness and general confusion. People often expect an instant connection with their biological relatives because they share blood, but that can take some time or often never fully develops. I have certainly found that with my own newfound relations. They have histories together that I didn’t have with them. That gap of living different lives totally unaware of one another is very hard to fill – in fact, I have come to believe it is impossible. I am grateful for whatever relationship I can develop with each but I must keep my expectations in that regard very low.

The author arrives at this realization – My biological siblings and I may have come from the same mother, but we don’t share the same experiences. Society has pressured us to immediately connect upon meeting one another, when we barely could pick the other out from a crowd of strangers. It’s okay for reunions to be imperfect and painful because not all things in life are meant to be the way the movies portray. Having a relationship with both siblings during this (pandemic) time has filled some of the holes in my heart that adoption left. I’m beyond glad to have them in my life, and only hope that one day soon the world is a little less dangerous so we can all meet in person.

She ends with “we are still family ― flaws and all.” Yes, I totally get that sentiment.

True Grace

Amanda Gruendell with Grace

This is a very different kind of infertility and donation story but I love the happy ending. I hope you will too. The story comes courtesy of The Guardian and Kate Graham, as told to her by Amanda Gruendell.

Amanda was diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome meaning that she had been born without a uterus. She did have functioning ovaries. “Couldn’t I have a uterus transplant?” she asked her doctor, only to be told that she’d be lucky to see the procedure developed in her lifetime.

She was also going through a rough patch. In 2006, I met a loving man who knew about my condition from the outset; we married three years later. I desperately wanted to be a mother, but our attempts at surrogacy and adoption failed. The relentless stress of infertility contributed to the end of our marriage. Her mom was also going through cancer treatments.

In 2014, she read about the world’s first successful uterus transplant in Sweden. The following year, a friend called her to tell her that a clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, was running the first American trial into the procedure. It would involve putting an embryo in the new uterus with the hope of creating a pregnancy.

Amanda brushed the idea off at first: there were only going to be 10 participants, and she knew many deserving women would be trying to join. Cleveland was also miles away from where she was living in Arizona. Then, a week later, she woke up thinking, “What do I have to lose?”

When the clinic called to give her more information, she started shaking. She knew the process would be long and unpredictable. First, an embryo would have to be created through in vitro fertilization using her eggs. Since she was single, she would have to use donor sperm. The embryos would then be frozen, while she waited for a uterus match from a deceased donor. If a suitable one was found and the operation successful, she would then have the embryo implanted.

That was when John showed up in her life. Actually he was one of her oldest friends and became her rock. By June 2017, they were engaged to be married. The delayed IVF (an infection caused a failed transplant in another trial participant) became a blessing. John and Amanda created their embryos a year later, just before their wedding.

Though her mother’s cancer had been improving, in 2019, it returned. She was slipping in and out of consciousness. Once when she woke, she told Amanda that she’d met her daughter in a dream. She said she was called Grace and looked just like Amanda.

A week later the call came: There was a match. Of course, she is grateful to the donor and her family, even as she knows what it is like to lose a loved one – her mother had died eight days later.

A month after the operation, at age 36, Amanda had her first period ever. Five months later, her embryo was implanted. When she took a pregnancy test and saw the second line, indicating a positive result, she admits that it just didn’t feel real.

In March 2021, Grace was born. When the doctor held her up, Amanda grabbed her; she couldn’t wait another second. Finally holding her daughter was more magical than she’d ever dreamed it would be.

Amanda says, “As I watch her today, all gummy smiles and blowing raspberries, I think back to that 17-year-old girl at the doctor’s office, and the devastation she felt. Now, there is joy. And that’s what the Cleveland clinic, my organ donor and her family did for me. I’ll be grateful to them all for ever.”

Feel Good Stories

Every Monday morning, I watch Sunday’s Agape service as recorded and shared on their website. The messages from the Rev Michael Bernard Beckwith are empowering and positive. Today’s message left me wanting to share something more positive about adoption than I usually do. Don’t misunderstand. I’m am still more than less against most adoptions. A woman who regularly reads this blog, sometimes shares my essays on her blog. Our perspectives are not identical but I noticed that she had one today with the title – Why adoption can be a blessing. So I went there and found among several offerings this video and watched it.

As this video makes clear, sometimes adoption is the best answer and sometimes the coincidences (which spiritually I believe in strongly as signs) make an adoption simply feel “right” and in harmony. So in keeping with my desire today, I share this video with you, to spread a little joy about a topic that I normally do not feel all warm and fuzzy regarding.

Limited Perspectives

I was thinking yesterday evening that the same mindset causes both adoptions and abortions. It is the limited perspective of the pregnant woman about what she believes she is capable of. In my adoption group there comes occasionally a pregnant woman who is trying to decide whether or not to surrender her baby to adoption. Not all adoptees say they are happy their mother didn’t abort them. It is a sad commentary on the experience of some adoptees and others feel they had a good enough life and accept that their mothers did the best they could in that moment for the higher good of all concerned.

So in the adoption group, when a pregnant mother shows up and hasn’t made a decision, the group always recommends several courses of action to her. The main one is – don’t decide right away. Don’t allow prospective adoptive parents to be at the hospital with you. Don’t sign the papers in advance. Spend some time with your infant. You can always make that choice – weeks, months later. Hopefully not years later when it may be even more traumatic. Give your infant some time with you. In these modern times, there are groups who will try to help you with the necessaries, at least in the short term.

I was reflecting recently on the fact that each of my parents were with their original mothers for about 6 to 8 months as infants. I take some comfort in knowing they had that forward development time not separated from the woman who gave birth to them. All a baby knows at birth is that mother who birthed them. I do know my dad’s mom breastfed him. I don’t know about my mom’s mom. Certainly once she was taken to Porter-Leath orphanage in Memphis, she would have been fed a bottle of formula (what was considered a formula at the time).

Most of the women who chose adoption or abortion do not believe they are capable of raising a child. Society’s willingness to financially help such women does not have a good track record. When I ran out of birth control while driving an 18-wheel truck cross county and quickly became pregnant, I knew that if I went through with that pregnancy, my partner was not going to be there for me. He said as much but he left my decisions up to me, if it can be called solely my decision under the circumstances. I already had struggled to raise my daughter following a divorce when I received no child support. Her father and a step-mother were raising her by this point. I chose an abortion. It was early in the pregnancy, the procedure was safe and legal and I’ve not regretted not being tied to that family by a child. I have struggled with the morality of it thanks to the vocal efforts of the Pro-Life contingent but it is a done deal.

As I have learned more about the subconscious trauma of babies being separated from their mothers for adoption, I am also glad I didn’t inflict that on my unrealized baby. I already had done enough damage to my daughter, though at the time I thought her circumstances were better than they were. Both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption. One always knew she was going to do that and went about it rather methodically. The other explored abortion but was too far along. She tried to get government assistance but was rejected because she was living with our parents and their financial resources were the grounds upon which she was denied (which I will always judge as very wrong of the system). Our mother, an adoptee herself, coerced my sister into choosing adoption. My parents were unwilling to take on the financial responsibility that potentially would have fallen upon them. We’ll never know what the alternatives would have yielded.

The point is that in my adoption group, time and again, I’ve seen a variety of outcomes. In some the young mother does wait and finds resources and decides without regret and great joy to try and parent her baby. Some make some other arrangements, either for temporary help or for an open adoption, that fail in some manner and it becomes a legal battle to get their child back or to know how the child is developing when as often happens, the adoptive parents renege on the open part.

It is said in a song – you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need. And I think generally speaking whatever we get, actually is what we needed, because the reality is, that is what we got. Hasty decisions can lead to a lifetime of regrets. I’ve seen that too in women who relinquished their child. I’ve been told that was the case for both of my own original grandmothers. Both remarried. One went on to have other children.

Abandonment Part 2

In you haven’t already read the previous blog – Abandonment Part 1 – you will need that context to fully understand today’s follow-up.

So after sharing her backstory, the woman’s story I shared added these questions.

Am I delusional for wanting to adopt ? Is adoption really that bad? How can I help my daughter ? I know her situation is different than an adoptee but some of the feelings seem to be the same. Do I continue to push for a relationship with her dad’s side of the family, when they don’t seem to want to be involved ? I’m ok with continuing to push but sometimes it seems it hurts my daughter more.

Now for some selected responses (there were 109, indicating a “hot” topic in my adoption community) –

The very first one totally surprised me. Consider looking into uterine transplantation so you and your husband can have your own child which is what you really want…there are several programs out there…. To which, the woman actually admitted that she was already researching that. Who knew ?

The next one is one I had thought of myself as I read this woman’s story – Help your daughter before you even consider adding a stranger’s child to your family dynamic. Beyond that, the thought occurred to me that that daughter who it is said wants a sibling, will soon be mature enough to leave the house. If this couple adopts an infant or young toddler, the adoptee will be there “alone” for many years, unless they adopt more than one (and I’m not in favor of adoption – just to be clear).

Along these same lines of thinking came the next response – Don’t you think bringing in another child would add to your daughters issues ? Can you and your marriage handle two traumatized children ? I’d stop thinking of adding a child until you get your other child in a healthy mental state.

And back to a core issue –

My first thought is to continue to foster a relationship with your daughter’s paternal family….but, accept that it may not be what you want it to be at this time. Guide your daughter to this acceptance too. Their lack of reaching out is disappointing….do you know why they have become so resistant to contact ? When you reach out to them, do they respond ? The biological dad appears to be entwined with a woman who is controlling and dismissive. He made a choice and it is disappointing. You and your daughter can be upset with him….and hope one day he might change his mind about contact. Both can be true. His lack of effort for contact appears to be about his lack of control and maturity to deal with challenging issues.

The last thought I’ll share is from the same woman as above but it really appeals to me and at the end, I’ll share why.

Adopting? No. Your focus needs to be on your daughter and supporting her during this time to adulthood. Once she is independent and on solid footing you could revisit foster/adopt. Whenever I read about a teen struggling with emotional stuff I turn to horses. I suggest you investigate therapeutic equine programs in your region. It has been shown that being around horses (caring for them, riding, therapy with them) can be a positive in a teens life. Furthermore, it is a confidence builder!!!!! Handling and riding a 1000 lb animal is exhilarating and mood boosting….offers a child new adventure….promotes focus and maturity….and helps balance brain chemicals. If not therapeutic horse program….find something she enjoys with a passion & go after it with gusto – it will give her joy and purpose and conversation, and balance the difficult emotional stuff her paternal family offers.

My youngest sister was a lifelong horsewoman. It may have been working with horses that actually pushed her decline into mental illness (most likely paranoid schizophrenic though it is obvious to me now that the vulnerability and even a few brief psychotic episodes may have occurred earlier in her life, I’ve also been told that she was sexually exploited by an older man at the horseback riding stables she frequented, so there is that too). Anyway, eventually, she was placed in a locked facility for observation but our parents were of the mind they lacked the financial resources to keep her there.

When she was scheduled to come out, I tried calling many such places. She was so good at caring for horses and I thought perhaps we could get her employment with access to a therapist but no one was willing to take on the liability – sadly. I had thought that getting her away from people and the craziness of society and putting her with horses might bring her back out of it. Now, she has been in that state for over a decade and admitting that the life she believes she lives as a secret agent is a delusion is probably no longer possible for her to accept. I will always worry and care about her.

After Terror, Come Babies

I’m not certain what this image conveys about what we teach our children.  Like many people on this date, my thoughts return to 19 years ago and a photo we took of our 6-1/2 month old oldest son sitting next to a TV with the image of the Twin Towers burning real time.  One of those iconic things one does in an attempt to capture a moment in history, which we instinctively knew it was.

So my thoughts turned this morning to the orphans of that event.  These children are what comes after 9/11. Gabriel was born six days after the death of his father. They are the joy, the salve, the ointment. They’re the love.

“I could only imagine how much courage someone could have to go into a situation like that,” says Lauren, who was born less than three months after 9/11.  Her father died after running into the South Tower to save others.

Ronald lost his dad at the Pentagon while his mother, Jacqueline, was five months pregnant with him. (She was working on the other side of the building during the attack.) A high school basketball player, today Ronald Jr. wears the number 33 on his jersey, the age his father was when he died. “I feel like my dad is watching me,” he says. “Every move I make, he’s here.”

Robyn was born seven weeks after her father died.  She says the loss has given her a different perspective from her peers. “I’ve always been aware of the world.  The world should be a place where it’s okay to be who you are, and to love whom you love and believe what you believe. Underneath, what we’re made up of is the same.”

Allison’s father was on Flight 11, traveling to be home for his daughter’s imminent birth – has learned that her sadness is also coupled with happiness.  “There’s always an empty spot.”

Sadly, death is a part of life, no matter how that death happens.  At this time, there is a lot of death all over the planet and the terror of never being certain if one will be infected with this virus and lose their own life to it.

The Sound of Love

It may be hard to imagine what a joy it is for a mother who once relinquished her child to adoption to finally hear their voice decades later.  One such story that reached me today and was conveyed like this –

“I got the call I’ve waited on for almost 31 years. More so the past 2 years.
My Son called me! 💙💗
His voice was like that of someone I’ve always known. He sounded so familiar. Almost a 2 hour phone call.  It was more than I ever imagined.💓

It may have taken a pandemic but it finally happened 🥰

And now I embark on this next rail of this roller coaster that has been my life. At least today I woke with a smile.”

Not every attempt at a reunion ends happy.  Some mothers are so devastated that they have tried to block out all memories of the unhappy experience.  They do not wish to remember what happened.

And in this time of isolating ourselves an in-person meeting may not be possible but I guarantee that someday this will all be in the past and while life may never look like it did before ever again, a new kind of normal will emerge.

An experience like the one I have shared is healing for both the mother and the adoptee when it goes so beautifully even with the complications of our current moment.  Advice for entering into such a fragile beginning –

Understand your emotions will be very intense, this is normal.
Journal journal journal.
Cry cry cry.
Yet, try with all your might not to burden your child.
Ask for their permission before you do stuff.

Adoptees had no choice regarding what happened to them. If your relinquished child comes back, be grateful for such a blessing.  Always be gentle towards both you and your child.

Hmmmm, Cutting Through The Noise

What is so great about children being surrendered and raised without their identity ?  Did I get your attention ?

I can’t imagine losing my mom – can you ?  Both of my parents did.

You don’t have to take my word for it (just listen to enough adult adoptees and you will become a believer) – adoption is trauma.  Bringing a child into a stable, loving home does NOT erase their trauma.

Why would you glorify abandonment ?

You know, you’re basically waiting for a woman and her baby to have the worst day of their lives so that you can have the best day of yours….

Adoptive parents literally act like the stork delivers these children.

One person’s intense joy is a result of another person’s desperate sorrow.  I certainly saw the truth of this as I read my mom’s adoption file from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.

Tell people who are not familiar with conventional adoption about the fake birth certificates your parents were given.  That is one some people have trouble believing (yes, it is done all the time). Then tell them your parents’ REAL names were taken away from them and that they were both given a name that the adoptive couple preferred.

Imagine creating your family tree and having to list two names for each of your parents and then show their spouse with the adopted name so that someone might with difficulty sort it all out.  Yes, my parents were not allowed to use the names they were born with.  Are you incredulous yet ?  Most people have no idea that adoptees are forced to live fake identities.  My dad’s name was changed TWICE when his adoptive mother remarried.  He was already 8 years old at that time.

If that baby had lost his mother to cancer, you would be mourning with him right now.

If adoption is so wonderful, which one of your children would you give up to someone else for a “better life” ?  Note –  it should be the child you love the most that you give up, since you would obviously want that child to have the best life.  Crazy, huh ?

Ask an adoptee what it means to be adopted – adoption means you’re never going home.  Let that sink in.

Most adoptees would get an abortion before they would give up their own child for adoption.

As the child of two adoptees, I try to be balanced (after all, I would not exist but for) and not be too harsh.  Many people are well-intentioned but ill-informed about the realities surrounding adoption.   I want my readers to walk away having learned something real, maybe opening up further conversation on the topic.  Adoption is more complicated than you might imagine.

Many people believe that every adoptee was unwanted or they view the original mom as less than human because they can’t relate to someone who has given up a child.  Both perceptions are quite likely UNTRUE.

 

 

Reunion Disappointments

Search on “adoptee reunion disappointments” and you will come up with a lot of links.  Many adoptees, while they are children, fantasize about what their original parents were like and how they would have treated them differently than the adoptive parents raising them.  The reality cannot live up to the fantasy.

First there is the joy in discovery and finally, finally, knowing the truth of where one came from and perhaps how they came to be conceived (which may or may not actually be a very happy story).  Then there is the old “nature vs nurture” story.  How much of who we become is due to genetics and how much is due to the culture we are raised within.

Finally, there is the issue of gratitude.  Adoptees often feel like they need to be grateful to the parents that raised them for saving them from ?  That is the problem.  There is no way of knowing what would have been better.  Reality is whatever it was.  There are always issues of abandonment and rejection and fears of causing more of those wounds if the adoptee betrays the affections of those who raised them.

Here is one adoptee’s story –

Paul had spent his whole life dreaming about his mother. He imagined what it would be like to meet someone who looked like him, who offered unconditional love and who took away the empty feeling he had always carried in the pit of his stomach.

“I thought meeting her would make me whole. I had had a happy childhood but somewhere deep in my gut, I have always been hollow,” said Paul, now 42 years old and living in Kent.

But Paul’s meeting with his mother was a disaster. “I now believe you can never recreate that mother-child relationship,” he said. “Away from the dreams, the initial rejection an adopted child has suffered makes unconditional love impossible to recreate in the cold light of reality.”

“I understand why my mother gave me up but I still find it impossible to forgive,” he said. “Now I have to come to terms with the fact that I have spent my life looking for something that was never there.”

One study revealed that, eight years after first making contact, almost 60 per cent of adopted children have ceased contact with, been rejected by or rejected further contact with their birth parent.  It is rare that a birth relative rejects the adoptee.  Even so, the birth parent may have higher expectations of a renewed relationship than the adopted child, who may only want to answer questions about their own identity.

According to one survey, over 70 per cent of searchers and 89 per cent of non-searchers fail to feel an instant bond with their birth parent.  One in six new relationships break down within one year after initial contact and almost 43 per cent of relationships are abandoned within eight years.

From my own experience of discovering my genetic relations (I am not an adoptee but both of my parents were), one cannot recover lost time nor opportunities to forge closer relations.  One can only begin where they find themselves to slowly, over time, develop whatever relationship is possible.

 

Looking In The Dark Place

My adoptee father said to my adoptee mother when she wanted to find her original family that she shouldn’t go there because she might be opening up a can of worms. Now that I have gone there, I find it very sad. His own half-sister was living 90 miles away from him when he died. She could have told him so much about his original mother.

I read this morning in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird these passages –

We write to expose the unexposed. If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. The writer’s job is to see what’s behind it.

You can’t if your parents are reading over your shoulder. They are probably the ones who told you not to open that door in the first place. If the truth were known, they would be seen as good people. Truth seems to want expression.

I opened the closet door and let what was inside out – liberation and even joy rushed through. It’s wonderful to finally open that forbidden door. What gets exposed is people’s humanity. Turns out that the truth, or reality, is our home.

What I learned was that I was where I was supposed to be. As much as I have already revealed for my own self, I hope there is more yet to come. I will bravely go into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses because it has been utterly satisfying to have gone in and looked around – to finally know the truth of my family’s origins.