The Grandparent Factor

A topic not always discussed in adoption issue considerations is the lack of support from potential grandparents when a woman finds herself pregnant.  They are often key to why an adoption is taking place.

Regardless of the age of the mother, the grandparents often play a huge role in a decision to surrender the child.  My own mother, an adoptee herself, encouraged my sister to surrender her daughter.

Where is the family that could have stepped in ? Who else is giving up this child ?  In reality, every one related to a child given up for adoption has lost an opportunity to have a relationship with that child.  I lost the opportunity to have relationships with all 4 of my original grandparents and many aunts and uncles.

“I don’t want this child – get rid of it !!”, could be what my maternal grandmother’s own father said to her as he sent my married grandmother far away to have my mom.  I doubt he intended for my grandmother to bring her back to Memphis Tennessee.

My paternal grandmother left the Door of Hope, a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers in Ocean Beach California to go to her cousin’s home for support.  Obviously, that support was not forthcoming because my grandmother went back to the Salvation Army seeking employment, was accepted and transferred to El Paso Texas – which is how my dad ended up there and could be adopted.  Being in El Paso was crucial to his meeting my mom and to my conception and birth.

In my family’s case, both of my original grandmothers had lost her own mothers at young ages.  The lack of a nurturing, supportive older female probably played a huge role in their losing their first born children.  It appears that they didn’t have support from their fathers either.

Abandoned Over A Pregnancy

This happened to my maternal grandmother.  For whatever reason, she was abandoned by her lawful husband (my mom’s father) and she was abandoned by her own father.

Despite the joy that usually accompanies a pregnancy, it is one of the most stressful life events.  If a pregnancy is unexpected or unwanted, the stress compounds.

When the person coming to grips with this surprising change is then abandoned by her support system (parents, a lover, a spouse), it’s devastating.  Though either parent could be shunned, the mother typically bears the brunt of the rejection.

The expectant mother may believe some false concepts about herself – what they say about me is true, the baby is the cause of all my trouble, love is temporary and people always leave when times get tough.  Beyond false beliefs are the fears – of being abandoned again, of the judgement of other people, being spiritually condemned or being unable to care for herself and her baby

These mothers may go into denial, acting as though they aren’t pregnant. Some may attempt to hide the pregnancy. In modern times, there is a stigma if the woman chooses a legal abortion. The woman may become emotionally unavailable or wallow in self-pity or blame.  There is the worry about her ability to cope all alone and doubt about her ability to be a mother.

If the mother-to-be has decided not to keep her baby (or after she has relinquished her child), seeing happy couples caring for their baby together will be especially painful.

If this mother is unable to find support, she will realize that she can’t depend on others to help her. If it is a difficult pregnancy, it will compound the challenges.

The Reality

One can hope the process continues to improve, though it has a long way to go.

The surrender of children by unmarried mothers was accepted by state and federal governments, by adoption agencies, by society, and by the parents of unmarried mothers.  Society BELIEVED that the rights of unmarried mothers had been fully enforced and protected.

In many cases, they were not.

Some might still like to believe that these mothers were offered “choices”.  That they were offered “information”.  That they were offered help and support.

Often they were not.

MANY were not offered the choice to parent their own child.

Many were only offered the option of surrender.

Those who make money from infant adoption did not want society to know the truth about coercion.  It has been a multi-billion dollar industry profiting on the removal of babies from young, unprotected, unsupported, vulnerable, often minor, unmarried mothers.

When A Network Has Been Broken

What can we make of our parents, our grandparents, the network of kin who constitute our tribal past ?

If one is an adoptee, they can’t make anything out of it.

If one is the child of two adoptees, the past is shrouded in mystery.

So learning about my original grandparents was the beginning of a process of interrogating the past. Trying to understand why what happened to my parents had happened.

My dad’s situation is fairly easy to understand. It was the 1930s.  My grandmother had an affair with a married man. Giving her the benefit of my doubts, I doubt she knew he was married when the affair started. However, given the outcome – that she went to a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers to have him, I’m fairly certain she knew he couldn’t be there for her when she found out she was pregnant. I suspect by then she knew he was married.

My mom’s will forever mystify me with questions that can’t be answered and so I find myself forced to live the questions. Some of the aspects, I have rather solid theories for.

Where it becomes muddied for me is why my grandmother’s husband was unwilling to be there for her. Why did he leave her 4 months pregnant ? Why didn’t he respond when she returned to Memphis, after having the baby in Virginia, and the Juvenile Court sought to inform him of his responsibilities ?

Poverty is certainly part of his equation. A superflood on the Mississippi River that was particularly severe in his home state of Arkansas is likely part of the equation too. Georgia Tann sensing a vulnerable young woman ripe for exploitation certainly put the screws to my grandmother.

At least, I know what my parents died not knowing. At least I know now who my grandparents were.  My own process now has been to re-establish my own tribal kin network.

Harmed By Religion

I grew up Episcopalian.  I always thought of that church as do what you want Catholics.  We were similar but with more freedom to choose.

My mom conceived me out of wedlock and she once admitted to me that she believed she had sinned and that baptizing me in the Episcopal Church (which was against the wishes of my dad’s Church of Christ adoptive parents because they baptize much later in life) was a way of securing my bastardized soul.

It is known generally that the Catholic Church has done a lot of bad things in its existence.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame is about torturing a young woman.  Then there is the burning of Joan of Arc and the Spanish Inquisition.  I grew up in El Paso Texas, a heavily Catholic region of the United States and so, I have some familiarity with that religion.  As a school girl we always had fish on the menu at school on Fridays because of the church.

An early adoption story is the tale of Moses.  His mother Jochebed put him in a basket to spare him from being killed along with all the other Israelite baby boys.  The Pharaoh’s daughter finds Moses and adopts him as her own, sparing him the fate suffered by other Hebrew boys.

For old-time Catholics, the laws of the Church took precedence over the laws of any secular government.  Catholic teaching dictated that the manner in which I was conceived made me illegitimate, a bona fide bastard.  Fortunately, my parents married before I was born.

Some children, like my dad, became legitimized when they were adopted by a married couple.  At that time, in the 1930s and 40s, his birth certificate (and later his baptismal certificate) was altered to make him appear “as though” he had been born to his adoptive parents.  The Salvation Army played a role in his becoming an adoptee.

I believe that my mom’s maternal grandfather and her paternal grandmother both played some role in her becoming an adoptee by not being willing to be supportive of my mom after her birth nor my grandparents’ marriage.  I can’t know that for certain.  I just feel it in my soul.

Throughout it’s history, the church has refused divorce, my dad’s adoptive parents could not be elders in the Church of Christ because of their divorces from spouses before they found one another.  And I do believe churches in general continue to look down upon women who do what comes natural and have sex outside of marriage.

Validating a strong and moral family life has always been at the heart of most church teachings.  I won’t argue that such a family is not a blessing.  My two sons have grown up within such circumstances and thrive.  I also have friends with children my children’s age who chose to be single parents.  Their children thrive as well.

What seems to matter the most is that the child was truly wanted.  When a child is born “accidentally”, meaning unintended, it is a hurdle to overcome but not impossible to.  Love matters more than any other factor.

Parallels

Parallels of Life – ART by Lena

The most fascinating thing for me about learning the truth of my family’s origins has been the parallels.  Both of my parents were adoptees.

Both of my grandmothers lost their own mother at a young age.

Both of my grandmothers fathered my parents with a man much older, 20 years older, than they were.

Both of my grandmothers lost their children due to a lack of their family’s support and lack of paternal support.

There are contrasts as well.  My maternal grandmother was actually married.  Her father even signed the marriage license.  Why then, did her husband leave her in her family home after only 4 months of marriage and her 4 months pregnant ?  It is a question I will never be able to answer.

My paternal grandmother had an affair with a married man.  I doubt that she knew he was married when she first began dating him but of course, he knew.  His wife was over 20 years older than him and a private duty nurse.  One can imagine he had the luxury of many nights when she was sitting at someone’s bedside.  My grandmother was self-reliant and took care of the reality that she was pregnant on her own.  He may have never even known . . . but she knew precisely and outed him in a photo album as a breadcrumb for me to discover many decades later.

These parallels may be a coincidence or they may somehow be part of the picture, the meanings, the reasons that things happened the way they did.  I am simply grateful to be able to tell their stories now after 60+ years of not knowing about their actual existence.

Adoption is not the solution to Abortion

The argument is wrong on so many levels that it is hard to know where to start.  One thing that really irks me is when people and organizations use adoption as an excuse to be anti-choice.  Being pro-choice is not the same as being pro-abortion.  Abortion is often a difficult decision and sometimes haunts a woman for the rest of her life.  She should not be forced into back alleys and dangerous procedures when she sees no other way to end a conception that she never intended.

Adoption is not a solution to abortion. Adoption is a choice about whether or not to parent. A lack of family support is often at the root of a decision to abort or surrender to adoption.  The separation of a child from its mother has wounds that well-meaning people neglect to understand.  The bonding of a child with its mother begins in the womb and no substitute mother is similarly prepared by nature.

How much of a choice is abortion or adoption when you don’t have any other choices?  3 of the 4 children in my family line surrendered to adoption were because there was no other viable choice.  Only one intentionally chose to surrender and intentionally chose the adoptive parents.  Due to a mental illness that manifested quite strongly after that event, I am grateful she made that choice – the young man has grown into a phenomenal person within a nurturing environment.

I am a believer in Reproductive Justice.  Access to safe, legal, and free or affordable contraception and abortion, informed and sensitive adoption policies, comprehensive sex education, and ethical and compassionate immigration policies that don’t criminalize asylum seekers are all examples of reproductive justice issues. Reproductive justice is a framework for considering your ability to control your reproduction and your destiny, safely and with dignity.

Where There Is Demand

In the decades after World War II, there was a huge demand for “adoptable” babies.

If the demand for adoptable babies continues to exceed the supply . . . if the laws and courts continue to emphasize that the “rights of the child” supersede the “rights of the parents”, then it is quite possible that, in the near future, unwed mothers will be “punished” by having their children taken from them right after birth. A policy like this would not be executed nor labelled explicitly as “punishment”. Rather, it would be implemented by such pressures and labels as “scientific findings”, “the best interest of the child” and “rehabilitation of the unwed mother”.

~ The Baby Scoop Era

Once unwed mothers in the United States began to chose to keep their children, international adoptions became all the rage.  Without strong familial support, it was generally not possible for a single mother to really support herself and her child because the self-reliant tradition in the United States does not believe in financially supporting such mothers.  I was such a single mother after divorce who was not supported by my child’s father.

Back in the 1970s, growing up, I knew a girl who kept her child but mostly it was the grandmother who raised it.  Even more recently in the early 2000s, I know of a similar case.

But in my own family, where both of my parents were adopted, there was no familial support for their daughters keeping a child if they were not married.  Adoption was suggested as the solution.  The results speak for themselves.

Stability Matters

In contemplating how myself and both of my sisters lost custody of our children in a variety of ways, I realize that the main factor was instability and a lack of financial resources.

Though our parents were technically “good” parents, there was this attitude that once we were mature and more especially, once we married and had children, even if our marriages collapsed – we were on our own.  Our mother even counseled one of my sisters to give up her daughter rather than face an indefinite period of time when they might have to support the two of them.  The other sister simply accepted adoption as a reasonable solution to an inconvenient conception since both of our parents were adoptees.

Of course, we had no idea at the time of the wounds that separating any child from their natural mother, by whatever means, causes in a child.  I also realize that many single mothers somehow manage to survive parenting without losing their children.  I admire their fierce determination.

Today, is my oldest son’s 18th birthday.  I may have spent the rest of my life accepting that my self and my sisters were somehow defective if I hadn’t met my second husband 30 years ago.

My parents were quick to recognize the stability that living with him brought into my own life and were eager to “give me away” in marriage.  They were relieved to no longer have to worry about me.  My sisters have not been as fortunate.

I have been in my son’s life almost every minute of every day since he snuggled into my womb, then fed at my breast.  I now know it was the lack of stability and not that I was inherently defective that kept me from raising my oldest child, my beautiful daughter.

 

What Makes You Crazy

The thing that makes you crazy isn’t that your mother died,

or that you lost custody of your child,

it is that you can’t talk about it.

~ Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman

It is incomprehensible that BOTH of my grandmothers lived such similar circumstances – both lost their own mothers at a young age and both lost custody of their firstborn child to adoption.

There probably was no time to really grieve for her mother in my mom’s mother’s life – there were 4 younger siblings to be cared for and the enormous labor required of any woman without servants living in the early 1900s.  There were likely no words for my dad’s mother since she was an infant of only 3 months old and pre-verbal.

But what of the deeper wound ?  The loss of their firstborn children ?

Who could they talk to about it ?  Who wanted to hear anything about what happened at the end of their pregnancies ?  Most simply wanted to pretend that none of that had happened and just move on with Life.

Yet, it is unlikely that the wound ever healed or that my grandmothers didn’t think about their lost child every single day of whatever life remained for each of them.