It’s A Fundamental Human Right

I certainly understand the need to know. I believe one of the purposes that I came into this lifetime was to heal some missing family history. I believe because I was aligned with my dharma, doors opened and answers revealed themselves. That black hole void beyond my parents became whole with ancestors stretching way back and into Denmark and Scotland as well as the English and Irish.

I believe in the principle that it’s a fundamental human right to know one’s genetic identity. I remember once talking to a woman who was trying to understand why it mattered that both of my parents were adopted if they had a good life. As I tried to explain it to her, she suddenly understood. She took her own genetic ancestry for granted because she knew that if she had any reason to want to know, she could discover all the details.

Not so for many adoptees with sealed and closed records (which was the case with my parents adoptions) and not so for donor conceived people whose egg or sperm donors chose to remain anonymous – many doing it for the money – and walking away from the fact that a real living and breathing human being exists because of a choice they made. Today, inexpensive DNA testing has unlocked the truth behind many family secrets. Some learn one (or both) of the parents who raised them are not their genetic parent from a DNA test. A family friend might tell a person mourning the death of their dad at his funeral, that their father suffered from infertility and their parents used a sperm donor to conceive them.

These types of revelations can be earth shattering for some people. I’ve know of someone recently who was thrown that kind of loop. The process of coping with such a revelation is daunting and life-changing regardless. Even for my own self, learning my grandparents stories has changed my perspectives in ways I didn’t expect, when I first began the search into my own cultural and genetic origins.

There is a term for this – misattributed parentage experience (MPE). It has to do with the fact that you did not grow up knowing your genetic parent.  That word – experience – best describes the long-term effects. It is not an “event,” a one-time occurrence. The ramifications of MPE last a lifetime to some degree.  I know how it feels, trying to get to know people, who have decades of life experience that I was not present for or even aware of. It is not possible to recover that loss. One can only go forward with trying to develop a forward relationship and whatever gems of the past make themselves known are a gift.

There are 3 primary communities with MPE in their personal histories.

[1] Non-paternity event (NPE): those conceived from an extramarital affair, tryst, rape or assault, or other circumstance

[2] Assisted conception: those conceived from donor conception (DC), sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, or surrogacy

[3] Adoption: those whose adoption was hidden, orphans, individuals who’ve been in foster care or are late discovery adoptees (LDA), etc.

There are also 3 primary topics for raising awareness and developing reform efforts – education, mental health and legislation. Right To Know is an organization active on all of these fronts and issues. They are advocates for people whose genetic parent(s) is not their supportive or legal parent(s). They work to promote a better understanding of the complex intersection of genetic information, identity, and family dynamics in society at large.

Bastard Nation

I just learned about this organization today. Bastard Nation advocates for the civil and human rights of adult citizens who were adopted as children. Only the states of Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Hawai’i, Kansas, Oregon, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island allow adult adoptees to have unrestricted access to their own original birth records!

Bastard Nation asserts that it is the right of people everywhere to have their official original birth records unaltered and free from falsification, and that the adoptive status of any person should not prohibit him or her from choosing to exercise that right. We have reclaimed the badge of bastardy placed on us by those who would attempt to shame us; we see nothing shameful in having been born out of wedlock or in being adopted. 

As a 501(c)(4), Bastard Nation does not retain all of the perks associated with being a 501(c)(3) non-profit (donations are not tax-deductible), but in return we have the freedom to support legislation and political campaigns, and in general to move beyond the arena of education into political advocacy.

Bastard Nation has published The Bastard Chronicles: 20 Years of Adoptee Equality Activism in the U.S. and the Birth of a Bastard Nation, compiled and edited by Marla Paul. It features a diverse collection of Bastard theory, and practice, Bastard and Bastard Nation history, legislative and political action, personal stories, art, and literature.

During my own efforts to uncover my grandparents’ identities (both of my parents were adopted), I bumped up against sealed adoption records in Virginia, Arizona and California. Only recently was there success in New York in opening up the records for mature adult adoptees. Had my mom’s adoption not been a part of the Georgia Tann scandal, I would not have her full adoption file from Tennessee today.

In the Bastard Bookstore is a LONG list of books related to adoption.

Think About The Mothers

The family I was born into is heavily affected by adoption.  Until I learned about the truth related to my mom’s adoption, I never thought much about how the mothers who gave up a baby to adoption were affected by what happened.  I never thought about how it might have affected both of my sisters who each gave up a baby to adoption.

My first exposure was reading Lorraine Dusky’s book A Hole in My Heart.  We have since become friends on Facebook and I know a lot more about what happened to her than only what she wrote in that book.  She has been an activist for opening the sealed records in the state of New York.  The effort was recently successful.  Almost half of these United States continue to obstruct adoptees from knowing the truth of their origins.  Adoptees are treated like second-class citizens denied the basic human rights that most people unaffected by adoption never give a second thought.

A friend in my writer’s guild once asked me at a conference as we were discussing my manuscript project, what does it matter if someone was adopted if their adoptive parents were good people and their childhood fortunate ?  As I explained it to her, she understood in her own way that her genetic origins were simply something she took for granted.  Whether she cared to know anything at all about her heritage, it was accessible to her.  Not so for the adoptee.

The more contact I have with women who have lost their children to adoption, the more I understand the lifelong regret, sorrow and pain this causes them.  Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  Too often people think the problem that is today will always stay a problem forever.  Change is constant, so that perception is never the truth but it is easy to lose sight of that in extreme need.

Not only do many mothers never know what became of their child, many adoptees exist in a black hole.  If they know they were adopted (which is generally the case in our modern times and even for both of my parents, adopted in the 1930s, they knew they had been adopted even though they never learned anything about their own origins), there is this strange kind of existence and knowing they are not related to the people who are “their family” and genetic heritage ? the heritage that is their adoptive family’s possession, it isn’t their heritage.

And sadly, when one finally does know the heritage, as I have been blessed to discover my own (know all 4 original grandparents and something about each of their stories) and have contact now with true genetic relations, I don’t feel fully as though I belong to these families.  We have no shared history.  It is as though I’ve been robbed twice.  Though I am grateful to at least have the truth now and not a false identity.