DNA Traveler

Tim Curran

I feel a kinship with this man’s DNA Roots journey. In fact, my family just finished watching the original Roots series based on the book by Alex Haley. I had my own roots journey and like this man, Tim Curran, 23 and Me and Ancestry DNA did help me on my way only I didn’t leave the US in search of family – yet. I’d love to travel to Denmark – from where my paternal grandfather immigrated to the US.

Tim’s story comes to me by way of CNN Travel. LINK>I used DNA analysis to find my birth family and it sent me across three continents. California connects Tim’s story to mine and like me, he found the impenetrable walls of sealed records and tight-lipped officials in that state. Only he was born in 1961 and my dad was born there in 1935. From what I know of my own father’s story, this part of Tim’s story seems to be very similar – “On opposite sides of the world, they had both butted heads with difficult parents and left home at the first opportunity. They both wound up in one of the most free-thinking places on Earth: San Francisco.” On my paternal side, it was San Diego.

I don’t think my paternal grandfather actually butted heads in his family but opportunities in that country for siblings other than the first born were limited. My grandfather was the 5th of 10 children and several of his siblings had already migrated to the US – mostly into the Illinois and Wisconsin areas. My grandfather chose to take a train from NYC, where he landed, and on that train met a woman, much older than him and a private duty nurse, who agreed to marry him. It was mostly a marriage of convenience. When we don’t really know the accurate story, like Tim, I filled in the gaps. I suspect he may have eaten dinners, while his wife was on duty with some person, at the restaurant on the beach where my grandmother was employed by her aunt and uncle. She had a truly evil step-mother and so yes, she fled them and refused to return to Asheville North Carolina, after they traveled to visit her grandfather in California.

Like Tim, I have found my mother’s and father’s families welcoming me – even though they hardly, if even, knew I existed before I made contact. Some were vaguely aware that one or the other of my grandmothers had given a child up for adoption but really didn’t know any more than that. Sadly, it does not appear that my grandfather ever knew he had a son, being the married man having an affair with a much younger woman. But resourceful as she was, she simply handled it ending up employed by the Salvation Army after giving birth in one of their homes for unwed mothers.

Back to Tim’s story (which you can read in full at the LINK at the top of this blog) – his father worked as floor installer in the city’s North Beach neighborhood — where she was a cocktail waitress and dancer. I pictured them meeting while he installed floors in a nightclub where she was working. By all accounts, it must have been a very brief affair. My father was living with a girlfriend, and my mother’s sister says she never once heard my mother discuss my father in any way. Other than the sister and her mother, no one else in her family was told she was pregnant. (I was lucky enough that my grandmother had a photo album with a head shot and the name of my grandfather on the back.) My father’s family says they are 100% certain he was never told. (And my Danish relatives likewise, never knew my grandfather had a son.)

Tim has a large Moroccan family who own a set of neighboring summer homes just yards from the beach. The houses are built on property his grandfather bought nearly a century ago (when the land was thought to be worthless). It is a place where they go to escape the summer heat of Casablanca. In that family, he was able to recognize that many of their personality traits and quirks – how boisterous, curious and sly they are – just like he was as well. When I met a cousin on my paternal line, her appearance could have made her my youngest sister’s twin. That obvious physical appearance connection between our families seems to have mattered greatly to her.

Touring the country of Morocco, the sites he saw were beautiful and awe-inspiring, alien yet weirdly familiar. He experienced the country in a unique and very personal way thanks to his DNA journey: as a son just one generation removed from his father’s homeland. Though Alex Haley was further removed from his own African roots, it must have been deeply emotional to experience the native culture, which was so different from the modern life in the United States that he became a successful author in.

Like Tim, I bravely went looking. I was not content with the not knowing that my parents died with. I had the wherewithall to seek answers and with determination found success. Just as Tim and Alex both did. It is a journey well worth taking and many have written about similar adoptee root journeys that they have taken. Not every effort succeeds. Tim’s parents were both deceased and my grandparents were all deceased. For Alex, the stories lived on, passed down orally from one generation to the next.

Immigrant Adoptee Woes

Today’s story is about a woman who’s birth name is similar but different. *As Alina is my granddaughter’s name, I decided to use her name to disguise the original story (otherwise it is as told). I don’t think we have to make things so hard on immigrants who’s adoption has saddled them with issues like this.

I was adopted at 8 months old through Kids First. My adoptive parents (both Americans) falsified documents and changed my given birth name of *Alina, when they brought me to the US. The only thing they had applied for at the time was a Social Security Card, which was given out in the name my adoptive parents wanted to call me. The US government officials accepted this name, regardless of all of my Russian documentation showing my name as *Alina. My adoptive parents chose to change my name, so I “fit in better” and so people wouldn’t know I was a foreigner.

My adoptive parents were also very open and honest with me about my adoption and my name change, they never hid any details from me or dodged my questions. My whole upbringing though I never liked the name they gave me. It felt fake, misleading, like a false identity, just full-on imposter syndrome. I had asked my adoptive parents on multiple occasions to change my name back to my birth name and they refused every time.

When I turned 15, my world got flipped upside down when I found out I wasn’t actually a citizen of the US. It wasn’t until I was trying to obtain a drivers permit that we found out my adoptive parents had messed up big time (this is unfortunately not uncommon for an immigrant adoptee to experience). Through the very lengthy and expensive process, that I mostly financed on my own, I had an opportunity to change my name back to *Alina for good. Yet my adoptive parents still refused. I tried to explain to them all of my feelings about the situation but they didn’t care. They said I could deal with it when I was 18.

The naturalization process took me almost 4 years, and after a certain point, I was no longer able to change my name. And so, unfortunately at 19 years old I had to swear in as a citizen with this false identity. By this point, I had been going by *Alina at school, work, and in my personal life, but I had to constantly explain my situation to people about the issues with my name and essentially trauma dump on everyone. I am so sick of explaining myself. I am trying now that I am 22 years old to finally get my name back. It is the only thing I have from my culture, my mother, and my home. I have hit quite a road block in the process and due to living in a small town no one seems to have the expertise to help me. They have no idea what to do with an immigrant.

I currently do have full citizenship here in the US. My documents include my naturalization certificate, expired Russian Passport, Russian Birth Certificate, Official Translations, Delayed American Birth Certificate, Social Security Card, and a Drivers License. I have also since gotten married but because of my citizenship documents and status I couldn’t even change my name then.

From my own research on my state’s website the process, it should be possible although lengthy and expensive. I have to have an attorney with me to plead my case to a judge as to why I am requesting the name change. Though I have spoken to quite a few attorneys in my area – every single one of them said they have no idea how to help me or else they want an excessive retainer fee to even look into it.

My current game plan is to create all of the required documentation needed and the requested forms, find an attorney willing to just to stand with me to plead my case, and go through the rest of the process on my own efforts. I sadly don’t understand law very well and I’m getting overwhelmed by the whole process. I have spoken with several clergy members in my state and none of them know how to help me either, since I am wanting to change both my first and last name, plus they don’t know how to get me new citizenship documents in my preferred name.

One recommendation that others may be able to us is – Gregory Luce, an attorney and the founder of LINK> Adoptee Rights Law Center.

Abandonment is a Perception

Perception matters. As we go through our own “adult” stuff and often have to make hard choices, we are not always aware of how our children are perceiving what we had to do. My marriage at 19 ended in divorce after the birth of our daughter a few years later. Eventually, I then left my daughter with her paternal grandmother (about the age of 3), but she eventually ended up with her dad and a step-mother. I made attempts to stay in contact and reassure her always that it never was about her directly but my own problems. Fortunately, we are close today as adults raising children (my grandchildren and two sons I have now from a subsequent marriage who’s ages are close to that of my grandchildren). I have faced that as a child her perception was understandably about having been abandoned, even though it was never my intention to never to have her under my own roof again during her childhood.

Today, I read about a woman with somewhat similar concerns. She left her child’s father when her daughter was only a year and a half old. She gave her mother legal guardianship of her daughter as she was going through a really rough time in her life. It’s shameful and it’s tough to face these kinds of reality. Finally, this woman met someone with whom she has been able to create a whole and loving family with her daughter and a subsequent baby brother from her new relationship. This daughter is now 9 years old and there are understandably “issues”.

Her daughter has ADHD and a fiery personality. Also some mood and behavioral problems exasperated by her abandonment trauma. She tends to be self-centered (normal) and melodramatic (from me). She can be very mean and unforgiving at times. She easily gets stuck on feelings of being left out or forgotten, even while we’re actively spending time with her.

One response suggested – Behavior is communication. Give each other grace. You are not the choices you made.

Another offered a perspective which I find valid – She has emotions that she is shoving down because she does not know how to deal with them. A huge part of healing childhood trauma is to grieve the losses that caused the trauma. For her, it was not having you or her father in her life for those years. My suggestion is that you start working on grieving your losses, and be open and honest with her about it (age appropriately). Let her see that you are in denial, angry, bargaining, sad, and finally accepting of what happened. That will give her permission to explore those feelings that she has inside of herself. I would also suggest a trauma/grief informed counselor. 

You were part of your daughter’s wounding, you can play a major part in her healing too. It all starts with the parent healing as an adult. Learning what triggers us, so we can be the calm, consistent adults that our kids need because our calm becomes their calm, our ability to regulate our emotions becomes their ability.

More than one recommended LINK> Trust Based Relational Intervention – which I have seen and mentioned before. TBRI is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI uses Empowering Principles to address physical needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI is connection.

Someone else suggested mediation. Sometimes a safe person who’s not her parent can help her better understand/hear what you may be trying to communicate (and vice versa). And her suggestion came from personal experience – “I’ve had mediations done with both my and my mother’s therapist, and each time seemed to help shed some light on new aspects of a topic being discussed with our respective therapists.”

And an acknowledgement that I also understand personally – The mere fact that you care so deeply, is absolutely everything. DO NOT ever give up on that. Parenting is so hard, even without the added guilt you carry. All you can do is wake up and do the best you can do for that day.

Finally this from someone who’s been there (and hits me in the guilt place for I have done this too) – I wish my mom had owned her hand in my trauma WITHOUT excuses or trying to push blame onto others. I wish she would have validated my experiences. I wish she would have created and protected a safe space for me to understand and unpack all of the feelings and thoughts I had, preferably with a therapist. I wish she would have spent time one on one with me doing things I cared about, getting to know me deeper. I wish she wouldn’t have told me how hard XYZ was for her, I didn’t care, it wasn’t a competition, I was the helpless child. Even if my mom’s choices were between bad and worse, she was an adult who had brought me with her to that point. I wanted a mom who wanted to BE my mom.

She added – Your bit you wrote about your daughter feeling left out or forgotten hit me like a ton of bricks. That feeling is something I am working on to this day. I felt so out of place with my mom, stepdad, and new baby brother. I knew I was forgettable and honestly with a new baby – replaceable. They felt like a whole little family and I was just the chump she had to come back and get so I could tag along. (blogger’s note – though I never was able to bring my daughter back into my own life fulltime – we did have visits – I did go on to have 2 sons who I have been raising. This caused me to consider how that might feel to her – even though she is an adult with children of her own.)

One more – Focus on being your best self today and in the future. That’s how you can make it up to them, they’re often incredibly wise about this stuff. This way of thinking encourages you to reach a point of acceptance and decide… everyone’s alive, healthy, and you can’t change the past. I think that’s what I would say to my own parents, just sin no more and I don’t want to dwell in the past. (Though there may be times when the wounds bubble back up.)

My own last insight – life is messy, complicated and sometimes very very difficult. We can only acknowledge where we have failed but instead of continually beating ourselves up over that – move forward with being the best person we have managed to be at this time.

It’s Complicated

I didn’t hate motherhood but circumstances robbed me of it with my first child. She ended up being raised by her dad and a step-mother, after I left her temporarily in the care of her paternal grandmother. This morning I was reading an edited extract from Undo Motherhood by Diana Karklin. Stories from women all over the planet about how motherhood was not a welcomed event in their lives.

At the time I left my daughter, it didn’t feel like it was because I didn’t love being her mother, I always did love that but was I committed to it ? Reading these stories today, I wonder at my lack of maturity and sense of responsibility at the time. I think I always expected to do something like my own mother did – get married and immediately have children, while going to work everyday to contribute to the family income. I was also into “having a good time” and all that meant as someone in their early 20s – whether in a marriage or not.

Even so, it’s strange that I married. During my senior year in high school, that had not been my plan. I was going to share an apartment with my best friend. The first time I went out with the man who I would marry and have a child with, I told my mom when I came back from that date that it was never going to work out. Then, he showed me a ring and asked me to marry him and so, I did.

I still think marriage isn’t a good bargain for a woman, even though I then married a second time and had two sons with the man who is my husband today. If anything happens that takes him from me and leaves me yet living, I cannot imagine marrying again. We have now been married a long time and so, this time it worked out but with a bump or two along the way – yet the marriage has been able to endure.

Reading the article in The Guardian today – “The women who wish they weren’t mothers: ‘An unwanted pregnancy lasts a lifetime’ “ – has given me pause in reflecting on my own life. Also today, in the Science of Mind magazine which shares the philosophy of a man named Ernest Holmes who created a practice based upon the philosophies of the world and developments in science, I was also given more pause to reflect on romantic love.

The author, Rev Dr Jim Lockard, reflected on what it means to be human and to have a spiritual nature. Our biological selves seek to procreate, as does all life. Our emotional selves seek connection and to give and receive love with a special other to experience a deep feeling of fulfillment. Our intellectual selves seek to find a partner to share our human experiences and to create a family structure. Our spiritual selves seek to link to another to experience the joining of spiritual identities in relationship.

Clearly on many levels, having children fulfills a lot of those aspects and qualities of life, as much or sometimes more than a romantic partner can. Just as The Guardian piece made clear – it is often our cultures that have set rules and expectations about our adult lives. Even as the rigidity of narrow gender definitions have been rapidly changing, with the overturn of Roe v Wade, many women feel they are being pushed back into another time that they thought was in the past. They may be forced into giving birth, due to whatever reason and circumstance, even though they aren’t craving to fulfill the duties of motherhood. Children do best when they are intended and wanted. When they are not – wounding and trauma are the result. Just as an unwanted pregnancy lasts a lifetime, regardless of how long that initial romantic relationship endures, or even how that one night stand or rape has become imprinted on a woman’s soul, what happens to that child lasts a lifetime as well.

The nature of falling in love is a mixture of biological urges, emotional longings, rational explanations and spiritual connections. To fall in love is to exist in instability and the projection of our unconscious expectations onto another person. Our sense of rational choice is diminished. Many women wake up one day to realize that they fell in love with someone their ego was imagining and not a reality the other person was able to actually be – long term. A man is often free to walk away, leaving a woman forced to carry the burden of their children for at least 2 decades – truly for both the mother’s and the children’s lifetimes. Whether a father does or not is never guaranteed.

That Pesky Biological Clock

No one ever told me that there was a cut-off point. I had been pregnant twice – gave birth once, had an abortion with the second one. Then, I remarried and after 10 years of marriage, my husband suddenly decided he wanted children after all. We had seen a news clip that women who conceive at an advanced age live longer. Then we saw another one maybe the next day that indicated my odds of conceiving were very low. We had been trying all the usual things, timing intercourse, using ovulation predictors. Nothing was working. And so we saw a doctor who worked in fertility issues recommended to me and he tried a injection that was supposed to boost my last egg which we had just seen on ultrasound. That didn’t work either. I was in my mid-40s at that point.

Yesterday, I spotted a link to an old 2016 article in The Guardian titled – “The foul reign of the biological clock by Moira Weigel. I think that is a good thing. Many women are unaware that their reproductive years are as limited and short as they naturally are. Personally, I think Mother Nature needs to catch up – save women who are immature and really too young from conceiving and extending the age at which a woman can conceive to be more equal to that of men. My having given birth with the help of reproductive assistance at 47 and 50 informs that perspective.

Moira writes – “Any relationship that does not ‘work out’ – which is to say, does not get a woman pregnant by a man committed to helping her raise their offspring – brings her closer to her expiration date. At the stroke of midnight, our eggs turn into dust.” Close to the truth that I found out for myself.

Female life came to be defined in terms of motherhood, or the failure to become a mother. The story of the biological clock is a story about science and sexism. It illustrates the ways that assumptions about gender can shape the priorities for scientific research, and scientific discoveries can be deployed to serve sexist ends. We are used to thinking about metaphors like “the biological clock” as if they were not metaphors at all, but simply neutral descriptions of facts about the human body. Yet, if we examine where the term came from, and how it came to be used, it becomes clear that the idea of the biological clock has as much to do with culture as with nature. And its cultural role was to counteract the effects of women’s liberation.

As a beneficiary of the woman’s movement of my mother’s generation and before, I had been granted the mandate to be a “super” woman – keep a marriage together and have children, while working full time and going to college part time to earn a degree. As for myself, I failed miserably. Ended up divorced, my daughter ended up being raised by her dad and step-mother, and I never got the college degree. Struggled financially all the time, until I met my second husband who stabilized my life with a business he owned that I could help manage and contribute directly to our financial support. We live in a paid for home in a beautiful, peaceful forest.

The psychologist Jean Twenge has pointed out that “millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment.” Another problematic element of data on fertility is that, in general, the information we have comes from patients who visit doctors because they are experiencing fertility problems. As a result, it is difficult to assess what is going on with the population as a whole. How many couples are not conceiving because they do not want to? How many are using contraception? It is nearly impossible to control for all these variables.

Though I mention that woman should be able to conceive at an advanced age as men can, there is also some truth that they too have biological clocks that affect their ability to reproduce. Male fertility also declines with age. Since the 1980s, a large and growing body of research has shown that sperm counts, and quality, diminish over the years. The children of older fathers have much higher risk of autism and other complications than those of younger ones do. Often “old sperm” simply flail and perish around an egg they are trying to fertilize.

According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, of couples seeking treatment for subfertility in the United States, 40% discover that the problem is being caused by the “female factor”, 40% of the time it is the “male factor”, and 20% of the time they cannot tell. Women and men are found to experience fertility problems at roughly equal rates.

What does all of this have to do with adoption ? Infertility is one of the main drivers of couples deciding to adopt. Certainly not the only one. Population concerns have been one. Religious imperatives to convert and educate the heathen masses to increase the number of Christians has certainly been on. A misguided belief that there are ALL these millions of children (“orphans”) with no family to love them is certainly a common one.

There is much more in the linked article.

The What If Of It All

Michele Dawson Haber

Today, I was first attracted to a blog by this woman, Michele Dawson Haber, in which she shares imaging her father talking to her while making coffee. “What’s this? Why so many steps? Do you know the coffee we drank in the old days was just botz (mud) at the bottom of our cups? A life like yours, with such complicated coffee—Michal*, it makes me happy that you’re not struggling as I did.” *Michal (מיכל) is her Hebrew name.

I come from a long line of coffee drinkers. The pot was always prepared for the timer to begin the brewing before any inhabitants of the house woke and wanted a cup. After my mom died, I spent several quiet treasured morning drinking coffee with my dad out on their deck as we watched the dawn turn into sunrise. When I returned to my parents’ house following my dad’s death, as I walked through their kitchen, I heard him clearly say in my mind, “You miss your old dad, don’t you ?” Exactly as he would have said it in life. I admitted that I did miss him already. With my mom’s passing, . . . oh, I heard her a lot say “You’re doing really well.” many times while sitting on the toilet in the bathroom where she died in her jacuzzi tub. So much that I finally had to let her know – “enough, I don’t need to hear this any more” – and it stopped.

Yet, what really touched my heart was Michele’s piece in May 2021 in Salon about her mother’s letters – “It’s my mom’s fault I stole her letters.” I found letters like that among my parents things as I cleared out their residence after their deaths only 4 months apart. I wish I had read Michele’s piece before getting rid of my parents’ love letters to each other that my mom treasured enough to keep for over 50 years. Just before I began that work, I had read a piece by a woman who’s mother had destroyed her love letters from her father. The mother had said these were private between your father and I – and for that reason only, I let the letters go after having coincidentally read only one but a very relevant one – as though my mom reached out from beyond the grave to make certain I at least saw that one.

Michele writes in her personal essay for Salon – “I felt guilt wash over me. The debates with my two sisters over whether it was ethical to steal her letters replayed in my mind. In the end, we decided that the information in those letters belonged not only to our mother, but also to me and my older sister.” But I had not and so chose a different course based upon someone else’s story. Michele goes on to say, “the question of privacy continued to gnaw at me. I knew that if I had asked my mother 20 or even 10 years ago for permission to read the letters she would have said, ‘Are you kidding? No way. What’s in those letters is none of your business.’ And so I did what I always do when faced with a conundrum: I researched. In her book The Secret Life of Families (subtitled How Secrets Shape Our Relationships and When and How to Tell the Truth), Dr. Evan Imber-Black distinguished secrecy from privacy. A secret, she wrote, is information withheld that “impacts another’s life choices, decision-making capacity and well-being.” Conversely, if a piece of information is truly private, then knowing it has no impact on another’s physical or emotional health. 

Michele goes on to share, “In my fantasy argument with my mother, I would say that her secrecy about my biological father did impact my well-being, that depriving me of my genetic heritage handicapped my ability to shape a strong identity.” I agree with her reasoning on this one.

I had read one note (not even a letter) from my mom to a friend, stressing about how my father might react to learning she was pregnant. She had conceived me out of wedlock as a 16 yr old Junior in high school. My dad had just started at the U of NM at Las Cruces and it appears they wrote each other almost every day, though mostly these were the letters she received from my dad, except the note I read. I remember when I figured out that I had been conceived out of wedlock and how in my heart (though only for a few months) I turned against my mom because of that. I didn’t want her to touch me, such as take my hand. Hopefully, she thought only that I was asserting some independence because I was growing up. It was just all those “nice girls don’t do that” lectures she had given me. As a grown woman now, I know that she didn’t want me to make the same mistake. I hastened to get married with a month yet to graduating from high school even though I was not pregnant. My parents supported me and we had the fully formal church wedding and reception in my parents’ back yard. I suspect my parents were afraid I might turn up pregnant like my mom did and so did not discourage me from a marriage that lasted long enough to conceive a child 4 months after I married and then ended in divorce when she was only 3 years old.

Finding that letter further softened my feelings about my conception because I could clearly feel my mom’s emotions and concerns before my dad knew he would become a father. Anyway, this long story shorter. I didn’t keep the letters but sent them to the local landfill along with other items my mom had kept from their many journeys – souvenir booklets and the like. Reading Michele’s story makes me regret that all over again, and I have felt that regret before.

After my dad died, I learned from my cousin, who’s father was my mom’s adoptive brother, that it was possible to get the adoption file that the state of Tennessee had denied my mom in the early 1990s. It is a pity they didn’t let her have that because it would have brought her so much peace. My own journey to rediscover my original grandparents (both of my parents were adopted) only took me about year after my dad’s death; and then, I knew who ALL 4 of them were and something about my ancestors. What I didn’t expect was gaining cousins and an aunt. Even though I am very happy to now have family that I am biologically and genetically related to – I will also admit how difficult it is to create relationships with people who have decades of history lived that I was not any part of. Thankfully, they have all been kind in acknowledging me (and sometimes the DNA makes it difficult for them not to).

Do read the links above to Michele’s stories. I’ve made this blog long enough that I am not going to include any more excerpts beyond the coffee bit and some of her thoughts about personal letters.

The Tragic Story of Lizzie Lou and Frances Irene

My grandmother with her second husband

I’m realizing a day late that yesterday would have been my maternal grandmother’s birthday. Her father died on Christmas Day in 1953, one year before I was born to his first grandchild, who he never even knew. I can imagine Christmas was not the usual kind of holiday for my Stark family but then I don’t really know. My mom was adopted away from them when she was 7 months old.

Relinquishing a child has lifelong consequences for women and for adoptees. Between 13–20% of birth mothers do not go on to have other children. For those in an era of birth control, a few may consciously feel that to have another child would be to betray the first child which they lost to adoption. For many, and especially in my grandmother’s generation, there was either no known reason for infertility or something about their life circumstances precluded having more children.

After receiving the adoption file from the state of Tennessee that they had previously denied my mother, only breaking her heart and motivation to search by informing her that her birth mother had died several years before, it took me forever to make real contact with one of my grandmother’s remaining family members – this one is a niece. She would actually be my mom’s cousin, that same generation of descendants. She is the warmest person and gave to me the gift my heart was yearning for, some intimate, personal memories of my grandmother along with this picture of her with her second husband.

In some belated post-Christmas communication with her today, I felt compelled to correct the seeming misperception that my mom was the child of the couple in this blog. Here was my reply –

My grandmother never had another child. My mom was her only child (and this is not uncommon among women who lose their first child in such a tragic manner). Her father appeared to have abandoned them, at least to my grandmother’s perception of events, though a super flood on the Mississippi River in early 1937 must have been a factor. My cousin that shares him as a grandfather with me, believes he cared deeply about family. So why did he not come to Memphis to rescue the two of them ? There is no one alive now that can answer that question for me and so, there it sits forever unanswered. Of course, once Georgia Tann knew about the precarious situation my mom and grandmother were in, she swooped in to acquire yet another human being to sell. Awful but a definite truth of it all. I am happy that my grandmother found happiness with her second husband after the divorce between her and my maternal grandfather occurred (and it didn’t happen until 3 years after they first married and my mom was already permanently beyond the reach of her original family). 

She later corrected that “seeming” misperception, of course, she knew my mom was not this man’s child.

It is a tragic story. Why my grandfather left her after only 4 months of marriage, causing her to be sent away to Virginia to have my mom, there is no one left alive to tell me. Why my grandfather didn’t respond to the letter from the Juvenile Court at Memphis when my grandmother came back with her baby, there is no one left alive to tell me. My grandmother was so desperate to find a way to stop my mom’s adoption that she called Georgia Tann’s office 4 days after being pressured into signing the surrender papers, under a threat of having Tann’s good friend, Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, declare my grandmother an unfit mother (which she absolutely was not !!). Then, she took a train to New Orleans to prove to Miss Tann that she did have friends there who would take the two of them in resolving at least the issue of stability, even if only temporarily. Everything she tried to do, including taking my mom to Porter Leath orphanage for temporary care – FAILED tragically.

I have all of my original grandparent’s birthdates on my yearly calendar now. I wasn’t able to know them in life but I don’t forget them in death. Maybe someday in the nonphysical realm to which my grandparents (and adoptee parents) have all gone, I will meet them once again and receive the answers my heart cannot acquire in life.

Being A Supportive Spouse To An Adoptee

The person described in today’s story could have been my father. The difference is that he married another adoptee. Both of my parents grew up knowing they were adopted all along. They had this in common but their perspectives on having been adopted were very different. My mom yearned to know the truth of her adoption. My dad acted content with his lot in life. I suppose that these two adoptees found each other, fell in love and had the support of one another until death did part them, kept the loneliness at bay. Still, my mom did communicate to me her feelings about having been adopted because my dad was not able to empathize with her feelings.

Today’s story –

My husband is adopted. He was adopted at birth and has always known he was adopted. That’s about as much communication as he has ever had with his parents about it. His mom told me once “I just let him know he could ask me whatever he wanted to know and that was that.” Since he’s not a very big talker, he’s never really spoke much at all about his adoption with his parents. I’ve always come from the place of it being his life experience and however he wants to go through life with it, is how I will support him.

We have 4 kids. He’s an amazing dad and husband. I often wonder if I’m being a good enough wife in supporting him. I’ve read about how much trauma even the “good” adoptions have and my heart just dies inside for my husband. He has no desire to look for his biological family and says “I have a mom and dad.” I completely support him in that. Is there anything more I can do? Of course it would be easier to just keep going on with my life and not put any thought towards his mental health, since he’s always seems fine. He’s such a people pleaser (especially for his parents, which I’ve now learned is typical with adoptees). I never want him to put on a happy face for us, if he is hurting inside and I could see him doing this.

Is it actually possible to not care at all or to not feel feelings at all about being adopted? To have a happy childhood and feel no trauma and grow up and never have any of it affect your life? Because so much of what I’ve read says otherwise.

The first response was (I get this about men as well) – It’s totally possible he had a great childhood and doesn’t have any trauma, and it’s also possible he is hiding it inside, since men are socially conditioned to be that way. It’s a tough call. I can tell you it’s possible because that’s me. I have no adoption associated trauma. I’m in therapy; my therapist has tried to “get it out of me” and I’m always open to having the discussion but she closed that door once she concluded there wasn’t any trauma to work on. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I can see you truly care about and love your husband and want what’s best for him but forcing the issue may make him drive it deeper into the closet. This is a really tough and delicate situation.

And I do agree with this perspective (BTW my parents were about 8 months old and had spent time with their original mothers before they were adopted back in the 1930s) – You can experience trauma as a newborn and not remember it. It’s not always something you feel. It can just be something that affected you and you’re not conscious of it.

This could be true of my dad as well – he could have dealt with it a long time ago and just doesn’t feel the need to bring up the past. He may be in a healthy place and bringing up that trauma back up would retraumatize him because he thought he had come to peace with it. (My dad used to caution my mom against opening up a can of worms with her own yearning.)

From a voice of experience – I am the spouse of a domestic infant adoptee. I don’t think it’s your place to push, just be supportive. My husband was “fine” until he was not. It was a very, very slow process and I saw things a long time before he discovered them on his own, things like how his behaviors, such as people pleasing and his emotional response to perceived abandonment, the way his adoptive parents treated him, etc. He slowly came out of a fog, and it has been a long and painful process. That being said, not everyone has the same experience. Additionally, if he is in a fog, its something he has to process on his own. I think it could be extremely and emotionally damaging for you to spin this into any sort of realizations (if they exist) that he isn’t emotionally or psychologically ready for. Just love him, don’t push, and support him.

My Maternal Adoptive Grandmother

1989 among the Missouri Azaleas

I spent the afternoon yesterday reading through a thick stack of letters that I wrote to my grandmother. When my grandmother died, for whatever reason, when my mom found these, she thought to send them to me. I wondered why but now I understand. My grandmother adopted my mom from Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society’s Memphis branch. I find it amazing that she kept all of these letters from me but they are very detailed about my marriage in the early days, what living in Missouri was like for me and what we were doing to promote our home-based business than I would have imagined. I wonder that I had that much time to write so much to her but then, there is only one, maybe two, in any given month and not even one for every month.

I could have been given up for adoption as my mom conceived me when she was only a junior in high school and not wed. My dad had graduated from the same high school the year before and had only just started attending the University of New Mexico at Las Cruces. I tend to credit his parents (he was adopted also) for preserving me in the family but as everyone who would know is now deceased, it is only a guess on my part. That is the reason I was born in Las Cruces and not El Paso Texas where my sisters were born.

I had the good fortune to chose to be born on this grandmother’s wedding anniversary. In January back in 1994, I acknowledged a memory she shared with me in a letter from her (I haven’t kept most, if any of hers to me). It was a “special memory” of hers about the sunlight shining upon me while she held me in her arms and some beautiful thought she had at that moment. It seems to have been a sign from God meant just for her and since I too believe in signs of that sort, I understood. I am now married to the man that I am because I received a physical, unmistakable sign to give him a bit more attention than I might have otherwise. Of course, discernment is very important when it comes to trusting the signs one notices.

In fact, it is quite clear in re-reading these very old letters from the early 1990s, that I was closer to this grandmother in my spiritual understandings than anyone else in my family. My dad’s parents were very conservative, traditional Church of Christ adherents. My mom was very much Episcopal and my dad wasn’t at all a church goer until all of us girls had left the home and then, he said to me that he went to “keep my mom company.” After she died, when I was there helping him with life in general, I went with him because he continued to go to their little church alone or with my youngest sister who was assisting him so he could remain in his home.

These letters are full of the most amazing details of my early marriage and life here in Missouri. I could share these things with this grandmother because she grew up in Missouri in a house much like the one I live in and an environment that is very similar. In one letter, I write – “I truly love the woods, hills and streams of my home here in the Missouri Ozarks. Knowing that you grew up nearby gives me the feeling that I came back home.” (I had grown up in the desert of El Paso Texas, where my grandmother spent most of her own life and where she eventually passed away.) I also shared a lot with her about our efforts to promote and grow our fledgling business.

When I found this thick packet, I wondered why my mom sent it to me and didn’t simply throw it away. I don’t know if she bothered to read all of these letters or not – I can’t ask her since she died in Sept of 2015 – but I’m glad to have them today. Only a few of them can I even bear to throw away but the details of our early business are as precious as gold and I hope we can preserve them in protective sleeves in a binder. Maybe someday, our sons will enjoy reading about our adventures before we decided to become their parents.

I Admit I Am Old School

This not the first time it has come up. I am doing my best to recognize changing norms and find a good level of acceptance within my self. For one thing, among those changing norms is a recognition of the trauma that every adoptee experiences. Another is same sex couples and the frequent desire of these couples to go beyond marriage to parenting. There I do struggle with having grown up with a certain kind of mindset that believes optimal for children growing up is having both a male and female role model. I am also realistic enough to know that isn’t always possible. We have several single mothers in my mom’s group. Some chose to enter into pregnancy without a male partner and some became widows after their children were born. In both cases the children do seem to be thriving and I am a witness to that fact.

Today the question was asked in my all things adoption group – What are your thoughts about the Buttigieg’s impending adoption? I didn’t know about it until I saw that. So I went looking and see that this male same sex couple is at least enlightened enough to have been seeking “a baby who had been abandoned or surrendered at short notice”. Yet, we are talking about an infant it would appear. I once had a discussion with a friend who was good friends with a male same sex couple who was raising a little girl who they had via a surrogate. I expressed my reservations about that situation honestly. I have less concern about a female same sex couple where one contributes the egg and the other carries the pregnancy. There is still the issue of the child being donor conceived and how some sperm donors have fathered a multitude of genetically related children.

I am glad my boys have their father as a male role model. I am glad they have me as a female role model. There are a lot of gender issues in our modern society. There is toxic male culture but my boys are home schooled so they aren’t exposed to very much of that in their daily life. It’s enough that they have witnessed me have to push back on some of that at home. Thankfully, my husband is for the most part respectful, appreciative and considerate of me. With over 30 years of marriage completed, there are bound to be moments that aren’t sterling.

In these days of gender equality, marriage equality and equal employment opportunities, it might seem odd to even contemplate discussing the topic of a male parent versus a female parent. Undoubtedly many well-adjusted children are raised in single gender families making the equality of parenting question seem out-dated and narrow-minded. I do understand this.

However, there are a number of ‘experts’ who agree that the influence of both a female and a male are vital for proper child development. This diversity give the child a broader, richer experience of interactions. I found an article that shares the perspectives of Dr Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School who notes that females and males parent very differently.

If you are at all interested, you can read about his perspectives in this article – Do Children Need a Male and Female Parent? “Need” is probably too strong a concept given the realities. I would say in a perfect world . . . but this isn’t . . . is it ? So adoptions still continue to happen today. They probably always will but reforms in the practice are still possible and adoptees are leading the charge to make reforms possible – keeping genetic and identity information intact – even after an adoption.

Strong male/female influences can be created through other family members such as an aunt or uncle, grandfather or grandmother. In an imperfect world this is a reasonable alternative method of supplying male or female role models in single sex households.