The Influence Of Money

I am enough of a realist to know that the influence of money is not going away anytime soon.  Even so, in adoption, I believe it can be a corrupting factor.

Had it not been for cooking the books and overcharging the prospective adoptive parents, Georgia Tann’s crimes may never have been discovered.  When someone is making a lot of money off of an altruistic effort, it attracts attention.  It also buys protection as in the case of Tann and the Boss Crump political machinery in Memphis Tennessee.

I do believe that my dad’s parents probably paid less for him at The Salvation Army than my mom’s parents paid for her through Georgia Tann.  The Tennessee Children’s Home Society was careful not to document the money that was changing hands or was at least doing so in a very hidden way.  There is no doubt in my mind their eagerness to go looking for yet another baby after my grandparents had already adopted two must be an indication of a monetary motive.

In a novel I finished reading yesterday, there grew an awareness that the Catholic Church was making money selling babies.  I’ve no doubt that it is likely the truth.  Adoption is a kind of human trafficking that has the approval of society in general.  Who can object to people wanting to give unfortunate children a good home ?

But society has no interest to providing enough support for mothers to keep and raise their babies.  Something is terribly rotten in such a system of priorities.  The reason adoption records have remained sealed in most states in the US for so long is for the protection of the people who have the money – the adoptive parents.  Agencies, lawyers and social workers as well as the courts are all making money by taking the product of unfortunate young women and delivering babies to those who can afford to pay.

It was not lost on me in the recent NY Times article that the two men in a stable marriage who adopted out of Foster Care not only had no out of pocket expenses directly related to that but received subsidies for doing so.  This is where money actually helped the situation.

 

Robbed Of Heritage

The symbolism in this painting calls to something very deep within me.  It is a painting by Barbara Taffet. In 1973, she reinvented herself as Maria Alquilar, a Latina artist whose fictive back story included a Sephardic Jewish father from Argentina. Drawing on her deep knowledge of world myths and spiritual traditions, filtered through her own personal mythology, she began creating idiosyncratic works inspired by the work of the California Sacramento-Davis area narrative expressionist, outsider and funk artists she admired and collected.

Adoption robs us of our actual cultural heritage.  All my life until very recently, I believed my dad was half-Mexican and my mom possibly half-African American.  They were both adoptees and for what little we knew about our familial roots, we could claim any story we wanted and not even our own selves knew whether it was true or not.

So along came inexpensive DNA testing.  Both my mom and I had ours done at Ancestry.  Later on, I had mine also tested at 23 and Me.  My mom has some Mali in her and so, I suspect slavery had something to do with that.  My dad’s dark complexion actually came by way of his Danish immigrant father.  I have learned there is some Ashkenazi Jew in me and suspect that comes via a family that lived for generations on Long Island New York.

Why does this painting call so deeply to my soul – there is that Jewish symbol and there is the Southwestern symbols as well.  There is a predator protecting it’s prey – my maternal grandmother was preyed upon by Georgia Tann, the famous baby thief of Memphis Tennessee.  And it is always about the bunnies in my household.  The angelic image at the top is more like a Jackrabbit which fits nicely with my New Mexican birth.

In many transracial adoptions, the very young child is not only cut off from their cultural heritage but loses contact with their native language.  It may be difficult to understand how disorienting that is but I get it.  It’s time to change the rules of the adoption game.

Our First Union

We seek love, because of that very first union we had with another person – our mother.  Of course, at birth, it was necessary for us to separate physically from her, in order to grow and develop further.  Even after birth, and more importantly still, if we are totally separated from her – taken away from her and given to a complete stranger (as in adoption) to raise us – very deep within us, we know her still.

In the womb, we heard her voice, experienced her emotions, tasted the foods she preferred flavoring the amniotic fluid that cushioned us from the blows of a harsh world.  We were ever intimately connected to all the interior sounds, her heartbeat and other organs functioning.  They say a pregnant woman is a totally different gender from the typical male/female divide.

Though we celebrate our mother’s love in May, the month of February is full of constant reminders of the importance of love.  We send Valentine’s to other people, even children do this as they celebrate the day in school and church.  We remember to tell people we love them.

Yesterday was my own mother’s birthday.  I lost her to death in 2015.  The years fly by so quickly.  Most years on her birthday, I called her up on the telephone and we would talk for a very long time.  During a difficult time in my life, I remember going into the darkened kitchen to cry alone in my deep despair.  Suddenly, she was there.  Her maternal sense knew I needed comforting.

My mom was taken away from her mother after a brief visit.  Her desperate mother was struggling to find a way to support the two of them.  The father (she was married) inexplicably did not answer when her cry of distress through the Juvenile Court in Memphis was issued.  I like to believe he didn’t get the message in time to prevent my mom from being taken from her own mother by exploitation and unbearable pressure (surrender your child or be declared unfit by my good friend the Juvenile Court judge said Georgia Tann, the master baby thief, to my grandmother).

Separating a child from their original mother causes deep wounds.  I grieve that our country cruelly does this to migrant children.  It is an abomination.  Truly.

The Broken Birth Mom

This sculpture speaks so strongly to my own heart.  I empathize with my grandmothers who gave up my parents to adoption.  In a sense, though less permanently, I am one myself.  Each of my sisters truly are.  There are no words for how this haunts a person.  No mother should have to live without her child, even though I do understand that sometimes the safety issues are so strong because that mother is so broken as a person, the child isn’t safe with her.  I get it.

Adoption isn’t just a one-time event and it’s over. It is never over, it can’t be and it isn’t.  It is something that follows an adoptee and their original parents throughout their lives.

I have obsessed in my guilt for not raising my daughter. Just like my maternal grandmother, I never intended to leave her daily life permanently. In my effort, just as it was in my grandmother’s effort, to work things out financially, circumstances changed and it was no longer the best outcome for her to take her back. Both my maternal grandmother and myself would have, if it had been possible or truly made sense to step back in.

There were no role models for absentee mothers in the early 1970s though one read a lot of stories about absentee fathers.  I realize I caused the situation for myself. My grandmother stepped into a serious trap without realizing it when she turned to Porter-Leath Orphanage in Memphis TN for temporary care of my mom.

The superintendent there betrayed my grandmother and my mom to a master baby thief.  Miss Georgia Tann was backed up by her good friend, the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, in her pressure campaign to exploit my grandmother and wrest my mom out of her possession so that she could sell her to my adoptive grandmother.

Being a birth mom who permanently surrenders her child is not a club you should want to join.  It is a grief that lasts a lifetime. The pain of that wound will change over time but it will never go away. It will always be there.  I have spent years trying to resolve my own.  I know the reasons and the causes but there is no recovering lost time and those precious memories of your child growing up.

If you are an expectant mother, especially a single and financially challenged young woman, seek out the help that will make it possible for you to keep your baby. You will be glad you did.  Here’s one place – https://savingoursistersadoption.org/

Honoring My Grandmother

In 1916, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lou Stark was born to James Coleman and Mabel Irene Stark on this date in Eads Tennessee.  It is my understanding that her father was a difficult man and quite old when he began to have children.  Lizzie was the oldest and her nieces and nephews called her Aunt Lou.

It seems that her siblings and my grandmother each escaped their family home as soon as they could.  One can surmise that my grandmother chose the possible opportunities of the big city, Memphis, to her west.  There she would meet an older man who had become both widowed and had lost one of his children not long before.  Most likely he was attached to a big WPA project building a hospital in Memphis.

So they married but his children and the mother to whom he was devoted and who supported him by caring for one or more of his children caused his heart to remain in Arkansas.  For reasons I will never be able to explain, he left her in Memphis four months pregnant.  Whether it was considered an end or a temporary separation can never be known.

What I do know is that my grandmother was sent away to Virginia to give birth to my mom.  Most likely, she was an embarrassment pregnant with no husband in sight in a very conservatively Christian community.  I suspect she was supposed to leave my mom in Virginia but she could not.

I cannot believe she brought my mom back to Memphis with any intention of giving her up for adoption.  Juvenile Court records do show that she reached out for my mom’s father over in Arkansas but he did not respond.  In his defense, there began a Super Flood on the Mississippi River the month my mom was born.  Refugees poured into Memphis from Arkansas who bore some of the worst destruction.  My grandfather was out shoring up levees.

My grandmother found the going difficult in Memphis.  The people who had been supportive of her previously were suffering from charity fatigue.  In desperation, my grandmother sought temporary care for my mom in an amazing citadel of an orphanage with a storied history.  The superintendent there betrayed her to Georgia Tann who was a master at separating children from their natural parents.

After being given a no win choice (surrender your child or be declared unfit – a threat with teeth in it because the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley was good friends with Tann), my grandmother tried to get my mom back 4 days later.  But Tann had a paying customer on her way from Arizona by train to pick my mom up and no way would the baby thief give my mom up.

Such a sad story.  She never had another child . . .

What Is Normal Anyway ?

Growing up in my immediate family, adoption was the most normal thing.  After all, both of my parents were adopted and they were “normal” or were they ?  Until recently, I didn’t know that being adopted could leave traumatic wounds at such a deep and pre-verbal level the person isn’t even conscious those feelings are there.

Now, my mom was a Georgia Tann baby and when she was a schoolgirl in the early 1950s, the scandal in Memphis broke into national news.  Her adoptive mother admitted she had been adopted there but that she was not one of the stolen babies.  Life went on and she got pregnant and married in time for me to be legitimate.

Fast-forward to the early 1990s and the Georgia Tann scandal hit national attention again with stories on 60 Minutes and Oprah among others.  My mom learned that she had not been born in Memphis but had actually been born in Virginia.  She could not reconcile the disparity of this in her own mind and learning about some of the most extreme atrocities perpetrated by Miss Tann, my mom knew at a very deep level that she never should have been adopted and that her adoption was somehow inappropriate – that last word was one she used when she tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee but was rejected.

What is normal, anyway ? Normal is what you know.  We knew adoption was real and we knew that our parents were being raised by people who did not give them birth.  We knew that ALL of the relatives we knew as such, were not related to us.  It is a bit odd to re-think that now but at the time it was what we knew as a reality.

“What makes us normal is knowing that we’re not normal.”
~ Haruki Murakami

Now, I do know that my parents being adopted was not a normal situation.  And I even know that I have been a victim of adoption fog.  Even as I was discovering who the people were that actually gave birth to my two parents.

 

A Strange Club

I finished reading Before and After yesterday. I don’t think Lisa Wingate expected to open this door when she wrote her bestselling fictional novel based upon the horrors of Georgia Tann’s methods of operating an adoption agency – separating children from their original families purely for profit.

However, as she embarked on book tours across the country, the sheer number of real lives impacted by Georgia Tann made themselves evident.  I believe the reunion in Memphis that the new book is based upon was an effort on Wingate’s part to repay the living victims, many of whom are descendants of those directly impacted, for a good story that made her even more successful than she was before (she had written quite a few books before this phenomenal story).

In the Afterward chapter of Before and After, a story about Georgia Tann adoptees and their remarkable reunion in Memphis –

“We need to be given peace and

freed of the misery that comes

from not knowing,

and allowed to live with the truth

before we pass from this world.”

~ Letter from a TCHS adoptee

to her unknown birth family

The reunion proved that people are interested in hearing what the adoptees and their descendants have to say, that strangers care about this long-ago miscarriage of justice.

Countless families have a connection to the horror of Tann and those movers and shakers of Memphis who let her operate until 1950. This is a story that doesn’t have an ending. It never will. For thousands of families, tens of thousands of lives, it will always be a part of their history.

There’s fear of the unknown. My adoptee father had that and he wasn’t a Tann baby.  The Salvation Army separated him from his unwed, poverty stricken mother.

Many, if not most, adoptees hunger for their personal information – their medical history in particular.

Being a Tann victim is like being a member of a strange club. Those who’s lives are somehow a part of the the Tennessee Children’s Home Society story.  There is a shared experience with all of those who’s lives have been impacted by this.

For many of us (myself included) there is a feeling of kinship when we find our long ago “lost” family members. Not all reunions go happy but mine have.

What I took away from reading this book is that there is a universal aspect to the experience of most adoptees. Though the Georgia Tann/TCHS story was a particularly bad scandal, the effects on the Tann adoptees is so very similar to the wounds and trauma that every adoptee experiences (even the ones who aren’t aware it is there – that is my own opinion about it but from exposure to a diversity of adoptees, I don’t believe I’m far wrong).

Before We Were Yours (the fictional account) is a fast and engaging read.  Before and After is a bit more tedious but the real story of real impacts on real people.  I recommend both books.

It’s About Identity

My first awareness of the impacts of adoption on my parents was the Georgia Tann, Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal.  There are a huge number of adoptees that have been impacted by what happened in Memphis.

So, the only “anger” I was aware of was related to criminal behavior in adoption practices.  I thought that was what the anger was about.

As I have revealed my origins, my original four grandparents (both of my parents were adopted), I have also become involved in more generalized adoptee groups.  I have begun to learn what the issues are and also about how those issues affect not only the adopted child, but the original parents as well as the people who adopt and raise these children.

It has finally coalesced for my own self to be about identity.  It was a lack of identity beyond my two parents that troubled me in my middle school years.  It is interesting that the issue of not knowing where one originated troubles adoptees almost universally, while many people who have no adoption impact in their own families seem to not even care about who their ancestors were.

I think it is because the adoptee KNOWS that they don’t know.  While any other person not affected by adoption “knows” that if they ever became interested, someone in their family line could clue them in.

There are some descendants who I am grateful have embraced me and my need to know.  Others seem dismissive or reluctant to welcome in “the stranger”.  I simply have to accept that I have been given some gifts of identity that some adoptees are still struggling to obtain.

Sealed adoption records which began as early as the late 1920s have done a lot of harm to an adoptee’s ability to know where they come from.  Unbelievably about half of these United States still refuse to open the records to adult adoptees.  This is simply wrong.  No other citizen of this country is denied knowledge of their origins.

Before and After

I’ve only just started reading the nonfiction sequel – Before and After – to Lisa Wingate’s bestselling fictional novel Before We Were Yours.  Sadly, the true life stories of Georgia Tann’s victims are all too familiar to me and her methods clear in my family’s own circumstances.  I may have more to say about the book when I finish reading it.

There actually was an adoption ring in Memphis in the decades from 1930 to 1950.  The movers and shakers in Memphis were all to happy to make Georgia Tann the scapegoat and bury the evidence along with her – when she conveniently died of the complications of cancer.  It was an opportune moment, just before criminal charges were going to be filed against her.  And those charges would have only been profiting illegally from the placements and not the worst accusations against Tann.

Her legacy of wrongs emerged as her story came back to light in the early 1990s and eventually caused a law to open the sealed adoption records for the victims by the state of Tennessee.  I have that law to thank for my mom’s adoption file.  Sealed records remain a hindrance for adoptees in many states even today.  I know, I’ve hit locked doors in California, Virginia and Arizona.

Thanks to Lisa Wingate’s fabulously popular telling of the Georgia Tann scandal in a compelling story, the whole story is being added to and told yet again.  This brings some justice to the victims and their descendants.  I am one of an unfortunate community of such persons.  There are thousands of us.

In our family’s story – the adoption ring was composed of Georgia Robinson (the superintendent at Porter-Leath Orphanage who conveniently retired early just before the scandal report was released), Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley (who was forced to retire because of it) and of course, the Baby Thief herself, Georgia Tann.  Miss Robinson seems to have escaped the scandal with her “good name” intact but it was she who betrayed my original grandmother.  Porter-Leath took my mom in for TEMPORARY CARE.  Miss Robinson alerted Georgia Tann to the presence of a “highly marketable” blond baby girl less than a year old.

Judge Camille Kelley was involved in my original grandmother’s life when she first returned to Memphis, after having given birth to my mom in Virginia.  Since my grandmother’s widowed father and siblings still lived in rural Tennessee east of Memphis, I can only assume her father sent her away to have my mom after her husband seemed to desert them.  I will never have the answer to the questions that weigh heavily on my heart about why that seemingly good man – my original grandfather – did that.  Later, when my adoptive grandmother was on her way to collect her prize, Judge Kelley threatened my original grandfather with a subpoena if he didn’t sign the surrender papers.

There is no doubt in my mind that Georgia Tann exploited my desperate grandmother with a no win demand – surrender or be declared unfit (her only deficiency being a financial one).  It is also clear that 4 days after signing the surrender papers, my grandmother tried to recover my mom – but Georgia Tann had a paying customer and no way was she going to let my mom go out of her control.

Trauma and Stress

The possibility of trauma passing down through generations as genetic mutations affecting health had reason to re-enter my awareness last night.

My mom was an adoptee.  I know for a fact she suffered because of it.  She told me so.  She died believing she had been stolen.  While her made-up story based upon other stories that were sadly all too real under the reign of the notorious Georgia Tann were not entirely accurate, I do believe deep in her soul “stolen” was not that far off.  She died believing it and now that I have her adoption file from the state of Tennessee, I know that her mother never intended to give her up and was trapped into an impossible situation.

She had left my mom at an orphanage in Memphis (Porter-Leath) for temporary care.  That was a decision point from which there was no return of the mother-child bonding for my mom and her mother.  My grandmother was allowed to see my mom one final time before she was ripped away and placed with strangers.  I have those black and white photos now.  The happiness upon seeing her mother again is evident in my mom’s body language.

The adoption file tells me she screamed all the way from Memphis to Nogales Arizona as my adoptive grandmother carried her home.  No wonder my mom felt stolen.  When they reached Arizona, she was drugged to calm her down.  Eventually, with no other choice, she adapted to her circumstances and coped.

Yet, the health impacts left her a medical basket case all her life and I believe her stress at conceiving me as an unwed high school student impacted my health.  And it may go on down the line to my daughter and granddaughter.  Medical science is discovering through research some truth to these theories on my part but they have a lot of work to do yet.

It does appear that genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.  Some people are born with genetic vulnerabilities and circumstances can then cause those vulnerabilities to manifest as disease.  This is true for every adoptee, regardless of what the manifestations are or how minimally impacted that adoptee may appear.