Silenced Women

When I saw this graphic, it went straight to my heart like an arrow. My grandmothers, forced by circumstances to give up their first born, and in two cases only child (which includes a grandfather who never was given the benefit to know he had a son), to go on with their lives as though nothing happened.

I don’t think I’ll ever truly 100% get over it and I probably should not because adoption is still a thing that drives mothers and their babies apart. I now have an unflinching awareness of what it means to be adopted.

At almost 70 years old now, having to live through a full 6 decades before I knew the truths of my origins, I do fell as though I was born to re-connect the broken threads of my family’s beginnings, that I have somehow managed to fulfill my destiny in having been born at all.

In learning about my family’s ancestors, I also discovered what a miracle it was that in the mid-1950s, I was not given up for adoption, with my parents forced to suffer the same fate their own parents encountered. My teenage mother and my father only having just started on his university studies – both interrupted when I decided to take up residence in my mother’s womb.

My grandparents could not tell their own stories of loss that hurts for a lifetime because no one would have been sympathetic regarding their plight but for adult adoptees today, there is a growing awareness of the trauma and pain of being cut off from one’s roots and some are even choosing to attempt parenting when they had thought to give up their child and they are finding a lot of support in society all around them.

May the reform of attitudes continue to take over the dominant narrative that adoption saves babies and children from a worse fate.

Surrogacy Controversy

I know of more than one family who used a surrogate to build their family. Because I do believe in the mother/child bond beginning and developed during pregnancy, I do have concerns about separating this infant after birth from their mother. With changing perspectives on LGBTQ rights, some an now arguing that having a female mother is not really important. Certainly, there are cases of maternal abuse where a child may have been better off without that mother. I won’t argue that specific point.

So without getting into those hot button issues, I wanted to know about any reasons that surrogacy might be considered controversial.

I go into this at a website that could be biased – American Surrogacy. With that awareness, I still read their perspective.

As my graphic illustrates, there is more than one type of surrogacy. Gestational surrogacy is the most common type of surrogacy today, in which the surrogate has no genetic relationship to the baby she carries. The other type is Traditional surrogacy which is considered rare in modern times. In this type, the surrogate’s own egg is fertilized using sperm from an intended father or donor via IVF or intrauterine insemination in a lab.

Surrogacy can also be categorized by the financial arrangements made between the intended parents and surrogate. This is known as Compensated surrogacy in which the surrogate is compensated for her time, energy, sacrifice and participation in the surrogacy process. Something similar happens in Egg Donation where the egg donor is compensated for similar reasons. In Altruistic surrogacy the surrogate is not paid a base compensation beyond reimbursement of her medical and legal expenses.

There is no shortage of people ready to point out reasons why surrogacy is “bad” or “wrong.” However, when examining the arguments against surrogacy, it’s important to keep in mind the various types of surrogacy; not all of these arguments will apply to every type of surrogacy completed today.

One argument is that a woman is “selling” something intimate as a physical service. As explicitly noted in my graphic – many critics of surrogacy argue that intended parents who “use” surrogates are interested only in their reproductive ability. The practice is seen as womb renting, especially when the woman carrying the pregnancy is in a financially disadvantageous position to the intended parents. This is also an argument used against egg donation. Some argue against it for religious reasons – Many religions emphasize the importance of a husband and wife conceiving naturally on their own. For this reason, any kind of assisted reproduction is sometimes viewed as going against religious beliefs.

Regarding the compensation argument – it is noted that – a significant commitment of time and personal care is required of a surrogate.  There are protections in place to ensure vulnerable women are not forced into surrogacy in the United States. If a surrogacy professional is enlisted, these do require a woman to be able to support their own self and if relevant, their family, without state assistance before being allowed to be a surrogate. Surrogacy professionals work closely with intended parents and surrogates to ensure the rights and interests of both are protected and any legal risks have been eliminated.

Given my own personal perspectives on bonding in utero – this site caught my attention too.

The Overlooked Risks of Surrogacy for Women. The intended parents may not feel the degree of control with a surrogate carrying their baby. Surrogacy can also bring unexpected challenges for the surrogate mothers. The female body experiences numerous changes when pregnant, both physical and mental, thanks or no thanks to the hormones that bring about the miracle of life. So, like any mother, surrogate moms bond with a child in their wombs often experience emotional pain when detached from that child after birth—even if they knew and intended all along to give up the child to the intended parents. 

Surrogate moms face increased pregnancy risks if they are carrying multiple embryos, which is often the case in order to ensure success. Multiple births come with an increased risk of Caesarian sections and longer hospital stays.

A report conducted by the University of Cambridge and published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry received some buzz after suggesting surrogate children face increased emotional risks. Researchers found that children who were not gestationally carried by the mother who ended up raising them faced increased psychological adjustment difficulties including depression. As I have personally suspected, similar to babies whenever, whyever, they are separated from the mother who gestated them.

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.

Review – I Am Sam

I learned about this movie from my all things adoption group and I wrote an initial blog on July 19th titled I Am Sam. I promised to come back with a review and last night I actually watched the movie on dvd from Netflix. Sean Penn and Dakota Fanning are both remarkable in their performances for this movie.

It is easy to understand the attraction of this movie to the all things adoption and foster care group because the core story is the lived experience of many members of that group. Not so much having a mentally challenged (ie as the movie says explicitly more than once – retarded) parent but as in the Division of Family and Child Welfare taking a child or children from the parents. In fact, when my sons were young, I did worry that our parenting might be adversely challenged by so do-gooder. Thankfully, my sons are now almost grown (one is already 20 and the other one is 17) and beyond such concerns in our own family. It is also true to the lived experience of so many that foster parents often do eventually want to adopt a child placed in their care. However, the movie is enlightened to the trends now occurring in adoptionland that family reunification and in the case of this movie, an eventual recognition on the part of the parent that he is lacking something (a mother – the child’s mother abandoned the child to the father shortly after birth) brings into the resolution a kind of co-parenting solution that is satisfying to watch (I don’t think that saying this is a spoiler for this movie as the ending leaves as many questions as it answers).

The movie was very progressive for its time in the portrayal of people with a variety of cognitive disabilities. In fact, I recognized that I do know one woman who has effectively lost her children due to just such a challenge. The take-away message for me was how incredibly hard it is parent a child regardless of the circumstances. This is clearly portrayed in the contrasting and yet similar parenting challenges of the main character and his lawyer. Every parent needs support of some kind at some time or other.

In an LA Times review, the writer shares this story – “I’m smart enough to know when I need help, I ask for it,” a 46-year-old mother with a learning disability told me recently. She receives support from a parents-with-special-needs program. If she needs help with parenting skills of any kind, a parent counselor is just a call away. If she feels frustrated, she attends the program’s parents support group.

Also from that LA Times review, In one critical scene of the movie, Sam is questioned by state agency officials about why he thinks he has the ability to be a father. He responds, “It’s about constancy and it’s about patience. And it’s about listening and it’s about pretending to listen when you can’t listen any more, and it’s about love.” In the case of parents with special needs, we must provide the kind of support services that will offer practical help and an ear to listen. Parents with special needs benefit from help with tutoring, after-school activities, transportation, budgeting money and, like every parent in the universe, a little baby-sitting now and then.

The movie helps everyone who watches it to understand “that persons with disabilities have needs and desires just like everyone else,” as the parent with a disability mentioned above explained. “They need to take care of someone and love someone else.”

Leave The Door Open

Recently a commenter on my blog was making a big deal about “genetic parents” being able to opt out of their own child’s lives. This could be equated to surrendering a child to adoption and this commenter actually extended her perspective to donor egg or sperm sources. I don’t think her points of view are realistic but she is an activist in such concerns and I understand her perspectives. Like much of scientific medical advances being light years ahead of moral and ethical considerations. She thought ALL of the parents should be on a birth certificate and have full responsibility for the well-being of the children involved. As a society, we are simply not there yet.

Happily, there is a huge effort within the adoption community (made up of adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents and birth parents) to create an organic, grassroots kind of reform of the whole situation. What might such a “reformed” situation look like ? I think this story is an excellent example and so I share it with you today (I hasten to add, it is NOT my own story, because sometimes that isn’t understood in this blog).

My daughter’s parents were very distant after they made the adoption plan for her. They felt that by doing so, they had given up their rights to ask anything or to know her (this is what both of them have explained to me). Keep reaching out, keep sending photos, updates, hand and foot crafts, etc. When my adoptive daughter was almost 3 yrs old, her mother came to understand that we DID want her in our daughter’s life and that we were happy to have her here. Her dad went longer, so many years with out seeing her, he said that he was afraid of making her life harder by showing up when he finally felt ready. We talked about it and I sent a ton of links to him showing that it’s better for children to know their families, if they can. That year he brought his girlfriend and parents to her birthday party. Our little girl loved being snuggled up in her father’s arms for the afternoon. If you genuinely leave the door open and make the child’s original parents feel welcomed, there is a good chance that one day they will come through that opening.

A Lie Or Pretend

Someone in my all things adoption group wrote – I think it’s important to recognize that adoption for all parties is literally living a lie or playing pretend. I know my mom who was adopted felt this. She had her DNA tested at Ancestry and was in the middle of creating family trees when it really hit her. Both my mom and my dad were adopted and she realized none of it was real. I now know who the real grandparents are and I do intend to complete each of my parents’ family trees, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

One woman responded – When people get so hung up on I’m real and start lecturing their kid on it I want to laugh. They look like the fool…yeah you’re real but you aren’t “the mother”. Yeah I’m the mother but I’m not raising my kid. Reality, people.

Another woman shared – It is both at different times, yes. It’s also filled with excuses and justifications for the truth. Why can’t we JUST be real about it. Addressing that I really wasn’t “chosen” by my adoptive parents didn’t send me in a tailspin. I was next on the list that fit their criteria. That’s just fact. Could have easily been some other blonde, blue-eyed toddler they ended up raising. I don’t see why anyone would think that’s hurtful. Do adoptive parents really think we don’t know we were given away and them being our parents is a crapshoot? It’s kind of obvious, yet they go through all kinds of gyrations to fluff up the simple facts.

People act like adoptees are oblivious or incapable of handling the truth. Adoptees crave the truth, it’s all they ever want. Honesty. That’s it. Of course, adoptees already know the truth and adoptive parents just need to acknowledge what the adoptee already knows.

Acknowledge and validate. The two most important things to remember.

Someone else needed to add more complex context.

There are children being raised by extended relatives or adopted after a Termination of Parental Rights (assuming good reason). Do you tell these children they are living a lie? Or do you tell them that this is not the first choice, but it is what we have and we can try to make it work. Denying the trauma is living a lie, but I don’t think the family formed afterwards necessarily is. I don’t think every family formed outside of biological relationships is living a lie or pretending.

And sadly, not every family is good for the children born into it. Here’s one such story – I was raised by a very narcissistic mother and a very hands off father except when my mother manipulated him into abusing my brother and I (including putting me in foster care for being suicidal and self harming). I don’t feel towards them the way a child should parents. I lost the woman I actually considered a mom at 12. I personally feel like being a parent is more than giving birth and doing the bare necessities for a child. My parents may have given me everything I could have needed and let me play sports and go to camps, but they severely neglected my emotionally and mentally. I found my family elsewhere in other people. Them not being blood doesn’t invalidate my experience. I personally don’t agree with infant adoption or foster to adopt, but some people who give birth, really should just not be parents.

Barefoot & Pregnant in the Kitchen

Someone in my all things adoption group shared –

So I am in a tag group (about men) and someone posted a meme of some guy spouting off about how as women our goal should be to have and care for kids etc…

Well, I wrote that attitudes like that make infertile people feel as though kids are the be all and end all and can end up negatively impacting families.

And, of course I got comments saying let’s not judge infertile women and how there is nothing wrong if someone can’t/doesn’t want to raise a child because there is always someone else who would love to adopt them.

I’m sorry but I disagree.

Very rarely does it happen that a woman carries a child for 9 months, delivers that baby and then is like “naw, just kidding, I don’t want you.”

More often, mothers are separated from their babies due to poverty.

Now that I’ve become enlightened, I am always going to judge people who know they have a scared poor pregnant person up against the wall.

In contract law, if there is unequal bargaining power, the contract may be voided. So why are adoption contracts even allowed to stand? My desperate maternal grandmother never intended to give my mom up. Georgia Tann exploited her with threats that her good friend, the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, would declare my grandmother an unfit mother – which she in no way was. She tried to get my mom back 4 days after she was coerced into signing the Surrender Papers but no way were they going to let go of my mom – an adoptive mother was on her way from Nogales Arizona to Memphis Tennessee to pick her up.

There is a clear imbalance of power when a woman or couple are poor, or homeless, or addicted to some maladaptive substance. And to have any woman sign Surrender Papers right after giving birth is clearly criminal.

It leaves many of us honestly wondering why our society always paints adoptive parents as knights in shining armor. Most people in modern society think adoptive parents are saints.

Glad I Was

The author with her parents (both adoptees) apologies for the poor quality

My mom wrote about being adopted to me in an email “glad I was” but it was half-hearted because she died never knowing why. The state of Tennessee had rejected her request for her own adoption file while breaking her heart by telling her that her original mother had died some years earlier. In beginning her quest, my mom had said, “As a mother, I would want to know what became of my child.”

It is exceedingly sad that she didn’t receive her file. Her mom’s photo, holding my mom for the last time, was in it. Had she read through it, she would have known how much her mother loved her, wanted her and fought to keep her. My mom had defined her adoption as “inappropriate” in her letters to Tennessee. She was stating her belief delicately because she couldn’t reconcile having been born in Virginia and yet adopted in Tennessee while still an infant. And my mom knew all about the scandals of Georgia Tann, who’s agency my mom was adopted from.

The truth is that in the kindest of terms, my grandmother was coerced and exploited to take her baby from her for a woman who was willing to travel from Nogales Arizona to Memphis Tennessee to fetch my mom and then return to Arizona by train with an upset baby.

That remark from my mom came as I informed her I had gotten my DNA tested at Ancestry because both of my parents were adopted I didn’t know anything about my genetic origins. I had previously participated in National Geographic’s Genographic study of my maternal line (it was a gift from my brother-in-law for my birthday). The results were vague and minimal, only telling me my maternal line came out of Africa, validating my assertion that I was an Albino African – no one, including myself, could prove otherwise. The truth is I am very European, mostly Danish, then Scottish with a healthy dose of English and Irish to top it off. My mom had a smidgeon of Mali, I have a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew and Neanderthal.

My mom surprised me by telling me that she had also done an Ancestry DNA and had attempted family trees but they were based on the adoptive families for my dad and her self. She admitted that she lost motivation – “it just wasn’t real to me” she said – and I understood. Someday I will create REAL family trees for both of my parents. It just hasn’t been a priority nor have I had the time so far.

I recently went through a long exchange with some woman I didn’t know who had included my parents in her own family tree. She was really dense and it was difficult to get through to her that the people she was saying my parents were related to – they weren’t related to. Finally, she got it and said she would correct it when she had time. I never went back to look.

Someone recently described being adopted as being forced to play a silly game of pretend. I understand. My parents had to pretend to be the natural born child of the people who adopted them. My dad’s perspective matched that. He believed once you are adopted the people who gave you birth are insignificant. Only the people who raised you mattered. The pity is – unknown to him – at the time of his death a half-sister was living 90 miles away from him in the same state of New Mexico and could have shared with him so much about his mother and the family that came of her.

When A Mother Doesn’t Want Her Child

Today’s adoptee story (not my own story) – Being adopted is having all of your rights stripped from you the minute you take a breath and become declared a human. That was my case. I had what is called a closed adoption.

There are many reasons people put their child up for adoption. Some women are coerced. Some have their children stolen. Some women just don’t want their child. That was me.

My birth mother named me, wrote down all of the non-identifying information about herself, her parents, my birth father, and his parents, and walked away to a fresh new start.

She had the child. She didn’t abort it. Many would agree that makes her a born again saint.

This is where no one wants to admit that the child will probably have many problems. That child was just given your epigenetics. The feelings you had while pregnant are now part of who that child is.

As for my mother, we have to assume things because she never used her words because she would never meet me or speak to me. She made me a living abortion by never having any responsibility or accountability for her actions. I assume she felt shame, guilt, embarrassment, anger, anxiety, and depression.

When my sisters and cousins met me, everyone said how much I looked like my mother and acted like her.

My emotions were torn.

I had always wanted to look and act like my family. Now I do, and the woman that gave birth to me is also the cause of my trauma. I wanted to rip my DNA out of my body.

I had suffered from anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation for most of my life. I had been given Prozac and Zoloft when I was in my mid 20’s. They caused me extreme pain in the back of my head. I came off of them and took an overdose of muscle relaxers one night and ended up in a psych ward over the weekend.

When I met with the doctor, he told me the prescriptions would have killed me had I not stopped taking them. I was having a reaction because of my low blood pressure. I did see a psychologist a few times after that, but it wasn’t any help.

I spent many years thinking I was fine after that. I had also learned not to let anyone really know what I was thinking after that.

I was in what is known as the “fog.” I went on with my life. I worked a lot and drank. I thought if I just stayed ahead of what I felt, I was ok.

The pain from adoption is there, whether we admit it or not. You can see it in people’s eyes when you say you’re adopted. They get that I’m sorry look. With so many people aware of the trauma adoption causes, you would think it would change.

As for me, I am doing everything I can now, to fix my epigenetics from my mother.

Little Fires Everywhere

Because we live in an economically depressed and sparsely populated location, “good” internet is almost impossible to get and we pay a huge premium for the satellite access we do have.  Therefore, we don’t do streaming entertainments.  We don’t do commercial TV either but depend on Netflix dvd by mail or the few quality dvds we have bought over the years.

Little Fires Everywhere seems to be making a stir, especially in my private adoption group.  There seems to be some relevancy and some triggering hardship to watching the show.

One said – “This show really pushes that thought of which mother are you? And if you can’t see the white, middle or upper class privilege you lead and have compared to many families who the system victimizes, then you also haven’t come to terms with what role you had in the adoption piece, trauma to the child or that the system is biased.”

She goes on to remark – “It also was hard to watch Episode 4 if you are battling the bond of a natural mother with the attachment of a foster mother or hopeful adoptive parent. And when a biological mother hasn’t built an attachment – due to being absent – then which is better ? It helps force that questioning. And many would say – meet in the middle of an open adoption, but is that really best ? It also shows how deeply money has changed things in the legal battles for children. I firmly believe many natural parents lose that battle because of poor legal involvement from their attorneys. The natural parents don’t know enough about how to navigate the system and the attorneys are too overloaded to get to know the case specifics better.”

She concludes with – “It has been really powerful to hold the mirror up to friends and also demonstrate how we define a ‘good’ mother doesn’t always fit. Both women think they are good mothers but end up offering comfort to one another’s children too. We all need different things.”

The Guardian had an article about the book of the same name by Celeste Ng that is the foundation for the series.  I may just chose this for my next learning to write well reading selection.  The subtitle is – “A burning house sparks tensions within an all-too-perfect suburban community in a story exploring race, identity and family secrets.”

You can read The Guardian review of the book here – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/18/little-fires-everywhere-celeste-ng-review