Whatever Became Of ?

In Life magazine’s – Year in Pictures 1972 – in a Feature titled Whatever became of ? – I read about “Mike” and “Tammy” – twin children found by police in a Long Beach California alley on May 5 1972. As a Gemini, twins fascinate me. After national publicity, the children were identified as Tamara and Brian Woodruff. They had been abandoned by their mother and were placed in foster care. Their mother was placed under psychiatric observation.

I tried to learn more about the twins but understandably, out of privacy concerns, they disappeared from any easy ability on my part to find out. So, I looked into the topic of child abandonment. It is defined as the practice of relinquishing interests and claims over one’s offspring in an illegal way, with the intent of never resuming or reasserting guardianship. An abandoned child is referred to as a foundling (as opposed to a runaway or an orphan). Some of the effects on survivors of abandonment include feelings of guilt about being at fault for being abandoned.

The earlier in life estrangement happens, the more damaging it can be. It can impact personal development, anxiety and depression, and of course the adult relationships people get into. When that person is trying to have a sense of identity, they are dealing with a black hole where their mother should be and a really dysfunctional model of love.

In parenthood, when she holds her baby in her arms, a woman who was “abandoned” as a child might say – “I will never leave you. I will never do to you what was done to me. Mommy will always come back.” And what she is doing is self-consoling through nurturing her child.

One woman says that becoming a mother did end up being one of the most healing parts of her own journey. And much of her anger did disappear as she reflected more on all the things that had broken her mother before she ever broke that woman. She found a lot of compassion for her original mother and the path that woman had to walk through life. Even so, she says something my own mother said to me once, “as a mother myself, I know I’ll never understand the choices you made.” For this woman, in being the mom she always wished she’d had; she found healing.

I will admit this one hits home in a very personal place. So, I didn’t do it illegally. I did not intend to never have her living with me when I dropped her off at her grandmother’s house. Yet I am at fault for lack of foresight.

I struggled financially after my divorce from my daughter’s father who refused to pay child support. I was always an adventurous soul. Would wander off further and for longer than my slightly detached adoptee parents ever seemed to notice.

And so, from financial desperation, after being rejected from a good paying job with the railroad because my ex worked there, I tried TEMPORARILY leaving my daughter with my former mother-in-law, while I tried to earn a bit of money driving an 18-wheel truck.

I didn’t know it then, but that was a point of no return. My daughter would sometimes visit me, even for extended periods of time, but she would never live permanently with me again. I never thought of it at the time as having abandoned her, but I know now that regardless of my intent, I must accept responsibility for whatever emotional harms that may have done to her. I know it did emotional harm to me. I’ve never fully gotten over the outcome or my sense of guilt for it.

Thankfully, my daughter did not eliminate me from her life entirely. I did make real efforts to stay in contact with her throughout most of her childhood. There were periods of time that due to the people I was living with, it became impossible to be contact with her but as soon as it was safe, I did resume contact and she was still young enough, that it reconnected our bond with one another, even if it did not reconnect us full-time under the same roof.

Sadness remains in my mother’s heart regardless. Knowing the legal definition of child abandonment helps but does not heal my personal pain at all that I missed with my daughter.

Spiritual Godmothers

When I was a child, we had godmothers. It was actually a religious thing, associated with the infant baptisms that were part of being raised Episcopalian. I never really knew my godparents. I got a gift or two early in my life but when I was old enough to actually know I received it and from whom.

However, today being Mother’s Day, it occurred to me that adoptive mothers are like godmothers who are present all the time. One could also put step-mothers in that category if the were the “good” kind and not the evil kind. For some people, aunts or even mother-in-laws are like godmothers (mine certainly was and treated me like a daughter the many years, decades really, we were together).

While the wound that adoptees suffer in being separated from their gestational mother is serious and primal, and while much not appreciative nor grateful can be said about any woman who takes a child in that they did not give birth to, I think that on a day like today, when mothering in general is celebrated, it is fair to take a step back from reform interests, just for today to acknowledge “god” mothers. These are mothers sent to us by the spiritual heart of Life itself to assist us in one way or another. Foster mothers fit into this category as well.

The all-pervading, all embracing, unchanging, and unceasing Love that evolves, supports, nurtures, protects, and provides space for its children to reach maturity. Some religions have made the effort to move away from concepts of a male god or they conceive a wholeness of the duality mother/father god. During my later adult years, for some extended period of time I entered into a practice called the Gaia Minute. In doing this practice, twice a day, I came to think of the Earth herself as my mother, the Sun as my father. Larger than the human entities that provided for us during our childhoods and for some time beyond that, indeed while we were made of these, this continues to be true throughout our human incarnation.

Sadly, some children lose their mother so early, they have no clear memories of her physically. That certainly happened to my paternal grandmother, who’s own mother died when she was only 3 mos old. That certainly happens to adoptees who are given to adoptive parents within hours or days of birth.

The maternal nurturing energy of the feminine is not bound by birth, nor even by gender (my husband is surprisingly nurturing as a human being). Our spiritual godmothers, however we obtain them, whenever we obtain them, help birth our soul’s journey by their grace. They encouraged us when we were down, they were they for us when our heart and soul ached (my own human mother could sense me in distress when I was in a different room).

The Divine Feminine of mothering energy is there to remind us that we are never alone in this thing called Life. Happy Mother’s Day to each and every person who has ever fulfilled that calling to serve another human being with the energy of Love, compassion, nurturing, safety, provision and presence.

There was something complete and nebulous

Which existed before the Heaven and Earth,

Silent, invisible

Unchanging, standing as One,

Unceasing, ever-revolving,

Able to be the Mother of the World.

~ Tao Te Ching

A Life in the Shadow

Actors – Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot and Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks

On Friday night, my husband and I watched The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on dvd. It is one of those occasional unexpected finds that impacts me deeply. Oprah Winfrey plays Deborah Lacks in the movie based upon the book. Since my name is Deborah, I connected with this powerful, at times tragic, portrayal of Henrietta’s daughter. Since the title of my blog is Missing Mom and that is what drove Deborah, who lost her mom at such a young age and who she was always missing, needing the truth about her, felt somewhat like I how felt about my missing grandparents (both of my parents were adopted). So, I am happy to share Deborah’s story here. I highly recommend either the book or the movie.

The only surviving daughter and fourth child of David Day Lacks and Henrietta Lacks, Deborah “Dale” Lacks Pullum spent most of her early life wondering what happened to her beautiful mother and worrying about what it could mean for her own life and identity. Day was Henrietta’s first cousin, neither had living mothers and were being raised by grandparents who had them sleeping in the same bedroom. No wonder by the age of 14, Henrietta was pregnant. Day married her 6 years later when she was 20.

It is hard for Rebecca Skloot, an independent science writer, to gain Deborah’s trust given her early life of familial abuse, followed by the general disregard of the scientific community for Henrietta’s family. Deborah’s need to connect with her mother’s story is intensified by her difficult childhood and a non-existent relationship with her father, whose lack of attention has disastrous effects on her emotional life:

After Henrietta’s death, Ethel and Galen move in with Day to “help take care of the children.” But Ethel always had a hatred for Henrietta because Galen was attracted to her, and she transferred that with gusto to the children. She forces them to work the farm all day without food or drink and beats them if they disobey. In spite of Deborah’s protests, Galen sexually molests her as often as he can.

Despite the beatings by both of these guardians and the molesting by Galen, Deborah felt closer to Galen than she ever had felt with her father. When he wasn’t hitting or molesting her, Galen showered her with attention and gifts. He bought her pretty clothes, and took her for ice cream. In those moments, Deborah pretended he was her father, and she felt like a regular little girl.

Enter Lawrence’s (who was Henrietta’s oldest son) wife, Bobbette. She insists that they take in and raise the younger Lacks siblings to get them out of the clutches of the abusive Ethel and Galen. Bobbette makes it pretty darn clear that if that couple ever touches Henrietta’s kids again, she’s going to open up a can of ??? on them.

In Henrietta’s absence, Bobbette also acts as a mentor and inspiration to young Deborah. She tells her to stay in school because that’s what will get her success in life. She also encourages her to fight off the advances of her boy cousins because, she said, “That’s uncalled for.” She warns Deborah about the dangers of first cousins having children together.

Deborah reads articles about HeLa cells (named after an abbreviation of Henrietta Lacks name) with a dictionary in hand and learns to use the Internet to make sense of her mother’s immortal life. Her brothers don’t understand her need to pursue something that has been so hurtful to them. Deborah is quite clear in her mission: “All this stuff I’m learning,’ she said, ‘it make me realize that I did have a mother, and all the tragedy she went through. It hurts but I wanna know more, just like I wanna know about my sister (her sister Elsie had defects that eventually institutionalized her, where she later died young). It make me feel closer to them, but I do miss them. I wish they were here.”

The need to know and to be in control of her past is always stronger for Deborah than the need to forget her past and protect herself from future harm.

Her older brother, Lawrence, never stopped taking care of Deborah. He put $6,000 on his credit card to pay for her funeral. She died less than a year before the book, written by author Rebecca Skloot, about her mother was published.

“Henrietta had been chosen by the Lord to become an immortal being. The immortality of Henrietta’s cells had something to do with her telomeres and how HPV interacted with her DNA.”

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

When a woman intentionally becomes pregnant and is happy and excited when she finds out that she is, if she is informed at all, she will do everything she can to be a nurturing gestating mother. That includes abstaining from alcoholic consumption.

But what about the unhappy woman who wasn’t trying to get pregnant ? Maybe she was in an abusive relationship, whether married or not. Maybe it was a one night stand with someone she has no desire to tie herself in marriage to. What if she has long medicated her sorrows by drinking too much alcohol ? What if she actually is a full-blown alcoholic ?

And it doesn’t stretch my imaginative capabilities to consider that such a woman as I have just described might give her baby up for adoption. A baby that she maybe never actually wanted anyway. And what happens within the adoptive family as that baby, subjected to too much alcoholic influence in utero, begins to mature. Sadly, this is NOT a rare situation nor are the behavioral aspects unknown in our modern society.

If you are an adoptee and wonder if your life may have been impacted, this woman’s article may be of some usefulness to you. She is an adult adoptee who wrote a doctor for help. “Do I Have Fetal Alcohol Effects?”

The Family Preservation Project

Ever since I first heard the words “family preservation”, I have loved this concept.  I suppose because my family was fragmented by adoption – both parents were adoptees and both of my sisters gave up babies for adoption.  I often wonder what it would have been like for our family to have remained intact – parents with children – but then I would not exist, my sisters would not exist and they couldn’t have given up their babies to adoption.  Still, I do like the concept of family preservation and all of the efforts in these modern times to keep mothers and their babies together and if there is a dad present, him too.

So why the elephants ?  The Family Preservation Project‘s website answers that for me.

The Elephant is symbolic of the community this page would like to build. Elephants are a matriarchal society; that is, one that is led by a head cow, who presides over her herd of females. Each herd is made up of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. They are guided by the oldest and largest female of the herd. This herd sticks closely together, rejoicing at the birth of a calf and mourning at the death of a member.

The Family Preservation Project is not a community that necessarily excludes men, but one that celebrates femininity and the intimate connections made by women through motherhood.

FP365 is a family preservation movement and it is global. Their mission is to empower vulnerable, expectant mothers and prevent family separation. fp365 is dedicated to building a strong foundation of advocates willing to provide local support, networking and community involvement.  Additionally, they believe a critical piece of education and awareness is found by exploring the layers of lived experience. As we listen to those voices we will shift the current cultural narrative which promotes separation by adoption to one which celebrates the preservation of family. 

In the adoption community I belong to, the women have a mission to encourage expectant mothers to keep their baby and not rush into adoption.  They often mention Saving Our Sisters (SOS) as a resource.

SOS supports all members of expectant families considering adoption. We are committed to helping them make fully informed decisions based on information that so many other families have learned too late. We are dedicated to ensuring that they avoid applying a permanent solution to a temporary crisis based on partial or misinformation.

SOS is dedicated to direct action and education regarding the preservation of biological families whenever possible. This may include assisting expectant and new parents by locating resources, explaining the long and short term effects of adoption separation on everyone in the natural family, explaining the lifelong effects of trauma their infant will suffer if exposed to maternal separation, and connecting them with a local support person and mentor.

SOS welcomes volunteers, donations, and donors to join us in empowering and preserving families by preventing unnecessary adoptions and advocating for fair and ethical adoption laws, policies and practices.

If you want to learn more about how elephant families are like human families you can read the Elephants Without Borders pdf.  Throughout time, elephants have had a curious effect on people, creating a sense of reverence and respect. Of course, their massive size and immense strength is enough to demand it. But elephants and humans have much in common, including their intelligence.

Both elephants and humans love, protect, and nurture family members and educate the young with the skills and knowledge they need to survive. Like humans, elephants are not born with natural survival instincts and need to be taught these by their mothers and other female guardians. Lessons include how and where to feed, to use tools, what to be aware of and to understand their place in their social structure. (Much more at my link above.)

 

Birth Order

My husband and I are both first borns and I see the personality traits are present in us.  We both have a middle and a youngest sibling of the same gender that we are.  Siblings are raised essentially in the same environment, so it could be assumed that we might be more like our brothers and sisters. Yet it appears that the same home environment makes up only 5-10% of our personality.  Many of us would agree that we are somewhat or very different from our siblings.  Genetic factors have more impact on our personality, maybe as much as 50%. Nurturing, how we are cared for must matter a lot.

Does birth order matter in adoption ?  That is a question that I came to this morning’s blog with in mind.  Does it matter if children are adopted out of their birth order ?  My mom was the first born of her original mother and also the only child but was the youngest in the home she was raised in with an older brother who was also adopted.  My dad was the first born and the oldest in the home where he was adopted.  He grew up with a younger brother who was also adopted.

One study concluded that the rearing order of the children had little impact on personality except for conscientiousness, which was higher for children who were raised as first-born. The child’s sex had more impact than did rearing order.

Most adoptive families do not consider the impact that rearing order will have on infants who are first born to their biological parents, if they enter an adoptive home as the second or third child. If a child is an infant, it is assumed that such a child will have the characteristics associated with the rearing order in which they are placed.  More often, adoptive families want to know the impact of adopting children out of age order on the children already there— especially on the oldest child or on several younger children when adopting an older child.

Sibling rivalry and the need for attention are very real factors in any multi-child home.  I have seen it up close and personal with my two sons and have experienced a misplaced idealism upon my own reality that simply was not real by my youngest sister.  I have seen frequently that the younger children often look up to the oldest.  I have experienced first hand that parents expect the oldest to be an example of a “good” person – whatever that means in any family’s context.

Here is one reality some adoptive families face – maybe you have a larger age gap among your genetic/biological children.  So you chose to adopt a child who can fill in the gap in age differences. Neither the oldest nor the youngest child’s position in your family is displaced by this decision.  However, in any adoption of an older child, the chronological age of that child can be quite different from the child’s emotional age due to the trauma they have experienced.  The reality you may find is that this new “middle” child is more like the youngest child in the family.

In any adoption – it is all about your expectations as an adopting parent. If you adopt a child who fits nicely into the age range where your children are right now, this newly adopted child may not blend in as well as you anticipated.  Some precautions will be necessary when adopting an older child or when adopting a sibling group.

The Eternal Mother

~ artist, Mark Missman

More than Mother’s Day, the holiday season celebrates the hope of humanity in two symbolic persons – a mother and her baby.  A quiet calm image of nurturing and the infinite possibilities represented in any single person.

In discovering who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adoptees), I never expected to learn so much about the impacts of adoption or the deep often unconscious wounds that are left behind when we separate a child from their natural mother.

For nine months, the fetus nestles in the cozy warmth of it’s mother’s womb.  As close to her as her very breath, hearing her heartbeat, feeling her emotions and sharing the culinary tastes she prefers.  It is now known that the baby is not fully developed at the time of its birth.

For at least the next year, that bond between mother and infant will be a core and deep sense of security, of love, of responsiveness and gentle care that will have a profound effect on that child’s well-being throughout their life.

We owe every single mother the support and encouragement to raise the child conceived within her womb and help her create the next best yet to be human being as we continue to evolve into better and better, more caring always, kinder human beings.

May we all know someday that it is so.

Mothers Suffer

I have said this before but it bears saying this again.  Giving up one’s child to adoption is not a walk away and all is well process.  Most natural mothers who’s child has been removed from them – whether by choice or coercion – will spend the remainder of their lives regretting the loss.

We are so deeply attached at a genetic and spiritual level to those persons who gave us the gift of life, that there is no true sundering of that bond.  To pretend otherwise, diminishes the pain and suffering that both natural parents and adoptees will carry with them their entire lives.  The relationships that should have been but never will be cannot be recovered down the road.  One can only begin where they find themselves if a reunion occurs and develop whatever relationships they can going forward.

For an adoptee, it can be said that the woman who raises them is their mom.  The woman who created them, is the one who made their life possible.  It is possible and indeed the reality for many people, that there are two true mothers in their life.

Even so, it is not true – that in giving up her child, it was like she took out the trash and never gave it a second thought. As though that were even possible for any mom to feel that way.  I do not believe it.  Many women who surrendered a child were very young when they did that.  They felt they had no choice in the matter.

Today, there are adoptee groups reaching out to unwed pregnant mothers to encourage them to go slow, before giving up their child, and seek a way to work through the circumstances without causing a separation.  I’m on their side in this perspective.