It Really Is NOT Fair

Anne Rudig writes “I’d like to know who my parents are.” in The Guardian. My adoptee mom wanted to know as well but was thwarted by the state of Tennessee at the time she tried. After her death, I discovered that the state of Tennessee had changed its laws for the victims of Georgia Tann’s unscrupulous practices. I tried to get my mom’s original birth certificate from Virginia and my dad’s (also an adoptee) from California and in both cases – the answer was NO without a court order and that means an expensive attorney and no guarantee of success. Fortunately, I found other ways to get my own desire fulfilled.

Anne goes on to say, “Like countless other adoptees in the US, outdated laws mean I still don’t know my parent’s names, ethnicities and medical histories.” The medical information was part of my own mother’s concerns as she had a condition that the doctors were having a difficulty diagnosing. Until I learned something about my grandparents I always had to say, I don’t know because my parents were both adopted. I only knew what showed up in their lives. Now I know my paternal grandmother had surgery for breast cancer.

Anne has had similar experiences – The medical history on my side of the family is solid white space. Each time I encounter a new doctor, the conversation is pretty much the same. “I see you have no family history for major illnesses – cancer, heart disease, stroke. That’s great.” “No, I have no family history.” Then follows an awkward moment as confusion travels across the physician’s face. I break the silence between us. “I was adopted.”

I read Anne encountered the same difficulties with the state of California that I did – “In some private and all closed adoptions the original birth certificate is sealed by the state of California. The only way to see it is to hire a lawyer and petition the court with a ‘very good reason’ to unseal. When I asked a clerk in Marin County, California, he couldn’t give an example of what a good reason might be, but he did say that wanting to know my origins wasn’t one of them.”

She goes on to say – “At the age of 69, I am not allowed to see my original birth certificate or know the basic facts of my origin. The names of my original parents, their ethnicities, vocations, countries of origin, ages, places of residence, and attending physician – all remain hidden. I want the date of my birth confirmed. I want to know where I came from. I want to know my original mother’s name. My adoptive parents are long gone. My original ones have likely passed too. Who is this law protecting, and from what?

In fact, I tried to make the same argument without success. All of my adoptive grandparents were dead and both of my parents were dead and yes, it was likely my original grandparents were dead too. Eventually, I came to the conclusion it is about money – about the state having to hire extra people to vet and dig up the records and copy them, etc for the descendants and/or still living adoptees. It’s about tax money and where it gets spent.

Anne asks – So why are states still sealing adoptees’ birth certificates? Sealed birth certificates obliterate our identity and origins – the exact things most people take for granted. The goal of closed adoptions is to turn the adopted child into a blank slate, ready for fresh imprint. But no baby is a blank slate. We all come with history, ancestry, fathers and mothers. And many of us don’t want to search; we just want to know.

My first husband and I conceived in the early 70s and didn’t know the sex of our baby until it was born. Still, we seemed somehow convinced we would have a son and when the baby we had turned out to be a daughter, we were surprised. I remember the nurses had to tell me 3 times that this baby was my daughter.

Anne shares – an over-eager sonogram technician led us to believe I was carrying a boy. While my pregnancy progressed, we selected a handful of boys’ names. In the delivery room, my doctor announced, “You have a beautiful baby girl.” My husband looked confused. “You’d better check on that.” So, when our daughter arrived there was a white space on her birth certificate, where her name should have been. We spent a week trying out names for her. 

Anne ends her essay with this truth – Sealed birth certificates were meant to protect adoptive parents from the embarrassment of infertility, the original mother from the shame of unwed pregnancy, and the child from the label of illegitimacy. None of this is necessary anymore, nor does it justify hiding personal information from adoptees. Forty-one states still restrict access to birth certificates through laws that date back as far as the 1930s. (blogger’s note – my parents were mid-1930s adoptees.) It’s time to repeal them. If not for me, then for my children, and perhaps theirs – and for all the children who will be adopted in the future.

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.

Please Be Mindful

Please be mindful of what you say about an adoptee’s birth parents and extended birth family – regardless the circumstances or how you personally feel. Remember that this person shares genes and inheritable aspects with that family of origin.

From an adoptee – As a child I internalized the messages about how I was so much better off adopted, that I was convinced my mother must have been a very evil person. I thought perhaps a witch or a prostitute and would tell everyone this. I was secretly petrified I would be just like her. (Note: she’s not, she was a vulnerable woman who was not supported to keep me.)

Of course, it is known that children have no filters or sense of decorum and will often repeat the perspectives of adults around them – thus comes this sad recollection. One of my earliest memories is from when I was 5 years old and a classmate told me I was adopted because my biological mom didn’t love me. It was so hurtful and it took me a long time to get past it.

The same advice applies to one parent or family bashing the other parent or family. Regardless of whether these are biological, foster families, adoptive family. All of these are part of a child’s history and life experience and when you do this, you are saying in effect that a part of the child is equally bad.

Seeking To Clarify The Story

Recently a friend alerted me to a writing contest, called the Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize that is hosted by The Missouri Review (my home state), that will pay $5,000 to winners in the Fiction, Nonfiction and Poetry categories along with a few other perks. At first, I really wasn’t going to add the distraction as I’m in the process of editing my two manuscripts. One is yet another revision of my adoption roots story. However, yesterday, I did a 180 on this. I need to condense down my almost 90,000 word manuscript to 8,500 words. The deadline is Oct 1st and so this is just a temporary distraction that may yet pay dividends for my effort to tell the story.

I realized that at this point in my process (I am almost done with my first read through to correct from a first person present narrative to a third person omniscient perspective and won’t say I’ve caught all of the outliers !!) that tightening up the story to the basic facts might be a good process. Certainly, $5,000 would be welcome and winning this year’s contest would open the door to getting the revised manuscript published. So, yesterday I began the effort in earnest.

I’ve told this story so many times, in so many ways. When sharing it vocally one-on-one with other people, there seems to be some interest. Unlike back in the early 1990s, when my mom was seeking to connect with the woman who gave birth to her (and was devastated to learn that she had died some years earlier) or at least receive her full adoption file from the state of Tennessee, I am seeing today, whereas in my mom’s push few adoptees made the effort, today attempts to create reunions are now common for adoptees and donor conceived persons.

Beyond that, many people are not well versed in their family genealogy and much of my own successful effort was not only connecting with living relatives from each branch of my family (both of my parents were adopted) but learning the stories of my ancestors – some of which stretched back prior to the American Revolution. I found connections to the Civil War that thankfully are balanced in my own personal history by northern Yankees and Danish immigrants in my other family line.

So, I am accepting this pause and this effort for the purpose of getting to the heart of the story of my own journey to know from whom and from where my own origins began.

Why ?

Today’s story – I Never Wanted Boys

Husband’s first cousin and his girlfriend have, actually had – 5 children – 3 girls, 2 boys. They have custody of the 3 girls but both boys were placed for adoption because in her words “I never wanted boys”. We didn’t think she meant it, but she did.

She placed the first boy with a friend of hers and the other with my husband and I. She has no relationship with her first son but for the first 4 years of our son’s life, she and his sisters would see my adopted son, a few times a year at family functions. She would always tell him “Hello” and give him a hug, but that was the extent of her interaction with him.

When he turned 4, the couple, parents of these 5 children split up. That was now 2½ years ago. She doesn’t come to family functions anymore and turned down my suggestions, more than once, before blocking me completely for asking her to maintain some sort of relationship with the son that is in my care. He has always known she is his mother, and from birth until he was the age of 4, he was able to have some sort of relationship with his sisters. I’ve explained to her the importance of the children having a sibling relationship and bond. She does not agree with me that this is necessary.

My adopted son is now 6½ years old. His questions have started to be – “Why?” I don’t know what to say to him. The truth to me is harsh and I’ve always struggled with the thought that the day might come when I would have to tell him what her reasons were. Before all of this happened, I was for 100% transparency and truth as regards his adoption. But do I really tell him this?? Surely not this young!!? When he’s older? EVER?? I don’t want to add to his trauma.

One answer that came, really tore at my heart.

99% of the time I am for telling a 100% of the truth all the time – except for this situation. My brother and I are adopted. We have different genetic/biological families. Our story comes quite close to this one. My brother is an adult now. But at the age of 9, my adoptive mom told him – his mom treated him the way she did because he was a boy. Now that he is an adult, his original mother has admitted that is true. But being told this when he was 9, well, my brother was so confused and hurt that he self mutilated himself trying to become a girl. The best advice I can give in this situation is to seek an adoption trauma therapist to help you navigate the years ahead. I know such a rejection definitely messed with my brother’s self identity.

Check Your Privilege

It is hard for some people to understand, what it feels like not to know what ought to be yours to know. Like what your family health history is, who you were born to, where and when, why you were surrendered to adoption.

If you weren’t adopted, you make have the privilege of not having this uncertainty in your life. If you are judging an adoptee for being angry/disgusted at the entire world, don’t tell them to “get help”. Chances are they already have seen some therapist or counselor. Most do.

Each of us can only do, whatever we can with the hand life has dealt us. For some people, it’s a really hard hand. It’s not your job to put someone else in the place you think they should be. Doing so tells others more about you than whoever you are trying to fix.

Why do people use the phrase “you’re so angry” as a negative connotation ? Maybe there is a good reason. Why does someone else having something to be angry about have to be their problem to fix ? If my anger affects them in some way, they best start looking within for why it is triggering them.

I’ve been feeling a lot of anger from my oldest son lately. It is a frustration with life – not directed at anyone else and not hurting anyone else. If anything, he punishes himself which as a mom does hurt my own heart. A song’s lyrics keep coming to me and I don’t have the answer to the question it asks – maybe it is hormones and emotional immaturity still. Fooling Yourself by Styx.

You see the world through your cynical eyes
You’re a troubled young man I can tell
You’ve got it all in the palm of your hand

Why must you be such an angry young man
When your future looks quite bright to me

Get up, get back on your feet
You’re the one they can’t beat and you know it
Come on, let’s see what you’ve got

Mental health support is a human need and it is a privilege unfortunately. It should be accessible to anyone. Competent mental health guidance and compassion can be life changing. I googled Emotional Maturity – at what age ?

LOL

The term “mature” usually refers to a person’s mental state. Someone who is mature behaves in a way that is considered appropriately adult.  Emotional maturity is the ability to function in an effective, healthy way concerning one’s emotions. This means being able to express emotions accurately and appropriately, possessing some amount of self-control, and being able to think of others despite feeling strong emotions.

According to a study conducted in the United Kingdom, men do not become emotionally mature until the age of 43. This was not a scientific evaluation of maturity because that is largely dependent on social constructs. The study relied on surveys to determine what men and women considered mature, how they felt about their maturity, and whether or not they believed the opposite gender was mature at a certain age. Wondering what that surveyed age was for women ? Generally 32. This actually matches what is seen in school age children as well. Generally, the girls do mature earlier than the boys.

Emotional maturity is not a simple matter of checking off boxes. Some mental health professionals do not uphold the notion of age-based maturity. They assert that maturity has more to do with your background, values, and even biology than the number of years lived. How you mature, and the things you consider mature will vary based on the way you were raised, your neurological development, and your cultural framework. Some cultures value autonomy more than emotional depth, and maturity will be marked by the ability to take care of oneself. Other cultures value emotional depth, and dependence is not seen as a pitfall, but a lack of emotional intelligence.

Sometimes, it is anger that supplies the passion for change. I am very much the kind of person who puts up with stuff and adjusts my own self not to make waves. However, I can actually appreciate that dis-satisfaction can be the first step towards making a meaningful change that will make everything better.

For some adoptees and former foster youth, it was their well-deserved anger and fighting spirit that kept them safe in a lot of shitty situations. We have not walked in another person’s shoes and we can’t know what is going on inside of another person but we can be compassionate about the distress anytime we are aware of it or in proximity to it. Tolerance and patience helps, even for this mom.

Curiosity

Morgan Hannah with her mom

Researching Russell Moore for my blog yesterday, I somehow stumbled upon Morgan Hannah with a Medium article titled – I Was Adopted. I’ll share some excerpts and then, if you feel so inclined, you can support her writing by clapping for her piece there.

Morgan writes – “The difference between me and the rest of my family is that they will never know the curiosity of their personal history.” I think this one statement gets to the heart of the issue as to why most people do not understand this passion for a person impacted by adoption to know their origins and family roots. I wasn’t adopted like Morgan was but both of my parents were and it was like there was this black hole or void stretching out into infinity beyond them. So much we didn’t know – cultural background and family medical history. I once had a writer friend as me why adoption matters – then as I tried to explain, in her own words, she understood. She said, “Whether I am interested in my own family history or not, I know I can uncover it.” Precisely. These issues have been behind the effort to force states here in America to open up the sealed adoption records. Each state has its own laws and just under half allow adoptees access when they reach the age of maturity. My parents died clueless about their own origins.

Continuing on with some excerpts of Morgan’s own thoughts about all of this. She notes that New Jersey had passed a law to open access to original birth certificates for adoptees. “Then I read in the article that birth parents were sending requests for anonymity. Parents have every right to conceal their names, request no contact, and avoid letting the public know that they had a child given for adoption.

She states, “But why the hell would anyone do that?”

Morgan goes on to share – According to the article, state organizations such as New Jersey Right to Life and Catholic Conference worry that birth mothers will feel betrayed. The enactment of this law could cause an increase in abortions due to women fearing their pregnancy might be discovered.

There it is again – it is about how Christianity promotes adoptions as a counter to abortions.

Morgan had read that The Donaldson Adoption Institute released a report in November 2016 that looks at the thought process and influences that determine a mother’s choice to give up a child to adoption. She goes on to share that – According to the report, many new mothers say they felt social stigmas related to their religious beliefs, fear of being judged or being a single mother, along with emotional and self imposed physical isolation.

To balance her article, she adds this about why women have chosen abortions. Severe health related issues can make abortion the only choice, another report says. The Guttmacher Institute’s 2004 survey reports that “among the structured survey respondents, the two most common reasons were “having a baby would dramatically change my life” and “I can’t afford a baby now” (cited by 74% and 73%, respectively)… Women also cited possible problems affecting the health of the fetus or concerns about their own health (13% and 12%, respectively).”

Morgan did eventually find her original mother and so writes – “I am appreciative of knowing who my birth mother is and of having a deeper understanding of my identity. I fully believe that adopted children have the right to know the full details of their life, including genealogy and medical history.”

She is also Pro-Choice, writing – “I also believe women should have authority over their lives and their bodies, and I encourage everyone to be open minded about the difficult choices young women have to make about childbirth. With more people understanding the issues associated with adoption and abortion, the more support a new mother will have.” I absolutely agree with Morgan.

Adoptees Know These

The first comment I saw on this image went something like this – Interesting how it’s “aren’t your adoptive parents enough?” AND “don’t you want to meet your REAL family?”

A more interesting one was this story – last year one of my friends’ mothers introduced me to his father and his stepfather by saying this is my husband, and this is my son’s “real” father.. I said “does he have a fake father?” Her face was priceless and she hemmed and hawed trying to clean it up.

In these modern times when effort is made to reform the whole perspective around adoption it can be hard to know what the right way to say something is. Early on, I was advised not to use “birth mother” but simply mother or if an identifier was necessary – natural or original. A mother is a mother and all of them give birth. Someone who doesn’t give birth is not necessarily a “mother” though they may be understood as such, they are more accurately a parent.

Unpacking a few more . . . the I would rather have been aborted comes up more often among adult adoptees than the general public might believe. It is hurtful to be asked, “Why would you ever want to meet someone who gave you up?” Maybe simply to answer the question – why? I know that is the question I had regarding my own parents original parents (both of my parents were adopted). Even though I can’t ask my grandparents direction because they have all died, I have learned enough to form some realistic theories about the reasons.

There are a LOT of adoptees who don’t feel “lucky” to have been adopted. When there is extreme mental damage in a parent, maybe then. Most I have encountered would not refer to themselves as “lucky”.

It is true that it isn’t possible to change the past and a complication for my own self is that if my parents were not adopted, I would not exist. I do feel lucky that my teenage mother was not sent off to have and give me up. I credit my dad’s adoptive mother for keeping me in the family. If I had been given up, I would still exist and my original parents would still have been the same people but I would have been raised by other parents and my two younger siblings may not have ever been born because our parents may not have married after such a rupture in the family unit.

Everything that happens – matters. An adoptee can feel like they had a good life (as my own mother did) and still want to know about their origins (as my own mother did). My dad seems to have been content with who his parents were and how they treated him (though the first adoptive father turned out to be an alcoholic and was kicked out of the home by my dad’s adoptive mother – she did remarry and my dad was adopted a second time when he was already 8 years old). My dad never seemed to want to know anything about his origins. I have wondered if he was afraid of what he would find out. He told my mom regarding her own desires, “you might open up a can of worms.” That is telling in my own heart.

Many adoptive parents actually do adopt to SAVE some kid from some fate worse than death which they imagine would have been the outcome otherwise. This is called saviorism and is very common among evangelical Christians.

You can interpret the rest however your heart whispers to you.

The Wounds and Heartbreak of Adoption

In truth, we have to integrate our wounds into our understanding of who we are and what we are really capable of so that we can be whole human beings.  Only from there can we begin the process of healing the brokenness, the broken-heartedness within ourselves that is then the foundation for beginning to heal that in our larger society.
~ Rev Angel Kyodo Williams, Radical Dharma

Many adoptees seek a reunion with their original families to heal the woundedness and heartbreak of being abandoned (the adoptees’ perspective) by their original parents. If it goes well, it goes a long way toward healing those wounds. If it goes badly, the wound becomes further infected unless the adoptee can somehow reflect upon the disappointing experience to find wholeness within their own self.

An adoptee may ask –

When do I get good enough so that my despair goes away ?

Who will love me enough when they see who I really am ?

The shadows and vague memories of what happened to me are hard to sit with. Why do I keep running everyone away ?

Will I suffocate in the silence of my lack of identity, my lack of knowing the origins of my birth ?

What use does crying my tears really do for this pain in my heart ?

Systems of power and abuse depend upon not acknowledging the suffering they cause.  The rainbows and unicorns version of all the good adoption does fails to acknowledge the suffering that the adoptee experiences and the suffering the mother who gives up her child carries the rest of her lifetime.  Often that suffering is so painful, the mother will reject her child, who is only seeking to reconnect with her, because the mother fears being rejected by her child, when her child knows the reality of the mother that gave birth to her.

It is a horrendous cycle of unending suffering in many cases.  My heart breaks for the reality.  And I really don’t have answers, only empathy and compassion for the entire situation.

Am I capable of enduring suffering, facing martyrdom ?
And alone ?
Again the long loneliness to be faced.
~ Dorothy Day

What’s In A Name ?

What is it that a hopeful adoptive parent is seeking ?  For many, they can’t conceive naturally and really want to parent.  It is much more about what they want, than what the child needs.  Many children who are adopted didn’t actually need to be.  Their mom’s were NOT well enough supported to make the choice to raise their child that almost every mother would.

So what’s with changing the child’s name and cutting all ties to their original family ?

It is an attempt to create a fiction.  A fiction that the child was born to you and is related to you as much as they would be if you had birthed them yourself.

In cutting ties, it is an attempt to erase the origins of the child.

Who do these actions really serve ?  The adoptive parents or the child that they adopt ?

If it truly served the child’s needs they wouldn’t go searching for information and even contact with their original family if it didn’t matter to that child.  Just saying . . .