Child Collectors

Jeane and Paul Briggs have 34 children – 29 of whom were adopted from other countries including Mexico, Ghana and Ukraine. 

Today, I saw the term “child collectors”. This is applies to people who adopt a lot of kids. It is not all that uncommon to see 10 adopted children in one family and sometimes it is because they are siblings. We have collected antique tractors and have met collectors who just couldn’t stop collecting. I wanted an image for that term and went looking in google images for “Large Families of Adopted Children” and found this one.

Their story was hosted by the BBC – “The family with 34 children – and counting.” There is a part of me that recoils. It seems obscene. But now that I have gotten here, I’ll look into it some more. It seems more like a group home or orphanage than a family situation to my own heart. The couple has 5 biological children in addition to the 29 they have adopted.

The Briggs family lives in West Virginia. Their odyssey began with a badly beaten, blind, 2 year old child in a Mexican orphanage. That child is now 31 years old and has thrived.  He has a girlfriend and  is a naturally talented musician who can play the piano and guitar and composes his own music. Okay so far.

In December 2014, when this story was written, the couple was anticipating the arrival of two more children that they were in the process of adopting, baby boys from Ghana. The three month old babies were abandoned in the bush.

There is only one word that comes to mind because “church” is mentioned in relation to Jeane and what motivated her to adopt the first one – saviorism. There is a missionary agenda here to convert more souls in the service of the church’s reason for existing.

Over the past 29 years, as more children have arrived, the Briggs’s house has been adapted for their expanding family. It now has nine bedrooms – two of which resemble dormitories – and at over 5,000 square feet, the building is more than twice its original size. The family’s grocery bill averages $1,000/week (back in 2014) but thanks Paul’s well-paid job and Jeane’s careful budgeting, they have been able to meet their expenses.

And no surprise, Jeane has been home-schooling the children for nearly 30 years. This is not uncommon among Evangelical Christians. My sons have been educated at home but we don’t do it for religious reasons. Every homeschooling family we’ve met regionally does it for religious reasons. Thanks to the strength of the Christian persuasion in Missouri politics, we are not troubled about the choice we made for our own sons. We have our own reasons. We are reasonably well educated and informed people who work at home, older parents, and are happy to have our children with us 24/7. This was a decided advantage for my family during the pandemic lockdowns.

Some of the Briggs children still have first families that they are encouraged to keep in contact with. Sometimes of the children speak to relatives on the phone and Jeane will send pictures to let those back home know the children are doing well. She says, “They may have our last name but if there is a relative, then we are glad that child has two families who love them. My husband and I don’t need to be the first Mom and Dad to them.”

From a young age, Jeane was concerned with the bigger issues affecting society and was particularly interested in orphans and adoption. Even then, she knew she wanted a large family – although she never expected it would be this big. She said, “Even as a child, I knew I would adopt and have a large family. Faith has been the biggest motivation… every child should have a loving family.” I rest my case about how religion drives adoption. Certainly, many of the Briggs children came from difficult backgrounds and I do agree that EVERY child should have a loving family.

Jeane and Paul Briggs

Shame

I’m only going the summarize this article but provide you with the link because it is well worth your time to read it – I Kept My Family’s Secret For Over 60 Years. Now, I’m Finally Telling The Truth by Yvonne Liu – published in The Huffington Post.

I believe shame had a lot to do with adoption records being sealed to begin with. Closed to access by the very person – the adoptee – is the information matters most to. Early in my “adoption issues” education I encountered the issue of dumpster babies. There are also babies left in a basket. For most of my life, I thought my own father had been left in a basket on the doorstep of The Salvation Army in El Paso TX because his Mexican national mother lacked her family’s acceptance of a mixed race baby who’s father was an American national. Nothing was further from the truth but I was well in my 60s before I knew that. My father never expressed any interest in learning the truth and details of his own adoption and I believe it was because he was afraid of what he might learn. By the time I knew the truth, my dad was already deceased and knew next to nothing.

Today’s story relates to a baby left in a basket in a Hong Kong stairwell near Sai Yeung Choi Street. She was taken to St. Christopher’s Home, the largest non-government-run orphanage on the island. Officials at the orphanage named her Yeung Choi Sze, after the street where she was found.

Infertility was the shame her adoptive mother hid. That is not uncommon among adoptive mothers, especially those of Chinese descent because Confucius believed a woman’s greatest duty was to bring a son into the world. This adoptee’s mother couldn’t produce a son, much less a daughter.

In June of 1960, this baby girl from China landed at O’Hare International Airport. Her adoptive mother was disappointed in the baby she received from the beginning. She was a sick and scrawny baby, clearly malnourished. Her mother’s first reaction upon seeing her was, “Why couldn’t I have a healthy baby like everyone else?” Throughout her life, the family’s story about her was a lie – that she was born in Chicago. Every school form, all of her college and job applications, and even her medical records listed her birthplace as Illinois. 

The adoptee’s parents were never warm emotionally. From a young age, she was afraid to upset her mother, who was often emotionally volatile. Her mother showed her attention when she needed her daughter. If she dared push back on the relentless demands to refill her teapot, type her Chinese cookbook or vacuum the house, her mother would retreat to her bed, sob, and say, “You don’t love me because I’m not your real mother.” Hugging her, the adoptee would desperately proclaim her love for her adoptive mother, telling her, “You’re my only mother.” Then she would quickly and quietly fulfill her mother’s commands.

Her adoptive father was not any warmer emotionally. From her time in the third grade, she threw myself into becoming a star student in hopes of earning her father’s love and attention. After immigrating to America with $50 in his pocket, her adoptive father earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry while working as a dishwasher on the weekends. He was chronically depressed and withheld any affection from her, even though she wanted that desperately.

The adoptee won a full scholarship to attend a top MBA program and enjoyed a solid business career. She even married the nice Chinese man her mother chose for her. But for as long as her parents were alive – and even after they died – I continued to keep the family’s secret that she had been adopted. Eventually, she told her husband and children but asked them to continue keep the family’s secret. That’s how deep and dark she considered her secret shame to be. I truly believed I would carry it with me until I died. The ancient Chinese beliefs that she must have come from an immoral mother, would mean she was tainted by her origins.

In 2020, locked down by the pandemic and having just turned 61 years old, she finally began questioning why she had internalized her adoptive parents’ shame about infertility and adoption. Feelings of low self-esteem, insecurity and anxiety as well as lingering questions about identity, rejection, belonging motivated her to learn more about adoption. She did a lot of the things I did as well – read books about adoption and joined Facebook groups for adoptees. Like her, I was already in my 60s as well.

She came to realize that there was no reason to hide her truth any longer. It was time to live an authentic life. She had nothing to hide. She choose to tell her truth publicly in The New York Times. A 98-word Tiny Love Stories piece about her adoption. Then my brother (also adopted) gave her a dusty manila file he discovered during pandemic cleaning. It was labeled “Yvonne’s Adoption.” At 62 years of age, she finally read the documents her adoptive parents had deliberately kept hidden from her when they were alive. The yellowed tissue-thin papers held the truth of her beginnings.

She writes, “My heart ached for the baby who languished in that orphanage for 15 long months. Surely a caretaker would have picked up my malnourished and anemic body when I wailed. Surely someone helped me when I still couldn’t sit on my own at 9 months. Surely a hired helper gazed into my eyes as she fed me diluted Carnation formula, water and congee. I sobbed, imagining how that tiny baby must have experienced those first few months of a life that would turn out to be mine.”

For much of her childhood, she was a quiet child, afraid to be a burden. On the rare occasions when she complained or questioned her parents, they would answer, “Where would you be if we didn’t adopt you?” They never said the same thing to her adoptive brother because he fulfilled their traditional Chinese filial duty to have a son to carry on the family name.

Then, she wanted to understand, why the lies ? So she learned Chinese history, read cultural and sociology books, pored over Chinese memoirs and novels, interviewed Chinese cultural experts and people who lived in China at the time her parents had. Now she is able to recognize that her adoptive parents were a product of tradition, circumstances and time.

She was able to realize some gratitude for the circumstances of her life. Because her birth mother loved her, she left me at a busy stairwell to be found. Because she made that choice, the woman has lived a full life. She is also able to be grateful her adoptive parents chose her. She is no longer ashamed of being an adoptee.

You can read more of her writing at YvonneLiuWriter.com. She is currently writing a memoir about adoption, childhood trauma and mental health. 

Maud Lewis – Tragic Birthmother

I am attracted to tragic birthmother stories. That is what I feel that both of my biological genetic grandmothers were. So last night we watched the movie Maudie. It is the story of the Nova Scotia woman, Maud Lewis, who’s folk art which sold for nominal prices during her life and has skyrocketed into value since her death. I am attracted the her famous painting of the white cat with the sad face.

In the Hollywood romanticized version of her story, her husband Everett Lewis was not a social person and is known to have been was born at the “Poor Farm” in Marshalltown, Digby County. In the movie, he frequents an orphanage. It is unclear whether his mother was a resident or an employee at the Poor Farm, and nothing is known of his father. The movie depicts Maud and Everette Lewis as two misfits who found each other and married.

When Everett wants to have sex with Maud, is ostensibly there as his housekeeper but in living with him, there is only one bed in the house – his bed. She confesses to him that she once ended up pregnant, had a severely malformed baby who died and was buried while she was asleep. Later in the movie, her Aunt Ida who had partially taken care of Maud before she went to work for Everett but didn’t want to die with regrets, confesses that the baby was perfectly normal but that Maud’s brother Charles sold her to a rich couple because he did not believe Maud was capable of caring for her.

Later, Everett tracks down Maud’s daughter and takes her to see the girl but Maud only secretly looks at her hidden next to their car, outside of her house and isn’t willing to go to the girl. One gets the sense that she may have felt the daughter would reject her for her deformities, caused by juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (which was not treatable in the time period she was growing up). And that could be the true version – which is sad and tragic enough.

There is some dispute about the movie version compared to the actual true story and that would not be surprising as movies are meant to entertain. Everett is said to have been much worse towards Maud than the movie depicts him as being. The author, Lance Woolaver, visited Maud’s famously hand-decorated with her paintings house as a child and has been fascinated by her story all his life. He wrote a heavily researched 500 page book – Maud Lewis The Heart on the Door.

The book is described as a full-length biography including detailed accounts of her disabilities, due to a childhood battle with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis that twisted her hands and joints. Despite this deepening and painful affliction, she completed and sold thousands of bright pictures and Christmas cards from her little one-room house. Throughout her marriage to the illiterate fish peddler, she suffered from poverty and loneliness, yet triumphed over all with her brilliant, colorful and happy paintings. Everett Lewis was murdered after Maud’s death in 1970, on New Year’s Day of 1979 for his lockbox filled with money from sales of Maud’s pictures.

This author’s perspective on the tragedy of Maud Lewis as a birthmother was that as a young woman in Yarmouth, Maud fell in love with Emery Allen. Woolaver believes he was the love of Maud’s life. However, after she became pregnant, Allen abandoned her. He also believes there was no reconciliation between Maud and her daughter. Whether Maud believed the lie initially told her or not, it is said that she rejected her daughter, Catherine, when she reached out to know her mother saying that her child had been a boy who was born dead. A subsequent attempt by the daughter to contact her mother by letter also failed to bring them back together.

Catherine Dowley was born August 13, 1928 in Nova Scotia. She was not aware that she had been named for her mother, Maud Catherine Dowley. Later in life she did know that Maud was her original mother and that Mamie Crosby was her adoptive mother. Catherine’s visits to connect with Maud in Marshalltown upset Mamie, who like many adoptive mothers felt that she had been a loving and good mother to Catherine.

Catherine (with glasses) with her adoptive mother, Mamie Porter.

Catherine married Paul Muise in 1949 in Yarmouth county and several years after their marriage, they moved to Ontario. They were the parents of about 4 children. Catherine died before Lance Woolaver’s book was released.

Everett was know locally as a dirty old man who would take advantage of young women for sex. Maud may have known there was that aspect to him and sought to protect her daughter from predation. Just questions without answers such as those I have in my own parents’ adoption stories. Those that know have died with the answers I will never have.

Jennifer Teege’s Horrifying Discovery

Jennifer Teege (B&W photo of Amon Goeth)

When Jennifer Teege, a German-Nigerian woman, randomly picked up a library book off a shelf, her life changed forever. Recognizing images of her mother and grandmother in the book, she discovered a horrifying fact that no one had ever shared with her: Her grandfather was Amon Goeth, the vicious Nazi commandant depicted by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List, a man known and despised the world over.

Although raised in an orphanage and eventually adopted, Teege had some contact with her biological mother and grandmother as a child. Yet neither revealed that Teege’s grandfather was the Nazi “butcher of Plaszów,” executed for crimes against humanity in 1946. The more Teege reads about Amon Goeth, the more certain she becomes: If her grandfather had met her—a black woman—he would have killed her.

Teege’s discovery sends her, at age 38, into a severe depression. My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past details her quest to unearth and fully comprehend her family’s haunted history. Her research takes her to Krakow—to the sites of the Jewish ghetto her grandfather “cleared” in 1943 and the Plaszów concentration camp he then commanded—and back to Israel, where she herself once attended college, learned fluent Hebrew and formed lasting friendships. Teege struggles to reconnect with her estranged mother, and to accept that her beloved grandmother once lived in luxury as Goeth’s mistress at Plaszów.

Ultimately, Teege’s resolute search for the truth leads her, step by step, to the possibility of her own liberation. The chronicle of her struggle with her haunted past unfolds in her memoir My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me, co-written with journalist Nikola Sellmair and newly translated from German.

Teege visits her grandparents’ house in the Płaszów neighborhood of Krakow, Poland. It is the only dilapidated house on quiet Heltmana Street. And she writes – there is a coldness that creeps into your bones. And a stench. 

Over a year has gone by since I first found the book about my mother in the library. Since then I have read everything I could find about my grandfather and the Nazi era. I am haunted by the thought of him, I think about him constantly. Do I see him as a grandfather or as a historical character? He is both to me: Płaszów commandant Amon Goeth and my grandfather.

When I was young I was very interested in the Holocaust. I went on a school trip from Munich to the Dachau concentration camp, and I devoured one book about the Nazi era after another, such as When Hitler Stole Pink RabbitA Square of Sky and Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. I saw the world through Anne Frank’s eyes; I felt her fear but also her optimism and her hope.

You can read the entire piece my blog came from in – my Jewish Detroit. I have a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew in my DNA and have always felt drawn to Jewish culture. I would like to read her book sometime. Also because I am interested in learning more about the experience of Black people. In the USA, we have much to learn and white supremacy is a threat, slavery still exists only now the plantations have been replaced by prisons.

Always An Adoptee

Advice from an adoptee – If/when your adopted child says anything that you deem “negative” about their adoption, instead of just throwing around frequently used adoption phrases – please please please consider the long term affect of hearing some of these phrases

1. “Would you have rather stayed in the orphanage/on the streets, been aborted, would you rather have died?”

Yes, sometimes. Adoption is complex and complicated. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t here instead of enduring nights of sadness, depression, suicidal ideation, intrusive questions, all the unknowns, the mental health problems .. I will never stop being an adoptee. It affects EVERYTHING in my life

2. “God/We saved you from your biological family.”

Let us decide that. What was I saved from? I do not know. There are many things adoption has NOT protected me from. So please let me decide in what ways I was saved. It may shift and change. Also, please don’t say negative things about our biological families. Give us the FACTS that you know and allow us to decide where to place them in our hearts and lives. Y’all don’t get to decide if our biological families are good or bad. Many things I was told about my biological family ended up being racist, unkind, untrue, and problematic.

3. “You were chosen”

Maybe. Kinda. But often, not exactly. My adoptive parents chose me between 2 babies. I was laying beside another baby and they chose me. But if they had decided “no, she’s not for us” they would have found another baby – easily. Adoptees often feel like replacements. We know a lot of our parents wanted A BABY – not necessarily “us” specifically. We have to process that – please allow us the space and time to do so

4. “They loved you so much they decided to give you up.”

No. What about desperation? Survival? Poverty? Lack of resources? Addiction? Death? Would you give up your child because you loved them? I was not given up out of love but I was raised to believe so. It made me feel awful about myself and my biological sister (she was not “given up”). Does loving someone mean sending them away forever? Would my adoptive parents do the same because they loved me?

5. “Be grateful for what you have. Be grateful you are not dead/alone/orphaned/poor/etc. You are so lucky to have a loving, stable family.”

STOP telling us how to feel and what aspects of our lives to feel good about. Especially in response to something we have said, please don’t.

Please Imagine losing your mom at a young age and when you tell someone, they say “Wow but you should be so grateful that you still have…” or “You are so lucky that you have a family that loves you!”

How about “I am sorry for your losses and pain. How can I help without overstepping?”

There are days I would rather be dead than adopted. Days when I miss my biological family. Days that I want to return to a place I barely remember. Those are not the times to dismiss an adoptee’s feelings. Imagine how you’d feel hearing these responses.

Adoption Ad During the Super Bowl

Toyota featured the story of Jessica Long, 13 time Paralympic Gold Medalist. Born in Siberia and due to a rare condition, had to have her legs amputated, Jessica Long has inspired people with her story.

Toyota tells through a reenactment how her adoptive mother found out that she would need to have her legs amputated.

“Mrs. Long. We found a baby girl for your adoption,” says a woman on the phone with Long’s onscreen mother. “But there are some things you need to know. She’s in Siberia and she was born with a rare condition.”

“Her legs will need to be amputated,” the woman adds as the scenes play out floating in water while Long swims. “Her legs will need to be amputated. I know this is difficult to hear. Her life, it won’t be easy.”

The commercial then shifts to Long winning a race as her mother watches from the kitchen table.

“It might not be easy, but it’ll be amazing,” Long’s mom says. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

The commercial voiceover then adds, “We believe there is hope and strength in all of us.”

During an interview with People magazine back in 2016, the swimmer said – “Winning gold medals is incredible and obviously it’s what I want to do, but there’s something so special about having a little girl who has just lost her leg from cancer come up and tell me I’m her hero.”

Clearly, it is her physical disability that informs Jessica’s identity much more than the fact of her adoption.

“It took me years to realize that if I act ashamed and I try to hide them people kind of react the same way,” she added. “But if I wear my shorts or a cute summer dress and I show off my legs and I’m willing to talk about it, people are engaged and they want to know about my story.”

The renowned athlete was adopted by Americans from a Russian orphanage at 13 months old. At 18 months old, her legs were amputated below the knees. In total, she’s won 29 gold medals, 8 silver medals and 4 bronze ones.

As a blogger, the only question that I had was whether any pro-adoption group helped fund the commercial or suggested the idea to Toyota. Just a hint of cynicism but otherwise, I love the story of overcoming life’s realities with determination. However, there may be no connection with that kind of organization.

In 2013, Jessica Long traveled with her younger sister to meet her birth parents, who were teenagers when Long was born Tatiana Olegovna Kirillova. It was a three-day journey to her Russian adoption center and then an 18-hour train ride to what would have been her Siberian hometown. “Long Way Home” (the story of her journey) premiered on primetime during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.

Jessica says this about her adoption – “When I first see my Russian family, I want them to know that I’m not angry with them, that I’m not upset that they gave me up for adoption,” Long said in the film, before a tearful, hug-filled reunion. “I think that was really brave, and I don’t know what I would have done if I was in her situation, at 16 and having this disabled baby that they knew that they couldn’t take care of. I want to tell her that when I see her that, if anything, I have so much love for her, my mom, because she gave me life.”

And I’ve learned a bit more of Jessica’s adoption back story – her teenaged parents were persuaded to give her up, with doctors telling the mother that she was “still young” and would be able “to give birth to a normal child.” This is disgusting. This is why so many kids end up in ‘orphanages’, not because they don’t have parents, but because of lack of support, ablism and/or poverty. And even sadder is this, her mother said, “Of course I was against leaving her in the hospital but because of the circumstances we had to do so. In my heart I did want to take her home, and thought I would take her back later.” This belief that their child will return to them someday is a common occurrence in international adoptions.

There is of course, some questionable motivation when a car company wanting to sell more cars uses these kinds of themes. For those closest to the situations, it is absolutely a triggering commercial – hit notes on adoption, orphans, and a special needs person. At the same time, it is a perfect little story wrapped in a bow, delectable, and very palatable for the masses who gobble it up. General society and adoptive parents as well as the hopeful adoptive parents always love a “poor little orphan finds a home” story.

There is also a hashtag, #ToyotaWeDisApprove, trending on Twitter.

 

Not Good Enough

Today’s story –

I am a adoptee. Here is the issue, My daughter just had my first granddaughter on Sunday and she is absolutely perfect. But the problem is this, I now am living in daily fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of something happening, fear my daughter won’t need me anymore, fear I won’t bond or connect with the baby. I feel like I’m going crazy . Like today she told me to come over and then a little while later she said I could go home.. not in a mean way.. just wanted time with the dad… well, I didn’t let it show in front of her but I literally got in the car and balled my eyes out and then had a panic attack, feeling like I wasn’t good enough, that I wouldn’t see her again, that she didn’t need me or want me around… I know all of that is completely crazy but my mind won’t let me accept that. Is this normal for adoptees?, is this even normal for non adoptees? What can I do to get through this??

The first comment was – I am donor-conceived and my mother is not, but her own parents were absent/abusive. My mother is like this but she doesn’t have the courage or self-awareness to say it out loud. You did great by not putting this on your daughter’s shoulders.

The next one was – I’m sorry for what you’re going through. I’m not an adoptee but I do have an adult daughter and sometimes it’s hard when it seems like they don’t need you. But they do and they reach out when they do. We raise them to be independent but it hurts when we did it too well. She’s definitely going to need you.

Here is the next one – I’m not an adoptee and I’m answering because you asked if it’s normal for non-adoptees. I have TOTALLY had these exact feelings with my oldest; however I’m from a trauma background and have zero relationship with my bio mother – I think it may be normal for anyone coming from a trauma background. What I did was just be honest with my daughter and told her that I’m sure it was from my background and that I didn’t want her to feel responsible for my feelings but I wanted to be sure it was me and not true – we talk a lot and have a fabulous relationship. I have these feelings SO MUCH LESS NOW because she reassured me I had nothing to worry about – she accepts my worries and I accept that she is a private person and just has me around less than I originally thought would happen – I hope that helps you. And congratulations grandma!

Then there was this – That’s a totally a trauma reaction. The level of emotional response is way out of balance with the request.. and you know it… which only makes you feel even crazier, right?

So I’m gonna say something major in you baby adoptee brain has been triggered by the birth (sooo normal! ) and you now have a wonderful opportunity to find that wound and heal it. And it sounds like very expected abandonment stuff.. not being worthy of what you now see in the mother-child bond. The baby in you is crying for that experience and mourning you didn’t have it. Let your baby self cry it out and at the same time, mother yourself and know that you are worthy and deserved what your grandchild has. An adoption competent trauma informed therapist can help!

Then she adds – I used to believe that I had done enough work that I was always going to be in control.. and then, I lost my mind one day in the middle of the SPCA over a kitten. Like I became this crying, hysterical, screaming Karen .. and that is not me! That’s the day I learned that no matter how much you think you have healed.. sometimes the weirdest thing worms it’s way in! And boom.. you’re a sniveling mess lying on the kitchen floor.

Yet another shares this – My mother spent several years in an orphanage as a child and she is like this—if I reschedule a coffee date or something like that she feels abandoned and devastated. It breaks my heart. I love her so much and never want to cause her pain. I know therapy has helped her some.

A second woman confirmed – It is a trauma based response. I experienced the same sort of thing when my daughter got pregnant with my grandson. I was terrified and an emotional wreck thinking I wouldn’t have a relationship with the baby when it was born. Everything triggered me and despite my daughter reassuring me she wanted me involved – internally I felt it would all dissolve because of course, as an adoptee how do we trust we will be loved, included, not rejected ? I now have a wonderful relationship with my grandson and he is the joy in my life. I still feel that fear sometimes but I have gotten more confident that we can get past the bumps and not every bump means the end a relationship and bond.

Another woman shared – I am not a adoptee, my biological dad left and my biological mom got me and my sisters out of foster care. (Just for back ground) I just had a baby 6 months ago and my mom felt the same way. She was raised by her grandparents because her parents didn’t want her and couldn’t provide for her or my uncle. I think it’s definitely a trauma based thing, but I can tell you from the other side, I would cry for my mom at night when things got hard. I never once thought I could do it without her but also telling her was hard. Your child needs you always, a baby doesn’t change that.

A woman who gave her baby up for adoption writes – I feel like that about my daughter and she’s 31. (Found her when she was 18.) I am in therapy and am working on it. I think the important thing to realize is that these are thought distortions. They are your mind’s way of protecting itself, but this time it went out of control…. Like emotional keloids.

An adoptee writes – This is trauma talking! Trauma lies. It’s the brain telling you your trauma will repeat itself. My therapist has me do several things to combat this. One is I talk back to myself, out loud, as if I’m defending young Andrea or sometimes a friend. It feels really silly but we’re so hard on ourselves, so defending a child or a friend is so much easier! Another activity is to write down all those worst case scenarios and plan them out. What would you actually do if it happened? Then it might not feel so realistic and you’ll feel some measure of being in-control again. Also, my brain demands proof that it’s lying or it won’t shut up.

Black Market Baby

Scene from movie Thief – Tuesday Weld with a black market baby

Last night we watched the movie Thief on dvd. It was the subplot that got my own attention. Readers of this blog won’t be surprised by that.

In the movie, Frank (played by James Caan) is wooing Jessie (played by Tuesday Weld) to accept him as he is – an ex-con who is currently a diamond thief. These are highly technical, difficult and dangerous scores. Jessie tells him she can’t have children and he says, no problem, we’ll adopt.

The couple goes to an adoption agency where Frank reveals he grew up in institutional care. The agency rejects the couple because of Frank’s criminal record. Frank is being groomed by a Chicago Outfit mob boss though he intends always to be an independent operator. The boss knows of the couple’s effort to adopt and tells Frank that he can procure for them whatever kind of baby they want, whatever gender and whatever color. Frank says he wants a boy.

There is a scene where Jessie walks up to a house and is greeted by a woman who hands her the baby boy. They decide to name him David after Frank’s close friend (played by Willie Nelson) who has just died after being released from prison for compassionate reasons related to his failing heart. Frank paid for the attorney who got the court order to release David.

Frank only wants to do one more score and then retire but the mob boss has no intention of letting him go. I won’t spoil the end of the movie for you. It is highly rated at Rotten Tomatoes though my teenage sons criticized it as being “too 80s”.

The notable damning statement by the mob boss is that the baby is only rented or on lease and that he still owns that baby. This is black market baby selling and there are no legal documents to confirm the child as being legally with these parents.

Thinking about this subplot of the movie today, I found an old Huffington Post op-ed by a woman titled “I Was Offered A Black Market Baby (and I’m Thankful For It)“.

The Story of Haitian Adoptions

God’s Littlest Angels, an orphanage in Pétionville, Haiti

Since the subject has come up, I thought I would look into this.  The January 12 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti’s capitol set off an international adoption bonanza in which some safeguards meant to protect children were ignored.

The current Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett adopted John Peter, now age 13, was adopted by her in 2010 when he was 3 years old, after the devastating earthquake in Haiti.  Ibram X. Kendi tweeted, “Some White colonizers ‘adopted’ Black children. They ‘civilized’ these ‘savage’ children in the ‘superior’ ways of White people, while using them as props in their lifelong pictures of denial, while cutting the biological parents of these children out of the picture of humanity. And whether this is Barrett or not is not the point. It is a belief too many White people have: if they have or adopt a child of color, then they can’t be racist.”

John Lee Brougher from the NextGen America PAC tweeted, “As an adoptee, I need to know more about the circumstances of how Amy Coney Barrett came to adopt her children, and the treatment of them since. Transracial adoption is fraught with trauma and potential for harm.”  And I really hoped that Trump would have picked the judge from Florida that was on the short list for diversity reasons but I knew he didn’t care one whit about diversity.  He does care about the Evangelicals (many of whom promote international adoptions) and their desire for ultra-conservative judges.  From that perspective, of course Coney Barrett was a given and that has proven out.  A group of Evangelicals were reported in the Oval office the morning before the official announcement.

The Obama administration responded to BOTH the crisis and to the pleas of prospective adoptive parents and the lawmakers assisting them, by lifting visa requirements for children in the process of being adopted by Americans.

Although initially planned as a short-term, small-scale evacuation, the rescue effort quickly evolved into a baby lift unlike anything since the Vietnam War. It went on for months; fell briefly under the cloud of scandal involving 10 Baptist missionaries who improperly took custody of 33 children; ignited tensions between the United States and child protection organizations; and swept up about 1,150 Haitian children, more than were adopted by American families in the previous three years, according to interviews with government officials, adoption agencies and child advocacy groups.

Under humanitarian parole, adoptions were expedited regardless of whether children were in peril, and without the screening required to make sure they had not been improperly separated from their relatives or placed in homes that could not adequately care for them.

Some Haitian orphanages were nearly emptied, even though they had not been affected by the quake or licensed to handle adoptions. Children were released without legal documents showing they were orphans and without regard for evidence suggesting fraud. In at least one case, two siblings were evacuated even though American authorities had determined through DNA tests that the man who had given them to an orphanage was not a relative.

I’m sure there will be more about these circumstances in the coming days.  To inform yourself about the matter, you can read about the free for all Haitian adoptions after the 2010 earthquake in the New York Times – “After Haiti Quake, the Chaos of U.S. Adoptions“.

A Difference In Perspective

Within adoption reform communities, there is a deep commitment and ongoing effort to do adoptive relationships in a manner that is focused on the well-being of the adopted child, who through no choice of their own is not with the parents who conceived nor the mother who gave birth to them.

So, here’s the story of two conflicting perspectives on “doing it right”.

My husband and I live in West Africa with our 5 children. We recently adopted twin 4 year old girls in December. These children were being raised by their single Aunt who could not take care of them any longer since she was also raising 6 additional children (her own and also from other siblings), so she surrendered them to an orphanage because their mother had nothing to do with them since they were 1 year old. Unfortunately, this is a pretty common scenario here in West Africa.

We talk often about their “first mom,” allow the twins to miss her and express sadness, assure them they are loved and wanted. We keep in contact with their Aunt and have recently developed an online relationship with their mother. I send pictures and video to their family several times a week so they are able to know how the twins are doing. The twins have been able to talk with their aunt, cousins, and mother on two occasions. My husband and I had hoped to keep this relationship alive so the girls always had a connection to their African family.

Recently I received very harsh criticism from an adult Native American adoptee who was adopted into a privileged white family at birth. She has no connection with her biological family and claims she has never had any questions about them because “her parents did it right.” She insisted that the way we are referring to their mother as “first mom” and the ongoing connection we are attempting to foster will create an identity crisis and undermine my parental authority as their adoptive mother. We are a Christian missionary family (as is she) and she also told me that she believes our behavior and language will cause them to question God and fall away from their faith because of the uncertainty we’ll cause. In her opinion, we need to “squash” the connection with their mother and start referring to her as “the woman who gave birth to you” and to me as your “only mom.” She was also concerned that the girls have “romanticized” their memories of their mom, making her seem better than she was to them.

There is so much attention now being paid to issues of racial inequality and identity that I am not surprised that the first comment was somewhat harsh but here goes –

You are the definition of white saviorism. The very fact that you are missionaries in another country trying to recruit locals to your culture and belief system is white colonization. I find it disgusting and harmful. As to your adoption, it’s sad for all those involved, especially for the twins.

And the original woman’s response –

I teach at an American Christian school for North American children who have parents living abroad either as missionaries, humanitarian workers, or for business. We actually do not interact with locals in the manner you are assuming. But, let me educate you on what happens here in West Africa to children whose parents cannot take care of them…. the lucky ones are given to “schools” that use these children as slaves, abuse them, and force them to beg on the streets for money usually shoeless and hungry. Others are taken out to remote villages and left to starve or sold as human sacrifices or into human trafficking. The fact that you make such a bold statement without knowing anything about what happens here just shows your own ignorance and first world privilege.

The criticism was gently affirmed by another woman –

What was brought up is a valid point. I think your heart is in the right place, but you should always be mindful of how your actions have potentially negatively affected your adopted daughters’ natural family.

In adoption reform circles, financial and other resource support for natural families and keeping children within their birth culture (which means ending transracial adoption, which is not the same is a mixed race family birthing mixed race children, to be clear on this point) is the direction that reformers are seeking in an effort to end the need for removing children from the biological and genetic families.

And finally, an adoptee shares –

As an adoptee ALL I wanted my entire childhood was to know who and where I came from. Since I had no answers I would make up stories about how my first mom was a famous actress etc etc. I found out later in life that many adoptees made up elaborate stories about their bio families. It was literally torturous to not know. I feel now that SO much was straight out stolen from me as a child. And for what purpose???

Since I had no answers about my own parents’ origins, I “made up” stories.  My mom was half African-American – she was not.  My dad was half Mexican – he was not.  I would have preferred the reality and an opportunity to know those persons who I was genetically related to.  My parent died without ever having that opportunity.  Since I have recovered the knowledge of my genetic origins, I am thankful also to now know people I am actually related to by blood.  It has healed to wholeness something that was previously broken within me – without denying the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins I knew as a child due solely to the adoptions of my parents.