I Am Now My Own Parent

My Dad and Mom

I’ve told some version of this story before and can’t promise I won’t again, though with evolving perspectives, these likely do change over time. My dad died only 4 months after my mom. She died first in September 2015 and he followed in February 2016. It was a profound event in my own life as I am certain it is in many lives. After my dad died, my youngest sister said, “We are now orphans.” I remain estranged from her. The cruelty she expresses towards me when we are in contact with one another causes me not to want to be involved with her. Not long ago, the state of Missouri informed me that they held some abandoned asset of my mom’s and I jumped through hoops and ended up with a whopping check for $20. Because I needed to provide my sisters names and addresses, so they could receive their own shares, I contacted my youngest sister’s conservator, who had been appointed to manage her funds. Turns out, he has been free of her for 2-1/2 years and no longer has that responsibility. The judge turned him loose and I understand. My sister is difficult and uncooperative and so, she is on her own now. So be it. I never wanted to take her freedom away from her. It was her own lawyers and the need for a family member to ask the court to look at her circumstances that forced my own involvement.

The topic today was inspired by a Daily Guide for Sunday, July 10 2022 in the Science of Mind magazine written by Rev Dr Jim Lockard. That phrase that is my title today comes from an affirmation he put at the end of his essay. He mentions that some people have never known their family of origin. That was certainly true for BOTH of my parents – as each of them was adopted and they died knowing next to nothing about their origins. I was conceived out of wedlock by a teenage mom. I could have so easily been given up for adoption but thankfully, I was not. It seems that one of my purposes in this life was to reconnect the threads of my parents own origins and I have now made it as far as is necessary for my own peace of mind. I know who all 4 genetic grandparents were, something of their stories and am aware of quite a few living, genetic relatives now that I am in contact with.

After my mom died, I came into contact again with an aunt. She is the widowed wife of my dad’s brother (my uncle was also adopted). A profound experience for me in high school was witnessing my uncle’s slow decline from Lou Gehrig’s disease. She is a nurse who met him when he was a Marine and hospitalized due to an auto accident. I had been thinking about this aunt for several days. It seems we do have a “spiritual heart connection” and so, she had been thinking about me and called me recently. It has been true since my mom died that she still calls me to check in from time to time – mostly to hear the latest for me and adds a few insights into her own life. Mostly, she just listens. I find her easy to talk to, honestly, though she is much more conventionally religious than I am. She usually asks about my sisters and how are they doing. She used to tell me she was praying for my estranged sister and I but she no longer tries to reach me that way. She had only one child with my uncle and he died a few years ago, too young and somewhat unexpectedly. She lives with an elderly sibling and that sibling’s spouse. My aunt is now 90 years old and I never know how much longer she will be in my life but she is totally lucid and I am always happy to hear from her.

Mine is a strange reality to live. Learning who my genetic relatives were and are, has to some extent, distanced me from the ones I grew up with. Even so, I remain fond of the adoptive grandparents I grew up with (now deceased) and with the aunt just mentioned and one other (my dad’s step-sister, who he acquired when his adoptive mother remarried after a divorce). My mom also had a brother who was adopted through the Tennessee Children’s Home before her. I am not all that close to him but did see him at my mom’s memorial service. It was his daughter’s receipt of his adoption file that had her call to tell me – I could get my mom’s. That opened the door for me to become genetically whole again and fulfill an intended life purpose.

Not A Celebration

One adoptee’s story –

I was 1 year old, when my mother was convinced to give up her rights to parent me. I was 2 years old, when I was ripped away from my father who asked everyone for help, even social services. After that, I spent 3 years as a medically complex ADHD autistic child (without even a diagnosis of autism until I was 30!) I was bounced between 6 foster care homes before I was adopted at age 5.

I didn’t want to bang that gavel but the judge, the social worker and the woman who raised me – all made it seem like such a party, a good thing, a reward even.

Fast forward 25 years.

My dad’s parents passed in 2020 and 2021. My parents have been gone for over a decade. The woman who raised me passed in May of this year.

I have never EVER felt more unloved, unwanted, and alone.

I’m not included in anyone’s end of life plans, not provided for, not even mentioned.

Because of adoption, my own and my birth mom’s, I will never know her side of the family. I’ve tried everything, Ancestry, Genome Link, I’ve tried it all. Even asked for assistance from angels in the search groups. There’s nothing.

I have two children, who I cling to for dear life. But I have no family outside of them.

Adoption is trauma. Now with the overturning of Roe v Wade, there will be many more generations of adoptees with trauma to come, maybe for decades.

Parental Death Then What

Sadly, it happens. Parents die and something must be arranged for the ongoing care and healthy development of a child. A lot of make suggestions in our wills or trust regarding our minor children but few think it out from the perspective that the adoption community can bring to the issue. Today’s stories and insights highlight the issues.

I am looking for resources about adoption following death of a parent or parents, NOT adoption due to a lack of support for birth parents. Attachment trauma is a given. Actively honoring the memory of the late parent(s) is a high priority, as is pursuing therapy for all parties. The children know their own stories, have access to their family health history, and retain their birth names. Beyond this, I would like to better understand adoption vs. legal guardianship in the context of parental death.

My sister died, leaving my niece behind. My parents already had guardianship before she passed, but also go full custody as well after. but they are currently pursuing adoption strictly for the legal assurances it gives us. They are in their 70’s and although in excellent health, you never know. If they adopt her, they can “leave her to me” for lack of a better term. With the current arraignment, I would have to totally start over from square one. But they aren’t trying to adopt her in the traditional sense. They don’t want to be called mom/dad, etc. it’s just for custody/legal purposes.

I was orphaned at age 7 when my mother died in a car accident. Legal Guardianship made college paperwork a nightmare, it made school field trips/enrollments and passports and traveling across borders immensely difficult. One time, I had a border patrol agent insinuate my grandfather was trafficking me despite our last names matching on our passports and his drivers license. My mother did not allow my stepfather to adopt me despite him coming into my life when I was 1. I am grateful she didn’t.

Adoptee who was adopted due to the death of a parent. Please do not steal their last name. My name being changed stole my connection to my deceased dad and I still resent it decades later. My last name was all I had of his and it was changed, even though my adoptive parents knew how I felt about it

Guardianship is will be heavily state dependent because states are so different with respect to family law. It could largely depend on the specifics of the court order. A guardianship order for a child who has no legal or living parents would have to ensure the guardians have the same rights and responsibilities as parents, including the ability to sign for a passport / take children out of country. One problem you could run into with guardianship would be – if you did have to immigrate to another country – the children would likely not be eligible on your visa. Only legally adopt if that’s the only option.

Best to not change the birth certificates, refer to yourself as “mom/dad” and do maintain relationships with extended family. Consider long term security in terms of custody (including if you were to die and future guardianship decisions), medical decision-making rights, access to IDs/passports, and so on. Legal guardianship can be tricky to navigate. An informed attorney is a must. As far as I know, there is not currently any state that allows the original birth certificate to remain intact with the finalization of an adoption. Hence the growing interest in guardianships. In some states, children under legal guardianship do not get all the benefits that foster and adoptive children do (example: free college tuition).

Here was a good example of how to talk to people at the child(ren)’s school – always introduce your title – grandma/grandpa, aunt/uncle, etc. Let them call you by your real name/ title (Aunt Carla, Grandma, etc.) rather than Mom. That will require some effort upfront on your part with teachers and so forth. Reach out to their teachers before the start of the school year and introduce yourself – Hi, John and I are Jane’s Aunt and Uncle. I know most kids live with parents but Jane‘s parents are deceased. It’s a tough subject for her – of course – and I know you would want a head’s up so that you can use inclusive language for the students’ families. I think it is important to take the lead with all those kinds of introductions, so the burden to explain does not fall on the child(ren).

MIA Fathers

In adoptionland, it seems that most of the attention is on moms. Birth mothers, adoptive mothers, women who are mature adoptees. Certainly, the gestation of a baby is a huge bonding reality that is severed, if a child is removed from their mother or adopted out after birth.

It is hard to locate as much information about how men feel if they lose their fatherhood. Lots of stuff about men’s fathers dying but less about the impact on men, if they lose the opportunity to parent their children. Lots of stuff about the negative impact of absentee fathers on their children.

I did find one man’s blog in which he describes that since becoming a father himself, he now judges the value of potential friends based upon how they treat their own children. I did find that interesting. I do believe that men do care about their children – my children have different fathers. My daughter has the father that I married at the end of high school. I have written in the past how he ended up raising her with a step-mother, though that was never my own intention.

My two sons have their father because he wanted to be a father badly enough to accept a novel means of conceiving them. Because he was ready to be a father, he has been awesome in his role in the boys’ lives. I believe that readiness is an important factor is whether a man is successful at becoming a father (and in that case, regarding the likelihood of a divorce severing him from his children). I believe readiness is an important factor in determining how willingly a man goes the extra mile for his children.

You may find this blog by CJ Nigh, who writes as Undead Dad, interesting. He describes himself as an East Coast writer with a Midwestern soul. He describes his blog as being about mindful fatherhood in the deadening age of hyper-technology and over-work. I think you may enjoy reading this offering – Finding Out Your Friend is an Absent Parent – for Father’s Day.

It would also be worthwhile to read this piece in Psychology Today – Father Absence, Father Deficit, Father Hunger – subtitled – The vital importance of paternal presence in children’s lives. I totally agree – parents are forcefully removed from their children’s lives, as daily caregivers, by misguided family court judgments. We have laws and policies that devalue the importance of parents in children’s lives and parental involvement as being critical to children’s well-being. In most cases, children benefit from having access to both parents—and parents need the support of social institutions in order to be there for their kids.

Corporation Adoptee

It never ceases to amaze me how often adoption comes up everywhere around me. Last night we watched The Truman Show. In this movie, which is described as a psychological science fiction, is an analogy also for the lives of many adoptees.

Truman was selected as one of five children who were products of unwed parentage. So he was born at the “right time” and from birth was the adoptee of a media corporation who builds a long running TV series from his lifetime.

The director, Christof, claims that Truman came to be adopted not just by the show, but by the whole “world”. Truman’s hometown of Seahaven Island is a complete set built within an enormous dome, populated by crew members and actors who highlight the product placements that generate revenue for the show. The elaborate set allows Christof to control almost every aspect of Truman’s life, including the weather.

They do everything they can to prevent Truman from discovering his false reality, even manufacturing scenarios that dissuade Truman from acting on his desire for wider exploration, including the “death” of his father (an actor) in a sea storm to instill aquaphobia. Constantly broadcasting and printing messages of the dangers of traveling and the virtues of staying home. However, Christof cannot predict all of Truman’s actions. During his college years, Truman was intended to fall in love with and marry co-student Meryl (which does happen), but he also did fall in love with Sylvia, who was intended as an extra on the program.

The movie really is like the unreality of most adoptee’s lives. It is a thoughtful rather than comedic Jim Carrey movie.

Two Men – Adventures in Africa

I am reading the book, Exterminate All The Brutes by Sven Lindqvist, which is not at all what I expected. In yesterday’s reading I found linked two men with books set in the Congo. Henry Morton Stanley, who wrote In Darkest Africa, published in 1890 and Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness, published in 1899. I read that both grew up motherless, both had been adopted by benevolent father figures and that both ran away to sea, changed their name, home country and identity. This I thought this a worth topic for my Missing Mom blog. So some historical stuff today.

Henry Morton Stanley

Henry Stanley was born in 1841 as John Rowlands in Denbigh, Denbighshire, Wales. His mother Elizabeth Parry was 18 years old at the time of his birth. She abandoned him as a very young baby and cut off all communication. Stanley never knew his father, who died within a few weeks of his birth. There is some doubt as to his true parentage. As his parents were unmarried, his birth certificate describes him as a bastard. His baptism registry indicated that he was the bastard son of John Rowland of Llys Llanrhaidr and Elizabeth Parry of Castle. The stigma of illegitimacy weighed heavily upon him all his life.

The boy John was given his father’s surname of Rowlands and brought up by his grandfather Moses Parry, a once-prosperous butcher who was living in reduced circumstances. He cared for the boy until he died, when John was five. Rowlands stayed with families of cousins and nieces for a short time, but he was eventually sent to the St Asaph Union Workhouse for the Poor. The overcrowding and lack of supervision resulted in his being frequently abused by older boys. Historian Robert Aldrich has alleged that the headmaster of the workhouse raped or sexually assaulted Rowlands, and that the older Rowlands was “incontrovertibly bisexual”. When Rowlands was ten, his mother and two half-siblings stayed for a short while in this workhouse, but he did not recognize them until the headmaster told him who they were.

Rowlands emigrated to the United States in 1859 at age 18. He disembarked at New Orleans and by his own account became friends by accident with Henry Hope Stanley, a wealthy trader. He saw Stanley sitting on a chair outside his store and asked him if he had any job openings. He did so in the British style: “Do you need a boy, sir?” The childless man had indeed been wishing he had a son, and the inquiry led to a job and a close relationship between them. Out of admiration, John took Stanley’s name. Later, he wrote that his adoptive parent died two years after their meeting, but in fact the elder Stanley did not die until 1878. This and other discrepancies in Stanley’s own autobiography lead some to argue that no adoption took place.

Stanley reluctantly joined the American Civil War, first enrolling in the Confederate States Army’s 6th Arkansas Infantry Regiment and fighting in the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. After being taken prisoner at Shiloh, he was recruited at Camp Douglas Illinois by its commander Colonel James A Mulligan as a “Galvanized Yankee.” He joined the Union Army on June 4 1862 but was discharged 18 days later because of severe illness.  After recovering, he served on several merchant ships before joining the US Navy in July 1864. He became a record keeper on board the USS Minnesota, and participated in the First Battle of Fort Fisher and the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, which led him into freelance journalism. Stanley and a junior colleague jumped ship on 10 February 1865 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in search of greater adventures.  Stanley may have been the only man to serve in all three of the Confederate Army, the Union Army, and the Union Navy. He is remembered for the line – “Dr Livingstone, I Presume ?” Henry Morton Stanley wrote In Darkest Africa published in 1890. This is how his story intersects with the next one.

Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857 in Berdychiv Ukraine. His family called him “Konrad”, rather than “Józef”. His father was arrested and imprisoned in Pavilion X of the Warsaw Citadel. Conrad would write: “[I]n the courtyard of this Citadel—characteristically for our nation—my childhood memories begin.”

His father’s sentence was commuted, and the family was sent to Chernihiv in northeast Ukraine, where conditions were much better. However in 1865 his mother died of tuberculosis. His father also died of tuberculosis in 1869 leaving Conrad orphaned at the age of 11. The young Conrad was placed in the care of his mother’s brother.

Since he showed little inclination to study, it was essential that he learn a trade; his uncle thought he could work as a sailor-cum-businessman, who would combine maritime skills with commercial activities. In the autumn of 1871, thirteen-year-old Conrad announced his intention to become a sailor. At the age of 15, he was sent to a boarding house for orphan boys. The owner’s daughter recalled: “He stayed with us ten months… Intellectually he was extremely advanced but [he] disliked school routine, which he found tiring and dull; he used to say… he… planned to become a great writer…. He disliked all restrictions. At home, at school, or in the living room he would sprawl unceremoniously.”

“Living away from one’s natural environment—family, friends, social group, language—even if it results from a conscious decision, usually gives rise to… internal tensions, because it tends to make people less sure of themselves, more vulnerable, less certain of their… position and… value… ” ~ Zdzisław Najder

After nearly four years in France and on French ships, Conrad joined the British merchant marine, enlisting in April 1878. His book Heart of Darkness was published in 1899 and like Stanley’s account is set in the Congo. To Conrad’s credit, his contains bitter reflections on colonialism. Conrad regarded the formation of a representative government in Russia as unfeasible and foresaw a transition from autocracy to dictatorship. Conrad’s distrust of democracy sprang from his doubts whether the propagation of democracy as an aim in itself could solve any problems. He thought that, in view of the weakness of human nature and of the “criminal” character of society, democracy offered boundless opportunities for demagogues and charlatans.

The Pain of Adoption

It’s my 68th birthday and besides the usual busyness amongst so much sorrow and reasons for global level concern, I’m a bit short on time too. So sharing this worthy blog from my adoptee friend, Ande

I have been asked if I think losing a parent is the same as being adopted. No, it is not. Plenary adoption is the legal loss of identity, history, family.

Being adopted also does not mean you won’t then lose one of your Adoptive parents. Many of us do. Some to death, like I did. Others to divorce or the end of a relationship. Then, if we are able to find out who our parents are, many of us discover that they are dead, or emotionally unavailable.

People who, while still children, have lost a parent to death know that this is a pain other do not understand. The only people I have ever met who understand what that was like for me, are people who also had a parent die.

But it’s not the same as the pain of adoption.

I have lived for almost forty years with a person whose father walked away when he was a small child. I know from talking with and observing him that this loss has had a profound impact on his life. I do not in any way want to invalidate that loss. It is real, and it is painful.

It’s just not, the same. Adoption is another layer of trauma that non-adoptees do not understand. Please grant us the same respect you wish for us to show your lived experience.

Privatizing Foster Care

A woman in my all things adoption group encountered this business (and by that I do mean for profit) at a pop up market. I had to go looking for a definition of that. Pop-up retail, also known as pop-up store or flash retailing, is a trend of opening short-term sales spaces that last for days to weeks before closing down, often to catch onto a fad or scheduled event.

She shares her experience thus – Today I did a pop up market and after I was fully set up I walked around. One of the other vendors that were there was this one (First Home Care). They claim to be there to help children in the foster care system. Ok, cool. I asked what they did for the community as I’d love to be able to help local families… The good ends there… After talking to the lady for less than 5 mins, She starts talking about how much money you can make as a foster parent. My jaw hit the floor. I was like are you a not for profit or a for-profit company? They are for profit… Not unification… Wtf… I told her she should be ashamed of herself and walked away… Is this common? I feel like a complete noob. I had no idea that there were foster companies for profit. Like I know there’s adoption companies for profit, but foster companies…

To which someone else posted a link to an article in The Hill – “Privatization of foster care has been a disaster for children.” The article highlights an abusive system, where corporations profit from and victimize vulnerable people: foster care for children.

Twenty-eight states allow some degree of for-profit contracting of foster care services. The private companies that make money off foster children would have us believe that they are providing quality service at affordable rates — as is often the selling point of privatization made to the general public. But evidence has shown that some of these for-profit services are rife with mismanagement and abuse.

One woman, who aged out at 18, describes her last (of 3 placements) in Utah – “It was the worst of them all. I still have bad dreams. My sleep was monitored; I wound up banished to the basement, alone for days. They listened in on my phone calls, read my mail. I was told the sexual abuse I had lived through was my fault. The meds they put me on threw my moods all over the place. I wanted to kill myself. I feel lucky I made it out alive.”  She had entered foster care when her mother died after being severely abused by her father.

Privatizing the core functions of the foster care system makes it harder for the public to exercise the necessary oversight over the activities of companies that are entrusted with the safety and well-being of vulnerable children. Of course, the for-profit foster care industry argues that abuse claims are nothing but isolated cases — bad apples in an otherwise pristine crop.

Foster care contractors benefit from a steady flow of children into the foster system, just as private prison contractors rely on the persistence of steady rates of crime and incarceration. A bipartisan congressional report released in 2017 by former Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) found that, by and large, “children who are under the legal authority of their state, yet receive services from private for-profit agencies, have been abused, neglected and denied services. The very agencies charged with and paid to keep foster children safe too often failed to provide even the most basic protections, or to take the steps to prevent the occurrence of tragedies.”

Both Genders Drive Adoption

For some time now, my husband has been making use of old photos to create slide shows as a screen saver. I enjoy looking at these . . . memories. One of my current favorites is of my husband lying on his chest looking at our oldest son as a 3 month old infant lying on the bed. They are both smiling at one another. Clearly, there is a real connection between them, an energy. And it is true, while my husband does honestly love both of his sons, he does a lot of work around our farm with the older boy. They seem to be in-sync so well. Of course, the older one, now 21 years old, is more mature but over the last several years, they have replaced roofs, planted trees and both worked for the 2020 Census and could share stories each night when they got home. Just as I saw with my in-laws respect for my husband’s opinions, there is a respect on my husband’s part for each of his sons’ perspectives. It is a beautiful thing to see. For my part, I am inspired by both of them and who and how they are developing into maturity.

Becoming a father came at the right time for my husband in his own maturity. When we first married (my second marriage), he was not interested in having children. He was glad I had been there and done that – so no pressure on him. And it is also true that because I gave birth to my daughter at the age of 19, I had already known motherhood. Indeed, she has made me a grandmother twice. She was there for me each time one of my parents died (only 4 months apart) and through the challenges of being the executor of their estate, including giving me the benefit of her expertise in real estate selling and negotiating the final contract with a buyer.

Even though my early motherhood was a good experience for me, I was totally blown away when after 10 years of marriage, my husband did a 180 on me and wanted to become a father. Unfortunately, it turned out that age had produced in me secondary infertility and we had to turn to assisted reproduction and an egg donor to have our sons. 20 years ago, no one saw inexpensive DNA testing and the matching sites 23 and Me as well as Ancestry becoming so popular in use. Fortunately, we have handled the situation of having two donor conceived sons as well as any ignorant parents could (both had the same genetic sources and so, are true genetic and biological siblings). By handling the situation, I mean we have always been honest about their conceptions with our sons. They really did need to become older to understand the details. Getting their DNA tested at 23 and Me (where their egg donor also had her DNA tested) gave us the opening to fully describe the details, which does not seem to have troubled them at all. Before we had theirs tested, I also gifted my husband with a kit from 23 and Me.

For me, having lost the privilege of actually raising my daughter when she was 3 years old due to my own poverty and her father’s unwillingness to pay child support (and even so, he ended up paying for her support by raising her himself) – these second chance opportunities to prove I could mother children throughout their growing up years has been a true blessing for me. Experiencing motherhood now has healed much – including a decision to have an abortion after my daughter’s birth and the subsequent discovery that I carried the hep C virus – thanks to pre-treatment testing related to my oldest son’s conception. (BTW, this week I will finally complete, after living with this virus for over 20 years, a very expensive treatment regime which required a grant for the co-pay as well as Medicare Part D because otherwise, I still could not have afforded to have that virus treated).

All this just to share that this morning, I was reading an accusation about infertile women driving adoptions. One woman noted this – “we seem to be letting the guys off scot-free. The dudes who want a Daddy’s Little Girl or to play football with their own Mini-Me. I am not saying that childless woman are not a huge factor in the adoption industry, but I am saying that we live in a patriarchy and men also have a macho thing going on from birth … carrying on the family name, the stereotypical being the breadwinner for their very own brood instead of watching other guys’ families from the sidelines as a failure. And sometimes it isn’t the woman’s inability but the guys’ faulty minnows and that is definitely a macho & emasculating situation that they can rectify by sheer force (IVF or adoption are ways no one else will really be the wiser if they keep these secrets). They can be saviors and still be Daddy Dearest at the same time win-win.”

I know that in the case of infertility, the “blame” is statistically equal – one-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues, one-third by female reproductive issues, and one-third by both male and female reproductive issues or by unknown factors according to the National Institutes of Health. Clearly in our case, because 50% of each of our son’s DNA clearly establishes that their father’s sperm did the deed, the problem was my age. We didn’t start our efforts until I was already 46 years old.