Shock And Confusion

Ashley John-Baptiste

I was drawn to this man’s story in The Guardian because such unexpected events are happening more often these days thanks to social media and inexpensive DNA testing.

He had entered foster care while only still a toddler. He had been in four foster homes and a residential care home, all across south-east London, by the time he aged out at 18. He had always believed he was an only child. In his mid-20s, he received a message on social media from a stranger, about 10 years older than him, who claimed to be his brother. Turned out he was a half-brother, they shared the same father. This older man had been one of his baby-sitters when he was very young. And he knew this man had at least three other siblings.

After aging out, he was rebuilding his life. He had gotten a degree and was employed as a BBC journalist. This unexpected note from a stranger on Facebook had collided with his already fractured identity, raising a wave of questions about who he was and where he came from.

At the time, the two never went on to meet in person. They messaged each other a bit for a few weeks and of course, he scoured the man’s Facebook profile, but they didn’t pursue a more intimate relationship. Years passed without any contact – until the first COVID lockdown.

His partner had given birth to his first child and they were at a hospital for a routine well-baby check. He spotted a man outside the building. They locked eyes. Weirdly, perhaps, he recognized the man instantly. He was the half-brother who had got in touch with him all those years ago. He looked exactly the same in person as he did in his profile picture.

So, he called out the man’s name and, to his relief, the man also recognized him. They stood there, outside the hospital, chatting. Time stood still. In that moment, it felt as if they had known each other their whole lives. There was a deep knowing. Nothing was awkward about it. If anything, it felt too normal.

He said at the hospital visiting his sick mother. He introduced the man to his baby. They took a photo together and even made plans to catch up properly in the near future but since that chance encounter, they haven’t met again.

For ages after that meeting, he was consumed with questions about his past. Why did social workers and foster carers tell him he was an only child? How could no one in authority not know about his siblings? Do children’s services even care about, or prioritize learning about, the family histories of looked-after children?

Sadly, he still has not had any contact with his other siblings. At this point, all he has is that photo of his half-brother who is his baby daughter’s uncle. Even so, he says this – “Although I don’t know, and may never know, these siblings on a personal level, they serve as a touch point to understanding my past and my sense of identity. Knowing they exist reassures me that I am a part of something bigger than myself. . . . knowing they are alive and well is more than enough for me.”

Folksong by Cory Goodrich

corygoodrich.com

This is not my personal story but I do know at least one friend for whom it IS their story as well and so, I have become more interested in NPEs.

Cory Goodrich is a NPE or the recipient of a non-paternity event. This is when someone who is presumed to be an individual’s father is NOT in fact the biological father. This presumption may be on the part of the individual, the parents, or the attending midwife, physician or nurse.

“I’ve always questioned so many things about my family and my life throughout the years, and also about my own mother, who always seemed to be holding back,” Goodrich said.

“I finally decided to ask myself the questions: If a family tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to see it, do I even exist?” I do love this tree related quote !!

A promotional description paragraph sums up the book, Folksong by Cory Goodrich.

“It’s a story about the father who took her in, the father who took her away, the father who gave her away, and her 89-year-old mother, whose broken heart finally gave out while still protecting the secret to Goodrich’s identity. Sifting through the remnants of a life captured in letters and old Polaroids, Goodrich discovers a secret that sets her on a journey with life-altering consequences. In the era of Ancestry.com, DNA testing, and social media, Goodrich was able to gather together just enough pieces of a puzzle locked away for over 50 years to clearly make out the unfathomable image it depicted. Goodrich reminds that while things aren’t always what they seem, stunning fortitude and unexpected legacy can rise from the disorganized ashes of a toppled identity.”

Goodrich says, “I describe ‘Folksong’ as a memoir of love and longing, an ode to self-discovery, an emotional ballad of grief and forgiveness, and a heart-stirring look at the lengths to which a family will go to protect themselves and each other.”

Sometimes, a few breadcrumbs are all you need, as I discovered during my own family roots journey. Since my dad’s mom was unwed and she didn’t name his father on his birth certificate, I thought I’d never be able to know who my paternal grandfather was. I will admit that getting my DNA tested at Ancestry and some intriguing “hints” of some people I seemed to related to – actually were – right on target. When I finally had a last name for my paternal grandfather, the man I once contacted through Ancestry, who finally months later, wrote me – I wish I could help but none of the names you have given me seem related to me. Then, I gave him the new name – mystery solved – my grandfather was his grandmother’s brother.

Disclaimer – I have not read this book. Still I would recommend it to anyone feels they may also be a NPE.

The deception with tact, just what are you trying to say?

You’ve got a blank face, which irritates

You see dimensions in two

State your case with black or white

But when one little cross leads to

You run for cover so discreet, why don’t they

Do what they say, say what you mean

You told me something wrong, I know I listen too long but then

One thing leads to another

~ partial lyrics from The Fixx song One Thing Leads to Another

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius

Patterns speak to human beings. Watching the movie, The Goldfinch, built around a real painting by a Dutch artist who tragically lost his life at the age of 32 in an explosion in Delft in 1654, sent me on a journey through my own relationship with this bird and it connects to both my mom’s adoptive mother and my in-laws and this bird. Our Goldfinches are much more brightly colored than the one in this painting.

I didn’t know what those yellow blobs on the bushes were until my grandmother visited me and drew my attention to them. She had stayed the week hosted by my in-laws which provided her with more comfortable accommodations than I could. I was driving her to visit her friends in Joplin but we had stopped in Branson and she wanted to buy my in-laws a thank you gift. She selected a pair of Goldfinches and said they reminded her of the two lovebirds. She had seen expressions of love between my two in-law’s during her week stay. Interestingly, though I was already married to my husband, she bought a single Goldfinch to give to me. Strange that I do not at this moment know where my own is.

And so last night I was reflecting on why my grandmother only gave me a single bird but my in-laws a pair. It was as if she was giving them her seal of approval for in essence “adopting” me into their family. My in-laws, the parents of 3 boys treated me as the daughter they never had. They stood by me during a legal tussle with my ex-employer going with me to the sheriff’s office to help me retrieve the car (it wasn’t free and clear but had a lien on it making it officially not mine for my ex-employer to take). My dad was on the board of the credit union I had borrowed from. When I called my mom about my trouble, she could only say to me, “Don’t let your dad find out.” My in-laws also went with me to the hearing the in judge’s chamber. Just one example out of many of their kindness and support for me as their adopted daughter.

I reflect on my own mother. In the movie, all 3 of the main young people depicted had lost their mothers, just as both of my own natural grandmothers had. Like the bird in the painting, my mom was trapped by the fact of her adoption. Prevented from knowing the true details of what happened to her by the sealed adoption file the state of Tennessee refused to give her. Details that I now know, that would have done no harm at the time she asked for it because her natural mother and natural father were both dead but she could have known aunts and uncles who could have told her about her mother and half-siblings on her father’s side. Seeing the photo of her mother holding her for the last time would have brought her so much peace. My mom struggled with body image because she could not achieve her adoptive mother’s trim form but my mom had the genetic big boned body of her natural mother.

I believe my mom’s adoptive parents would have sent her off to have and give me up for adoption when she turned up pregnant, unwed, a high school student had my dad’s adoptive parents not intervened to get them married. In my own particularly defiant manner, I chose to be born on my mom’s adoptive parents’ wedding anniversary. My adoptive maternal grandmother was a painter. Today I have a painting of a large oak tree in Autumn hanging on our wall that my grandmother painted. She also painted an oval bust of my infant self and this hung on her own bedroom wall all the years I remember her living.

Therefore, I was close to my grandmother. She once took me to England with her. During the visit that caused her to buy the Goldfinch figurines, the Wild Azaleas were blooming. She decked herself out for a portrait of herself surrounded by them. She had grown up in rural Missouri and her visit here was a trip down the memory lane of her own origins. We even visited her childhood home as I drove her to visit her friends. That photo of my grandmother started my own tradition of taking photos on Mother’s Day and me and my boys.

Bernice Dittmer

Oh, the patterns of our lives and how these can inform our hearts at the most surprising kind of emotional trigger, like watching a movie . . . and then seeing the movie of our life reflected back to us.

With my boys in 2010

Licensed

First it was the Gotcha Day announcements and parties related to adoptions.  Now the promotions have moved into the field of foster care.

Starry eyed.  When someone thinks getting a foster care license is such a difficult accomplishment that it needs to be celebrated publicly as this huge deal, that’s a red flag. Truth is, it’s easy to become a foster parent.

The stork with the baby and the baby bottle images hint at a broader agenda and that is – to participate in what is known as foster to adopt – which is often an easier path to adopting an infant or young toddler than traditional adoption.  And the “no cravings” remark must be alluding to pregnancy and the well-known strange cravings for certain foods a pregnant woman experiences.

And it seems to be a thing also to have a “foster shower” and an Amazon wish list when announcing that one intends to foster children.

As a reality check, when becoming licensed to foster children, as the graphic indicates in its unique manner, you have to define age groups and number of kids. You have to have beds and maybe change some rooms around for the age requirements.  You can’t get licensed for specific ages without having space and furniture (beds) for that age group. If you wanted to be open to all ages, you have to have a crib (and basic baby supplies), toddler bed and twin bed minimum.

One foster parent did say however, “when older siblings of little ones we were fostering came into care we were able to take them with minimal fuss, no additional training required.”  Which is a good thing.

People approaching foster care like the announcement suggests often claim they have worked through the loss of being infertile completely. Once they are finally “called” to foster with the expectation they will adopt a newborn, they need baby announcements with storks, do gender reveals and big baby showers, seek attention and have professional photo shoots in hospital beds and wheelchairs.  Doing it all – so it appears to be the same circumstance as someone who has given birth. It’s delusional and not the same.

And finally, I can’t help but ask – didn’t their “training” mention to them that the objective of fostering is family reunification ?  This expression is actually celebrating the worst tragedy and trauma this family of origin is likely to see. Comparing it in any fashion to birth, pregnancy, a stork dropping a baby at your door is tone deaf and gross. Given that these kids needs are provided for through a government stipend, I also cannot imagine asking anyone for gifts.

Does Gender Make A Difference ?

My dad as a toddler.  I believe this photo may have been taken at the Salvation Army home in El Paso Texas at least a couple of years after my dad was adopted.  His original mother was probably still working there at this time.  This photo came from her own album, even though he was adopted at 8 months of age.  I do know that my Granny went back to them to adopt a baby brother for my dad and so this may have been when she went there to get my Uncle Buddy.

The look on his face leads me to reflect on what it might possibly mean.  His original mother was fond of taking photographs and so it may be that she actually took this photo.  Did he recognize her now ?  There is no way to know really.

What I do know is that my mom and my dad, both adoptees, responded to that fact of their very lives differently.  It never seemed to matter much to my dad.  His adoptive mother was the prime source of security for him and the reason he was adopted.  She actually kicked my dad’s first adoptive father out of the house for abusive behavior.  My nephew says my Granny (what we called this woman growing up) said he was hurting one of the boys and she threw him out the window.  Whatever the truth was, she was that feisty, and he died young because his liver was too damaged by alcohol.

My dad was actually adopted twice.  At the age of 8, he was adopted again by my Granny’s new husband and he was a good man and they stayed married until death did part them.

When my mom wanted to search for her original family, my dad warned her against it saying she might be opening up a can of worms.  I believe that statement represents his thoughts about his own adoption.  Preparing for this blog, I went looking to see if gender makes a difference in one’s feelings about having been adopted.  At least one story I found seems to indicate as much.  He said, “I still do not wish to find my biological parents, but I am thankful every day for the love and the sacrifice they made for me,” even though he now has biological children of his own.

Maybe it is because mothers have a different kind of relationship with their children than fathers do.  My mom once explained her effort to find her mother this way, “As a mother, I would want to know what happened to my child.”  My mom really seemed to have zero interest in her father.