Guilty For Being Honest

AITA

I had to google the meaning when I came across this today. It is easy enough to find so I won’t repeat it.

The adoptee story today is about a transracial adoptee who has the unique physical characteristic of having blue eyes which is unexpected given her nationality. Her adoptive mother also has blue eyes and this causes some understandable misconceptions but she will always offer the explanation if it seems relevant.

It is amazing how often people see into other people what they want to see. My sons do not have my DNA and they know the whole story about how and why they don’t. We’ve often had strangers remark that one of my sons favors my husband and the other favors me but the truth is that they genuinely can and do favor their dad in some way or other but neither is a carbon copy of him. The funniest one I get when I am with my sons is about being their grandmother. Since I am ALSO a grandmother, that is what I answer, while correcting the misconception, saying that I AM their mother. I carried them in my womb, I nursed them at my breast and I have been here for them 24/7 all of their lives (they are now 18 and 21).

So this adoptee’s very young cousin said he wished he had his mom’s eye color like this adoptee got her adoptive mother’s eye color. She told him honestly that the woman who gave birth to her didn’t have that color of eyes either. That it was just a coincidence. Her cousin asked further questions and she answered honestly. That she had come from a different country and that is why she looks different from him and from her adoptive family. She explained that their DNA was different. He was young enough that after her explanation, he just went back to playing with his Legos because he was satisfied.

Later, her aunt (this cousin’s mother) expressed her disapproval to the adoptee. She said that the adoptee didn’t have to tell the boy that she was not her mother’s “real” daughter. The adoptee affirmed that she didn’t say it that way. The aunt was unhappy that the adoptee would admit to other people that her unusual eye color (blue) didn’t come from her adoptive mother. That separating herself that way from the rest of the family was hurtful to all of them.

This story reminds me of the Toni Morrison novel – The Bluest Eye – that I read (it is a very sad and disturbing story). This adoptee says that her adoptive father used to sing Elton John’s song Blue Eyes to her. The adoptee said AITA for saying I’m adopted ? I didn’t know this song until today.

An Alternative to Adoption

Even before I knew so much about adoption, when secondary infertility became an obstacle to my husband’s desire to be a father, my OB-GYN said, “there is another way.” Now that I know more about the trauma that adoption causes, than I knew at that time, I will always consider this the best way. Even before we knew about that, my husband and I rejected the idea of adopting children. I do feel that sperm donors are more worrisome because the history of that kind of donation may include many, many half siblings. I have a biological, genetically related, grown daughter and two grandchildren, so having been there and done made accepting the “other” way easier for me personally.

Distance prevents us from having a closer relationship with our donor but my children have met her on more than one occasion. They are aware of her and that she has children, two sons and a daughter, which she has raised. Occasionally, I show them pictures of her and those children, when she shares them at Facebook. She has always been interested in the boys, while being non-intrusive but totally open to any relationship they may want to create with her. They have a private method of contact with her, if they wish to use that, through 23 and Me.

The Guardian today has another family’s story. “They used her eggs to have a baby. Now they’re one big family.” by Ellie Houghtaling, with photographs by Bridget Bennett. The subtitle notes – “Anonymity is meant to protect donors, but taking another path can afford a different sort of security – and new ways to think about how to raise a kid.” We took a similar path, our donor was a stranger we “met” on the internet and had what is called a “known donation”. We have not had exactly the same style of parenting as in this article. We have always been open and transparent with our sons about how they were conceived because they were wanted and not some kind of accident.

It is rare for families to meet the stranger donating eggs to them. In the US, egg and sperm donation is usually a closed process. It is more common for a family to hear about the donor through an agency. With anonymous donation, the couple may receive only basic, non-identifying features about their potential donor – such as their university or their eye color – without ever learning their name or hearing their voice. Most donors go through some testing. In the case of egg donation, hormone injections are utilized over a period of time to procure whatever number of eggs the donor produces. With agency facilitated anonymous donation methods, the donor is never told whether their donation was successful, who the family is, or what any offspring that result look like.

Before our first procedure (she donated again for our second son), we spent time with our donor and her youngest son. We were respectful of what she was doing for us. Both times, we provided her with whatever comforts she suggested would be helpful after her eggs were retrieved and have stayed in contact with her over the years. Our sons are genetically the same – the sperm and egg sources were the same for both. I see our donor and her children reflected in the appearance of our sons. It makes me happy – which might seem strange to some people – but I think it is a reflection of my fondness and appreciation for her. As far as being their mother – the donor has shown a total understanding of the differences in her and my roles. My sons treat me 100% as their mother, which seems natural and understandable regardless.

Becoming a family thanks to that “other way” has proven to be a good choice for my own family. Our sons seem to understand they would not even exist under any other circumstance.

Reunion Questions

If at 17 years old, adopted from foster care with no contact with your birth mother your entire life but now with an opportunity to ask some questions . . .

What would you as this adoptee ask your birth parents ? If you have been through such a reunion, what were the questions that you thought, in hindsight, weren’t helpful to potentially building a relationship ?

Some responses –

Ask for the family medical history. This one is one of the more important ones. This is what drove my mom to try and find her original mother and/or obtain her adoption file.

Ask how many biological siblings you have. This one lets you know if you are the only child of your birth parents or did they go on to have other children, maybe through a remarriage to someone who was not your original father as well.

Ask for the reason they chose whatever decisions they had in their power to make that led to you ending up in foster care. This one could be a tricky one, it may lead to defensiveness or in the best possible situation, at least regret, and even better, ultimately to a radical change in lifestyle.

If they relinquished for adoption, did they decide to do that early on at the beginning of the pregnancy or at the last moment just before birth or just after ? In both of the cases of my adoptee parents relinquishments, it appears that their original mothers actually tried very hard to keep their first born child, and in the case of my mom, the only child born to her mother.

Ask who your biological father was. Does she know how to contact him ?

On a sweeter, more intimate note (I know this was the kind of information I yearned for related to my mom’s mother that finally at the end of most of my discovery journey, I finally received from my mom’s cousins, the daughter’s of her youngest uncle, who were about my age) – ask her what her favorite foods are, what is her favorite color. Ask about her childhood memories and ask her to tell you something about her extended family members.

One says – “I really wanted to look at my birthmother, hear her voice, and look at her handwriting. Basically I wanted to see if I could find that mirror of who I am.” This is the personal connection many adoptees crave. I do believe my mom yearned for these kinds of experiences. I now have the adoption file that was denied her and one of the treasures are two examples of her personal writing, a post card and a brief letter (though I also have her signature on the surrender papers).

Another interesting perspective that I saw even with my mom who wanted something, though my dad claimed not to want it at all – it is a strange juncture for any adoptee to arrive at, when been raised by people with whom the adoptee has not genetic or biological connection but who were the actual parents and sibling’s in the childhood family –

I told them that I was not ready for a full relationship with them. I wanted them to know I was alive and wanted them to know I had an amazing childhood. My mom told me that as a mother, she would want to know that everything turned out okay for her child. In one case, the biological father started calling the adoptee, “daughter.” He was buying her things and saying “I Love You.” This made her feel very uncomfortable and so, she asked that he not do those things anymore. For this adoptee, she was not his daughter. Happily, he accepted her boundaries. She shares the rest of the story going forward – they are now Facebook friends. Today he is a little more involved in my her daily life. We talk by phone from time to time. She admits that she still does not have the feelings towards him that a raised biological child would (though some of my friends do not have good relationships in adulthood with their genetic, biological family today).

And sadly, this is always a possibility – “I’ve reached out to my birth mom and have been shut out – no answers to my questions. No desire for a relationship.” Yet, there is something you can do in this situation to bring you closure and comfort. Write a letter. Tell her everything you want her to know about you, your childhood, who you are now as a person. In this way, you end feeling you said everything you needed to say.

Inside Grandma’s Womb

I think I already knew that all the eggs a woman has were there in her ovaries at the time of her birth. Since we did not grow up with my maternal grandmother (due to my mom having been adopted), I feel a definite fondness for my maternal grandmother who never had another child after having lost my mom due the the schemes of Georgia Tann during her days of stealing and selling babies in Memphis TN to enhance her own wealth. In some strange way, it makes me happy to know that even though Tann could take my mom away from my grandmother, she couldn’t take my grandmother out of the core beginning of each of us.

My mom certainly yearned to know her own mother and was devastated when seeking her adoption file from Tennessee (who denied her as her father’s status of alive or dead was not ascertained) told her that her mother had died some years before.

There is a strong maternal line running down from my grandmother to my mother to me and to my daughter and then my granddaughter. My mom looked a lot like her mother at a certain age. I love feeling that mirror showing through. It is also a happy thought that when I was in my mom’s womb, my daughter’s seed was forming and when she was in my womb, my granddaughter’s seed was forming. We are all connected. Sweet.

DNA Matters

My apologies for not writing blogs recently. I’ve been out of it with an illness for 5 days (that’s how long since I last shared a blog).

Over the course of my becoming informed, one aspect I had not considered the importance of is genetic mirroring. Really, I should have known sooner. When my niece found us (she was given up for adoption by my sister shortly after birth), she was troubled the most by body image issues. In that situation, she and my mom discovered they had something in common. Our family’s natural genetic inheritance came from stocky, big boned women. Both my mom and my niece were adopted by thin, stylish women. It is only natural, they were never going to look like their adoptive mothers.

Today, I read this –

Something that makes me so mad as an adoptee is when people say “biology doesn’t matter” or “DNA doesn’t make a family” or any other version of that statement. Yes, to an extent we create our own family, and we can choose who to have in our life. But do you know how f***ing PRIVILEGED you (general you) sound when you say “DNA doesn’t matter?” It doesn’t matter to you because you have the choice whether or not to have your biological family in your life. But for adoptees, former foster youth, and donor conceived persons, we don’t have a choice. DNA and biology mean so much more to us BECAUSE we were robbed of it as children, when we had no say in the matter.

It’s also really easy for you to say “biology/DNA doesn’t matter” when you have never had to worry that the pain in your breast could be breast cancer in your early 30s, because you know nothing about your family medical history; or when you have never had to worry about what hereditary diseases you may be passing on to your own children; or when you’ve never had to put “adopted, history unknown” on an intake form for a doctor’s appointment. It’s easy to say “it doesn’t matter” when you’ve never had your children ask why none of their cousins look anything like them. It’s easy to say “it doesn’t matter” when you aren’t having to explain for the thousandth time how your siblings could be so much older than you. It’s easy to say “it doesn’t matter” when you don’t have people asking if you’re actually your mother’s grandchild when you’re standing up at her funeral, because you’re so much younger than all her other children. It’s easy to say “it doesn’t matter” when you’ve never felt like a stranger in your own family.

So please, next time you find yourself about to say “DNA doesn’t matter,” think about how that sounds to people like us, who didn’t get to choose whether we grew up with biological connections. It f***ing hurts when people are telling us that the one thing we can’t have, and the one thing we want more than anything else, “doesn’t matter.” Trust me: DNA MATTERS. And if you didn’t have access to your own genetic mirrors, you would realize that.

It helped my niece when she understood that her body was exactly as her genes intended it to be. Among the many ways adoptees are expected to be something they are not, it is to fulfill some idea the adoptive mother has that she can remake the child’s physical presentation into what she wants it to be. Clearly not a realistic expectation but you would be surprised at how common it is.

When I saw the photo of my maternal grandmother holding my mom for the last time at surrender, I understood that her Scottish farm girl body was the whole reason we were built like we were. Learning who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted) has brought me so much peace with my appearance. Too bad my parents never had that opportunity. Seeing people who look like you, because they share many of the same genes makes such a difference in a person’s life. Seeing how much my paternal aunt looks like my dad or how much my dad not only looks remarkably like his father but they even shared the same interests in life, somehow – these all make everything make so much natural sense.

My sons are donor conceived. At the time we chose that path to parenthood, inexpensive DNA testing was not a reality. Fortunately, being as ignorant as we were about issues I’m so much more informed about now, somehow we still made all the best choices given our circumstances. Our egg donor is known to us – not intimately but well enough. Of course, the boys have had their father as an important male genetic mirror. However, from the beginning, I could see the donor in my sons faces and especially similarities with her biological children. It always made me smile as a reminder of the gift she gave us. Fortunately for the boys, they are 100% genetically related.

Recently, the oldest half-sibling got married and the youngest was the best man. Though my sons are fully informed about their origins and the reason they were conceived in the manner they were, I literally forced them to look at photos of these half-brothers and current photos of the egg donor. One seems more interested than the other but I made them look anyway. True we have been in the donor’s presence more than once but not of her children. But time passes. I want them to know what these people look like – at least. They have direct access to her and the one that recently married through 23 and Me without my involvement – if they want to communicate privately. So far, they don’t seem to need or want that but its there if they did.

I know families in my personal donor conceived circle (we’ve been collected together as a mutual support group of 20 families for 18 years now) who made other choices not to be honest with their conceived children. I won’t judge their own choices but I have been forever grateful we have handled our own choices the way that we have – with total transparency and honesty. It was so much more important than we ever imagined at the time we were doing what felt ethical and correct to us at the time.

Appearances Matter

A woman has guardianship of 6 year old twin girls.  Their mother is incarcerated but they have some contact.  The father is dead.  Recently, one of the girls said –  “I don’t look like you (taking about her hair). I want my hair to look like yours, and my eyes are different than yours.”  All are Caucasian.  The little girl is fair with blue eyes.  The Guardian has olive skin and dark hair.  She wanted to know the best ways to address this concern.

One adoptee that responded was harsh but truthful.  “None of what you said was validating. You even called your phrases platitudes! All you did was list the reasons she’s not allowed to feel as she does. Regardless of what emotion they express regarding their losses, your response should be, ‘You’re right’.”

“I would have wanted to hear that I had every right to be sad that I don’t look like my caregiver. Then I would have wanted my caregiver to grieve with me.  Many of us adoptees began processing our grief and are STILL processing our grief in our 40s 50s 60s and beyond. What a difference it would have made if the adults in our lives could have put words to that grief, acknowledged our losses, and helped us process those feelings in a healthy way.”

Another said – Here’s the thing: Kids are smart. They know when you’re offering them platitudes, when you’re repeating the things you’re “supposed” to say. Worst of all, they know when those things you’re “supposed” to say don’t resonate with them because you received them from other people who are like you.

Tell them the truth: We look like the people whose genetic material we inherited. Therefore, we look like our biological (and not our adoptive) families. One day, when they have children (if they have children), their children will look like them because that’s how nature designed people to work.

Like all organic things, we take our appearance and our genetic composition from the people who formed us organically. Adoption is not organic, and therefore these children will not look like the people caring for them.  Because love doesn’t make you a parent. Genetics do.

My image of the book cover came from an adoptive mother’s suggestion, though she added – It didn’t seem to impress my daughter, but some kids might like it. We talked about it a lot. She really wanted us to look alike. She is Asian, I am Caucasian with blond hair, so we are very different. We had some matching outfits that she loved, but finally she straight up asked if we could have the same color hair, so I had it dyed a dark brown for quite a while. That seemed to do the trick for her. I’m not sure if she grew out of it or if it met her needs, but she’s a teen now and it doesn’t come up anymore. She’s fairly open about her needs and concerns, so if it was still a thing for her, I think she would tell me.

Many adoptive parents are quick to brush their own discomfort aside and attempt to distract the adoptee from it. Adoptive parents, please develop the courage to face the depth of loss adoptees experience and sit with them in it awhile. Doing so will bring healing and healthy relationships so much sooner.