Whatever Became Of ?

In Life magazine’s – Year in Pictures 1972 – in a Feature titled Whatever became of ? – I read about “Mike” and “Tammy” – twin children found by police in a Long Beach California alley on May 5 1972. As a Gemini, twins fascinate me. After national publicity, the children were identified as Tamara and Brian Woodruff. They had been abandoned by their mother and were placed in foster care. Their mother was placed under psychiatric observation.

I tried to learn more about the twins but understandably, out of privacy concerns, they disappeared from any easy ability on my part to find out. So, I looked into the topic of child abandonment. It is defined as the practice of relinquishing interests and claims over one’s offspring in an illegal way, with the intent of never resuming or reasserting guardianship. An abandoned child is referred to as a foundling (as opposed to a runaway or an orphan). Some of the effects on survivors of abandonment include feelings of guilt about being at fault for being abandoned.

The earlier in life estrangement happens, the more damaging it can be. It can impact personal development, anxiety and depression, and of course the adult relationships people get into. When that person is trying to have a sense of identity, they are dealing with a black hole where their mother should be and a really dysfunctional model of love.

In parenthood, when she holds her baby in her arms, a woman who was “abandoned” as a child might say – “I will never leave you. I will never do to you what was done to me. Mommy will always come back.” And what she is doing is self-consoling through nurturing her child.

One woman says that becoming a mother did end up being one of the most healing parts of her own journey. And much of her anger did disappear as she reflected more on all the things that had broken her mother before she ever broke that woman. She found a lot of compassion for her original mother and the path that woman had to walk through life. Even so, she says something my own mother said to me once, “as a mother myself, I know I’ll never understand the choices you made.” For this woman, in being the mom she always wished she’d had; she found healing.

I will admit this one hits home in a very personal place. So, I didn’t do it illegally. I did not intend to never have her living with me when I dropped her off at her grandmother’s house. Yet I am at fault for lack of foresight.

I struggled financially after my divorce from my daughter’s father who refused to pay child support. I was always an adventurous soul. Would wander off further and for longer than my slightly detached adoptee parents ever seemed to notice.

And so, from financial desperation, after being rejected from a good paying job with the railroad because my ex worked there, I tried TEMPORARILY leaving my daughter with my former mother-in-law, while I tried to earn a bit of money driving an 18-wheel truck.

I didn’t know it then, but that was a point of no return. My daughter would sometimes visit me, even for extended periods of time, but she would never live permanently with me again. I never thought of it at the time as having abandoned her, but I know now that regardless of my intent, I must accept responsibility for whatever emotional harms that may have done to her. I know it did emotional harm to me. I’ve never fully gotten over the outcome or my sense of guilt for it.

Thankfully, my daughter did not eliminate me from her life entirely. I did make real efforts to stay in contact with her throughout most of her childhood. There were periods of time that due to the people I was living with, it became impossible to be contact with her but as soon as it was safe, I did resume contact and she was still young enough, that it reconnected our bond with one another, even if it did not reconnect us full-time under the same roof.

Sadness remains in my mother’s heart regardless. Knowing the legal definition of child abandonment helps but does not heal my personal pain at all that I missed with my daughter.

Three Identical Strangers

In the 1960s, a research project into identical siblings, placing them separately for adoption into different classes (poor, middle and wealthy), was done for the purpose of determining the impact of financial resources on their outcomes.  Back in the 1930s to 1950, Georgia Tann had a similar thought – taking babies from poor families and placing them into wealthier homes would lead to better outcomes for the children.

My mom was one of those babies.  She was adopted in 1937.  Both of her parents were very poor and struggling to survive the Great Depression but they were exploited by threats from Georgia Tann that her close relationship with the Juvenile Court judge in Memphis would support any removal of children she suggested.  Sadly.

So, in the 1980s, when these young men were 19 years old and began attending college, they discovered that they had been separated after birth into different adoptive families.  Even the adoptive parents didn’t know there were other genetically identical siblings.  The triplets accidentally found each other when two of them enrolled at the same college and found the third when he saw the story on the news. After the three siblings reunited, they became media darlings for awhile and even met their original biological parents.

It is not entirely a happy story and a suicide trigger warning is justified.  The two surviving triplets carry the DNA, the history, the pain, and the heart of their deceased brother. As the three boys entered adulthood each of them dealt with mental illness and psychiatric care.

The carelessness of the adoption agency that gave the boys away turns out to be something far crueler and more deviously deliberate than possibly imaginable. It is a shockingly true story but not unlike other psychological research from that era. Ethics were just not on the radar yet. People were treated like lab rats.

One woman, now much older, who was involved with the research study is blasé about the whole thing saying it was exciting to mess with people’s lives and noting what’s done is done.

The children who were the study subjects involved will not have access to the findings until 2065, by which time they will likely not be still alive.  This is because our own government funded this study.

This program does show how strong genetics truly are.  Being separated at birth results in life long trauma. All adoption agencies exist to make money. The program suggests that some of the adoptive parents would have happily taken all three boys, if they had known the truth, at the time.

One of the scientists involved in the study interviewed for the program kept laughing, saying inappropriate things, none of what happened was funny.  He said there’s probably at least four people (probably many more) who have no idea they are twins or that they were part of a study.

Currently one of the brothers practices law, the other sells insurance and investments. One of the two is (or soon will be) divorced.  These kinds of mental health and relationship impacts are quite common among adoptees.

Which leaves me with two questions (I have not seen, only have read about this program) – Is science worth keeping secrets and being immoral to accomplish unbiased research ? And how much of who we are is Nature and how much Nurture ? (That second one I’ve been looking at for 20 years.)