Tiffany Haddish Grew Up In Foster Care

I discovered that comedian Tiffany Haddish grew up in foster care. Though foster care is NOT part of my personal experience, I have learned a lot about it from my all things adoption group and I once read the personal memoir of a woman – Foster Girl by by Georgette Todd – that is a nightmare of a story but that does have a happy ending – thankfully. Anyway, I went looking for Haddish’s own story of foster care. I owe much of today’s blog to the story in Simplemost.

Haddish spent part of her childhood in foster care. As I often read is recommended if someone really wants to adopt, she has spoken about adopting older children who are in foster care. I had already learned that babies and younger children tend to be adopted out of the system more easily than older kids, and generally, the older a child is, the harder it is for them to get adopted. Haddish would like to help an older child who might otherwise be passed over by other families.

She says, from having spent many years in the foster care system, that she knows firsthand how difficult it can be. “You’re dropped in these strangers’ houses, you don’t know these people, these people don’t know you, you don’t know if they’re gonna hurt you, if they’re gonna be kind, you don’t have a clue what’s going on.”

When Haddish was a child, her mother was in a serious car accident that left her with many injuries and altered her personality, causing her to become erratic and violent — and unable to care for the kids. Haddish, who is the eldest of five, was 12 years old when she and her siblings entered foster care, and she remained in foster care until she she became an adult and was emancipated from the system.

In foster care, the comedian spent years moving from home to home, with all of her belongings in a trash bag. She shares, “I remember when I got my first suitcase, I felt like I was a traveler, like I had a purpose, like I’m a person, like I’m not garbage. I got this — it’s mine, and my things are in here, and wherever I go I can take this with me and I’m going somewhere.”

Haddish tells her difficult but inspiring stories in her book, “The Last Black Unicorn.” Here is the interview of Tiffany Haddish about her book from The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

A Basic Human Right to Know

Most U.S. citizens raised by their biological parents never question whether the information on their birth certificates is accurate. With the evolution of adoption and alternate means of conceiving a child, “accurate” is an increasingly subjective term.

Is the purpose of a birth certificate to portray a biological account of a person’s birth parents, or is it an account of one’s “legal” parents — the ones responsible for raising them?

The US Census Bureau created Birth Certificates in the beginning of the 20th Century as a means of tracking the effects of disease and urban environments on mortality rates. The task of issuing birth certificates was transferred to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. In 1946, the recording births was decentralized into today’s varied state systems (and in reality, based on my parents births in the 1930s, this existed well before the 1940s). This has caused there to be 50 different sets of regulations concerning how, when, why and if access to original birth certificate information can be obtained.

The document has become an important (if not our sole) means of identification when we obtain anything from a driver’s license to a passport. It is an indispensable tool for genealogical researchers.

For adoptees as well as donor-conceived persons, there is oftentimes a clear distinction between one’s genetic parents, those with whom you share DNA, and one’s legal parents, the ones who have rights and responsibilities attached to their parenthood, and most-times, the ones who are raising them.

Our birth certificate practices concerning non-biological parents began with adoption. In the mid-20th Century, there was rising concern that adopted children’s birth certificates read “illegitimate.” In response, states began to issue adoptees amended birth certificates, listing the adoptive parents as if they were the genetic parents, thus hiding the shame of the child’s illegitimacy and the adoptive parents’ infertility. The originals containing the biological parents’ names were sealed and not available to anyone (including the adoptee) except by court order. The new birth certificates showed no indication that they had been amended, which gave adoptive parents an easy way to not tell their children of their adoption. In about half of the US states (including large population ones like California and Virginia as I personally found with my two parents adoptions), adoptees original birth certificates remain sealed.

Women who use donor eggs to become pregnant are listed as mothers on birth certificates. When our donor informed me she had her DNA tested at 23 and Me, I made the decision to provide my children with the information and private access to her (with her consent) that DNA testing and that site’s design make possible. It is unsettling to see someone else listed as my two sons “mother” even though they grew in my womb, nursed at my breast and have been cared for and nurtured by me 24/7 for almost every day of their entire lives. Yet, I knew this was the proper path to establish for my own children their personal reality.

There are a whole host of concerns raised by adoptees and the donor-conceived, including the right to identity, ongoing medical history, biological heritage, and the right to know their genetic parents and I for one believe these issues are valid and should receive transparent answers.

The US Surgeon General reports 96% of Americans believe that knowing their family history is important. It certainly has made a world of difference for me as the offspring of two adoptees. I suppose this has given me a broader perspective on the importance of a person knowing from where their genes originated. The United Nations has acknowledged the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations.

I believe that all people have a moral right to know the truth about their personal history. Where the state has custody of relevant information it has a duty not to collude in deceiving or depriving individuals of such information. Growth, responsibility, and respect for self and others develop best in lives that are rooted in truth.

There has been a recommendation made that the Standard US Birth Certificate be revised to expand upon the “two parent only” format to include categories for Legal Parents, Genetic Parents and Surrogates. In the case of adoptees, the child’s birth name and parentage should be recorded along with his or her legal/adoptive name.

The time for birth certificate reform is now. Unfortunately for many, it should have happened decades ago.

What Would You Expect Me To Do?

Overheard somewhere in America – “What are people supposed to do who can’t have kids biologically? Suffer and never adopt a baby?”

Uh, yes, that is not a reason to adopt. They should go to therapy and learn to manage their grief. Then, they will not be suffering anymore.

Your infertility isn’t an excuse to cause another human trauma and grief. You should find a way to pour your desire into kids without taking them away from their parents.

Adopt a dog or other pet if you want to love and take care of something.

DWI – Deal With It.

Figure out who you are without kids. Plenty of people don’t procreate. Find other things to enjoy. Travel. Etc. 

Understand that a baby, yours or someone else’s, isn’t the solution to your problems.

This societal narrative that people have to have kids to be fulfilled needs to change. There are infinite ways one can find fulfillment!

Wanting a child is a natural desire. But taking a child away from the biological mother and brushing away its name and environment is trauma. Adoption is not an option.

The beginning and end of you as a person doesn’t come down to your reproductive organs. 

Society as a whole needs to unpack the stigma around not having children. For EVERYONE, including fertile people who simply don’t want to procreate, including people who wanted kids but couldn’t have them. We shouldn’t attach so much grief to not having children. You don’t have kids? Find another purpose. Find other passions.

There are the parents who say you’re selfish for not giving them grandchildren. The random strangers in public saying you make such a cute couple. 

Literally – no one has ever died because they didn’t have a child. If your happiness is dependent on another person or on that baby you wish you could have, that’s a major problem. No one else can truly bring you happiness, you have to find that within your own self. Your self worth is not determined by others. If you think it is, that’s not mentally or emotionally healthy.

This really comes down to the mythical elevation of the 2 parent nuclear family with children as the only acceptable family structure and the breakdown of the village/extended family connections. We need to make room for everyone at the table, special friends, aunties, uncles, cousins. The next deeper question is, if I am not part of a family unit with children, what is my place in society? Do I get to be part of a family? That’s real inclusiveness.

Parenting is not a right.

Abandonment Part 2

In you haven’t already read the previous blog – Abandonment Part 1 – you will need that context to fully understand today’s follow-up.

So after sharing her backstory, the woman’s story I shared added these questions.

Am I delusional for wanting to adopt ? Is adoption really that bad? How can I help my daughter ? I know her situation is different than an adoptee but some of the feelings seem to be the same. Do I continue to push for a relationship with her dad’s side of the family, when they don’t seem to want to be involved ? I’m ok with continuing to push but sometimes it seems it hurts my daughter more.

Now for some selected responses (there were 109, indicating a “hot” topic in my adoption community) –

The very first one totally surprised me. Consider looking into uterine transplantation so you and your husband can have your own child which is what you really want…there are several programs out there…. To which, the woman actually admitted that she was already researching that. Who knew ?

The next one is one I had thought of myself as I read this woman’s story – Help your daughter before you even consider adding a stranger’s child to your family dynamic. Beyond that, the thought occurred to me that that daughter who it is said wants a sibling, will soon be mature enough to leave the house. If this couple adopts an infant or young toddler, the adoptee will be there “alone” for many years, unless they adopt more than one (and I’m not in favor of adoption – just to be clear).

Along these same lines of thinking came the next response – Don’t you think bringing in another child would add to your daughters issues ? Can you and your marriage handle two traumatized children ? I’d stop thinking of adding a child until you get your other child in a healthy mental state.

And back to a core issue –

My first thought is to continue to foster a relationship with your daughter’s paternal family….but, accept that it may not be what you want it to be at this time. Guide your daughter to this acceptance too. Their lack of reaching out is disappointing….do you know why they have become so resistant to contact ? When you reach out to them, do they respond ? The biological dad appears to be entwined with a woman who is controlling and dismissive. He made a choice and it is disappointing. You and your daughter can be upset with him….and hope one day he might change his mind about contact. Both can be true. His lack of effort for contact appears to be about his lack of control and maturity to deal with challenging issues.

The last thought I’ll share is from the same woman as above but it really appeals to me and at the end, I’ll share why.

Adopting? No. Your focus needs to be on your daughter and supporting her during this time to adulthood. Once she is independent and on solid footing you could revisit foster/adopt. Whenever I read about a teen struggling with emotional stuff I turn to horses. I suggest you investigate therapeutic equine programs in your region. It has been shown that being around horses (caring for them, riding, therapy with them) can be a positive in a teens life. Furthermore, it is a confidence builder!!!!! Handling and riding a 1000 lb animal is exhilarating and mood boosting….offers a child new adventure….promotes focus and maturity….and helps balance brain chemicals. If not therapeutic horse program….find something she enjoys with a passion & go after it with gusto – it will give her joy and purpose and conversation, and balance the difficult emotional stuff her paternal family offers.

My youngest sister was a lifelong horsewoman. It may have been working with horses that actually pushed her decline into mental illness (most likely paranoid schizophrenic though it is obvious to me now that the vulnerability and even a few brief psychotic episodes may have occurred earlier in her life, I’ve also been told that she was sexually exploited by an older man at the horseback riding stables she frequented, so there is that too). Anyway, eventually, she was placed in a locked facility for observation but our parents were of the mind they lacked the financial resources to keep her there.

When she was scheduled to come out, I tried calling many such places. She was so good at caring for horses and I thought perhaps we could get her employment with access to a therapist but no one was willing to take on the liability – sadly. I had thought that getting her away from people and the craziness of society and putting her with horses might bring her back out of it. Now, she has been in that state for over a decade and admitting that the life she believes she lives as a secret agent is a delusion is probably no longer possible for her to accept. I will always worry and care about her.

No, You Don’t Deserve A Baby

Regarding adoption, one prospective couple wrote – “I want a baby not a full grown kid. My husband and I deserve a baby. We both crave a baby to raise as our own”.

I get that.  Not that I believe they deserve someone else’s baby but that they are hoping for that blank slate that Georgia Tann always advertised her babies as being.  Science has determined that isn’t the truth but anyway.

Another prospective adoptive couple stated, “Older children come with so many issues. You can’t mother an older child like an infant. Especially as first time parents”.  Though I was not a first time parent, my husband was.

When my husband decided he wanted to be a father, we did talk about adoption but decided that we wanted a truly blank slate as our beginning position.  We wanted to conceive and for me to carry our baby in my womb, give birth and breastfeed that baby for a reasonable length of time.  We did need considerable medical assistance and there was a compromise involved that seemed reasonable but still must be faced fully and accepted.  Which I believe I have for the most part.

Regarding the expense of adoption, someone was quoted as saying, “Adoption should be free like abortion is”.  Now that does blow my mind because abortion is not free.  I know.  I had one back in the mid-1970s.  There is a cost in dollars at the time and over the long run a cost mentally and emotionally with making such a significant decision.  I continue believe it was the right decision at the time I made it but that doesn’t equate to the reality being easy to live with.

Here is another statement that is absolutely not true – “If adoption wasn’t so expensive, there would be more kids who find homes”.  Fact is there are 4 couples wanting to adopt for every child available to be adopted.  That is one of the reasons that over the most recent decades, many couples have gone out of the United States to obtain a child to raise as their own.

One of the major interests among the members of the adoption community – original parents and adoptees – is reform.  Part of reform is actually raising awareness and changing perspectives.  That is the hope and the purpose for which I write a blog on related topics each day.

I Am Not An Accident

I had a very deep realization yesterday.  My earliest conception may have been viewed as an “accident”, an unintended consequence of my parents going too far in youthful hormonal impulse.

And on a very deep level, I felt what many adoptees probably feel as well – as though we weren’t mean to be and it is hard and deep and an important healing I believe.

When I counted the months back from my birth to the date of my parents’ wedding anniversary, I knew the truth and it troubled me.  I have always thought what troubled me was my mom’s “good girl” lectures but I understand in maturity, she wanted to spare me her young experience while yet a student in high school.

I was angry with her at first and didn’t want her to touch me.  Eventually, I forgave her because I loved her, not because the reality didn’t remain a troubling paradox for me.

I know I’m not a mistake and I do know my life has purpose – my life has many purposes actually.  I’ve become a mother 3 times.  I’ve been there to handle my parents’ estate after they died.  I’ve been the one to uncover our original grandparents after my adopted parents died knowing next to nothing themselves.

And I have a “voice” and courageously (or foolishly, depending on whatever external judgement of my own voluntary behaviors) and I use it to promote and defend issues that are important to me because if not me, then who ?  Yes, someone else might come along . . . but if everyone were to hide their own truths, what would that accomplish ?

We are all important to wholeness and I know that my ancestors suffered emotional and mental anguish, in order for my parents to be raised by the people who adopted them and in the place where they grew up, which enabled them to meet and my own self to be born.

A Sacred Quest

Art by Stephen Delamare

If every life is actually a sacred quest to know who and what we really are, mine has certainly been easily viewed as just that.

I feel as though the “real” me has finally emerged out of the broken family tree that once concealed my true origins.

Now I know that we never were what we were forced to pretend we were due to adoptions.

We now have family, always had family, but that family was intentionally hidden from us until I was able to discover it in only the last year and a half.

Certainly, there are shadows and unanswered questions and it may be impossible to shed light on them now that so many years have passed.

But I am grateful for what I know and the “new” family I can build relationships with now. They are no more “perfect” than the members of the adoptive family that I still consider my “relations” as well.

It’s just that I know the same blood that runs in the “new” family’s veins, runs also in mine and for that I am eternally grateful.

I feel that I have fulfilled some part of my life’s purpose now.