How To Answer What’s It Like

Though my mom talked to me about her being adopted, my dad never did. I didn’t have enough background foundation to ask more direct questions of my parents and since they are both deceased, that opportunity has been lost to me. Therefore, I am always interested in adoptee’s who share how it feels to have been adopted.

Some stories for a Sunday morning –

As an adoptee, I get a lot of questions about my experience and feelings toward my adoption. I have found great value in trying to understand and explain those experiences. Recently I was asked by a friend, “What is it like for you to be an adoptee during childhood ? What about as an adult, is it the same or is the experience different ?”

I have so many mixed feelings about it confusion, pain, anger, and loneliness are the primary feelings I have about it, especially when I was younger. I didn’t understand why I was so different from my family and from others. It was always a hot button for someone being a jerk to press – being unloved by my birth mother or disposable by her. I mean, the family I grew up in ? We don’t look alike, act alike or even communicate in the same ways. I was sent away during a four year period of my childhood to boarding schools and wilderness programs because they said I was “out of control.”

I just had so much anger when I was younger but now I truly believe that my adoptive parents had no idea how to handle me. I didn’t get to say things like “it’s because of my heritage,” or “it’s the Irish in me” because I really didn’t know my history. Those feeling are subsiding with age and time and my search for who I am increases yearly. I want to share those genetic connections that others share and see my quirks in another person, without seeming like I am ungrateful.

My adoptive parents are very supportive of this search but I know that it does hurt them. As a father myself, I am finally experiencing some of those things and kinds of similarities I always wanted, and it is a beautiful feeling. The feeling now is more longing, hope, and feeling lucky to be alive (I know this is not a popular thought with all adoptees but it’s how I feel), and an acceptance of my own reality as I create for my own self my life going forward. It still hurts, a lot. And it fills me with the constant fear regarding my other relationships that I might again experience being abandoned.

Blogger’s note – my father never did get that son he wanted. My parents had three daughters and so, maybe that is why my mom was more forthcoming with me, than my dad was.

Another one – I was fostered from birth and forced to become an adoptee at the age of 10 (it was a closed adoption during the Baby Scoop Era, a period in history starting after the end of World War II and ending in the early 1970s, my mother was coerced to relinquish her rights just before I turned 8 years old).

I still hold a deeply felt anger for the lies I was told and also the physical and mental abuse at the hands of the woman who was allowed to adopt me. I miss my natural mother daily – always have and always will. What I have found empowering as an adult adoptee (yes, it is part of who I am & always will be — I am an adoptee) is speaking out for others, advocating for current foster and adopted youth, so that there’s the opportunity for them to have a better childhood than the one I experienced.

I never would have thought so but doing the DNA tests and discovering living blood relatives (aside from my daughter and her family — who are descendants – and my estranged mother — I never knew of anyone) has been healing. Additionally, I’ve become very involved in building out both sides of my ancestral/heritage family tree. It has been an education in many ways, and although there is a bittersweet sadness to so much, there is also an identification of where I actually do belong within the life/death continuum and that has been an emotionally uplifting experience that has caught me off guard but in a mostly positive way. I am honoring their ancestral (genetic/genealogical) legacy, at the same time I am acknowledging my own place, while learning many things that even my mother (who hid my existence) never knew.

Blogger’s note – for my own self as well. Doing the DNA tests at Ancestry and 23 and Me have filled in the gaps that parents died never knowing. I still need to complete the “new” family trees I started for each of them with their birth identities and genetic relations at Ancestry. It just feels like the right thing to do for each of them. I now have family history. When one has grown up without that, it is difficult to describe how amazing that actually feels.

The next story – I was in the fog until I was about 20. I always knew I was adopted. And my adoptive parents did so much better than most. I always felt like the rug would be pulled out from under me. Always waiting for some big bad disaster. Always distrusting and always feeling like I was somehow “wrong.” As an adult, I have worked really hard to break the cycle of harm. But I still always feel like I have to prove something or I am not valid. And I don’t think I will ever feel like I fit in anywhere.

One last story – as a child I was very curious about my heritage, I always wondered if I had siblings. My adoptive parents gave me a good childhood, we did a lot of things and they were very loving. As I got older, I was also “out of control” and my parents didn’t know what to do. I ended up, moving out at 17 years old.

I had been living in the fog, up until last year. Now, as an adult, it’s like a rollercoaster. An unexplainable ride of emotions from good to bad and everything in between. I’ve been through my reunion. I have 4 half brothers, who I love dearly. I have no relationship with either biological parent. No romantic relationship in my life BUT it’s nice to know that I’ve consistently sabotaged most of them, due to my fear of abandonment (now I understand why). I’ve spent the last year or so really healing from my adoption trauma and it’s felt really good. I still have pain that will never go away. I struggle mostly with the desire to love my biological mother as I “should” and resenting her terribly for abandoning me (twice). She wants no relationship with me and I’m ok with that, it just makes me sad.

Not All Misses The Point

Within a large adoption community discussion space, one often sees the push back from some that their adoption experience was not so bad. When I first went into that community, I was definitely in “the fog” of believing adoption was a good thing, or at least natural. Both of my parents were adoptees and both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption – no wonder – but I have learned so much in the 4-1/2 years since I began to learn about my original grandparents that my perspectives, I believe, are not only more realistic but better informed. I owe a lot of credit to that adoption community that I continue to be a part of.

This morning I did several google searches looking for content to add to the text graphic above. Hard to find anything under “not all,” oppression vs protection, etc. But finally I did find one that seems to bridge both points of view – I Am Grateful To Be Adopted—and Yet, Adoption Is Still Traumatic by Theodora Blanchfield at Very Well Mind, <LINK>. I was also surprised to see a blog from Missing Mom from last year show up in a search.

I think this article also reflects something my adoptee mom said to me at the end of her life – she never could really totally sort out her mixed feelings about having been “inappropriately” adopted (as she termed it) as well as being denied her own adoption file by the state of Tennessee or any possibility of a reunion with her original natural mother (who it turns out was married but separated from my mom’s father and therefore, exploited by Georgia Tann). She said something like, “you know, because I was adopted” (related to trying to create a family tree at Ancestry and how it “just didn’t feel real to her”) and quickly adding “glad I was.” Yet, it didn’t feel genuine.

Like Theodora, my mom grew up in privilege (my mom’s adoptive father was a banker and her mother a socialite). Yet, Theodora writes –

“I have dealt with severe depression, and my psychiatrist monitors me for signs of bipolar because of genetic susceptibility combined with that attachment trauma. I’ve been in inpatient treatment for six weeks, I’ve attempted suicide twice (adoptees are four times as likely to attempt suicide as non-adoptees and deal with mental health issues at a higher rate than non-adoptees). I receive monthly ketamine infusions for my treatment-resistant depression.”

I am aware my mom, admitted to me, she had at least once contemplated suicide. I know that she was frequently under the care of a psychiatrist and was sometimes prescribed Lithium (a mood stabilizer that is approved for the treatment of bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. Bipolar disorder involves episodes of depression and/or mania).

Theodora notes – Adoption narratives, like many other things on social media, paint things much more black and white than they actually are for many people. Anti-adoption advocates paint adoption as akin to human trafficking; adoptive parents and adoptee advocates paint adoption like it’s a fairy tale with a happy-ever-after ending. But what if it’s somewhere in between? 

She goes on to describe many other unpleasant effects that she believes ARE related to the trauma of having been adopted. She adds “Privilege doesn’t negate not knowing where you came from or erase that always-wondering what’s nurture and what’s nature—something you’ve probably never thought about if you’re not adopted.”

She adds, “Telling an adoptee that you ‘don’t think of them as adopted’ is a knife that cuts both ways. It’s meant to be an olive branch, but it also discounts that it is my reality, that I was separated at birth from the woman with whom I share DNA who carried me for nine months. It invalidates the reality of the complexity of all those feelings bubbling up just below the surface, pushing them down until that soda bottle bursts, spilling out years of repressed emotions.”

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.

Short And To The Point

I wanted to make a point that I did not in yesterday’s blog – Conveying Personhood to Embryos. Who is motivated to adopt babies in the United States ? Infertile couples. Due to the overturning of Roe v Wade, there is now much more uncertainty now upon the best path to parenthood for such couples – that is – using IVF and having children with one or both of the parental inputs donated. If this avenue becomes inaccessible (as abortion already had in much of these United States, even though federally protected), more of these infertile couples will be seeking to adopt any available baby.

My husband and I considered adoption to build our family but decided against the uncertainties of taking on someone else’s baby. That was even before I knew my own adoptee parents’ origin stories. In the 5 years since I started uncovering that story and along the way learning so much more about the trauma associated with separating a child from its biological parents, I have turned against adoption for the most part, even though I owe my very existence to that method of creating a family on the parts of my adoptive grandparents.

We know that increasing the supply of domestic infants available for adoption factored into several of the Supreme Court Justices thinking, I have to wonder if they considered further pressure on that supply if assisted reproduction becomes more expensive and/or inaccessible.

It’s Complicated

I didn’t hate motherhood but circumstances robbed me of it with my first child. She ended up being raised by her dad and a step-mother, after I left her temporarily in the care of her paternal grandmother. This morning I was reading an edited extract from Undo Motherhood by Diana Karklin. Stories from women all over the planet about how motherhood was not a welcomed event in their lives.

At the time I left my daughter, it didn’t feel like it was because I didn’t love being her mother, I always did love that but was I committed to it ? Reading these stories today, I wonder at my lack of maturity and sense of responsibility at the time. I think I always expected to do something like my own mother did – get married and immediately have children, while going to work everyday to contribute to the family income. I was also into “having a good time” and all that meant as someone in their early 20s – whether in a marriage or not.

Even so, it’s strange that I married. During my senior year in high school, that had not been my plan. I was going to share an apartment with my best friend. The first time I went out with the man who I would marry and have a child with, I told my mom when I came back from that date that it was never going to work out. Then, he showed me a ring and asked me to marry him and so, I did.

I still think marriage isn’t a good bargain for a woman, even though I then married a second time and had two sons with the man who is my husband today. If anything happens that takes him from me and leaves me yet living, I cannot imagine marrying again. We have now been married a long time and so, this time it worked out but with a bump or two along the way – yet the marriage has been able to endure.

Reading the article in The Guardian today – “The women who wish they weren’t mothers: ‘An unwanted pregnancy lasts a lifetime’ “ – has given me pause in reflecting on my own life. Also today, in the Science of Mind magazine which shares the philosophy of a man named Ernest Holmes who created a practice based upon the philosophies of the world and developments in science, I was also given more pause to reflect on romantic love.

The author, Rev Dr Jim Lockard, reflected on what it means to be human and to have a spiritual nature. Our biological selves seek to procreate, as does all life. Our emotional selves seek connection and to give and receive love with a special other to experience a deep feeling of fulfillment. Our intellectual selves seek to find a partner to share our human experiences and to create a family structure. Our spiritual selves seek to link to another to experience the joining of spiritual identities in relationship.

Clearly on many levels, having children fulfills a lot of those aspects and qualities of life, as much or sometimes more than a romantic partner can. Just as The Guardian piece made clear – it is often our cultures that have set rules and expectations about our adult lives. Even as the rigidity of narrow gender definitions have been rapidly changing, with the overturn of Roe v Wade, many women feel they are being pushed back into another time that they thought was in the past. They may be forced into giving birth, due to whatever reason and circumstance, even though they aren’t craving to fulfill the duties of motherhood. Children do best when they are intended and wanted. When they are not – wounding and trauma are the result. Just as an unwanted pregnancy lasts a lifetime, regardless of how long that initial romantic relationship endures, or even how that one night stand or rape has become imprinted on a woman’s soul, what happens to that child lasts a lifetime as well.

The nature of falling in love is a mixture of biological urges, emotional longings, rational explanations and spiritual connections. To fall in love is to exist in instability and the projection of our unconscious expectations onto another person. Our sense of rational choice is diminished. Many women wake up one day to realize that they fell in love with someone their ego was imagining and not a reality the other person was able to actually be – long term. A man is often free to walk away, leaving a woman forced to carry the burden of their children for at least 2 decades – truly for both the mother’s and the children’s lifetimes. Whether a father does or not is never guaranteed.

The Hardest Thing

To give birth under an assumed name and then walk away leaving the baby behind. Clearly it was the plan before the baby was born. The mother has yet to be identified or found. Child Protective Services has now placed the baby girl in a foster home. After being there for a year, they will want this couple to adopt the baby girl.

The only thing the mother left behind was a box with a toy and a note that says “the hardest thing I have ever went through, is missing you”. If the mother were to be found and come back for her baby, of course, reunification of the mother and infant would be the obvious goal.

But if the mother does not return, how will her adoptive parents explain to the little girl what happened ? The current foster mom definitely will not say – “she loved you so much, she gave you away”.

Suggestions –

Find a therapist to help you navigate what will be a lifelong process. Words matter and age appropriate are critical. You have a big job ahead of you – do all you can to do it well.

DNA testing as soon as possible to identify members of the natural family and get in contact with them. It’s unlikely to find nothing. Many people take DNA tests. Even a cousin can point you in the right direction.

In answer to the question of what to tell others about the child, some practical advice – A child in your care ? A kid who lives with you ? That’s what she is right now. Asking what to tell her if or when you adopt her is putting the cart before the horse. You should be doing everything you can to prevent that from happening, including a permanent legal guardianship. Did you see the recent case in Michigan where a mother didn’t tell the father that she placed the baby? You need to slow this process way down, so you can be sure this child doesn’t have family out there who want to take care of her.

The Dept of Social Services is going to be working to find the mom. There are many reasons she may have felt she had to do this. Maybe she’s in an abusive relationship or fears harm to the baby. It is not uncommon for some mothers to fear they can’t care for a baby. Good to hope they do find her and are able to help her.

At this point, no one actually knows the mother’s story. That matters.

As for the child’s story – always tell her the truth. You don’t know why the mother chose what she did. So if the child asks – you say, I don’t know. “I don’t know honey, sometimes people make decisions and we don’t know why.” “You are safe and cared for and loved and we will support you no matter what.” Follow up with a trauma informed therapist and let take the therapist take it from there. Explain that she can talk with you about it. Never sugar coat or tell her things you don’t know. Tell her what you know. Facts. You can do it age appropriately. It is her story. This is the reality.

Begin a Lifebook for her, so that she doesn’t have to ask. Work with a trauma informed therapist on how to word her story in a way that she can understand at various ages (perhaps include photos of the hospital room and certainly of the note and toy, the box they were in) and keep the story about her (not about you or your thoughts or feelings).  Practicing the story before the kid is old enough to ask will help avoid it becoming a big secret or something scary.

Read The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier. It is perspective changing.

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.

Shame

We feel shame when we violate the social norms we believe in. At such moments we feel humiliated, exposed and small and are unable to look another person straight in the eye. We want to sink into the ground and disappear. Shame makes us direct our focus inward and view our entire self in a negative light.

I came upon the powerful graphic above yesterday and felt there was more that I could personally say about it. On my Facebook profile page yesterday, I shared – I have owned up to this before. I had an abortion at the age of 23 or so – mid 1970s. I am glad it was safe and legal. I was not being reckless. I was driving an 18-wheeler with a partner. Our dispatcher didn’t get us home to where my pharmacy was in time and I ended up pregnant. Neither he nor his family were the kind of people I would be glad to have been tied to through a child today. At the time, I had breakthrough bleeding. My ex-SIL and ex-BIL had a child with serious birth defects. I just felt the pregnancy was not progressing normally. Also, to be honest – I didn’t want to commit my life to 7 more months of going it alone with no financial support. I’ve never regretted it but pro-Life propaganda has definitely haunted me. In writing this, I searched my memory for all of the reasons why I chose that course of action.

The mothers and women in my family, and to whom I am genetically related, chose other courses of action. Back in the 1930s, the mothers of both of my own parents, chose to carry their pregnancies, spent the first few precious months with their babies, and one way or another lost that first child to adoption. I wrote, and it was true, “I didn’t want to commit my life to 7 more months of going it alone with no financial support.” In some people’s minds I was simply being selfish and I will accept that judgment, though in truth I have no regrets about doing what I did and for the reasons I did it at the time.

Yet, I felt enough shame for having chosen a different path (both of my sisters carried unplanned pregnancies to term but also gave their babies up for adoption) that it was a long time before I admitted to anyone what I did earlier in life. It was my private decision which no one but the circumstances influenced. Maybe influenced in no small measure by the legality and safety of the choice at the time. Only as Roe v Wade has come under increasing opposition have I started sharing my own story of what it was like to have made that choice and my gratitude that I had it available to my own self when I felt I needed that.

The father of my own conception made it clear he would not stand by me if I chose otherwise but I don’t think that was my major motivation. In reflecting on my statement that I would have had to “go it alone” above, I also know my parents supported one of my sisters throughout the pregnancy and then, remarkable to me now that I know more about adoption in general, my own adoptee mom coerced my sister into giving up the baby she wanted to keep and then, encouraged a lie to me that the baby had died. Intuitively, I knew it had not and concocted fantastical stories about what had actually happened to the baby believing it had been stolen and taken into Mexico (my sister had delivered at a hospital in El Paso TX very near the national border). Because of this, my mom finally admitted her truth regarding the whole situation to me.

Many women bear a cross – maybe they suffer their whole lives knowing their child is out there somewhere out of their own reach. Many of these original mothers suffer a secondary infertility and never have another child. Many struggle as single mothers to keep and raise their child. Our society does nothing to help them. My sister actually sought financial support during her pregnancy but was denied it based upon our parents financial condition. It was not my parents seeking financial support but my sister and not in increase my parents financial condition either.

After I divorced the father of my first child, I had to go to work and that meant child care. When one “family style” child care that she loved at first became a tearful battle, I left work to check on her and discovered through the window of a half door, an older child bullying her and no adults in sight. I pulled her out that day. I often had to go to my mother to beg $20 to make it through to payday. She never denied me but financially it was always difficult. At the time I divorced her father, he told me he would never pay me one cent of child support because I would just party with the money. Such a horrible perception he had of my own integrity and ethics. I didn’t want to spend my life in court fighting him for it even though the judge insisted in awarding me $25/mo “in case” I changed my mind and wanted to seek an increase. I never did. Instead, I left my daughter with her paternal grandmother while I tried to build a financial nest egg for the two of us by seeing if I was capable of driving an 18 wheel truck cross-country.

I always intended to return for her and would have never given her to her father to raise but his mother did that. He remarried a woman with a child and then they had a child together. Unintended consequences of financial desperation. And now, in a sense my story has come full circle, my shame – not even listed above – is that I gave up raising my child for financial reasons. Back when she was in day care, I couldn’t hardly answer the pediatrician’s questions, because she was away from me all day. After her father and step-mother raised her, I struggled to find birthday cards for her that reflected the lack of a daily, physical relationship I had with her. There were no role models for an absentee mother back in the mid-1970s, even though the absentee father was a standard reality.

Shame. Oh yes, I am well acquainted with it. As my daughter knows, I have struggled to find peace with not having “stuck it out,” as my own mother said to me that she would have done, to do the right thing by my daughter. It is a work in process. Recently, I reflected on all the things I did right by her in the brief early years she was physically under my care. I told her, I realize that when I was mother to you, I was a good one. And the abortion ? I atoned for it, by giving up my own genetic connection to have two egg donor conceived sons (same donor both times), that my husband might be able to have the children he desired, even as we both realized I had gotten too old to conceive naturally. Even so, they are now almost 18 and 21 years old. They have proven to me that I can “mother” children 24/7 throughout their own childhoods. At least I have no shame in that. I even breastfed both until they were just over 1 year old. I also have the knowledge that I didn’t put adoption trauma onto the fetus I aborted early in that pregnancy.

No Self To Begin With

It is a long story in The New Yorker – The Price of Admission, published on April 4 2022. It is a long, sad story of abuse and gaslighting, beginning in locations involving St Louis Missouri (our urban center). It is the story of a former foster care youth and the agendas of higher education. Mackenzie Fierceton has been a brilliant student, once accepted for a Rhodes Scholarship, and is a committed activist.

I encourage you to read the entire article as I did this morning. Necessarily, I am only pulling out a few concepts I jotted down related to Mackenzie’s situation.

If trauma creates a kind of narrative void, Mackenzie seemed to respond by leaning into a narrative that made her life feel more coherent, fitting into boxes that people want to reward. Perhaps her access to privilege helped her understand, in a way that other disadvantaged students might not, the ways that élite institutions valorize certain kinds of identities. There is currency to a story about a person who comes from nothing and thrives in a prestigious setting. These stories attract attention, in part because they offer comfort that, at least on occasion, such things happen.

“. . . Mackenzie is being faulted for not having suffered enough. She was a foster child, but not for long enough. She is poor, but she has not been poor for long enough. She was abused, but there is not enough blood.”
~ Anne Norton, Political Science Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who has provided a home for Mackenzie

Regarding the question about being a first generation student at a university – Mackenzie had e-mailed the associate director of admissions and recruitment at Penn’s social-work school to ask how former foster youth should answer the question. “I personally believe the education level (or/and financial status) of the biological parents would be irrelevant,” the associate director responded. “The youth should select into the option that provides them access to the most funding—which would be to indicate that they are a first-generation college student.”

“When we allow stereotype to be our stand-in for disadvantaged groups, we are actually doing them a disservice. That’s what scares me about this case. It’s, like, ‘You’re not giving us the right sob story of what it means to be poor.’ The university is so focused on what box she checked, and not the conditions—her lack of access to the material, emotional, and social resources of a family—that made her identify with that box. Colleges are in such a rush to celebrate their ‘first Black,’ their ‘first First Gen’ for achievements, but do they actually care about the student? Or the propaganda campaign that they can put behind her story?”
~ Anthony Jack, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who studies low-income and first-generation college students

“There have been moments of almost panic where I am just cognitively questioning myself, like, ‘Did I misremember something?’ It’s easy to slide back into that state, because I want anything other than the reality—that it is my bio family who has caused so much harm—so I will do backflips to try to make it not true.”
~ Mackenzie Fierceton

It is a very real case of gaslighting – “You start to think that maybe you had it wrong and that maybe it actually did happen the way that they say it did,” Mackenzie wrote. “And then you just throw away the real memory, the true one, and replace it with the one that they have fed you a million times, until that is the only thing you can remember.”

As an addendum, Penn did release her Master’s Degree. From The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Maternal Abandonment

I haven’t read the book, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, but now I want to. A movie based on the book is coming to theaters this summer. In looking into the book, I find that the mother abandoned her children. In 1952, six-year-old Catherine Danielle Clark (nicknamed “Kya”) watches her mother abandon her and her family. While Kya waits in vain for her mother’s return, she witnesses her older siblings, Missy, Murph, Mandy, and eventually Jodie, all leave as well, due to their father’s drinking and physical abuse.

The story follows two timelines that slowly intertwine. The first timeline describes the life and adventures of a young girl named Kya as she grows up isolated in the marsh of North Carolina from 1952 to 1969. The second timeline follows an investigation into the apparent murder of Chase Andrews, a local celebrity of Barkley Cove, a fictional coastal town of North Carolina. Stories of children raising themselves with wildlife for companions have always fascinated me.

This story touches a sensitive place in me. While it was never my intention to abandon my daughter, could it be perceived that way ? Could she have experienced my “disappearance” as abandonment ? She was only 3 years old at the time and the realities were not something I could easily explain to her. Her dad and I had divorced. He had informed me that he would never pay child support because I would just party with the money (as though child care and pediatrician bills and all the normal daily expenses didn’t add up, leaving nothing leftover to even think of doing something like that). Therefore, I didn’t ask the court for any child support during the divorce hearing (which my husband did not attend) but the judge awarded me $25 in case I wanted to come back and ask for more. I never did but I did look for “better” (ie male dominated) employment that would pay enough to support the two of us.

It was always my intention to come back for my daughter with a bit of money saved, earned from driving an 18-wheel truck with my romantic partner of that time. A financial foundation for our mutual support. I left her with my former mother-in-law, who eventually gave her back to her dad. He remarried a woman with a child and eventually they had a child together. Since I could not give her a stable family life as a single impoverished woman, I let it be. I stayed in contact with my daughter and had short visits with her during her summers out of school. Still, it has always troubled me . . .

I feel fortunate that she doesn’t hate me for it and that we do have a good relationship as mature women raising children (she gave me a grandson, then I had a son, then she gave me a granddaughter, and then I had another son). I’ll never fully get over my own shame at not having done “better” by her.