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.

Erasing The Mother’s Name

I was reading an article this morning in Time Magazine (the March 14/March 21 2022 issue) by Aubrey Hirsch titled “Why my children have their mom’s last name.” She describes all of the complications this has raised in their family’s lives. When I conceived my oldest son, my husband strongly wanted my name added to our son’s names and so both of my son’s have my maiden name as their middle names (which in this patrilineal society causes us not the confusion this woman and her husband’s choice has caused). What is a bit strange in our case is that both of my parent’s were adopted and so my maiden name links us not at all in genealogical terms to my family. Even trying to concoct an honest family tree at Ancestry is going to be a challenge (one that I only started but still need to complete).

My dad was given his mother’s maiden name as a surname because she was unwed at the time she gave birth and even though she knew full well who his father was (as I have since discovered in my own adoption story journey and am grateful for the breadcrumbs to my paternal grandfather’s identity that she left me) she did not name him on my dad’s original birth certificate and of course, because he was adopted, his birth certificate has the names of his adoptive parents. And because his adoptive mother later divorced the first adoptive father and remarried, my dad was adopted twice and his birth certificate as well as his first name was changed twice. It was all very patrilineal because his “new” (one could say he spent his entire life as many adoptees do living under an assumed identity) first name was the name of the adoptive father each time as well as the surname for each of these adoptive fathers. I can imagine what this might have felt like to his 8 year old self when the second one occurred.

The woman who wrote that personal essay for Time magazine laments how she has been pushing back against her children having her last name and not the father’s since they were born. Is it true that babies must take their father’s last name ? Well only if the mother identifies who the father was, I suppose, in most circumstances. Studies have shown that 95% of the time, heterosexual married couples give the baby the father’s name.

Ms Hirsch makes a good argument for her choice, she says – women do the hard work of pregnancy and childbirth. They also do the vast majority of the actual parenting (generally about twice as much). And she also points to the circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic 80% of US adults who were not working were women who were caring for children not in formal school or day care.

I agree also that our society simply does not support mothers and their children enough. Note that any attempt to pass more social supports for working parents, like paid family and medical leave, subsidized day care, and universal preschool, have stalled. It is mothers who will be shouldering the bulk of these burdens, forced to give up their jobs along with their names. And it is the male dominated society we live in that is mostly to blame. In general, women are not valued as highly as men, only make about 75% as much in the same jobs in most cases.

The issue of names shown on birth certificates is one that most adoptees are very sensitive to for understandable reasons. Even so, this woman bucked the tradition. She is proud of her family heritage and it is true that marriage erases the family connection for women 95% of the time (though some women today do keep their maiden names in marriage or hyphenate them). For this woman, her family name will be part of her genealogy and not erased as most women’s connections to the family of their birth are.

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.

Not The Same

Someone was asking adoptees if it’s OK to identify as “half adopted.” They were raised by their biological mom but their biological dad was absent. Then they were later legally adopted by mom’s next husband.

She goes on to note – The amount of tone deaf, “Of course, you were adopted” by non-adopted people and one adopted person was really irritating. They have their own loss and trauma, but they had their mother and only learned their father’s name when they were already in their teens.

The responses in my all things adoption group were interesting and somewhat surprising. The points chosen seem valid. I think what might be different is the degree of trauma that accompanies an infant or young child being separated from their mother.

If you were legally adopted, you’re an adoptee. I was adopted twice (blogger’s note – so was my adoptee dad) and not raised by birth parents, but it feels weird to tell someone who was legally adopted that they can’t call themselves adopted.

The person who was adopted gets to identity however they want to, in my opinion. Your identity is valid.

They were adopted, so they could decide – adoptee, half adoptee or not as an adoptee. It is their choice.

Half of their stuff was still changed. They are still not involved with the family of half of them.

Step-parent adoption or kinship adoption –  I do see them as different than a stranger adopting an infant. (Same as the point I made above – less trauma effects in these situations.) Another one added – I’m a kinship adoptee (adopted by maternal grandma) and I identify as a kinship adoptee.

Yet another response – Step parent adoptions are in no way equal to full adoptees. In most cases, step parent adoptees got to stay with their biological mother – therefore not experiencing the “primal wound’ trauma that connects so many adoptees or the trauma of being completely separated from your biological family.

Sure they are “technically” adopted – but not at all in the same way.

The issue arises when they try to say they’ve experienced the trauma discussed by full adoptees or try to say they are privileged voices in spaces where they really are not because they don’t have that shared life experience. Some of these “half” adoptees have even misrepresented themselves in order to dupe hopeful adoptive parents and profit financially as “consultants” or the like.

It really bugs me when those who were adopted by a step parent try to say they are “adoptees” in the same way that I am. Because they just aren’t. Full stop. I’m pretty surprised by the other responses here so far actually.

And a last valid point – Part of me wants to know to what purpose, to what end? A lot of people are just trying to find their identity, to explain some of their trauma responses, to understand how to describe their situation to other people.

But if the purpose is that they want to come into adoptee spaces and converse about adoption as a privileged voice to elevate their own opinions–which has happened before in the adoptee community on TikTok–they most likely will be schooled on that before too long.

I see it as a facet of adoption just like any other. There is a LOT of intersectionality here. People can be adoptees but not infant adoptees, or transracial adoptees, or late-discovery adoptees, all of which come with unique sets of issues. No two experiences will be identical. I recognize I cannot speak for transracial adoptees, for example, and so, I know not to minimize their experiences by pretending mine is just like theirs. I don’t have x, y, or z issues.

True Grace

Amanda Gruendell with Grace

This is a very different kind of infertility and donation story but I love the happy ending. I hope you will too. The story comes courtesy of The Guardian and Kate Graham, as told to her by Amanda Gruendell.

Amanda was diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome meaning that she had been born without a uterus. She did have functioning ovaries. “Couldn’t I have a uterus transplant?” she asked her doctor, only to be told that she’d be lucky to see the procedure developed in her lifetime.

She was also going through a rough patch. In 2006, I met a loving man who knew about my condition from the outset; we married three years later. I desperately wanted to be a mother, but our attempts at surrogacy and adoption failed. The relentless stress of infertility contributed to the end of our marriage. Her mom was also going through cancer treatments.

In 2014, she read about the world’s first successful uterus transplant in Sweden. The following year, a friend called her to tell her that a clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, was running the first American trial into the procedure. It would involve putting an embryo in the new uterus with the hope of creating a pregnancy.

Amanda brushed the idea off at first: there were only going to be 10 participants, and she knew many deserving women would be trying to join. Cleveland was also miles away from where she was living in Arizona. Then, a week later, she woke up thinking, “What do I have to lose?”

When the clinic called to give her more information, she started shaking. She knew the process would be long and unpredictable. First, an embryo would have to be created through in vitro fertilization using her eggs. Since she was single, she would have to use donor sperm. The embryos would then be frozen, while she waited for a uterus match from a deceased donor. If a suitable one was found and the operation successful, she would then have the embryo implanted.

That was when John showed up in her life. Actually he was one of her oldest friends and became her rock. By June 2017, they were engaged to be married. The delayed IVF (an infection caused a failed transplant in another trial participant) became a blessing. John and Amanda created their embryos a year later, just before their wedding.

Though her mother’s cancer had been improving, in 2019, it returned. She was slipping in and out of consciousness. Once when she woke, she told Amanda that she’d met her daughter in a dream. She said she was called Grace and looked just like Amanda.

A week later the call came: There was a match. Of course, she is grateful to the donor and her family, even as she knows what it is like to lose a loved one – her mother had died eight days later.

A month after the operation, at age 36, Amanda had her first period ever. Five months later, her embryo was implanted. When she took a pregnancy test and saw the second line, indicating a positive result, she admits that it just didn’t feel real.

In March 2021, Grace was born. When the doctor held her up, Amanda grabbed her; she couldn’t wait another second. Finally holding her daughter was more magical than she’d ever dreamed it would be.

Amanda says, “As I watch her today, all gummy smiles and blowing raspberries, I think back to that 17-year-old girl at the doctor’s office, and the devastation she felt. Now, there is joy. And that’s what the Cleveland clinic, my organ donor and her family did for me. I’ll be grateful to them all for ever.”

Assumed Name and False Identity

Each of my parents was born with a meaningful name indicating family and personal relationships given to them by the woman who gave birth to them. In the kind of inside joke that only two adoptees could share, my dad sometimes called my mom by the name she was born under – Frances Irene.

It appears that the Frances may have come from a family that helped my grandmother when she first returned to Memphis with her two month old daughter. She probably had some connection to them before she gave birth to my mom in Virginia. When investigating my mom’s circumstances before adoption, Georgia Tann noted some vague family relationship between my grandmother and this family. I’ve been unable to track that back through Ancestry in order to prove it.

It appears my maternal grandmother was sent away from Tennessee to give birth by her father, after her lawfully wedded husband returned to Arkansas where his mother was caring for two daughters given him by his deceased first wife. Why he left her 4 mos pregnant or why he didn’t come back when informed she was in Memphis with the baby, I can never know though my heart yearns to.

Irene was the name of my maternal grandmother’s own mother who died when my grandmother was only 11 years old leaving her the woman of the house in charge of caring for her four siblings, two girls and two boys, the youngest only about a year old.

My mom’s name was changed to Julie Sue. My grandmother adopted a boy and then a girl through Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, Memphis branch. She stated in a letter to the society’s administrator that she wanted a Jill to go with her Jack. My mom’s adoptive brother was named John. So my adoptive grandmother was subtle about that heartfelt intention of hers when re-naming her children

When a person is adopted, their name is often changed by the couple that adopts them. Sometimes their date of birth and even the geographic location where they were born may be altered on the new birth certificate created for the adoptee showing the adoptive couple as their parents, as though these people gave birth to them.

It turned out the name my dad was given at birth was an important clue to his identity. My paternal grandmother named him Arthur Martin. Arthur was the man married to her aunt and she was working at their motel and restaurant at the beach in La Jolla California when she met my paternal grandfather. Unfortunately, he was also a married man. By the time she knew she was pregnant, she probably knew that marital status related to him as well. It appears he never knew he had a son.

Martin was the name of the man who fathered my dad. When I connected with a cousin who lives in Mexico, I discovered that she had my paternal grandmother’s photo albums (a real treasure trove of images). Next to a photo of my grandmother holding my dad in her lap, was the headshot of a man and she wrote his name, Martin Hansen, and boyfriend on the back.

My adoptive grandmother named my dad Thomas Patrick. The Thomas was the man she was married to when she adopted my dad. Since his birthday was only one day off from St Patrick’s Day (and that is why I never forgot his birthday), that may be the only reason for the Patrick part of his name.

However, she divorced that man and re-married and so my dad was adopted twice and his name changed again when he was already 8 years old to Gale Patrick – the Gale being her new husband’s name. It may not have been too confusing for him because he was called Pat all the years I knew him, at least.

In addition to the name changes, an adoptee is dropped into a family they were not born into but must “pretend” their whole lives they are related to. I’ve not cared all that much about names, though I like mine and now that I know about my original grandparents find a “family” connection because my paternal grandmother’s oldest sister was also named Deborah. She was hit and killed by a reckless teenage driver when she was only 3 years old.

Abandonment Part 1

Abandonment is a common, often unconscious, trauma issue in adoptees. However, there are many variations. When parents divorce and when one or both of the original parents of a child re-marry, it is not uncommon that the parental relationship of either the mother or the father suffers. More often it is the father, in my case in the mid-1970s, I was the absentee parent though I never thought of myself as having abandoned my precious daughter, she may have had experiences of that because at times I was not accessible to contact due to the partner I was living with.

Today’s story isn’t my own but another one where the abandonment behavior was even more extreme and where the original mother is considering adoption because her daughter wants a sibling (and many times after my divorce, my daughter did express to me the same desire for a sibling). In her case, her dad remarried a woman with a daughter from another marriage and then they had a daughter together. A yours, mine and ours family. Quite a bit later in time, I conceived and gave birth to two sons with my current, second husband. Here’s that story from a woman who has joined my adoption community.

I’m a 38 year old married woman with 2 children. 20 year old female stepdaughter and 14 year old bio daughter who is not my husbands. I had a hysterectomy 4 years ago and was devastated. My hubby and I don’t have any children together. I was invited to join this group because we have seriously been considering adopting. I wanted to learn as much as possible before starting the path.

Here’s my realization and questions. My 14 year old is amazing. Her bio dad and I had a great relationship until he met his now wife. Once she came into the picture his relationship with his daughter started to change. He saw her less and less, skipped visits, ignored me, etc.. then one day when she was 9 he served me papers and wanted to sever his custody. I was shocked. I didn’t understand. His daughter loves him. We never had any issues, I didn’t even ask him to ever pay a dime in child support. I have only just wanted them to have a relationship. There was no talking to him or his wife. They made up their minds. I refused to sign off.

They wanted my hubby to adopt my daughter and even though my hubby would do it in a heartbeat I refused. I wanted my daughter to be able to go to him one day and have the right to know why he gave her up. So I have full legal and physical custody and he has waived all visitation. I told my beautiful 9 year old girl that her daddy just needs a break from being a dad. That he has a lot of work and I’m sure he will see her soon. Yes I lied. I was hoping he’d come to his senses. So far he hasn’t.

During this time I have really tried to foster a relationship between his parents and my daughter. Also his sister and her kids. I WANT my daughter to have a relationship with her family. They really don’t know why he did this other than to say that his wife doesn’t want kids, did not like that her husband and I were on friendly terms (I am happily married, just wanted a good relationship with my ex for the sake of my daughter), and gave him an ultimatum… his daughter or her. He chose wrong.

Over the years the relationship with his parents has gotten strained. I have to be the one to reach out to them. They always mail birthday and Christmas gifts but don’t ever ask to see her. I offer to drive her to their house and pick her up, really everything to keep peace and give her a good relationship with them. She’s 14 now and hasn’t seen her dad since she was 9. She does know the truth behind his abandonment now.

We have been through YEARS of therapy. A suicide attempt, partial hospitalization, etc… she has a lot of issues in regards to this. We work on it every day and let her know how much we love her and that she is not worthless. She just doesn’t know/understand why her dad would do this to her.

Anyway, that’s my back story. So here is my other situation. I want to adopt. I want to be able to give a loving home to a child who may not have one currently. I’m not delusional in thinking that adopting is this sunshine and rainbows situation where there wouldn’t be trauma and issues. Seeing how my daughter has suffered with abandonment I have some insight.

Yes, I know it would be different because my daughter still has one bio parent where an adopted child possibly wouldn’t. I’m also completely open to having an open adoption where the child would have a relationship with their parents. I’m not going to lie to you all and say there isn’t a selfish component here. Yes, I DO want a child. I have grieved over the loss of being able to have any more children biologically. I just feel that we have a lot of love and support to offer.

I am going to leave it here for today and not go into her questions or the responses because this is long enough.

What’s In A Name ?

It may be true that a name is only that – a name – and not the person.  Of all the suggestions for reform in the process of adoption, I can clearly see that changing a child’s name at the time of adoption is wrong.  It is taking from the child their true identity.

Now, it does happen, as it did happen with my youngest sister’s son that the true father was not who was named on the birth certificate.  I do know she was able to coerce the poor man, who had some financial means, to pay a great deal of the costs of her developing an adoption plan for her son.  She gave him this man’s last name at birth and named that man on the birth certificate as his father.

It came to pass as this young man began to mature that he became interested in knowing more about his actual father.  DNA testing seemed to indicate that who had been named could not possibly be who fathered him.  A search for the true father began.

At first I believed that my sister simply did not know for certain who the father was and so chose the one most like to be financially supportive of her effort to provide for her baby.  It turns out that with the revelation of the true father, my sister actually did know.  Maybe, since this man was a colleague of our father’s and since my sister was devoted to our father, she simply did not want our father to know . . .

That is my kindest interpretation.  What I do know is at about 6 months, although she had relinquished her son to an adoptive couple shortly after his birth, she sent a photo after birth and a letter to the real father informing him.  So it cannot be said that she did not know.  What’s really unforgivable is that the true father DID want to raise his son and his wife was supportive of bringing that baby into their lives.  They planned to fight for custody of the child and so informed my sister.

Then the cruelest thing happened on Father’s Day, my sister called the true father to inform him that the baby and his adoptive parents had been killed in a car accident ending all attempts to seek custody.

This young man is a fine person and given what I know about my sister’s life after giving birth to him, I’m glad she didn’t raise him.  The first adoptive father left the family due to having an affair.  Eventually, the mother remarried and my nephew thought so much of the man, he had his surname changed yet again to match the new father.

Also, what amazes me is that in my own adoptee father’s life, his mother had to put her abusive alcoholic husband out.  Therefore, when my dad was already 8 years old, he was adopted a second time by the new husband.  My paternal adoptive grandfather was a good man and he stayed with my Granny until death did them part.