Been There, Doing Better

Today’s story – not my own.

I am a former foster care youth who was adopted. When my biological niece (I found my family via Ancestry) was taken and placed in foster care, I had to step up and help since I’ve been there. So, I got kinship guardianship of my niece while my brother was in a recovery program. He was making good progress. Sadly, about 4 months ago, he stopped going and relapsed. The timing was bad. The case worker and attorney are looking to switch my niece’s program to a Termination of Parental Rights goal. I’m afraid if they do this, my brother may spiral downward. I definitely don’t want to see that happen. I’m not given any specific information because I am just the caregiver. Admittedly, I’m not familiar with the termination process or addiction. I don’t know what to expect or how to help my brother.

From experience, someone commented – As the current legal custodian of my niece and myself, a child raised under legal guardianship – Would you be willing/able to remain her legal custodian under kinship as a long term permanency plan? Being raised within my family was in some ways very beneficial for me. There was still a lot of trauma. But if your niece is safe with you and you can raise her long term, that may be very beneficial for her.

In response, the original commenter said – she has been with me a little over a year now. she was in foster care 5 months before she came to me. She will always be welcome here. I did not know there were long term kinship options. The only options I am aware of come from the caseworker. His perspective is if my brother does what he should, he will get her back. If I take Article 6 Custody (from termination of parental rights) that drops the case for both my brother and the baby’s mother. (I have never meet her. She checked out of the hospital early and never set anything up with Dept of Social Services to have visits or anything.) I didn’t want the final option, which I was told was my willingness to adopt her. I don’t know where this will go but I definitely don’t want to see my brother fall down the rabbit hole.

And then there was this (people can really care !!) – Addiction is a disease that can be treated. This child has a genetic risk of inheriting this gene. I want to share with you that I’ve been in recovery for over 23 years – completely clean and sober. I can share some things with you and resources, as much as you want. Please feel free to ask me ANYTHING either here or privately in private message. There IS hope and as long as your brother is still breathing, he can still clean up. There are resources for you, for the child, all sorts of things. It’s ok, and my heart goes out to you and I am sending prayers to your brother, you and all in this situation. There IS hope and he CAN recover. I think you are doing the right thing by keeping your niece with you in a kinship capacity. Please feel free to reach out, now or later, ok? xo

What’s In A Name ?

A major topic for reform in adoption is in regard to the adoptee’s name. Today’s story is complicated and long and so I’ll try to summarize it. There was an oops when bi racial boy/girl twins were born to supposedly white biological parents. When they were born, their mom put her husband’s last name on their birth certificate. However, it was determined that he was not in fact their dad. So, the twins last name was changed to their mom’s maiden name. For rather obvious reasons, her husband did not wish to parent these children and so they were put up for adoption.

They are now 7-1/2 years old and their adoption will most likely be finalized in the next couple of months. The soon to be adoptive parents are in contact with these twins older half siblings. One of the twins is the only one of all the siblings without a double letter in their name but they did not want it changed. The issue of what their last name will be has been handled delicately. One twin wanted to keep their last name but add the adoptive parents’ last name, the other twin just wanted the adoptive parents’ last name. Recently, one twin asked, “since the adoption is coming up, can I change my name?”

This is the same child that didn’t want to change the spelling of their first name, now they want to change the name completely. When the kids (both the soon to be adoptive parent’s biological children and these twins) play dress up, they have alter egos. They go by their alter ego names while playing pretend. The twins will even go by their alter ego name when they change their hair style from natural to braids, twist, finger curls, etc. for a day or so. This child is asking to change their name to their alter ego name and they said, “you can spell it anyway you want.”

Almost every child, at some point in their childhood, will go through a phase of trying a different name. So the almost adoptive parents said it takes a judge to change your name, no matter the reason. There are situations where names are changed – when you get married and you can change your last name, if you correct your gender you can change all of your names, at adoption names are often changed and you can keep all of the names your first family gave you or change parts of your name, and at the age you are grown up if you just really dislike your name, you can change it then.

Another adoptive parents said –  I wish no one brought up name change at adoption. It makes it seem like something that should happen, and I no longer think it should. I also think it’s a lot to ask a kid to make a decision about this, especially a kid with adoption related trauma.

A domestic infant adoptee said – I think giving a kid the opportunity to make a decision about their huge upcoming life shift that is completely out of their control, gives them a tiny bit of control back when things are so rocky. However I still believe the first name change can happen as a nickname, let her go by that but let her choose her last name for the adoption finalization. Then, when she is older, if she has kept that nickname for years, then as a teenager let her consider changing it legally.

Another adoptive parent shared – In our case, I screwed it up in the worst way. We changed all her names with her “choosing” from several names we were considering. But keeping it the same wasn’t presented as an equal choice. She was 4 years old at the time. She is 8 years old now and sometimes she wants to change back, sometimes she wants a friend’s name, sometimes she’s happy with what it is. We are now in reunion with her birth family, through a relative who adopted her younger siblings when they were born and we have discussed the name changes we made, our reasoning, and how we feel now. Both of us independently decided that we will support any changes the kids want, when they are adults but we will pay the court costs. I don’t think there are any right answers but my main regret is that keeping the name at birth was not presented as an option. I’ve heard adoptees say that with so much taken away from them, their name should remain the same.

Another adoptee said – I’m a non-binary trans person who has changed the name they go by as an adult. Let them go by the name they want to legally change it to – immediately. Start calling them by that name. Don’t give the legal name change a deadline (the legal adoption finalization date). These are two distinctly different things and while they are connected, each needs its own timeline. You can help them by discussing if they like the name. If they go by it for a long period of time, then you can discuss legally changing their name. I recommend this because of their young age and the already overwhelming situation of the adoption being finalized. Names are a GIFT, and if that gift no longer works for them, they can give it back and find one that meets their needs now. Changing the name during adoption seems to layer on trauma but for an older trans person I think it removes trauma.

Yet another adoptee shares – I was different because I’m neurodivergent. I wanted to change my name to fit in, rather than have a name no one connected to. When I grew up, I changed my name. Always Always go with what the kid wants. It just doesn’t have to be legally changed until they’re older and had a long time to think about it. Kids are still discovering themselves.

Sour Grapes

From my all things adoption group – an adoptee after reaching maturity should not have to deal with this in her adoptive mother but I have seen such bad behavior before in one of my adoptee relative’s adoptive mother as well. So sad.

How do you help someone you love, who is on the fence and struggling, come out of the adoption fog ? Or do you even try ? The person I am talking about is going to be my daughter-in-law in less than a month. We have become close and she is great. She is only 20 years old. I’ll call her T.

T expressed to me that she was curious but scared to reach out to her birth mother. She eventually did so behind her adoptive mom’s back. Her adoptive dad has passed. She said her birth mother was very nice and she told T that she tried to make contact many times throughout the years but that the adoptive parents would block her and change their numbers. T told me she didn’t know who to believe because her adoptive mom said this was a lie. T asked me why would her adoptive mom lie and so, she tended to believe her adoptive mom over her birth mom. I gently asked her to think about who would be more motivated to lie about this.

Anyway when her adoptive mom found out that T was contacting her birth mom, she had a complete emotional breakdown and made T feel so bad. She even said maybe it was a big mistake even adopting her blah blah blah.

I met her adoptive mom last week at the bridal shower and she told me that she was totally fine with T meeting her birth mom but she would not let the birth mom emotionally abuse her with lies.

T has since blocked the birth mom on social media and says she is scared and creeped out. These situations have shoved her way back into the adoption fog. I’m so sad for her because I know that this is important for her mental health. She deals with a lot of anxiety and often struggles with her adoptive mom. T was adopted with 2 her biological sisters who also are struggling with anxiety and mental health.

What can I do with the most love to help her ? She has some leads on her biological dad but now says she is even more creeped out by him. Someone told her he may or may not have shot someone in the past. I wonder who she got that idea from?? Eye roll.

She is definitely afraid of getting in trouble with her adoptive mom (who is paying for the wedding). Her adoptive mom also helped her get a car, after T went back into the adoption fog in submission. Another Eye roll.

My own comment is simply – why do adoptive mothers behave this way once their adoptee is a grown person ? Clearly exerting financial leverage (I saw my mom’s adoptive mother do that with her). They had the child all to themselves all the child’s life. I saw this during a loved one’s (adoptee) wedding. Previously, I would never have thought that woman could be that way but . . . adoptive parents it seems also have their own triggers.

We All Have The Same Beginning

Most of my life (over 6 decades actually), I had no idea of what our family genetic history was because BOTH of my parents were adoptees with no knowledge of their origins. As I watch Christmas greetings go by with cultural flavors, I am happy to realize my own – Danish, Scottish, Irish and English with touches of Ashkenazi Jew, Neanderthal and even a bit from Mali (I suspect from the slave holding line on my mom’s paternal side).

I never knew my genetic ancestors but I feel them in me more strongly now that I have some idea of where I came from. If you are still in the seeking/searching mode, I wish you every success in connecting the dots as I was able to do for my own self (my parents were already deceased, so my discoveries came too late to share with them but I suspect if there really is some place beyond this physical life – which I do happen to believe there is – then my parents have had their reunions with their birth parents and know even more than I do now).

From your blogger on this Christmas Day – thank you for reading. I send you spirited blessings and hope that everything around you this year is Merry & Bright !!

Funeral Anxiety

Today’s story (not my own) –

I’m an adoptee who didn’t find out I was adopted until I was 24…I turned 40 in May (major trauma obviously, but that’s for another time). I’ve met my birth mother, maternal grandmother, birth father, and a couple (not all) of my siblings. Novel made short, my birth grandma died last Thursday. Her celebration of life is set for next Friday and I am struggling really fucking hard as to what to do.

Yes, I knew (?) and loved her. I THINK I want to be there. But I also don’t want to be the proverbial long lost child/grandchild/sibling who comes waltzing in. I have so much guilt, I’ve carried it since I first met my birth mom (another long story). It’s such a tricky relationship, on all sides, and I hate this. I wish more than anything I had someone to just tell me what to do; to hop on that flight and do this, or to stay home as I am so sick and conflicted already that it wouldn’t be well for my mental health. My birth mother has always made me feel horribly guilty. My adopted mother does the same. So I just kind of keep all of the moms at arms length for the sake of my mental health. My Granny was different. I only saw her a literal handful of times, but she was strong and kind and she validated me. Now that she’s gone, I don’t know what I want anymore.

It’s just weird. It’s a weird place. Being adopted is weird period, and I mostly despise it.

One response from another adoptee – I wouldn’t want to miss it and regret it. Family events are hard for me because biological family is all gathering, and it is a painful reminder of all the family events I was not a part of. You aren’t obligated to stay. If you feel it’s too much to handle, you could leave at any time. I’d check into nearby coffee shops/diner/regular shops that are in walking distance in case I needed an early escape. I didn’t know my maternal grandma for long but I did spend her last moments with her in the hospital. I am glad I did.

Someone else suggested exit strategies – Opps-forgot my sweater in the car. (5 min break). Tylenol is in the car too. How forgetful. Sigh. Need some caffeine to stop this headache. (Walk to coffee shop, 20 min break) Oh no, I cleared the day but work really needs me to resolve an issue. Can we catch up in a couple of hours over dinner? Also, if it would be helpful, bring a support person who can just listen to you (and serve as a buffer if you need one).

Another adoptee points out that funerals are for the living. Do what’s going to bring YOU peace and screw what anyone else thinks. Don’t overcomplicate your decision with the intricacies of your relationships with your birth family. Either you want to be there for YOU or you don’t. I hope you find peace in whatever decision you make.

Another asked – Would you regret it if you stayed home? Would you later look back and think you should’ve gone? Go with the option that leaves you little to no regret. You deserve to be there, this is your family and I’m sure you’re very wanted. The original poster answered – I’m truly not sure if I would regret it. She’s already been cremated, so I could always go on my own time, alone, and save myself some chaos. It’s just a tricky relationship with my birth mother …odd at best. I’m putting it very nicely, too.  I don’t like feeling manipulated.  It’s been rocky, and then some.

Mary Ellen Gambutti

Thanks to my friend Ande Stanley, a late discovery adoptee, who’s own effort in the cause she has titled LINK> The Adoption Files, I learned about this author, LINK> Mary Ellen Gambutti, today. In looking more closely at Ms Gambutti, I discovered this site LINK> Memoir Magazine, which I may look into submitting to some time in the near future. She has written several books and has a few blogs available on her author page at Amazon.

I Must Have Wandered is described as a memoir told through prose, and the letters, fragments, and photos of her infant relinquishment at birth in post-World War II South Carolina. Her adoptive parents were native New Yorkers, who happened to be stationed in the state at the time. Common in that time period – hers was a closed adoption. She reflects on the primal loss experienced by many adoptees. In her case, there were also the separations caused by a transient military lifestyle. The book includes her coming of age in the turbulent ’60s and the barriers to truth that many adoptees find, due to their sealed birth records. Add into the mix a culture of secrecy, which is often the adoption experience. Just as often, adoption includes a hefty dose of religious fervor. It is sadly a common enough story but universal in adoptionland and yet always highlighted by individual details. Like many adoptees, this woman’s genetic heritage was obliterated by her adoption, and then similarly to my own roots discovery journey, her quest for identity includes some degree of reunion. 

Gambutti also wrote a book of essays titled Permanent Home. One reviewer wrote that this book blends early childhood memories into what reads like a vision or a dream. Detailed is the trauma and loss many adoptees realize when they learn the circumstances that surrounded their birth. Her search is not supported by her adoptive family and trigger warning – there is abuse. Never-the-less a reviewer says the book is not a downer but reality. Common to the experience of many adoptees is missing health history and not looking like anyone else in their family.

 

Refusing To Choose

Tony Corsentino

I get notifications from Tony’s substack – LINK> “This Is Not A Legal Record – Irregularly timed dispatches from my travels in the world of adoption.” Tony recently got married.

He writes – “I invited him (his adoptive father) and my biological aunt and uncle to my wedding not to force a reckoning—neither to heal a wound nor to inflict one. I did it because they were among the people I wanted present. And I did it as a protest against the expectation that I would have to choose who my “real” family was. I was conscious that no one in the world was asking for this convergence of souls. There are no cultural expectations or rules governing it, no script to follow. If anything, the co-presence of my adoptive and biological families signaled a breach in the covenant that we assume closed adoption to represent: that the family of origin shall disappear from the life of the adoptee, who shall be “as if born” to the adopting family.”

I say – good for him, pushing back on expectations !! He goes on to share –

On his last night in town, as I was driving him to his hotel, I told him that not only was I thankful for his kindness to my biological family, but it healed something in me to see him in a literal embrace. He replied with what I later learned he had also said to my aunt and uncle that day: that he was grateful to them for giving me to him. This remark, generously intended and deeply unsettling (I am no one’s gift; they had no role in it; my birth mother did not relinquish me for his sake), reminded me that my father will never grasp the nettle of adoption.

He concludes with this thought – “The legacy of the trauma and secrecy of adoption is that I remain isolated in my freedom.” I understand from my own sadness. Learning the truth about my parents origins, while answering lifelong questions, left me bereft. Not fitting in with either the adoptive or biological families – in truth. The ties that bind get cut and like Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together again. Sadly, this is the truth about it. He notes that “Every move is risky.” regarding reconnecting and risking alienation from the people who raised you.

Of course, he is right about this – “There is no such thing as the successful resolution, or closure, of an adoption.” And closing with “There is still much that I cannot say, hurts that I dare not inflame. There is still no inclusive we. There is only me, standing in particular relationships to the particular people I care about. It’s a kind of paradox: the further I go along the path of reunion, the more fully I perceive this atomism into which adoption fractures the idea of ‘family’.”

A Little Bit Of Everything

Happy Original Mother Reunited With Son

Short and sweet today because I don’t have much time. From an original mother in reunion.

She has yet to figure out the shortest way to self ID for she IS the adoption triad –

-International infant adoptee

-Former foster youth

-Former kinship guardian

-Adoptive parent of adult who was placed with me for kinship guardianship but asked to be legally adopted at the age of 20

-Natural mother and sole guardian of a child formerly in the system

The picture was posted with the child’s permission – from a mother and son reunion and reunification a week ago. They are still well inside their “honeymoon” period, but so far, everything is great. The child so happy to be back with his mom again and she feels whole again for the first time in years.

Fear of Abandonment is Real

Stephanie Drenka and genetic family

I went looking for a topic for today’s blog and found this story by Stephanie Drenka. She writes that – “I was struck by the pervasiveness of adoptive parent-focused stories. Where were the adoptee perspectives ?” The photo is from when when she was reunited with her biological mother, two sisters, and a brother.

She notes that “abandonment issues do not end in adulthood. Though I haven’t experienced divorce, I can imagine it might be similar. If a woman’s husband leaves her, even after remarries the perfect guy, she may always deal with a persistent fear that he will leave her as well. Fear of abandonment is real, and has to be acknowledged in order to resolve it.”

I have personally witnessed this issue playing out in a loved one and it had not been resolved previously. It came out at a very inopportune time but never-the-less had to be dealt with in its extremity.

Stephanie notes – Even the most well-adapted adoptee still faces moments where the trauma resurfaces. For me, that meant small things like every time a doctor would ask me for my family medical history or now, post-reunification, not knowing when I will be able to meet my biological sister’s new baby boy. And adds – I won’t go into the trauma experienced by birth mothers and families, because that is not my story to tell. Suffice it to say, from my personal reunification experience, adoptees are not the only ones who struggle with the aftermath of adoption.

She says – I love my (adoptive) mom and dad to the moon and back. They are my role models, biggest supporters, and best friends. I feel blessed to have them in my life– but please don’t presume to tell me that I was “lucky” to be adopted. Like many adoptees, my parents told me that I was special. While meant with good intention, being chosen is a burden. It puts pressure on us to be perfect and grateful. It can be incredibly emotionally taxing and negatively effects your self esteem in the moments where you can’t live up to that perfect picture. These expectations can prolong mental illness without treatment, because it may seem like asking for help is being ungrateful.

Choosing to adopt is an expensive proposition and as Stephanie notes – one mostly related to white privilege. I agree with her stated perspective – Can you imagine if the money people spent on adoption services went instead to supporting single mothers or low-income parents? Or what if adoption profits were used to benefit adoptees themselves in the form of post-adoption services like counseling, genetic testing, mental health treatment, or birth family search costs?

She ends her own essay with this – The truth about adoption is that there is no Truth. Adoption is many different things for many different people. It is love, loss, grief, abuse, hope, despair. It can sometimes be celebrated, but should always be examined through a critical and compassionate lens.

A Product Of A Product

I read an interesting thread this morning that I thought reveals some really important perspectives and so, I share this.

Things I find odd: in the decades following discovery, none of my adoptive family asked about or acknowledged the existence of my half-siblings.

Nor did they either ask how I felt about being lied to for over thirty years; lies they participated in telling. I don’t say this to shame them. I am not even naming them here. As children, they were emotionally abused in that they were told to lie to a family member, every single day. They should not have been asked to do that. I don’t fault them for remaining silent prior to my accidental discovery of my adoption. What I find completely baffling is the continued silence.

What does that say about the nature of love, respect, compassion and connection that adoption supposedly creates? You may say; most adoptees know, so your experience is an anomaly. If so, there are thousands and thousands of anomalies running around these days. There are STILL adoptive parents posting on social media who say they haven’t told the adoptee, don’t know when or if they will. In transracial adoptions, adoptive parents can’t avoid the truth of adoption, but many make a practice of dodging questions, fabricating stories, joking about the adoptee’s pain. And I add, knowing a good number in the donor conception contingent of family creating, there were many who did not ever intend to tell their children. Of course, that was in the days before inexpensive DNA testing. Oops.

I guess odd is not a strong enough word. Cruel, maybe?

There were 4 children in my family; two of those were adopted. First a biological, genetic daughter, then the adoptee girl – me – and an adoptee boy, then a biological, genetic son. My adoptee brother died when I was 13. He was 12. The oldest daughter always knew. The youngest son learnt in high school. Yep; both of those were told to lie. Apparently it was important for them to tell other friends and acquaintances that I was not their “real” sister. I, however, was never told.

What a way to set family relationships up to fail. The refusal to engage with me now “post-discovery” reveals how deep that failure goes and it does increase the pain that I felt as an adoptee to an almost unendurable level.

In their defense, I don’t think they ever learned, nor knew how to learn, how to engage emotionally in a healthy way, not just with me but with others. Some of this was the result of being raised by adult children of alcoholics and a great deal of death and dysfunction occurred in the course of our upbringing. How much of that dysfunction can be attributed to being taught to lie ? It could not have helped the circumstances.

This brings on additional sharings of a similar nature.

Thanks to a friend recognizing my now ex husband was a functional alcoholic, I got into Al-Anon. I was also fortunate to find a couple adoptee support groups at that same time and found that there is a lot of overlap!! Dysfunction doesn’t discriminate. The ex was the son of a violent alcoholic. I dated men who had drug or alcohol issues. My adoptive parents were the youngest in their pre-Depression era families and we’re definitely not what we would refer to as “healthy” today. Add adoption to the mix…

My adoptive mom’s dad was a violent alcoholic. My adoptive dad’s dad was more of a gentle alcoholic, I think. They came out of hard times. Add the pressures of infertility during a time when women’s primary role was parenthood ? So much pain and suffering.

You are right about silence being cruel. Speaking as a first mom… losing my baby to adoption at 17 years old … I was told I would go on with my life, as if nothing had happened. My family never spoke to me about it. It’s traumatizing and cruel to pretend it never happened. I’m sorry that any of us are here having this discussion but we must talk about it, if we are to heal. I was in the adoptee fog for 43 years… & now 12+ years in reunion… I won’t be silenced any longer.

And by sharing such personal thoughts about personal situations, maybe some who encounter people living with such pain will be a little kinder. Until you walk a mile in my shoes . . . seems to fit. Always give the benefit of the doubt and consider the kindest possible explanation for whatever seems “off” is also good advice.