August Rush

Did I ever write about this movie here ? It is one of my favorites.

While not the story of an adoption, it is the story of mother child separations. It is about a baby taken by deception shortly after birth and placed in an orphanage. It is about genetics. About deep bonds. Both of his parents are musicians – one classical and one modern. It is Robin Williams as a villain.

The music is wondrous and the music brings his natural parents together at a moment of improbable but tear jerking reunion.

I highly recommend it.

The Adoptee’s Hero’s Journey

I’ve been aware of Joseph Campbell’s concept known as The Hero’s Journey for a long time and have seen it referenced in a variety of situations. As I was reading yet another perspective on this, an insight came to me. An adoptee’s search for their original parents (and if successful, even a reunion) is actually a kind of Hero’s Journey. Duh.

The hero’s journey is one of separation, initiation and return. It is a healing descent into the underworld (the unknown outcome) to recover something missing or lost, to restore a vital balance.

Its theme is that when faced with a kind of death struggle against titanic supernatural forces, the self can be triumphant. The self is reborn into a higher level of consciousness, maintaining access to the lower lever when appropriate. Because this lower level is transcended, a more powerful self can operate upon it in a way that appears magical to those still below.

So from my perspective, the titanic supernatural forces are the standard adoption narrative. When one comes out of the adoption fog (a belief in the story that separating mothers from their babies is somehow better for the baby than allowing the mother to raise her own child, bonded to her in the womb and wanting only her love), the woke person somehow touched by adoption somewhere in their life (not necessarily an adoptee themselves, as in my case), finds it is no longer possible to go back to the old perspective. It is possible however to go back to or continue to have an appreciation of the family one acquired by adoption, even though it would be unrealistic to expect those person’s acquired as “relatives” due to adoption to understand the new, higher level of understanding one has gained during their own journey.

“A more powerful self can operate upon it in a way that appears magical to those still below,” or even to someone such as myself, who accomplished identifying my own 4 original grandparents in only one year’s time and making new family genetic connections to an aunt and some cousins. Sometimes, I can hardly believe I did this. My own parents lived almost 80 years without accomplishing that for themselves (though my mom gave it a good, hard try). My parents died clueless and knowing what I know now, more’s the pity that they were robbed of the knowledge. I can only hope there is an afterlife and that both of my parents have reunited with their own natural parents there.

For me, a little success and the encouragement to go further from family and friends certainly helped to motivate me to stay on a determined course that did succeed.

You can read more about The Hero’s (or Heroine’s) Journey in this link.

Practice Babies

I have previously mentioned in this blog the new book – American Baby by Gabrielle Glaser. She is getting a lot of press for her new book which focuses on one particular story of a mother and son but also documents the “shadow” history of adoption or so much that has been mostly hidden from public view.

One of those aspects was how babies, before they were relinquished for adoption but not yet adopted and often actually orphans, were given or “lent” as practice babies to home economic students in colleges, passed around, Glaser says, “like footballs.”

From a blogspot post –

From the 1920’s to the 1950’s, college home economics programs across the country set up ‘practice homes’ where students set up temporary residence. The women were graded on their ability to live cooperatively, keep a tidy home, and plan meals.  

On some campuses, this domestic practice was taken a step further.  Schools would obtain temporary custody of babies from orphanages or child welfare departments and move the children into the practice home. The students would then raise the baby in shifts, each taking a turn to act as the house ’mother.’ 

After a year or two, the babies would be put up for adoption. While potential parents considered these ‘scientifically raised’ babies particularly desirable, the practice died out as educators and government authorities began to worry about the effects of having so many people involved in a child’s early life. 

Former Practice Babies Come Forward

Many people react to learning about the ‘practice baby’ story with a desire to know what became of the children later in life. Since adoption records are closed and the practice children were referred to by fake names in university records, it is difficult for researchers to find these now-adults. However, at least two former ‘practice babies’ have come forth to talk about their life experiences.

Shirley Kirkham was a practice baby at Oregon State College in Corvallis in the 1930s. In an interview given to The Euguene Register-Guard in 1999, Ms. Kirkham described feeling used by the college, as she feels that her early childhood left her with emotional scars. She is attempting to locate her birth parents.

Donald Aldinger was a practice baby at Cedar Crest College in 1947. He reconnected with four of his practice mothers in 1993. The reunion was a joyful one.

While the baby behind the controversy at Illinois State Teachers College, ‘David North,’ has never been identified, some of his former practice mothers have publicly reminisced about their time with him.

The links above include a few other tabs if you wish to explore this piece of history related to adoption further. The Adoption Network has announced that they are having a presentation with Gabrielle Glaser on Monday, February 8th in the evening which you can register for.

Adoption Can’t Give This

Dr Nelson, in his book – Healing the Split, suggests the ideal gestation, birth and infancy circumstances for healthy development in a child. This goes beyond the obvious and unavoidable trauma of separating an infant from their natural mother or any emotional distress that mother feels while pregnant and planning to surrender her baby to adoption.

Here is what he suggests – some of the best pregnancy, birth and infant care advice I have already encountered during my own last two pregnancies and baby care days, beginning in the early 2000s.

In pregnancy, this mother might be treated as special by her own loving selfobjects, so that she finds it easy to maintain a placid inner state. Her pregnancy would allow her extra time to meditate regularly and through this practice she establishes an unspoken communion with her unborn fetus with the subconscious residues of her own early life experiences resolved.

As the time of her child’s birth nears, the mother rehearses breathing and pelvic exercise to facilitate her natural delivery. As the child enters the world, he is welcomed into a softly lit room, the predominant feature of which is his mother’s warm skin and breast as she gently bathes and massages him.

The synapses that are rapidly proliferating within his still unfinished brain form a physical supporting grid for a psychic self that is primed to accept soothing, is ready to trust and can intuit a sense of belongingness.

As the newborn’s psyche begins to construct holographic patterns of the consensual world, his empathic parents instinctively anticipate his needs, neither overstimulating him nor leaving him wanting. Wordless harmonies resonate between him and his caretakers and condition his own fundamental vibrational patterns. These harmonies are periodically broken by inevitable frustrations and deprivations but timely reunions with empathic parents quickly restore synchronous patterns within his psychic field.

As the child grows into a toddler, empathic mirroring enlivens his tentative explorations of a world apart from mother, followed by just a little extra soothing that directs his psychic energies along navigable neural pathways. This compensates for his inborn exaggerated stress reaction and enables him to incorporate his mother’s self within his own without fear of engulfment. His self-secure mother joyfully encourages his wary independence and offers a fresh measure of support during what is a particularly lengthy rapprochement period. This insures that his slowly forming self-boundaries can withstand the social challenges that this unusual child will later endure.

As the child learns to communicate, his parents take pains to be consistent in their rewards and punishments. When he is excited and hyperaroused, they set firm limits on his behavior and they teach him to cope with this and similar altered states of consciousness by monitoring his breathing and concentrating on his inner awareness, especially his feelings. They teach him to ask for a massage and also to give one back. Both calm a turbulent arousal. Kindly, they teach him to laugh at them, and at himself.

Dr Nelson believes that as many as half of all permanently disabling psychotic altered states of consciousness could be prevented or diverted into a favorable life pathway if given the right start in life.

Losing My Grandparents

My Granny, My Dad and My Granddaddy

Both of my parents were adopted.  So the grandparents I grew up with in my childhood were never actually related to me.  They were influential though.  The two people shown above often cared for me and my sisters over weekends.  I think mostly to get us into their church, the Church of Christ, as contrasted with the church our mom was raising us in, the Episcopal church.  My dad didn’t go to church at the time.  He worked shift work in a refinery, often double shifts, and so was mostly asleep when he wasn’t at work, except for meals.  Maybe he would watch a little TV or read a news magazine or the local paper.

My mom conceived me while she was still in high school and my dad had just started at the university out of town.  I think these two people shown above made certain my dad quit his dreams of a higher education and married my mom and went to work to support his young family.  Not that he didn’t want to marry my mom.  They were married over 50 years until death did them part and they died only 4 months apart.  My dad’s adoptive parents insisted I have a biblical name to save my damaged soul because of my illegitimate conception.

All of my grandparents had already died – and in fact my parents had already died as well – when I went in search of my original grandparents.  Though I doubted I would ever know who my dad’s father was because his mother was unwed and he was given her maiden name at birth.  I do now know who ALL 4 of my original grandparents were, their names and their ancestry.  I didn’t expect, that in learning who my original grandparents were, I would in effect “lose” my grandparents (those people who adopted my own parents as infants).

But I did.

Though I know I have a “history” with these people who adopted and raised my parents, they no longer feel like my grandparents.  And my true biological and genetic grandparents have taken their place in my heart and imagination, even though I have scant knowledge (but some) of these people whose genes are in me and helped create who I am at the level of physicality.  I have connected with some cousins who share the same original grandparents and what I know of my original grandparents is thanks to anything they have shared with me about these people.

I don’t love the people who raised my parents any the less but they are so far back in my own past now.  Though I had occasional interactions with them up until their deaths, as living people they are receding for me.  They are fading . . .

My original grandparents didn’t lose my parents due to anything worse than poverty and a lack of family support.  That doesn’t say much for my parents own original grandparents, who did not seem to care about my parents very much.  I’ve only heard that my mom mattered to her dad, which was a happy surprise for me and quickly warmed my heart towards that man.  My dad’s father probably never even knew he existed.  His mom was self-reliant and he was a married man, so she just handled it alone.

It is strange.  I was robbed of my original grandparents by the Great Depression, Georgia Tann and the Salvation Army.  Both of my grandmothers eventually re-married.  If they could have been sustained somehow, I know they would have raised their children because every indication is that they loved their babies and mourned their loss until they died.

Nothing makes up for these losses really but at least, I do know where I came from – which is more than my parents knew.  They died completely ignorant of who their own original parents were.  And that is very sad.

Closing The Gap

When an adoption has already occurred and given the importance of identity issues, what is an adoptive mother to do when the original mother doesn’t respond very much to efforts to reach out and keep that mother connected with her natural children ?

This was a question in a group I belong to this morning.

Some good advice that came from another adoptive mother was this –

Educate yourself on issues of generational poverty vs privilege and learn to identify what pushback actually indicates.

Get out of your bubble and be willing to have genuine relationships with people who are not like you.  (All of us in this polarized society could actually benefit from that advice.)

Humble yourself.

I remember an issue that came up.  My youngest sister gave up her son for adoption.  She gave me a lock-box full of mementos that illustrated her experiences and thinking at that time to deliver to her son someday as I was the contact in a registry somewhere.

It did come to pass.  As he read some letters out loud to his adoptive mom on their way home from our first meeting in person, she was startled to hear that she had some attitudes towards my sister.  She admitted later that she probably was projecting feelings of superiority.

Not to dismiss that the woman has done a fine job of nurturing my nephew.  She was very supportive of him when he was seeking to know who his true father was (turns out my sister lied about that one but indications from certain post-birth contacts indicate that she actually did know the truth).

Definitely, class differences can be intimidating.  In fact, this was mirrored to me growing up by my two sets of adoptive grandparents (yes, both of my parents were adoptees).  One set was well-off, socially prominent.  The other set lived in capable poverty.  I say it that way because they seemed to manage the situation without complaining.

When this class difference exists between the adoptive parents and the original parents (which is quite common or else the original parents would raise their own child 99% of the time) subtle messages are transmitted such as –

We are better than you and we know it.

Which can leave the original parents feeling they have to walk on egg shells.  They know the adoptive parents have all the power and money to do what they want including withhold information and contact if they so choose.

Mothers Suffer

I have said this before but it bears saying this again.  Giving up one’s child to adoption is not a walk away and all is well process.  Most natural mothers who’s child has been removed from them – whether by choice or coercion – will spend the remainder of their lives regretting the loss.

We are so deeply attached at a genetic and spiritual level to those persons who gave us the gift of life, that there is no true sundering of that bond.  To pretend otherwise, diminishes the pain and suffering that both natural parents and adoptees will carry with them their entire lives.  The relationships that should have been but never will be cannot be recovered down the road.  One can only begin where they find themselves if a reunion occurs and develop whatever relationships they can going forward.

For an adoptee, it can be said that the woman who raises them is their mom.  The woman who created them, is the one who made their life possible.  It is possible and indeed the reality for many people, that there are two true mothers in their life.

Even so, it is not true – that in giving up her child, it was like she took out the trash and never gave it a second thought. As though that were even possible for any mom to feel that way.  I do not believe it.  Many women who surrendered a child were very young when they did that.  They felt they had no choice in the matter.

Today, there are adoptee groups reaching out to unwed pregnant mothers to encourage them to go slow, before giving up their child, and seek a way to work through the circumstances without causing a separation.  I’m on their side in this perspective.

Hiraeth

I have started reading The Lies That Bind: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Rejection, Redirection, DNA, and Discovery by Laureen Pittman.  I may have more to say about her book when I finish reading it.

Yesterday, I came across this concept of Hiraeth. It is a Welsh word meaning a homesickness for a home or place to which you cannot return, somewhere that perhaps never was; nostalgia, yearning or grief for the lost places of one’s past.

Hiraeth is an unattainable longing for a place, a time, a person or people; a history that no longer exists or may never have actually existed at all. To feel hiraeth is to feel a deep incompleteness and yet recognize it as familiar.

There was something left undone within me when I embarked on discovering my family’s true origins.  There was a deep desire for the real.  My original grandmothers both nursed and cared for my parents for several months of their lives, approximately 6 to 8 mos of those lives.  This is far different in my own mind than the mother who gives up her baby at birth.  These women were beginning to know the person that these babies were becoming.  I cannot imagine the pain that followed them throughout their lives.

This morning “family of choice” has a different meaning for me.  My adoptive grandmothers chose my parents to raise as their own.  I cannot say that my original grandmothers truly had a choice.  They were pressured into relinquishing their child.

As I have been uncovering their stories, there is a deep longing in me to know them and I never really can.  I’ve been able to find some cousins and an aunt who can share with me some things about the persons I long for, including the grandfathers I’ll never know as well.  It helps but cannot fill the hole left in my soul when my parents were taken from their parents by strangers to raise.

Adoption Reunions

Maybe it’s a woman thing.  Today, I am happily experiencing a long distance (via telephone) “reunion” with my adoptee mom’s cousin.  I had previously spoken with her brother and it was all about family origins and lineage but I already had researched and discovered most of it myself.

So, today, it is some insight into the more emotional questions that have haunted me since receiving my mom’s adoption file from the state of Tennessee.  She was a Georgia Tann – Tennessee Children’s Home Society baby.

Much this cousin has shared with me was as my heart suspected already.  But it was nice to receive a confirmation and not just my wild imagination making up stories.  There have been too many stories in my immediate family already in attempts to fill in gaps that couldn’t be filled during my parent’s lifetimes.

With this cousin, I feel more complete now.  This part of my family line was less developed.

My parents were both adoptees.  They died without any reunion.  It has been left to me to find my own closure with the circumstances.  Obviously, I would not even exist had their adoptions never happened.  Therefore, I am grateful for my own blessing, including that I wasn’t given up for adoption as well.  I also acknowledge the sadness and tragedies that came before I was born.

I’ll Cry If I Want To

It is quite common for an adoptee to be sad on their birthday, even when they can’t understand why.  It has been noted by therapists that adoptees often sabotage their own birthday parties, even when they were looking forward to them.

Each of my parents were with their original mothers for months before they were taken away and given to other people to raise through adoption.

Consider what a birthday means to an adoptee.

An adoptee often cannot help but think of the woman who gave birth to them on their birthday.  Many hope that the mother is also thinking of them on that date.

A child who was adopted may have a hard time understanding why they are so inconsolably sad at a time when they should be happy.  Tears, emptiness, fear and despair might seem a bit over the top to observers.  Maybe they could consider the symbolic meaning of that day to an adoptee.

A pre-verbal child will experience bewilderment at the sudden absence of their original mother.  They have become attuned to the sound of her voice, the smell of her body and the way she touches them (unless removed from her at birth, when only the sound of being in her womb is left in their deepest memories).

A child adopted as an infant may lack conscious memories of their loss and so can’t make sense of it.  A reunion with the original mother can make the birthday triggered emotional wound worse.

If the original mother was unwed, there were no excited visitors or phone calls of congratulations. No one was there taking sweet or silly photos of those first days.  All of these an adoptee has lost from their earliest days.

If healing is able to occur, then the hurt and anger that take over an adoptee’s emotions around the time of their birthday may lessen.  If not, then it will only be the passing of time that changes the focus and makes possible the ability to move forward again.