No Point To What If’s

I heard a snippet of a story about two women, who as babies, were switched at birth. Martha Miller was asked – Does the thought ever cross your mind, what if the switch hadn’t been made? What if the McDonalds had just taken me home and I’d grown up in the house with my biological parents and my biological brother, who would I be?

She answered, Oh, that’s a funny question. I really only thought about that one time. I only let myself think about it one time. It was actually right after I met them. And I was going back to my mother’s house. So I left Prairie du Chien and I was driving. And it was then that I started thinking, oh, my gosh, my life would have been so different. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized, you know, I can’t think about this, because it’ll drive me crazy if I do. And so I kind of made a promise to myself that I would just never go down that road again, that I was just not going to go there. And I really haven’t, because there’s no point.

The little bit of the story “Switched at Birth” replayed for This American Life that I heard had me reflecting on it as the child of two adoptees. They were switched but they were taken from their original mothers, who’s wombs they developed in, and given to literally “strangers” to be raised as those people’s own children. Since learning about who my original grandparents were and something about their stories, I also realize that the what if’s – what if life had unfolded differently ? – are honestly pointless because it did not.

If the trauma of breaking the mother/child bond formed in utero is real, and I do believe it is real, then whether the parents know (in adoption, the adoptive parents know they did not give birth to that child) or don’t know (because the mother did give birth but brought the wrong baby home from the hospital with her) would not change the experience of trauma in the infant.

Regarding nurture, the child may have been treated differently from an adoptee growing up because that knowledge isn’t there in the parents raising the child. Does that make a difference ? I think it might.

Back in 1994, back in the day when people still delivered big news to each other by mail, two women who barely knew each other, Martha Miller and Susan McDonald, got a letter from Martha’s mom. “Dear Martha and Sue, have you ever suspected or been told that we took home the baby that belonged to Kay and Bob McDonald and they later took home the baby that belonged to us?” It was 43 years after “the fact.”

Mrs Miller actually knew this, the day she got home from the hospital in 1951 – that she had the wrong baby, a baby born to a woman named Kay McDonald. But she kept it quiet all those years. She had noticed that when she weighed the baby, the weight was two and 1/2 pounds less than at birth. But then, she hemorrhaged and went into convulsions, landing her back to the hospital for several days. At that point, she simply dropped the “mixed-up baby” issue.

One thing that makes this whole switched thing even stranger is – the two couples knew each other. The Millers were at the McDonalds’ 50th anniversary party. They have mutual acquaintances. They lived a short drive from each other’s houses in Wauzeka and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

Martha did not look nor act like any of the other Miller children. She was a delight, so pretty, so photogenic, so full of life. The other Miller children were very serious. Martha excelled in music, was a great cheerleader at school, very popular, and a blonde. The other Miller children had dark hair and all needed glasses for nearsightedness. Martha did not need glasses.

All the kinds of differences adoptees growing up with other children who are biological to the adoptive parents are very familiar with – the feeling of not really belonging in the family you are growing up in. In fact, Martha’s mother actually told her later, “I really didn’t expect that much from you, because I knew that you weren’t our child.” For Martha, that was a hard thing to hear.

The older girls, who Martha was raised with as sisters, had “sort of” always known about the possibility that “Marti” wasn’t their biological sister. They had vague memories of their parents talking about it, after they brought Martha home from the hospital, about how this baby looked different from Mrs Miller’s other babies, and that maybe this baby had been switched.

Mrs Miller ended her revelatory letter with this – So now we are both aware of what happened 43 years ago. We love you, Martha Jane– I’m sorry. We love you, Martha Jane, as dearly as our other six children. I think you know that you will always be our daughter. But I thought each of you should know your biological and spiritual backgrounds. And know you have mixed feelings about this revelation. I have much anguish and many tears.

Learning truth like this, as a grown up with children of your own, it is disruptive. That is the kind of news nobody ever wants to hear. And when you get this kind of news as an adult, that your mom isn’t really your mom or your daughter isn’t really your daughter, and at the same time, you have a new mom or a new daughter, it is not so clear what you’re supposed to do with this new parent or new child who’s now in your life. What are you supposed to be with each other?

Sue McDonald was different from the rest of the family in certain ways. She was dark and tall and skinny in a family that was none of those. In a pretty lighthearted household, she was nervous, studious, serious. But that didn’t seem so strange. Even so, when Sue was in junior high, a friend said to her, “you must be adopted, because you do not look at all like your parents.” Sue answered, “I don’t know.” So she asked her mother, “Am I adopted?” And her mother said, “Oh, no, no. I definitely was pregnant and you are my child. I wanted a baby and you’re my baby. You were not adopted.” As to the physical differences, her mom just said – you just take after great-grandpa this or aunt so-and-so.

Now that they know, one of the toughest things both Marti and Sue have to deal with is logistical. Having two sets of parents and two full sets of siblings and cousins is kind of a practical headache. For myself as well. Now that I know my “real” cousins, I still have the adoptive ones and aunts and an uncle from my parents’ adoptions that have been there throughout my life to show concern about.

There is a LOT more to this story, so if you find it interesting, do read the transcript – Switched at Birth.

Booth Girls

This looks interesting to me (I have not read this recently published book). My paternal grandmother gave birth as an unwed mother in a San Diego home in 1935. It was called the Door of Hope. After her release with my father some months after his birth, she tried to seek refuge with her cousin who lived nearby. I am guessing it didn’t go well. My grandmother returned to the Salvation Army home seeking employment and was accepted. She traveled by train to El Paso TX with my dad in tow to another home for unwed mothers where she became a helper. When I discovered a cousin, thanks to 23 and Me, with the same grandmother, she expressed surprise the Salvation Army “owned” my dad at the time of his adoption. The family story was a nice couple took my dad because my grandmother could not financially support him. I will always believe that the Salvation Army coerced my grandmother into relinquishing him. Thanks to breadcrumbs she left for us in her photo albums retained by her daughter, the next youngest child after my dad, I was able to identify who my paternal grandfather was.

About the book shown above –

In 1961, my mother delivered her first daughter, my half-sister, at the Salvation Army Booth Memorial Hospital in St. Paul. Booth was a home for “unwed mothers” and so, like most of the other young women in residence, my mother surrendered her baby for adoption. She kept the whole experience a secret until 1994, when my sister found my mother. After my mother died in 2009, I set out to learn more about her experiences as Booth girl in hopes of understanding my own as an adoptive mother. Based on oral history interviews, archival research, family history, and memoir, Booth Girls is a story about mothering through the losses and gains of adoption.

~ Kim Heikkila, author

There is an informative video posted, “Mother’s Day” watchable at Vimeo, available at Heikkila’s website (because of it’s privacy settings I cannot embed it her but I do recommend watching it !!).

Colorblindness and Transracial Adoption

A Facebook video led me to Melissa Guida-Richards who is an author, adoptee and mom. I think I had encountered her before in one of the many articles she has written. Then I found one in People that starts off with her story. Though I understand enough about how problematic transracial adoptions are, I also accept that they have happened and will continue to happen in our current society.

On November 18 2021, hers was the lead story in a People magazine article on – Why ‘Colorblindness’ Doesn’t Work for Transracial Adoptions — and How to Get It Right. Melissa is what is referred to as a late-discovery adoptee. Someone who didn’t know they were adopted until well into maturity.

Melissa Guida-Richards grew up in an extended family that cherished their culture and heritage as Italian and Portuguese immigrants. So as a child, she was confused when outsiders would ask her if she was Latina or “something else.” In first grade a girl told her “you’re Black. You can’t play with me.” “I’d tell them I was Italian,” Guida-Richards, 28, says. “But I would be confused. I’d come home and ask my parents and they’re like ‘You’re Italian. You’re one of us. Just ignore people.” 

She believed her parents, who also had dark hair and eyes, that her dark skin came from some past Italian origins. Then, at 19, she found documents proving not only was she adopted, but so was her brother. They were both born in Colombia – and not biological siblings. 

For years, parents who adopted children of other races might have thought the “right” thing to do was to pretend like they “didn’t see color,” and not acknowledge their children’s differences. But disregarding their children’s race could have far-reaching impact, and is the subject of her recently released book “What White Parents Should Know About Transracial Adoption.”   Guida-Richards and others, like author and international speaker on transracial adoption Rhonda Roorda, assert a colorblind attitude does not serve transracial adoptees in a world where color often defines you. 

“Many adopted children of color struggle with their identities and white parents who cling to this narrative [of “colorblindness”] are doing their children a disservice,” Guida-Richards says. “What is important for adoptive parents to realize is that their privilege will not protect their children of color as they face discrimination and racism. They need to prepare their children for a world that does see color.” 

About one-third of all adoptions between 2017 and 2019 were transracial, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  White megastars from Madonna to Angelina Jolie have adopted children of color, their photos gracing the covers of magazines. And the hit NBC series “This is Us” has put the adoption of a Black child into a white family – and his subsequent struggles impacting him into adulthood — front and center in an honest portrayal of the very real issues facing people of color in America compared to their white counterparts. 

“I think that because love was married to a colorblind policy saying we don’t see color. It has devastated many adoptees … we want to be seen,” Rhonda Roorda says. “I remember wanting to be white and dying to fit in, dying to please my parents, dying to understand the rules and the policies and the culture. It didn’t work. … We’re not seeing all of our children, we are not seeing the richness that they bring to the table.”

Guida-Richards was raised in a solidly white middle class New York suburb with limited diversity. Her father, who came to the United States from Italy at 13, told her the first Black person he ever saw was a student at his high school. “At first, they refused to even acknowledge I was Colombian, that I was a woman of color. They didn’t see me as the daughter they adopted from Colombia. They saw me as their daughter,” Guida-Richards says. “I understood that, but it left a big piece of my identity out.” Her family often emphasized that family and heritage matters, but they discouraged her from looking further into her own cultural background.

“I sat down with them and said, we need to talk about race. We need to talk about how I’m treated and how this has affected me,” Guida-Richards says. “It’s been 9 years and thankfully we are in a very good place.” While her late father came around fairly quickly, it took longer for her mom. Guida-Richards married a man whose mother was Colombian. When she became pregnant in 2016 with the first of their two children, her mom started opening up about her struggle with infertility and the decision to adopt. And she told her daughter that she was afraid that people, and even members of their family, would treat her differently if they knew she was Latina. 

“We did have prejudices that I experienced growing up in a white family who made fun of Latinos,” Guida-Richards says. “So when I found out I was Latina, I was like, how could you love me and say those things? They just wanted me to ignore that I was a woman of color and unfortunately, it’s not as easy they make it out to be.” Guida-Richards was honest with her mom about how she felt like “this big ugly secret” that her mom could only love as long as she fit into the mold. And she reminded her mother that she would soon be the grandmother to Latinos. “It took a lot of hard conversations until she understood,” Guida-Richards says. 

To help her understand her own feeling about being denied her heritage, Guida-Richards started reaching out to other adoptees, finding Facebook groups just for transracial adoption and adoptees from Colombia. “I realized that I wasn’t alone,” Guida-Richards says. “Race wasn’t addressed [growing up], so we struggled with our identity. We struggled with how to deal with racism because we weren’t prepared.” Guida-Richards eventually connected with her birth mother and her Colombian culture through both her birth mom’s family and her in-laws. “I knew a lot of Italian, I knew how to act Italian, but I had no idea what it is like to walk in the shoes of a Latina,” she says. “I just started to integrate a little bit at a time. Since my father was a chef who owned restaurants, food played a large part in my upbringing so I started with that.” 

As she started integrating the Colombian with the Italian traditions, she discovered that both her cultures tended to have a lot in common. “I’ve gotten to a place where I’m happy to be part of my adoptive family, but I’m also very happy that I have my birth family back in my life,” she says.

Folksong by Cory Goodrich

corygoodrich.com

This is not my personal story but I do know at least one friend for whom it IS their story as well and so, I have become more interested in NPEs.

Cory Goodrich is a NPE or the recipient of a non-paternity event. This is when someone who is presumed to be an individual’s father is NOT in fact the biological father. This presumption may be on the part of the individual, the parents, or the attending midwife, physician or nurse.

“I’ve always questioned so many things about my family and my life throughout the years, and also about my own mother, who always seemed to be holding back,” Goodrich said.

“I finally decided to ask myself the questions: If a family tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to see it, do I even exist?” I do love this tree related quote !!

A promotional description paragraph sums up the book, Folksong by Cory Goodrich.

“It’s a story about the father who took her in, the father who took her away, the father who gave her away, and her 89-year-old mother, whose broken heart finally gave out while still protecting the secret to Goodrich’s identity. Sifting through the remnants of a life captured in letters and old Polaroids, Goodrich discovers a secret that sets her on a journey with life-altering consequences. In the era of Ancestry.com, DNA testing, and social media, Goodrich was able to gather together just enough pieces of a puzzle locked away for over 50 years to clearly make out the unfathomable image it depicted. Goodrich reminds that while things aren’t always what they seem, stunning fortitude and unexpected legacy can rise from the disorganized ashes of a toppled identity.”

Goodrich says, “I describe ‘Folksong’ as a memoir of love and longing, an ode to self-discovery, an emotional ballad of grief and forgiveness, and a heart-stirring look at the lengths to which a family will go to protect themselves and each other.”

Sometimes, a few breadcrumbs are all you need, as I discovered during my own family roots journey. Since my dad’s mom was unwed and she didn’t name his father on his birth certificate, I thought I’d never be able to know who my paternal grandfather was. I will admit that getting my DNA tested at Ancestry and some intriguing “hints” of some people I seemed to related to – actually were – right on target. When I finally had a last name for my paternal grandfather, the man I once contacted through Ancestry, who finally months later, wrote me – I wish I could help but none of the names you have given me seem related to me. Then, I gave him the new name – mystery solved – my grandfather was his grandmother’s brother.

Disclaimer – I have not read this book. Still I would recommend it to anyone feels they may also be a NPE.

The deception with tact, just what are you trying to say?

You’ve got a blank face, which irritates

You see dimensions in two

State your case with black or white

But when one little cross leads to

You run for cover so discreet, why don’t they

Do what they say, say what you mean

You told me something wrong, I know I listen too long but then

One thing leads to another

~ partial lyrics from The Fixx song One Thing Leads to Another

Curiosity

From an adoptee – My son recently asked to talk to my birth mother and I’m not sure how I feel about this. I don’t plan on ever having them meet, but we’ve been talking a lot about how I didn’t grow in Grammys belly and that I grew in somebody else’s belly, and I think he’s curious. I’m not sure why he wants to talk to her. I think part of me doesn’t want to hurt my adoptive parent’s feelings, and part of it is that I don’t want him to be made to feel the way I feel or felt (abandonment issues).

NPR has an article about whether curiosity is a positive or negative feeling. Curiosity is a complex emotion. Is it a painful reminder of what we don’t (yet) know ? The object of curiosity’s desire is information. Surprisingly, one of the factors that affects the balance of negative and positive is time. Curiosity arises when a person notices a gap in her knowledge. The gap induces a feeling of deficiency, which in turn motivates her to fill the gap. Curiosity comes in two flavors: deprivation — a strong but unsatisfied need to know — and interest — information-seeking that’s motivated by anticipated pleasure. When our curiosity will not be satisfied anytime soon, we focus on not knowing, on the information gap itself, and this is largely negative.

One commenter to the original post told this story of her experience. My children, 6 and 8, met my birth father’s family this summer. Long story, but they didn’t know about me and we connected via Ancestry after my birth father passed away. I met him many years ago, but he didn’t want a relationship and kept me a secret from his family. I had to explain a lot of very complicated things to my children in an age-appropriate way when we all met, but I felt strongly that they needed to know their family and learn about their grandpa they never got to meet. It was heartbreaking at times, honestly – “we had a grandpa that we never got to meet? Why didn’t he want to meet us?”

Learning about my parents origins (both were adopted) was like this for me. My grandparents were all deceased, so I will never get to know them. In my case, I was heartened however to learn that for 3 out of 4 of my grandparents, they were aware of my parents existence. Of course, their mother were but they also told their own families as did one grandfather. My parents were not secrets in these lives. However, one of my grandfathers never knew about my dad’s existence. I’ve been a bit of a surprise to his Danish and immigrant extended families as they didn’t know he ever had any children. From what I know, my dad was so much like him, they would have been marvelous fishing buddies – the pity of it all. For me, it has been interesting to know that my biological grandparents were people with lives that were taking place, while our lives were completely unknown to them or for that matter, their lives were never known to us either.

I appreciated this suggestion regarding how this woman might talk to her son about the mother’s biological mother – “I grew in her belly and not Grammy’s belly. That is a little confusing, not just for you but also for me, too. You’ve said you want to talk to her, but that feels confusing to me because I love Grammy very much and love you very much. Can you explain why you would like to talk to her? What would you like to say? Would you like to ask her questions? Could we write a letter to her with everything you want to say, and we can save it for later?” Including an interesting theory – if he’s as young as I’m imagining, his questions are likely a reflection of worries or concerns or interest for himself, not you. So he might be wondering why HE didn’t get to grow in someone else’s belly, like you did, and why he doesn’t have a biological mom. He might feel left out because you’re mom, so you’re normal for him, and not being adopted is abnormal in his little world.

I also totally get the truth of this comment (as the child of adoptee parents) – No one should pretend the adoption only affects the adoptee and not her/his children.

There is a complication – the original poster has a minimal relationship with her biological mother on Facebook. She does have major abandonment issues and her biological mother saying once – that she couldn’t wait to have grandchildren but then she said, “not your kids, your sisters.” She goes on to say, I’m certain she was just trying to protect her heart and possibly prevent losing me because of my adoptive parents. Such situations are so very complex and it isn’t always clear what the motivation for some casual remark was.

Her son said that he just wants to tell her that he likes peanut butter and jelly. One practical and realistic suggestion was – send her a one-sentence text or FB messenger message saying, “[Son who is 6 yrs old] asked about you and wanted to tell you that he likes peanut butter and jelly.” Maybe don’t tell him you’re doing this. See if/how she responds. See how you feel about her response or lack of response. And then decide what to do from there.

One woman shared her own complicated adoption situation and then suggested – I think you should be honest with your son (in an age-appropriate way) about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, in part so he knows he’s not wrong for having natural curiosity about or wanting a relationship with his biological grandparents.

Another story from experience – My daughter (12 years old at the time) decided to do a DNA test to find the “rest of her heritage.” I already knew of my biological mom and didn’t like her, but I allowed it. I thought she’d get some pie chart about her cultural background. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine she’d find my biological dad. I’m glad she did because it filled in a lot of gaps. But at the same time, I now have a lot more issues due to secondary rejection. Even so, I don’t regret it. It’s her history just as much as mine. It just sucks how badly it affects me. I’ll be fine though as I’m learning how to cope through therapy.

Drying Up Breastmilk

Caitlin McCarthy’s DES film WONDER DRUG

An article in The Sunday Post about Forced Adoption describes DES as a synthetic hormone developed to mimic estrogen which was given to young mothers to dry up their breast milk after their babies were taken for adoption. Diethylstilbestrol, known as DES, has been linked to a number of breast and vaginal cancers, gynecological abnormalities and infertility in the children and grandchildren of women given the pills.

Forced adoption ­campaigners are calling for a public awareness campaign to alert the women involved, as well as their children and grandchildren. In Scotland, there were 60,000 forced adoption victims with most of those women losing their baby simply because they were not married. Unmarried mothers who were forced to give up their babies were given a controversial drug now linked to cancers and life-changing conditions which can be passed on to future generations.

The film-maker Caitlin McCarthy has made a movie screenplay titled Wonder Drug that exposes the dangers and cover-ups. She said: “I’m affected by DES because it had been given to my mother during a pregnancy. My doctor recognized the abnormalities in my cervix was as a result.“ The effects of DES are as ­horrific as Thalidomide, but there’s been silence so very few victims will even realize they were exposed.

“The high rate of breast cancer in women today shows it’s not paranoia for us to wonder that we, and future generations, could die from a drug we were exposed to. The high instance, effects and use of this drug has yet to be fully explained and exposed. We need to know what to look for in the way of symptoms. This should happen before any apology.” However, politicians from every party have supported calls for a forced adoption apology in Scotland.

There is an interview with screenwriter Caitlin McCarthy at the website – D.E.S. is it.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a “test” to determine DES exposure.

Caitlin shares what she does – “I’m aware of my reproductive tract structural differences. I also have to stay on top of my DES-related precancerous cell activity with annual GYN visits. Additionally, I undergo annual mammograms, as DES Daughters are at an increased risk of breast cancer.”

To learn more about Caitlin and another woman’s own DES discoveries, you can watch this youtube.

So Many Questions

Today’s blog is thanks to Elle Cuardaigh – If Adoption Is Beautiful.

*Adoption, meaning the current concept of it in the Western world. The complete legal severing of the natural relationship between child and parent(s), replacing the original family and (sometimes) culture with another, including changing the child’s identity and sealing the original records, keeping information from everyone involved.

If adoption is beautiful…

  • Why do people lie about it?
  • Why isn’t it the first choice for couples who want children?
  • Why has it been this way for less than one hundred years?
  • Why doesn’t everyone give up a baby to someone who can’t have one?
  • Why does rehoming not only happen but is completely legal?
  • Why does Biblical scripture have to be twisted in order to justify it?
  • Why does the Quran condemn it?
  • Why isn’t it done this way all over the world?
  • Why are people in other countries horrified when they learn what adoption means here?
  • Why have several “sending” countries banned international adoption?
  • Why are adoption agencies being sued or forcibly shut down?
  • Why do adoptees turn to DNA testing to avoid dating a sibling?
  • Why is family medical history still the first question asked at doctor appointments?
  • Why are records kept from the very people they pertain to?
  • Why is a court order needed to see the records?
  • Why are adoptees terrified to ask their adopted parents questions about it?
  • Why do adopted parents swear their families to secrecy?
  • Why did the Catholic church get rich off its corruption?
  • Why is coercion routinely employed to get “birth mothers” to relinquish?
  • Why are there consistently over 100,000 eligible children waiting years for “their forever families”?
  • Why do white children cost more than black children?
  • Why is it okay to think of children as commodities as in the above question?
  • Why do the American Adoption Congress, Adoptee’s Liberty Movement Association, Bastard Nation, Concerned United Birthparents, and numerous other organizations like them exist?
  • Why do so many adoptees search?
  • Why did the Australian government officially apologize for its role in it?
  • Why are adoptees who are murdered by their adopted parents still considered “lucky”?
  • Why were adoptees used for medical and psychological experiments?
  • Why are adoptees the punchline of jokes?
  • Why is it recognized as a childhood trauma?
  • Why are adoptees considered “as if born to” their adoptive family, yet are subject to conditional terms for incest?
  • Why in cases where the baby goes back to the natural mother is it called “failure”?
  • Why are teen adoptees overrepresented in mental health services?
  • Why do so many rely on it as an industry for their paycheck?
  • Why is it patterned after the system Georgia Tann – a known kidnapper, trafficker, child killer, and pedophile – developed?
  • Why is it used as a tool of war and cultural genocide?
  • Why can’t all adoptees get a passport? Why are others deported?
  • Why are adoptees four times more likely than the non-adopted to attempt suicide?
  • Why can’t we have this conversation?

And again, Why is it that we can’t have this conversation?

Elle Cuardaigh is author of The Tangled Red Thread.

Joni Mitchell’s Daughter

Joni Mitchell reunion in 1997
with Kilauren Gibb

Adoptee reunions with their birth parents happen almost daily it seems to me in the adoption related groups that I am a member of. My adoptee mom wanted such a reunion but sadly hers never happened (when she tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee, while denying her that information which would have brought her so much peace, they told her that her mother had died several years earlier).

This morning I’ve been tracking down the story of the daughter that Joni Mitchell gave up for adoption because she wrote song lyrics about that experience in Little Green a song on her album Blue which is 50 years old today.

~ lyrics

Born with the moon in cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who’ve made her

Little green, be a gypsy dancer
He went to California
Hearing that everything’s warmer there
So you write him a letter and say, “her eyes are blue.”
He sends you a poem and she’s lost to you
Little green, he’s a non-conformer

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green

Like the nights when the northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed

Little green, have a happy ending
Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow

Just a little green
Like the nights when the northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Both mother and daughter were searching for each other when a series of coincidences finally brought the two of them together. It would be a very typical adoptee search and reunion with her birth mother if her mother had not been so famous. Most adoptees do not have to deal with that kind of media frenzy. It would be a typical adoptee reunion with her birth mother leads to a reunion with her birth father but for all of the fame involved. And it would be a typical adoptive parent anxiety about losing the child they raised if not for all the media frenzy that followed. On Joni Mitchell’s own website you can read the details in Joni’s Secret: Mother And Child Reunion and fully appreciate the complications.

My all things adoption group seeks to encourage young, unwed mothers like Joni Mitchell was to keep and raise their children. This is because, like Joni, adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Joni’s problems were poverty and the baby’s father being unready to parent and so abandoning them. Within 3 years, Mitchell had a recording contract, a house and a car, and could have raised her child but it was too late by then. The adoption was closed and so when the daughter began her search, she was only given non-identifying information, which is typical as well.

Things actually went surprisingly well considering it was way back in 1997 when the reunion occurred. Like my good luck in uncovering my own original grandparents, something of their stories and connecting with biological/genetic cousins and an aunt, it was as though one door opens and the pieces begin falling into place. And as like attracts like and as intentions seek to fully fulfill the desire that gave birth to them, sometimes in the adoption world we get lucky.

It is somewhat interesting and all too typical that the adopted person also has their own struggles that somewhat mirror their birth parent. Kilauren claims that she did not find out she was adopted until she was 27. “She knew when she was a teenager,” her adoptive mother, Ida Gibb says. “Her friends told her. But maybe the full significance didn’t sink in.” Kilauren’s adoptive father, David Gibb says, “The mistake we made was in trying to say she’s not adopted, that she’s one of us and let’s forget the whole thing and put it away somewhere, because we wanted her to be part of the family.” Then he adds: “People are born. They are a life. They belong to nobody.”

Kilauren’s biological parents, Joni Mitchell and Brad MacMath, were both art students in Calgary when she was conceived. They moved to Toronto during the pregnancy and discussed settling down but as he says, “We were not communicating.” and he moved from Canada to California. Mitchell says her main concern at the time was to conceal her pregnancy from her parents. And what would her parents have done ? Mitchell’s mother, Myrtle Anderson says, “If we had known she was expecting a baby, we would have helped. I’m sure we would have encouraged her to keep the baby, but we didn’t know anything about it until several years later when she and Chuck (Mitchell) separated and she was home and told us about it.”

Like many birth mothers, Joni Mitchell regretted losing her child for 30 years before the reunion finally occurred. Like many birth mothers, she might see a couple with a daughter about the age hers would have been at that time. Toronto music manager Bernie Fiedler who was a friend of Mitchell’s remembers being with her at the Mariposa Folk Festival about four years after Kilauren’s birth. “There was a couple with a little girl wanting to speak to Joni. We went over and talked to the girl, who must have been 4 or 5, and afterwards Joni turned to me and said: ‘That could be my daughter.’ I will never forget that. She was obviously suffering tremendously.” Kilauren (at the age of 32) ended up separated from the father of the son she is raising. Broken relationships seem more common with adoptees, and often with their biological parents as well, than within the overall population in general.

The thing about adoption is that it changes trajectories. Joni Mitchell may not have become as famous as she did had she kept and raised her daughter. Her daughter’s life would have been different had she not been raised in the well to do home that she was. Both mother and daughter suffered and that is always the case (whether acknowledged or unconscious) when that separation takes place. It is always the case as well, that no matter how loving the adoptive parents are or how good of a childhood that adopted child has, a yearning to be made whole again is universal. Not all reunions go well and this one has been bumpy like many of these are.

Typically, the adoptive parents feared this as well. Losing Kilauren to her birth mother “was our greatest fear,” her adoptive mother Ida Gibb said. “It was a nightmare that this would happen to us when she was little and when she was a teenager. Now, it is easier to take. But it’s still hard.”

Open Adoption

Some time ago I read this book by Vanessa McGrady about her experience with an open adoption. Today, the topic of Open Adoptions came back up in my all things adoption group and I thought I would re-visit the topic.

Today’s questions are – What does your open adoption look like? and How is the child connected to their first family?

I will share selective comments because there were 70 and I’m not doing ALL of those. LOL

This one is an adoptive parent of two little girls (biological sisters). We are very fortunate to be able to have a very open adoption with mutual respect. I feel it is similar to co-parenting with the exception they do not stay at her house. (Her personal choice that I support due to varying circumstances in her life.) We speak almost daily. We spend every birthday/holiday together. Mom comes to school programs, recitals and sports games. My husband and I make the normal day to day decisions, but discuss with her major decisions. We value her input on beliefs, values and overall wellbeing of the girls.

Another situation – I talk regularly with mom, though not daily now, as we once did, because she is now working and life happens. Kiddo is able to email mom and text sister as often as she wants (she has her own devices and I do monitor her messages to all but sister and mom). They don’t talk as often as *i’d* like them to, all chat, but I can’t force any of the three to have a relationship. All I can do is say “hey have you emailed mom recently?” We exchange gifts at holidays and when we can afford it, we fly mom and sister out to visit and they stay with us. Unfortunately, dad doesn’t want contact and has kept his kiddo a secret. I’ve made efforts to reach out over the years and his position hasn’t changed. I have made it clear that he needs to get his things in order because kiddo will come knocking when she’s older (she’s 10 now).

And another – We all live in the same city, so we are able to see each other often – mom, dad, both grandmas, aunts, uncles and cousins. We do the usual family stuff like celebrate birthdays and holidays, but we also just do regular life together too – parks, stores, video calls, restaurants. Facebook access to all family members which has been a great tool for keeping our daughter connected to her family (she’s only 2, so we feel like we are responsible for keeping communication open until she’s old enough to do this herself). Her mom and I both enjoy crafting, so we’ve done several projects together. We also did family photos at Christmas! Many of these choices have been continued and enhanced because of this group (thanks!) and the podcast Adoptees On.

A slightly different kind of situation – an adoptive parent of 2 little girls (who are not biologically/genetically not related). One family does not have much contact (their choice). Our other daughter (just turned 7) can call/text/video chat/reach out whenever she wants (she has one of our old phones that is hooked up to wifi) and her parents can contact her that way whenever they want as well. They also have frequent visits and pre-covid would come to dance recitals and school programs and everything… they typically have their own birthday parties for her (their request).

In my all things adoption – one of the suggestions for reform is to turn to guardianship – not adoption. Here’s one that is guardianship. We see both paternal and maternal family members each week, we have photos around our home of their family, they can call/video call their family members anytime they like off my phone or their iPads, I speak with their family members nearly daily with updates/photos about how the girls are going and reach out for advice quite frequently, we go away on holidays together.

Open adoptions are mostly a recent development and so in many of these, the children are still quite young. Here’s another one like that (families are making it up as they go along – I believe closed adoptions are becoming a archaic thing of the past) – Grandma, aunts, cousins, and some adults siblings all call, text, and have access regularly. (More than weekly for texts and calls. Visits were monthly or more before covid. Not as much since then but we are planning for more now as situations are improving.) They attend birthday parties and holiday gatherings. We share photos and have them on my social media account. Our little is only 2. They are welcome at our home anytime and we have been to theirs several times. One of the sisters has been on vacation with us. She will be meeting us at the beach in July for vacation again. Parents are not in a position to parent or be safe at this time. I hope that changes and they can have some kind of relationship. For now they do get updates from family members and have photos of him. He knows all family members just as “Grandma” and “Auntie.” We make no distinction between the biological or the adopted. The siblings are his sisters – whether they are biological or adopted. They all love him and that is what’s most important to us.

Another example –

Fictive kinship (*) adoption but didn’t not know parents prior to fostering—I knew his sisters. Several months after Termination of Parental Rights and no contact – mom reached out. I told her I didn’t care about her personal life and business. I told her that we—specifically her son—needed her in his life. That was the game changer going forward. We have what I’d call a true open adoption to where there’s unlimited access to him, if she wants it. I don’t wait for her to ask either because I know sometimes asking isn’t easy. I’m off summers and include her in our daily/weekly activities—pool, park, splash pad, etc. We talk every week or 2. Our son talks to her too. We just made the switch from calling her momma (insert name) to just momma. We see her every holiday and birthdays too or just on a whim, if we’re both not busy. I don’t like how adopters claim open adoption and all that involves is a Christmas picture. That’s not the intention.

(*) “Fictive Kin” means an individual who is not related by birth, adoption, or marriage to a child, but who has an emotionally significant relationship with the child; “Kinship Care” is the raising of children by grandparents, or other extended family members within the fourth degree of kinship. From Alec.org – Model Legislation suggestion.

Are Mothers Ever Strangers ?

How is it a woman whom grows HER baby in HER body for 40 weeks, shares DNA, blood supply, HER body nourishes and GROWS HER baby, she then births HER baby, breastfeeds HER baby the first 4 days of life and hands HER baby off to strangers and a year later she is a supposed STRANGER TO HER BABY??? Are mothers ever really strangers?????

There was a story where a woman had a baby. Like 6 months later she passed away. But she was an organ donor. She donated her heart. They put the baby on the recipient’s chest and the baby remembered her heart beat. I think a face may be strange but baby’s do remember their mom’s heart beat

My biological mom is a complete stranger to me – even after meeting her and seeing her a handful of times over the years. It’s also extremely weird and uncomfortable seeing her and her family in public.

I was raised by my biological mother. We have no bond or attachment, I wish her health and happiness but really just like I do for everybody else.

I did not breastfeed (though I wanted to), but my first visit with my son was two weeks after I left the hospital without him. He was always better with me…didn’t cry, or fuss, etc. When he was six months old, the adoptive parent got angry with me (it was actually the adoptive mother) and withheld visits for three months. Birth father got involved and they agreed to stop withholding visits (though they did this repeatedly throughout my child’s life), and I went to see him with the birth father. He didn’t want anything to do with me. I knew in my heart that there was something else going on, so I asked birth father to wait in the living room and I took him to his bedroom, where he came alive and couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. It was the presence of birth father he objected to. Me, he remembered. Still, each time they withheld visits, or moved to a different state, I had to re-establish my relationship with him. He never forgot who I was, though. And I always sent him cards and gifts on our special holidays, no matter where they lived. They did, at least, give those to him, as far as I know. I haven’t seen him since his high school graduation in 2016, but I just finished putting together his Easter box (formerly known as a basket)…later than usual because my mother in law passed away, but full of t-shirts and childhood favorites like action figures. They didn’t have Baby Yoda when he was little.

My biological mom is definitely a stranger, she doesn’t know me, she’s not part of my life or my children’s lives. I don’t have a mom.

My biological mother is and will always be a stranger, she never had any intention of knowing me despite having the chance to rectify that during reunion. Not every “mother” wants to be a mother to all of their children. I really hate the idea that all biological parents are supposedly wonderful caring human beings, some of them are simply trash.

In my experience, no. My mom was never a stranger. I felt recognition to the depth of my being when we met face to face. I am literally made of her.

My biological mother feels like a stranger to me. She does not feel that I am a stranger to her. It’s a very uncomfortable dynamic.

The above received this reply – I expect that is what my son is probably going through now. Does it make you uncomfortable when she sends you cards, gifts or money? I have not stopped this with my son, and maybe he is too kind to tell me to stop.

Which received this clarification – I may not be the best person to ask. Everything my birth mother does makes me uncomfortable but that has more to do with the way she has behaved during my adult life than anything. She sent me 30 roses on my 30th birthday and I literally felt nauseated. It didn’t have to be that way though. I did not feel that way when we first met. I think my advice would be to make sure that you’re dealing with your own trauma and not putting it on your son. My birth mothers emotional needs from our relationship were so great that there was no room for me to have any needs or boundaries. Her need for me to heal her felt smothering. I couldn’t do that for her and it wasn’t my responsibility to try. Otherwise, I think it probably would have been nice to get cards and gifts. My birth father has been respectful of boundaries from the start and genuinely cared about my well-being and I love getting gifts from him. I think the fact that you’re even asking the question is a sign that you’re looking out for his needs and being respectful! I don’t mean to minimize the trauma or suggest that you should just be able to get over it in any way. Just that it’s worth working thru with a therapist on your own so that your relationship with your son isn’t the only place you’re looking for healing.

I think there’s definitely something to the idea that some birth mothers may feel more connected to the adoptee than vice versa. When we met I had spent most of my 22 years not really thinking about her, while she had thought of me every day, carried me for 9 months, gone thru labor, etc. From the start, it felt like there was just so much more emotion on her side than mine. I was mildly curious about my DNA but happy with my life. She felt her life was ruined and needed me to fill this huge hole in her heart. It’s a challenging dynamic.

I just want my surrendered son to be…well. We were very close until he got to be around sixteen. I have been thinking of him every minute of every day for all of his life, and I know it cannot be the same for him, so I have been doing my best with guesswork about boundaries. I suppose it is good for him that he lives so far away from me.

Not a stranger but an associate really. I’m made of her but we don’t have that bond since we were separated a week after I was born. We’ve been in reunion for 10 years but I don’t feel like I know her. Still a mystery.

My husband was abandoned by his mom at a young age and she is definitely a stranger to him. He saw her a few times growing up. He also had a very unsuccessful reunion.

Meeting my biological mom was actually what ripped me out of the adoptee fog. I was expecting to have this “knowing” of her. I wasn’t prepared for how much of a stranger she felt like. I didn’t recognize myself in her at all. It shut me down in our reunion for several years, while I went through deep identity work and trauma healing. The second meeting we had was two years ago when I flew to her and was able to meet my extended family. I started to recognize myself in them. Then we were leaving the family farm, when I noticed our shadows side by side as we walked. We have an identical walk. It finally clicked in and my body and spirit remembered her .I really feel that I had to bury my unconscious memories of her in order to survive as a child. I had to give into the fantasy that is adoption. It was so buried inside of me, but it was there waiting for me to do the healing work needed to remember.

Stranger and “legal stranger” are much different…or should be.

My birth mother is definitely a stranger, and probably will stay that way cause she doesn’t really seem interested in building a relationship. I’m just a dirty little secret from her past that she hoped to leave in the past.

I am no longer a secret! Biological half-siblings and I are connected via Ancestry and my biological mother knows it. And still she refuses a relationship. To which another adoptee noted – Mine doesn’t want my half-sisters to know about me, yet but I’m hoping if I keep in touch, she’ll change her mind. I really want a relationship with them at least.

It is definitely a paradox – Our original mothers will always be our first profound human connection. Very familiar, yet as an adoptee she is a stranger. It’s hard to explain to someone not touched by adoption.