When It Is Family

A woman’s sister writes – My sister asked me to care for her baby. The mom signed the form to terminate her parental rights, when her baby was only 2 days old. She had been in a car accident during pregnancy and lost her job. She is now financially stable, has her life together (her baby is only 5 months old now) and wants me to discontinue my adoption process regarding her baby.

The problem is – we don’t want to give her baby back. Is there anything legal – my sister, the baby’s biological mom – can do ? We’re so close to finalizing the adoption, all that is left is the home study. What do we tell our child, when she’s older, about why we refused to give her back to her original mom ?

Just goes to prove, that just because we are siblings born into the same family, once we are adults, all bets are off. I’ve seen it many times in many situations.

One commenter said – I truly can not fathom doing something so obviously horrible and disgusting. The fact that this woman is aware that what she’s doing is wrong because she wants to know what to tell the child (once they get older), well, it just makes it even worse. How incredibly selfish. That poor baby !

Important points not to miss – this women is the mother’s sister ! The baby’s Aunt ! In MANY families …. family members do HELP family members in crisis, to care for their children. Often via a parent-placed, joint custody with the more stable family having primary physical custody. The best thing about this is that there is no need to change the baby’s birth certificate. Any sister could raise her sister’s child appropriately, while calling herself Auntie. In some Indigenous cultures, it is not unusual for a primary caregiver to be called “Auntie” when that person is not the child’s actual mother. A term of endearment for the care given.

An overwhelmed pregnant women in crisis. with poverty related issues of housing, employment, transportation, food and daycare insecurity …. such a woman is easily manipulated into thinking she is not enough. Then in this particular case, add the huge factor of her physical injuries ….

This woman never offered her sister the option of providing temporary care. It was adoption or no help at all. That makes it very easy to see how this situation developed.

Most infants placed in foster care will remain there an average of 15 months with maybe 2 – six month extensions. That this Mom got herself back together in under 6 months is phenomenal. She has maintained contact with her infant and is now in a position to parent her child. Ethically this is a No-Brainer. This woman should definitely reunify her niece with her original mom. Need to tell other children why ? Family helps family. OK, someday you can tell the child that you did miss her living with you but you don’t regret doing the right thing at the time.

5 months is only the blink of an eye in this child’s life. Transitioning this baby as soon as possible back to the child’s original mother is important. Time is of the essence. Do the right thing !!

So often a pregnant woman in temporary crisis is pushed into a permanent solution – and then things get better. Most adult adoptees will counsel such a woman to sincerely try parenting her child first, before surrendering the child to adoption. Many times, this leads to a happy ending for mother and child.

From Nowhere To Nowhere

A woman writes that when she was 2 or 3 years old, another child about the same age simply appeared out of nowhere. The child was just there one day. When the older siblings came home from school and this woman and the new child were playing together in her room. She also mentions that her mother was an alcoholic and abusive in many ways.

The two girls were so close in age and so close in general people always asked if they were twins, and her mother decided at some point to tell people yes. So for most of this woman’s early life, she thought the other child was her twin sister. I know how this feels. My younger sister was born 13 months after I was and we went through that, even often dressed identically. However, my sister outgrew me and it pretty much stopped at that point. Throughout our childhood, we shared a room. My much younger sister always had a room of her own.

To add another layer of weirdness to it all, when she was 5, her mother actually did have twins, boy/girl. So it was always a funny thing that the family had two sets of twins. The original “one” and this woman shared a room her whole life. They were always in the same grade in school, and though this other one did have legal last name that was different from hers, back in the day schools allowed a “goes by” name, so her “twin” always used the same last name as this woman.

When she was around the age of 8, she realized her dad never picked her twin up for visits, when he came for her and her brother. Her mom simply told her that her “twin” a different dad but she did know that didn’t really make sense. Her older sisters never told her that this “twin” was adopted and neither did her mom. The next day her mom sat her down and told her that her “twin” was not her sister but actually her cousin. That her “twin” was her sister’s daughter and her sister decided she wanted her daughter back. Her mom said her “twin” was now living with her aunt in California but she had never met this aunt.

When she was 26, her mother died. Through Facebook her aunt contacted this woman. Her aunt had no idea about her “twin”. The aunt only has sons and they’re both quite a bit younger than this woman. The other aunts have been accounted for (and this woman did know those her whole life) but no idea about her “twin”. The aunt that contacted her had never lived in California and clueless couldn’t help uncover the mystery’s truth.

After her mother passed away, this woman went through every bit of paperwork her deceased mother had and never found anything about retaining guardianship of a child or relinquishing a child. She’s not certain how her mother pulled it all off. Where did her “twin” come from and where did she end up. How was her mother able to enroll this child in school or get her vaccinated, etc. It doesn’t seem possible. Yet, if she hadn’t lived it, she’d be skeptical of the whole story.

She would like to find her “twin” again and realizes that the girl’s memories of their childhood home and her mother are probably terrible. This woman can only imagine the trauma her “twin” endured. She has a good idea of her twin’s birthdate and what she knew the name to be then. She tried searching on Facebook for her “twin’s” name but it’s hopeless without at least a specific state to begin with. She knows her mom did have a social security card for her “twin” at some point because she remembers seeing it.

It all remains a monumental mystery for this woman. Twin stories fascinate me as a Gemini and as someone who experienced a sister close enough to seem like a twin. Just sharing an amazing story today without any real answers to the mystery itself.

All You Can Ever Know

Nicole Chung

With Asians on my mind this morning, I stumbled on this book when an essay in Time magazine titled “My adoption didn’t make me less Korean” got my attention. I can not locate a digital link for this (I will share some excerpts – her own words about being Asian at this fraught time – later in this blog). In my all things adoption group, there have been a number of Korean adoptees. The international adoption of Korean children by Americans was the result of a large number of orphaned mixed children from the Korean War after 1953. That is not Nicole’s story.

In looking for her book, I found a New Yorker review by Katy Waldman – Nicole Chung’s Adoption Memoir, “All You Can Ever Know,” Is an Ode to Sisterly Love. Like many adoptees, her parents believed she was a gift from God. Like many transracial adoptees, growing up among white, Catholic Oregonians in the eighties and nineties, students teased her for being adopted and for looking “different.” 

Her adoptive mother couldn’t tell her much about her original parents. They “had just moved here from Korea” and “thought they wouldn’t be able to give you the life you deserved.” This brief story, one of love and sadness and altruism, “may be all you can ever know,” her mother told her.

After a protracted and unglamorous process of filing paperwork and wrangling lawyers, she finally uncovered the reality of her original genetic family, the Chungs. She discovered an older sister, Cindy. Sadly, her sister had been physically abused by their natural mother. She learned that her parents are divorced and not speaking to one another. Her birth father had told Cindy that Nicole had died. 

Nicole explains why having a baby mattered to her so much, “I wouldn’t be alone anymore. There would be someone who was connected to me in a way no one else had ever been.” For her memoir, Chung wanted to explore “the quiet drama of the everyday adopted experience.” 

Remembering the fiction she scribbled down as a kid, Chung writes that she “found a measure of previously unknown power” in envisioning “places where someone like me could be happy, accepted, normal.” 

From Chung’s Time essay – What her adoptive parents struggled with was to fully and consistently see and understand her as a Korean American woman. She doesn’t blame them for this, she notes – “Acknowledging it flew in the face of everything ‘experts’ had told them when they adopted me in the early 1980s – the adoption agency, the social worker, the judge had all maintained that it wouldn’t, shouldn’t matter.” She shares the things they would say to be color-blind with her.

She also notes – “Often, people who’ve read my memoir will note my white family’s ‘color-blind’ approach and ask whether this led to me thinking of myself as white. My answer is always swift, unequivocal: no, I never thought I was white.” However, she goes on to say her adoptive parents did “assume that I’d be protected from racism because the world would see me as they did – their child, no more, no less – and as my race was irrelevant to them, they could not imagine anyone else caring about it either.”

She says, “While my adoptive family saw me as almost raceless and therefore safe from racists, I lived every day from the age of 7, when I heard my first slur from a classmate, understanding that my Korean face made me hypervisible where we lived – and that it could also make me a target.”

This startled me. I cannot imagine children that age knowing racial slurs. Then, I remember reading once that children learn racism in the family. I thought about WWII, the Korean War and more recently the Vietnam War. I could believe that some returning veterans, having done battle with Asians, might have brought bias home with them.

Chung describes how from the start of the pandemic and racial scapegoating, she has thought of other Asian American kids growing up in white families and white spaces, even as she knows their experiences are not interchangeable. She says, “I know it can feel like a unique burden when you witness or experience racism in a kind of isolation, unable to retreat and process your rage or sorrow with people who also know what it’s like to live in an Asian body.”

She speaks of the experiences of transracial adoptees – “asking, sometimes begging our adoptive relatives to acknowledge our experiences; to stand with us; to challenge the racism endemic in our society as well as our own families and communities.”

Her adoptive parents have died. She says, “I’ve had to accept that there are questions I’ll never get answers to, things we’ll never be able to settle. That my parents didn’t entirely understand or accept my racial reality will always be with me, part of my adoption story.”

In her final thoughts she says, “I know the last thing either of my parents would have wanted was for me to despair, or live my life in fear. And so, for their sake and my own, I won’t.”

The Escape Artist

What I want to share here today comes near the end of this book (which I still have a few more pages to go to complete it).  I do recommend it.  It is a very interesting story of a troubled sibling relationship and that is what drew me to read it after seeing a review.  This snippet does not spoil reading the story for anyone who is intrigued.  There is much more there than this insight.

There is the strange case of the nephew. Nine months after the author’s mother escaped from Poland with Luigi, the Italian officer who saved her life, the nephew was born. The mother’s arrival at her sister’s apartment in Rome in 1943 coincided with his birth.

Her mother had been arrested at the Italian border and thanks to the assistance of her brother in law was released to a gentle concentration camp in the south of Italy where she was allowed to spend her days knitting and reading.

But given the lies in her family, was it really a concentration camp or a home for unwed mothers ?

When her father miraculously escaped from a Siberian gulag, he pretends to be Catholic in order to marry the author’s mother. He was disturbed at how attached the 3 yr old boy was with his new wife. The child threw a fit at the prospect of being moved to the aunt’s room.

They were newlyweds but the mom would not part from the boy and so he slept in the same room with them. This caused the father to resent his nephew by marriage.

Finally, when the boy was 8, the mom and her husband emigrated to the US but the parting at the Rome train station was traumatic. The mom hated to leave the boy.

After the older sister was born, the mother sank into a deep depression that lasted years. That boy embodied all the the mother had lost and left behind (as a Holocaust survivor most of her family had been murdered).  She had escaped with nothing but the seed of this child growing inside her.