I do beg to differ with Mr Twain. When you don’t know, you make up stories to fill in the gaps. Before I knew the truth of my adoptee parent’s origins – I thought both of my parents must be mixed race – my mom was black and white and my dad was Mexican and white. Neither one of those turns out to be true.
My mom wouldn’t explain how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted at 6 months old in Memphis. She did know that Georgia Tann was in the baby stealing and selling market. My mom died still not knowing the truth because Tennessee couldn’t provide whether her dad was alive when she wanted her file (though he had already been dead 30 years by that time).
My mom’s story went this way. She was born to illiterate parents in Virginia. A nurse at the hospital was in cahoots with Georgia Tann. She gave my mom’s parents papers to sign that they couldn’t read. She said the nursery was too crowded and so they needed to move my mom. When her mother was released and went to retrieve her – she was gone. In my mom’s polite language with the Tennessee officials (though she believed firmly she had been stolen), she referred to her adoption as inappropriate.
Truth was my maternal grandmother was exploited by Georgia Tann in her desperate financial situation. She was married. I have a story about my maternal grandfather. His first wife died almost 9 months pregnant in the dead of winter with the baby still in her womb. I have thought consciously or not, he was concerned because he was WPA, the children from his deceased wife were in Arkansas, his job in Memphis had ended and he went back to Arkansas. He was insecure as to his living conditions there and so didn’t take my grandmother at 4 mos pregnant, also due to deliver in the dead of winter with him. My cousin who has the same grandfather does not believe he was the kind of man to abandon his family that way. I can’t know – no one left living to tell me. My mom didn’t feel close to him and maybe that is because her own mother felt abandoned.
My dad was adopted from the Salvation Army. When his adoptive parents died, he found a letter copy to the Texas requesting the altered birth certificate that mentioned his mother’s name as Delores. Growing up on the Mexican border in El Paso TX, until I finally knew better, my story about my dad was that his mother was Mexican and his father white. Her family would not accept a mixed race baby so she took him into El Paso and left him on the doorstep of the Salvation Army with a note to please take care of her baby. Understandable given the circumstances but still not true.
This is a common experience for people with adoption in their family histories. Making up stories to fill in the gaps. Knowing the truth is preferable – even if the story was a very pretty and exciting one (as some I’ve heard about are).
The first comment I saw on this image went something like this – Interesting how it’s “aren’t your adoptive parents enough?” AND “don’t you want to meet your REAL family?”
A more interesting one was this story – last year one of my friends’ mothers introduced me to his father and his stepfather by saying this is my husband, and this is my son’s “real” father.. I said “does he have a fake father?” Her face was priceless and she hemmed and hawed trying to clean it up.
In these modern times when effort is made to reform the whole perspective around adoption it can be hard to know what the right way to say something is. Early on, I was advised not to use “birth mother” but simply mother or if an identifier was necessary – natural or original. A mother is a mother and all of them give birth. Someone who doesn’t give birth is not necessarily a “mother” though they may be understood as such, they are more accurately a parent.
Unpacking a few more . . . the I would rather have been aborted comes up more often among adult adoptees than the general public might believe. It is hurtful to be asked, “Why would you ever want to meet someone who gave you up?” Maybe simply to answer the question – why? I know that is the question I had regarding my own parents original parents (both of my parents were adopted). Even though I can’t ask my grandparents direction because they have all died, I have learned enough to form some realistic theories about the reasons.
There are a LOT of adoptees who don’t feel “lucky” to have been adopted. When there is extreme mental damage in a parent, maybe then. Most I have encountered would not refer to themselves as “lucky”.
It is true that it isn’t possible to change the past and a complication for my own self is that if my parents were not adopted, I would not exist. I do feel lucky that my teenage mother was not sent off to have and give me up. I credit my dad’s adoptive mother for keeping me in the family. If I had been given up, I would still exist and my original parents would still have been the same people but I would have been raised by other parents and my two younger siblings may not have ever been born because our parents may not have married after such a rupture in the family unit.
Everything that happens – matters. An adoptee can feel like they had a good life (as my own mother did) and still want to know about their origins (as my own mother did). My dad seems to have been content with who his parents were and how they treated him (though the first adoptive father turned out to be an alcoholic and was kicked out of the home by my dad’s adoptive mother – she did remarry and my dad was adopted a second time when he was already 8 years old). My dad never seemed to want to know anything about his origins. I have wondered if he was afraid of what he would find out. He told my mom regarding her own desires, “you might open up a can of worms.” That is telling in my own heart.
Many adoptive parents actually do adopt to SAVE some kid from some fate worse than death which they imagine would have been the outcome otherwise. This is called saviorism and is very common among evangelical Christians.
You can interpret the rest however your heart whispers to you.
Adoption Fog – the hazy perception that everything about adoption is (or should be) simple, straight-forward, beautiful, and most importantly, not questioned.
Adoptees are told what to think, not how to think. They are told the perspective from which they should see their adoption. They are told to be grateful. They live in a fantasy land. They were too young or too afraid to realize the truth of the situation they are living in or to feel the full impact of it. I can see now that as I began to understand the stories of my parents adoptions, I was in a fog before and in the early part of that process of believing the unicorns and rainbows version of adoption.
Coming out of the fog can mean enlightenment and healing. Along the way, there are painful realizations and personal acknowledgements. Coming out of the fog does not necessarily mean searching. One can be searching and still be in the fog. Maybe simply curious about family and heritage.
Adoptees are conditioned from the beginning to be grateful. They were “chosen”. There is a story, ingrained lovingly, about how the biological parents were not able or did not want to take care of the adoptee. “They loved me so much they had to give me away so I could have a better life. I was saved by my adoptive parents from life as an orphan. Adoption is a good thing. Without it where would all the abandoned, unwanted children go?”
While such stories are meant to be comforting, it is often scary for the child. To be “chosen” by one family means to be “unchosen” or rejected by another one. And it is that fear of rejection that causes many adoptees to become people pleasers.
It is only natural, that as they come to maturity, they begin to understand that their very lives fulfill a desire on the part of their adoptive parents. Adopted children are therefore often fearful (either consciously or subconsciously) that they could become rejected again.
There really is no such thing as a well-adjusted adoptee, or even child of two adoptees, even if it appears to be so. The contradictions are simply too big to reconcile.
Searching for where an adoptee came from requires a special kind of courage. It might be opening up a “can of worms” has my dad always believed. There could be disappointment. The relatives one finds are real people with real flaws and also a kind of beauty because they are a connection. It is better to know who you are rather than live in a mystery.
For an adoptee, the connection to one’s ancestors has been broken. That matters. When adoption is in one’s family history, those impacted only want answers and the truth. There isn’t a desire to disrupt anyone’s life. If relatives want to meet – wonderful – those I have met have been very helpful in filling in the understandable gaps in my ancestry. Sharing the stories we weren’t there for can help us to heal.
Loss of the most sacred bond in life, that of a mother and child, is one of the most severe traumas and this loss will require long-term, if not lifelong, therapy. If not therapy, then answers and a knowledge of something that is real and not falsified.
Finding one’s roots does not deny the love and value that one gives to the people who were there in life thanks to adoption. The aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents in my own life are treasured and held precious even if there is no true genetic bond with these.
A life can be symbolized by a circle – birth, maturity, old age and death – completion, rebirth or heaven. Coming to know my roots has also been a kind of completion, a bringing the arc of my life full circle.
No more lies, no more shame, no more hiding.
I’m done with that already.
When my parents died, our family history was full of stories that weren’t true.
My mom was stolen from her parents at the hospital where she was born in Virginia by a nurse in cahoots with the baby stealing and selling Georgia Tann.
Not true. It was the only way my mom could explain how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted as an infant at Memphis. The only fact she really had to go on was the scandal that was Georgia Tann at the head of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society branch at Memphis.
My dad was left on the doorstep of the Salvation Army in a basket in El Paso Texas by a Mexican woman because his father was Anglo and he was conceived out of wedlock.
Partially true. He was conceived out of wedlock and he was adopted from the Salvation Army in El Paso Texas. He wasn’t Mexican, he was half Danish and his father was dark complected. His mother was English/Irish not Mexican.
I was an Albino African.
Okay, so I really didn’t believe that one but I did say it on numerous occasions because I didn’t know what I was, so no one, not even myself could deny it.
Now I know the truth. To find out that you are not who you think you are is mind blowing. Your world tilts on its axis and nothing is ever the same again. Even the simple act of looking in the mirror changes. It brings a whole other element into the equation of my identity. I am grateful to finally be “whole” after 6 decades of uncertainty.
Adoption is a strange thing that does strange things to the people affected by it. It doesn’t matter what angle you are coming from – there’s shame and secrecy involved. That much proved to be true.
I remember a long private Facebook chat with my nephew as I became aware of wounds that he was suffering from and trying to help him with the truth I knew at the time. I had not yet learned so much that I have learned in only the last year but I understood that somehow the family I was born into was broken.
This didn’t mean I had a bad childhood or that my parents didn’t love us or that they divorced. None of that is true of my own circumstances.
I believed stories about my parents’ origins that weren’t true. And now, armed with the true stories, I have yet learned about the wounds that happen when any child is separated from its mother – as both of my parents were – then adopted by strangers and forced to live false identities.
There were other elements too – my grandmothers grew up without their mothers who had died. All three of us – me and my two sisters – in one way or another lost custody of our own children – the same as our grandmothers (and by inference the fathers had lost their children too).
I am still trying to write this sad, romantic and true story in the best possible way. It is also a growth and healing process for me. I understand so much, so much better now. Eventually, it may come to pass that you are able to read my story too.