The closed, sealed adoption records of yesterday are much easier to pierce with today’s inexpensive DNA testing. Today’s story from Severance Magazine.
It begins this way – in 1967, I’d given birth to my first-born child in an unwed mothers maternity home in New Orleans, Louisiana. I had been a typical 17-year-old high school senior with plans for the future that evaporated overnight. In the sixties, it was considered close to criminal for a girl to become pregnant with no ring on her finger. The father of my child had joined the Army, preferring Vietnam to fatherhood. After my parents discovered my shameful secret, I was covertly hurried away and placed in an institution for five months. There, I was expected to relinquish my baby immediately after giving birth to closed adoption and I was repeatedly assured my child would have a better life without me. After his birth, I was allowed to hold my son three times. My heart was permanently damaged when I handed him over the final time. The home allowed one concession—I could give my baby a crib name. I named him Jamie.
In the Spring of 2016, this woman and her husband submitted DNA tests to Ancestry.com. By October 2016, a ‘Parent/Child Match’ message popped up on her iPhone, causing me to stop me in my tracks, as my knees gave out from under me. After 49 long years, Jamie had found her. Who was he? Where was he? Would he hate me? How would this affect my life? My family? His family? She had always dreamed of finding Jamie but never thought past that point.
She relates – that night I heard my son’s voice for the first time. The wonder I felt when he said, “I know your voice” transformed me. In minutes, the secret of my son changed from fear of anyone knowing about him to wanting to shout out to the world, “My son has found me!” She also learned she had three new grandchildren. Within four days, her son flew from Louisiana to California to meet her. She describes that first meeting as magical. She says, “My son was back in my life, and suddenly I was whole.”
Due to severe depression brought on by the COVID pandemic as a messy divorce, the loss of his job, and unhealthy isolation began to destroy him, she worried from a distance. In February 2021, they had what would be their last conversation. Before hanging up, her son said, “I love you, Mom. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.” Two days later, the son she had mourned for 50 years, the son who had found her, left her again. He took his own life. Now she had lost him twice and this time was forever. Even so, she cherishes that phone call.
She ends her story with this – “I wish I could speak to all the birth mothers out there, who continue to carry the shame and guilt that society placed on us. For those who refuse to allow their relinquished child back into their lives. I want to say I know your fear. I know your uncertainty. I lived it and still live it. It is deep-seated in us, regardless of the circumstances that resulted in us leaving our children. Please know if you are brave enough to welcome that lost child into your life again, you may create a peace and a bond worth all the fear and guilt. There is nothing quite like reuniting a mother and her child, and you may be giving a gift of connection to that child and yourself, as it should have been all along.”
So an older adoptee wrote this – I can personally attest that “coming out of the fog” is a true concept. (In fact, as the child of two adoptees, I can now admit I was in the fog too !!)
The thing is, as an adoptee, you really don’t know what you’re missing compared to people who have not experienced the kind of life-threatening trauma that being adopted is. Though not all adoptees have similar reactions to life’s rejections and notice that feeling of something that is not there, that something “missing,” whether acknowledged or not, is real.
Many adoptees have attachment issues. Some are not able to form an attachment with the adoptive parents or may attach (cling to) too much and are not able to let go of the caregiver when it is appropriate to do so.
When an adult adoptee experiences the breaking up from a romantic relationship, if they are someone who has difficulty letting go, the situation can be devastating. It may take the person a very long time – if ever – to recover.
These experiences have the ability to take an adoptee right back emotionally to the first time they were deserted, abandoned in their perception, by the original mother and this event happened to them before they even had the words to describe what they were feeling. So, even later in life, within the context of adult relationships, these situations can leave the adoptee feeling that same kind of unexpressed feeling. The pain is often excruciating.
Whereas an adoptee’s close friend experiences the breaking up of a romantic relationship, it may be that only a month or so later, that friend is out dating again. It is relatively easy for them to move on with their life. Yet, if this happens to an adoptee, they are often stuck and don’t really understand why they cannot let go.
This rejection/abandonment wound may account for the higher incidence of suicides that happen among adoptees as young adults and even more mature adults. This is certainly common for those who were infant adoptions. Even for adoptees who were adopted at an older age, though they have a similar experience of separation and abandonment/rejection trauma, at least they have some language with which to express their feelings and a therapist may be able to help them more easily express and understand their feelings.
True, actually “coming out of the fog” (the belief that adoption is unicorns and rainbows, flowers and sunshine) may or may not ever happen for any single adoptee. It takes a lot of work and understanding for the adoptee to realize they have these feelings and the process of getting to that point can be so painful, the adoptee may become paralyzed and not able to move further forward, at some point in that process.
And here is a note from the adoptee who started these thoughts that are my blog today – If you are an adoptive parent, no matter how you try, you can not normalize the experience of having been separated from the person’s original mother for them.
Today, I was first attracted to a blog by this woman, Michele Dawson Haber, in which she shares imaging her father talking to her while making coffee. “What’s this? Why so many steps? Do you know the coffee we drank in the old days was just botz (mud) at the bottom of our cups? A life like yours, with such complicated coffee—Michal*, it makes me happy that you’re not struggling as I did.” *Michal (מיכל) is her Hebrew name.
I come from a long line of coffee drinkers. The pot was always prepared for the timer to begin the brewing before any inhabitants of the house woke and wanted a cup. After my mom died, I spent several quiet treasured morning drinking coffee with my dad out on their deck as we watched the dawn turn into sunrise. When I returned to my parents’ house following my dad’s death, as I walked through their kitchen, I heard him clearly say in my mind, “You miss your old dad, don’t you ?” Exactly as he would have said it in life. I admitted that I did miss him already. With my mom’s passing, . . . oh, I heard her a lot say “You’re doing really well.” many times while sitting on the toilet in the bathroom where she died in her jacuzzi tub. So much that I finally had to let her know – “enough, I don’t need to hear this any more” – and it stopped.
Yet, what really touched my heart was Michele’s piece in May 2021 in Salon about her mother’s letters – “It’s my mom’s fault I stole her letters.” I found letters like that among my parents things as I cleared out their residence after their deaths only 4 months apart. I wish I had read Michele’s piece before getting rid of my parents’ love letters to each other that my mom treasured enough to keep for over 50 years. Just before I began that work, I had read a piece by a woman who’s mother had destroyed her love letters from her father. The mother had said these were private between your father and I – and for that reason only, I let the letters go after having coincidentally read only one but a very relevant one – as though my mom reached out from beyond the grave to make certain I at least saw that one.
Michele writes in her personal essay for Salon – “I felt guilt wash over me. The debates with my two sisters over whether it was ethical to steal her letters replayed in my mind. In the end, we decided that the information in those letters belonged not only to our mother, but also to me and my older sister.” But I had not and so chose a different course based upon someone else’s story. Michele goes on to say, “the question of privacy continued to gnaw at me. I knew that if I had asked my mother 20 or even 10 years ago for permission to read the letters she would have said, ‘Are you kidding? No way. What’s in those letters is none of your business.’ And so I did what I always do when faced with a conundrum: I researched. In her book The Secret Life of Families (subtitled How Secrets Shape Our Relationships and When and How to Tell the Truth), Dr. Evan Imber-Black distinguished secrecy from privacy. A secret, she wrote, is information withheld that “impacts another’s life choices, decision-making capacity and well-being.” Conversely, if a piece of information is truly private, then knowing it has no impact on another’s physical or emotional health.
Michele goes on to share, “In my fantasy argument with my mother, I would say that her secrecy about my biological father did impact my well-being, that depriving me of my genetic heritage handicapped my ability to shape a strong identity.” I agree with her reasoning on this one.
I had read one note (not even a letter) from my mom to a friend, stressing about how my father might react to learning she was pregnant. She had conceived me out of wedlock as a 16 yr old Junior in high school. My dad had just started at the U of NM at Las Cruces and it appears they wrote each other almost every day, though mostly these were the letters she received from my dad, except the note I read. I remember when I figured out that I had been conceived out of wedlock and how in my heart (though only for a few months) I turned against my mom because of that. I didn’t want her to touch me, such as take my hand. Hopefully, she thought only that I was asserting some independence because I was growing up. It was just all those “nice girls don’t do that” lectures she had given me. As a grown woman now, I know that she didn’t want me to make the same mistake. I hastened to get married with a month yet to graduating from high school even though I was not pregnant. My parents supported me and we had the fully formal church wedding and reception in my parents’ back yard. I suspect my parents were afraid I might turn up pregnant like my mom did and so did not discourage me from a marriage that lasted long enough to conceive a child 4 months after I married and then ended in divorce when she was only 3 years old.
Finding that letter further softened my feelings about my conception because I could clearly feel my mom’s emotions and concerns before my dad knew he would become a father. Anyway, this long story shorter. I didn’t keep the letters but sent them to the local landfill along with other items my mom had kept from their many journeys – souvenir booklets and the like. Reading Michele’s story makes me regret that all over again, and I have felt that regret before.
After my dad died, I learned from my cousin, who’s father was my mom’s adoptive brother, that it was possible to get the adoption file that the state of Tennessee had denied my mom in the early 1990s. It is a pity they didn’t let her have that because it would have brought her so much peace. My own journey to rediscover my original grandparents (both of my parents were adopted) only took me about year after my dad’s death; and then, I knew who ALL 4 of them were and something about my ancestors. What I didn’t expect was gaining cousins and an aunt. Even though I am very happy to now have family that I am biologically and genetically related to – I will also admit how difficult it is to create relationships with people who have decades of history lived that I was not any part of. Thankfully, they have all been kind in acknowledging me (and sometimes the DNA makes it difficult for them not to).
Do read the links above to Michele’s stories. I’ve made this blog long enough that I am not going to include any more excerpts beyond the coffee bit and some of her thoughts about personal letters.
I learned about Jenni White while reading White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad. White has caused a bit of a stir with her column – “The Worst Racism My Children Have Experienced Came from Black Peers.” So I went looking because I also read that she had adopted 2 daughters from Zambia.
Hamad wrote – White claimed to be raising her daughters in a house that does not see color and wrote, “Why would I raise them to identify with a specific race as if being members of the human race weren’t enough?” Hamad says, It is as if she believes that racism will disappear, if only Black people stop calling themselves Black ?
What White defined as hideous racism included their Black pastor asking her whether she was educating the girls about their culture. While she claims to be a staunch believer in Martin Luther King, her perspective is that once her daughters were brought to America, “they became Americans. Not African-Americans, not black girls.” Hamad judges that assimilation and absorption into the default that is whiteness continues to be the frame from which many white women view women of other races.
So, now I will read Jenni White’s column and share with you what I think about it. She begins with the story of McKenzie Adams, a fourth grader from US Jones Elementary School in Demopolis, Alabama, who was despondent after relentless taunting by other black children for her relationship with a white child. McKenzie hanged herself in her family’s home. White acknowledges that suicides which are the result of school bullying have risen steadily over the years, it was McKenzie’s death that spoke to her on a very personal level.
She goes on to share how she ended up adopting her daughters. “In the summer of 2005, while visiting my grandparents in the northeast, my husband and I met up with my cousin, an international teacher, and his new wife, whom he’d met while teaching in Zambia, Africa. In recounting her history, Justina told us of the very recent death of her sister and how her 21-year-old nephew was struggling to feed and care for five siblings as young as 2.”
She admits that “We knew that adopting two little girls (4 and 9) from the other side of the world into a family of two boys (4 and 2) wouldn’t be easy in terms of bonding and re-assimilating the family birth order structure, but it was the stuff like what little McKenzie Adams experienced that we didn’t see coming, and it quickly blindsided me.”
So, the Black pastor incident occurred in a grocery store. The pastor is a Black woman. The pastor talked about how important it was for White to get the girls subscriptions to “black” magazines and to make sure and watch “black” movies and TV shows so they could see and relate to people of their color. She felt that, Jenni, as a white woman, couldn’t be expected to understand the “black experience” in America. That she needed to be sure and make appropriate and relevant material accessible so the girls could better assimilate with black culture.
White responded about raising all of her kids as Americans. The pastor believed White’s thought process was unfortunate. Her “whiteness” would be unable to process the facts that her girls’ fate would always balance at the pinnacle of someone else’s prejudicial small-mindedness. The pastor felt strongly that it was up to White to make the girls aware of the discrimination that was sure to come their way.
White brings her story up to date by writing – Today, my daughters are 21 and 16. She writes that it continually shocks her that any real racism her children have encountered has come from their black contemporaries. She also admits that the 21-year-old had enough of an emotional struggle that she returned to Africa to live with her brother and finish high school. Then, the girl did come back to Oklahoma after graduation, joined the National Guard, and began college with the intention of becoming a nurse.
She goes on to describe the other girl as innately conservative and that she struggled with the constant racial politics in her college English class. The girl had been assigned to write a paper regarding disproportionate brutality by police toward black Americans. White says that her daughter is frustrated that so many black contemporaries have razzed her because her last name is White and she was adopted by a white family. When Jenni asked her how she dealt with that kind of thing, she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “What are you going to do?”
She shares a story about when a Black boy called her older daughter the n word. She told him she was in no way an “n-word.” He answered, “Hey, we’re both from Africa.” Her response to that was “I’m from Africa. You’re from Oklahoma, and I’m no ‘n-word.’” Her daughter also said that this same kid has mocked her about hanging around white kids, including her white boyfriend, who is also on the football team, as well as acting and speaking like she is “white.”
Jenni White says that she follows the Blexit movement. I had never heard of it. They are clearly against CRT (Critical Race Theory) since they indicate that on their home page and I have included their link to that document. I am not going to read all 24 pages. The document seeks to explain CRT this way – Critical Race Theorists … believe that people of color experience racism daily … that the majority of American society, or more specifically white people, have no interest in stopping this so-called oppression because it benefits white Americans. The Blexit movement claims their intention is to uplift and empower minorities to realize the American Dream. In truth, it is only that so far – a dream unrealized for most.
I’m white. I do not raise any black children and I do have strong feelings about the adoption of children of color by white adoptive parents. I really can’t judge anyone else, including Jenni White, regarding how parents decide to raise their children. It is a complex world. I grew up with no racial bias, even though I am white, because both of my parents were adoptees with no knowledge of their genetic origins. We were raised only knowing we were Americans. I used to joke that I was an Albino African because back then, even I didn’t actually know for certain. My mom did discover she had a smidgeon of genes from Mali when she had a DNA analysis done. I can agree with Jenni White’s hope – that someday differences are celebrated within the context of the whole, and not parsed out as weapons of contention and conflict.
One of the most important “missions” in my all things adoption group is to support and encourage single moms to attempt to parent their baby rather than reflexively giving the baby up of adoption. Fortunately, that is more acceptable during the last couple of decades for a woman to be a single mom, than it would have been earlier in our collective history.
Several questions were asked of those who had made the choice to keep and parent their baby –
What is/would be/would have been the deciding factor in choosing to parent your child?
Of course, finances are a huge issue. But is money enough?
Better enforcement of revocation periods?
More/better emotional support?
Believing you are worthy enough to deserve your child?
Safe and affordable housing?
Yes, all of this helps. But what is the single factor that would be enough to tip the scales one way or the other?
Some of the responses –
Family and friends helping and being involved and better mental health care.
As someone who parented: A job that paid $15/hr that was full time during daycare hours. Literally that was all I needed. The most basic thing we should be fighting for: the right to be fairly compensated for our work. For me it was a labor rights issue, 100%. Why are jobs like this so hard to come by? The flip side would be: affordable childcare that matched the hours of your job.
Another one shared this was an issue for her as well. My exact problem right now. I’m unemployed, single mom of 4 kids and while I qualify for daycare, I can’t find one near me that has space for all my kids and is open for reasonable hours. 90% of daycares I find close at 5:30pm. My experience is service industry and retail. These jobs usually have varying work schedules and very low pay.
Yet another issue – I am a single mom raising my 4 children. The 2 fathers claimed the kids on their taxes and collected all the stimulus money. It took me 2yrs to get my tax return back because I had to file a paper return.. And I don’t know if I will get any of the stimulus money. The child support orders are ridiculously low. $600 a month for all 4 kids, IF I even get the payments. It’s rough.
This one found it a struggle but felt lucky as well – I was extremely lucky that the owner of our daycare knew the father of my child because his mother worked there years ago, so she gave me the toddler rate instead of the infant rate. She knew he wasn’t contributing. I was also extremely lucky to have found a mobile home for under $1,000/mo because the landlord was just an all around good guy who didn’t want to take advantage of single people and seniors. My job was a $24,000/yr salary, which meant that my paychecks were static and not variable, which made it easier to budget. I didn’t have much left over at the end of the month, but I managed to save $25 a month until I felt certain we were not going to be homeless again. Literally the bare minimum, but I spent most of my working life living on or below that and I was amazed by how little it took to change everything. We did great on this. She added – I agree that daycare should be subsidized and paid for by the government the same way school is. It doesn’t make sense to have you starting out paying the equivalent of a college tuition just so you can work.
It’s the myth – that adoption means everyone’s happy and doing well.
One shared why she didn’t go through with adoption and credits our all things adoption group as well – When he was born and that was it for me. I wasn’t letting go. And I would do anything and I mean ANYTHING in the world to make it possible. So for me it was that. However. I had a daughter that was going through cancer treatment, I didn’t feel it was fair to her. Those feelings washed away when I had him, I knew in my heart she needed him too. I definitely needed the support of my family. At the hospital I cried all night, My sister woke up and asked me if I was okay and I said “I cant just give him away, I can’t let him go” she said “then don’t “. And called all my family and they made it possible to bring him home providing all of the necessities we needed. Had I felt I had this support before the hospital in keeping him, I would not considered adoption all the way up to giving birth to him at the hospital. Honestly I still would have kept him after his birth at the hospital. I was definitely in mama bear mode. He’s 3 now and I update about every year in this group. Had I not been here, who knows if I would have gotten talked into letting him go by the hopeful adoptive parents -or not. But she definitely tried. She went on to share that her daughter was completely surprised. She said “you finally got me my very OWN BABY?!” She thought he was for her lol I love seeing them together, they are so cute.
Another woman shared – Not feeling good enough and finances were the primary reasons I placed. Instead of receiving encouragement, my past traumas were used against me as evidence that I wasn’t “ready.” I was made to feel like if I parented I was doomed to ruin my child’s life. The single one thing that would have tipped the scales for me though would have been honest information about the trauma adoption causes adoptees. I was VERY concerned about my daughter’s emotional well being. I was promised that my daughter would be unaffected as long as she was placed by three months. I DIRECTLY asked about the emotional consequences of adoption on my daughter and I was told there are none. I was told adoptees have no more problems than anyone else and most are “grateful” to have been given a “better” life. I really wish that some one would have told me that all first time moms are scared. That it would be hard but it was doable. The one single sentence that could have convinced me to parent though is “Adoptees are 4x times likely to commit suicide than non-adoptees.” I had struggled a lot with suicide before than. If I knew that adoption would could cause my daughter to feel suicidal like I felt, there’s no way I would have placed. I could have never intentionally done that to my daughter.
The response to this by the woman who first asked the questions was this – I didn’t ask this question to feel validated, but your answer has made me feel so validated. Because adoptees are always told to shut up and be grateful, and to stop being bitter and angry. For the most part, I refuse to speak to prospective adopters because they’re so full of themselves that they insult and demean me in order to preserve their fantasies. And how can you know what to believe when the people in power tell convenient lies? They benefit from you believing the lies. You’ve made me grateful (genuinely, not being snarky) that this group has given me the chance to tell expecting moms that if I had had a choice, I would have grown up in poverty with my mom. I would have endured whatever deprivation necessary, just to have my mom. Everyone else acts like I’m living in some stupid fantasy world. Thank you for telling me that what I want and would have wanted has validity, and that it would have aligned with what you wanted.
And closing with this one – I never would have considered adoption if I’d had an adult that was willing to help and support me at the time. I got pregnant as a minor and the only people who reacted supportively were other minors, and I was already living on the street, so it didn’t seem like navigating being a parent would be possible for me. I stopped responding to the agency after my school’s social worker started helping me set up appointments and apply for assistance and I found someone with an empty spare bedroom. She helped transfer me to another school nearby that had a parenting program for teen mothers where I was able to catch up and graduate on time. All I really needed was one adult to vaguely care in my direction.
I was already aware that the statistics are worrisome. I didn’t know there was a month dedicated to focusing on this particular issue. Suicide is a sad and desperate choice no matter who chooses it but it is an individual choice and yet affects everyone who ever knew the person.
Attempted suicide is more common among adolescents who live with adoptive parents than among adolescents who live with biological parents. The association persists after adjusting for depression and aggression and is not explained by impulsivity as measured by a self-reported tendency to make decisions quickly.
You may be fortunate enough to be an adoptee who does not struggle with suicidal thoughts. But some adoptees struggle in silence, feel shame or feel disenfranchised and marginalized. I am seeking to share what some adoptees know, and the broader public should know, that suicidal adoptees are not an abnormality.
There is a need to talk about this issue more openly and in the mainstream. This is so important because adoption is sold as a “win-win” scenario. Talking about suicide is hard and uncomfortable. Talking about it in connection with adoption – which often has much joy but is more complex than most people realize – is challenging.
Generally, people would not have any reason to know that some adoptees struggle. The issues are real, and should be discussed more openly. Dismissing adoptee related suicide or mental illness will not help anyone. It will however further disenfranchise vulnerable adoptees.
If you are an adoptee with suicidal thoughts, know that you are not alone, other adoptees have felt this way too. Please reach out for help and know that you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If you know of an adoptee who is at risk, please do not be afraid to likewise reach out and help them to access appropriate support services. Do not be afraid to ask direct questions about suicide. You can’t put the idea of suicide in someone’s head by talking about it. Asking direct questions can help you to determine if they’re in immediate danger and in need of assistance.
So much of the messaging around adoption is invisibly supported by the interests with a financial stake in promoting it. However, the separation that precedes the placement of a baby or young child into adoption causes a trauma that may be subconscious and not consciously recognized by the adoptee or the people who have adopted them.
4.5 percent of adopted individuals have problems with drug abuse, compared with 2.9 percent of the general population. This is striking because it is a far higher a percentage than the 2% of the population who are adopted. Despite what adoptive parents are told and hope for, no matter how loving and nurturing an adoptive parent, no matter how deeply loved an adopted child may be, many adoptees will say, that “Love is not all we need.”
One adoptee describes their own experience this way –
“So what does it feel like to be adopted? A weird amalgamation of rejection and acceptance. Someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure… It’s been difficult for me to accept that my parents actually love me, and that they’re not just putting me on a shelf somewhere to gawk at and to call their own. I’m still figuring it out.”
Often, adoptees don’t want to upset their adoptive parents with concerns about depression or anything that could be seen as ingratitude, including normal, healthy curiosity about their own genetic, biological roots. This is very common among adoptees. No one mirrors you while growing up to assist you in forming a sense of identity and self-worth. Many adoptees describe intense feelings when they give birth to their own child. Finally seeing a human being who is biologically and genetically connected to them for the very first time. Adoptees lack a recognizable source for personality traits, temperament, and abilities. It’s difficult to feel connected without knowing where you inherited your love of playing music, or curly hair, or shyness, or why everyone in your family is athletic but you.
Another adoptee notes –
“There is a certain detachment to adoption. Being ‘chosen’ rather than ‘born to’ does it. Because we did not arrive by natural means, and so much mystery (or outright lies) are our baggage, we often feel not only that we do not fit in, but that we are disposable. That’s the thing about being chosen, you can be unchosen. And some adoptees aren’t going to wait for the dismissal; they are going to finally take control of their life by ending it.”
It is true that some adoptees (my dad was one of this kind) have the resilience and temperament to lead perfectly happy lives. He simply chose to accept that his adoptive family was the only family he needed and was quick to dismiss any curiosity my mom had as an adoptee as ill founded. I believe that he had a deep-seated fear of knowing the truth regarding why he was adopted.
If you love someone who is adopted, be aware of this risk factor. The best thing we can do for our adopted children, friends, siblings, and spouses is listen and validate their sadness as a normal and natural need to know why. I am grateful that my mom had me to share her feelings with. Someone who understood that these feelings in her were valid and reasonable.
Adoptees are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than non-adoptees are. Why is that ? Maybe because being adopted is not all unicorns and rainbows.
So today comes this sad story.
I work in animal rescue because I couldn’t handle working for the Department of Children and Families. It’s a corrupt system.
Today I took a phone call that really got to me and started a small debate between others in the office at the time.
The caller said a 26 year old adoptee had killed herself and left four cats behind. One cat was found dead with her. One cat a friend took and the other two the rescue I work in is taking. We learned these animals were without food for sometime. Meaning no one had checked up on her.
I was told the adoptive mom was a bad alcoholic, adoptive father is a prominent well known doctor. That the 26 year old suffered years of mental health issues. I told the caller we would take in the two two cats no questions asked and no surrender fee. When the caller asked me why… I responded that as an adoptee myself….
My heart breaks for any adoptee who was this upset and hurting to take her own life in front of pets who she saved and loved. I said most adoptees have trauma and pain and it seldom gets better even with the best therapy! She thanked me and I’ll meet the lady Friday with the two cats.
When I got off the phone the two other people in the office told me I cannot generalize adoptive people that way. That many adoptive people are happy! I’m like no… I’m an adoptee and while my life on the outside may look perfect and my own children are …. I cry daily and have struggled my entire life. In my teens, I wanted to die! So I told them unless they were an adoptee nothing that they could tell me would change my view!
The truth is that the lived experience of many adoptees makes those who have not experienced it, uncomfortable.
We teach our children to keep themselves safe from strangers.
Why do we as a society think it’s better to give a child away to strangers than to offer emotional, financial, and logistical support to the child’s first families in order to allow them to parent? Why is it seen as a good thing to permanently separate a child from their first family (in the absence of abuse)? What’s with the racist, classist belief that adoptive parents are more likely to raise healthy happy children, when all statistical evidence from studies on abuse in adoptive homes contradicts it?
There is a reason adoptees represent a larger percentage of people needing mental health treatment or committing suicide. There is a higher incidence of cancer, gut, and other diseases caused by toxic levels of years of cortisol. Birth moms, due to separation from their babies, tend to die 20 years sooner than mothers who remain with their children.
Complex Traumatic Stress – an over activated fight flight body response.
That child taken from its mother will try to save that child but has no power to help that child. That child is born with a “mom-operating system”. This never shuts down (cue adoptee reunions, if you doubt this).
Allowing complete strangers to raise a child is dangerous to that child.
So why is adoption promoted and not family preservation ? Because there is a ton of money to be made in selling children (which is what adoption actually is in most cases) but no money, only expense coming out of tax dollars, in keeping a family together.
Adoption is trauma. There’s no way around it. Even if you were to be the most incredible adoptive parent in the entire world, the trauma and hurt isn’t negated. Society needs to try to understand why the mom feels she can’t parent her child and give that mom the support she needs. You can love a child without taking them away from their parents.
This is true in infant adoptions, where altering birth certificates is standard procedure. The procedure may be different with a teen who has been in the foster care system for years and without being coerced, asks to be adopted. However, even then legal guardianship is still the best case procedure.
The truth about adoption trauma may be hard to accept because most people have been spoon fed what society wants us to believe about adoption. the difference between a viewpoint (for profit adoption narrative) and lived experiences (adoptees) can cause cognitive dissonance.
So to say, “…adopting a child can be a good option…” is actually an admission that adoption isn’t always good, and actually for anyone involved. Surprisingly, adoptive parents do not often have the happily ever after experience they bought into. So their “lived” experience as well because the traumatized child is more difficult to parent than a biological, genetic child – and most parents would admit that isn’t always easy either. Add in that layer of adoption and it is exponentially harder (check it out with some trauma informed therapist who works on adoption issues).
While it is true that some adoptees will tell you that they had good outcomes, I’ve read significantly more horror stories than happy outcomes… That is because I spend time in a space where it is safe for an adoptee to honestly express their own truth. Yes, there are cases where the biological family could have been as much (or even more) of a nightmare as an abusive adoptive family. The answer is to try and treat the issues in the biological, genetic family – addiction, poverty, poor parenting role models, etc.
And on the issue of mother/child separations – this story is indicative.
My grandmother started caring for me full time the day after I was born. I didn’t really spend time with my parents until I was 3-4 years old. I feel the trauma from that and its not even close to what someone who has been adopted must feel….I just remember feeling so strongly that all I wanted was to be with my mom when I was little. My grandmother is an amazing woman but its not the same. I still experience extreme anxiety and went through really bad PPD after I gave birth bceause I couldn’t understand why my mom couldn’t be there for me when I was that little. Anyway, my story isn’t really important I’m only trying to illustrate how deep the trauma goes when you’re separated as a child from your birth parents.
Just for good measure – what is the mainstream narrative ?
1) first is the idea that biological parents are incapable of parenting and don’t deserve to parent their own children, 2) that those saviors, the grace of willing adopters stepping forward, have prevented an abortion, or abuse, or neglect, or abandonment, and of course 3) that anyone who adopts will simply provide a “Better Life” and a “Forever Family” for these poor unwanted souls. These things are not the truth for the majority of people who end up adopted. These are the myths of the adoption industry.
Regardless of varying lived experiences – every single adoptee has experienced a traumatic loss: the separation from their mother.
And wrapping up – What is missing?
Better mental health services, care and protection for pregnant women, support for families and their communities could really improve many families’ situations. In many cases, it could do more that – actually enable them to parent adequately by most average standards.
No person should have their true identity and family erased for the rest of their life, simply in order to be cared for in a safe, loving, secure home during their childhood.
Adoption, at its core, is a legal construct that transfers ownership of a person. This is done by cancelling the adopted persons birth certificate and issuing a new one, falsely stating the adoptive parents (not actually related ie strangers) are the biological parents, and replacing the adoptee’s name and identity with a new false one.
If this sounds way to close to slavery, you are not mistaken.
The legal construct forces legal recognition and legitimacy of biological falsification for the adopted person’s lifetime, and that of all their descendants, and erases all legal ties and rights to their own family (parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins etc). All without the adopted person’s consent. Ask me, I know, I’m one of those descendants.
Moving a child to a “loving stable home” is not best if the adoptive parents seek to erase the birth parents 100% and “love the child AS IF it is their own.” (Say this sentence… “I’m going to love this a cat AS IF it is a dog.”) This will convey the idea.
It’s ridiculous isn’t it? “as if” is the Adoptive Parent theme song. Adoptive parents think they can buy an infant, and nurture it into becoming something it’s not— but this belief only causes more trauma to the child. The bottom line is this – it is ALWAYS unsafe for a child to be their authentic self in an adoptive home. The love received is conditional but the child must pretend to be something they are not in order to keep that love flowing.
I don’t really want to be redundant – there will be another blog tomorrow and the next day . . . in the meantime, my family history attracted to me this video (yep, adoption would appear to have been a “family tradition” in my own family of birth – but it also appears that our children may have broken the cycle with their own children – thankfully !!).
It’s not hard for me to be drawn into any adoption story. As a writer, I am of course aware of William Faulkner. As a result of disappointment in the initial rejection of his work, he became indifferent to publishers and boldly wrote his next novel in a much more experimental style. In describing the writing process for that work, Faulkner would later say, “One day I seemed to shut the door between me and all publisher’s addresses and book lists. I said to myself, ‘Now I can write’.”
But really, this blog is not actually about Faulkner but about a related adoptee, John Murry. The name Murry actually runs down a long line of Faulkner’s. William Faulkner’s father’s and brother’s first names. John Murry had been adopted by his adoptive parents by an agreement made before his birth. His biological mother was a Cherokee schoolgirl and his adoptive parents thought they couldn’t have children. Also not unusual in cases of adoption, his adoptive mother gave birth to a son a year later, who John was raised with as a brother for a period of time. While growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi, John’s relationship with his parents was troubled (also not unusual for adoptees).
With the birth of their biological son of more importance to them, John was eventually sent away to be raised by his grandmother. She was a first cousin of William Faulkner, who considered her to be like a sister to him. John Murry’s grandparents were related to the Faulkners – on both sides. Mississippi is that kind of place, he says. Murry often refers to Faulkner’s book, The Sound and the Fury. He says that his adoptive parents hoped to model him after a character, Quentin Compson, who appears in that book. John feels more identified with Quentin’s brother, Benjy. Quentin had gone to Harvard University. John says his adoptive parents gave little thought to the fact that Quentin commits suicide in that book.
Faulkner died 15 years before John Murry was born. His grandmother and Faulkner had been inseparable, and his grandfather was a pallbearer at Faulkner’s funeral. When Murry was growing up, his beloved grandmother told him that, despite the lack of blood lineage, he was “obnoxious” and “more like Bill than any of us”. Obnoxious was the ultimate compliment, he says – it meant he challenged authority and called out can’t.
So the character Murry relates to, Benjy, is labelled an “idiot” in the novel. Today that character would have been diagnosed as autistic like Murry was at the age of 32 (confirming his own instincts about who he was most like). He struggles. At times he is in control of all the stuff going on in his head; other times, paralyzed by it. “I have an eidetic memory,” (More commonly called a photographic memory.) He says, “I can remember conversations verbatim. I can hear multiple conversations at once too.” He’s not boasting. Many of his memories torture him. “I don’t want to remember some of these things.”
Not wanting to remember is unsurprising because his childhood was violent. Murry is phenomenally well read, for which he is thankful for one thing: the shelf-full of books his lawyer father gave him. “I was 10 years old, and he puts books out there for me to read like The Communist Manifesto and the Autobiography of Malcolm X – books he didn’t agree with.” Although his parents were set on him going to Harvard, he had other ideas. He chose to play music and compose songs (another way of telling stories).
Murry spent three weeks of his childhood in a host family’s home with other dysfunctional children (who were also being treated at a fundamentalist Christian rehabilitation center). There, he had his first sexual experience, which was being repeatedly gang raped by three older boys. He says they discussed killing Murry in front of him. “I want people to know if something like that happens to you, that violence is not something you bring upon yourself, just as I didn’t bring it upon myself. I was the victim of it.” He blames a later heroin addiction that almost killed him to that time he spent in that Christian rehab as a youngster. “I think the thing that led to heroin was having to repeat again and again, ‘I am powerless over drugs and alcohol, and only Jesus Christ can save me from that’.”
Giving up drugs and leaving America in a move to Ireland changed everything for Murry. Albert Camus is quoted by Murry as saying, “The first thing a person has to do in life is to decide whether or not to take their own life and once they’ve done that they can choose to live. I don’t want to die – I know that now. I slowly realized my perspective on things has changed. I’ve changed.” I recently completed reading Camus’ book The Plague (I know, a perverse choice in a time of pandemic perhaps but actually enlightening as regards the behavior of people under such extreme circumstances which it seems changes little over time).
John Murry’s story is sadly typical of many adoptees who have a higher rate of suicide, dysfunctional relationships, drug use and are more likely to be victims of abuse.
Continuing building awareness regarding Foster Care as May is Awareness month.
The following story mentions murder, substance use/addiction/overdose, suicide, homelessness, Child Protective Services cases that are open, trauma, illegal activity/selling drugs, sex work, mention of a higher power and spiritual crisis, the effects of poverty, and mention police.
Having been warned, here is today’s awareness builder.
It’s Foster Care Awareness month and I’m sitting here at 3:30 am, not able to sleep.
My friend, a girl I’ve known since 6th grade, was murdered in 2019. She was in group homes with me as well, two different placements. She dated my sister. I grew up with this girl. Today, the news covered the sentencing. I learned new details of what happened. It was disgusting, made me hate the world we live in, and made me so hopeless but furious. I’ll spare the details but it was inhumane, needless, and these two men are pathetic excuses for human beings. My friend was 22 when she passed, and she left behind a young daughter.
She did extra jobs for her employer and turned him into the department of labor after he refused to compensate her. That was his motive. It describes his crack-cocaine purchase right after the event. It was all about money. Money for drugs. But my friend was so desperate and had to work at this place and got caught up in this cycle trying to once again, rely on systems and was killed. I know the world is crazy and this could’ve happened to anyone but this specific case with the details.. I think not. I think this was a direct effect of how the systems chews youth up and spits them out. They have to rely and try to network with unsafe, sketchy people because they don’t know how else to make a living. It’s not like the department would help. Or care. Nobody who wants to do anything can and those who can’t won’t do anything.
I’m angry. I’m triggered.
I have three other friends from placement that were murdered. I have two friends that overdosed. I have two that committed suicide. I have one that died outside while homeless.
I’ve experienced so much grief and loss in my life, but I also know that these are the statistics for foster youth. Why do we have to be reduced to these statistics? When does it end? When does the world and our government figure that we’ve had enough?
This breaking code silence movement has done a lot for my mental health, targeted support groups help. Former foster youth are the only ones advocating and looking out for each other. I’m just so distraught tonight.
My friends all were amazing people, kind people. People who have seen the worst side of others but still worked hard to show up to life and make this world a better place for others, every last one of them.
I spent 11 years in the NYS Foster Care system. These youth from placement are all I know, I don’t even know anyone else aside from the internet that I haven’t met in care. I’m watching my friends die, I’m watching life kick them when they’re down, homeless, doing sex work out of necessity and desperation, stealing out of desperation, selling illegal items out of desperation, going to jail and prison, having open CPS cases with their own children when they’re just trying to move on with life and their own personal experiences, working for shady people because THEY HAVE TO. Everyone I was in care with, including myself live in poverty. I know I’ve had to network with shady people and take risks myself, you’re never growing up and are like “oh yeah I’m going to clean this mans house under the table that I don’t know and I could get attacked and all but nobody would care because I have nobody to call anyways and the police only made it worse the last time”
Because the resources aren’t there, the empathy isn’t there. The community isn’t there. Youth can so easily go back to what they know pre-system and actually pick up more behaviors in the system because THE SYSTEM DOESNT WORK. It’s failed so many of us.
Thank you for letting me vent, I’m mourning so much. I’m so scared to lose anyone else and I’m also fearful for my own future. They raised us to be stupid, to be nothing, to be institutionalized. They already reduced us to these statistics.
I feel so spiritually bankrupt at this point, I feel like I’ve been abandoned by my higher power, and I’m always stuck thinking about how the world should be rather than how it is. It’s so much weight to carry, but I can’t be complacent about the trials we face as youth. I feel powerless and here it is, foster care awareness month and I feel like this is the only platform I can come to and express my sorrows without being silenced. Thank you for reading. I just needed to get it out to people who /do/ care.