Adoption IS Trauma

Today’s adoptee story –

Through writing this story, I became *very* angry with my biological mother for the first time since I met her almost ten years ago now.

I’ve always known I was adopted (at birth, through Catholic Charities, not “private” adoption but also not a foster care adoption.). I had great adoptive parents, who I know loved me (but didn’t always). There were no biological children in the family. My sister was adopted at four years old (when I was six) from foster care.

Blogger’s note – adoptive parents often adopt another child to be a sibling to the first one they adopted. This was true for my mom – the Jill for the Jack they already had – as her adoptive mother actually wrote in a letter to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. This was true for my dad – who’s adoptive mother went back to The Salvation Army home for unwed mothers in El Paso TX to get a brother for him.

I always, always, always felt alone. I’d cry, when I was very young, and curl up on the couch and sob “I want to go home, why can’t you just let me go home.” I’d never known another home, but that was what I always wanted when I was very small, was to “go home.”

I always believed I was something different than my peers. I found it hard to make friends. I had no sense of my own identity. I spent my entire childhood longing for my blood kin. When I grew up and finally found them, only my mother and her younger son (who wants nothing to do with me) were alive. My older sister, my father, my older brother, all gone.

Blogger’s note – it is interesting that as a child I never connected the dots that my parents being adoptees made me “different”. I never thought about the fact that my parents were “different” from the parents of my school peers, that their parents were not also adopted, though subconsciously I knew this because I could not say to anyone what my cultural identity was (Danish, Scottish are what I have learned, along with Irish and English).

Even now, in my early forties, a part of me feels like there’s something about me not worthy of being wanted by them, not worthy of knowing them (the biological, genetic family).

I’d have rather been aborted.

Blogger’s note -This is true for many, not all adoptees, but in my all things adoption group, I’ve seen this written many times.

Great adoptive family or not, this life is not what I deserved. My biological mother doesn’t regret her choice. And part of me hates her for that, now that I’ve had some time to really process everything that’s happened since we met.

This is not a life I would wish on any person.

Adoption IS trauma.

Realizing the Value of DNA Testing

Getting the results of my own DNA tests (both Ancestry and 23 and Me) did NOT bring surprise results to me – in that I knew BOTH of my parents were adoptees at the time I did the tests. What was I hoping for ? Answers to my cultural identity. A question that had plagued me since public school. What are we ? I asked my mom. We’re Americans, she answered. No, I said, what ELSE are we ? We don’t know because we were adopted, she answered.

And I did get insight into what I had yearned to know from childhood. Yet, my DNA tests did something for me that I did not anticipate. As actual genetic, biological relations were found at the two platforms, my DNA test proved to these that I actually was related to them. Me, someone they never knew existed. Though to be honest, I never knew they existed either. Building relationships with people who have decades of history with my original families (the families my parents were conceived as part of) and none involving me is slow and not earth-shattering but soul warming never-the-less.

I am pretty certain I came as a surprise to some of these – especially on my dad’s paternal line. His father’s family was located in Denmark. Several of his father’s siblings as well as his father immigrated to the United States. Unfortunately, his father never knew he had a son. More’s the pity. My dad did look remarkably like his own father and they shared an interest in boats, the ocean and fishing. They would have made wonderful friends as father and son. So, that family has been the most amazed at my existence. I originally found my grandfather’s step-granddaughter who told me quite a bit about him. And only recently, I now have email contact with one of his nephews in Denmark, who has told me something about my grandfather’s early life in that country before immigrating.

With my other 3 grandparent family lines, there was some awareness of my parent’s existence. One of the first that I met shared the same maternal grandfather with me. His daughters (my mom’s half-siblings) were aware of her existence. My cousin said to me upon my emergence into her life, My mom always wondered about your mom and wanted to have an opportunity to meet her. Sadly, I barely missed this half-aunt of mine. She died only months before I began my own search into my roots after BOTH of my parents had died only 4 months apart.

Next came cousins and an aunt on my dad’s maternal line. 23 and Me outed my cousin and she wrote me in excitement, Delores or Dolores Hempstead/Barnes is my grandmother. The aunt is her mother and she was living only 90 miles away from my dad at the time he died. He never spoke to me about being adopted except that one time after his adoptive father died and my dad was going through some papers and marveled that his original surname was Hempstead. My mom did tell me that he was not supportive of her own effort to search, warning her that she might be opening up a can of worms. That has informed me somewhat about his perspective – that the people who adopted him were his parents – end of story. We did know that my granny “got” him at the Salvation Army. There is so much more to that story that I have now been able to learn and I will always believe that the Salvation Army coerced her into surrendering him to adoption as she was unwed. I’m told she regretted losing him the rest of her life. One cousin lead me to another cousin who had the breadcrumb clue that my paternal grandmother left as to my dad’s father’s identity. A few photos and some notes written on the back of these.

Though the initial focus of my adoption related searches was my mom’s Stark family line, that one took me the longest to finally connect with the children of my grandmother’s youngest brother, who I also just missed as he had died not all that long before. I did learn early on from a woman “related by marriage” who was also a genealogist that my Stark family was Scottish. She belonged to the church across the street from the cemetery where my grandmother, her second husband and her parents are all buried. My maternal grandmother was a victim of Georgia Tann and the baby stealing and selling scandal of the Memphis Branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. My mom knew some of this background information, believed that she had been inappropriately adopted (her words for what happened to separate her from her mother) and actually tried to get her adoption file (the one I now have the complete file of, including photos of my grandmother and baby mom) but was denied it by the state of Tennessee. These second cousins (as they are my age but would be genetically my mom’s cousins) had close and fond relationships with my maternal grandmother. They gave me the warm kinds of intimate details about the kind of person she was – what my heart had yearned to know since I began my own journey.

I believe I have fulfilled my destiny to reconnect the broken threads of our family’s origins – the reason I managed to be preserved with the parents who first conceived me out of wedlock (my mom still in high school, my dad had only just started at an out of town university – high school sweethearts they had been. They did marry and remained married until death did part them).

Until I began learning more about the traumas of being adopted, it was the most natural thing in the world to me. So natural, that both of my sisters actually each gave up a baby to adoption. Thankfully, I’ve met and have contact with both of these wonderful, valuable persons – my niece and nephew. It’s impossible to know how their lives might have been different if my sisters had kept them. If my parents had never been surrendered for adoption – the miracle of it all for me personally is – I simply would not have existed. I love my life and for having one at all and with my original parents, I am grateful. So, I am also grateful I wasn’t given up for adoption – it would have been the most normal thing in the world to have happened to me.

The Controversy Over Beloved

Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved was mentioned on Real Time with Bill Maher last Friday night. I had no idea why it was even mentioned but I checked my Netflix list and saw that we had not seen the movie, so I added it. Then, this morning I read on article in The Guardian titled – The Republicans’ racial culture war is reaching new heights in Virginia by Sidney Blumenthal and my interest was peaked.

My mom was born in Virginia. You could almost say it was an accident but it was not. My mom was adopted and for my entire growing up years, I thought she was born in Memphis TN and was adopted from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. That latter part is correct but Memphis was not her birthplace. That is what my adoptive grandparents were led to believe and then later the TCHS muddled their way through an explanation. My mom’s grandfather’s family did immigrate into the US at Virginia from Scotland prior to the Revolutionary War which some of our kin actually fought in. My grandmother’s father sent her there to Virginia to give birth to my mom away from gossiping locals in their small rural town East of Memphis. I suspect there were still some family ties living there at the time. My mom’s father seemed to my grandmother’s family to have abandoned her at 4 months pregnant. I prefer to keep a kinder perspective on that man, full of sorrow after losing a wife and a son to untimely deaths, and this perspective was softened after meeting my cousin who shares with me this man as a grandfather. I cannot ever really know the reason why he left (though I do have theories) or why he didn’t come to my grandmother’s aid when she returned to Memphis with my baby mom. I just have to let the questions be forever unanswered.

It turns out that Glenn Youngkin who is running for governor on the Republican side of things has made this novel by Morrison his last campaign stand. Of course, there is more to the story than that and the “more” has to do with Virginia history (which I will admit that I am still somewhat ignorant regarding). Youngkin’s campaign has contrived a brand-new enemy within, a specter of doom to stir voters’ anxieties that only he can dispel: the Black Nobel prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison and her novel Beloved.

Youngkin waded into the murky waters of racial politics. He offered himself as the defender of schoolchildren from the menace of critical race theory, even though the abstruse legal doctrine is not taught in any Virginia public school. Youngkin then seized upon a novel racial symbol. The Pulitzer prize-winning novel is about the psychological toll and loss of slavery, especially its sexual abuse, and considered one of the most important American literary works. And there is a history to the issue in Virginia.

Somewhat disingenuously Youngkin has explained it in a campaign ad this way. “When my son showed me his reading material, my heart sunk,” Laura Murphy, identified as “Fairfax County Mother”, said in the Youngkin ad. “It was some of the most explicit reading material you can imagine.” She claimed that her son had nightmares from reading the assignment in his advanced placement literature class. “It was disgusting and gross,” her son, Blake, said. “It was hard for me to handle. I gave up on it.” As it happens, in 2016 Murphy had lobbied a Republican-majority general assembly to pass a bill enabling students to exempt themselves from class if they felt the material was sexually explicit. Governor McAuliffe vetoed what became known as “the Beloved bill”.

“This Mom knows – she lived through it. It’s a powerful story,” tweeted Youngkin. Ms Murphy, the “Mom”, is in fact a longtime rightwing Republican activist. Her husband, Daniel Murphy, is a lawyer-lobbyist in Washington and a large contributor to Republican candidates and organizations. Their delicate son, Blake Murphy, who complained of “night terrors”, was a Trump White House aide and is now associate general counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which sends out fundraising emails.

The offending novel is a fictional treatment of a true story with a Virginia background, a history that ought to be taught in Virginia schools along with the reading of Beloved. In 1850, Senator James M Mason, of Virginia, sponsored the Fugitive Slave Act. “The safety and integrity of the Southern States (to say nothing of their dignity and honor) are indissolubly bound up with domestic slavery,” he wrote. In 1856, Margaret Garner escaped from her Kentucky plantation into the free state of Ohio. She was the daughter of her owner and had been repeatedly raped by his brother, her uncle, and gave birth to four children. When she was cornered by slave hunters operating under the Fugitive Slave Act, she killed her two-year-old and attempted to kill her other children to spare them their fate. Garner was returned to slavery, where she died from typhus.

In the aftermath of her capture, Senator Charles Sumner, the abolitionist from Massachusetts, denounced Mason on the floor of the Senate for his authorship of the bill, “a special act of inhumanity and tyranny”. He also cited the case of a “pious matron who teaches little children to relieve their bondage”, sentenced to “a dungeon”. He was referring to Margaret Douglass, a southern white woman who established a school for Black children in Norfolk, Virginia. She was arrested and sent to prison for a month “as an example”, according to the judge. When she was released, she wrote a book on the cause of Black education and the culture of southern rape. “How important, then,” she wrote, “for these Southern sultans, that the objects of their criminal passions should be kept in utter ignorance and degradation.”

Virginia’s racial caste system existed for a century after the civil war. In 1956, after the supreme court’s decision in Brown v Brown of Education ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional, Virginia’s general assembly, with Confederate flags flying in the gallery, declared a policy of massive resistance that shut down all public schools for two years. The growth of all-white Christian academies and new patterns of segregation date from that period. Only in 1971 did Virginia revise its state constitution to include a strong provision for public education.

Youngkin well understands the inflammatory atmosphere in Virginia in which he is dousing gasoline and lighting matches. Branding Beloved as sexually obscene was always an abstracted effort to avoid coming to terms with slavery, especially its sexual coercion. Parental control is Youngkin’s abstract slogan for his racial divisiveness. Beloved is his signifier to the Trump base that he is a safe member of the cult, no longer an untrustworthy corporate type. Youngkin’s reflexive dependence on the strategy reveals more than the harsh imperatives of being a candidate in the current Republican party. It places him, whether he knows or not, cares or not, objects or not, in a long tradition in the history of Virginia that the Commonwealth has spent decades seeking to overcome.

To this political post, I add an admission. My maternal line roots are ALL Confederate – on both her mother’s and her father’s side. It is a fact that I am personally not proud of, even if I had nothing to do with it. I still own that it is a part of my personal family history – sadly.

My Maternal Adoptive Grandmother

1989 among the Missouri Azaleas

I spent the afternoon yesterday reading through a thick stack of letters that I wrote to my grandmother. When my grandmother died, for whatever reason, when my mom found these, she thought to send them to me. I wondered why but now I understand. My grandmother adopted my mom from Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society’s Memphis branch. I find it amazing that she kept all of these letters from me but they are very detailed about my marriage in the early days, what living in Missouri was like for me and what we were doing to promote our home-based business than I would have imagined. I wonder that I had that much time to write so much to her but then, there is only one, maybe two, in any given month and not even one for every month.

I could have been given up for adoption as my mom conceived me when she was only a junior in high school and not wed. My dad had graduated from the same high school the year before and had only just started attending the University of New Mexico at Las Cruces. I tend to credit his parents (he was adopted also) for preserving me in the family but as everyone who would know is now deceased, it is only a guess on my part. That is the reason I was born in Las Cruces and not El Paso Texas where my sisters were born.

I had the good fortune to chose to be born on this grandmother’s wedding anniversary. In January back in 1994, I acknowledged a memory she shared with me in a letter from her (I haven’t kept most, if any of hers to me). It was a “special memory” of hers about the sunlight shining upon me while she held me in her arms and some beautiful thought she had at that moment. It seems to have been a sign from God meant just for her and since I too believe in signs of that sort, I understood. I am now married to the man that I am because I received a physical, unmistakable sign to give him a bit more attention than I might have otherwise. Of course, discernment is very important when it comes to trusting the signs one notices.

In fact, it is quite clear in re-reading these very old letters from the early 1990s, that I was closer to this grandmother in my spiritual understandings than anyone else in my family. My dad’s parents were very conservative, traditional Church of Christ adherents. My mom was very much Episcopal and my dad wasn’t at all a church goer until all of us girls had left the home and then, he said to me that he went to “keep my mom company.” After she died, when I was there helping him with life in general, I went with him because he continued to go to their little church alone or with my youngest sister who was assisting him so he could remain in his home.

These letters are full of the most amazing details of my early marriage and life here in Missouri. I could share these things with this grandmother because she grew up in Missouri in a house much like the one I live in and an environment that is very similar. In one letter, I write – “I truly love the woods, hills and streams of my home here in the Missouri Ozarks. Knowing that you grew up nearby gives me the feeling that I came back home.” (I had grown up in the desert of El Paso Texas, where my grandmother spent most of her own life and where she eventually passed away.) I also shared a lot with her about our efforts to promote and grow our fledgling business.

When I found this thick packet, I wondered why my mom sent it to me and didn’t simply throw it away. I don’t know if she bothered to read all of these letters or not – I can’t ask her since she died in Sept of 2015 – but I’m glad to have them today. Only a few of them can I even bear to throw away but the details of our early business are as precious as gold and I hope we can preserve them in protective sleeves in a binder. Maybe someday, our sons will enjoy reading about our adventures before we decided to become their parents.

Secondary Infertility

Thinking about my birthday as the day I separated from my mother understandably led me to think that my mom was separated from her mother twice – when she was born and at approx 6 mos old when she was taken by Georgia Tann for adoption. My grandmother tried to get my mom back 4 days after the papers were signed but was blocked in her efforts by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. My maternal grandmother never had another child, though she doted immensely on her two nieces. I’m certain that she must of thought of my mom when she was with them. Though they called her Aunt Lou and even though I have seen in a communication post-surrender from my grandmother to Georgia Tann pleading for the photograph taken the last time she was with my mom (which I happily now possess), she signed her name Elizabeth.

However on my mom’s birth certificate she is named as Lizzie Lou Stark and she appears by that name in many of my mom’s adoption file papers, she seems to have dropped Lizzie and simply went by Lou. I’ve always called her by the double name – Lizzie Lou – and I am told she was a fun person. But she never had another child.

In learning about all things adoption (huge interest since there are 4 adoptions in my immediate birth family – both of my parents, a niece and a nephew were all adopted), I have learned that secondary infertility after relinquishing a baby is not all that uncommon.

Secondary Infertility and Birth Mothers by Isabel Andrews – Abstract in Psychoanalytic Inquiry (there is a paywall if you care to read further) –

Relinquishing a child has had lifelong consequences for women and for adoptees. This article explores a little-discussed aspect—secondary infertility, birth mothers who did not have other children. To my knowledge, this is the first study to research the incidence of secondary infertility and its impact on the women concerned. I discovered that between 13–20% of birth mothers do not go on to have other children. For a few, this is a conscious decision; however, for the majority there was either no known reason for infertility or their life circumstances foisted it on them, i.e., lack of suitable partner. Relinquishing their child has meant losing their only opportunity to parent a birth child, and that has bought tremendous anguish. Women considering relinquishing a child need to be made aware that secondary infertility is a real and present possibility.

The Declassified Adoptee wrote a blog about it that you can read – Should Secondary Infertility Rates of Birth Mothers be Disclosed in Adoption Counseling? – in which she refers to the article I linked above. The blogger writes – “Andrews was extremely respectful to mothers and recognized the deep loss that many of these mothers feel and expressed it eloquently in her article.”

Nancy Verrier who’s book The Primal Wound I have read, is referenced with this note – Andrews read that 40-60% of mothers who have lost children to adoption did not go on to have other children – that prompted Andrews to conduct this study.  She too found that 40-60% of the original mothers seeking support from Adoption Jigsaw did not go on to have other children and wanted to determine if this percentage was accurate.  She conducted a study that recorded (1) secondary infertility of original mothers seeking support from Adoption Jigsaw (2) secondary infertility reported from data recorded during the search and reunions conducted through Adoption Jigsaw and (3) information that was returned on questionnaires sent out to original mothers.

Andrews feels that in society, original mothers may not necessarily be regarded as being “mother” to the children they relinquished for adoption which may cause a more profound feeling of loss if they have not experienced motherhood and parenting by having more children. My mom’s cousins when I was finally able to communicate with them did indicate a knowledge that my grandmother had given up a child for adoption. It is true she signed the surrender papers. However, reading between the lines in the approx 100 pages I received as her file, it is clear my grandmother was exploited for her desperation caused by poverty and a lack of familial support to offset that.

Losing a baby is one of life’s greatest traumas; losing a baby to adoption is just as traumatic, if not more so.  When a baby dies, the parents receive enormous support, love, and understanding,  A funeral is held, cards, flowers, and visits recognize their devastation.  When a mother or couple lose a baby to adoption, particularly in the past, there is no recognition of birth, and thus none of loss” (Andrews, 2010, p. 91).

This current pregnancy (in which surrender is being considered) may be a mother’s only opportunity to parent and it is unethical, as is so often done in counseling, to tell her she is guaranteed to be able to parent other children in the future. (Amanda Woolston, June 26 2010, in her blog)

Adoptees Deserve Better

Steve Inskeep, is a co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” and “Up First.” He is an adoptee and an adoptive father. He penned an op-ed in the New York Times recently titled For 50 Years, I Was Denied the Story of My Birth. I share excerpts below.

In 1968, a woman appeared for an interview at the Children’s Bureau, an adoption agency in Indianapolis. She was in her 20s and alone. A caseworker noted her name, which I am withholding for reasons that will become apparent, and her appearance: She was “a very attractive, sweet looking girl,” who seemed “to come from a good background” and was “intelligent.” She had “blue eyes and rather blonde hair,” though the woman said her hair was getting darker over time, like that of her parents.

Her reason for coming was obvious. She was around 40 weeks pregnant. She told a story that the caseworker wrote down and filed in a cabinet, where it would rest for decades unseen. The expectant mother said she had grown up in Eastern Kentucky’s mountains, then migrated north as a teenager to find work after her father died. She was an office worker in Ohio when she became pregnant by a man who wasn’t going to marry her. The most remarkable part of her story was this: When she knew she was about to give birth, she drove westward out of Ohio, stopping at Indianapolis only because it was the first big city she encountered. She checked into a motel and found an obstetrician, who took one look and sent her to the Children’s Bureau. She arranged to place the baby for adoption and gave birth the next day.

The baby was me. Life is a journey, and I was born on a road trip. I spent 10 days in foster care before being adopted by my parents, Roland and Judith Inskeep, who deserve credit if I do any small good in the world.

In recent decades, open adoption has been replacing closed and sealed adoptions. The rules governing past adoptions change slowly. Mr Inskeep was not allowed to see his birth records. Everything he has shared about his biological parents was unknown to him growing up. He says, “They were such a blank, I could not even imagine what they might be like.”

His adopted daughter is from China, and like many international adoptees, she also had no story of her biological family. A social worker suggested to him that his adopted daughter might want to know his own adoption story someday. So I requested my records from the State of Indiana and was denied. Next I called the Children’s Bureau, where a kind woman on the phone had my records in her hands, but was not allowed to share them.

In 2018, the law in Indiana changed. Many adoptees or biological families may now obtain records unless another party to the adoption previously objected. In 2019 the state and the Children’s Bureau sent me documents that gave my biological mother’s name, left my biological father’s name blank and labeled me “illegitimate.” On a hospital form someone had taken my right footprint, with my biological mother’s right thumbprint below it on the page.

I saw something similar on my mom’s adoption file records. Tennessee had changed the law in the late 1990s for the victims of the Georgia Tann scandal only, sometime after they denied my mom but no one ever told her. My cousin told me she got her dad’s file (he was also adopted from The Tennessee Children’s Home) after my dad died in 2016 and that is why I now have the file my mom was denied on flimsy reasoning (her dad, who was 20 years old than her mom could not be proven to have died, though her mom had died and the state of Tennessee didn’t really try very hard).

Mr Inskeep writes – It’s been nearly two years since I first read those documents, and I’m still not over it. Knowing that story has altered how I think about myself, and the seemingly simple question of where I’m from. It’s brought on a feeling of revelation, and also of anger. I’m not upset with my biological mother; it was moving to learn how she managed her predicament alone. Her decisions left me with the family that I needed — that I love. Nor am I unhappy with the Children’s Bureau, which did its duty by preserving my records. I am angry that for 50 years, my state denied me the story of how I came to live on this earth. Strangers hid part of me from myself.

2% of US residents — roughly six million people — are adoptees. A majority were adopted domestically, with records frequently sealed, especially for older adoptees. Only nine states allow adoptees unrestricted access to birth records. Indiana is among those that have begun to allow it under certain conditions, while 19 states and the District of Columbia still permit nothing without a court order (I came up against this in Virginia). Also California, when my dad was born, I could get nothing out of them. Florida also remains closed.

This spring, more than a dozen states are considering legislation for greater openness. Bills in Florida, Texas and Maryland would ensure every adoptee’s access to pre-adoption birth records. Proposals in other states, like Arizona, would affirm the rights of some adoptees but not others. The legislation is driven by activists who have lobbied state by state for decades. Many insist on equality: All adoptees have a right to the same records as everyone else.

Equality would end an information blackout that robs people of identity and more. Mr Inskeep notes what my mom (an adoptee) often said to me – “I was never able to tell a doctor my family medical history when asked.” For that matter, until I learned who my original grandparents were from 2017 into 2018, I didn’t know mine either because BOTH of my parents were adoptees.

Closed adoption began as “confidential” adoption in the early 20th century, enabling parents and children to avoid the stigma of illegitimacy. Records were sealed to all but people directly involved. In a further step, by midcentury, even parties to the adoption were cut out. Agencies offered adoptive parents a chance to raise children without fear of intrusion by biological parents, and biological parents a chance to start over.

Access to information about one’s genetic background, heritage, and ancestry is a birthright denied only to adoptees. An adoptee is expected to honor a contract made over his or her body and without his or her consent.

A Reunion That Came Almost Too Late

David Rosenberg and Margaret Katz

50 years after the unwed teenage mother gave birth in a maternity home and lost her son to adoption through the Louise Wise agency, mother and son finally were reunited not long before David died of thyroid cancer. She was a victim of the baby scoop era. Their story really isn’t all that remarkable to anyone who has been deeply researching all things adoption for any length of time.

However, thanks to a new book – American Baby: A Mother, A Child, And The Shadow History Of Adoption by journalist Gabrielle Glaser recently published, their story joins legions of others who have endured similar trajectories. And like many others, the revelations they were hoping for came by way of inexpensive, publicly available DNA testing. In this case, 23 and Me.

The journalist was working on an article about kidney transplants in 2007 when she met David Rosenberg. He admitted to her that that one reason he’d agreed to media coverage was his dream that “somewhere on the vast internet,” a young Jewish woman who’d given up a baby for adoption in 1961 would see his picture, “his black eyes, his thick, strong hands, cleft chin, and broad smile” — and recognize her son. Even so, it would be another 7 years before his dream came true.

There was a woman, Margaret Katz, who had a matching dream of finding the son she lost in 1961, when she was a 16 year old and rather than let her marry her high school sweetheart, her parents sent her away to a maternity home on Staten Island. These stories hit “close” to home for me personally. My mom was that 16 year old unwed mother. Her high school sweetheart was my dad. They have both passed away. I sincerely believe that if my dad’s humble adoptive parents had not intervened to encourage him to forgo his dreams of a college diploma (which he had only just embarked upon) and marry her, I would have been adopted similarly. In learning about the stories of both of my parents, both of whom were adopted, the surprising realization for me has been the miracle I was not given up, that my mom wasn’t sent away by her banker dad and socialite mother to have and give me up.

Many people have heard about the Georgia Tann scandal involving the Tennessee Children’s Home in Memphis Tennessee. She was involved in my mom’s adoption. Some people may have been aware that The Salvation Army was known for its own homes for unwed mothers. My dad was born at their Door of Hope in Ocean Beach, a suburb of San Diego, California. Some people are aware of the role that Catholic Charities has played in the adoption – for profit – industry. Some may have watched the old movie, Blossoms in the Dust, about Edna Gladney who also became renown for facilitating adoptions.

In the case of David and Margaret and the new book, it is the Louise Wise agency – which I have had less awareness of except – oh yes, there were the relatively recent revelations known as “Three Identical Strangers,” about triplets separated at birth as part of a nature vs nurture study. Louise Wise is notorious for the medical and psychological analyses, hare-brained experiments on newborns, that she is pilloried for today. In the meantime, having separated the baby from the mother (who wasn’t even allowed to hold him after his birth), these infants were kept in foster care for months, while the agency extracted money from hopeful adoptive parents, who had to pay to remain on waiting lists. 

Many adoption agencies lied, as I now know Georgia Tann did in the case of my mother. They would often obscure the race of a baby. (Since most white couples wanted white babies, biracial children often languished in foster care till adulthood.) They lied about how they came by a baby (if they had snatched the baby from a Native American reservation, for instance). They also embellished the biographies of the baby’s birth parents. And this is what happened in my own mother’s case – where her poverty stricken parents were presented as unfortunate college students who got caught by pregnancy for having sex before marriage (all of that untrue and they were married but separated).

In the case of this new book’s story, Louise Wise wrote that Margaret was a gifted scholar who wanted to continue her studies at a prestigious science school (untrue), and that George was a fair-skinned, freckled college student (he was swarthy and still in high school). Couples who couldn’t conceive were so desperate for a child that they didn’t ask questions.  Also true of my own mother’s financially comfortable parents when they adopted her, only to later discover what they were told and some of the information in the surrender papers was contradictory. By then she had been in their home for a couple of years and they were not going to give her up, though they lacked complete peace of mind about her pre-adoption circumstances.

I don’t know if I will actually read this new book. I’m certain it is a good one and it is easy to find rather detailed reviews simply by doing a Google search. I’ve just read so many and I have more or less moved on from that intensive research period I went through myself, as I learned my own parents pre-adoption stories.

Being Heard

This is particularly true for adopted persons. The narrative in adoptionland is such that adoptees often refer to it as the rainbows and unicorns version of reality. If one does very much reading about the lived experience of adoptees, a very different perspective emerges. That perspective has guided this blog from its inception.

In the fall of 2017, I began to learn the stories of my original grandparents. Both of my parents were adopted and died knowing next to nothing about their true origins. They and we as their children, only knew some basic facts. The Tennessee Children’s Home and Memphis TN factored into my mom’s adoption. Her original name was Frances Irene Moore and she only knew her parents were Mr and Mrs JC Moore. Not nearly enough for her to go on.

In the 1990s, my mom saw the resurgence of interest in the Georgia Tann story. Miss Tann was directly involved in prying my mom away from her mother. My mom also learned when her adoptive mother died that she had actually been born in Virginia. Because of Georgia Tann’s reputation and because my mom could not explain to her own self how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted before the age of 1 in Tennessee, my mom believed she had at best, in her words “been adopted inappropriately” (that to the state of Tennessee as she attempted to get the adoption file I now have possession of) and privately, to me as her oldest daughter – she believed she had been stolen from her parents by deception, then transported to Tennessee. Not the actual story but not that far off the truth.

My mom was troubled by her adoption. She did want to reconnect with her original mother. Sadly, even as the state of Tennessee refused to turn over her adoption file (she was almost a decade too early in asking and when it did become possible no one alerted her that she could have it), they told her that her mother had died some years before and that totally broke my mother’s heart. She quit creating a family history at Ancestry because it was based on the families of the adoptive parents and as she said to me – that’s just not real to me, I can’t finish it. I understand – while my experiences with my adoptive grandparents are cherished and precious to me – they no longer seem “real” to me either, because I do not carry their genes.

My dad simply ignored the fact he had been adopted. His attitude was, his mother gave him up and these kind people raised him and so, they were his parents and that was that. When my mom wanted to know more, he cautioned her against opening up a can of worms. She couldn’t talk to him about it anymore and so, she talked to me about it. Sometimes adoptees even silence other adoptees because they don’t want to touch the pain hidden in their own unconscious trauma.

Just a note that my favorite adoption related community has shutdown. I have often shared stories from there because I think it is very important to make the stories based on direct experience more widely known. While there will be no more “new” stories unless the group reactivates, there is an archive that I will be able to continue to access. Even so, it’s closure leaves a hole in my own life and I’m certain in many other lives as well. I think the administrators were simply worn out. I do understand.

Why It Is So Hard

It is often, almost always, difficult for an adoptee to have a conversation with their adoptive parents about how hard it has been for them to be an adopted person.  I believe most adoptees are highly sensitive to their adoptive parents feelings and emotions – whether the adoptee tries very hard to be perfect in order to please their adoptive parents or is sullen and defiant or passive and withdrawn.

There is a genuine fear of rejection and abandonment.  Most adoptive parents feel passionate about doing a good deed and don’t really want to hear that it may be problematic.  At times, it even borders on a savior like delusion.  Just as it was with my mom’s adoption through Georgia Tann, even today, adoptive parents don’t want to know that the system that allowed them to buy a child is in any way a corrupt one.

Even in situations where the adoption is as ethical as any can ever be, an adoptee may find it impossible to ask about their original mother, father and other related biological family members.  Can not even begin to discuss feelings of abandonment. Many simply sense it would be an absolute nightmare to even try.

The prevailing feeling is that people devoted to the idea of adoption don’t want to understand anything perceived as “negative” towards adoption.

And more often than I care to admit – I read stories like this one.

My adoptive sister and I don’t even say that our adoptive mom was abusive. Since she was a narcissist, everyone else thinks she was so nice and loving but that was her public facade. In private, she was mean. But I doubt anyone who knew her when she was alive would believe us if we tried to tell the truth. It ends up making me feel like I have these big parts of my life that I have to keep secret.

Or this one on trying to talk honestly with their adoptive parents –

They’re convinced I’m hyper-sensitive, over emotional and ungrateful to them. They absolutely have a savior complex. They live as though my biological family doesn’t exist, and I don’t exist outside of the box they tried to keep me in.

And even sadder still –

My adoptive mom is deceased (and told me before she died that she wished she hadn’t adopted at all).  It would just be too hard to get my adoptive dad to understand my feelings regarding my adoption. We just don’t really talk about it.

The only discussion I know of my mom having with her adoptive mother was when my mom was in high school and the story about Georgia Tann’s baby stealing and selling scandal broke.  My mom always knew she and her brother (not biological but also adopted from the Tennessee Children’s Home) were adopted and from where.  She asked her adoptive mother about it.  Her adoptive mother said something like, yes you came from there but you were NOT one of “those” children.  That was the end of it.

 

Secrets

Reflecting on another blog I wrote several years ago, I see how it applies to this one. I believe also that those that have something to hide from other people will divert one’s attention away from that secret anyway. However there is a current of support for truth in Life that will “out” what should or needs to be known. That is why secrets can’t be “kept”. Secrets are the answer to the question and the answer will out itself because a secret usually does not exist for any good reason. For some people it is only in the seeking for answers to questions deep within them that they have the courage to go on living. It is as though the impossibility of finding an answer is itself a motivation that keeps them keeping on in vitally alive ways.

Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote – “Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

My mom had questions about how she ended up adopted because she did know that the Tennessee Children’s Home Society was the agency and that her conveyance to her adoptive parents occurred in Memphis.  In fact, growing up we all believed she had been born in Memphis.  At some point, she learned she had been born in Richmond VA.  This puzzled her.  How could she have been born there but then adopted as an infant at Memphis ?  She had heard about the Georgia Tann scandal when it broke in 1950 and she was still a school girl.  She worried then that she might have been a victim and her adoptive mother, while admitting that her adoption had taken place through that agency, said my mom was not “one of those” babies.

Life moved on.  My mother gave birth three times, each time to girl babies.  But the questions never really went away for her.  Then in the 1990s, awareness of the Georgia Tann scandal hit the national consciousness 40 years later with features on 60 Minutes and on Oprah facilitating reunions between separated mothers and their children.  My mom learned about Denny Glad in the 60 Minutes broadcast and did speak with her, learned some minimal information and received some advice.  So, my mom requested her adoption file from the state of Tennessee.  Sadly, this was premature in the sense that her inquiry occurred before the state was forced to open it’s files for the victims of Georgia Tann.  They did offer to ask my mom’s original parents if they were okay with her receiving her file.

Sadly, they informed her that her mother had died several years before devastating my mom’s desire to let her mother that she was okay.  As a mother herself, my mom felt her mother would want to know.  She also had a mysterious health condition and no family medical history to assist in revealing whether this was genetic and even what the condition might actually be as a diagnosis was proving hard to come by.

The state had promised to make every effort to contact my mom’s parents.  They did not.  They only sent a minimal inquiry to the Arkansas Driver’s License Bureau to determine if my grandfather had a current Arkansas license.  They replied “no record”.  Of course they had no record.  He had been dead for 30 years.  They could have checked the Social Security Death Index but they never tried.  This really vexed my mom (not that she knew he was dead but he was much older than her mother – my mom did know that much) because they denied her the adoption file on the basis that they were not able to determine whether he was alive or dead.

It is really a shame – these secrets that adoption has forced on it’s victims.  Seeing her adoption file would have answered at least some of my mom’s questions.  The question I can’t answer (since I now do have her adoption file) is why her father left her mother when she was 4 months pregnant because they were legally wed.  I have to live with that question unanswered because there is no one alive who could answer it for me.