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.

Family Contact Matters

I understand this as the child of two adoptees.  The adoptions for both of my parents were closed and my parents both died knowing very little about their origins or the details behind why they ended up adopted.  Since their deaths, I have been able to recover a lot of my rightful family history.  I now know of genetic relatives for each of the four grandparents.  It has been quite a journey.  It wasn’t easy (though maybe easier for me due to our unique circumstances than for many) and it required persistence and determination to see it through.

Certainly DNA testing and the two major matching sites – Ancestry as well as 23 and Me – were instrumental to my success.  Since the genetic relations I was coming into first contact with had no prior knowledge of me and I am well over 60 years old, seeing the DNA truth that I was related to them, I believe it mattered.  It is hard to refute when it is right there clear and certain.

My mom had four living half-siblings on her father’s side when she was born.  One died young of a sudden heart failure.  I barely missed getting to meet my mom’s youngest half-sister by only a few months.  I was lucky to connect with her daughter who had all of her mom’s photo albums and possession of a lot of family history, including written accounts.  One afternoon with her and I felt like I had lived my Moore family’s history.  The family photos I now have digital copies of are precious treasures.

Though my Stark family was the first I became aware of and within a month, I had visited the graves of my grandmother and her parents east of Memphis in Eads Tennessee, those living descendants were the last I finally made a good strong connection with.  The reality is that I simply can’t recover 6 decades of not living with the usual family interactions with my true genetic relatives.  All I can do is try and build relationships with whatever time each of us has left.  The personal memories of my grandmother that my mom’s cousins possessed (she was our favorite aunt, they said) made her come alive for me.

The Salvation Army was somewhat forthcoming with information about my father’s birth at one of their homes for unwed mothers in the San Diego California area just walking distance from the beach and ocean.  They were able to give me my father’s full name and the missing piece of how he got from San Diego to El Paso Texas where he was ultimately adopted.  Once I knew my grandmother’s first married name (born Hempstead including my dad, later Barnes, Timm at death) and a cousin did 23 and Me, my discoveries were off and running.  Her mother, my dad’s youngest half-sibling, was living only 90 miles away from him when he died.  Mores the pity.

I thought I’d never know who my dad’s father was since his mother was unwed but the next cousin I met who I share a grandmother with had her photo albums and she left us a breadcrumb.  Clearly she had no doubt who my dad’s father was.  His father, Rasmus Martin Hansen, was an immigrant, not yet a citizen, and married to a much older woman.  So, he probably never knew he was a father and that’s a pity because I do believe my dad and his dad would have been great friends.

I now also have contact with my Danish grandfather’s genetic relatives.  If it had not been for the pandemic, they would have had their annual reunion there in Denmark.  I haven’t heard but I would not be surprised to know it is postponed.  My relative (who I share a great-grandfather with – my dad being the only child of my grandfather) planned to make the Danish relatives aware of me.

To anyone who thinks not knowing who your true relatives are – if the adoptions were more or less good enough, happy enough and loving enough – I am here to tell you that not knowing anything about your family (including medical history) and being cut off from the people you are actually genetically related to DOES matter.  Adoption records should be UNSEALED for ALL adult adoptees at their request.  Sadly over half of these United States still withhold that information.  I know from experience as I encountered this problem in Virginia, Arizona and California.  If my mom’s adoption had not been connected to the Georgia Tann, Tennessee Children’s Home Society baby stealing and selling scandal, I would not have gotten my first breakthrough.

The Saddest Moment

 

One of the saddest things was a video of a brand new baby being presented to a woman, everyone in tears of happiness, excitedly saying, “the mother just signed away all rights!” I mean this is a video of the saddest moment of that baby’s life, and they truly don’t seem to have any awareness of that.

There sometimes seems to be a real disconnect.  Adoptive parents in their ecstatic joy totally clueless about what is being done to the mother who just gave birth and what will be a lifelong sorrow not only for her but for that child as well.

It has become well-known that a fetus bonds with the woman carrying it in her womb during the 9 months of gestation.  When it leaves the womb, this baby still knows its mother.  A newborn infant is not a blank slate with no awareness or memories.  That is what people thought for a long time and the well-meaning lie that was fed to prospective adoptive parents.

Georgia Tann who was involved in my own mother’s adoption in 1937 believed this and told her clients this was the reality but we now know that the baby knows differently.  In desperation as she tried to work through the difficulties of obtaining financial resources as an abandoned mother (she was married, but her husband had left her, and her father refused to help her and my mom), my grandmother turned to the Porter-Leath Orphanage for TEMPORARY care of my mom.  In doing this, she was being a responsible mother.

In doing this, she fell into a trap whereby she lost custody of my mother.  After being pressured, exploited and coerced to give up her very valuable little white blond baby girl to the Tennessee Children’s Home, my grandmother was allowed one last visit with my mom who had not seen her own mother for some days/weeks.

The joy expressed in my little mother’s body at seeing her mother is something real to behold as she was only about 8 months old at that time.  Throughout her life, my mom never stopped longing for the woman who gave birth to her.  When she tried to make contact, she was told her mother had died some years before.  My mom was devastated and heart-broken.

Taken At Birth

We do not have commercial TV or streaming service in my home, so I have not seen this series, though I know this is what happens.  Today, I read a rational question about adoptions – I don’t know why after this, birth certificates don’t have a place for natural parents and adoptive parents on them? Doesn’t make sense why we haven’t evolved our legal system to preserve people’s identities.

At least that.  Better yet – no false identities.  No falsified birth certificates.  No loss of genetic connection, which is what I think this person’s comment indicates.  Can there not be a “new” kind of birth registration that acknowledges the reality ?

TLC shares this about their series – In 1997 a shocking story made headlines. Thomas Hicks, a small town Georgia doctor, illegally sold more than 200 babies from the back door of his clinic. Jane Blasio has been trying to uncover the mysteries of the Hicks clinic for over 30 years. She is joined by Lisa Joyner and Chris Jacobs as they try to bring closure to those stolen babies desperately searching for their true identities and birth families.

In fact, the ’90s were a time for shocking revelations about adoption as Georgia Tann’s scandal from the 1920s to 1950s re-emerged in the national consciousness.  And by late in that decade, sealed adoption records became accessible in some cases such as in Tennessee for Tann’s victims.  In 2017, that allowed me to obtain my mother’s adoption file, though it had been denied her in the early 1990s, she never learned that she could have gotten this file while she was yet alive.  It is a sadness because she would have seen a photo of her mother and learned alot about the true circumstances of her adoption.

The comment I shared above had some more thoughts.  “I was shocked at the empathy and benefit of the doubt given to the Adoptive Parents. I think I would consider them kidnappers if I was coming in from the outside to help track down the truth. It definitely showed me more of what Hopeful Adoptive Parents will do when they are desperate for a child.  I also am just heartbroken for these families and the adoptees. Felt like in episode 2, you finally get to hear a testimony of just how devastating this is for them.”

The only good thing I can say about this increasing awareness is that it is a good thing.  Reforms and changes are likely to be encouraged as more people learn the truth about the impacts of separating babies from their natural mothers.

Orphans In An Epidemic

I became fascinated about a time in the history of Memphis Tennessee when I learned more about the circumstances of my mom’s adoption related to Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home.

Recently, the fact that few children get Coronavirus reminded me that something similar happened with the Yellow Fever that devastated Memphis TN in the late 1800s.  This caused a lot of orphans because the parents died but children continued living.

On August 13, 1878, Kate Bionda, a restaurant owner, died of yellow fever in Memphis. A man had escaped a quarantined steamboat and subsequently visited her restaurant. The disease spread rapidly and the resulting epidemic emptied and actually bankrupted the city.

Yellow fever was transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.  It came to the United States by way of West Africa and was brought here on slave ships. The disease required warm weather to survive.  It thrived in the wet and hot summers since that is when mosquitoes breed prodigiously. After a three-to-six-day incubation period, the afflicted person would experience flu-like symptoms, such as fever and aches. Sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it ?

After a very short remission, a more intense stage followed.  The victim vomited blood and suffered from liver and renal failure. Jaundice was a typical symptom (why it was called yellow fever). The victim usually died within two weeks. Survivors of the illness could still feel it’s effects for months.

Memphis, a city of 50,000, had outbreaks in 1855, 1867 and 1873, with each outbreak getting progressively worse. Those who came down with yellow fever were quarantined in an effort to prevent the disease from spreading. Often, they were made to wear yellow jackets as a means of identification.

In July 1878, an outbreak of yellow fever was reported in Vicksburg, just south of Memphis. Memphis officials reacted by stopping travel to the city from the south. However, William Warren, a steamboat worker, somehow slipped away and into Kate Bionda’s restaurant.

Most of the residents who were able to fled the city. Twenty-five thousand people picked up and left within a week. For the most part, it was the African-American residents who remained in town, although they died at a much lower rate than the white residents who contracted the disease. An average of 200 people died every day through September. There were corpses everywhere and near continual ringing of funeral bells. Half of the city’s doctors died.

The epidemic ended with the first frost in October, but by that time, 20,000 people in the Southeast had died and another 80,000 had survived infection. In the aftermath, open sewers and privies were cleaned up, destroying the breeding grounds for mosquitoes and preventing further epidemics.

Sister Constance of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral stayed in Memphis during the outbreak, going from house to house to care for the sick. Sometimes she found abandoned children amid the rotting corpses of their parents. She did eventually contract the disease and die.  Father Joseph Kelly of St. Peter’s Parish became known as the “Father of the Orphans” and “selfless caregiver among victims of Yellow Fever epidemics”. During the 1873-1878 epidemics, he evacuated all the orphans.

 

Hmmmm, Cutting Through The Noise

What is so great about children being surrendered and raised without their identity ?  Did I get your attention ?

I can’t imagine losing my mom – can you ?  Both of my parents did.

You don’t have to take my word for it (just listen to enough adult adoptees and you will become a believer) – adoption is trauma.  Bringing a child into a stable, loving home does NOT erase their trauma.

Why would you glorify abandonment ?

You know, you’re basically waiting for a woman and her baby to have the worst day of their lives so that you can have the best day of yours….

Adoptive parents literally act like the stork delivers these children.

One person’s intense joy is a result of another person’s desperate sorrow.  I certainly saw the truth of this as I read my mom’s adoption file from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.

Tell people who are not familiar with conventional adoption about the fake birth certificates your parents were given.  That is one some people have trouble believing (yes, it is done all the time). Then tell them your parents’ REAL names were taken away from them and that they were both given a name that the adoptive couple preferred.

Imagine creating your family tree and having to list two names for each of your parents and then show their spouse with the adopted name so that someone might with difficulty sort it all out.  Yes, my parents were not allowed to use the names they were born with.  Are you incredulous yet ?  Most people have no idea that adoptees are forced to live fake identities.  My dad’s name was changed TWICE when his adoptive mother remarried.  He was already 8 years old at that time.

If that baby had lost his mother to cancer, you would be mourning with him right now.

If adoption is so wonderful, which one of your children would you give up to someone else for a “better life” ?  Note –  it should be the child you love the most that you give up, since you would obviously want that child to have the best life.  Crazy, huh ?

Ask an adoptee what it means to be adopted – adoption means you’re never going home.  Let that sink in.

Most adoptees would get an abortion before they would give up their own child for adoption.

As the child of two adoptees, I try to be balanced (after all, I would not exist but for) and not be too harsh.  Many people are well-intentioned but ill-informed about the realities surrounding adoption.   I want my readers to walk away having learned something real, maybe opening up further conversation on the topic.  Adoption is more complicated than you might imagine.

Many people believe that every adoptee was unwanted or they view the original mom as less than human because they can’t relate to someone who has given up a child.  Both perceptions are quite likely UNTRUE.

 

 

Slightly Off Topic

This may seem off topic but please bear with me.  This morning I realized that my tolerance for injustice has diminished.  I believe that learning about how my maternal grandmother was trapped and exploited has done that to me.

My grandmother’s only deficiency was poverty.  She went to Porter-Leath orphanage for temporary care of my mother while she attempted to get on her feet financially and they accepted my mom under a temporary condition.  My grandmother tried to reach her husband, my grandfather, who didn’t respond to the Juvenile Court’s notification – I believe – because he was out with the WPA trying to help Arkansas deal with a Super Flood of the Mississippi River that began the month my mom was born.

Georgia Tann had a repeat, paying customer in my adoptive grandmother.  She had previously adopted a son from the Tennessee Children’s Home and returned to them seeking a little sister for the family before my mom had even been born.  Miss Tann had a network of enablers, movers and shakers in the Memphis elite that helped her acquire product to sell.  Forgive my harsh judgment.

So my poor grandmother was pressured with a surrender or I’ll have you declared unfit by my good friend, the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley.  Even so, 4 days later my grandmother tried but failed to recover my mom.  She never had any other children.

I have always paid my medical bills – even those I thought unfair – even if I made the creditor wait and sent them only the smallest amounts for the longest time.  Having been uninsured for 30 years, I was grateful to finally qualify for Medicare.  I thought might as well catch up the basics and so went to my local nurse practitioner for a pap smear.

Unknown to me, the coding recommended by the laboratory to the doctor’s office for women between the ages of 30 and 65 was to also do a hpv test on the same specimen.  This was never discussed with me.  Medicare paid $29.44 against a bill of $128.20 for the pap smear but refused to pay the $169.80 for the hpv test.

I have been fighting this bill for 8 months and find myself trapped and exploited by a greedy laboratory.  I offered them $60 for the hpv test if they would write off the rest as they did for Medicare.  I thought I was being more than reasonable.

They have refused my offer and so I will now refuse to give them even a penny.  I no longer tolerate such exploitation.  The doctor’s office should have advised me to wait a year for the pap smear and this would not have even occurred.  I refuse to be a victim.  I never gave my permission and I won’t give in now.

Thank you for reading if you made it this far.  Do NOT allow LabCorp to do any tests for you.  I won’t ever again allow them to do any tests for me and I will not use my local doctor’s office for my next Medicare approved pap smear in 3 years.  They both lose.  I am not worried about a small black mark on an otherwise excellent credit rating.  I don’t intend to use credit anyway but I do have an Amazon Visa as long as I can pay in full with the first bill if I need that or just want to burnish my credit rating.

Leave Those Moms Alone

I don’t know these people and they are not the point.  Among the reforms I have learned about in the private Facebook group for original parents, adoptees and adoptive parents that I belong to, and one of their missions, is to support expectant mothers.  One of the reforms they advocate, and I agree with, is for the prospective adoptive parents NOT to be present in the delivery room during birth nor for the first few days after the birth.  The goal is for the new mother to bond with her baby and perhaps change her mind about giving the baby up for adoption.

The problem is the coercive effect of the adoptive parents’ presence on the new mother.  So it is today that I read the story of a hopeful adoptive mother and the problems that have occurred at the last minute in the new mother’s intention to give her baby up.  This is a teenage unwed mother who at the tender age of 15 had previously expressed a desire to go back to her pre-pregnancy life and be educated to become a nurse.  She also was not living with her parents, had been raped (perhaps by a family member) and did not believe her own mother was capable of helping her parent.

Flash forward to her difficult 3-day delivery and she informs the hopeful adoptive mother that she does NOT want her there because her mom (who opposes the adoption completely) is trying to help her through it and the new mother doesn’t want drama. She gave birth and due to the C-section, she is in the hospital for longer than expected.

Well, she begins to breastfeed the baby while in hospital and of course, breastfeeding does encourage the bonding of mother and child.  The result is that three days before the surrender papers are to be signed, the new mother has decided to parent.  The struggles of any new mother are temporary, placement is permanent, which is the message this Facebook group attempts to convey.

The result is a very mad hopeful adoptive mother who is blaming everyone from the social worker to the hospital to hormones and drugs and the immature age of the new mother and to the new grandmother as well for losing the “perfect baby-these don’t come by often” which echoes in my own mind like the words the Tennessee Children’s Home used to describe my mom to her adoptive parents.

The Influence Of Money

I am enough of a realist to know that the influence of money is not going away anytime soon.  Even so, in adoption, I believe it can be a corrupting factor.

Had it not been for cooking the books and overcharging the prospective adoptive parents, Georgia Tann’s crimes may never have been discovered.  When someone is making a lot of money off of an altruistic effort, it attracts attention.  It also buys protection as in the case of Tann and the Boss Crump political machinery in Memphis Tennessee.

I do believe that my dad’s parents probably paid less for him at The Salvation Army than my mom’s parents paid for her through Georgia Tann.  The Tennessee Children’s Home Society was careful not to document the money that was changing hands or was at least doing so in a very hidden way.  There is no doubt in my mind their eagerness to go looking for yet another baby after my grandparents had already adopted two must be an indication of a monetary motive.

In a novel I finished reading yesterday, there grew an awareness that the Catholic Church was making money selling babies.  I’ve no doubt that it is likely the truth.  Adoption is a kind of human trafficking that has the approval of society in general.  Who can object to people wanting to give unfortunate children a good home ?

But society has no interest to providing enough support for mothers to keep and raise their babies.  Something is terribly rotten in such a system of priorities.  The reason adoption records have remained sealed in most states in the US for so long is for the protection of the people who have the money – the adoptive parents.  Agencies, lawyers and social workers as well as the courts are all making money by taking the product of unfortunate young women and delivering babies to those who can afford to pay.

It was not lost on me in the recent NY Times article that the two men in a stable marriage who adopted out of Foster Care not only had no out of pocket expenses directly related to that but received subsidies for doing so.  This is where money actually helped the situation.

 

Lacking Permanency

After I learned who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted and died knowing effectively nothing about their own familial roots), I began to learn about the impacts of adoption.  I read a really good book on this subject – The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier (definitely highly recommended for anyone else who is interested in understanding).  I also joined a group about adoption that is all about facing the realities.  Member of the whole triad of original parents, adoptees and adoptive parents belong to this group and I have learned a lot about the issues from the diversity.

From letters written by my adoptive grandmother in the late 1930s to the Tennessee Children’s Home staff – Fanny Elrod and Georgia Tann – there are indications that my mom had been upset the whole time she was being taken by my adoptive grandmother by train from Memphis to Nogales Arizona as a 7 mos old infant and that she may have been drugged by a doctor upon arrival there to calm her down.

Though letters from my adoptive grandmother in the early years of my mom’s life indicate that she was over the moon happy with my mom as her adopted child, I know that my mom never felt she lived up to my grandmother’s high standards.  I understand this personally as she was a phenomenal woman and I had my own run-ins with her opinions about me that were deeply hurtful.

My grandmother grew up not far from me in Missouri.  Her mom was lazy by my grandmother’s accounts – only interested in her bible and not in her household – and both her mother and sister were fat (confirmed in photographs of the whole family together).  My grandmother maintained a very trim figure all her life to match the trim figures of her sisters-in-law and worked hard at that by denying herself fattening foods to maintain her figure.  She criticized me once in a public place quite loudly for taking a dinner roll and putting butter on it.  I didn’t even speak to her for a whole 24 hours I was so upset.

Adoptees do not feel special because someone chose to adopt them.  They always feel at risk of being rejected and abandoned all over again if they don’t live up to their adoptive parents’ expectations.  For that reason they become people pleasers as my own mom definitely was.  She was described very positively after she died by the people who knew her but I wonder now – at what price internally did she accomplish that high regard ?