Adoptive Mother Mattie Parker

I often believe that adoption is more common than many people believe. Coming across a brief profile of Mattie Parker in Time magazine, who is now mayor of Fort Worth TX, intrigued me. I did not learn a whole lot about her adopted daughter, who is now 19, and from what I know about former foster care youth turned adoptees, it gives me pause to see so many photos of her sons but never one with the daughter. I did however discover a rather surprising Republican woman.

According to the LINK> Fort Worth Report Mattie and her husband, David, fostered, then adopted their daughter, Shainey. She was already 10 years old at the time (which is generally commendable). They have since focused their philanthropic efforts on children in the foster care system, promoting adoption and providing all children with a forever home. They also have two boys, Greyson, 10, and Laney, 4.

More recently in a profile in LINK> The Texas Tribune, I discovered that she is a Republican who has criticized the current state of the GOP and its intraparty battles. She believes that politics is not about party affiliation but should be grounded in public service and making our communities the best places to live and raise our families. Parker is known for making regular appeals for bipartisanship and in Texas municipal races are not partisan. That is the same in my own local county in Missouri.

Parker is one of the youngest mayors in the country at 38 years old. She has been known to buck her party and particularly as an outlier when it comes to expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — which Texas Republicans have staunchly resisted.

Parker came to the defense of transgender children and their families amid the state’s push to label some parents of transgender youth as child abusers. Gov Greg Abbott, who endorsed Parker when she ran for mayor in 2021, recently directed the state’s child welfare agency to investigate parents who let their trans children access gender-affirming care.

Parker said policymakers should instead focus on providing mental health resources for teenagers and improving conditions for children in the state foster care system. She also cited figures showing transgender teens are more likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender peers. “I’m worried right now that you’re targeting families that are already incredibly vulnerable and in a really difficult circumstance, when there are so many other hundreds of thousands of kids and families that are in dangerous positions with no regard for the subject of transgender,” Parker said.

Are We Entering A New Baby Scoop Era ?

Before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, >LINK Time magazine carried an article – What History Teaches Us About Women Forced to Carry Unwanted Pregnancies to Term by Kelly O’Connor McNees on Sept 30 2021. She is the author of The Myth of Surrender about two young women in a maternity home back in 1961.

Her article was motivated by Texas’ severe abortion law back in 2021. Reproductive rights advocates are justifiably concerned about a potential increase in unsafe abortions and adoption activists are right to be concerned about more adoptions taking place that will leave more people dealing with the trauma of separation from their original mother.

The image of coat hangers may seem obsolete in an era where medication abortions can be safely self-managed at home, but we also know that there will be some women who lack access to health care. They will resort to desperate measures to avoid the physical, psychological, emotional, social and economic trauma of being forced to complete their pregnancy and give birth against their wishes.

We have been here before. In the decades from 1945 to 1973, now known as the “Baby Scoop” era, more than 1.5 million pregnant girls and women in the US were sent away to maternity homes to surrender children in secret. In realizing that my adoptee mom conceived me out of wedlock in 1953, it has become to my own heart a minor miracle that she did not get sent away to have and give me up for adoption. I will always believe I have my dad’s adoptive parents to be grateful to for encouraging him to do the right thing when he had only just started at a university in another nearby town. This is why I was born in Las Cruces NM but I am happy to claim I am a native of that state.

It was believed back then that both the child and the birth mother would be better off. It would be a win-win scenario: the baby would be saved from the stigma and shame of illegitimacy, and the birth mother could put the unpleasant chapter behind her and make a fresh start. Meanwhile, the young men who shared equal responsibility for the pregnancies typically carried on with their lives unfettered by social stigma.

Birth mothers sent to these homes received little to no counseling on what to expect from labor and delivery, and were not advised of their legal rights once the child was born. They endured psychological abuse from nuns and nurses, and gave birth alone in sometimes terrible conditions. This is the scenario I imagined my paternal grandmother endured at a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers when she gave birth to my dad. Many women still foggy from the effects of anesthesia following a birth under “twilight” sleep were coerced into signing papers terminating their parental rights. That was a tactic employed by Georgia Tann during her baby stealing days up until her death in September of 1950. Those who wanted to keep their babies were threatened with financial penalties, since many homes only covered the cost of prenatal care and room and board if the child was surrendered. Some women who refused to give up their babies were committed to mental institutions.

The promise that birth mothers would surrender their babies and “move on” turned out to be a lie. They did not go back to normal; they did not forget. Many were haunted for the rest of their lives by the uncertainty of their child’s fate and were prevented by strict adoption statutes from acquiring any information that might ease their minds. My maternal grandmother, exploited by Georgia Tann, reverted from her married name of Elizabeth to Lizzie Lou, the name on my mom’s original birth certificate, and even has that name put on her grave stone, when she died many years later. She never had another baby after my mom.

Unplanned pregnancies create a complex constellation of decisions that resist a tidy narrative. Sometimes they are the result of love, sometimes casual sex and sometimes rape. That was true in 1945, in 1965, and it’s true today. Given a different set of circumstances—access to legal abortion and open, non-coercive adoptions—the women caught up in the Baby Scoop era might have chosen to terminate their pregnancies, carry their pregnancies to term and make a plan for adoption, or keep and raise their children, and they would have made these decisions for all kinds of individual and personal reasons. In that more humane version of midcentury America, the decisions would have been theirs alone.

Women with unwanted pregnancies are no longer physically warehoused, but many of them are still trapped by what happens when they lose the freedom to choose whether or not to give birth. The overturning of Roe v Wade, and the rush in almost half these United States to totally ban any access to abortion regardless of the circumstances that caused the pregnancy, now guarantee that more women will face the same formidable future that women were facing back in the Baby Scoop Era.

Be Very Worried

Generally speaking, I have the least concern about my privacy of anyone in my family.  I am an open book and don’t mind being a straight shooter about what I think and believe.  I do have concerns about data privacy for any pregnant women who does a google search related to her physical condition.

Before the recent overturning of Roe v Wade by the Supreme Court – pregnancy crisis centers outnumbered actual abortion clinics by 3 to 1.  Like so many issues with data privacy, there is now a definite concern about what could potentially happen with the information these organizations collect – especially in the states with near total bans on abortion and bounties offered to ordinary citizens for reporting on other citizens.

In the past decade, a new data-collection has been rolled out in pregnancy crisis centers. Time magazine reviewed two dozen pregnancy-center privacy disclosures and although many reference HIPAA as well as provide an assurance of broad data privacy, the promises have no legal foundation. Data collected in a REAL medical clinic is not the same as the rules that apply to these places. They are un-regulated by federal law. They are NOT subject to federal privacy laws.

Most of these pregnancy-center networks use data-collection interfaces that can track a woman who interacts with their organization – whether it is in person, on the telephone or on their website. One 24-hour hotline collects the name, location and other demographic information related to the caller. Some even will ask outright what the woman plans to do with her pregnancy. The technologies collect and centralize vast amounts of people’s private information and there is no clear indication of what use this information will be put to.

In cases filed under the new state abortion ban laws, lawyers could subpoena information from pregnancy centers.  There is a precedent for using such data to arrest or threaten legal action against women. Since the advent of Roe v Wade, there have still been more than 1,700 instances where law enforcement took some legal action against women in cases related to their pregnancies according to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.  In fact, internet search histories and information gathered by actual medical  professionals was even presented as evidence.

Those who could be motivated by bounties might include the pregnancy-center staff, any of their partners, vendors or contractors.  After all, the staff that works in that kind of advocacy work does so because they believe strongly that an abortion is equal to murder.

~ information in this blog includes content from Time magazine’s article titled “Compromised State” in which a Time investigation found anti-abortion pregnancy centers may expose women to new legal risks. The article was written by Abigail Abrams and Vera Bergengruen.

Ray Liotta and Adoption

I don’t remember him actually making any kind of strong impression on me but I did see the movie “GoodFellas” back in 2020 (thanks to Netflix keeping track of these things for me).

It is interesting how ideas for this blog come to me. This one was from a short acknowledgement in Time magazine about the man’s recent passing. Something about his adoptive mother dying during the filming.

I thought, so another adoption story. It never ceases to amaze me how many people in our society are somehow touched by adoption more broadly (meaning not necessarily adopted themselves but in their extended family). I went looking to learn more about this aspect of the man’s life.

The story I read was about how he found peace with his adoption. He said, “At first, I didn’t understand how a parent could give up a child. So, I had that kind of energy of just being like, that’s just f***** up.” His perspective changed after the birth of his own daughter in 1998, at which point he felt he had to trace and locate his birth mother.

Ray was born in 1954, the same year I was, in Newark New Jersey. He was adopted at the age of six months. He was in an orphanage at the time. His adoptive parents were Alfred and Mary. Liotta knew he wasn’t his adoptive parents biological child growing up. He also had an adopted sister, Linda.

His drama teacher in high school asked him if he wanted to appear in a play during his senior year. Liotta didn’t take it seriously at the time (he was into sports) but it led to him eventually studying acting at the University of Miami. After graduation, he got his first big break on the soap opera Another World.

In his 40s, he hired a private detective to locate his birth mother and younger siblings. He subsequently learned from her that he is mostly of Scottish descent (like I learned regarding my maternal grandmother’s family). He then met his birth mother and siblings – a half brother, five half sisters and a full sister. She explained to him that she had given him up for adoption because she was too young and couldn’t contend with the responsibility.

He said that then, “I realized that she did it for very valid reasons from her perspective and for 99% of the kids put up for adoption, the birth parent believes that it’s for the betterment of the kid… Often, the household, the situation, the age just dictate that’s the best thing to do for the child.” After the meeting her, Liotta honestly said that he was “disappointed” by his mother’s story. He reminds me of my own mom in saying that he was “really grateful that [he] was adopted.” When Larry King mentions there is a book for adoptees called “You Were Chosen,” Liotta admits that his was “I was given up.” Most adoptees hate the “chosen” narrative.

Liotta died in his sleep while filming Dangerous Waters in the Dominican Republic. Foul play is not suspected in his death. At the time of his death, he was engaged to fiancée, Jacy Nittolo. That had made him a happy man. He wrote, “Christmas wishes do come true. I asked the love of my life to marry me, and thank God she said yes!!!” Liotta is also survived by his 23-year-old daughter, Karsen, who he shares with ex-wife Michelle Grace.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Just to recommend this movie for every former foster care youth that ever yearned for a good life and freedom. Taika Waititi was recently featured in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Persons issue. My son remembered this movie of his – Hunt for the Wilderpeople. We had seen it before but so long ago, I only remember a couple of scenes and not even much about those.

Regarding the movie – Ricky Baker – was abandoned as a baby by his teenage mother and who has since been shifted several times through foster families by child welfare officers. The film is based on the novel Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump. Some thoughts on that book follow.

Ricky Baker is a troubled 12 year old Maori boy. He is always committing small illegal acts. So he is sent for foster care with Bella and Hec. “Uncle” Hec is a tough, grouchy fifty-three old bushman who eventually warms to Ricky and teaches him how to hunt and survive in the bush. When “Auntie” Bella dies from a sudden stroke and social welfare plan to place Ricky in another foster home.

Uncle Hec and Ricky take to the bush and disappear in the dense Urewera region of the North Island, tramping and hunting and staying a few days at a time in the dozens of forester’s huts scattered in the remote, heavily mountain ridged area. The authorities wrongly surmise that Ricky has been abducted by his “uncle” and a search by forestry workers and police ensues. The rest of the novel follows the duo’s journey and their struggle for survival over the next nineteen months through a variety of humorous and sometimes tragic anecdotes. The writing is simple and sparkingly clear.

Crump uses his vast knowledge of the New Zealand bush and his practical bush skills to add considerable credibility and interest in his narrative. On several occasions I have gone pig hunting with the locals in the heavily forested area south of Opotiki and stayed in the forester’s huts and Crump brings this way of living alive with zest and color through his wonderful descriptions of the bush and its wildlife. Consider this amazing description of the land:

“All this bush- there was so much of it. You could stand on a high ridge and as far as you could see in every direction rose other high ridges of bush, disappearing into the distance, split by slips and creeks and bluffs, but always with the bush growing in and on and around everything. There were times when I really didn’t think I’d ever see open land again. Sometimes the country we travelled through was so steep and broken up you noticed every flat area, even if it was only big enough to put your foot on. In other places the ridges were long and easy and open under the trees, and the rivers wide and flat, but I soon found out that you never travel far in the Urewera without coming across rough going.”

In chapter 4 ‘A Tin of Peaches’ he describes a fascinating encounter with a fierce boar. The language has a spontaneous, immediate sense to it and we tremble in Ricky’s worn boots.

“I was going to yell out to Uncle Hec when something came crashing down like a falling boulder through a ferny vine-filled gully and out through a stony place to the riverbed where it suddenly stopped, right under the bank I’d just slid down. It was a huge grey boar, like a big piece of elephant, with pricked-up hairy ears and dark sullen tufts for eyes. Its mouth was frothing and chomping on its big white tusks and its tail was slapping from side to side while it stood there.”

“If you’d never heard or seen a pig before you’d know this one was definitely dangerous. And there I was standing right out in the open, thirty feet away from it, and I couldn’t tell if it had seen me or not. We stood like that forever, then suddenly this great big thing let out a WHOOF and ran downstream, bigger than ever, through the creek with a shower of water and round the corner, heading up into the bush on the other side.”

~ my blog today is thanks to Bold Monkey Review

Our Father

Documentary on Netflix

I’m pretty certain this is streaming and we only get dvds from Netflix. Never-the-less, not for the first time, has a fertility doctor been accused of inseminating patients with his own sperm. So, yes, this is a true story. The Indiana fertility specialist, Dr Donald Cline, is the subject.

In a moment when the right to safe and informed reproductive care is under threat in the US, Our Father is particularly resonant given the questions it raises about how our legal system views those seeking control over their own reproductive choices, and restitution when that autonomy is violated.

Jacoba Ballard’s life changed after she took an at-home DNA test and learned she had seven half-siblings. After reaching out to her newfound family members and researching the mystery of their shared relation, Ballard and her siblings soon discovered with horror what their parents’ trusted doctor had done. The number of confirmed siblings continued to grow as more people added their DNA to 23andMe’s database. Each time she saw a new connection appear on her profile, she’d steel herself before reaching out to deliver the news. “I know I’m going to call them and I’m going to ruin their life,” she says in the documentary.

Jacoba Ballard grew up suspecting that she, the only blond, blue-eyed member of a family of brunettes, was adopted. When she was 10, her parents told her they had used donor sperm to conceive her. “I wanted a child so bad,” her mother, Debbie Smith, says, the pain clearly visible on her face. The Smiths went to Cline, who had a reputation as the best in what was then the new field of fertility treatment and artificial insemination. The good doctor – and devout Christian, church elder and respected member of the community – told them that medical students were used as donors, each no more than three times to limit any future problems with consanguinity (the medical term for unwitting siblings later having children together). The couple went ahead and nine months later Jacoba was born. “She’s my everything,” says Debbie.

Our Father includes interviews with eight of the 94 siblings. Because of Cline’s lack of cooperation and the unknown number of patients he had the opportunity to inseminate up until he stopped practicing in 2009, there is no way to know for sure how many siblings there may be.

One criticism of the documentary is that it gives too little space to the unresponsiveness of the district attorney’s office – alerted by Jacoba early on – and the extraordinary fact that it was impossible to prosecute Cline over what he did to the women because none of that amounted to a crime under the then-current law. Jacoba’s research reveals that one of the people in the DA’s office who might have been expected to follow up on her complaint is associated with the Christian fundamentalist movement Quiverfull, which encourages the faithful – or at least the faithful of certain coloring – to have as many children as possible and groom them for power so they can become ambassadors for God. Is it relevant that church elder Cline has produced what Jacoba likens to “this perfect Aryan clan”?

Surveying the blonde hair and blue eyes of many of Cline’s offspring, the film briefly meditates on whether Cline’s crusade may have had white supremacist underpinnings (Quiverfull ideology, which promotes patriarchal gender ideology and other conservative ideals and bemoans European population decline, certainly seems to).

The filmmakers behind Our Father, including director/producer Lucie Jourdan, say they were moved to tell the story of the siblings and their parents in order to help them condemn Cline’s actions to a broad audience when it became clear the court had failed. In 2017, he was brought to trial facing two counts of felony obstruction of justice, for lying during the investigation. The obstruction of justice charges meant that no evidence related to Cline’s actions toward his former patients was admissible—though those actions constituted the injustice for which the siblings and their parents were truly seeking restitution. Cline pled guilty, and received two suspended sentences (meaning he served no jail time), and a $500 fine.

In 2018, the siblings’ lobbying, led by Matt White and his mother Liz White, contributed to the passing of Indiana’s fertility-fraud law. There is still no federal law on the subject.

Acknowledging Time Magazine and The Guardian from which sections of today’s blog were taken.

Torn Apart by Dorothy Roberts

The horror stories regarding Child Protective Services (CPS) abound in my all things adoption group which includes former foster care youth. So when I read about Dorothy Roberts new book Torn Apart in Time magazine last night, I knew I would write about this for my blog today. Roberts believes that CPS needs to be abolished and she has found that it is shockingly easy for CPS to destroy poor, Black families. I would add ANY poor family. However, racial inequality and systemic racism are real.

Mother Jones has published an excerpt which begins with the story of a young mother who has health challenges, is married and has two young sons. Her family lives with her mother and everyone pitches in to care for the rambunctious little boys. The family was enjoying a picnic in a park in Aurora, Colorado.

When my own sons were very young, I lived in fear that some do-gooder would misunderstand some situation and report us. There is a Simpson’s episode where this happens to Bart, Lisa and Maggie and they are taken away and given to the Flanders family as temporary caregivers while Home and Marge struggle against the system. I would refer to that episode with my sons so that they would not exhibit some overly challenging behavior in public that would end with unintended consequences.

So it was that this woman’s 2 yr old ran after her cousin as she was leaving. The mother grabbed the 4 yr old and ran after her son. Before the mother could reach him, a woman who happened to be passing by had snatched the young boy by the arm, worried that he was wandering off. The mom could see the woman talking on her cell phone as she and her other son approached. When she caught up to them, only a minute later, she told the stranger holding her child, “Ma’am, that’s my son.” But the woman refused to let him go. She had called 911 to report that the boy was unattended.

Before the policeman who responded left, after the woman’s relatives gathered around to affirm that she actually was his mother, he gave her a ticket for child abuse and reckless endangerment. A month later, as the mom was cleaning up in the basement, her husband gone to work and her mother at a doctor’s appointment, the Social Services Department white caseworker accompanied by a Black female trainee, unexpectedly knocked on the front door, part of a surprise follow up from the citation issued.

The boys were in the front room, the 2 yr old still naked as he had just been bathed. When the mom did not immediately answer the door, the caseworker called for police assistance. Two male officers arrived first, soon followed by a female officer. The caseworker asserted the 2 yr old was neglected as he stood looking at them through the front window.

After the officers entered the house, without a warrant or permission, the mom became angry at the way she was being confronted so aggressively. She called her mother at the doctor’s office and asked, “Mom, can you get here, I got fucking social services and the goddamn police here, they’re really pissing me off.” Two of the officers then engaged the mom in an increasingly combative exchange.

The woman’s mother had arrived and had taken the boys to their bedroom, guarded by an officer who would not let the boy’s mom join them. One officer lunged at the mom and violently pushed her face down into a large beanbag on the living room floor. The female officer and a fifth officer now on the scene now assisting him, pinned her arms were yanked behind her back, cuffed her wrists and cuffed, restrained her head and shoulders. Two more officers arrived, bringing the total count to seven.

Then, they restrained the mom with a hobble—hand and ankle cuffs that shackled her wrists behind her back and chained them to her shackled legs and carried her off to a police car, her stomach and face toward the ground. She cried, “I can’t breathe,” and so, paramedics were called and her restraints loosened by order of a sergeant who had also now arrived.

The officer reports varied as to the condition of the house from “in fair condition with food” to “very dirty, with no food in the refrigerator, and very little food in the pantry.” On the advice of her public defender, the mom pleaded guilty (many legal cases today never reach court but end in plea deals) to child abuse and reckless endangerment to avoid prison and was ordered to take parenting classes and sentenced to one year of probation. Before the first incident in the park, the mom had never been in trouble with the law. Now she had a record as a child abuser. Her attorney was later able to obtain a monetary settlement from the police department for excessive use of force.

The mom was now ensnared in a giant state machine with the power to destroy her family. With the threat of child removal at its core, the child welfare system regulates a massive number of families. In 2019 alone, CPS agencies investigated the families of 3.5 million children, ultimately finding abuse or neglect only in one-fifth of cases, or for the families of 656,000 children. Yet the families of these children are put through an indefinite period of intensive scrutiny by CPS workers and judges who have the power to keep children apart from their parents for years or even to sever their family ties forever.

In the Time magazine article by Janell Ross, on the racial disparities in the child welfare system, interviewing Dorothy Roberts, she notes that more than half, 53%, of all Black children will experience a child-welfare investigation by the time they reach the age of 18, compared with less than a third of white children. However, white children from very impoverished areas, such as rural Appalachia, also experience extreme amounts of state involvement. Black children are more likely than white children to be taken from their families and put in foster care. They’re less likely to go on to college and more likely to end up in prison.

I completely agree with her – our society does not support families well enough. She notes income support, health care, affordable housing, an equal, high-quality education would keep most of these children out of foster care. She asks, why is child welfare’s response to the greater needs of Black children this very violent, traumatic approach of family separation ?

The facade of benevolence associated with Child Protective Services makes most Americans complacent about this colossal government apparatus that spends billions of dollars annually on surveilling families, breaking them apart, and thrusting children into a foster care system known to cause devastating harms. Dorothy Roberts notes – after 25 years of studying family separation as a legal scholar and author, I’m convinced that the mission of CPS agencies is not to care for children or protect their welfare. Rather, they respond inadequately and inhumanely to our society’s abysmal failures. Far from promoting the well-being of children, the state weaponizes children as a way to threaten families, to scapegoat parents for societal harms to their children, and to buttress the racist status quo.

Ancestral Emotions

Please bear with me (not to be confused with the mammal but in the sense of enduring any clumsiness in my delivery), if this blog seems to lack cohesiveness. Many times my day seems to develop a pattern and it informs my thoughts and my emotions as diverse elements seem to play off one another. So that happened today and it started as soon as I sat down at my computer. I will do my best to make sense of the notes I jotted down for you, my reader.

I spent most of the decades of my life with no knowledge of my familial roots due to both of my parents having been adopted before the age of one under sealed (closed) adoption files. They died clueless really but I had always thought after my mom had been denied her own adoption file (related to the Georgia Tann scandal in Memphis) that maybe after she was dead I would be able to get what she had not been able to obtain. All the state of Tennessee did for her was break her heart with news that the woman who gave birth to her had died some years before.

My day began with several links from a Facebook friend. She has been grappling with the admission that defines her as a NPE. In genetics, a non-paternity event (also known as misattributed paternity or not the parent expected). This happens when someone who is presumed to be an individual’s father is not in fact the biological father. Often an inexpensive DNA test at a matching site reveals that. The primary effect is a feeling of betrayal or having been lied to. Late discovery adoptees (meaning they didn’t know they were adopted until well into their maturity) experience similar feelings.

“The place where it’s interesting is what it takes to get from one stage of your life to another. The trick is finding a way . . . ” ~ Susan Rigetti in a Time article about her new novel, Cover Story. To which I add, to get there. In my own journey of genetic biological discovery, my past, present and presumably now future have come into harmony. And it feels so very good. For me, it has been entirely worth learning what I learned and brought me a surprised gratitude to understand that I could have so easily been given up for adoption by my unwed (at the time of my conception) high school student mother.

One link was a YouTube by Thich Nhat Hanh, he addresses ancestors one never knew. And he points out something quite obvious, some people in contact with parents still living don’t really know them. My parents, like many, did not share a lot about their lives. I am grateful for what they did share. He is correct that each of us is a continuation. As that, we have an opportunity to transform the negative and develop the wonderful.

One link related to a practice referred to as Emotional Genealogy. It is what we have inherited from those who came before us. It is the stories about our ancestors, and what their lives were like. It is the connection we have, with or without our awareness, to our grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents…going back two, three, four, five and sometimes more generations. It is the emotional traits that were handed down within our family lineage: the optimism, grit, rage, pain, inaccessibility, kindness, cruelty, avoidance, violence, tenderness, fear. It was noted that what is not transformed, is transmitted down the family line.

We owe our existence to those who came before us. Simply put, if they hadn’t lived, we would have no life. And simply put, the realization I arrived at was that if my grandmothers (because in each case it was the mother, the father did not have an actual say in the circumstances – whether my grandparents were married or not – there was one case of each) had not given up my parents to a different set of parents to raise them, I would not exist. That is a fact I can not get away from. I value the price that each of them had to pay. It is considerable, as I have learned from others that are part of the adoption triad of adoptee, birth parents and adoptive parents.

In my own roots journey, my family found over time that they didn’t come from the town or country that we (and at least I) had thought they originated from. For example, my mom was adopted in Memphis TN but was born in Richmond VA. My dad was not Hispanic and left on the doorstep of the Salvation Army. Yet because he had been adopted in El Paso TX I thought that. The crazy thing is that I also knew he had been born in San Diego CA. Go figure. When we lack complete information we fill in the blank places as best we can. And while I struggle with acknowledging double the usual set of maternal and paternal grandparents, I do know that because my adoptive grandparents cared, they deserve to be remembered.

Some people find out after twenty or thirty years that what they felt and suspected was true. Always know that intuitive knowledge IS knowledge, and it is a resource to be treasured.

My image at the top of this blog may still seem out of place but it is not to me. Robin Easton writes – “your exquisitely beautiful sensitivity. I see this refreshing trait expressed through you in so many ways: in your wisdom, your creativity, in the ways that you face life’s challenges, and in the ways that you help me walk through this life. Thank you, for such a sacred and intelligent gift.”

Whatever you know about your family can help you develop emotional intelligence. Make the effort.

Links shared with me this morning –

How to love and understand your ancestors when you don’t know them?
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
https://youtu.be/pdodGeRNjt0

What Is Your Emotional Genealogy?
~ Judith Fein in Psychology Today

How Your Ancestors Can Help You Become a Better Person
~ Crucial Dimensions
https://youtu.be/-Syo-QorTJQ

Erasing The Mother’s Name

I was reading an article this morning in Time Magazine (the March 14/March 21 2022 issue) by Aubrey Hirsch titled “Why my children have their mom’s last name.” She describes all of the complications this has raised in their family’s lives. When I conceived my oldest son, my husband strongly wanted my name added to our son’s names and so both of my son’s have my maiden name as their middle names (which in this patrilineal society causes us not the confusion this woman and her husband’s choice has caused). What is a bit strange in our case is that both of my parent’s were adopted and so my maiden name links us not at all in genealogical terms to my family. Even trying to concoct an honest family tree at Ancestry is going to be a challenge (one that I only started but still need to complete).

My dad was given his mother’s maiden name as a surname because she was unwed at the time she gave birth and even though she knew full well who his father was (as I have since discovered in my own adoption story journey and am grateful for the breadcrumbs to my paternal grandfather’s identity that she left me) she did not name him on my dad’s original birth certificate and of course, because he was adopted, his birth certificate has the names of his adoptive parents. And because his adoptive mother later divorced the first adoptive father and remarried, my dad was adopted twice and his birth certificate as well as his first name was changed twice. It was all very patrilineal because his “new” (one could say he spent his entire life as many adoptees do living under an assumed identity) first name was the name of the adoptive father each time as well as the surname for each of these adoptive fathers. I can imagine what this might have felt like to his 8 year old self when the second one occurred.

The woman who wrote that personal essay for Time magazine laments how she has been pushing back against her children having her last name and not the father’s since they were born. Is it true that babies must take their father’s last name ? Well only if the mother identifies who the father was, I suppose, in most circumstances. Studies have shown that 95% of the time, heterosexual married couples give the baby the father’s name.

Ms Hirsch makes a good argument for her choice, she says – women do the hard work of pregnancy and childbirth. They also do the vast majority of the actual parenting (generally about twice as much). And she also points to the circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic 80% of US adults who were not working were women who were caring for children not in formal school or day care.

I agree also that our society simply does not support mothers and their children enough. Note that any attempt to pass more social supports for working parents, like paid family and medical leave, subsidized day care, and universal preschool, have stalled. It is mothers who will be shouldering the bulk of these burdens, forced to give up their jobs along with their names. And it is the male dominated society we live in that is mostly to blame. In general, women are not valued as highly as men, only make about 75% as much in the same jobs in most cases.

The issue of names shown on birth certificates is one that most adoptees are very sensitive to for understandable reasons. Even so, this woman bucked the tradition. She is proud of her family heritage and it is true that marriage erases the family connection for women 95% of the time (though some women today do keep their maiden names in marriage or hyphenate them). For this woman, her family name will be part of her genealogy and not erased as most women’s connections to the family of their birth are.

Broken Family Threads

It is said that it is Black History Month, though many of my friends chafe at that and say it is ALWAYS black history. I understand. Imani Perry’s book South To America has been getting some buzz and as I writer I notice those things.

Yesterday, I read an essay adapted from her book published in Time Magazine’s Feb 14 – Feb 21 2022 issue titled “The Way Home.” It is about her effort to reconnect with a grandmother in Maryland who she is able to know very little about. Was her name Easter Lowe or Esther Watkins ? Was she born in Maryland or Georgia, was she 101 years old or 91.

I realized as I read how much I could relate to her journey to Maryland which is described in the article. Her attempt to get some insight into unknowable people. I recognized my own “roots” journey, often fraught with disappointment and too little too slowly. I am fortunate to know what I know now. Though the African American experience of slavery is not mine, I know how it feels not to know anything about where one came from (both of my parents were adoptees). At one time, I used to tell people I was an albino African because no one could prove me wrong, not even myself. Now I finally do know better.

Slavery was not exactly in my family history but in a way it was. My paternal grandmother was put to work in the Rayon mills in Asheville NC at a young age. She was not allowed to keep her own earnings and was probably expected to do a lot of other chores in the home. Her mother died when she was only 3 mos old and she had to live with a decidedly evil step-mother (from a story I heard about her being tied to a tree in a thunderstorm). She was a run-away slave. When her family visited her grandfather and her aunt in La Jolla California, she refused to return to Asheville and her slave labor there.

Poverty and the Great Depression was likely the cause of both of my grandmothers being separated from their babies. There really was not any family support for them. My maternal grandmother also lost her mother at the age of 11. She also escaped harsh conditions with her widowed father who was a sharecropper. She ran away to Memphis where she met and married my mom’s birth father.

Though I am not black and my family wasn’t enslaved, I can relate to Imani Perry’s story because in very real ways it is my story too. I didn’t grow up with a strong white supremacist’s identity. I was in the minority in Hispanic El Paso Texas and anyway, we didn’t have a clue to our ethnicity. Even so, I do recognize now that being white has put me in a class of advantages and I’ve worked very hard at educating myself by reading every anti-racist type book that has come my way. I celebrate the contributions of Black, African Americans to the diversity and vibrancy of the country of my own birth.