Acquiring Children Won’t Heal You

Some events are so unspeakable words are hard to find. Acquiring more children will not heal this grief. Today’s story –

“I am a warm and loving mother whose kids were brutally murdered. They were 9 and 12. This happened last year. I was born to be a mom and now, I don’t know if I ever will be again. I’m won’t give up until my dying breath. Adoption is my only option and I thank foster to adopt for that possibility. My children were staying with their dad and he shot them both. They were my whole world. I want to be a mom again. I have so much to give. No one would pick my mess to live but I have faith there is yet another outcome.”

Wow, just wow. OMG, this is so so tragic. My heart breaks for her…. but her grief and tragedy are too big of a burden to put on innocent kids, who already have their own grief and tragedy to deal with from losing their original family. She can’t rely on children to heal her from this grief.

A Life in the Shadow

Actors – Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot and Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks

On Friday night, my husband and I watched The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on dvd. It is one of those occasional unexpected finds that impacts me deeply. Oprah Winfrey plays Deborah Lacks in the movie based upon the book. Since my name is Deborah, I connected with this powerful, at times tragic, portrayal of Henrietta’s daughter. Since the title of my blog is Missing Mom and that is what drove Deborah, who lost her mom at such a young age and who she was always missing, needing the truth about her, felt somewhat like I how felt about my missing grandparents (both of my parents were adopted). So, I am happy to share Deborah’s story here. I highly recommend either the book or the movie.

The only surviving daughter and fourth child of David Day Lacks and Henrietta Lacks, Deborah “Dale” Lacks Pullum spent most of her early life wondering what happened to her beautiful mother and worrying about what it could mean for her own life and identity. Day was Henrietta’s first cousin, neither had living mothers and were being raised by grandparents who had them sleeping in the same bedroom. No wonder by the age of 14, Henrietta was pregnant. Day married her 6 years later when she was 20.

It is hard for Rebecca Skloot, an independent science writer, to gain Deborah’s trust given her early life of familial abuse, followed by the general disregard of the scientific community for Henrietta’s family. Deborah’s need to connect with her mother’s story is intensified by her difficult childhood and a non-existent relationship with her father, whose lack of attention has disastrous effects on her emotional life:

After Henrietta’s death, Ethel and Galen move in with Day to “help take care of the children.” But Ethel always had a hatred for Henrietta because Galen was attracted to her, and she transferred that with gusto to the children. She forces them to work the farm all day without food or drink and beats them if they disobey. In spite of Deborah’s protests, Galen sexually molests her as often as he can.

Despite the beatings by both of these guardians and the molesting by Galen, Deborah felt closer to Galen than she ever had felt with her father. When he wasn’t hitting or molesting her, Galen showered her with attention and gifts. He bought her pretty clothes, and took her for ice cream. In those moments, Deborah pretended he was her father, and she felt like a regular little girl.

Enter Lawrence’s (who was Henrietta’s oldest son) wife, Bobbette. She insists that they take in and raise the younger Lacks siblings to get them out of the clutches of the abusive Ethel and Galen. Bobbette makes it pretty darn clear that if that couple ever touches Henrietta’s kids again, she’s going to open up a can of ??? on them.

In Henrietta’s absence, Bobbette also acts as a mentor and inspiration to young Deborah. She tells her to stay in school because that’s what will get her success in life. She also encourages her to fight off the advances of her boy cousins because, she said, “That’s uncalled for.” She warns Deborah about the dangers of first cousins having children together.

Deborah reads articles about HeLa cells (named after an abbreviation of Henrietta Lacks name) with a dictionary in hand and learns to use the Internet to make sense of her mother’s immortal life. Her brothers don’t understand her need to pursue something that has been so hurtful to them. Deborah is quite clear in her mission: “All this stuff I’m learning,’ she said, ‘it make me realize that I did have a mother, and all the tragedy she went through. It hurts but I wanna know more, just like I wanna know about my sister (her sister Elsie had defects that eventually institutionalized her, where she later died young). It make me feel closer to them, but I do miss them. I wish they were here.”

The need to know and to be in control of her past is always stronger for Deborah than the need to forget her past and protect herself from future harm.

Her older brother, Lawrence, never stopped taking care of Deborah. He put $6,000 on his credit card to pay for her funeral. She died less than a year before the book, written by author Rebecca Skloot, about her mother was published.

“Henrietta had been chosen by the Lord to become an immortal being. The immortality of Henrietta’s cells had something to do with her telomeres and how HPV interacted with her DNA.”

The Underground Marketplace

“Rehoming” is a term often used in situations where adoptive parents are trying to “get rid of” their adopted child. This can stem from behavioral and/or emotional issues from the adoptive child that the parents do not feel equipped to handle.

Most re-homing exchanges initially are made via the internet, through websites or forums. The majority of these rehoming exchanges are made by parents who adopted a child internationally. There is less follow-up/resources for these parents, so many of the parents have stated that they had nowhere to go or no one to reach out to for help regarding the issues they were having with their adopted child.

Although it seems like rehoming should be illegal, unfortunately, there aren’t many laws protecting children being given away to others. The problem with this is that many of the people who are taking these adopted children have criminal backgrounds or are psychologically unstable, putting the child at risk for emotional and sexual abuse, trafficking, or even death. Predators take advantage of adoptive parents who are emotionally burnt out, giving them an “out,” many times free of charge.

Kids can be put into real danger when adoptive parents are desperate enough to give in to this type of exchange.  It is not illegal but there is usually no background check and the exchange can be made with nothing more than a signed notarized document. No legal authorities need be involved.

Most people are unaware of the horrible reality of rehoming.  But it is a real issue.  Awareness can prevent a tragedy.  If you are an adoptive parent who is in a situation with a new adoptive child which seems unbearable, there are resources.  Don’t choose a do it yourself solution.

Unacknowledged Ghosts

Deborah Hempstead

In the book, It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn, he asks – Is there a person no one talks about ?

Deborah was run over and killed by a teenager driver, a member of the Doubleday publishing family, while crossing the road with her younger sister, Eleanor.  Her story does survive or else I wouldn’t know this but did the family talk about her ?

The death of my paternal grandmother Dolores’ oldest sister would have certainly left behind grieving parents.

My grandmother is born only about a year after that tragic event.  Then Dolores’ mother dies 3 mos after giving birth to her.  There is just the heavy sorrow in that family including in Eleanor, the middle child.  She would have been very young when this happened, perhaps pre-verbal and maybe didn’t receive very much comfort or attention due to the intensity of all that happened.  I don’t really know.  She is a sad person, never married, died alone of tuberculosis in a state hospital and cremated.

So, this “ghost” is a painful thing for everyone in the family but more conscious in Eleanor, more unconscious in Delores.

I wonder how Dolores dealt with all that grief, that sorrow ?

Did she reject her father ?  I don’t know.  He remarried.  Men of that era were not heavily involved in child care but it seems rather certain from stories and from her stepmother’s will that Josephine was not very fond of her step-daughters.  It is likely that, Raphael, Dolores’ father would have been in a terrible grief and depression for some time, if he ever truly got over those losses.

It is no surprise that I am fascinated by Deborah.  I was given the same name as the oldest daughter of my father, even though he never knew of his aunt’s existence.

The author as a young child.