Growing up in my immediate family, adoption was the most normal thing. After all, both of my parents were adopted and they were “normal” or were they ? Until recently, I didn’t know that being adopted could leave traumatic wounds at such a deep and pre-verbal level the person isn’t even conscious those feelings are there.
Now, my mom was a Georgia Tann baby and when she was a schoolgirl in the early 1950s, the scandal in Memphis broke into national news. Her adoptive mother admitted she had been adopted there but that she was not one of the stolen babies. Life went on and she got pregnant and married in time for me to be legitimate.
Fast-forward to the early 1990s and the Georgia Tann scandal hit national attention again with stories on 60 Minutes and Oprah among others. My mom learned that she had not been born in Memphis but had actually been born in Virginia. She could not reconcile the disparity of this in her own mind and learning about some of the most extreme atrocities perpetrated by Miss Tann, my mom knew at a very deep level that she never should have been adopted and that her adoption was somehow inappropriate – that last word was one she used when she tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee but was rejected.
What is normal, anyway ? Normal is what you know. We knew adoption was real and we knew that our parents were being raised by people who did not give them birth. We knew that ALL of the relatives we knew as such, were not related to us. It is a bit odd to re-think that now but at the time it was what we knew as a reality.
“What makes us normal is knowing that we’re not normal.”
~ Haruki Murakami
Now, I do know that my parents being adopted was not a normal situation. And I even know that I have been a victim of adoption fog. Even as I was discovering who the people were that actually gave birth to my two parents.
Much of what I write here came as an unexpected side effect of discovering who my original grandparents were. Both of my parents were adoptees and both of them died without knowing what I know now.
The journey began because my cousin informed me she had received her father’s adoption file from the state of Tennessee. This came as a huge surprise to me. Back in the early 1990s, my mom tried and failed to get her own. I had hoped, since she had died, it might become available to me but that is not how sealed records work generally – and I have bumped up against them in 3 states – Virginia, Arizona and California.
What made Tennessee different was the Georgia Tann scandal. There would have been criminal charges lodged against her if she had not died before that could happen. The movers and shakers of Memphis political life were all too happy to let the wrong-doing die with Miss Tann.
The story had such potency, that it erupted on the public’s imagination in the early 1990s on 60 Minutes and Oprah. A movie was made by Hallmark featuring Mary Tyler Moore as a convincing Georgia Tann. Reunions of adoptees with their original parents started being seen on television and my mom wanted that for herself. It was not to be. No one told her that less than 10 years after her own efforts were denied, it would have been possible.
It was surprising to me how the dominoes began falling so easily, so that in less than one year, I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were and made contact with some surviving descendants. Only a few years ago, I would never have predicted such a result.
It didn’t end there however. From that new wholeness, I also began to understand deeply the impacts of separating young children or infants from their mothers and original families, how this causes a deep traumatic wound in the adoptee and how even the most well-meaning of adoptive parents (my adoptive grandparents were totally that and good people in general) can not make up for what has happened to the victims of the process.
And from all that, has come this blog. No doubt I still have more to say as soon as tomorrow.