Betrayal After Betrayal

Today’s story courtesy of the LINK> Huffington Post – My Dad Hid My Sister From Me For Decades. Then I Learned That Wasn’t Our Only Family Secret by Sarah Leibov. I share excerpts. You can read the whole story at the link.

Her dad had impregnated his girlfriend long before he met her mom and she was placed for adoption. The truth was revealed because the woman was coming to Chicago where the author lived and not only her mother (who had divorced her father 20 years ago) and her brother (who also knew about this secret sister) thought Sarah might want to meet her.

Her brother knew because he was going through their dad’s briefcase seven years ago and discovered letters from this woman and began corresponding with her. The mother discovered the secret when she asked who sent an email she saw on her son’s computer.

Sarah describes her reaction to the shock of learning about this sister. I only noticed that I was crying when people passing me on the street gave me sympathetic looks. I sat down on the curb, shaking. I was in shock, but another part of me was relieved. Intuitively, I’d always felt that my father was hiding something from me. Hearing the news validated the fear I’d buried inside for years. I was confused as to why he had kept this secret. My parents had divorced and married other partners when I was young, and I’d already had every kind of sibling imaginable ― my brother, a stepsister from my mother’s next marriage, and three half siblings from my father’s second marriage. Why would he keep quiet about this one? I didn’t know why my brother had never confronted my father, or shared the news with me. It was betrayal after betrayal.

She didn’t want to meet her father’s hidden daughter behind his back, or hide it from him, as he had from her. She called her brother and told him, “Call Dad now, and tell him what you know, or I will.” The next day, her father asked Sarah and her brother to meet him at a deli she’d never heard of. She thinks he thought she wouldn’t make a scene in an unfamiliar public setting, but admits, “I upset his plan. Tears flowed down my face as I ignored inquisitive looks from people trying to enjoy their matzo ball soup.”

Her father told them that when his girlfriend discovered that she was pregnant, she told him that she was moving to another state and planned to place the baby for adoption. Two decades later, the hidden sister gained access to her adoption papers and reached out to both her birth parents. Their father had then started corresponding with her and even met with her several times over the years.

Sarah writes about their first meeting – My fiancé and I met my new sister at a restaurant the following evening. My father was right ― she was lovely, kind and unassuming. I noticed that we both had inherited my father’s dark eyes and curly hair. She seemed a bit nervous and just as intent on making a good impression as I was. In her warm presence, all my envy disappeared.

And in the years since, we have bonded over our mutual interests in music and meditation, both on the phone and in person. I am very fond of her, but it’s so much more than that. I admire her political activism and ideals. She is a health care worker, and I’ve never heard her blame anyone for the difficulties she has endured. She lives with an easy, open acceptance that is challenging for me.

The hidden sister turned out not to be the only secret in their family. Turns out that her maternal grandfather had an affair during his marriage to her grandmother. Her mother and this half-sister (discovered thanks to Ancestry.com) were born only a few months apart, but on opposite sides of the country. When asked if her father had ever traveled to the East Coast, her mother explained that he was a traveling salesman. “We hear that a lot,” the geneticist told her mother.

Upon learning about this, Sarah was angry at her grandfather for deceiving her mother, similar to how she had been angry at her father for withholding a sister from her. It was frustrating that because the grandfather was deceased they couldn’t get answers from him. I know the feeling. I would love to know why my maternal grandfather appears to have abandoned my maternal grandmother and the baby that was my adoptee mother.

When she saw how overjoyed her mother was to have discovered a sister so late in her life, Sarah’s perspectives changed. It wasn’t their actions that were reprehensible, their decisions to hide what happened had caused pain.

She ends her essay with this – “Enough time has been stolen from me and now its my responsibility to recover what has been lost.” I understand. Building relationships with people who didn’t know you existed for over 60 years isn’t easy. I simply keep trying to stay connected with my “new” genetic family.

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Honesty

An adoptive mother writes – One fear is of facing the reality that she isn’t really my daughter. Getting that amended birth certificate was so bizarre. It’s a lie. I know it’s a lie, because she didn’t come from my body and that’s what that paper says. I am her mom, in the sense that mom is a title but she has a real mom that she misses. I am her mom in the sense that I will raise and protect her. It’s a strange thing to be both her mom and not her mom. I had the fear of losing her when I reached out to her aunt. I’m working through that and we are committed to being honest and doing what is best for “our girl” but there’s still anxiety about her mom. There are safety issues but I recognize the harm not seeing her does to my daughter.

When asked, when has she seen or spoke to her mother ? The adoptive mother replied – Once a year before adoption and a year before that the mother only made sporadic visits. I don’t want to share a lot of her personal information out of respect for her. I will say that I have always told the truth to her, age appropriately at each stage of her growing (the child is now 7 years old), and she has always wanted her mother. I have always been committed to making that happen, but wanted to wait until she was 18. I’ve since learned that’s not the best and I am working to connect her with her family. An adoptee advises “let her see her natural mother as the reality and not the romanticized version she will create otherwise.”

So this important perspective – this may be a hard pill to swallow, that her relationship with her actual family is more important than her relationship with you. She needs that bond and connection. Please remember that you have added to her trauma by erasing part of her identity by changing her birth certificate. You have also muddied the waters for future generations who want to know their biological heritage, which isn’t you. Its important for you to know that the most painful thing her mother will ever feel is to hear her call you mom. I can tell you from experience.

These are all things you have to own, and let go of fragility. You are in a position of power. It’s scary for the child and her family, because there is this fragile adopter that controls if they ever see each other again. Keep that in mind. Think of how you would feel if someone had control of if you could see the person you loved the most again. How would you respond to them ? Would it be a healthy relationship ? Would you just do whatever it took to keep them happy ?

Hard To Believe But True

To keep the knowledge of this from an adoptee is so unconscionable. Even in the 1930s, when my parents were adopted, they always knew they were. Since I now know more about my original grandparents, my grandmothers would have always made great mothers to my parents. It was simply two factors – the times for my dad’s unwed mother and Georgia Tann’s machinations for my maternal married grandmother (though her husband appeared to have deserted her and there is no one left alive who could answer what my heart wants to know about why).

From an adoptee – How could you not tell your kid but then tell other people??? Like wtf. There’s something incredibly wrong with that picture.

From another adoptee – (BTW the child is already 8 years old) – that would be where I would have to ask for a conference with the adoptive parents. I could not knowingly and wrongfully withhold such information from a child and still be able to look them in the face daily. Idk if said child could remain in my class, although I’d want to be a support for the child. What a horrible situation for a teacher, especially if also an adoptee, but what a horrible bunch of bullshit for that child. School aged is beyond old enough to have already had those conversations. I’m not happy with these adoptive parents AT ALL.

Just a personal note – when my dad was 8 years old, he was adopted a second time when his adoptive mother remarried and his first name was changed from Thomas to Gale. Thomas was his first adoptive father’s first name. Gale was his new adoptive father’s first name. A completely understandable decision. Fortunately for my dad, he was always known by his middle name Patrick.

An adoptee who is also an adoptive mother writes – I am also a behavioral interventionist. This would be a “HUGE” trigger for me mentally. I couldn’t imagine looking into that poor innocent face knowing she is probably struggling internally (even without her knowing it) and then, knowing what she will face later on when she learns the truth. It would be very hard for me to navigate without yelling from the rooftops at the parents – what you are doing to this child is so wrong and mentally abusive. Even more so, that they are sharing this information with everyone else (savior complex, most likely or just narcissistic) but the child. Does your employer know you are an adoptee? I do a lot of advocating for adoptees and foster care youth in my district.

Someone else commented –  Imagine everybody knowing your story but you. I hope they are setting aside a sizable amount of money for this child’s therapy because OMFG.

Another writes – And at what age does this go on until ? Where is that child’s human rights. They have no right to deprive that child of their roots. It’s seldom done to protect the child, it’s to protect the adopters from the reality that this child has another family and help them play out their fantasy. It’s disgusting and should be illegal.

From one adoptee’s experience – I was in a similar situation. I didn’t find out until I was 9. It shattered my view on pretty much everything. I feel badly for those children; finding out your life is a lie part way through childhood is just…heavy. The worst part about having a family that is secretive about adoption is that once I did know, I was told I still needed to lie about it because not everyone in the family knew. I shared it with my cousins of a similar age once and got laughed at by them because they didn’t believe me. It got me in terrible trouble with my adoptive parents for telling them. Those kids have a rough road ahead. An entire early childhood predicated on lies is no way to live.

Sometimes People Change

For people with adoption in their family, reunions are always an unknown quality. Like, even though my maternal grandmother was married to my maternal grandfather, why did he leave her 4 months pregnant ? (I do have theories but will never have actual answers – my cousin with the same grandfather doesn’t think his nature was not to care about his children and from pictures of him with my mom’s half-siblings that would seem to be true).

So an adoptee wrote – I think I found my birth father’s family. I am unsure if I should reach out. My birth mom told me he is a horrible person and the treason she put me up for adoption was due to his violent behavior and abuse towards her. I want to but I’m nervous.

It is not uncommon for a woman who has been the victim of domestic violence to want to protect her children from her abuser. Putting the child up for adoption can be seen as a way to provide distance and safety for that child. Case in point – My son’s birth father was/is a terrible sociopath, which is a big factor in my choice for adoption. Because it’s his mom and not me in charge, I have no concerns about him knowing his paternal grandparents and aunts. They’re very connected, and he loves it! So I say, go for it. You definitely deserve to form your own opinion.

Abusers don’t abuse everyone – so remember that before running away with – he said it wasn’t true, so it mustn’t be. You can still reach out but have boundaries to keep yourself as safe as possible. Maybe he is a reformed alcoholic or got help. There just tends to be a misogynistic perspective of – he’s nice to me, so no way he was not good to my mother, in many of these cases – and that is true across all family types.

It may be wise to look up his criminal record to be safe, but just like you, there may be good people he fathered or is related to, even if your mom is being honest. The adoptee replied – I looked it up, and he hasn’t had a charge since 1999. To which the advice giver said – maybe he was just someone who has criminal behavior when intoxicated and he got clean. Wouldn’t be the first! And the adoptee replied – He was intoxicated according to the arrest record. It’s hard to say. It could even not be the right person, but based on the information I was given, I’m confident it is. Even if he sucks, it’s better to live with the knowing than to live with the regret of wondering. You might have accurate information on who he used to be but you don’t know who he is now. 

More practical advice – Don’t share too much too soon, so you can walk away and not look back, if you need to. With that being said – people may make up things to make themselves feel better or he could have changed. Every person deserves to be heard out, if the person needing the explanation wants to hear it. It’s likely been quite some time since you were given up, and, sometimes, people change. Sometimes the situation was misunderstood. Sometimes the situation isn’t what it was presented to be. I’d contact them anyway. Don’t pass out your home address, use a texting or messaging app to contact them by phone, meet in public places, if you’re meeting them. Don’t put your own address as a return address if using the mail, use an email that you don’t use for everything, if by email.

Good to realize – People always have stories. They don’t always line up. Your mother has her side and her experience. It is valid and important. However, she has a story that has a different character. A different man. People change over time. They live. They learn, they grow and they die. You can wait until it’s too late and lose the chance to answer your questions or you can take a chance. We adoptees hear stories of others all the time. Never knowing our own. We hear how others are effected but we are overlooked. All for our “protection”. So many people have agendas. They don’t want to look like the bad guys. They don’t want their mistakes brought to light. Understandable. However we aren’t responsible for them being comfortable. 

This person’s experience matches my own experience on my maternal grandparents side quite a lot – They were farmers and country folk from southern Illinois (just to note – mine were Tennessee and Arkansas). Family was important to them. I was a missing piece to ALL of them in the family. A missing child. How horrible to think if I had not decided to find them that they would have always wondered what happened to that baby girl (just to add – that was also the case re: my mom, they all knew she existed). Me. I have now been welcomed back whole heartedly back into the family fold. No questions no judgements and all my questions answered. I know that the chances of that are so chancy but it was worth it for me. I hope that you can find some sort of closure or comfort in your journey. It’s always so scary to start, those first steps.

Such Misplaced Priorities

I was reading today where a hopeful adoptive mother actually was promoting to the son of an expectant mother all of the things they could financially provide to her soon to be delivered baby. This is unbelievably clueless. The boy would have loved to send the woman the message below (but his mother did not allow it, saying, “I’d love it, if he could respond that way, but it’s best if he doesn’t respond at all because I don’t think she was supposed to do that.”) –

Dear Hopeful Kidnapper,

My Aunt lives 10 minutes away in a 5,000 square foot house with a pool in her backyard. We can drive to the beach in my parents fifth wheel and she can build sand castles with us. We don’t need a beach house, we drag our house with us. Her cousin loves horses and can provide that experience for our baby as well. How arrogant that you think you can give her a “better life.” Has anyone ever mentioned money doesn’t buy happiness?

And this hopeful adoptive mother is also a social worker ? Hopefully these are being given to the attorney as this is straight up harassment! The fact that she is a social worker makes this even worse, she should know better! This lady has certainly earned a top spot on the Hopeful Adoptive Parent Stranger Danger List. Being a social worker, you’d think she would have first hand knowledge that even under the most dire circumstances, most adoptees would not chose to trade up their own mother, father and family for strangers that perceive themselves as having more or better. So, neither would this newborn. It’s just nature’s way.

When adoptees say they hate hopeful adoptive parents – this is why. This arrogance and the saviorism that centers on them but not the child. The willingness…no, the eagerness to cross every boundary a decent human understands, just to get what they want. All while casting dispersions on people who are in crisis.

This perspective – I don’t understand why people make help conditional on buying a baby. It’s never “Hey, we know you’re struggling and since we care about the baby so much, we’d like to be super involved as aunt and uncle, so we can make a difference in this child’s life.” This is why hopeful adoptive parents make me so angry. They have the resources to help but will only do so by destroying a family to benefit themselves. It’s gross.

And really, this is true – The only reason she’s harassing y’all is because of how soon baby will be here. I guarantee, if someone offered them a baby tomorrow, she’d vanish from your life. So gross.

More truth – No lavish house, top school, showy beach house will fill the void that separation from a parent will create. Children don’t care about social status. This is SO elitist!!! Like what a wild fantasy life she has dreamed up! What if this daughter doesn’t like dogs or horses and sand?! All children have the ability and their moments of it — what if this child is destructive and wild??! What happens when this fantasy bubble and perfect home and plan aren’t going exactly as she pictured?? Kids are hard and messy and unpredictable. Parenting is more than these clouds in the sky fakeness.

Finally, this from direct experience – I am an adoptee. I grew up in a huge, beautiful brick home. I had a swimming pool, along with a swim & racquet club less than 500 feet from my driveway. I had the “best of the best” as far as society saw. Upper middle class. Not rich, but never struggled for anything we “needed”. Even with that, I would have given all of it up to be with my biological family!

Fear of Abandonment is Real

Stephanie Drenka and genetic family

I went looking for a topic for today’s blog and found this story by Stephanie Drenka. She writes that – “I was struck by the pervasiveness of adoptive parent-focused stories. Where were the adoptee perspectives ?” The photo is from when when she was reunited with her biological mother, two sisters, and a brother.

She notes that “abandonment issues do not end in adulthood. Though I haven’t experienced divorce, I can imagine it might be similar. If a woman’s husband leaves her, even after remarries the perfect guy, she may always deal with a persistent fear that he will leave her as well. Fear of abandonment is real, and has to be acknowledged in order to resolve it.”

I have personally witnessed this issue playing out in a loved one and it had not been resolved previously. It came out at a very inopportune time but never-the-less had to be dealt with in its extremity.

Stephanie notes – Even the most well-adapted adoptee still faces moments where the trauma resurfaces. For me, that meant small things like every time a doctor would ask me for my family medical history or now, post-reunification, not knowing when I will be able to meet my biological sister’s new baby boy. And adds – I won’t go into the trauma experienced by birth mothers and families, because that is not my story to tell. Suffice it to say, from my personal reunification experience, adoptees are not the only ones who struggle with the aftermath of adoption.

She says – I love my (adoptive) mom and dad to the moon and back. They are my role models, biggest supporters, and best friends. I feel blessed to have them in my life– but please don’t presume to tell me that I was “lucky” to be adopted. Like many adoptees, my parents told me that I was special. While meant with good intention, being chosen is a burden. It puts pressure on us to be perfect and grateful. It can be incredibly emotionally taxing and negatively effects your self esteem in the moments where you can’t live up to that perfect picture. These expectations can prolong mental illness without treatment, because it may seem like asking for help is being ungrateful.

Choosing to adopt is an expensive proposition and as Stephanie notes – one mostly related to white privilege. I agree with her stated perspective – Can you imagine if the money people spent on adoption services went instead to supporting single mothers or low-income parents? Or what if adoption profits were used to benefit adoptees themselves in the form of post-adoption services like counseling, genetic testing, mental health treatment, or birth family search costs?

She ends her own essay with this – The truth about adoption is that there is no Truth. Adoption is many different things for many different people. It is love, loss, grief, abuse, hope, despair. It can sometimes be celebrated, but should always be examined through a critical and compassionate lens.

I’m Okay But

“I still think if I was given the choice to be aborted or grow up adopted, I’d choose abortion.” Those are the words of one adoptee.

The pain of having to live under the lies of adoption was just so great that never being born still seems like the better option. I loved my parents. I am forever grateful for the care and love they gave me with the best of intention. I knew they loved me but I knew they were also lying to me and that confused me. I’m grateful to be alive today but it’s not always been that way.

Now I know the TRUTH and I’m free to be me. And I think it’s marvelous. I just might be a superhero and neurodiversity is my superpower. Level up????

Many adoptees, but not all of course, feel the same way . . . Don’t believe it. Overturning Roe v Wade and creating more babies for hopeful adoptive parents will shatter the lives of those adoptees by the trauma they experience in the process.

Caught In The Middle

Some circumstances in life are just plain hard to judge. I understand the point of view of this adoptive mother, even so, where is the compassionate middle ground. I haven’t decided. Here is one adoptive mother’s point of view –

I had to discuss with my son’s biological mom that there are boundaries and if she wanted to be involved in any way then she needed to understand them and honor them. My son is MY son, not hers. We came up with a special name that we refer to her as. Never mom. Also we discussed social media. She is never to address him as her son. He is not her son. She is to call him by his given name. I understand that biological moms have to deal with the emotional aspect but so do the adoptive moms. She is no longer his mother. A mother is far more than giving birth. A mother raises you and puts you first. I am very close with his biological mom. I have a great relationship with her for my son’s sake and it was a surrender. She was not forced in any way. But she is not his mother any longer. I am. I accept her role in his life as a special person who loves him. But I am his mother, not her. And she understands and respects that. She is thankful that I allow her to be a part of our family. I didn’t take his mom away from him. She took her role as mom away from herself including by making bad choices and choosing drugs over parenting. I’m his mom and will always be. She will always be a special person in his life but never his mom. Advice to other adoptive moms – set boundaries and don’t let biological moms walk all over you. Let them know their role in the family now.

The person who revealed this mindset commented – I find this very sad and very controlling. What if the child decided one day to call his birth mom “mom” ? She can’t call him her son ? This is sad. Birth parents grieve too. They hurt too. Even parents from foster care. They grieve. They lost their child. I wish we can offer empathy to birth parents especially from foster care instead of looking down on them and using innocent children to hurt them and the child.

I do feel that putting a child in the middle of this situation isn’t fair to the child. The same kind of thing happens very often in divorce. I remember trying to walk that difficult middle ground. “You still have a mother who loves you. And you still have a father who loves you. But we are not going to all live together anymore.” Life is complicated enough. So how to simplify the situation suggested above ?

I do agree with this perspective – “I’m sure the only reason the biological mother agrees with this is so she can have something to do with her son. There is a difference between a ‘mom’ and a ‘mother’ but it is ultimately up to the child to decide how to view each one of these women. Not the biological mom or the adoptive mom.” These two should not be playing their own issues off with the child caught in the middle.

Someone else disagreed and I do see this point as well – No difference between a mother and mom to me. I have two moms and two mothers. Same difference. It’s not confusing. I see no reason to distinguish a difference or set them apart.

And in fact, this is a valid point – If it wasn’t for the biological mom, the adoptive mom wouldn’t even have her son in the first place. I don’t give a damn if the biological mother’s rights where legally severed, she is still his mom at the end of the day and always will be the woman who gave birth to him.

I am still seeking what I sense is an important middle ground. I understand the need for the adoptive mother to be the final say in most of what happens in this child’s life, to maintain her parental authority to make decisions – at least for a minor child. Yet, emotions and feelings are less clear. I believe that most children actually are capable of keeping the two women in a separate yet proper perspective. My heart tells me that is the truth.

What I am sensing is a possessiveness, an ownership of one person over the love of another person, by putting the magical role of motherhood into the middle of this situation. As the divorced mother of a daughter who’s step-mother married her father and so, the two of them raised my daughter, I already understand what a difficult balancing act these situations are. I did attempt to put my daughter’s feelings and interests ahead of my own. My daughter and I have discussed how similar her childhood was to that of someone who was adopted.

My Adoption Files Interview

Adoptee Parents

Though the podcast has been live since Feb 6th, I was only able to finish listening to my interview yesterday. I had gotten through the first 41 mins previously. Life is busy and it is long and so I do forgive anyone who doesn’t want to listen to me talk about my experience of being the child of two adoptees for an hour and a half approx. Though my satellite quality of transmission is inconsistent, it seemed to me that somehow the audio zoom file was able not to lose words but after a disruption continued where it would have been anyway. I am happy to say I was not embarrassed when I listened to it. Though most listeners would not notice my only big blub – giving the wrong part of my dad’s birth name as it relates to his father’s actual name – I can accept that as mistakes go, it wasn’t significant to the quality of listening to my interview by Ande Stanley of The Adoption Files.

For those who don’t want to listen to such a long interview, I’ll try to hit on the key or more significant points.

Though both of my parents were mid-1930s adoptees, their individual responses to having been adopted could not have been different. My mom always felt like her adoption had been, in her effort to be polite, inappropriate. She knew a bit about Georgia Tann and from what she knew and from a weird quirk in what she did NOT know (having been born in Virginia but having been adopted still technically an infant in the first year of her life from Memphis TN, how did she get there ?) she had crafted a story to explain what she was never going to be allowed to know.

I say that because she did try to get her adoption file in the early 1990s from the state of Tennessee who rejected both her initial and subsequent appeal because they could not determine the status of alive or dead for her father (who had actually been dead for 30 years by that time). Basically for $180 dollars she had the privilege of being told the mother she sincerely wish to reassure as to her outcome as an adopted child had been dead for several years. It broke her heart.

No one ever informed her that just a few years later, by the end of the 1990s, she would have been given her adoption file as Tennessee changed the law of closed and sealed adoption records for the victims of Georgia Tann (who bought and sold babies for 30 years). That is why for less money ($150) I received over 100 pages of her adoption file (which thankfully was intact though minimally inaccurate – deliberately) plus 4 black and white negatives of photos taken the last time my maternal grandmother held her baby.

Had my mom been given her adoption file, it would have cleared up misunderstandings caused by a lack of information and given her a lot of peace. She would have seen how hard her original mother fought to keep her and the obstacles against her. She would have seen how over the moon her adoptive mother was to have received her (though in life they had a difficult relationship). Though not stolen, her mother had been exploited. More importantly, my mom could have reconnected with her genetic, biological family and learned a lot of first hand impressions and lived experience regarding both of her parents.

Closed, sealed adoption records continue to be an issue that turns adoptees into second class citizens in these United States. I encountered this in Virginia, Arizona and California. I believe the main impediment is money – who has it and who stands to gain from keeping adoptees from their own valuable personal information. These parties are the adoptive parents, the adoption agencies and the legal system including adoption attorneys. They are the ones with the money to hire lobbyists to impress upon legislators the need to keep secret adoptees records. It is a big money business.

My dad was never interested in knowing his origins. I tend to believe he was afraid of what he would find out as he didn’t much like my mom searching and warned her against opening a can of worms. For $100, the Salvation Army gave me one paragraph of information, which even so gave me something important – my dad’s full name at birth and that the Salvation Army had hired and transferred my paternal grandmother from Ocean Beach CA (near San Diego) to El Paso TX with my dad in tow. I do believe they coerced her into giving him up. They had legal custody at the time he was adopted. Also, my dad was adopted twice due to his adoptive mother’s divorce and remarriage. Therefore, he experienced a name change at the age of 8 (he also was originally adopted as a infant less than one year of age).

The aspect of my story that seemed to interest Ande the most was how being the child of adoptees had affected me personally. Adoption does not only affect the adoptee but their children as well and even more so when both of the parents are adoptees. There was only a black hole of familial and medical history information beyond my two parents. Just as my mom had made up a story of being stolen from the hospital in which she was born and transported to Memphis, I had made up a story that my dad was left in a basket on the doorstep of the Salvation Army in El Paso TX by an unwed Mexican national mother because her child was mixed race with a white American father.

I readily admit that I got lucky in my own attempt to learn the truth of my parents’ adoptions. Nothing we believed due to our lack of true information has proven to be true but the truth is definitely preferable. Not all efforts at learning an adoptee’s origins are as productive or end as happily as mine with acceptance by my genetic biological relations. Persistence and determination are important. And getting one’s DNA tested can make all the difference. I had mine tested at both Ancestry and 23 and Me. Also noted in the interview however, without actual names, just finding DNA matches does not yield very much useful information as my own story shows.

In case you missed the link at the beginning of this blog (and there is so much more there than I can reasonably write for today) here it is – https://anchor.fm/ande-stanley/episodes/Interview-with-Deborah-Hart-Yemm-e1djv8e.

Shame

I’m only going the summarize this article but provide you with the link because it is well worth your time to read it – I Kept My Family’s Secret For Over 60 Years. Now, I’m Finally Telling The Truth by Yvonne Liu – published in The Huffington Post.

I believe shame had a lot to do with adoption records being sealed to begin with. Closed to access by the very person – the adoptee – is the information matters most to. Early in my “adoption issues” education I encountered the issue of dumpster babies. There are also babies left in a basket. For most of my life, I thought my own father had been left in a basket on the doorstep of The Salvation Army in El Paso TX because his Mexican national mother lacked her family’s acceptance of a mixed race baby who’s father was an American national. Nothing was further from the truth but I was well in my 60s before I knew that. My father never expressed any interest in learning the truth and details of his own adoption and I believe it was because he was afraid of what he might learn. By the time I knew the truth, my dad was already deceased and knew next to nothing.

Today’s story relates to a baby left in a basket in a Hong Kong stairwell near Sai Yeung Choi Street. She was taken to St. Christopher’s Home, the largest non-government-run orphanage on the island. Officials at the orphanage named her Yeung Choi Sze, after the street where she was found.

Infertility was the shame her adoptive mother hid. That is not uncommon among adoptive mothers, especially those of Chinese descent because Confucius believed a woman’s greatest duty was to bring a son into the world. This adoptee’s mother couldn’t produce a son, much less a daughter.

In June of 1960, this baby girl from China landed at O’Hare International Airport. Her adoptive mother was disappointed in the baby she received from the beginning. She was a sick and scrawny baby, clearly malnourished. Her mother’s first reaction upon seeing her was, “Why couldn’t I have a healthy baby like everyone else?” Throughout her life, the family’s story about her was a lie – that she was born in Chicago. Every school form, all of her college and job applications, and even her medical records listed her birthplace as Illinois. 

The adoptee’s parents were never warm emotionally. From a young age, she was afraid to upset her mother, who was often emotionally volatile. Her mother showed her attention when she needed her daughter. If she dared push back on the relentless demands to refill her teapot, type her Chinese cookbook or vacuum the house, her mother would retreat to her bed, sob, and say, “You don’t love me because I’m not your real mother.” Hugging her, the adoptee would desperately proclaim her love for her adoptive mother, telling her, “You’re my only mother.” Then she would quickly and quietly fulfill her mother’s commands.

Her adoptive father was not any warmer emotionally. From her time in the third grade, she threw myself into becoming a star student in hopes of earning her father’s love and attention. After immigrating to America with $50 in his pocket, her adoptive father earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry while working as a dishwasher on the weekends. He was chronically depressed and withheld any affection from her, even though she wanted that desperately.

The adoptee won a full scholarship to attend a top MBA program and enjoyed a solid business career. She even married the nice Chinese man her mother chose for her. But for as long as her parents were alive – and even after they died – I continued to keep the family’s secret that she had been adopted. Eventually, she told her husband and children but asked them to continue keep the family’s secret. That’s how deep and dark she considered her secret shame to be. I truly believed I would carry it with me until I died. The ancient Chinese beliefs that she must have come from an immoral mother, would mean she was tainted by her origins.

In 2020, locked down by the pandemic and having just turned 61 years old, she finally began questioning why she had internalized her adoptive parents’ shame about infertility and adoption. Feelings of low self-esteem, insecurity and anxiety as well as lingering questions about identity, rejection, belonging motivated her to learn more about adoption. She did a lot of the things I did as well – read books about adoption and joined Facebook groups for adoptees. Like her, I was already in my 60s as well.

She came to realize that there was no reason to hide her truth any longer. It was time to live an authentic life. She had nothing to hide. She choose to tell her truth publicly in The New York Times. A 98-word Tiny Love Stories piece about her adoption. Then my brother (also adopted) gave her a dusty manila file he discovered during pandemic cleaning. It was labeled “Yvonne’s Adoption.” At 62 years of age, she finally read the documents her adoptive parents had deliberately kept hidden from her when they were alive. The yellowed tissue-thin papers held the truth of her beginnings.

She writes, “My heart ached for the baby who languished in that orphanage for 15 long months. Surely a caretaker would have picked up my malnourished and anemic body when I wailed. Surely someone helped me when I still couldn’t sit on my own at 9 months. Surely a hired helper gazed into my eyes as she fed me diluted Carnation formula, water and congee. I sobbed, imagining how that tiny baby must have experienced those first few months of a life that would turn out to be mine.”

For much of her childhood, she was a quiet child, afraid to be a burden. On the rare occasions when she complained or questioned her parents, they would answer, “Where would you be if we didn’t adopt you?” They never said the same thing to her adoptive brother because he fulfilled their traditional Chinese filial duty to have a son to carry on the family name.

Then, she wanted to understand, why the lies ? So she learned Chinese history, read cultural and sociology books, pored over Chinese memoirs and novels, interviewed Chinese cultural experts and people who lived in China at the time her parents had. Now she is able to recognize that her adoptive parents were a product of tradition, circumstances and time.

She was able to realize some gratitude for the circumstances of her life. Because her birth mother loved her, she left me at a busy stairwell to be found. Because she made that choice, the woman has lived a full life. She is also able to be grateful her adoptive parents chose her. She is no longer ashamed of being an adoptee.

You can read more of her writing at YvonneLiuWriter.com. She is currently writing a memoir about adoption, childhood trauma and mental health.