Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

One of the interesting things about having become a mother for the first time in 1973 and then becoming a mother for the second and third time in 2001 and 2004 was how much some baby advice had changed.

Back in 1973, I had an acquaintance who lost a baby to SIDS, so I was terrified about the possibility.  I would stand outside my daughter’s bedroom door to listen for her breathing.  If she didn’t wake up at the usual time in the morning, I would go in to check on her and she was always beginning to wake up – thankfully.  Back then, we put a baby to sleep on their stomach in case they threw up, they wouldn’t choke on it.

But by the early 2000s, the advice had changed and I can only assume it was due to statistics that proved babies would be safer sleeping on their backs.  And both of my sons also survived their infancy.

The reason this is on my mind today is an awful story I just read about a hopeful adoptive mother.

She and her husband were going to adopt from a “friend”. The pregnant mother changed her mind only a week before she gave birth. And of course, this was a terrible disappointment for the couple hoping to adopt and destroyed the friendship that had previously existed.

Sadly, this baby died from SIDS.

The hopeful adoptive mother admits to conflicted feelings about this. She admits that the adoption failing to go through left her heartbroken because she had become emotionally attached to the developing fetus, thinking of it becoming her own baby to love. The baby now dying has left her feeling like she lost her baby twice. She understands that she really doesn’t have any right to mourn the loss of a baby that was never hers but never-the-less.

The hateful part is that she also feels vindicated, as though it is karma taking the baby away from its original mother, because the hopeful adoptive mother was denied the opportunity to raise this child.

She also admits to being irrationally angry. She believes the baby would still be alive had this child been in her care.

Weirdly, she is relieved the baby didn’t die in her care, if this was the child’s destiny from the beginning.

What to make of all of this ?  She is one very mixed up lady to put it kindly, which I would.

However, I don’t disagree with this woman in my adoption group’s harsher response to the hopeful adoptive mother –

What you should be feeling is sad that a baby died, and compassion for the mother. A decent person would stuff their selfishness and feel sympathy. This baby was never the hopeful adoptive mother’s responsibility. Some more advice, you could thank god that baby didn’t have to feel the torment of a mother/child bond being broken before she left this world. I’m sure her Mom’s kisses were what she fell asleep thinking about, as it should be. And this part hurts but you were never her friend. You are lying to yourself about that part. Unkindly, what you are is a predator, mad that your potential prey got away.

Losing My Grandparents

My Granny, My Dad and My Granddaddy

Both of my parents were adopted.  So the grandparents I grew up with in my childhood were never actually related to me.  They were influential though.  The two people shown above often cared for me and my sisters over weekends.  I think mostly to get us into their church, the Church of Christ, as contrasted with the church our mom was raising us in, the Episcopal church.  My dad didn’t go to church at the time.  He worked shift work in a refinery, often double shifts, and so was mostly asleep when he wasn’t at work, except for meals.  Maybe he would watch a little TV or read a news magazine or the local paper.

My mom conceived me while she was still in high school and my dad had just started at the university out of town.  I think these two people shown above made certain my dad quit his dreams of a higher education and married my mom and went to work to support his young family.  Not that he didn’t want to marry my mom.  They were married over 50 years until death did them part and they died only 4 months apart.  My dad’s adoptive parents insisted I have a biblical name to save my damaged soul because of my illegitimate conception.

All of my grandparents had already died – and in fact my parents had already died as well – when I went in search of my original grandparents.  Though I doubted I would ever know who my dad’s father was because his mother was unwed and he was given her maiden name at birth.  I do now know who ALL 4 of my original grandparents were, their names and their ancestry.  I didn’t expect, that in learning who my original grandparents were, I would in effect “lose” my grandparents (those people who adopted my own parents as infants).

But I did.

Though I know I have a “history” with these people who adopted and raised my parents, they no longer feel like my grandparents.  And my true biological and genetic grandparents have taken their place in my heart and imagination, even though I have scant knowledge (but some) of these people whose genes are in me and helped create who I am at the level of physicality.  I have connected with some cousins who share the same original grandparents and what I know of my original grandparents is thanks to anything they have shared with me about these people.

I don’t love the people who raised my parents any the less but they are so far back in my own past now.  Though I had occasional interactions with them up until their deaths, as living people they are receding for me.  They are fading . . .

My original grandparents didn’t lose my parents due to anything worse than poverty and a lack of family support.  That doesn’t say much for my parents own original grandparents, who did not seem to care about my parents very much.  I’ve only heard that my mom mattered to her dad, which was a happy surprise for me and quickly warmed my heart towards that man.  My dad’s father probably never even knew he existed.  His mom was self-reliant and he was a married man, so she just handled it alone.

It is strange.  I was robbed of my original grandparents by the Great Depression, Georgia Tann and the Salvation Army.  Both of my grandmothers eventually re-married.  If they could have been sustained somehow, I know they would have raised their children because every indication is that they loved their babies and mourned their loss until they died.

Nothing makes up for these losses really but at least, I do know where I came from – which is more than my parents knew.  They died completely ignorant of who their own original parents were.  And that is very sad.

Not Only A Happy Ending

I’m not personally in favor of either international nor transracial adoptions and I really have no right to an opinion on either but I do realize they are both fraught with complexities that no one should enter into unaware.

Adoptees are not a monolithic variety of human being. They differ as much as any individuals do.  Jillian Lauren is both an adult adoptee and an adoptive mother.  With her husband, Scott Shriner, the couple adopted an Ethiopian boy.

She says that she does not love adoption because it is one long Disney happy ending. She loves adoption for the way its struggles have defined her life and made her strong. This is a realistic perspective.

Here’s her adoptee story –

My story began with my unwed birthmother stranded alone in a snow-blanketed Chicago, feeling terrified and foolish. Across the country, my soon-to-be-mother had cried herself to sleep in her West Orange, New Jersey apartment every night for years, longing for a child. A deal was struck, a baby passed from one set of hands to another. I was adopted just barely before the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973. My mother says she did not once put me down during the entire trip home.

To be so unwanted and so wanted at the same time can carve a fault line in you.

She admits that at one time, her perspective on adoption was similar to what Laura Barcella once wrote – “Being forsaken by my biological mother has burdened me, for as long as I can remember, with a sense of inborn exile — a gaping hole where my identity should be.”

Indeed, adoption does not give any one who has been adopted a life that is always comfortable or easy.

Jillian Lauren goes on to describe what it has been like with her adopted son’s profound anxiety and fear. It is derived from having survived malnutrition, illness and unimaginable loss in his first year of life. For almost the entirety of his first three years with the couple – he ate little, slept less and had violent tantrums roughly 10 times a day.  Lauren admits that during this time, he often bit her until she bled.

Adoption is a narrative that begins with loss and definitely trauma.

She shares that through the trials with her son of the past few years, she has come to understand herself as selfish, vain, petulant and unequal to the task of mothering. To be certain, she has also found resiliency, determination and resourcefulness.

Each person grows through their challenges.  The good and the bad both have qualities that can serve our ongoing journeys.

 

Conflicted Feelings

Mother and Child by Pablo Picasso

A young woman writes –

I had my first child at 16 and I stopped a lot of good things in my life.  Now, two babies at 18.  I have been with his father now for only a year.  I know that in no way is he ready for a baby.  This has worried me so much.

This pregnancy has been an emotional rollercoaster and I have not felt any attachment to the baby. I gave birth to my baby yesterday at 2:32 am.  He is beautiful but still no connection. Maybe this is because I knew he was leaving me.  It’s like my emotions were preparing for that.

For the last 9 months, I have grieved my old body. I grieved being happy all the time.  I enjoyed being able to have a few days to myself each week because my daughter’s father and I split custody.  For a few days each week, I could just be an average 18 yr old.

Today something changed in me and I wanted my babies. I wanted to be a mom. I wanted someone crying for me because they needed me. My daughter having a melt down about a bug touching her or my baby boy just wanting to be rocked back to sleep.

Right now I am sitting in my room with my boyfriend, without my baby. A few rooms down the adoptive parents have him. You may think, “how nasty they are” but I can tell you, these people are so genuine, they have to be the most kindhearted understanding people I have ever met.  Tomorrow I will hurt them because my heart and mind have changed. Tomorrow they won’t be going home with my son because I will.

I have no idea what will come next.  No idea where I’ll be living (not that I will be homeless, I will stay with my boyfriend but I will be leaving, if he does not want to parent).  I have no idea how everyone’s going to react when they learn I have changed my mind.  I have no idea how I’m going to react. I’m just doing it. With only having my toddler a few days each week, I have days where I feel so crushed with anxiety.

I can’t do it.  I can’t give my son up for adoption. PLEASE pray for me because I’m just so scared right now but I’m just going to do it.  Parent my child.

Reasons Why A Woman Chooses Adoption

Read this today –

I am an expectant mother, due in a couple weeks. I’m single and the baby’s father has recently informed me he wants no part in parenting but I am confident he will pay child support (though I know he prays I choose adoption, though his opinion on that matter is not even on my radar).

I am also in a transitional place in my life: staying in a very small apartment with a friend who is supporting me, no job, and won’t be able to raise a baby here. I don’t have safe family I can stay with, and my friends live in different corners of the country and are not a viable option right now either.

I’ve spoken to a few Hopeful Adoptive Parents and feel comfortable with one couple in particular, but with the clock ticking & COVID precautions in place, I don’t feel ready to make that choice: either to choose them to raise my child OR to choose adoption at all. But I feel like my back is up against a wall: I don’t have a safe place to raise a baby and I don’t have any income at the moment but in no way do I want to make a rash decision to relinquish my rights just because time is running out. Luckily the Hopeful Adoptive Parents are NOT pressuring me in any way, shape, or form so that’s not an issue.

I read up on a thread of resources posted a while ago, and I saw Safe-Families mentioned as an option. There is a chapter about 3.5 hours from me.

Another well-known option is called Saving Our Sisters.

One voice of experience wrote – “Listen to those of us who have walked this path. I am 73 and will never recover from the loss of adoption. Take heed.”

Another woman offers this – “My best advice is to try to parent. People will take a toddler as fast as a baby. If you can’t do it, you have options BUT if you go through with adoption, you can not get your baby back. Things will work out, just try.”

One woman cautioned – You would “think that voluntary placement would mean that she could get them back just as easily. Not the case. She had to prove herself fit.”  This is so close to what my maternal grandmother went through it breaks my heart that this is still how it goes.  My grandmother lost my mom to Georgia Tann during her brutal reign.

In the final analysis –

The #1 thing your baby needs is you. Just you. Not a nice house, not a nursery, not baby gear, not anything that can be bought. Some second hand baby clothes and cloth diapers, a good sling and a car seat if you have a car is all you really need to take great care of your baby. If you can have a place where you can live safely, your baby will be happy.

If Not For DNA Testing

If not for DNA testing, I would not have revealed so much so quickly about my original family cultural roots.  Certainly, my mom being adopted in what later turned out to be a baby stealing and selling scandal gave me a quick start.  Because of that scandal, Tennessee was eventually pushed to open their sealed adoption files.  And my mom’s was rich with details even if Georgia Tann was a known liar and I did uncover some lies in that file.  Thankfully, there was enough true information that it opened up a world to me that I never expected to know nada about.  Yay !!

Both of my parents were adopted.  On my dad’s side it was trickier.  His mother had been unwed and his adoption came through The Salvation Army.  Ancestry was a big help in revealing enough details to what I already knew that The Salvation Army was then willing to reveal a tiny bit more.  23 and Me was the big breakthrough there, when a cousin received her results and contacted me to tell me we had the same grandmother.  That led me eventually to another cousin thanks to Facebook.  She had the final breadcrumb keys that my grandmother had left for me as to my dad’s father’s identity in a photo album.

Interestingly, almost a year before I received the breadcrumbs, Ancestry had identified a cousin.  He didn’t reply to my inquiry right away.  When he did, he apologized for not having a clue how we were related.  By then, I had some details about my paternal grandfather.  The man was able then to tell me that our grandparents were brother and sister.

Yes, I do believe in DNA testing and for adoptees given that half of these United States continue to refuse to unseal their adoption files, DNA matching may be the only way to learn your true cultural identity.  Today, I read another story about how this helped.  I will summarize.

The daughter of a Jewish patriarch gave birth, out of wedlock, to this person’s mother.  That fact remained a secret within the family.  This person’s mother died knowing none of this, much like both of my own parents. She was raised by another couple, just like my parents were. In the case I was reading about there wasn’t even a formal adoption or paper trail.

So it took DNA testing for this person to discover his ancestry. Thanks to that testing he discovered relatives, leading him to even more new discoveries.  That is how it was for me too.  I know of living relatives for 3 of my 4 grandparents.  With my paternal grandfather, he had no more children but he did remarry.  Thanks to Ancestry and Find-A-Grave, I came into contact with what I will call a step-cousin, who could give me some details about his life.

It is said that a recent survey showed about a quarter of the people who take these tests find some kind of surprising result.  That sometimes leads to a book about the story of those discoveries.  At the end of December, I completed the story of my own.  I am now in the process of seeking a literary agent.  May 2020 prove successful in my quest.

For more about the Jewish story I mention in my blog today, you can go to this link – https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-a-dna-test-revealed-the-family-i-never-knew-2020-01-10/

Abandonment

Is abandonment one of your core wounds?  It is for most adoptees. This poem by Jeff Foster speaks volumes.

if abandonment is the core wound

the disconnection from mother

the loss of wholeness

then the most potent medicine

is this ancient commitment

to never abandon yourself

to discover wholeness in the whole-mess

to be a loving mother to your insides

to hold the broken bits

in open awareness

to illuminate the sore places

with the light

of love

When the damage has already been done there is really only one pathway forward – find the love for that self that you are.  No one can change what has already happened but we can begin to refrain the experience to find something about it to be grateful for.

In learning about the wounds of adoption and separation in my own immediate family, I came to realize the miracle.  When my mom conceived me out of wedlock, how is it with adoption so accepted in our family structure that my mom wasn’t sent off to give me up for adoption ?

I think I can credit my dad’s adoptive parents for preserving me in the family.  Even if they had built their own family through adoption, I suspect they realized that keeping parents and their children together was the best possible outcome.

 

Actually Not Related

This is the day my parents married in 1953 because my teenage mom was pregnant with me and my dad did right by her.  They were both adoptees.  As incredible as it may seem to the reader, it was only recently that I realized how miraculous it is that I did not end up given away and adopted.

Certainly, my mom’s adoptive parents could not have been happy about all their dashed hopes for my mom.  No debutante ball, no marrying into the upper class.  Instead her husband came from a humble and poor family.  In spite of it all, they remained married for life, over 60 years, and died 4 months apart.

How to explain what it is like ?  I chose to relocate myself to Missouri.  Eventually, I would discover lots of connections to my chosen home state.  Yet, they were not my own family connections, not really.  There was the town in Missouri – Dittmer – founded by my mom’s adoptive father’s family.  There was the town in Missouri – Eugene – founded by my mom’s adoptive mother’s family.  There was the town in Illinois – Belleville – founded by my dad’s adoptive mother’s family.  I could not claim any of these places had a real relationship to my family history.  It is a weird black hole to spend one’s life within.

Now I really know what is important.  Loss, betrayal and abandonment force us to let go of our attachments.  When my parents died, I became an orphan.  I also lost a close and loving relationship with my youngest sister, who’s mental illness that appears to be some kind of paranoid schizophrenia, caused her to distrust me as I attempted to close out our parent’s estate.  I heard my mom’s voice in my head saying “finish the work.”  That work was requesting the court to create a supportive situation for my sister since she could no longer depend upon our parents and was hostile towards me.  A lifetime of being there for her was lost and abandoned by her.  Sadly.

A Permanent Loss

Conflicted feelings when I first learned I was pregnant

I gave birth to my baby and once the infant was born,

I became that child’s mother.

A mere signature on a surrender paper and

the adoption that followed can never undo that.

I had a baby and I gave that baby away
but I am a mother.

~ A Hole in my Heart by Lorraine Dusky

It is a very sad story and worth reading.

A lifetime of regrets, of unintended consequences that are channeled in an activism, so that others do not have to go through the same experience.

I have learned so much about the impacts of adoption on ALL parties to it.  Not one of the triad escapes some effect.  Not the adoptee who never had a say in what happened to them.  Not the original parents who will never be able to know their child in the intimate way most parents do.  Not the adoptive couple who may receive more than they originally bargained for – wounds they can’t see nor understand because they are foreign to any concept of parenting they may have entered in with.

The Self Missing A Part

I keep this image of my dad with his adoptive parents within sight of my computer.

This is how my dad was – my adopted mother is my mother, the other one simply doesn’t exist.

He never realized that a whole part of himself was missing.

One of my dad’s half-siblings lived only 90 miles away from him in the same state at the time he died, totally unaware that someone who could have shared with him what his original mother was like was close at hand.

Does the father even know ?  This was a question my step-cousin asked of me when I finally nailed down who my dad’s father was (his mother was unwed and his father a married man).  I don’t believe my dad’s Danish immigrant father did, because by the time she knew she was pregnant, she probably also knew he was married.

My Granny was a force in my life.  I believe she intervened so that my parents married when my high school age mom discovered she was pregnant.  She also intervened when I was in a dangerous romantic relationship, opening the way for me to meet the man I’ve been married to for over 30 years now.