Ending November

National Adoption Awareness Month can mean an adoptee feels heard. Or it can be an opportunity with the spotlight shining on adoption to discuss the trauma of being adopted. Some adoptees prefer to share what they feel are the positive things and people being adopted brought them. Every adoptee has a different story to tell but maybe the greatest relief is knowing there are others out there with the same experiences, that we are not alone. Less than 10 days left in this year’s adoption awareness month.

Mardi Link writes in the Traverse City Record Eagle on Nov 20 2022 – LINK> Happy National Adoption Month – “Being adopted isn’t just for babies, it doesn’t last for a single month and the brief burst of celebratory attention lavished on an institution designed to ‘save’ people like me feels jarring.”

She acknowledges – The press releases, celebrity baby adoption photo spreads and international infant rescue stories leave no space to narrate the lifelong complexity of a system which often provides adoptees with no agency over their own lives. For example, I’ve been on a 30-year mission to obtain every page of my medical, adoption, foster care and genealogical records. I’ve had some success at this mostly because I haven’t stopped asking after being told no.

Mardi notes – As a baby, I spent months in foster care before I was adopted. Somewhere, there are records and I want them. They’re mine. If National Adoption Month was really meant to raise awareness about the lifelong requirements of adoptees, the folks behind this celebration would have developed a mechanism for us to use to access our records.

She affirms – We’re also not going away. I’m still filing Freedom of Information Act requests on myself and I’m still writing polite letters. We have to be polite — we can’t ever appear angry or even conflicted about a system everyone else seems to celebrate.

This is the kind of reality that is an every day occurrence for adoptees – Last month, an Michigan Department of Health and Human Services adoption analyst responded to my latest inquiry with a copy of a typed telephone message delivered to the Children’s Aid Society in December of 1961. “Booth hospital telephoned to report Patricia delivered a baby girl at 8:15 a.m. Birth weight six pounds and seven ounces.” That baby was me. Until last month, I didn’t know what time I was born or what my birthweight was.

In my going nowhere efforts with the state of Virginia where my adoptee mom was born, that is the kind of information I would have liked to have received – the hospital’s name, the time my mom was mom, what she weighed. But alas, no. Not without a court order and that means an expensive legal representative and no guarantee of success. Sometimes, we just have to let some details be unresolved. Like why my grandfather abandoned my grandmother and baby mom. Like why my grandmother was sent away from her family in Tennessee to Virginia to give birth to my mom. When she left Tennessee and when she arrived in Virginia. Where she went to wait out her pregnancy until my mom was born. All I can do is make up stories.

Mardi ends her article with Happy National Adoption month. I question whether happy is the right word to attach to it – unless you are an adoptive parent who got what they wanted – someone else’s baby.

Vital Record Fraud

One of the issues that disturbs adoptees the most is that their original birth certificates were changed to make it appear as though their adoptive parents actually gave birth to them and usually their names were changed as part of that. This happened to BOTH of my own adoptee parents.

Some one adoptee asks – If birth certificates are such a “vital” record – why are the vital records of adoptees sealed and fraudulent ones put in their place?

At the Adoptee Rights Law Center’s LINK> The United States of OBC anyone can search the status for their state. There you can find out about any restrictions that limit an adult adoptee’s right to obtain an original birth certificate. Only in eleven states (indicated by checkmark) do adult adopted people have the right to obtain their own original birth certificates upon request. Early in my own roots discovery journey, I bumped my head against both Virginia and California who said I would have to get a court to approve my request (thanks to my mom’s adoption being part of the Georgia Tann scandal in Tennessee, when I received her full adoption file records, her original birth certificate from Virginia was there). The birth parents, the adoptive parents and both of my parents were already deceased. As their descendant, under such circumstances which would reasonably mean no one who had reason to object was still alive, I was still denied.

I enjoyed the answer from one adoptee – Because it is vital to maintain the “as if born too” facade. It is much like entering a witness protection program.

Initially the original birth certificates were sealed only from the public. Eventually, the reasoning became to protect the adoptive family from interference by the birth family. According to a document in the University of Michigan Journal of Gender and Law titled LINK> Surrender and Subordination: Birth Mothers and Adoption Law Reform

For more than thirty years, adoption law reform advocates have been seeking to restore for adult adoptees the right to access their original birth certificates, a right that was lost in all but two states between the late 1930s and 1990. The advocates have faced strong opposition and have succeeded only in recent years and only in eight states. Among the most vigorous advocates for access are birth mothers who surrendered their children during a time it was believed that adoption would relieve unmarried women of shame and restore them to a respectable life. The birth mother advocates say that when they surrendered their children, their wishes were subordinated and their voices silenced. They say they want to be heard now as they raise their voices in support of adult adoptees’ rights to information in government records about their birth mothers’ original identities.

Opponents of restoring access, in “women-protective rhetoric” reminiscent of recent anti-abortion efforts, argue that access would harm birth mothers, violating their rights and bringing shame anew through unwanted exposure of out-of-wedlock births. Opponents say they must speak for birth mothers who cannot come forward to speak for themselves. Birth mother advocates respond that the impetus historically for closing records was to protect adoptive families from public scrutiny and from interference by birth parents, rather than to protect birth mothers from being identified in the future by their children. They maintain that birth mothers did not choose and were not legally guaranteed lifelong anonymity. They point out that when laws that have restored access have been challenged, courts have found neither statutory guarantees of nor constitutional rights to, anonymity. They also offer evidence that an overwhelming majority of birth mothers are open to contact with their now grown children.

One had some interesting contemplations – thinking all about adoptees and how we basically prove a large side of nature bs nurture. And I mean the nature part. Our world likes to think that nurture is most important and that we always have a choice. We are a puzzle piece that society and the world doesn’t want us to fit into the big picture, we challenge people’s beliefs that they think are naturally instilled in them, when really it’s all just a bunch of bullshit that has been shoved down everyone’s throats. Even with doctors – good luck getting into the genetics department. The whole thing is gate kept. Really makes me wonder if our existence proves something scientifically that we are aware of, that would change the way people see things.

Conflict of Interest ?

I got seriously triggered with my husband yesterday. I need to work through my thoughts and I’m sure this is going to prove a lengthy process of contemplation.

Some background –

Both of my parents were given up for adoption in the 1930s. Their circumstances were somewhat different and somewhat similar. My mom’s genetic biological parents were married but at 4 mos pregnant after 4 mos of marriage for reasons I’ll never really have reliable answers to (but a few theories given what I have learned), her husband left her. He didn’t divorce her for 3 years, so there is that as well. With no husband in sight, she was sent to Virginia from Memphis TN to give birth and I would assume expected to leave the baby there but she did not. Instead, after her return to Memphis with my infant mom in tow, she became a victim of Georgia Tann.

My dad’s mom was unwed. She had an affair with a much older married man. Then, she went to a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers to give birth. After about 2 or 3 months, she was released with my dad still in her custody. It appears my dad’s father never even knew he existed. When my grandmother found no support for her and the baby with her cousin, she returned to the Salvation Army seeking employment and was transferred with my dad still in tow to one of their homes in El Paso Texas.

My mom’s adoptive parents relocated to El Paso Texas and in high school, my adoptee mom met my adoptee dad. Probably during the summer after my dad’s graduation from high school before entering a university my parents had sex and my teenage mom discovered by Autumn that she was pregnant. My dad’s adoptive parents supported him marrying her and quitting his hopes of a university degree to go to work and support his new family. I’m pretty certain my mom’s adoptive parents, had they had a chance, would have sent her off to have and give me up. Thankfully that didn’t happen to me.

So the truth I cannot deny is that had my parents NOT been adopted and had they both not ended up in El Paso TX and attended the same high school where they met at a party through mutual friends, I would not exist at all. I owe my very existence in this life to ~gasp~ adoption. I think I once described this situation as imperfectly perfect.

Until about 5 years ago, when I was able to uncover the identities of all 4 of my original grandparents (something that both of my parents died still not knowing), I thought adoption was the most natural thing in the world and that my parents were orphans. I had no idea there were people I was actually genetically biologically related to living out lives as unaware of me as I was of them. I knew nothing about the mental and emotional impacts of the trauma of my parents being separated from their mothers may have caused. I’ve learned a LOT about that since then – as this blog very frequently shares. To be honest, I now would prefer to see vulnerable women supported, so that they could raise their own babies.

So what is my conflict of interest ? My husband’s desire that my writing add some revenue to our family. Of course, I would love for that to happen as well. I have developed a negative attitude toward Christian Evangelical saviorism as it applies to adoption. My husband wants me to make my next book oriented towards Evangelical Christians (I have just finish a revision of my parents’ adoption stories for the 3rd time and will go about trying to obtain a literary agent for that work).

What !?! I accused him of asking me to betray my values for monetary reasons. He spoke of “witnessing.” That stayed with me all afternoon. I reflected on the kind of people my adoptive grandparents were. 3 of the 4 were religious. My dad’s were fundamentalist in the extreme. When one church wasn’t as strictly interpreted per the bible as they wanted, they changed churches to a stricter one. My mom’s adoptive father has been described as morally ethical but not religious. I see that same characteristic in my husband. My mom’s mother however had a surprisingly enlightened spirituality – especially when I consider what I have heard of her own very bible religious mother (to the extent of neglecting home and family). This grandmother’s spirituality was not far different than my own (which was what surprised me when I discovered it). My husband has a negative perspective on religion in general and believes vulnerable people are exploited by it. So I could not believe that HE would suggest such a thing to me. He admits that he is a bit like Mr Krabs in the SpongeBob episodes – all about the money (only really he is incredibly down to Earth, he just worries about supporting this family as he ages).

Yet, aside from the last 5 years of having it banged into my consciousness through my favorite adoption triad group, where the voices of adult adoptees are given preference and describe all that is wrong with adoption and foster care in general, what is it that I actually know from my own experience ?

My parents each felt differently about their adoptions. My dad never spoke to me of his but cautioned my mom against her efforts at locating her birth mother – who had already died by the time she was actively seeking that. One of the last things she wrote to me before she died was an explanation regarding why she couldn’t complete a family tree at Ancestry.com – “it just wasn’t real, because I was adopted but I’m glad I was.” Though I cannot say that she truly was “glad.” She didn’t know any other life.

Both of my sisters gave up a child to adoption. I cannot honestly say that my niece or my nephew would have been better off being raised by my sisters. They are good solid people – both of them – now married in their own adulthoods.

So the question is – can I find a way to target a Christian Evangelical audience, who is going to adopt anyway – regardless of how much I might preach to them about all of the impacts of trauma in this child they desperately want for whatever reason (I do believe there is a bit of missionary purpose in those desires) – and gently prepare them for reality and hope this brings about better outcomes for the adoptee ? Honor fully my evolved values in the effort ?

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.

Adoption Does NOT Make It All Better

I was reading about one of the common sticky situations that often appear in my all things adoption group. This part really got my attention – “Everyone is like ‘this is going to be so great!’ and I am just feeling like… yes and no. They will be safe, but adoption doesn’t just make it all better.”

The standard narrative in society is to celebrate and be joyful when anyone adopts. Truth is the yes and no part is probably closest to being the truth for the adoptee themselves.

Today would have been my mom’s birthday but she died back in 2015. She never was entirely comfortable with how she ended up adopted. Trying to be polite, she would say she was inappropriately adopted. Since Tennessee rejected her effort to get her adoption file (a file that I now possess in its complete form), she really couldn’t know for certain. She did know that Georgia Tann had been involved in her adoption in 1937. She knew something about the scandals surrounding Georgia Tann’s placement of children and she had a had time reconciling the fact that she was born in Virginia but adopted at less than 1 year old in Memphis Tennessee.

I will forever be disappointed that Tennessee promised my mom to do everything in their power to determine if her original parents were alive but only sent an inquiry to the Arkansas Driver’s License Bureau who could find no record of her natural father. No wonder, he had been dead for 30 years at that point and was buried in Arkansas. Could they have at least checked Social Security death records ? But they did not.

Instead, they broke my mom’s heart by telling her that her natural mother had died several years earlier. My mom had to have seen some of the many adoptee/mom reunions on TV in the early 1990s when she was seeking to obtain her adoption file. All Tennessee gave her for the $180 she paid them was a NO and heartbreak. That I cannot forgive Tennessee because having seen her adoption file, I know in my heart that how hard her mother was fighting to keep her when up against a master baby thief would have been important to her.

Even so, in her moment of accepting all that would never be, she said she was glad she was adopted. I never truly believed that she was – glad. Being adopted was not “better,” just different. However, if she had not been adopted, she would not have had me. It causes in me conflicting feelings because I am glad that I am alive and that I had my mom (and my dad) in my childhood growing up and until death did us part. I can hope that my mom and her mom had that reunion after death that many people believe in.

The Stories We Tell

I do beg to differ with Mr Twain. When you don’t know, you make up stories to fill in the gaps. Before I knew the truth of my adoptee parent’s origins – I thought both of my parents must be mixed race – my mom was black and white and my dad was Mexican and white. Neither one of those turns out to be true.

My mom wouldn’t explain how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted at 6 months old in Memphis. She did know that Georgia Tann was in the baby stealing and selling market. My mom died still not knowing the truth because Tennessee couldn’t provide whether her dad was alive when she wanted her file (though he had already been dead 30 years by that time).

My mom’s story went this way. She was born to illiterate parents in Virginia. A nurse at the hospital was in cahoots with Georgia Tann. She gave my mom’s parents papers to sign that they couldn’t read. She said the nursery was too crowded and so they needed to move my mom. When her mother was released and went to retrieve her – she was gone. In my mom’s polite language with the Tennessee officials (though she believed firmly she had been stolen), she referred to her adoption as inappropriate.

Truth was my maternal grandmother was exploited by Georgia Tann in her desperate financial situation. She was married. I have a story about my maternal grandfather. His first wife died almost 9 months pregnant in the dead of winter with the baby still in her womb. I have thought consciously or not, he was concerned because he was WPA, the children from his deceased wife were in Arkansas, his job in Memphis had ended and he went back to Arkansas. He was insecure as to his living conditions there and so didn’t take my grandmother at 4 mos pregnant, also due to deliver in the dead of winter with him. My cousin who has the same grandfather does not believe he was the kind of man to abandon his family that way. I can’t know – no one left living to tell me. My mom didn’t feel close to him and maybe that is because her own mother felt abandoned.

My dad was adopted from the Salvation Army. When his adoptive parents died, he found a letter copy to the Texas requesting the altered birth certificate that mentioned his mother’s name as Delores. Growing up on the Mexican border in El Paso TX, until I finally knew better, my story about my dad was that his mother was Mexican and his father white. Her family would not accept a mixed race baby so she took him into El Paso and left him on the doorstep of the Salvation Army with a note to please take care of her baby. Understandable given the circumstances but still not true.

This is a common experience for people with adoption in their family histories. Making up stories to fill in the gaps. Knowing the truth is preferable – even if the story was a very pretty and exciting one (as some I’ve heard about are).

The Tragic Story of Lizzie Lou and Frances Irene

My grandmother with her second husband

I’m realizing a day late that yesterday would have been my maternal grandmother’s birthday. Her father died on Christmas Day in 1953, one year before I was born to his first grandchild, who he never even knew. I can imagine Christmas was not the usual kind of holiday for my Stark family but then I don’t really know. My mom was adopted away from them when she was 7 months old.

Relinquishing a child has lifelong consequences for women and for adoptees. Between 13–20% of birth mothers do not go on to have other children. For those in an era of birth control, a few may consciously feel that to have another child would be to betray the first child which they lost to adoption. For many, and especially in my grandmother’s generation, there was either no known reason for infertility or something about their life circumstances precluded having more children.

After receiving the adoption file from the state of Tennessee that they had previously denied my mother, only breaking her heart and motivation to search by informing her that her birth mother had died several years before, it took me forever to make real contact with one of my grandmother’s remaining family members – this one is a niece. She would actually be my mom’s cousin, that same generation of descendants. She is the warmest person and gave to me the gift my heart was yearning for, some intimate, personal memories of my grandmother along with this picture of her with her second husband.

In some belated post-Christmas communication with her today, I felt compelled to correct the seeming misperception that my mom was the child of the couple in this blog. Here was my reply –

My grandmother never had another child. My mom was her only child (and this is not uncommon among women who lose their first child in such a tragic manner). Her father appeared to have abandoned them, at least to my grandmother’s perception of events, though a super flood on the Mississippi River in early 1937 must have been a factor. My cousin that shares him as a grandfather with me, believes he cared deeply about family. So why did he not come to Memphis to rescue the two of them ? There is no one alive now that can answer that question for me and so, there it sits forever unanswered. Of course, once Georgia Tann knew about the precarious situation my mom and grandmother were in, she swooped in to acquire yet another human being to sell. Awful but a definite truth of it all. I am happy that my grandmother found happiness with her second husband after the divorce between her and my maternal grandfather occurred (and it didn’t happen until 3 years after they first married and my mom was already permanently beyond the reach of her original family). 

She later corrected that “seeming” misperception, of course, she knew my mom was not this man’s child.

It is a tragic story. Why my grandfather left her after only 4 months of marriage, causing her to be sent away to Virginia to have my mom, there is no one left alive to tell me. Why my grandfather didn’t respond to the letter from the Juvenile Court at Memphis when my grandmother came back with her baby, there is no one left alive to tell me. My grandmother was so desperate to find a way to stop my mom’s adoption that she called Georgia Tann’s office 4 days after being pressured into signing the surrender papers, under a threat of having Tann’s good friend, Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, declare my grandmother an unfit mother (which she absolutely was not !!). Then, she took a train to New Orleans to prove to Miss Tann that she did have friends there who would take the two of them in resolving at least the issue of stability, even if only temporarily. Everything she tried to do, including taking my mom to Porter Leath orphanage for temporary care – FAILED tragically.

I have all of my original grandparent’s birthdates on my yearly calendar now. I wasn’t able to know them in life but I don’t forget them in death. Maybe someday in the nonphysical realm to which my grandparents (and adoptee parents) have all gone, I will meet them once again and receive the answers my heart cannot acquire in life.

It Really Is NOT Fair

Anne Rudig writes “I’d like to know who my parents are.” in The Guardian. My adoptee mom wanted to know as well but was thwarted by the state of Tennessee at the time she tried. After her death, I discovered that the state of Tennessee had changed its laws for the victims of Georgia Tann’s unscrupulous practices. I tried to get my mom’s original birth certificate from Virginia and my dad’s (also an adoptee) from California and in both cases – the answer was NO without a court order and that means an expensive attorney and no guarantee of success. Fortunately, I found other ways to get my own desire fulfilled.

Anne goes on to say, “Like countless other adoptees in the US, outdated laws mean I still don’t know my parent’s names, ethnicities and medical histories.” The medical information was part of my own mother’s concerns as she had a condition that the doctors were having a difficulty diagnosing. Until I learned something about my grandparents I always had to say, I don’t know because my parents were both adopted. I only knew what showed up in their lives. Now I know my paternal grandmother had surgery for breast cancer.

Anne has had similar experiences – The medical history on my side of the family is solid white space. Each time I encounter a new doctor, the conversation is pretty much the same. “I see you have no family history for major illnesses – cancer, heart disease, stroke. That’s great.” “No, I have no family history.” Then follows an awkward moment as confusion travels across the physician’s face. I break the silence between us. “I was adopted.”

I read Anne encountered the same difficulties with the state of California that I did – “In some private and all closed adoptions the original birth certificate is sealed by the state of California. The only way to see it is to hire a lawyer and petition the court with a ‘very good reason’ to unseal. When I asked a clerk in Marin County, California, he couldn’t give an example of what a good reason might be, but he did say that wanting to know my origins wasn’t one of them.”

She goes on to say – “At the age of 69, I am not allowed to see my original birth certificate or know the basic facts of my origin. The names of my original parents, their ethnicities, vocations, countries of origin, ages, places of residence, and attending physician – all remain hidden. I want the date of my birth confirmed. I want to know where I came from. I want to know my original mother’s name. My adoptive parents are long gone. My original ones have likely passed too. Who is this law protecting, and from what?

In fact, I tried to make the same argument without success. All of my adoptive grandparents were dead and both of my parents were dead and yes, it was likely my original grandparents were dead too. Eventually, I came to the conclusion it is about money – about the state having to hire extra people to vet and dig up the records and copy them, etc for the descendants and/or still living adoptees. It’s about tax money and where it gets spent.

Anne asks – So why are states still sealing adoptees’ birth certificates? Sealed birth certificates obliterate our identity and origins – the exact things most people take for granted. The goal of closed adoptions is to turn the adopted child into a blank slate, ready for fresh imprint. But no baby is a blank slate. We all come with history, ancestry, fathers and mothers. And many of us don’t want to search; we just want to know.

My first husband and I conceived in the early 70s and didn’t know the sex of our baby until it was born. Still, we seemed somehow convinced we would have a son and when the baby we had turned out to be a daughter, we were surprised. I remember the nurses had to tell me 3 times that this baby was my daughter.

Anne shares – an over-eager sonogram technician led us to believe I was carrying a boy. While my pregnancy progressed, we selected a handful of boys’ names. In the delivery room, my doctor announced, “You have a beautiful baby girl.” My husband looked confused. “You’d better check on that.” So, when our daughter arrived there was a white space on her birth certificate, where her name should have been. We spent a week trying out names for her. 

Anne ends her essay with this truth – Sealed birth certificates were meant to protect adoptive parents from the embarrassment of infertility, the original mother from the shame of unwed pregnancy, and the child from the label of illegitimacy. None of this is necessary anymore, nor does it justify hiding personal information from adoptees. Forty-one states still restrict access to birth certificates through laws that date back as far as the 1930s. (blogger’s note – my parents were mid-1930s adoptees.) It’s time to repeal them. If not for me, then for my children, and perhaps theirs – and for all the children who will be adopted in the future.

The Controversy Over Beloved

Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved was mentioned on Real Time with Bill Maher last Friday night. I had no idea why it was even mentioned but I checked my Netflix list and saw that we had not seen the movie, so I added it. Then, this morning I read on article in The Guardian titled – The Republicans’ racial culture war is reaching new heights in Virginia by Sidney Blumenthal and my interest was peaked.

My mom was born in Virginia. You could almost say it was an accident but it was not. My mom was adopted and for my entire growing up years, I thought she was born in Memphis TN and was adopted from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. That latter part is correct but Memphis was not her birthplace. That is what my adoptive grandparents were led to believe and then later the TCHS muddled their way through an explanation. My mom’s grandfather’s family did immigrate into the US at Virginia from Scotland prior to the Revolutionary War which some of our kin actually fought in. My grandmother’s father sent her there to Virginia to give birth to my mom away from gossiping locals in their small rural town East of Memphis. I suspect there were still some family ties living there at the time. My mom’s father seemed to my grandmother’s family to have abandoned her at 4 months pregnant. I prefer to keep a kinder perspective on that man, full of sorrow after losing a wife and a son to untimely deaths, and this perspective was softened after meeting my cousin who shares with me this man as a grandfather. I cannot ever really know the reason why he left (though I do have theories) or why he didn’t come to my grandmother’s aid when she returned to Memphis with my baby mom. I just have to let the questions be forever unanswered.

It turns out that Glenn Youngkin who is running for governor on the Republican side of things has made this novel by Morrison his last campaign stand. Of course, there is more to the story than that and the “more” has to do with Virginia history (which I will admit that I am still somewhat ignorant regarding). Youngkin’s campaign has contrived a brand-new enemy within, a specter of doom to stir voters’ anxieties that only he can dispel: the Black Nobel prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison and her novel Beloved.

Youngkin waded into the murky waters of racial politics. He offered himself as the defender of schoolchildren from the menace of critical race theory, even though the abstruse legal doctrine is not taught in any Virginia public school. Youngkin then seized upon a novel racial symbol. The Pulitzer prize-winning novel is about the psychological toll and loss of slavery, especially its sexual abuse, and considered one of the most important American literary works. And there is a history to the issue in Virginia.

Somewhat disingenuously Youngkin has explained it in a campaign ad this way. “When my son showed me his reading material, my heart sunk,” Laura Murphy, identified as “Fairfax County Mother”, said in the Youngkin ad. “It was some of the most explicit reading material you can imagine.” She claimed that her son had nightmares from reading the assignment in his advanced placement literature class. “It was disgusting and gross,” her son, Blake, said. “It was hard for me to handle. I gave up on it.” As it happens, in 2016 Murphy had lobbied a Republican-majority general assembly to pass a bill enabling students to exempt themselves from class if they felt the material was sexually explicit. Governor McAuliffe vetoed what became known as “the Beloved bill”.

“This Mom knows – she lived through it. It’s a powerful story,” tweeted Youngkin. Ms Murphy, the “Mom”, is in fact a longtime rightwing Republican activist. Her husband, Daniel Murphy, is a lawyer-lobbyist in Washington and a large contributor to Republican candidates and organizations. Their delicate son, Blake Murphy, who complained of “night terrors”, was a Trump White House aide and is now associate general counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which sends out fundraising emails.

The offending novel is a fictional treatment of a true story with a Virginia background, a history that ought to be taught in Virginia schools along with the reading of Beloved. In 1850, Senator James M Mason, of Virginia, sponsored the Fugitive Slave Act. “The safety and integrity of the Southern States (to say nothing of their dignity and honor) are indissolubly bound up with domestic slavery,” he wrote. In 1856, Margaret Garner escaped from her Kentucky plantation into the free state of Ohio. She was the daughter of her owner and had been repeatedly raped by his brother, her uncle, and gave birth to four children. When she was cornered by slave hunters operating under the Fugitive Slave Act, she killed her two-year-old and attempted to kill her other children to spare them their fate. Garner was returned to slavery, where she died from typhus.

In the aftermath of her capture, Senator Charles Sumner, the abolitionist from Massachusetts, denounced Mason on the floor of the Senate for his authorship of the bill, “a special act of inhumanity and tyranny”. He also cited the case of a “pious matron who teaches little children to relieve their bondage”, sentenced to “a dungeon”. He was referring to Margaret Douglass, a southern white woman who established a school for Black children in Norfolk, Virginia. She was arrested and sent to prison for a month “as an example”, according to the judge. When she was released, she wrote a book on the cause of Black education and the culture of southern rape. “How important, then,” she wrote, “for these Southern sultans, that the objects of their criminal passions should be kept in utter ignorance and degradation.”

Virginia’s racial caste system existed for a century after the civil war. In 1956, after the supreme court’s decision in Brown v Brown of Education ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional, Virginia’s general assembly, with Confederate flags flying in the gallery, declared a policy of massive resistance that shut down all public schools for two years. The growth of all-white Christian academies and new patterns of segregation date from that period. Only in 1971 did Virginia revise its state constitution to include a strong provision for public education.

Youngkin well understands the inflammatory atmosphere in Virginia in which he is dousing gasoline and lighting matches. Branding Beloved as sexually obscene was always an abstracted effort to avoid coming to terms with slavery, especially its sexual coercion. Parental control is Youngkin’s abstract slogan for his racial divisiveness. Beloved is his signifier to the Trump base that he is a safe member of the cult, no longer an untrustworthy corporate type. Youngkin’s reflexive dependence on the strategy reveals more than the harsh imperatives of being a candidate in the current Republican party. It places him, whether he knows or not, cares or not, objects or not, in a long tradition in the history of Virginia that the Commonwealth has spent decades seeking to overcome.

To this political post, I add an admission. My maternal line roots are ALL Confederate – on both her mother’s and her father’s side. It is a fact that I am personally not proud of, even if I had nothing to do with it. I still own that it is a part of my personal family history – sadly.

Assumed Name and False Identity

Each of my parents was born with a meaningful name indicating family and personal relationships given to them by the woman who gave birth to them. In the kind of inside joke that only two adoptees could share, my dad sometimes called my mom by the name she was born under – Frances Irene.

It appears that the Frances may have come from a family that helped my grandmother when she first returned to Memphis with her two month old daughter. She probably had some connection to them before she gave birth to my mom in Virginia. When investigating my mom’s circumstances before adoption, Georgia Tann noted some vague family relationship between my grandmother and this family. I’ve been unable to track that back through Ancestry in order to prove it.

It appears my maternal grandmother was sent away from Tennessee to give birth by her father, after her lawfully wedded husband returned to Arkansas where his mother was caring for two daughters given him by his deceased first wife. Why he left her 4 mos pregnant or why he didn’t come back when informed she was in Memphis with the baby, I can never know though my heart yearns to.

Irene was the name of my maternal grandmother’s own mother who died when my grandmother was only 11 years old leaving her the woman of the house in charge of caring for her four siblings, two girls and two boys, the youngest only about a year old.

My mom’s name was changed to Julie Sue. My grandmother adopted a boy and then a girl through Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, Memphis branch. She stated in a letter to the society’s administrator that she wanted a Jill to go with her Jack. My mom’s adoptive brother was named John. So my adoptive grandmother was subtle about that heartfelt intention of hers when re-naming her children

When a person is adopted, their name is often changed by the couple that adopts them. Sometimes their date of birth and even the geographic location where they were born may be altered on the new birth certificate created for the adoptee showing the adoptive couple as their parents, as though these people gave birth to them.

It turned out the name my dad was given at birth was an important clue to his identity. My paternal grandmother named him Arthur Martin. Arthur was the man married to her aunt and she was working at their motel and restaurant at the beach in La Jolla California when she met my paternal grandfather. Unfortunately, he was also a married man. By the time she knew she was pregnant, she probably knew that marital status related to him as well. It appears he never knew he had a son.

Martin was the name of the man who fathered my dad. When I connected with a cousin who lives in Mexico, I discovered that she had my paternal grandmother’s photo albums (a real treasure trove of images). Next to a photo of my grandmother holding my dad in her lap, was the headshot of a man and she wrote his name, Martin Hansen, and boyfriend on the back.

My adoptive grandmother named my dad Thomas Patrick. The Thomas was the man she was married to when she adopted my dad. Since his birthday was only one day off from St Patrick’s Day (and that is why I never forgot his birthday), that may be the only reason for the Patrick part of his name.

However, she divorced that man and re-married and so my dad was adopted twice and his name changed again when he was already 8 years old to Gale Patrick – the Gale being her new husband’s name. It may not have been too confusing for him because he was called Pat all the years I knew him, at least.

In addition to the name changes, an adoptee is dropped into a family they were not born into but must “pretend” their whole lives they are related to. I’ve not cared all that much about names, though I like mine and now that I know about my original grandparents find a “family” connection because my paternal grandmother’s oldest sister was also named Deborah. She was hit and killed by a reckless teenage driver when she was only 3 years old.