Two Men – Adventures in Africa

I am reading the book, Exterminate All The Brutes by Sven Lindqvist, which is not at all what I expected. In yesterday’s reading I found linked two men with books set in the Congo. Henry Morton Stanley, who wrote In Darkest Africa, published in 1890 and Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness, published in 1899. I read that both grew up motherless, both had been adopted by benevolent father figures and that both ran away to sea, changed their name, home country and identity. This I thought this a worth topic for my Missing Mom blog. So some historical stuff today.

Henry Morton Stanley

Henry Stanley was born in 1841 as John Rowlands in Denbigh, Denbighshire, Wales. His mother Elizabeth Parry was 18 years old at the time of his birth. She abandoned him as a very young baby and cut off all communication. Stanley never knew his father, who died within a few weeks of his birth. There is some doubt as to his true parentage. As his parents were unmarried, his birth certificate describes him as a bastard. His baptism registry indicated that he was the bastard son of John Rowland of Llys Llanrhaidr and Elizabeth Parry of Castle. The stigma of illegitimacy weighed heavily upon him all his life.

The boy John was given his father’s surname of Rowlands and brought up by his grandfather Moses Parry, a once-prosperous butcher who was living in reduced circumstances. He cared for the boy until he died, when John was five. Rowlands stayed with families of cousins and nieces for a short time, but he was eventually sent to the St Asaph Union Workhouse for the Poor. The overcrowding and lack of supervision resulted in his being frequently abused by older boys. Historian Robert Aldrich has alleged that the headmaster of the workhouse raped or sexually assaulted Rowlands, and that the older Rowlands was “incontrovertibly bisexual”. When Rowlands was ten, his mother and two half-siblings stayed for a short while in this workhouse, but he did not recognize them until the headmaster told him who they were.

Rowlands emigrated to the United States in 1859 at age 18. He disembarked at New Orleans and by his own account became friends by accident with Henry Hope Stanley, a wealthy trader. He saw Stanley sitting on a chair outside his store and asked him if he had any job openings. He did so in the British style: “Do you need a boy, sir?” The childless man had indeed been wishing he had a son, and the inquiry led to a job and a close relationship between them. Out of admiration, John took Stanley’s name. Later, he wrote that his adoptive parent died two years after their meeting, but in fact the elder Stanley did not die until 1878. This and other discrepancies in Stanley’s own autobiography lead some to argue that no adoption took place.

Stanley reluctantly joined the American Civil War, first enrolling in the Confederate States Army’s 6th Arkansas Infantry Regiment and fighting in the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. After being taken prisoner at Shiloh, he was recruited at Camp Douglas Illinois by its commander Colonel James A Mulligan as a “Galvanized Yankee.” He joined the Union Army on June 4 1862 but was discharged 18 days later because of severe illness.  After recovering, he served on several merchant ships before joining the US Navy in July 1864. He became a record keeper on board the USS Minnesota, and participated in the First Battle of Fort Fisher and the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, which led him into freelance journalism. Stanley and a junior colleague jumped ship on 10 February 1865 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in search of greater adventures.  Stanley may have been the only man to serve in all three of the Confederate Army, the Union Army, and the Union Navy. He is remembered for the line – “Dr Livingstone, I Presume ?” Henry Morton Stanley wrote In Darkest Africa published in 1890. This is how his story intersects with the next one.

Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857 in Berdychiv Ukraine. His family called him “Konrad”, rather than “Józef”. His father was arrested and imprisoned in Pavilion X of the Warsaw Citadel. Conrad would write: “[I]n the courtyard of this Citadel—characteristically for our nation—my childhood memories begin.”

His father’s sentence was commuted, and the family was sent to Chernihiv in northeast Ukraine, where conditions were much better. However in 1865 his mother died of tuberculosis. His father also died of tuberculosis in 1869 leaving Conrad orphaned at the age of 11. The young Conrad was placed in the care of his mother’s brother.

Since he showed little inclination to study, it was essential that he learn a trade; his uncle thought he could work as a sailor-cum-businessman, who would combine maritime skills with commercial activities. In the autumn of 1871, thirteen-year-old Conrad announced his intention to become a sailor. At the age of 15, he was sent to a boarding house for orphan boys. The owner’s daughter recalled: “He stayed with us ten months… Intellectually he was extremely advanced but [he] disliked school routine, which he found tiring and dull; he used to say… he… planned to become a great writer…. He disliked all restrictions. At home, at school, or in the living room he would sprawl unceremoniously.”

“Living away from one’s natural environment—family, friends, social group, language—even if it results from a conscious decision, usually gives rise to… internal tensions, because it tends to make people less sure of themselves, more vulnerable, less certain of their… position and… value… ” ~ Zdzisław Najder

After nearly four years in France and on French ships, Conrad joined the British merchant marine, enlisting in April 1878. His book Heart of Darkness was published in 1899 and like Stanley’s account is set in the Congo. To Conrad’s credit, his contains bitter reflections on colonialism. Conrad regarded the formation of a representative government in Russia as unfeasible and foresaw a transition from autocracy to dictatorship. Conrad’s distrust of democracy sprang from his doubts whether the propagation of democracy as an aim in itself could solve any problems. He thought that, in view of the weakness of human nature and of the “criminal” character of society, democracy offered boundless opportunities for demagogues and charlatans.

Thinking About Adopting ?

A woman writes in my all things adoption group –

I’m not sure anyone cares about validation but I guess the administrators can decide. I just wanted to say thank you. I joined the group like many do, I was interested in adoption and really just putting a toe in the water. I waited my read only period. I went through the “wtf are these people talking about, anyone who adopts is a Saint”. Then I went through the “uh oh, is everything I know about the world even right?” Then I went through trying to explain this to my husband which didn’t go well. I’m getting ready to leave the group. Adoption is completely off the table and I’ve set up time to volunteer at my local teen pregnancy center.

Being a human is a wild thing. Thanks for being vulnerable and doing emotional labor. You really are impacting the world.

Edited to Add: I’ll gladly stay! I hadn’t thought about it but would be happy to stay and help where I can.

She was not the only one, soon others were chiming in. The one below was NOT the only one to express similar sentiments. This is also why I write this blog because I can reach others not in such a group or with such aspirations but who are uninformed about adoption trauma.

I was a Former Hopeful Foster-Adoptive Parent because of white saviorism. This group opened my eyes on so many fronts – I honestly feel like I see the whole world differently. I’ve learned so much about racism, classism, and ableism. The adoptees and former foster youth who share their stories are the smartest wisest people I’ve had the privilege of listening to. I am immensely thankful you allow people not in the triad to be transformed by this group. I have completely changed my behavior in the real world. I will never again speak about adoption as anything other than trauma. I talk to my friends also interested in foster care about why the child welfare system needs to be abolished and rebuilt, not changed from the inside bullshit. I can’t believe at one time I was willing to provide my home to a child in need but not the resources to their family so they could stay together. I find that incredibly effed up now. I am working on my CASA training so I can help get kids back home and prevent unnecessary adoption from foster care.

The Rev Keith C Griffiths (deceased adoption scholar and activist) quote exploded my brain: “Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.”

And Paul Sunderland’s theory about developmental trauma caused by a newborn being separated from their birth mother. The trauma of not growing up with genetic mirrors, not knowing one’s medical history or having legally falsified identity documents. I had no idea about these things because I had never centered adoptees’ experiences in my perspectives. This group has truly transformed my outlook on the world !

Valentine’s Day for Adoptees

Searching for a topic for a day like this related to adoptees, I found this Huffington Post blog – Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, Adoptees’ Worst Fear Will Likely Come True – by Ben Acheson. The image I chose seemed to fit the sentiments of some adoptees that I have encountered. The subtitle of Ben’s essay notes – What if Valentine’s Day, or relationships in general, were a stark reminder of the most painful and distressing events that you ever experienced? What if they triggered a trauma so terrifically challenging that it forever altered your approach to life? Welcome to Valentine’s Day, and relationships, for adoptees.

Ultimately, Valentine’s Day is about relationships, or the lack thereof. It may evoke unpleasant memories of lost loves, but the nostalgia is normally forgotten by the time the flowers wither and the chocolates disappear. Or does it ?

Take a moment to balk at such a provocative, nonsensical claim; that saving a child through adoption could lead to a life of relationship problems. It is ungrateful and even accusatory to altruistic adopters. It is insulting to those battling depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological issues associated with adoption.

The development of intimate relationships can be a major challenge for adoptees. Their first and most important relationship was irreparably destroyed. The person supposed to love them most disappeared inexplicably. Then they were passed to strangers and expected to pretend that nothing happened.

The impact of that severed relationship is colossal. It permanently alters everything they were destined for. It alters how they attach to people. It causes bonding problems. It leaves them angry, sad and helpless. It interferes with emotional development and instils a persistent fear of abandonment within them.

This fear impacts future relationships. Many adoptees fear that what happened once might happen again. They fear that each new relationship, like the very first one, will not last. If their own mother abandoned them, then why won’t others?

It affects their ability to trust. Their trust in adults was shattered when they were most vulnerable. The idea that their mother loved them so deeply that she gave them away is a confusing paradox. Connection, intimacy and love are forever intertwined with rejection, loneliness and abandonment. Being unable to remember the traumatic events only compounds the problem.

Adoptees are sensitive to criticism and have difficulty expressing long-suppressed emotions. They have hair-triggers and lack impulse control, frequently overreacting to minor stresses. They can be manipulative, intimidating, combative and argumentative. Total absence of control over childhood decisions gives them an unrelenting need for control in adulthood. A counterphobic reaction of ‘reject before being rejected’ is a classic sign of stunted emotional development and unresolved trauma. That is not to say that adoptees do not want intimacy. They often want to ‘give everything’. They yearn for a close, trusting connection. They want to let someone ‘in’, but the openness and vulnerability is petrifying. Letting someone ‘in’ also opens the door to rejection.

Even if partners recognize that deep, sensitive wounds exist, they tire of walking on eggshells. The emotional rollercoaster is exhausting. They become sick of the ‘parent-role’ they often assume. Even if the adoptee matures and gains insight into their behavior, the damage may have been done. Partners may reach the breaking point and leave. But who is to say that failed relationships cannot be a blessing in disguise? For adoptees, the important lesson might be that you sometimes need to fail in order to truly succeed.

What Pro-Family Preservation Is And Is Not

I would NEVER advocate for ANY child to remain in an abusive or neglectful environment. That’s NOT what being pro-family preservation is about.

A family is a fundamental institution that provides a sense of identity and feelings of belonging. However, conflicts can affect the functioning of the family, which endangers a child’s development. In homes where there is a high level of conflict between parents, the children are at a greater risk of developing issues with concentration and managing their emotions.

A surprising 70% to 80% of Americans consider their families dysfunctional. While violence, abuse, and neglect are common forms of dysfunction, many families reported feelings of estrangement, emotional disconnection, and non-traditional family structures as well.

This has led to the development of family preservation services to strengthen the community and ensure safe environments for children. The aim is to create good quality parenting that advocates for emotional support and positive reinforcement within families to reduce conflicts.

Family preservation is a movement by state and child welfare agencies aimed at helping families cope with whatever stressors are affecting their ability to nurture children. This movement grew due to the recognition that family separation leaves some lasting adverse effects on the children. It’s possible to protect children from unwarranted traumas by offering information, guidance, and support to parents.

Millions of children worldwide live in care institutions worldwide, but a shocking 80% of kids living in children’s homes have at least one living parent. The increased number of orphanage-style institutions—coupled with an increase in people wanting to adopt babies—has motivated families in vulnerable situations to willingly take their children to the orphanage. Most of the parents who would do this are simply hoping this will give their children a better life.

Although these institutions offer refuge to such children, even the best caregivers can never replace biological families. The separation from family can harm the child emotionally and affect their cognitive behavior. The effects are worse the younger the child is and an infant is as much at risk of separation trauma as an older child. Do not think because they are preverbal that they don’t have an instinct for the mother who gestated and birthed them.

Family preservation services can benefit any parent who needs a non-judgmental environment to learn parenting strategies and other beneficial skills for their families. Typically, all families will face financial, employment, parenting, substance abuse, or illness cycles that affect the bond between members. In such challenging times, rather than giving up on your family, you need the proper support to help you safely stay together.

Much of the above (with some minor modifications from me) came from the source of my image – Camelot Care Center. There is more about their services at the link. I am not recommending them or do I have any complaint against what they do. I simply wanted to address that wishing to see fewer children adopted and more vulnerable families supported does not mean that I do not recognize that some families are in difficult straits for whatever reason. Some of those children will end up being removed. Some of those will be placed into foster care. Others may be adopted. If there is any good quality to their parents, that is where they need to grow up.

Please Be Mindful

Please be mindful of what you say about an adoptee’s birth parents and extended birth family – regardless the circumstances or how you personally feel. Remember that this person shares genes and inheritable aspects with that family of origin.

From an adoptee – As a child I internalized the messages about how I was so much better off adopted, that I was convinced my mother must have been a very evil person. I thought perhaps a witch or a prostitute and would tell everyone this. I was secretly petrified I would be just like her. (Note: she’s not, she was a vulnerable woman who was not supported to keep me.)

Of course, it is known that children have no filters or sense of decorum and will often repeat the perspectives of adults around them – thus comes this sad recollection. One of my earliest memories is from when I was 5 years old and a classmate told me I was adopted because my biological mom didn’t love me. It was so hurtful and it took me a long time to get past it.

The same advice applies to one parent or family bashing the other parent or family. Regardless of whether these are biological, foster families, adoptive family. All of these are part of a child’s history and life experience and when you do this, you are saying in effect that a part of the child is equally bad.

Sad Stories

Not just sometimes, many times, I hate what adoption does to families.  So today, yet another sad story of a mother separated from her child.  An open adoption agreement that turns into a lie.  This happens too often to not be expected going in but the ones who go in trust the agreement until it is broken – and many times it is.

A woman became pregnant at the age of 18 and was 19 when her daughter was born.  I can relate, that is what happened to me although I was married first – thankfully – it could have turned out differently . . .

She chose adoption because she really didn’t believe that she had another choice. She had never heard of an open adoption. The family she chose was the first and only family she looked at. They sounded great to her.  They were also adopted and had relationships with their biological parents. She believed that, if anyone could relate to anything her daughter might feel growing up, these people could. Upon meeting them, she was offered an open adoption.

So things were going great for 3 years. The agreement was for 2 visits a year. Aware that her vulnerability could risk a rupture, she was cautious in her behavior at these visits.  She didn’t want to over step her authority or make the adoptive parents uncomfortable. She never referred to her own daughter as that around them or in direct communication with them.

It appeared that all was well until the little girl turned 3.  A visit was scheduled and 2 hours before she was due to arrive, the adoptive parents asked if they could reschedule the visit to take place a few weeks later.  The woman waited 2 months for a date.  Finally, she tried calling them. The number was no longer in service.  I have encountered variations on this story more times than I might hope to believe happens.

Her adoption worker, from that day on, always said she had no idea where they were and hadn’t heard from them. Fast forward 14 years.  Her daughter turned 17 in April.  The original mother found her daughter on Facebook and sent a friend request. She didn’t really think it through and admits that maybe it was selfish of her but she understandably just wanted to see her daughter’s face and know she was okay.  When my own adoptee mom was searching, she said to me that as a mother herself, she would want to know what became of her child.  Unfortunately, by then, my maternal grandmother had already died.

Back to this sad story, the woman was immediately blocked.  The adoptive mother messaged her asking her not to reach out to her daughter again, at least not until she is an adult.  This woman is willing to respect their wishes, sadly to me adding, “she is THEIR daughter”. The adoptive mother claimed in receiving the friend request, the daughter thought that her original mother was a stalker.  The adoptive mother claims the daughter knows she is adopted and about her original mother.  She said the girl doesn’t have any questions and doesn’t want to know anything more.  She just wants things to go back to normal.

The whole exchange does not feel entirely believable to this woman.  The turnaround of 15 minutes was too fast.

This woman went on to give birth to a son who is 12 years old (he is 5 years younger than his sister). When the woman did speak to the adoptive mother, the adoptive mother shifted the blame, saying this woman was the cause of contact ending because it was too hard for the original mother to bear.  Yet the adoptive mother knew the original mother had had a son and believed this woman was now happy with her life as it had become.

The rub is – the only way they would have known that was by being in contact with adoption worker. All those years of the adoption worker saying she didn’t know where they were, it was a lie.

Lifetime No Contact Order

I didn’t know this was a thing.  It seems draconian and excessive.  There seem to be some cases of children placed into state custody where the parent has not only had their parental rights permanently terminated but is denied permanent contact forever with their own children.  It may relate to addiction.  But lifetime ?  This just seems wrong and it may not actually be “lifetime”.

I read that – the court order essentially is in place until the kids turn 18.  It is thought that the kid’s can choose whether to extend it or let it lapse at that point.

In the case I read about, which is typical of many poor people who encounter the legal system, the mother was coerced through fear tactics to sign this as part of her plea bargain.  I agree with the person who shared this story that such a permanent lifetime no contact order would do more harm than good for the kids and their mom over the long run.

People do change.  Lord, how I know that up close and personal.  I’ve done some pretty stupid things in my lifetime, even put my sweet baby girl at risk in my naivety.  Thankfully, she survived my immaturity.

It may be that how this particular situation resolves will depend on the relationship that the foster parent has with the genetic/biological parent.  Hopefully in this case, both the foster parent and the mother can let the caseworker know they object to this stipulation that was obtained under duress.  It may be that getting all of the parties to request the court make a change will prove successful in allowing the potential for contacts within this family.  If the judge is not willing, there is always hope in an appeal.

Part of our modern reality is that there are parents now who have gotten into addiction – often it begins with a valid need for pain relief – or it did, until society woke up to the fact that the pharmaceutical industry had a profit motive in getting people addicted to begin with.  End of societal inequity and/or injustice rant for today.

It Is NOT God’s Plan

Many Christian couples who struggle with infertility begin to believe somehow that this signals God’s desire that they adopt someone else’s newborn baby.  This baby is not a blank slate. Newborn or infant adoption is not mostly trauma-free simply because this human being is pre-verbal.

I don’t believe for a minute that God is deliberately punishing you by causing you to become pregnant under difficult circumstances only to hand your baby over to complete strangers and then more or less throw you away (forget you ever existed or mattered).

What is actually selfish ?  Saying that giving a child up for adoption is the most selfless thing someone can do is flawed logic.  Does that mean biological mothers who keep their infants are selfish for keeping them ?  It is selfish not to give your precious baby to the more privileged minority of people who have much better financial resources to parent with ?  If that logic were true, then all biological parents would give their children to someone else to parent, since it is selfless towards the child to keep them when someone else has greater resources.

Using God to take away someone else’s baby is exploiting a vulnerable person and trying to use any belief in God they might have to coerce them to YOUR will.  This is not God’s will, this is you trying to use God for your own purposes.

I will never be able to get behind the idea that God got the wombs mixed up when he gave a baby to their mother.  God didn’t give a little baby to one mother for her and her baby to go through the rest of their lives with trauma simply to “heal the infertile wounds” of another couple.

It just doesn’t work that way but Christian couples are very prone to use their religion to justify taking a baby away from a vulnerable mother.