Our Father

Documentary on Netflix

I’m pretty certain this is streaming and we only get dvds from Netflix. Never-the-less, not for the first time, has a fertility doctor been accused of inseminating patients with his own sperm. So, yes, this is a true story. The Indiana fertility specialist, Dr Donald Cline, is the subject.

In a moment when the right to safe and informed reproductive care is under threat in the US, Our Father is particularly resonant given the questions it raises about how our legal system views those seeking control over their own reproductive choices, and restitution when that autonomy is violated.

Jacoba Ballard’s life changed after she took an at-home DNA test and learned she had seven half-siblings. After reaching out to her newfound family members and researching the mystery of their shared relation, Ballard and her siblings soon discovered with horror what their parents’ trusted doctor had done. The number of confirmed siblings continued to grow as more people added their DNA to 23andMe’s database. Each time she saw a new connection appear on her profile, she’d steel herself before reaching out to deliver the news. “I know I’m going to call them and I’m going to ruin their life,” she says in the documentary.

Jacoba Ballard grew up suspecting that she, the only blond, blue-eyed member of a family of brunettes, was adopted. When she was 10, her parents told her they had used donor sperm to conceive her. “I wanted a child so bad,” her mother, Debbie Smith, says, the pain clearly visible on her face. The Smiths went to Cline, who had a reputation as the best in what was then the new field of fertility treatment and artificial insemination. The good doctor – and devout Christian, church elder and respected member of the community – told them that medical students were used as donors, each no more than three times to limit any future problems with consanguinity (the medical term for unwitting siblings later having children together). The couple went ahead and nine months later Jacoba was born. “She’s my everything,” says Debbie.

Our Father includes interviews with eight of the 94 siblings. Because of Cline’s lack of cooperation and the unknown number of patients he had the opportunity to inseminate up until he stopped practicing in 2009, there is no way to know for sure how many siblings there may be.

One criticism of the documentary is that it gives too little space to the unresponsiveness of the district attorney’s office – alerted by Jacoba early on – and the extraordinary fact that it was impossible to prosecute Cline over what he did to the women because none of that amounted to a crime under the then-current law. Jacoba’s research reveals that one of the people in the DA’s office who might have been expected to follow up on her complaint is associated with the Christian fundamentalist movement Quiverfull, which encourages the faithful – or at least the faithful of certain coloring – to have as many children as possible and groom them for power so they can become ambassadors for God. Is it relevant that church elder Cline has produced what Jacoba likens to “this perfect Aryan clan”?

Surveying the blonde hair and blue eyes of many of Cline’s offspring, the film briefly meditates on whether Cline’s crusade may have had white supremacist underpinnings (Quiverfull ideology, which promotes patriarchal gender ideology and other conservative ideals and bemoans European population decline, certainly seems to).

The filmmakers behind Our Father, including director/producer Lucie Jourdan, say they were moved to tell the story of the siblings and their parents in order to help them condemn Cline’s actions to a broad audience when it became clear the court had failed. In 2017, he was brought to trial facing two counts of felony obstruction of justice, for lying during the investigation. The obstruction of justice charges meant that no evidence related to Cline’s actions toward his former patients was admissible—though those actions constituted the injustice for which the siblings and their parents were truly seeking restitution. Cline pled guilty, and received two suspended sentences (meaning he served no jail time), and a $500 fine.

In 2018, the siblings’ lobbying, led by Matt White and his mother Liz White, contributed to the passing of Indiana’s fertility-fraud law. There is still no federal law on the subject.

Acknowledging Time Magazine and The Guardian from which sections of today’s blog were taken.

Reversal

Sadie & Jarvis, with Godparents, Kennedy & Brandon and kids

I have written before about the special challenges that adoptees of a different race face when placed with a different race of adoptive parents. In the past, this has usually meant Black and Asian children placed with white adoptive parents. In a somewhat recent development, Black couples are adopting white children as shown in my photo above. I was made aware of this couple today.

For most of my life, I really did not have much of a racial identity. True, my skin was unmistakably white. I grew up on the border with Mexico and so my environmental was predominantly Hispanic. My parents were both adoptees with no more than a minimal knowledge of who they might have been before adoption. I used to say I was an Albino African because really I couldn’t prove otherwise and neither could anyone else. I honestly suspected 25% Black, 25% Hispanic and the rest White for much of my adulthood. Now that I know something that my parents never knew – something about the people who conceived my parents and gave their genetic heritage to us all – I know that I have 25% Danish, a lot of Scottish and Irish, quite a bit English. These are the real realities and it is a gift I never expected for over 60 years of my life to receive. Yeah, it matters.

This story has an interesting twist. After agreeing to foster a newborn, actually premature, baby boy they named Ezra. After agreeing to foster, the birth parents deciding to surrender their son to this couple for adoption. Next, the Sampsons chose a new and somewhat surprising path that I am also familiar with – embryo donation. This allowed Sadie to experience pregnancy. Their twin daughters were named Journee and Destinee and they are also white. Their family motto has become, “Families don’t have to match.” 

Because I am familiar with reproductive medicine, I know the difficult next stage – what to do with leftover embryos ? We allowed ours to be adopted. It was all arranged online independently but the couple did hire a lawyer. I never questioned their race nor did the thought cross my mind. Clearly, it was not a predominant concern of my own at the time. Sadly for that couple, the process did not result in a pregnancy and live birth.

White supremacists worry a lot about the dilution of the white race. It is a fact of modern life that the races are mixing. Interracial marriage, the children born to such unions and adoption are all – let us hope – leading to a better understanding that human beings are more alike than different. That peace and harmony on this planet may be the eventual result. The only real question remaining is the issue of adoptee trauma and that many donor conceived persons also have issues with how they were conceived. It is a tricky path to walk but some brave souls are stepping out ahead of the rest of society. With a better understanding of psychological impacts, it may be possible to avoid some of the worst of the worst outcomes. I do hope over time that proves true.

Adoptee Anger

Adoptee anger by Kyleigh Elisa

What one adoptee has to say about her own from Kyleigh shares about Adoptee Anger posted in Intercountry Adoptee Voices. Kyleigh was adopted from Colombia and brought to the USA.

I am angry for sure. I feel like my anger ebbs and flows. Like, some days I’m just ready to burst and others, it’s a slow burn deep down.

When I was first given permission to be angry about my adoption about a decade ago by a therapist, it was like a volcano that erupted inside of me and I couldn’t stop it for months. Back then it was more about always feeling unacceptable. Feeling like I hated how I was different in a sea of white people. That no-one close ever really acknowledged the pain inside me due to adoption. That I was made to feel like I was an exotic commodity, while also being told, “No, you’re just like us. You’re just our Kyleigh”. I feel like that was some kind of unintentional gaslighting trying to make me feel accepted, but it had the opposite effect.

Since then I let my anger out more regularly and I don’t drink to dull the pain like I used to. I am definitely still angry though and I hate being adopted. I hate colonialism. I hate white supremacy. I hate the patriarchy. I am afraid of religious organizations that allow people to justify it all. I believe all these things contribute to why we are all adopted.

Billowing anger by Kyleigh Elisa

I just start thinking about it all and the anger billows. It’s a thought path I have to force myself to interrupt because it does not help me. While I think it’s good to be aware that stuff exists, I also cannot allow it to deteriorate my mental health. So I research and try to give back to our community and participate in adoptee organizations – this reminds me that I’m not alone.

Remembering I’m not alone helps a lot. Taking gradual steps to reclaim pieces of my culture that were taken from me helps too. It’s scary while I try to get back what was lost, and that’s upsetting at times, but in the end I reap the rewards accepting each little piece back to me, as it’s mine to rightfully hold.

Jennifer Teege’s Horrifying Discovery

Jennifer Teege (B&W photo of Amon Goeth)

When Jennifer Teege, a German-Nigerian woman, randomly picked up a library book off a shelf, her life changed forever. Recognizing images of her mother and grandmother in the book, she discovered a horrifying fact that no one had ever shared with her: Her grandfather was Amon Goeth, the vicious Nazi commandant depicted by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List, a man known and despised the world over.

Although raised in an orphanage and eventually adopted, Teege had some contact with her biological mother and grandmother as a child. Yet neither revealed that Teege’s grandfather was the Nazi “butcher of Plaszów,” executed for crimes against humanity in 1946. The more Teege reads about Amon Goeth, the more certain she becomes: If her grandfather had met her—a black woman—he would have killed her.

Teege’s discovery sends her, at age 38, into a severe depression. My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past details her quest to unearth and fully comprehend her family’s haunted history. Her research takes her to Krakow—to the sites of the Jewish ghetto her grandfather “cleared” in 1943 and the Plaszów concentration camp he then commanded—and back to Israel, where she herself once attended college, learned fluent Hebrew and formed lasting friendships. Teege struggles to reconnect with her estranged mother, and to accept that her beloved grandmother once lived in luxury as Goeth’s mistress at Plaszów.

Ultimately, Teege’s resolute search for the truth leads her, step by step, to the possibility of her own liberation. The chronicle of her struggle with her haunted past unfolds in her memoir My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me, co-written with journalist Nikola Sellmair and newly translated from German.

Teege visits her grandparents’ house in the Płaszów neighborhood of Krakow, Poland. It is the only dilapidated house on quiet Heltmana Street. And she writes – there is a coldness that creeps into your bones. And a stench. 

Over a year has gone by since I first found the book about my mother in the library. Since then I have read everything I could find about my grandfather and the Nazi era. I am haunted by the thought of him, I think about him constantly. Do I see him as a grandfather or as a historical character? He is both to me: Płaszów commandant Amon Goeth and my grandfather.

When I was young I was very interested in the Holocaust. I went on a school trip from Munich to the Dachau concentration camp, and I devoured one book about the Nazi era after another, such as When Hitler Stole Pink RabbitA Square of Sky and Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. I saw the world through Anne Frank’s eyes; I felt her fear but also her optimism and her hope.

You can read the entire piece my blog came from in – my Jewish Detroit. I have a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew in my DNA and have always felt drawn to Jewish culture. I would like to read her book sometime. Also because I am interested in learning more about the experience of Black people. In the USA, we have much to learn and white supremacy is a threat, slavery still exists only now the plantations have been replaced by prisons.

Mother/Child Separations

Black babies separated from slave mothers. Native American children separated from their families to indoctrinate them into white standards of living. White babies separated from their mothers in the 1930’s through the 1960’s because they were a profitable and valuable commodity in the adoption market (if you were a black unwed mother you could keep your baby as it was no longer a financially lucrative commodity after the Emancipation Proclamation). And most recently, Hispanic babies separated from their mothers at the southern border of the United States.

These may seem wildly different situations but actually they are the same. Society does not value natural families nor do we support keeping children in the families they were born into. We do this at great harm to the children and equally emotional and psychological harm for their mothers.

In regard to Africans enslaved in America, though they most definitely experienced an assault on their personhood, but never yielded. Because misogyny has been dominate until recently, it is no surprise that women’s voices, both in their own time and in later scholarship, remained largely silent. They reproduced, labored, and died in near anonymity. Slave women did not have ready access to birth control and experienced great pressure to bear children. After the abolition of the international slave trade in 1808, the South’s dependence upon natural reproduction increased. Slave women experienced pressure to bear children from a culture that gloried motherhood and from masters who personally benefited from slave offspring due to their financial value.

In 1879, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania was a government-backed institution that forcibly separated Native American children from their parents in order to kill the Indian in him, and save the man. For decades, this effort continued. Native American boarding schools were a method of forced assimilation. The end goal of these measures was to make Native people more like the white Anglo-Americans who had taken over their land. By removing them from their homes, the schools disrupted students’ relationships with their families and other members of their tribe. Once they returned home, children struggled to relate to their families after being taught that it was wrong to speak their language or practice their religion.

The Baby Scoop Era was a period in the history of the United States, starting after the end of World War II and ending in the early 1970s, My parents adoptions were just a little bit ahead of their time but Georgia Tann, through whom my mom was adopted was certainly already profiting when my mom turned up, 5 mos old with blond hair and blue eyes, Tann’s most desired commodity. This time period was characterized by an increased rate of pre-marital pregnancies over the preceding period, along with a higher rate of newborn adoption. It is estimated that up to 4 million parents in the United States had children placed for adoption, with 2 million during the 1960s alone. Annual numbers for non-relative adoptions increased from an estimated 33,800 in 1951 to a peak of 89,200 in 1970, then quickly declined to an estimated 47,700 in 1975. By 2003, only 14,000 infants were placed for adoption. The number of hopeful adoptive parents remains far beyond the number of babies available which set off the international adoption boom and the abuses and exploitations in that field.

Most recently has been the horrendous treatment of Hispanic families at our southern border.

Long before the Trump administration implemented its “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement policy in 2018, it was already separating children from their parents as part of a “pilot program” conducted in the El Paso, Texas, area (where I spent my childhood, I am familiar with border issues and politics). Under the El Paso program, begun in mid-2017, adults who crossed the border without permission – a misdemeanor for a first-time offender – were detained and criminally charged. No exceptions were made for parents arriving with young children. The children were taken from them, and parents were unable to track or reunite with their children because the government failed to create a system to facilitate reunification. By late 2017, the government was separating families along the length of the US-Mexico border, including families arriving through official ports of entry. It is suspected that many of these children were placed in foster homes and may have even been placed into adoption as it has proven almost impossible for some parents to relocate their children.

Sometimes, humanity makes my heart hurt.

The Traditional Family – Threatened ?

The polarization of American society is somewhat an effect of evangelical Christianity’s concerns about threats to the traditional family.  It is said that is one reason that over 40% of such families own guns and oppose gun control.  It can also be said that rapid changes in perspectives have been partially the cause of deep divisions in our country’s population.

The election of a black president and support for same sex marriage and protections against discrimination for LGBTQ persons have come too quickly for people who take their marching orders from ministers and the bible.  That may be.  It is true that changes in life are generally occurring at a much more rapid pace than they once did.  That we are inundated with information at a startling and overwhelming rate.

White supremacists and nationalists who ascribe to those kinds of beliefs also worry about the great replacement by people whose skin is another color and which could ultimately affect their privileges in society.

It is and will continue to happen regardless of how uncomfortable it makes some people.

One wonders then at the embrace of adoption so strongly by Christians when it is the method of choice for creating a family by same sex couples who cannot create a family by traditional reproductive methods.  It seems unimaginable to me, how contorted one’s religious beliefs have to be to encompass it all.