Saturday, June 17, 2017

How to Help an Adoptee with an Unknown Father

If you were in Aurora, IL in 1965, I would like to speak with you.
This topic is very personal to me for many reasons, not least of which I fall into this category as well as anticipating another Father’s Day with no answers.  I found an article written by Adoptive Families Magazine that attempted to address this issue for adoptive parents; however, the article does not go far enough to point out a very obvious issue when it attempts to comfort parents that their child's feelings are more important than facts:  not having facts causes negative feelings. It also gives the parents permission to say, "I don't know." to their child.  Now, granted, if that is the truth, that is fine; however, just because you don't know, does not mean you shouldn't attempt to find out. 

Not having the answers to the basic building blocks of who we are as humans is painful.  It leaves a void that many times cannot be discussed but will be acted out in self-destructive ways. Because adopted people with unknown parentage walk around with this void from an early age, he/she may not realize that this particular void is not experienced by the non-adopted.  This void was something I could never discuss with my own family while still a child.  I found it nearly impossible to voice it even as a mature adult.  It runs that deep.

Now it may be true, an adopted child may not be asking  any questions to the adoptive parents  at “this age” about their birth parents.  That in itself is not evidence of a lack of needing to know.  When I realized that an adoption agency, Spence-Chapin, supports Adoptive Families magazine, the article made better sense to me.  The goal is to help adoptive parents; however it falls short of telling adoptive parents what they can specifically do to help their child besides validating his/her feelings (which is always a good thing).

The writer of this article makes it sound like you have plenty of time to deal with this issue claiming that many kids never ask until adolescence.  Again, the article fails to point out this:  if a child asks in adolescence,  he/she has likely been wondering secretly about it for years.  Yes, even if you directly ask them if they want any information and they deny it. Yes, even if they insist they “don’t care”. 

Instead of hoping and praying that your child is not negatively affected by the absence of any information about his/her father, here is a better plan:  assume an adoptee needs to know even if they never ask and be prepared to do some digging. The article does suggest going back to the agency, etc. to ask questions, but this is not enough to ensure you have answers. 

Remember that even if the adoptee says today they don’t want the information, later in life, when a significant event happens in their lives as adults, a shift may take place.  Events like marriage, birth of a child, death of a parent, divorce, etc. can trigger the adoptee to then begin asking simple questions such as, “Who else in this world looks like me?”  “Why was I given up?”  or “How am I going  to protect my child’s health when my own health history is missing?”

Here are some suggestions for an action plan when an adoptee has an unknown father:

1.  Always tell the truth.  Don't embellish a story to make it sound better.  Don't leave out important facts that you believe your child "can't handle". If there are special circumstances in the child's story that you fear he/she can't handle, seek out an adoption competent therapist. Lies and withholding information damages trust.

2.  Start EARLY. Each year that passes, the trail gets colder.

3.  Using your child's birth date, calculate your child's conception date.  There are free conception calculators on-line.  Write this date down.  I used this calculator.   Here is my result:
This is the weekend following St. Patrick's Day!
This date is very helpful to understand the story surrounding an adoptee's birth.  Where were the parents living at this point in time in their lives?  Where did they work?  In my own search, my conception story begins in Aurora, IL. (If you have ties to this area in 1965, I would like to speak to you!). Email me at

4.   If possible, order your child’s original birth certificate before it is sealed and amended by the Court.  It is too late to order it from Vital Stats if the adoption is finalized as you will receive the amended copy with the adoptive parents' names.  State laws differ, but I recommend you ask your attorney to get a copy of it.  The father’s name may or may not be on there but this is a very important document to have in your possession.

5.  Keep every scrap of information that the agency, birth mother, social worker, court and attorney gives you.  Even pieces of information you deem insignificant should be kept. I was fortunate that my mother turned over all the court documents that the attorney had given my parents.  I learned in my late 30’s my mother's birth name by studying them, never realizing it had been there all along.

6.  Put your child’s DNA into Ancestry and trace her lineage yourselves. (They are having a 20% sale through Father's Day). Build a family tree and in time, you may be able to discover who the paternal birth family is.  Check with state laws and your attorney, but Ancestry DNA has over 4 million testers currently and is growing every day. 

7.  Contact the attorney who handled the adoption and ask him/her to make contact with the agency or the birth mother and ask questions.  Request copies of the files. (If you are an adoptee, you should always request your Non-ID from the agency who handled your adoption).  If you do not get any cooperation, do not give up. Authorities will many times block your access.  Remember that adoption is an industry and it wants to self-protect.

8.  If you know that the father’s name is in a file, request that it be released to you.  You are the paying clients and this information may become vital to your child some day.  Don’t take no for an answer.

9.   The paternal medical history can become life-saving if your child has a genetic disease that needs treatment and information to diagnose and treat.  I was fortunate to have been healthy growing up; but I know numerous adoptees who didn’t learn until adulthood they have genetic medical illnesses that run in their biological families, and suffered as a result.

10.   If you do have the names, it’s even better if you know some information about the birth parents and the details of why your child was relinquished.  I am not advocating stalking people, but knowing what state they live in, a somewhat recent address, a general idea of the “story” surrounding the relinquishment, awareness of whether the parents married, moved, worked in a particular industry, etc. can be important to your child. Life books are a nice way to organize this information.

If your child is internationally adopted, you will have more road blocks than a domestic adoptee.  However, get advice from adult international adoptees for more insight. Making a trip to the home country before the trail goes cold and incorporating the child’s culture are some tangible things you can do in the absence of any information about birth parents. 

Taking the 23 and Me DNA test would be my recommendation for an international adoptee because I have noticed that most of my international matches (my father is an alleged South American)  show up in 23 and Me.  Go here to read the recommendations of  The Legal Genealogist (an attorney who is also a genetic genealogist).   She advises an adoptee take every autosomal DNA test that you can afford to take.

I have done this myself.  I am in five databases currently (Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, 23 and Me, Gedmatch and My Heritage).  For help in maneuvering the DNA results, I recommend CeCe Moore’s DNA Detectives Facebook Group."

"No matter what the circumstances of the conception - half of that adoptee's DNA still comes from that unknown father. Too many dismiss the 'sperm donor' as never being involved, never caring - which is irrelevant as there will always be a living breathing reminder that 'half' of you is unknown." - Gaye Sherman Tannenbaum

Lynn Grubb is an Illinois adoptee, stepmother, biological mother and adoptive parent.  She is a contributing author to Lost Daughters, and to various adoption anthologies including the newly released It’s Not About You:  Understanding Adoptee Search, Reunion and Open AdoptionHer proudest accomplishment is creating and editing The Adoptee Survival Guide:  Adoptees Share Their Wisdom and Tools.
Besides writing, Lynn also enjoys singing with her church praise team and watching true crime shows, which sparked her interest in DNA and genetic genealogy. Four years ago, Lynn began blogging about her DNA discoveries at her blog, No Apologies for Being Me
Lynn is a volunteer co-facilitator of the Adoption Network Cleveland (Miami Valley) general discussion group in Dayton, Ohio and a board member of the Adoptee Rights Coalition which gives her an opportunity to educate legislators about equal access to original birth certificates.
Lynn lives with her family in Dayton, Ohio.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Why (Interracial Adoption) Still Exist

I know that there are many adult KADs that want to see Korean intercountry adoptions sease. And if it is absolutely neccesary it should be replaced by domestic adoptions.

Maybe that's delusional to try to strive for an ideal word, since the "demand" for orphan babies doesn't seem to end. The only thing that possibly would end intercountry adoptions would be if the South Korean government outlawed interracial adoptions.

After nearly 64 years the practice still remain, which is remarkable even if some social changes has been made to improve the legal rights and protection for single mother's in Korea.

As long as there will be affluent foreign APs willing to raise these orphan babies  it seems like there will be slow progress. International adoptees are not and should not be compared to imported and exported goods. Unfortunately it seems as if they still are and will continue to be seen in this  way.

Maybe that could explain why there seems to be so many different practices of actual deciet;

  • falsified birth records
  • altered birth dates
  • hidden records
  • switched children
  • matched with wrong birth family
It seems as if the South Korean government originally thought these poor orphans never would return. Maybe they use successful cases of reunited families as some sort of PR? Because if there were no success stories then it might seem as if few APs and adoption organizations might want to use that country as a supplier.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Motherhood Unchartered Waters

It's taken me this long to come to terms with that much of what I believed to be true probably is not in terms of my adoption. Especially this statement about my reason for relinquishment.
The child was given up for adoption because birthparents already had several daughters to raise. Birthparents were struggling to make ends met and decided it was better to relinquish her while they still would be able to raise a son. 
The truth is that my gender would not have influenced or changed the fact that I was relinquished. Due to the extreme circumstances related to my birth the fate of a son would not have ended any differently. I used to be jelous on my younger brother for in a way-taking the place that rightfully was mine. I can no longer feel those feelings any longer but I will always suffer from the trauma of adoption separation and the loss of my sisters and a childhood raised with several siblings.

What difference would another mouth to feed have mattered if a family already had exceded the accepted number of children ? None and everything. Truth is that if that statement had been true its likely that my birth parents would have relinquished more than just one child and it probably would not have been the youngest at time-and they would definetely mot have chosen to add another baby if the simple reason was for econmic reasons. Why would my birth father have been able to visit the adoption agency to try to take me back-only to discover I legally no longer was theirs? Would he have used his connections to try to find out where I was sent and more importantly how was he able to find out what country I was sent to ? Would a parent have behaved like that if they only saw children as an economic burden as well as a necessity ? I truely believe my birthfather acted out of love just as I believe my birth mother was prepared to have a large family. I still hold my maternal grandmother responsible for my adoption, there has to be an extremely good reason why my birthparents decided to disown my mother's side of the family. What those reasons are I will most likely never know-perhaps her crime was that she decided I was to relinquished for adoption but there probably was more than that perhaps it's reasons that are connected to my birth and my adoption.

Hilarie Burton aka Peyton Sawyer, in One Tree Hill 14th episode season six "A Hand To Take Hold of The Scen"
Yet I still fear pregnancy or more importantly childbirth, especially since my birthmother was on the brink of death as she gave birth to me. Then again I am not my birth mother, its no longer the 80s and I probably will not give birth to as many children as she have.

Empress Ki

So far I have only experienced one side of loss from adoption trauma which means I'm very reluctant to raise a child all by myself without another parent. It's not nothing wrong with that, but I have my reasons for not wanting my child to experience the loss of their mother or to be born in posthumous birth and especially not a maternal death. I don't mean to say that mothers are more important than a father they both are equally as important. No matter if a child is forced to grove up with a single parent the loss of that missing parent might impact their life and shape their person and their future. I think I finally am ready to consider parenting and motherhood, given that I met the right person. Although there never are any agrantuees in life I feel like I am as comfortable in my own skin as I ever could be.

I have also been afraid of what legacy I will inprint on my child... daughters learn from their mothers... I've seen my mother as an overachiever and perfectionist for much of my life. That was how my mother was raised by her grandmother. I hope I don't walk down the same road or that my children don't mimic me as they grow up... That's the social heritage while I confess I'm also worried about my biological heritage what diseases could lay hidden in my genes... Unlike most adult adoptees I got a small part of my birth parents medical history. It involves two types of cancer, heart disease and fertility issues.

Yes motherhood, may or may not be a source of fear and worry. But I don't think it's right to say to someone that they doubt your ability to be a suitable parent for an hypothetical child. I think all birth mothers should be offered enough support and resources to enable them to raise their children. Don't threaten a young woman that she may end getting her suitability to care for a future child leading to possible loss of costudy.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Why I stopped using the term "birth mother"

Photo taken at Museum Sisters of Mercy, Montreal 

Last fall, I was approached by CKUT McGill Campus and Community Radio about starting an adoptee-centric radio magazine, after they had heard an interview I had done with my friend Stefan on his radio show Free City Radio. I was unsure about accepting the offer, yet I also felt that I couldn’t turn down such an amazing opportunity. After thinking about it for a week, I invited my friend, filmmaker and adoption prevention activist Pascal Huynh to collaborate with me on what would soon become, Out of the Fog Radio

For us, Out of the Fog is not only about bringing greater understanding about adoption issues and family separation to people outside of the adoption community-- it’s also about empathy and vulnerability in storytelling. In our past episodes, we have covered topics such as adoptee gratefulness and reproductive justice, the 60s scoop and Indigenous child removal, mothers of adoption loss, infertility and creativity and the importance of relationships in social services

While Out of the Fog started as a platform to creatively disseminate important information about issues that are close to us and our communities, I quickly found myself being challenged personally by some of the content of our episodes, particularly the episode on mothers. As a politically-aware adoptee and feminist, it hadn’t dawned on me that I knew very little about the plight of mothers, until I did more research and interviewed guests for the episode. But even after the episode came out, I was repudiated a number of times by mothers on Facebook groups about using commonly-used terms and expressions like “birth mother” and “surrendering children to adoption”. I was alarmed and very embarrassed because I was trying to be “in solidarity” with them, yet here I was deeply offending them by using words that obscured their experiences as mothers having been forced to give up their children for adoption.

Up until that point, I was ignorant about the origins of these terms and how triggering it could be for mothers to be referred to as “birth mother” or “biological mother”. Yet, it is true that these terms are highly reductive because they focus only on their biological function, and by doing so, do not take into account how their experiences were shaped by gender, class and race. Moreover, “birth mother” is a very static term that insinuates a mother's parental role stops at birth, whereas she still may play an active role in her children or adult children’s lives. 

I understand the desire to distinguish between one’s family and one’s adoptive family, but there is an indelible power in language that should not be ignored. Whether you acknowledge it or not, your choice of words holds power and it affects people's interpretation and understanding of the issue. These terms are problematic because they do not convey what actually happened and what is still happening today: mothers and fathers are forced to give up their children, usually because they are young and unwed (which still happens in some countries) or because they lack the financial, psycho-social support or tools to raise their children.

I’m truly happy that I got called out on my use of “birth mother” because it forced me to look at how mothers of adoption loss do not get the recognition as mothers that they deserve. Since then, I no longer use these terms out of respect for both mothers and fathers. If I need to assign titles or make distinctions, I use "mother" or "Ethiopian mother" and "adoptive mother". In doing so, I'm stating the truth in a way that is recognizing Ethiopian mothers motherhood, even if they rarely have the power to an play active role in their adopted Western children or adult children’s lives. Still, their loss and grief is not widely acknowledged. I think partly because there is a pervasive idea that it is a “good thing” for children to be placed; that the mother made the “right choice” and that her children are better off. In fact, it’s almost seen as a heroic and selfless act that is done out of love. People tend to either commend or shame mothers for giving up their children (especially because we are extremely quick to judge women for being bad or unfit mothers), but one of the misconceptions is that children are given up out of love when it's really desperation and survival. Kat, a self-identified birth mother and PhD student, who appeared on our episode on mothers, describes how mothers are told to forget about their children or that they will forget, but that it’s a myth. The loss and grief that mothers experience is long-term, possibly lifelong and because of this, they tend to have higher risks of suicide, mental illness, higher instances of secondary infertility and to make matters worse, it’s difficult to find adequate counselling services. 

Hearing Kat's story and others similar to hers made me realize that my adoptee advocacy was lacking; how can I talk about reproductive rights and family preservation without learning from and partnering with those who are directly affected? It also made me reflect on the importance of creating more spaces for open discussion with mothers and fathers of adoption loss, because the more adoptees’ create alliances with mothers and fathers; the less shame, guilt and secrecy will exist. Similarly, the more we understand each other's struggles, the more empathy we create and hopefully, the more we can heal. 

Kassaye co-hosts Out of the Fog, a podcast and radio show on CKUT 90.3 FM. She is also co-editing Lions Roaring Far Home, an anthology by Ethiopian adoptees, which is set to come out towards the end of 2017. Besides writing and radio production, she mentors youth living in group homes.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Rooted to Resiliency: Panel Discussion in Covent Garden, London

The Library, Covent Garden, London 30 March 2017

Dear Sisters of the Heart,

Last month I had the privilege of hearing these stories of fellow writers, and even though they are not directly adoption-related (except for my presentation), I hope that they might inspire you, too, as they are all stories about resiliency.

You've been in my thoughts a lot these past months, and I hope to share more thoughts on resiliency this summer! Meanwhile, this story of fellow panelist TOM KEARNEY is amazing! I can't believe that he survived this coma, and lived to tell the tale. 

Part 1 of 3: TfL Bus Crash Survivor and #LondonBusWatch founder, TOM KEARNEY, discusses his forthcoming book "Death, Life and The East German Ladies' Swimming Team" about being hit by a London bus on Oxford street and recovering from a near-death coma to take on the Mayor of London and learning how to swim outdoors all year-round. 

JENNIFER JUE-STEUCK discusses her forthcoming INSPIRATION ICE CREAM: A MERMOIR, a book inspired by her (adoptive) mother's battle with ovarian cancer.

MARTI LEIMBACH is the author of many books, including DYING YOUNG, THE MAN FROM SAIGON and  DANIEL ISN'T TALKING. She talks about her experiences raising a child with autism.

Native Province: Taipei and Jiangsu (mainland China) Hometown: Laguna Beach (OC), California Arrived in the USA: Dec 1979 / Jan 1980 Education: NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts & Harvard Generation: G2, “A Global Generation” Proud Big Sister of: Chris (from Seoul, South Korea) Why This Blog: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Helen Keller

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Chronic Ancestral Amnesia

Andy Leppard via Flickr

The other day I had a conversation with a friend about hair dyeing. She was lamenting how often she needs to cover her grays these days. I told her I was sorry, I’ve never had to color my hair and have never wanted to. I told her that recently I’d seen an article saying redheads don’t go gray, and that it gave me hope that maybe I’d not have to worry about whether or not to dye my hair. She talked about the onset of gray hair running in families. I shared stories about my husband and my best friend from college, both of whom went gray very early in life.

Later, I realized how strange my half of the conversation must have sounded. I didn’t say I thought I wouldn’t go gray because others in my family hadn’t; I talked about an article I’d read. I talked about the heredity of other people close to me. I didn’t talk about my own, because I couldn’t.

I’m not sure of my mother’s natural hair color. I’ve only seen it bleached very blonde. In faded older pictures, her hair appears a shade of red that could be similar to mine, but I don’t know that it wasn’t dyed then, too. I’ve never seen a picture of my mother or any of her siblings as children.

I’ve never seen a picture of any of my grandparents as children, though it probably wouldn’t matter much since those photos would likely be black-and-white. I’ve met a paternal aunt whose hair color is similar to mine, not at all gray, though again, I have no idea if her color was natural. My father’s hair has become more gray since I’ve known him, but I don’t know if it ever had as much red in it as mine.

I’ll find out how my hair will age the same way I found out how puberty and pregnancy would affect me—via firsthand experience. I’ll learn about menopause this same way, without the guidance of elder female relatives. I suffer from ancestral amnesia that—unfortunately, in my case—reunion has been unable to cure. Thankfully, these days I’m able to go through entire weeks forgetting that I used to feel I was dropped down on earth from the sky rather than grown in another human’s body. And then, in an unexpected moment, that feeling returns.

Karen Pickell
Karen Pickell was born and adopted in Ohio in the late 1960s. She reunited with her birth mother in 2005 and with her birth father in 2007. Her husband is an adoptive father of two children, now grown, from his first marriage, one of whom was adopted from Korea. Karen and her husband live in Florida with their two biological children. She is the founder of Adoptee Reading Resource, a catalog of books by and for adoptees. She blogs about writing, adoption, and other topics at